Breitbart – Appearing Monday on CNBC’s Squawk Box, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said he will present President Donald Trump with an executive order aimed at reducing the United States’ dependency on overseas medical supply chains as the country combat the Chinese coronavirus.
A partial transcript is as follows:
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: The New York Times is reporting this morning that the administration is attempted to persuade a Germany firm developing a possible vaccine, the company, CureVac, to move its research development to the United States, this is according to German officials, raising fear, apparently, in Berlin that President Trump was trying to ensure that any enucleation would be available first in the United States and, perhaps, exclusively. Can you speak to that?
PETER NAVARRO: What I can speak to is this broader, interesting issue of how dependent the United States of America is on the global supply chain, not just for its medicines, but for its medical supplies and medical equipment. As we speak, I’m bringing an executive order to the president, he personally asked me to move quickly on this issue. The essence of the exeuctive order, which we hope to get to the finish line by the end of the week, is to bring all of that home, so we don’t have to worry about foreign dependency. 70 percent of our advanced pharmaceutical ingredents comes from abroad.
Breitbart -The president of the European Commission called for borders to remain open within the EU’s Free Movement travel zone during the COVID-19 outbreak, as countries across the bloc enact border controls.
On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen urged European Union member states to keep their borders open so that medical supplies will be able to be transported to countries most affected from the coronavirus.
The Local – Denmark’s parliament on Thursday night unanimously passed an emergency coronavirus law which gives health authorities powers to force testing, treatment and quarantine with the backing of the police.
The far-reaching new law will remain in force until March 2021, when it will expire under a sunset clause.
BBC – Two of the EU’s biggest states, Spain and France, have followed Italy in announcing emergency restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
In Spain, people are banned from leaving home except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work.
With 191 deaths, Spain is Europe’s worst-hit country after Italy.
In France, where 91 people have died, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and most shops are now shut.
Italy, which has recorded more than 1,440 deaths, began a nationwide lockdown on Monday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says Europe is now the “epicentre” of the pandemic.
WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives.
Al Jazeera – Pakistan has recorded its biggest single-day spike in coronavirus infections, taking the tally to 107, amid reports of ineffective quarantine procedures as 61 of those are reported to be among those who had been held at a quarantine camp at the country’s Taftan border crossing with Iran.
No deaths due to the coronavirus have been recorded, according to government data.
“[The spike in cases] was mainly because of the people who came from Taftan. They had been quarantined there, and then we moved them to our own facility where we tested them,” said Meeran Yousuf, spokesperson for Sindh province’s health minister.
People currently in the Taftan camp told Al Jazeera they were not being adequately screened for coronavirus or treated for existing conditions. They also complained of squalid living conditions at the facility, which is housing hundreds of people.
Under current procedures, those released from the camp are being held for a further 14 days in their home provinces in separate quarantine facilities, where they will be tested if they display symptoms of the virus, Yousuf told Al Jazeera.
Doctors in one Australian state face ethical dilemma of whether or not to let old people die so they’re able to save the young as equipment shortage bites during pandemic
Daily Mail – Doctors in Australia could be faced with choosing between saving young or elderly patients because of a shortage of ventilators.
There are just 253 adult ventilators in hospital in Western Australia, including 14 for babies.
It means if there is a proper outbreak of coronavirus in the state medics would be faced with the same predicament facing Italian doctors who have been told to prioritise the treatment of young people over old.
Cases of the killer coronavirus soared to 237 on Saturday with 17 in Western Australia.
A further 51 ventilators have been ordered by Premier Mark McGowan, an the WA Health Department has ordered 50 more, while another 50 are in storage units.
North Metropolitan Health Service chief executive Robyn Lawrence did not rule out calling upon private hospitals to use their equipment.
Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association WA, said the state needs to ‘double’ the number of ventilators in case coronavirus patients develop pneumonia which could have serious effects on the elderly.
Italy has also suffered due to not having enough ventilators, and this led to a series of guidelines for doctors to triage patients based on their likelihood of survival.
‘It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care,’ the document, from the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care, reads.
The guidelines were issued amid reports that elderly Italian patients are being left untreated while the young, who are more likely to survive were treated, The West Australian reported.
Al Jazeera – More than half a billion children and youth are unable to go to school because of the coronavirus, the UN education agency said, as the outbreak continues to spread to new countries.
At least 56 countries have shut down schools nationwide with a further 17 implementing localised closures, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Monday.
Fire bosses are ordered to SACK nearly 10,000 hero firefighters who haven’t applied for ‘working with children’ checks
Daily Mail – Almost 10,000 firefighters face losing their jobs for refusing to get a Blue Card to work with children.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said 60 of 20,000 QFES staff and volunteers who applied for a Blue Card were denied – and warned those who do not obtain one by the end of the month will be sacked.
Blue Cards can be denied to people with a history of serious offences including selling drugs, rape, murder, child abuse and burglary.
Mr Crawford said the 60 refusals was ‘powerful evidence of the need for a Blue Card’, The Courier Mail reported.
He said due to the nature of the work many firefighters have to come into contact with children.
A QFES spokesman said only 58 per cent of staff and volunteers had applied for a Blue Card despite being ordered to apply by January 1.
The deadline was extended until the end of March.
‘Those who choose not to obtain a Blue Card will be choosing not to continue their role with QFES,’ the spokesman said.
Veteran firefighter Will Giumelli said many in the industry had taken offence to the demand and a petition has been launched objecting to the Blue Card order.
‘Are they saying we’re all bloody paedophiles?’ he said.
Rural Fire Brigades Association general manager Justin Choveaux said the move could leave many communities with no one to defend them next bushfire season.
He said many long serving firefighters had already resigned after repeated phone calls from the QFES.
‘Let’s make children safe, but let’s also make communities safe by not losing their volunteer fire brigades,’ Mr Choveaux said.
He said the RFB still has 8,578 staff and volunteers still needing to apply for a Blue Card.
CS Monitor – Katerina Sakellaropoulou became the president of Greece on Friday. She is the first woman in the nation’s 200-year history to occupy one of its highest political offices.
U.S. News, Politics & Government
Activist Post – President Donald Trump just declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak. We have seen the National Guard deployed to at least 6 states with many states previously declaring their own state of emergency.
This has all been widely reported by the corporate media. But what has not been reported in Western media is the fact that multiple nations have not only questioned the source of the outbreak originating in the food market in Wuhan China, but whether it originated in China at all.
When America’s perceived enemies make claims that the coronavirus may have originated in America, it can be easy to dismiss. But when multiple American allies make the same claims, backed up by scientific studies… We must at least consider this possibility.
In this bombshell interview, Spiro’s guest is Ryan Cristián from The Last American Vagabond. Spiro and Ryan discuss the scenario and supporting evidence that the virus may have originated in the United States, as suggested by multiple countries in addition to a significant event which occurred in the US that may be the key to the entire outbreak.
Breitbart – The first sailor assigned to a U.S. warship has tested “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus, but authorities said Sunday the result needed to be confirmed by military health specialists.
The diagnosis came a week after another U.S. Navy sailor stationed in southern Italy contracted the virus, which has killed more than 3,700 people worldwide including nearly 70 in the United States.
CNN – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is working with with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, announced a number of business closures earlier this morning.
Bars and restaurants close at 8 p.m. ET. All local governments must reduce their workforce by 50% minimum and all non-essential personnel can stay home.
Meanwhile, Cuomo outlined the businesses that are considered essential and exempt from the shutdown:
- Grocery stores
- Gas stations
- Medical facilities
CNN – A Tennessee man who stockpiled nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer has donated them to a local church after Amazon suspended his account. He is currently being investigated by the Tennessee Attorney General for alleged price gouging.
U.S. Offered ‘Large Sum’ to German Company for Access to Coronavirus Vaccine Research, German Officials Say – The New York Times
NYT -German officials will discuss a reported U.S. attempt to secure the rights to any coronavirus vaccine developed by a German pharmaceutical company in crisis meetings on Monday, the country’s interior minister said, amid concerns that the Trump administration was trying to monopolize the market.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, when asked to confirm a report the Trump administration was attempting to secure exclusive rights to any vaccine created by the German biopharmaceutical firm CureVac, said he had “heard from several other members of government today that is the case.”
Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday that the administration wanted to secure the rights and move research and development to the United States. The vaccine would be developed “only for the USA,” the newspaper said.
Activist Post – While only one topic is dominating the news, there are other significant changes taking place in the background.
Ryan Cristián — The Last American Vagabond — takes a look at a proposal called the EARN IT bill by none other than Lindsey Graham which would see all online messages scanned by the government.
Is this Internet Martial Law?
Electronic Frontier Foundation – Imagine an Internet where the law required every message sent to be read by government-approved scanning software. Companies that handle such messages wouldn’t be allowed to securely encrypt them, or they’d lose legal protections that allow them to operate.
That’s what the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed and hopes to pass into law. The so-called EARN IT bill, sponsored by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), will strip Section 230 protections away from any website that doesn’t follow a list of “best practices,” meaning those sites can be sued into bankruptcy. The “best practices” list will be created by a government commission, headed by Attorney General Barr, who has made it very clear he would like to ban encryption, and guarantee law enforcement “legal access” to any digital message.
The EARN IT bill had its first hearing and its supporters’ strategy is clear. Because they didn’t put the word “encryption” in the bill, they’re going to insist it doesn’t affect encryption.
“This bill says nothing about encryption,” co-sponsor Sen. Blumenthal said at today’s hearing. “Have you found a word in this bill about encryption?” he asked one witness.
It’s true that the bill’s authors avoided using that word. But they did propose legislation that enables an all-out assault on encryption. It would create a 19-person commission that’s completely controlled by the Attorney General and law enforcement agencies. And, at the hearing, a Vice-President at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) made it clear [PDF] what he wants the best practices to be. NCMEC believes online services should be made to screen their messages for material that NCMEC considers abusive; use screening technology approved by NCMEC and law enforcement; report what they find in the messages to NCMEC; and be held legally responsible for the content of messages sent by others.
You can’t have an Internet where messages are screened en masse, and also have end-to-end encryption any more than you can create backdoors that can only be used by the good guys. The two are mutually exclusive. Concepts like “client-side scanning” aren’t a clever route around this; such scanning is just another way to break end-to-end encryption. Either the message remains private to everyone but its recipients, or it’s available to others.
RT – Washington will act in “self-defense” in Iraq if its military comes under attack, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. US bases in Iraq have been repeatedly shelled recently and several servicemen have been killed and injured.
Pompeo told Iraqi PM Adil Abd al-Mahdi that Baghdad “must defend Coalition personnel supporting the Iraqi government’s efforts to defeat ISIS,” the US Department of State said in a statement on Monday.
Those “responsible for the attacks must be held accountable,” the official warned, adding that Washington “will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives” and will take “action as necessary in self-defense.”
Western Journal – In the Illinois city of Champaign, home to the University of Illinois, an executive order gives the mayor an unprecedented level of power that would allow for, among other things, the suspension of the sales of ammunition and firearms.
In addition to allowing the mayor to ban the sales of guns and ammunition, the executive order lets her restrict the sale and distribution of food and water as well as take the title to private property.
The executive order also lets her ban the sale of liquor and would allow the mayor to shut down liquor stores and bars.
WAND reported that the Champaign Municipal Code permits the mayor to suspend certain liberties for a limited period in times of emergency.
These are, of course, potential remedies the town might take.
As of yet, none of the powers that have been given to the mayor have been used.
However, the list of powers that the mayor know has — decided on in a Friday meeting — is an unnerving look at what could be coming to your community.
Police shoot dead ‘anti-government militia man’ in his home amid claims he was ASLEEP when they opened fire from OUTSIDE his house in raid that also left his girlfriend wounded
Daily Mail – A Maryland man who appeared to have ties to anti-government militia groups was shot dead by police while he was asleep in his home, a lawyer for his family says.
Duncan Lemp, 21, was asleep in his bedroom along with his girlfriend, when police executing a search warrant for banned weapons opened fire on the home from outside 4.30am on Thursday.
The Montgomery County Police Department said in a news release Friday that Lemp ‘confronted’ police and was shot by one of the officers early Thursday. Lemp was killed, and his girlfriend was injured.
Rene Sandler, an attorney for Lemp’s relatives, said an eyewitness gave a ‘completely contrary’ account of the shooting.
She said police could have ‘absolutely no justification’ for shooting Lemp based on what she has heard about the circumstances.
The facts as I understand them from eyewitnesses are incredibly concerning,’ she told The Associated Press.
The warrant that police obtained to search the Potomac home Lemp shared with his parents and 19-year-old brother doesn’t mention any ‘imminent threat’ to law enforcement or the public, Lemp’s relatives said in a statement released Friday by their lawyers. Nobody in the house that morning had a criminal record, the statement adds.
‘Any attempt by the police to shift responsibility onto Duncan or his family, who were sleeping when the police fired shots into their home, is not supported by the facts,’ the statement says.
A police department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to the statements by the family or their lawyer.
Economy & Business
ZeroHedge – With the stock market plummeting as the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak sink in, nervous New Yorkers flooded a Midtown Manhattan Bank of America – taking out large sums of cash into the tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
So much so, in fact, that the branch at 52nd St. and Park Avenue ran out of $100 bills according to the New York Times, citing three people familiar with the branch’s operations. Of note, the problem was limited to large bills – with smaller denominations remaining stocked. Two days later, the bank was resupplied.
The shortage hit after a rash of requests for as much as $50,000, said two people who witnessed the rush.
The problem was limited to large bills — the bank’s A.T.M.s stayed stocked and customers with routine transactions were still able to take out cash. By Friday morning, the bank had refilled its supply of big bills, two of the people said.
But the desire for cash persisted: A teller at a JPMorgan Chase branch across the street said on Friday that there had been a “nonstop” stream of customers stockpiling cash over the past two days. –NYT
ZeroHedge -I n a blog post published minutes ago, IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva issued three “policy prescriptions” that she said should define a “coordinated response” from the developed economies in Europe and the US. In addition to declaring that the IMF has $1 trillion in loan capacity ready to put to work to salve the economic damage caused by the outbreak, Georgieva encouraged governments to spend more, and asked the Fed to consider bulking up its dollar FX swap lines to emerging-market central banks. She also noted that the $42 billion that investors have pulled from EM markets is one of the biggest outflows in history, and will certainly ratchet up financial stressors.
Today, the IMF published a set of policy recommendations that can help guide countries in the difficult days ahead.
What more needs to be done?
Three action areas for the global economy:
Additional fiscal stimulus will be necessary to prevent long-lasting economic damage.
Fiscal measures already announced are being deployed on a range of policies that immediately prioritize health spending and those in need. We know that comprehensive containment measures—combined with early monitoring—will slow the rate of infection and the spread of the virus.
Governments should continue and expand these efforts to reach the most-affected people and businesses—with policies including increased paid sick leave and targeted tax relief.
Beyond these positive individual country actions, as the virus spreads, the case for a coordinated and synchronized global fiscal stimulus is becoming stronger by the hour.
During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), for example, fiscal stimulus by the G20 amounted to about 2 percent of GDP, or over $900 billion in today’s money, in 2009 alone. So, there is a lot more work to do.
Second, monetary policy.
In advanced economies, central banks should continue to support demand and boost confidence by easing financial conditions and ensuring the flow of credit to the real economy. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve just announced further interest rate cuts, asset purchases, forward guidance and a drop in reserve requirements.
Policy steps that we know have worked before—including during the GFC—are on the table. Yesterday, major central banks took decisive coordinated action on monetary easing and opening of swap lines to lessen global financial market stresses.
Going forward, there may be a need for swap lines to emerging market economies.
As the Institute for International Finance said last week, investors have removed nearly $42 billion from emerging markets since the beginning of the crisis. This is the largest outflow they have ever recorded.
So central banks’ policy action in emerging-market and developing economies will need to balance the especially difficult challenge of addressing capital flow reversals and commodity shocks. In times of crisis such as at present, foreign exchange interventions and capital flow management measures can usefully complement interest rate and other monetary policy actions.
Third, the regulatory response.
Financial system supervisors should aim to maintain the balance between preserving financial stability, maintaining banking system soundness and sustaining economic activity.
This crisis will stress test whether the changes made in the wake of the financial crisis will serve their purpose.
Banks should be encouraged to use flexibility in existing regulations, for example by using their capital and liquidity buffers, and undertake renegotiation of loan terms for stressed borrowers. Risk disclosure and clear communication of supervisory expectations will also be essential for markets to function properly in the period ahead.
All this work—from monetary to fiscal to regulatory—is most effective when done cooperatively.
Indeed, IMF staff research shows that changes in spending, for example, have a multiplier effect when countries act together.
What the IMF can do
The IMF stands ready to mobilize its $1 trillion lending capacity to help our membership. As a first line of defense, the Fund can deploy its flexible and rapid-disbursing emergency response toolkit to help countries with urgent balance-of-payment needs.
These instruments could provide in the order of $50 billion to emerging and developing economies. Up to $10 billion could be made available to our low-income members through our concessional financing facilities, which carry zero interest rates.
Science & Technology
Salon – When it is raining hard on Earth, English speakers say it is raining cats and dogs. But on exoplanet WASP-76b, cats and dogs does not come close to describing its metallic precipitation.
“One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,” David Ehrenreich, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a press statement.
Ehrenreich led a study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, of this exoplanet located an estimated 390 light years away in the constellation of Pisces. The peculiar iron rain happens because one side of the planet perpetually faces its parent star, wreathing one side of the planet in eternal daylight. Its opposite side experiences perpetual night. This is known as a tidally locked orbit, meaning that WASP-76b orbits its star once for each time it rotates once around its axis. That makes it similar to Earth’s moon, which is also tidally locked in its orbit around the Earth — which is why we only ever see one side of the Moon.
According to the research, WASP-76b receives thousands of times more radiation than Earth on its day side from its parent star. The extreme heat on the star-facing side causes metals like iron to evaporate into the atmosphere; the radiative heat then causes these molecules to separate into atoms. Then, the extreme temperature difference between the day and night side creates very gusty winds that carry the iron vapor to the night side, where it condenses and rains down.
“The observations show that iron vapour is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b,” María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and the chair of the exoplanet observation instrument’s science team, said in a press statement. “A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet’s rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down.”
Quartz – Most cases of Covid-19 are mild—but it travels quickly. Luckily, the best way to prevent spreading it is pretty simple: Keep good hygiene. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds frequently, cover your nose and mouth when you cough, and try to avoid contact with others you know are sick.
These techniques work because tiny droplets from coughing and sneezing can carry the novel coronavirus as far as three to six feet (or one to two meters). If they happen to make it into another person’s airways, they could become infected.
But the virus can also likely live on the surfaces these droplets touch, sometimes for multiple days, says Rudra Channappanavar, an immunologist who has studied coronaviruses at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Glass in particular—like the kind on screen of the smartphone you’re probably reading this on—can harbor live coronaviruses for up to 96 hours, or four days at room temperature.
These estimates come from data collected during the 2003 SARS outbreak and reported to the World Health Organization. The two viruses are genetic cousins: Both infect our airways, have a single strand of genetic material, called RNA, and have proteins protruding from their shells. The virus behind the SARS outbreak is technically named SARS-CoV; the new virus is SARS-CoV-2.
In theory, it’d be pretty easy to pick up the novel coronavirus from your phone screen. If someone coughed or sneezed near your phone on your morning commute while you were scrolling through social media, you could inadvertently touch that droplet and then touch your nose or mouth.
Most people touch their phones and faces a lot: One study conducted by the research firm Dscout found that, in a group of 94, the average person picked up their phone 2,600 times per day. They also spent extended time on it (scrolling, checking emails) 76 times per day. Another small study from researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia found that people touch their face about 23 times per hour, or 368 times during their waking hours. This study only tracked 26 college students, but still: It’s a pretty common habit most of us do without thinking.
Gross phone screens and other surfaces are nothing new. We’re constantly exposed to viruses and bacteria on everything—and for the most part they don’t make us sick. But it’s worth remembering where these pesky microbes can live, particularly in times when infections are common. Channappanavar says that if there’s ever a time when you pick up an infection like Covid-19 without any known exposure to it, it’s likely that you got it from one of these surfaces.
Thankfully, there’s an easy solution: Clean the surfaces around you. Apple recommends cleaning phone surfaces with a microfiber cloth slightly damp with soapy water. You can also use face wipes or baby wipes, or a solution of half water and half rubbing alcohol—just avoid any openings
Natural Blaze – It’s important to keep surfaces clean and disinfected – especially during a pandemic emergency. Because the coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to a few days, keeping up your cleaning regimen is essential to your health and the continued sanitation of the home.
The CDC recommends disinfecting areas where there can be large numbers of household germs — and where there is a possibility that these germs could be spread to others. Here are some hotspots to hit: doorknobs, faucet handles, toilet flushers, bathrooms, phones, keyboards, remote controls, countertops, and tables. Keeping your hard surfaces clean is essential during the flu season. Here is an easy way to keep the cleaning as convenient as possible.
Moreover, they suggest the best way to keep a home clean is by using these guidelines:
- Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Since we all love the convenience of cleaning wipes, here’s an easy way to make them.
Here’s What You Need:
- 1 roll of paper towels
- Plastic cleaning container for wipes (I like to reuse old Clorox wipes containers)
- 1 roll paper towels
- 1/2 cup Clorox (or any bleach)
- 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap
- 1-gallon water
- Add bleach and dish soap to water; stir well.
- Cut paper towel roll to fit into the desired container.*
- Pour enough solution over paper towel roll to fully absorb (2-4 cups).
- Remove the cardboard center from paper towel roll.
- Pull pieces of paper towel (wipes) from the center hole of the roll.
- Cover surface; allow to sit for 5 full minutes.
- Wipe with a wet cloth; air dry.
There is always some of the disinfecting solution left over. Add it to a spray bottle for another use. Cotton towels can also be placed in the solution, used, laundered and reused.
This is a simple way to repurpose your old Clorox wipes containers and save a few dollars by making your own.
The Hour – A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism by a group of Yale researchers found that the consumption of the common artificial sweetener sucralose (which is found in Splenda, Zerocal, Sukrana, SucraPlus and other brands) in combination with carbohydrates can swiftly turn a healthy person into one with high blood sugar.
From whole grain English muffins to reduced-sugar ketchup, sucralose is found in thousands of baked goods, condiments, syrups and other consumer packaged goods – almost all of them containing carbs.
The finding, which researchers noted has yet to be replicated in other studies, raises new questions about the use of artificial sweeteners and their effects on weight gain and overall health.
The artificial sweetener by itself seemed to be fine, the researchers discovered, but that changed when combined with a carbohydrate. Seven beverages over two weeks and the previously healthy people in this group became glucose intolerant, a metabolic condition that results in elevated blood glucose levels and puts people at an increased risk for diabetes.
The finding follows a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine last year that found that consumption of two or more glasses of artificially sweetened soft drinks a day increased deaths from circulatory diseases. And a 2008 study by scientists at Purdue University showed that artificial sweeteners alone could result in higher blood pressure, weight gain, and increased risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease in rats.
Pocket – Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. They are in fact vivid illustrations of a striking truth about human beings: however intelligent and knowledgeable we might be in other ways, many of us still believe the strangest things. You can find people who believe they were abducted by aliens, that the Holocaust never happened, and that cancer can be cured by positive thinking. A 2009 Harris Poll found that between one‑fifth and one‑quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, astrology and the existence of witches. You name it, and there is probably someone out there who believes it.
You realise, of course, that Oliver’s theory about 9/11 has little going for it, and this might make you wonder why he believes it. The question ‘Why does Oliver believe that 9/11 was an inside job?’ is just a version of a more general question posed by the US skeptic Michael Shermer: why do people believe weird things? The weirder the belief, the stranger it seems that someone can have it. Asking why people believe weird things isn’t like asking why they believe it’s raining as they look out of the window and see the rain pouring down. It’s obvious why people believe it’s raining when they have compelling evidence, but it’s far from obvious why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job when he has access to compelling evidence that it wasn’t an inside job.
I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn’t mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.
Usually, when philosophers try to explain why someone believes things (weird or otherwise), they focus on that person’s reasons rather than their character traits. On this view, the way to explain why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job is to identify his reasons for believing this, and the person who is in the best position to tell you his reasons is Oliver. When you explain Oliver’s belief by giving his reasons, you are giving a ‘rationalising explanation’ of his belief.
The problem with this is that rationalising explanations take you only so far. If you ask Oliver why he believes 9/11 was an inside job he will, of course, be only too pleased to give you his reasons: it had to be an inside job, he insists, because aircraft impacts couldn’t have brought down the towers. He is wrong about that, but at any rate that’s his story and he is sticking to it. What he has done, in effect, is to explain one of his questionable beliefs by reference to another no less questionable belief. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us why he has any of these beliefs. There is a clear sense in which we still don’t know what is really going on with him.
Now let’s flesh out Oliver’s story a little: suppose it turns out that he believes lots of other conspiracy theories apart from the one about 9/11. He believes the Moon landings were faked, that Diana, Princess of Wales, was murdered by MI6, and that the Ebola virus is an escaped bioweapon. Those who know him well say that he is easily duped, and you have independent evidence that he is careless in his thinking, with little understanding of the difference between genuine evidence and unsubstantiated speculation. Suddenly it all begins to make sense, but only because the focus has shifted from Oliver’s reasons to his character. You can now see his views about 9/11 in the context of his intellectual conduct generally, and this opens up the possibility of a different and deeper explanation of his belief than the one he gives: he thinks that 9/11 was an inside job because he is gullible in a certain way. He has what social psychologists call a ‘conspiracy mentality’.
The gullible rarely believe they are gullible and the closed-minded don’t believe they are closed-minded
Notice that the proposed character explanation isn’t a rationalising explanation. After all, being gullible isn’t a reason for believing anything, though it might still be why Oliver believes 9/11 was an inside job. And while Oliver might be expected to know his reasons for believing that 9/11 was an inside job, he is the last person to recognise that he believes what he believes about 9/11 because he is gullible. It is in the nature of many intellectual character traits that you don’t realise you have them, and so aren’t aware of the true extent to which your thinking is influenced by them. The gullible rarely believe they are gullible and the closed-minded don’t believe they are closed-minded. The only hope of overcoming self-ignorance in such cases is to accept that other people – your co-workers, your spouse, your friends – probably know your intellectual character better than you do. But even that won’t necessarily help. After all, it might be that refusing to listen to what other people say about you is one of your intellectual character traits. Some defects are incurable.
Gullibility, carelessness and closed-mindedness are examples of what the US philosopher Linda Zagzebski, in her book Virtues of the Mind (1996), has called ‘intellectual vices’. Others include negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail. Intellectual character traits are habits or styles of thinking. To describe Oliver as gullible or careless is to say something about his intellectual style or mind-set – for example, about how he goes about trying to find out things about events such as 9/11. Intellectual character traits that aid effective and responsible enquiry are intellectual virtues, whereas intellectual vices are intellectual character traits that impede effective and responsible inquiry. Humility, caution and carefulness are among the intellectual virtues Oliver plainly lacks, and that is why his attempts to get to the bottom of 9/11 are so flawed.
Oliver is fictional, but real-world examples of intellectual vices in action are not hard to find. Consider the case of the ‘underwear bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009. Abdulmutallab was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to affluent and educated parents, and graduated from University College London with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was radicalised by the online sermons of the Islamic militant Anwar al-Awlaki, who was subsequently killed by an American drone strike. It’s hard not to see the fact that Abdulmutallab was taken in by Awlaki’s sermons as at least partly a reflection of his intellectual character. If Abdulmutallab had the intellectual character not to be duped by Awlaki, then perhaps he wouldn’t have ended up on a transatlantic airliner with explosives in his underpants.