In Primary Debates, Biden and Harris Led Democratic Presidential Candidates in Use of “Filler Phrases”

(p. A6) Here’s the deal: Presidential candidates issue plenty of pointed barbs in debates, but they use a lot of filler language, too.

Phrases such as “let’s be clear” and “the end of the day,” buy the speaker time to collect themselves, think ahead and formulate an answer. Among the Democratic contenders, the fact is, Vice President Joe Biden utters them most frequently (and “the fact is” has been his most-used phrase).

The Wall Street Journal identified 23 commonly used three-, four- and five-word phrases and their variations spoken by candidates during the four Democratic presidential debates and tracked the number of times they were said.

Mr. Biden used almost six filler phrases for every 1,000 words he spoke, the highest rate among the Democrats still running and far above their average of 2.6.

Asked about the findings, Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said, “The fact of the matter is that poll after poll has shown that Joe Biden is the candidate who will defeat” President Trump.

. . .

After Mr. Biden, who racked up 77 instances of the phrases in the debates, the next highest totals belonged to Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

For the full story, see:

Lindsay Huth and Lakshmi Ketineni. “The Fact Is, Candidates Use a lot of Filler Phrases.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 20, 2019): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Fact Is, Democratic Candidates Use a lot of Filler Phrases.”)

Dictator Rawlings Transformed Ghana from Dictatorship to Democracy

I heard a plausible plenary lecture a few years ago at an APEE meeting where the African speaker argued that African autocrats would never voluntarily give up power, because doing so would mean they would trade personal riches for personal poverty. It was a sad but plausible argument, though one that makes Jerry Rawlings’s life especially intriguing.

(p. A22) Jerry Rawlings, a former Ghanaian Air Force officer who led two military coups before steering his country toward democracy with an authoritarian hand, died on Thursday in the nation’s capital, Accra.

. . .

By the time he left office voluntarily 22 years later, he had served two presidential terms brought about by free elections and had established Ghana as a rare democratic example on the continent. Today, peaceful handovers of power are routine in the country, hardly the case with the country’s neighbors.

Mr. Rawlings’ contradictory legacy — brutal beginnings, uncompromising military rule, then free elections — underscores the difficult path to democratic governance still faced by many African nations. But in Ghana at least, where Mr. Rawlings is regarded as something of a founding father after the country’s difficult first steps, democracy is an assumption.

Given Ghana’s first experiences of him, that outcome would not have been predicted. He appeared at first to have all the makings of one of the continent’s classic military autocrats.

For the full obituary, see:

Adam Nossiter. “Jerry Rawlings, Strongman Turned Statesman Who Steered Ghana to Democracy, Dies at 73.” The New York Times (Friday, November 13, 2020): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 12, 2020, and has the title “Jerry Rawlings, From Coup-Plotter to Ghanaian Statesman, Dies at 73.”)

Epidemic Showed Limits of China’s “Government-Driven, Top-Down Solutions”

(p. B1) WULONGQIAO, China — A devastating disease spreading from China has wiped out roughly one-quarter of the world’s pigs, reshaping farming and hitting the diets and pocketbooks of consumers around the globe.

China’s unsuccessful efforts to stop the disease may have hastened the spread — creating problems that could bedevil Beijing and global agriculture for years to come.

. . .

The epidemic shows the limits of China’s emphasis on government-driven, top-down solutions to major problems, sometimes at the expense of the practical. It has also laid bare the struggle of a (p. B6) country of 1.4 billion people to feed itself.

. . .

When the swine fever began to spread 16 months ago, the Ministry of Agriculture told the country’s local governments to cull all pigs in herds if there was even one sick animal, and to compensate the farmers. The ministry authorized local governments to pay up to $115 for the largest pigs, a cap later raised to $170. Before the epidemic, however, many pigs sold for $250 or more apiece, particularly breeding sows, according to government data. With the epidemic, the price has soared to $600 or more.

To get that partial reimbursement, many farmers had to deal with tightfisted local officials. The ministry said it would reimburse local governments only for between 40 percent and 80 percent of their costs. Local governments also had to provide proof, often including laboratory tests, that pigs died of African swine fever and not some other ailment.

As a result, culling has been slow. Official data show only 1.2 million pigs, or less than 0.3 percent of the country’s herds, have been culled. It is not clear where the rest of the country’s vanished herds went, but food experts say many were likely butchered and turned into food. That would worsen the spread, because the disease can lurk in meat for months.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang. “China Flubs Effort to Halt Lethal Turn Of Pig Illness.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2019, and has the title “China Responds Slowly, and a Pig Disease Becomes a Lethal Epidemic.”)

For California Electricity Regulator: “Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing”

(p. A1) PG&E’s collapse has exposed the California Public Utilities Commission’s failure to hold the utility accountable on safety. The CPUC (p. A12) for years focused attention elsewhere, on setting rates and pushing for cleaner power.

Now, the agency tasked with regulating utility safety is struggling to refocus on the issue while also grappling with its failure to prevent the state’s second electricity crisis in two decades.

. . .

From the early 2000s, the commission’s focus was on setting rates and implementing Sacramento’s renewable-energy goals. Starting in 2002, three consecutive governors, two Democrats and a Republican, signed bills ratcheting up the percentage of wind and solar power utilities had to buy.

These mandates required investor-owned utilities such as PG&E to change their mix of generation, effectively phasing out burning coal and lowering reliance on natural gas while signing contracts to buy electricity from new solar and wind farms. The CPUC oversaw these deals, as well as figuring out how to integrate thousands of new rooftop solar installations.

“Was there a considerable amount of resources placed on policy? Yeah, there was,” says Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner between 2007 and 2012 and now a utilities consultant. “It’s a challenge to balance between the safety aspects and the need for policy deliberation.”

Michael Peevey, a former Southern California Edison president, and CPUC president between 2002 and 2014, was a vocal champion of renewable-energy policies. Now retired, he says the regulator was large enough to focus on safety and renewables simultaneously but that it was tough to get Sacramento lawmakers excited about funding safety.

When compared with eliminating coal and adding solar energy, he says, “Safety is not a glamorous thing.”

For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. “PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 9, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 8, 2019, and has the title “‘Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing’: How PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Wildfire Crisis.”)

“Publicly Held Companies Will Play the Political Game”

(p. A11) Mr. Chitester was probably the only PBS or NPR station manager who didn’t believe public radio and television should receive subsidies from American taxpayers. But he had a skill in short supply among the pro-capitalist intellectual class: He knew how to popularize free-market ideas, which many thought couldn’t be done on television.

He confesses that he isn’t sure he’d even heard of Friedman when Wallis put the two in touch. But Mr. Chitester says he devoured Friedman’s 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” and went to meet Milton and his wife, fellow economist and collaborator, Rose, at their San Francisco apartment.

An hour into the conversation, Mr. Chitester brought up a section in the book where Friedman talks about the responsibility of business—also the theme of Friedman’s famous 1970 New York Times essay, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” Mr. Chitester described his dilemma: “I said to Milton, based on your philosophy, I shouldn’t be asking companies for money, and if they take your advice, they’re not going to give me any.”

“Bob, don’t worry about it,” Friedman reassured him. “Businessmen don’t like me anyway.” The economist elaborated. “He said private owners—those who own their own companies—they will be sympathetic. But corporations and publicly held companies will play the political game.” In other word, they’d be shy about supporting such a project lest it hurt them when seeking government funding.

. . .

. . . [Chitester] offers two suggestions for those dreaming about doing what he did.

“First,” he says, “you have to be a storyteller. Think of the people that have had meteoric rises to celebrity. They’ve been excellent storytellers. Free-market preachers if you will.”

. . .

. . . [second] to hopefully get people to think at least initially that I’m a nice person,” he says. “Because if they don’t think I’m a nice person, there’s nothing on the face of the earth I can do that will likely persuade them to listen to what I have to say.”

For the full interview, see:

William McGurn, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Man Who Made Milton Friedman a Star.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct 31, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Oct. 30, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Friedman book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Chris Rock on Covid-19, Blackface, and Cancel Culture

(p. 7) [Rock:] Part of the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in is, the president’s a landlord. No one has less compassion for humans than a landlord. [Laughs.] And we’re shocked he’s not engaged.

Did you ever see that movie “The Last Emperor,” where like a 5-year-old is the emperor of China? There’s a kid and he’s the king. So I’m like, it’s all the Democrats’ fault. Because you knew that the emperor was 5 years old. And when the emperor’s 5 years old, they only lead in theory. There’s usually an adult who’s like, “OK, this is what we’re really going to do.” And it was totally up to Pelosi and the Democrats. Their thing was, “We’re going to get him impeached,” which was never going to happen. You let the pandemic come in. Yes, we can blame Trump, but he’s really the 5-year-old.

Put it this way: Republicans tell outright lies. Democrats leave out key pieces of the truth that would lead to a more nuanced argument. In a sense, it’s all fake news.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] Jimmy Fallon drew significant criticism this past spring for a 20-year-old clip of himself playing you in blackface on “Saturday Night Live.” How did you feel about that segment?

[Rock:] Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] There’s been a wider push to expunge blackface from any movies or TV shows where it previously appeared. Have people taken it too far?

[Rock:] If I say they are, then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career. Blackface ain’t cool, OK? That’s my quote. Blackface is bad.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “Chris Rock’s New Universe.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sunday, September 20, 2020): 6-7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed names, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview was updated Sept. 24, 2020, and has the title “Chris Rock Tried to Warn Us.”)

“The F.D.A. and the Drug Houses Were in Bed Together”

(p. A22) Dr. John S. Najarian, a groundbreaking transplant surgeon who made headlines for taking on difficult cases, and who weathered a different type of headline when he was accused, and then exonerated, of improprieties related to a drug he had developed, died on Aug. 31 in Stillwater, Minn., east of Minneapolis.

. . .

In November 1982, Dr. Najarian performed what may have been his highest-profile surgery. The patient was Jamie Fiske, who became the youngest successful liver transplant recipient when Dr. Najarian performed the operation a few weeks before her first birthday. Her parents had made a widely publicized appeal for a donor.

“They were told that she wouldn’t survive that kind of an operation,” Dr. Najarian said in an oral history recorded in 2011 for the University of Minnesota’s Academic Health Center. “I’m not the kind of guy that takes that lightly. So I told them, ‘If a liver becomes available, we’ll transplant it, and it will work’ — a pretty brash statement, but it did.”

Dr. Najarian’s success with transplants was aided by a drug he developed in 1970, a type of antilymphocyte globulin known as Minnesota ALG, which addressed the biggest problem with early transplants: the rejection of the new organ. He said the drug, which he began using around 1970, gave the Minnesota transplant teams notably better results than other surgical centers were getting with a product offered by a pharmaceutical company.

“Everybody thought we were lying,” Dr. Najarian said, “because we could take patients and we could transplant them, and 65 to 70 percent of them did extremely well, whereas they were lucky to have 50 percent with the commercially available product from Upjohn.”

Other transplant centers began asking for the product, and it turned into a multimillion-dollar business for the university. But in 1992, the Food and Drug Administration, which had approved ALG as an investigational drug but not for interstate sale, stopped the program, and the federal authorities began an investigation. The university turned on Dr. Najarian, pressuring him to resign, and in 1995 he was charged with violating drug safety laws and other crimes.

Dr. Najarian maintained that the case was an attempt by the pharmaceutical industry and its friends in the F.D.A. to squash a successful treatment that was costing drug companies money by besting their products.

“The F.D.A. and the drug houses were in bed together,” he said bluntly in the oral history.

His trial in federal court in St. Paul, Minn., in 1996 provided vindication. Judge Richard Kyle threw out six of the charges, and a jury acquitted him of the other 15. The judge then took the extraordinary step of blasting the F.D.A. and the prosecutors.

“I have some questions as to why we were here at all,” Judge Kyle said.

The F.D.A., he added, “was certainly aware of what was going on, and yet they came in here as a witness to testify that somehow they were hoodwinked by this defendant and his colleagues and other people at the university.”

“We had a program here in Minnesota,” the judge added, “which, for all its problems and shortcomings, was a good program, literally saved thousands of lives.”

For the full obituary, see:

Neil Genzlinger. “John Najarian, 92, Revered Transplant Surgeon Who Took Tough Cases, Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, September 29, 2020): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 19, 2020, and has the title “John Najarian, Pioneering Transplant Surgeon, Dies at 92.”)

California Government Allowed “Buildup” of “Fuel for Future Blazes”

(p. A1) California is one of America’s marvels. By moving vast quantities of water and suppressing wildfires for decades, the state has transformed its arid and mountainous landscape into the richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation.

. . .

(p. A16) The intensity of the fires . . . reflects decades of policy decisions that altered those forests, according to Robert Bonnie, who oversaw the United States Forest Service under President Barack Obama. And the cost of those decisions is now coming due.

In an effort to protect homes and encourage new building, governments for decades focused on suppressing fires that occurred naturally, allowing the buildup of vegetation that would provide fuel for future blazes. Even after the drawbacks of that approach became clear, officials remained reluctant to reduce that vegetation through prescribed burns, wary of upsetting residents with smoke or starting a fire that might burn out of control.

That approach made California’s forests more comfortable for the estimated 11 million people who now live in and around them. But it has also made them more susceptible to catastrophic fires. “We’ve sort of built up this fire debt,” Mr. Bonnie said. “People are going to have to tolerate smoke and risk.”

For the full story, see:

Christopher Flavelle. “Mankind’s Feats Place California At Climate Risk.” The New York Times (Monday, September 21, 2020): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2020, and has the title “How California Became Ground Zero for Climate Disasters.”)

Boeotia Was “an Early Model of Democratic Federalism”

(p. C12) Mr. Cartledge, a professor emeritus at Cambridge and author of popular history books such as “The Spartans,” “Thermopylae,” “Alexander the Great” and “Democracy: A Life,” has picked an opportune time to look afresh at Thebes and Boeotia. The modern city of Thebes, an uninspiring market town, would not normally attract tourists, but is home to a glittering new museum, among the most up-to-date in Greece, featuring exhibits of archaeological finds (many unique in type) and historical objects from prehistory to the present. (One exhibit is titled, provocatively, “The Intellectual Radiance of Boeotia.”) There is a book forthcoming, from scholar James Romm, about Thebes’s “Sacred Band,” its elite unit of soldiers, made up of pairs of devoted homosexual lovers. Thebes is in the spotlight.

. . .

The biography of the Theban leader Epaminondas (418 B.C.-362 B.C.) written by Plutarch is, unfortunately, lost. Even so, his reputation shines. Admired by figures from Cicero and Montaigne to Sir Walter Raleigh (who called him “the worthiest man that ever was bred by the nation of Greece”), Epaminondas seems to have had a philosophical bent as well as a brilliant military mind.

. . .

Perhaps his greatest act, . . ., even if it might have been intended more to inconvenience the Spartans than as a benevolent deed, was freeing the helots of Messenia, a people that had been enslaved by the Spartans for 300 years. He helped found a new capital city for the Arcadian federation (Megalopolis), and also for the ex-helots (Messene). Maybe Epaminondas was not only the Nelson of his age, but the Lincoln as well. He died in battle and was buried alongside his male beloved, Caphisodorus, with an epitaph that listed his children (daughters, being female) as the cities Messene and Megalopolis; it ended “Greece is free.”

Mr. Cartledge’s command of the historical material is effortless and exhaustive, and his appreciation of Thebes is persuasive. Between the radical but self-destructive democracy of Athens and Sparta’s totalitarian oligarchy (both imperialist), Thebes and Boeotia stand in the middle as an early model of democratic federalism—the “united states” of Boeotia, for instance, shared a currency. It was Thebes that dealt a critical blow to Spartan domination, and a Theban leader who freed a long-enslaved people. Alexander the Great himself adopted military tactics from Epaminondas. If Thebes’s period of hegemony was brief—barely a decade—it also changed the course of the ancient world.

For the full review, see:

A.E. Stallings. “Greece’s Mythic Heartland.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 12, 2020): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 11, 2020, and has the title “‘Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece’ Review: Mythic Roots.”)

The book under review is:

Cartledge, Paul. Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece. New York: Abrams Press, 2020.

Former FDA Commissioners Urge Early “Emergency Use Authorization” for Covid-19 Vaccine

(p. A17) As former FDA commissioners, we are confident in the FDA’s career scientists to oversee vaccine development rigorously.

If a Covid vaccine clears this process, it could be made available initially to specific groups of people through an Emergency Use Authorization. This emergency authority enables the FDA to make products available before a full application is approved by the agency. Congress created the emergency-use pathway as part of the Project BioShield Act of 2004, which provided for the development of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. Following 9/11 and anthrax, lawmakers expected an urgent need for such defenses.

After the 2009 swine flu, Congress expanded this pathway in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure aimed at preparing the country to weather a pandemic. The law streamlined the application process for emergency use, expanded the classes of drugs eligible, and broadened the testing the FDA could require.

. . .

This authority enables the staged entry of a vaccine. It’s unlikely that a Covid-19 vaccine will receive full approval and broad distribution right away. Instead, the FDA will probably authorize vaccines for use in targeted groups of people at high risk from Covid and most likely to benefit from the vaccine. For them, it may make sense to provide access to the vaccine before long-term follow-up studies that address very remote risks.

This might include health-care providers or first responders, who face greater exposure, or older people, who are more prone to severe complications if infected.

. . .

This process exists precisely to deal with public-health emergencies like Covid-19. It isn’t a lower standard for FDA approval. It’s a more tailored, flexible standard that helps protect those who need it most while developing the evidence needed to make the public confident about getting a Covid-19 vaccine.

For the full commentary, see:

Mark McClellan, and Scott Gottlieb. “How ‘Emergency Use’ Can Help Roll Out a Covid Vaccine.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, September 15, 2020): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 13, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Pessimism of the Intellect and Optimism of the Will”

(p. C4) Advertisers may have been peddling baubles or junk food, but their cash funded serious journalism — the kind that could afford to send a reporter to, say, every municipal board meeting. “People knew that,” the former editor of the once mighty Youngstown Vindicator told Sullivan, “and they behaved.” This watchdog function had tangible benefits for subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. “When local reporting waned,” Sullivan writes, “municipal borrowing costs went up.” Local news outlets provide the due diligence that bondholders often count on. Without the specter of a public shaming, corruption is freer to flourish.

. . .

“Ghosting the News” concludes with a soaring quote from the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci about “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will,” but the local reporter in Sullivan follows it up with a more immediate analogy: Even if no one seems to be coming to the rescue while your house is on fire, you still have to “get out your garden hose and bucket, and keep acting as if the fire trucks are on the way.”

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Books of the Times; Another Endangered Species.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 30, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2020, and has the title “Books of the Times; Yes, Fake News Is a Problem. But There’s a Real News Problem, Too.”)

The book under review is:

Sullivan, Margaret. Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2020.