The WHO is letting down long Covid patients

The WHO is letting down long Covid patients
Failure to recognize the scope of the illness will harm countless people around the globe
By Ziyad Al-Aly
Oct 17 2021

The WHO recently released its clinical case definition for what it called “post-Covid-19 condition”. This definition is too little too late, its myopic scope does not recognize the breadth of disability and disease caused by long Covid and its long term implications on quality of life and life expectancy. The millions of people around the globe suffering from long Covid deserve better.

It is unclear why the WHO definition snubs and does not embrace the term “long Covid”. The term was coined by patients who also refer to themselves as long-haulers. These patients-advocates-researchers galvanized attention around the existence of this disease and brought long Covid to the spotlight. In a short few months, they created a formidable patient-led advocacy and research movement that changed the arc of medical history. They were the first to survey their membership and catalogue the broad array of clinical problems caused by Covid-19. Their contributions will go down in the annals of history as an important inflection point.

Arguably, without them long Covid would have remained a peripheral condition disregarded by governments, health systems and academic research as a fringe problem. They represent the 21st century version of the brave HIV-Aids activists who changed the ways in which governments and the public dealt with HIV-Aids. These are the Larry Kramer of Covid-19. They deserve enormous respect, and recognition, not only by including a few of them on the WHO panel, but also by recognizing that without them none of us would be talking about long Covid. They should be celebrated and recognized as heroes. The term “long Covid” should be officially embraced by the WHO.

Beyond its lack of embrace for the patient-created name, the WHO definition is solely based on symptomatology, ignoring a lot of the long-lasting clinical manifestations caused by Covid-19, including new onset diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease. These are chronic conditions that will scar affected individuals for a lifetime. They affect not only quality of life but also life expectancy. Given the millions of people affected around the globe, this will certainly result in a rise in the global and national burdens of these diseases, putting additional strain on already overwhelmed health systems. This deserves recognition now to ensure that our governments and health systems are prepared to deal with the tide of patients with these chronic conditions. 

Failure to recognize that the long-term ramifications of Covid-19 also include development of new onset chronic metabolic and cardiovascular disease will leave us yet again unprepared to deal with the huge after-effects of Covid-19 – a critical public health crisis that will reverberate for decades to come. The downstream consequences of long Covid will not only shape health outcomes, but will also have broad economic, social, political and global security implications.

The WHO definition also conditions the diagnosis on the idea that symptoms cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis, which makes long Covid a diagnosis of exclusion – further marginalizing this disease. I worry that this myopic definition of long Covid may be used by governments and health insurers to debase the disease and deny insurance coverage. It may add fuel to the gaslighters’ fire, providing them with a moral license to sow more skepticism around the existence of this disease and brand its ill effects as an “invention” of patient activist groups.

The WHO delivered a suboptimal response to Covid-19; they hesitated for weeks before they declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern on 31 January 2020. Unfortunately, the WHO’s slow and calcific response to long Covid is on track to repeat the same mistakes. The millions of sufferers around the world deserve better. The WHO, national governments and health systems around the world must do a better job preparing for long Covid. Failure to recognize the scope of the problem and prepare for it now risks eroding much of the progress made in global health over the last decades.

Built on the bodies of slaves: how Africa was erased from the history of the modern world

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Nelson.  DLH]

Built on the bodies of slaves: how Africa was erased from the history of the modern world
The creation of the modern, interconnected world is generally credited to European pioneers. But Africa was the wellspring for almost everything they achieved – and African lives were the terrible cost
By Howard W French
Oct 12 2021

It would be unusual for a story that begins in the wrong place to arrive at the right conclusions. And so it is with the history of how the modern world was made. Traditional accounts have accorded a primacy to Europe’s 15th-century Age of Discovery, and to the maritime connection it established between west and east. Paired with this historic feat is the momentous, if accidental, discovery of what came to be known as the New World.

Other explanations for the emergence of the modern world reside in the ethics and temperament that some associate with Judeo-Christian beliefs, or with the development and spread of the scientific method, or, more chauvinistically still, with Europeans’ often-professed belief in their unique ingenuity and inventiveness. In the popular imagination, these ideas have become associated with the work ethic, individualism and entrepreneurial drive that supposedly flowed from the Protestant Reformation in places such as England and Holland.

Of course, there is no denying the significance of the voyages of mariners such as Vasco da Gama, who reached India via the Indian Ocean in 1498, Ferdinand Magellan, who travelled west to Asia, skirting the southern tip of South America, and Christopher Columbus. As the author Marie Arana has elegantly said of Columbus, when he sailed west, “he had been a medieval man from a medieval world, surrounded by medieval notions about Cyclops, pygmies, Amazons, dog-faced natives, antipodeans who walk on their heads and think with their feet – about dark-skinned, giant-eared races who inhabit the lands where gold and precious gems grow. When he stepped on to American soil, however, he did more than enter a new world: he stepped into a new age.”

Although these famous feats of discovery dominate the popular imagination, they obscure the true beginnings of the story of how the globe became permanently stitched together and thus became “modern”. If we look more closely at the evidence, it will become clear that Africa played a central role in this history. By miscasting the role of Africa, generations have been taught a profoundly misleading story about the origins of modernity.

The first impetus for the Age of Discovery was not Europe’s yearning for ties with Asia, as so many of us learned in school, but rather its centuries-old desire to forge trading ties with legendarily rich Black societies hidden away in the heart of “darkest” west Africa. Iberia’s most famous sailors cut their teeth not seeking routes to Asia, but rather plying the west African coastline. This is where they perfected techniques of mapmaking and navigation, where Spain and Portugalexperimented with improved ship designs, and where Columbus came to understand the Atlantic Ocean winds and currents well enough that he would later reach the western limits of the sea with a confidence that no European had previously had before him, of being able to return home.

Well before he mounted his expeditions on behalf of Spain, Columbus, an Italian from Genoa, had sailed to Europe’s first large, fortified overseas outpost, which was located in the tropics at Elmina, in modern-day Ghana. European expeditions to west Africa in the mid-15th century were bound up in a search for gold. It was the trade in this precious metal, discovered in what is now Ghana by the Portuguese in 1471, and secured by the building of the fort at Elmina in 1482, that helped fund Vasco da Gama’s later mission of discovery to Asia. This robust new supply of gold helped make it possible for Lisbon, until then the seat of a small and impecunious European crown, to steal a march on its neighbours and radically alter the course of world history.

Bartolomeu Dias, another Portuguese explorer who knew Elmina well, rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in 1488, proving the existence of a sea route to what would become known as the Indian Ocean. But no onward voyage to Asia would even be attempted for nearly a decade after that, when Da Gama finally sailed to Calicut (now known as Kozhikode in India). The teaching of history about this era of iconic discoveries is confoundingly silent not only on that decade, but on the nearly three decades between the Portuguese arrival at Elmina in 1471 and their landing in India in 1498.

It was this moment, when Europe and what is nowadays styled sub-Saharan Africa came into permanent deep contact, that laid the foundations of the modern age.

The elision of these three pivotal decades is merely one example of a centuries-long process of diminishment, trivialisation and erasure of Africans and people of African descent from the story of the modern world. It is not that the basic facts are unknown; it is that they have been siloed, overlooked or swept into dark corners. It is essential to restore key chapters such as these to their proper place of prominence in our common narrative of modernity.

Starting in the 15th century, encounters between Africans and Europeans set the most Atlantic-oriented Europeans on a path that would eventually propel their continent past the great civilisational centres of Asia and the Islamic world in wealth and power. The rise of Europe was not founded on any innate or permanent characteristics that produced superiority. To a degree that remains unrecognised, it was built on Europe’s economic and political relations with Africa. The heart of the matter here, of course, was the massive, centuries-long transatlantic trade in enslaved people who were put to work growing sugar, tobacco, cotton and other cash crops on the plantations of the New World.

The long thread that leads us to the present began in those three decades at the end of the 15th century, when commerce blossomed between Portugal and Africa, sending a newfound prosperity washing over what had previously been a marginal European country. It drove urbanisation in Portugal on an unprecedented scale, and created new identities that gradually freed many people from feudal ties to the land. One of these novel identities was nationhood, whose origins were bound up in questing for wealth in faraway lands, and soon thereafter in emigration and colonisation in the tropics.

As Portugal started to venture out into the world in the 1400s – and for nearly a century this meant almost exclusively to Africa – its people were among the first to make another conceptual leap. They began to think of discovery not merely as the simple act of stumbling upon assorted novelties or arriving wide-eyed in never-before-visited places, but rather as something new and more abstract. Discovery became a mindset, and this would become another cornerstone of modernity. It meant understanding that the world was infinite in its social complexity, and this required a broadening of consciousness, even amid the colossal violence and horror that accompanied this process, and an ever more systematic unmooring from provincialism.

The fateful engagement between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa produced civilisational transformations in both regions, as well as in the wider world – ones that, looking back today, produced an exceptionally crisp division between “before” and “after”.

Back then, Europeans were mindful of this reality. As late as the 1530s, well after the start of Portugal’s more famous spice trade with Asia, Lisbon still recognised Africa as the leading driver of all that was new. João de Barros, a counsellor to that country’s crown, wrote: “I do not know in this Kingdom a yoke of land, toll, tithe, excise or any other Royal tax more reliable … than the profits of commerce in Guinea.”

But as remarkable as Barros’s acknowledgment of African vitality was, his omission of slavery as a pillar of the relationship was equally notable. It may have been the first time that the centrality of Black bondage was simply passed over in an informed account of modernity in the west. It would not be the last. When Barros wrote, Portugal overwhelmingly dominated Europe’s trade in Africans, and slavery was beginning to rival gold as Portugal’s most lucrative source of African bounty. By then, it was already on its way to becoming the foundation of a new economic system based on plantation agriculture. Over time, that system would generate far more wealth for Europe than African gold or Asian silks and spices.

Sounding like an updated Barros, Malachy Postlethwayt, a leading 18th-century British expert on commerce, called the rents and revenues of plantation slave labour “the fundamental prop and support” of his country’s prosperity. He described the British empire as “a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power [built] on an African foundation”. Around the same time, an equally prominent French thinker, Guillaume-Thomas-François de Raynal, described Europe’s plantations worked by African enslaved people as “the principal cause of the rapid motion which now agitates the universe”. Daniel Defoe, the English author of Robinson Crusoe, but also a trader, pamphleteer and spy, bested both when he wrote: “No African trade, no negroes; no negroes, no sugars, gingers, indicoes [sic] etc; no sugar etc, no islands, no continent; no continent, no trade.”

Postlethwayt, Raynal and Defoe were surely right, even if they did not comprehend all of the reasons why. More than any other part of the world, Africa has been the linchpin of the machine of modernity. Without African peoples trafficked from its shores, the Americas would have counted for little in the ascendance of the west. African labour, in the form of enslaved people, was what made the very development of the Americas possible. Without it, Europe’s colonial projects in the New World are unimaginable.

Through the development of plantation agriculture and a succession of history-altering commercial crops – tobacco, coffee, cacao, indigo, rice and, above all, sugar – Europe’s deep and often brutal ties with Africa drove the birth of a truly global capitalist economy. Slave-grown sugar hastened the coming together of the processes we call industrialisation. It radically transformed diets, making possible much higher worker productivity. And in doing so, sugar revolutionised European society.

In sugar’s wake, cotton grown by enslaved people in the American south helped launch formal industrialisation, along with a second wave of consumerism. Abundant and varied clothing for the masses became a reality for the first time in human history. The scale of the American antebellum cotton boom, which made this possible, was nothing short of astonishing. The value derived from the trade and ownership of enslaved people in the US alone – as distinct from the cotton and other products they produced – was greater than that of all of the country’s factories, railroads and canals combined.

Now-forgotten European contests over control of the African bounty partly built the modern world, by strengthening fixed national allegiances. Spain and Portugal waged fierce naval battles in west Africa over access to gold. Holland and Portugal, then unified with Spain, fought something little short of a world war in the 17th century in present-day Congo and Angola, vying for control of trade in the richest sources of enslaved people in Africa. On the far side of the Atlantic, Brazil – the biggest producer of slave-grown sugar in the early 17th century – was caught up in this same struggle, and repeatedly changed hands. Later in that same century, England fought Spain over control of the Caribbean.

Why did faraway powers contend so fiercely over such things? Tiny Barbadosprovides an answer. By the mid-1660s, just three decades or so after England initiated an African slave-labour model for its plantations there – one that was first implemented in the Portuguese colony of São Tomé little more than a century earlier – sugar from Barbados was worth more than the metal exports of all of Spanish America.

Amid this story of military struggles for control of land and slaves, and of the economic miracles they produced, another kind of conflict is visible: a war on Black people themselves. This involved the consistent pursuit of strategies for beating Africans into submission, for making them enslave one another, and for recruiting Black people as proxies and auxiliaries, whether to secure territories from native populations of the New World or joust with European rivals in the Americas.

To say this is not to deprive Africans of agency. The impact of this warfare on Africa’s subsequent development, however, has been immeasurable. Nowadays, the consensus estimate on the numbers of Africans brought to the Americas hovers about 12 million. Lost in this atrocious but far too neat accounting is the likelihood that another 6 million Africans were killed in or near their homelands during the hunt for slaves, before they could be placed in chains. Estimates vary, but between 5% and 40% perished during brutal overland treks to the coast, or while being held, often for months, in barracoons, or holding pens, as they awaited embarkation on slave ships. And another 10% of those who were taken aboard died at sea during an Atlantic transit that constituted an extreme physical and psychological test for all those who were subjected to it. When one considers that Africa’s total population in the mid-19th century was probably about 100 million, one begins to gauge the enormity of the demographic assault that the slave trade represented.


Opinion: Biden’s Supreme Court commission has good ideas. But the court’s problems run deeper.

Opinion: Biden’s Supreme Court commission has good ideas. But the court’s problems run deeper.
By Jennifer Rubin
Oct 17 2021

That is not to be. And, in fact, what is clear from the commission’s release of a draft report is that institutional changes cannot spare us from hyperpartisan appointees who lack self-awareness and honesty about their innate partisan biases.

The commission nevertheless offers some sage observations. On the question of court expansion, this draft recounts that the current controversy arises in part because of the Senate’s conduct — specifically Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2016 refusal to afford Merrick Garland a hearing and then to jam Amy Coney Barrett onto the court in 2020. Democrats’ outrage over “stolen seats” resulted in calls to essentially get those seats back by court expansion.

The commission finds that Congress has “broad power” to expand or shrink the court. As to the wisdom of doing so, the commission gently suggests the risks of expansion are “considerable,” threatening the legitimacy of the court. (It would be more accurate to say “further threatening” the court’s legitimacy, given how the justices have done a great deal to delegitimize their own institution.) The commission also recognizes expansion could spark never-ending efforts to grow the court until its size becomes unwieldy.

The most persuasive argument against expansion may be that it will do no good to “correct” imbalances or increase diversity if the side that created the appearance of partisanship — the GOP — is able to appoint even more justices down the line.

When it comes to term limits, the commission is much more positive, arguing that such a reform would remove the element of “luck” as to who can appoint justices. It would also end the strategic retirement game (which itself makes justices look partisan) and give older judges a shot at seats that presidents typically fill with young nominees. With staggered 18-year terms (each president allowed to make two appointments every two years), Supreme Court nominations would become less than do-or-die political brawls. The commission offers several ways of constructing the staggered terms and addressing the duties of justices who cycle off the court. Though the commission is divided on whether to accomplish this by statute or constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, Biden on Friday blithely dismissed the idea of term limits, undercutting his own commission and demonstrating a lack of urgency about court reform that continues to frustrate his base.

While it might seem like a small matter, the commission takes seriously the criticisms of the court’s “shadow docket” — referring to the emergency orders and summary decisions that the court issues without oral arguments. It recommends changes to how the court issues these orders, including steps to provide additional transparency (identifying how justices voted, providing explanations for the decision) and to limit candor from justices on why they elect to recuse themselves in a given case or not.

The commission’s analysis regarding term limits is encouraging, but its preliminary work should leave its readers pessimistic about any real reform. The chances that 60 senators would agree to term limits (during an era in which Republicans dream of decades of court dominance) remain remote. The likelihood that a court that has grown arrogant and out of touch would impose on itself ethical constraints or rules for greater transparency is even slimmer.

The court’s problems are not easily solved by structural reform. They are a function of the rise of a highly authoritarian right-wing that seeks to impose its will by any means possible — including by confirming partisan judges who lack the restraint required for responsible adjudication. When an entire political movement no longer values norms, comity or compromise, our institutions decay and lose credibility. The court’s fundamental disconnect from the American people is inevitable when justices are appointed by presidents elected by a minority of the electorate (via the anti-democratic electoral college) and confirmed by a Senate in which red states with small populations exercise disproportionate power.


‘This is our last chance’: Biden urged to act as climate agenda hangs by a thread

‘This is our last chance’: Biden urged to act as climate agenda hangs by a thread
Failure to pass legislation to cut emissions before the UN summit in Glasgow could be catastrophic for efforts to curb global heating
By Oliver Milman in New York and Lauren Gambino in Washington
Oct 18 2021

With furious environmental activists at the gates of the White House, and congressional Democrats fretting that a priceless opportunity to tackle catastrophic global heating may be slipping away, Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure over a climate agenda that appears to be hanging by a thread.

Biden’s allies have warned that time is running perilously short, both politically and scientifically, for the US to enact sweeping measures to slash planet-heating emissions and spur other major countries to do the same. Failure to do so will escalate what scientists have said are “irreversible” climate impacts such as disastrous heatwaves, floods, wildfires and a mass upheaval of displaced people.

The administration’s multitrillion-dollar social spending package, widely considered the most comprehensive climate legislation ever put forward in the US, must survive razor-thin Democratic majorities in Congress and, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has vowed, pass in time for crucial UN climate talks in Scotland that begin in about two weeks.

Embedded in the measure are plans to dramatically cut carbon emissions warming the planet and fueling climate disasters, a potentially historic set of policies that Pelosi has said would serve as “a model for the world”. But the 31 October deadline for passing the spending package and a smaller companion infrastructure bill appears increasingly ambitious as negotiations drag on between the White House, Democratic leaders and a pair of centrist holdouts in the Senate.

The prospect of the world’s leading economic power arriving in Glasgow with no domestic policy to cut emissions will make it harder to convince other major emitters, primarily China, to do more at a time when governments are collectively failing to avert unlivable global heating.

“They will look ridiculous if they show up with nothing,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, told Guardian. “It would be bad for US leadership, bad for the talks and disastrous for the climate. Just disastrous.

“The vast majority of Senate Democrats understand this is our last chance to act,” Whitehouse continued.

The bill includes a program of payments and penalties to ensure utilities phase out fossil fuels from America’s electricity supply, a huge expansion in tax credits for clean energy and new restrictions on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is emitted from oil and gas drilling. The legislation would slash US emissions by about 1bn tons by 2030, bringing Biden within striking distance of his target of cutting America’s emissions in half by this point.

Whitehouse also revealed that the president’s administration “will not oppose” a new price on carbon emissions being added to the bill, following negotiations with Senate Democrats. “We have a very good chance of getting that,” he said. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the talks.

The carbon fee, which would initially be set at $15 per ton of emissions before rising rapidly upwards over the course of several years, has long been a favored policy of economists and some moderate Republicans as a way to encourage polluters to switch to cleaner energy but has latterly been disregarded by activists and progressives.

However, these measures will have to garner the vote of every Democrat in the Senate to pass, with Joe Manchin, a centrist from West Virginia, skeptical of the size and scope of the $3.5tn spending proposal. Manchin, a major recipient of donations from the coal industry, has said it “makes no sense” to pay utilities to phase in solar and wind power.

Manchin is reportedly set to block the clean electricity program, which forms the main muscle of the climate package. This could prove a hugely consequential blow to the effort to constrain dangerous global heating. “This is high on the list of most consequential actions ever taken by an individual senator,” tweeted the climate campaigner Bill McKibben. “You’ll be able to see the impact of this vain man in the geologic record.”

Whitehouse admitted it was unclear what Manchin will ultimately do but that he was confident that “there’s a window in which negotiations with Joe can produce a bill to reduce emissions enough so we are not in danger’s way.”

Democrats are working feverishly to trim the $3.5tn proposal to about $2tn, in order to win the votes of centrists without losing the support of progressives. Among the many pressing questions Democrats must answer as they hurtle to meet their end-of-the-month deadline is how bold to go on climate.

It’s time for us to stop talking about what is politically feasible, and start talking about what is scientifically necessary
“There’s a lot of talk recently about what progressive lawmakers need to be willing to cut – what we have to be willing to negotiate on?” Senator Ed Markey, a lead proponent of the Green New Deal, said on a call with reporters this week. “Well, we can’t negotiate with deadly wildfires. They don’t negotiate. We cannot negotiate with massive hurricanes. They don’t negotiate. We can’t negotiate with floodwaters, sea level rise and drought and temperature rise. We can’t negotiate how much these climate-fueled disasters are costing us, tens of billions of dollars so far this year.

“It’s time for us to stop talking about what is politically feasible, and start talking about what is scientifically necessary – we cannot compromise on science,” he said. 

Failure to pass the legislation would be disastrous for the US and the global community, the US climate envoy, John Kerry, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“It would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement, again,” he warned.

The Build Back Better plan will put America on track to meet its goals, but it must not be the only action congress takes to combat the climate crisis, said congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and chair of the House select committee on the climate crisis. More federal action is needed to meet the scale of the emergency, she said.

“Even if we pass the Build Back Better Act as it is, that doesn’t get us to net-zero by 2050, which is the goal,” she said in an interview. Pointing to the latest climate research and a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that declared a “code red” for humanity, she added: “We are going to have to do more.”

While Biden can do little about the machinations of the Senate, the president has come under growing criticism that his own actions have not matched his rhetoric. Biden, who has said that the “nation and the world are in peril” from a “code red” climate emergency, has reincorporated the US to the Paris climate agreement and sought to restore some of the environmental rules axed by Donald Trump.

But his administration has also approved a flurry of new oil and gas drilling permits on public lands, urged oil-producing countries to ramp up production to help lower gasoline prices and declined to stop major fossil fuel projects such as Line 3, an oil pipeline expansion in Minnesota that has sparked violent clashes between police and those protesting against its construction. “I think [the administration] has missed an enormous opportunity to join the battle against those behind the problem – the fossil fuel industry,” said Whitehouse. 

Simmering resentment at the president exploded outside the White House last week, with four consecutive days of protests resulting in nearly 300 climate activists being arrested and removed by police. On Thursday, a banner was unfurled reading “We need real solutions, not false promises”, with protesters calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency and halt a slew of proposed pipelines and drilling projects – a report released by Oil Change International has found that 21 major fossil fuel projects under review by the administration would cause the emissions equivalent of 316 new coal-fired power plants if they went ahead.

“We felt we had someone who had our back and then he [Biden] wavered,” said Joye Braun, a campaigner at the Indigenous Environmental Network who traveled from South Dakota for the protests. “He made a lot of promises to us, as Indigenous people, that he’s not following through on. To allow something like Line 3 makes no damn sense.”

This reconciliation bill isn’t enough and it’s discouraging to see the Biden administration still approving fossil fuel projects
Climate scientist Drew Shindell


The debilitating effects of long Covid have just begun to hit economies

The debilitating effects of long Covid have just begun to hit economies
A study of German footballers revealed they still weren’t fighting fit six months after recovering from infection
By Torsten Bell
Oct 17 2021

The impact of the pandemic on our economy as we attempt to reopen is top of the agenda, with ships on the wrong side of the globe, gas prices rising and surging demand for many goods going unmet. How big and long lasting these effects will be dominated discussions of global financial leaders at last week’s annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But what is hardly discussed and still poorly understood is the continuing impact of Covid-19, specifically on the millions of people who have had it. Governments are only just starting to worry about long Covid’s impact on their disability benefits bill, while we know little about Covid’s direct effect on productivity.

New research gives a worrying answer on that front, albeit from a very particular industry: football. Examining the impact of Covid infection on football players in Germany and Italy, it finds their performance (measured by passes) dips by 6% when they return after the illness and is still 5% down six months on. This is very different to an almost instantaneous recovery from flu. Most of us don’t do jobs as physically demanding as football, but the paper is a reminder that current high case rates may not be cost-free – for those infected or our economy as a whole.

So when we’re pondering the legacy of this crisis for our economies, let’s not forget what makes up a large part of them: human beings.

Is Biden Doing Enough to Protect Democracy?

Is Biden Doing Enough to Protect Democracy?
Even the president’s closest allies are alarmed that he’s not making voting rights a front-and-center issue.
By Peter Nicholas
Oct 17 2021

As a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 2000s, I once received a call from a couple of Republican campaign operatives who said they had something to show me. We met at their office in Washington, D.C., a few days later. They presented printouts of recent election records and pointed to a few cases of what they suspected were people voting illegally. One after another, their examples of voter fraud turned out to be nothing. They had flagged, for instance, a voter named John Smith who might have cast ballots on the same day in two different precincts­—discounting the possibility that more than one person named John Smith might be living in the region. Their motivation was obvious enough: They were attempting to plant stories that would delegitimize elections that the GOP risked losing. It didn’t work.

With the rising bloc of younger, more diverse voters who skew left, Republican efforts like this in recent years have mushroomed into a full-blown campaign, undercutting the bedrock notion that American voters are the ones who decide elections. Whether GOP-controlled states are drawing new district lines that would disenfranchise Hispanic and Black voters for the next 10 years or “auditing” 2020 election results that have already shown that Donald Trump lost, the goal is the same: By any means necessary, win.

Fiona Hill worked on Trump’s National Security Council and later provided compelling testimony in his first impeachment trial. I asked her if she feared for democracy’s future should Trump win again. “We’re already there,” she told me. “I’m worried about it now. Millions of people are showing they don’t want any criticism of Trump. Democracy is becoming a dirty word, something that’s anti-Trump.”

“These are direct assaults on the basic underpinnings of the democratic system,” Wendy Weiser, who directs the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program, told me. This year, 19 states have passed 33 laws creating obstacles to the most fundamental American right, part of a “multipronged effort to sabotage elections,” she added. As the 2022 midterm elections approach, and with the 2024 presidential election not far behind, Democrats believe that President Joe Biden needs to fiercely combat the illiberal forces at work this very second in the country. And those fearing the loss of a two-century tradition of self-government in America are asking, with a hint of desperation, Where is he?

Certainly, Biden has been busy. He’s struggling to pass a historic multitrillion-dollar economic plan that he seems determined to make the centerpiece of his presidency. “I think the Biden administration’s more immediate priority is these infrastructure bills,” Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, told me. “And I really think that [voting rights] need to be pursued with equal vigor. Efforts to interfere with election officials at the state level are foundational to a democracy. And if the foundation becomes infirm, the whole edifice comes crashing down.” What good is expanded broadband, after all, if it only helps an autocratic government spread democracy-destroying disinformation?

When it comes to GOP attempts to subvert elections, Biden has at times been eloquent, and at other moments conspicuously silent. In July, he gave an impassioned speech in Philadelphia in which he shamed Republicans for not working to uphold “the sacred right to vote.” As my colleague Ronald Brownsteinnoted at the time, Biden didn’t mention the one step that’s absolutely necessary to protect voting rights: doing away with the Senate filibuster rule that is blocking passage of electoral reforms. In a recent speech, Biden found time to talk about renewable energy, tax credits, early-childhood education, climate change, the debt limit, and the growing number of Americans getting vaccinated. He touched on everything, it seemed, except voting rights. If the nation faces “the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” as Biden warned in Philadelphia, isn’t that as worthy of a mention as plug-in charging stations?

Ask the White House what it’s doing to defend voting rights and the stock reply is “Plenty.” One aide sent me a spreadsheet illustrating Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s attention to the issue. (The breakdown showed nearly three dozen speeches, meetings, and events for Harris, and six for Biden.) Attorney General Merrick Garland has set up a criminal task force to crack down on intimidation of election employees, a growing problem. (In Georgia, a state that Biden narrowly won, an election worker was emptying trash from a warehouse one day when hecklers surrounded him and told he would be going to jail, Gabriel Sterling, an official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, told me.) Even Biden’s allies worry that the progress is too slow. Is the president doing enough to spotlight the perilous state of American democracy? I asked Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. “No, of course not,” he said.

Gina Hinojosa was one of dozens of Democratic Texas legislators who left the state over the summer to deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass legislation restricting voting rights. Hinojosa and her colleagues flew to Washington, where they met twice with Harris to discuss the urgency of the issue. “The last time we passed historic voting-rights legislation, in 1965, we had a president from Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who used his skills and the power of the presidency to make voting-rights legislation happen,” she told me. “And we need that same kind of assertiveness from our current president.”

A new bill that Democrats have rallied behind, the Freedom to Vote Act, would beat back Republican attempts to manipulate elections for partisan purposes. It would set national voting standards that create a two-week early-voting period, make Election Day a public holiday, allow no-excuse voting by mail, and prevent the firing of election officials for political reasons. It also aims to prevent partisan gerrymandering, which some red states use to dilute the influence of minority voters. Biden has come out in favor of the bill, which is languishing in the Senate because of the filibuster rule.

An important thing to note about the Freedom to Vote Act is that it carries the support of the two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have balked at the cost of Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure package.

That would give Senate Democrats a good shot at passing the measure—if it needed only a simple majority vote. But the filibuster rule calls for a 60-vote supermajority, and both Manchin and Sinema have so far refused to do away with it. Democrats have worked out an arrangement that gives Manchin time to find 10 Republican senators willing to support the bill and meet the filibuster’s high threshold for passage. “It’s never going to happen,” Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, told me. “He won’t get half of that. He won’t get half of half of that. If we find ourselves in an authoritarian state where there is no more freedom of speech, press, or worship, I don’t think people are going to say, ‘Well, at least we still have the filibuster.’” (Manchin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

Democrats are understandably antsy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning for members to vote on the bill as early as Wednesday. A delay would be costly: Republican-controlled legislatures are already coming out with redistricting maps that would lock in their majority status for the next decade. “I wish Senator Manchin the best in his effort to round up some Republican votes, but we cannot have infinite patience,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told me. “The clock is ticking here. We’ve got to get these protections in place right away.” Practically, that looks unrealistic unless Manchin and Simena relent and agree either to nuke the filibuster or carve out a specific exception for voting rights. Biden could pressure the duo to do just that. But with his party holding a one-vote majority in the Senate, he would risk antagonizing two people he can’t afford to lose. When I asked a White House official if Biden supports lifting the filibuster to pass voting-rights protections, I got a tepid reply: “I don’t think we can rule out anything,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.


Maybe You Missed It, but the Internet ‘Died’ Five Years Ago

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Maybe You Missed It, but the Internet ‘Died’ Five Years Ago
A conspiracy theory spreading online says the whole internet is now fake. It’s ridiculous, but possibly not that ridiculous?
By Kaitlyn Tiffany
Aug 31 2021

If you search the phrase i hate texting on Twitter and scroll down, you will start to notice a pattern. An account with the handle @pixyIuvr and a glowing heart as a profile picture tweets, “i hate texting i just want to hold ur hand,” receiving 16,000 likes. An account with the handle @f41rygf and a pink orb as a profile picture tweets, “i hate texting just come live with me,” receiving nearly 33,000 likes. An account with the handle @itspureluv and a pink orb as a profile picture tweets, “i hate texting i just wanna kiss u,” receiving more than 48,000 likes.

There are slight changes to the verb choice and girlish username and color scheme, but the idea is the same each time: I’m a person with a crush in the age of smartphones, and isn’t that relatable? Yes, it sure is! But some people on Twitter have wondered whether these are really, truly, just people with crushes in the age of smartphones saying something relatable. They’ve pointed at them as possible evidence validating a wild idea called “dead-internet theory.”

Let me explain. Dead-internet theory suggests that the internet has been almost entirely taken over by artificial intelligence. Like lots of other online conspiracy theories, the audience for this one is growing because of discussion led by a mix of true believers, sarcastic trolls, and idly curious lovers of chitchat. One might, for example, point to @_capr1corn, a Twitter account with what looks like a blue orb with a pink spot in the middle as a profile picture. In the spring, the account tweeted “i hate texting come over and cuddle me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna hug you,” and then “i hate texting just come live with me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna kiss u,” which got 1,300 likes but didn’t perform as well as it did for @itspureluv. But unlike lots of other online conspiracy theories, this one has a morsel of truth to it. Person or bot: Does it really matter?

Dead-internet theory. It’s terrifying, but I love it. I read about it on Agora Road’s Macintosh Cafe, an online forum with a pixelated-Margaritaville vibe and the self-awarded honor “Best Kept Secret of the Internet!” Right now, the background is a repeated image of palm trees, a hot-pink sunset, and some kind of liquor pouring into a rocks glass. The site is largely for discussing lo-fi hip-hop, which I don’t listen to, but it is also for discussing conspiracy theories, which I do.

In January, I stumbled across a new thread there titled “Dead Internet Theory: Most of the Internet is Fake,” shared by a user named IlluminatiPirate. Over the next few months, this would become the ur-text for those interested in the theory. The post is very long, and some of it is too confusing to bother with; the author claims to have pieced together the theory from ideas shared by anonymous users of 4chan’s paranormal section and another forum called Wizardchan, an online community premised on earning wisdom and magic through celibacy. (In an email, IlluminatiPirate, who is an operations supervisor for a logistics company in California, told me that he “truly believes” in the theory. I agreed not to identify him by name because he said he fears harassment.)

Peppered with casually offensive language, the post suggests that the internet died in 2016 or early 2017, and that now it is “empty and devoid of people,” as well as “entirely sterile.” Much of the “supposedly human-produced content” you see online was actually created using AI, IlluminatiPirate claims, and was propagated by bots, possibly aided by a group of “influencers” on the payroll of various corporations that are in cahoots with the government. The conspiring group’s intention is, of course, to control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.

As evidence, IlluminatiPirate offers, “I’ve seen the same threads, the same pics, and the same replies reposted over and over across the years.” He argues that all modern entertainment is generated and recommended by an algorithm; gestures at the existence of deepfakes, which suggest that anything at all may be an illusion; and links to a New York story from 2018 titled “How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.” “I think it’s entirely obvious what I’m subtly suggesting here given this setup,” the post continues. “The U.S. government is engaging in an artificial intelligence powered gaslighting of the entire world population.” So far, the original post has been viewed more than 73,000 times.

Obviously, the internet is not a government psyop, even though the Department of Defense had a role in its invention. But if it were, the most compelling evidence to me is the dead-internet theory’s observation that the same news items about unusual moon-related events seem to repeat year after year. I swear I’ve been saying this for years. What is a super flower blood moon? What is a pink supermoon? A quick search of headlines from just this month brings up: “There’s Something Special About This Weekend’s Moon,” “Don’t Miss: Rare, Seasonal ‘Blue Moon’ Rises Tonight,” and “Why This Weekend’s Blue Moon Is Extra Rare.” I just don’t understand why everyone is so invested in making me look at the moon all the time? Leave me alone about the moon!

Dead-internet theory is a niche idea because it’s patently ridiculous, but it has been spreading. Caroline Busta, the Berlin-based founder of the media platform New Models, recently referenced it in her contribution to an online group showorganized by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. “Of course a lot of that post is paranoid fantasy,” she told me. But the “overarching idea” seems right to her. The theory has become fodder for dramatic YouTube explainers, including one that summarizes the original post in Spanish and has been viewed nearly 260,000 times. Speculation about the theory’s validity has started appearing in the widely read Hacker News forum and among fans of the massively popular YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips. In a Reddit forum about the paranormal, the theory is discussed as a possible explanation for why threads about UFOs seem to be “hijacked” by bots so often.

The theory’s spread hasn’t been entirely organic. IlluminatiPirate has posted a link to his manifesto in several Reddit forums that discuss conspiracy theories, including the Joe Rogan subreddit, which has 709,000 subscribers. In the r/JoeRogan comments, users argue sarcastically—or sincerely?—about who among them is a bot. “I’m absolutely the type of loser who would get swindled into living among bots and never realize it,” a member of the 4chan-adjacent Something Awful forum commented when the theory was shared there in February. “Seems like something a bot would post,” someone replied. Even the playful arguments about how everything is the same are the same.

That particular conversation continued down the bleakest path imaginable, to the point of this comment: “If I was real I’m pretty sure I’d be out there living each day to the fullest and experiencing everything I possibly could with every given moment of the relatively infinitesimal amount of time I’ll exist for instead of posting on the internet about nonsense.”

Anyway … dead-internet theory is pretty far out-there. But unlike the internet’s many other conspiracy theorists, who are boring or really gullible or motivated by odd politics, the dead-internet people kind of have a point. In the New York story that IlluminatiPirate invokes, the writer Max Read plays with paranoia. “Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake,” he writes. But he makes a solid argument: He notes that a majority of web traffic probably comes from bots, and that YouTube, for a time, had such high bot traffic that some employees feared “the Inversion”—the point when its systems would start to see bots as authentic and humans as inauthentic. He also points out that even engagement metrics on sites as big and powerful as Facebook have been grossly inflated or easily gamed, and that human presence can be mimicked with click farms or cheap bots.


For Uber and Lyft, the Rideshare Bubble Bursts

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

For Uber and Lyft, the Rideshare Bubble Bursts
By Greg Bensinger
Oct 17 2021

Piece by piece, the mythology around ridesharing is falling apart. Uber and Lyft promised ubiquitous self-driving cars as soon as this year. They promised an end to private car ownership. They promised to reduce congestion in the largest cities. They promised consistently affordable rides. They promised to boost public transit use. They promised profitable business models. They promised a surfeit of well-paying jobs. Heck, they even promised flying cars.

Well, none of that has gone as promised (but more about that later). Now a new study is punching a hole in another of Uber and Lyft’s promised benefits: curtailing pollution. The companies have long insisted their services are a boon to the environment in part because they reduce the need for short trips, can pool riders heading in roughly the same direction and cut unnecessary miles by, for instance, eliminating the need to look for street parking.

It turns out that Uber rides do spare the air from the high amount of pollutants emitted from starting up a cold vehicle, when it is operating less efficiently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found. But that gain is wiped out by the need for drivers to circle around waiting for or fetching their next passenger, known as deadheading. Deadheading, Lyft and Uber estimated in 2019, is equal to about 40 percent of rideshare miles driven in six American cities. The researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimated that driving without a passenger leads to a roughly 20 percent overall increase in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions compared to trips made by personal vehicles.

The researchers also found that switching from a private car to on-demand rides, like an Uber or Lyft, increased the external costs of a typical trip by 30 to 35 percent, or roughly 35 cents on average, because of the added congestion, collisions and noise from ridesharing services. “This burden is not carried by the individual user, but rather impacts the surrounding community,” reads a summary of the research conducted by Jacob Ward, Jeremy Michalek and Constantine Samaras. “Society as a whole currently shoulders these external costs in the form of increased mortality risks, damage to vehicles and infrastructure, climate impacts and increased traffic congestion.”

But as Lyft would have it, “By using Lyft to share rides, passengers are helping to reduce the carbon footprint left by our country’s dominant mode of transportation — driving alone.” That’s what the friendly Uber alternative claimedway back in 2016.

So what about all those other pledges? They’ve proved to be just as illusory.

Take urban congestion. Uber and Lyft envisioned a future in which software algorithms would push each car to host three or more passengers, easing traffic and providing a complement to public transit options. Instead, passengers have largely eschewed pooled rides and public transit in favor of private trips, leading to downtown bottlenecks in cities like San Francisco. The duration of traffic jams increased by nearly 5 percent in urban areas since Uber and Lyft moved in.

Lyft’s president, John Zimmer, once claimed the majority of rides would be in autonomous vehicles by 2021, but the company has largely backed away from its self-driving efforts, including selling its developmental unit to a Toyota subsidiary this year. Uber, which once characterized robot cars as “existential” to its future, sold off its autonomous vehicle division last year after mounting safety and cost concerns.

The efficiencies of ride hailing were supposed to all but end car ownership; instead vehicle sales are on the rise again this year, after a down year in 2020. There is also evidence that Uber and Lyft may actually spur an increase in car sales in cities where they begin operating.

Public-transit use in some areas, despite the companies’ claims, has been waning, according to several studies, as more consumers opt to jump in Ubers and Lyfts that drive them door to door. That was before the Covid pandemic spooked users into staying away from crowded subway cars and buses.

Underwritten by venture capital, Uber and Lyft hooked users by offering artificially cheap rides that often undercut traditional yellow cabs. But labor shortages and a desperate need to find some path to a profitable future have caused rideshare prices to skyrocket, perhaps to a more rational level.

After burning through billions of venture capital dollars, Uber said it was on a path to profitability last year, using an accounting metric that ignores many of the costs that actually make it unprofitable. By the same measure, chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi is projecting this quarter could be profitable. That remains to be seen. Sure, the pandemic had an outsize impact on ridesharing, but even though food delivery helped prop up Uber’s results, the company still lost a staggering $6.8 billion last year, following $8.5 billion in 2019 losses, in supposedly better times. Lyft hasn’t fared much better, racking up $4.4 billion in combined losses over the same period.

Despite the hype for the companies’ stock market debuts, some Lyft investors are still underwater more than two years later, while Uber stockholders have eked out meager gains. Hardly winning business models.


The courts have a new chance to block Texas’s abortion law. They must take it

The courts have a new chance to block Texas’s abortion law. They must take it
SB 8 not only stripped Texan women of their rights under Roe v Wade, it made a mockery of the US constitution and the supremacy of the federal courts
By Laurence H Tribe, Erwin Chemerinsky, Jeffrey Abramson and Dennis Aftergut
Oct 17 2021

Sadly, predictably and appallingly, on October 14, a three judge panel of the US court of appeals for the fifth circuit has allowed Texas’s “Bounty-Hunter” anti-abortion law to go back into effect while the court considers the case on the merits. Every day that the fifth circuit panel’s unlawful order keeps the statute in operation brings irreversible injury to women in Texas. US Attorney General Merrick Garland has properly decided to seek emergency relief from the US supreme court.

The justice department is right to accuse the State of Texas of seeking to destroy not only abortion rights but also the foundation of our constitutional Republic. In a nation whose history is fraught with battles between states’ rights and national sovereignty, the case of United States v Texas raises issues basic to our national compact.

Texas set the current controversy in motion by passing SB8, an anti-abortion law that legislators knew was unconstitutional. In doing so, they violated what Chief Justice Marshall explained two centuries ago was the bedrock of our young nation’s rule of law – that our constitution reigns supreme.

“Senate bill 8 (SB8) flouts that principle,” Monday’s DoJ brief in the fifth circuit reads. The law does that “by blatantly violating constitutional rights and severely constraining judicial review of its unconstitutional restrictions.” That “sets this case apart.”

Put bluntly, Texas has sought not only to virtually eliminate women’s rights under Roe v Wade, but also to reduce our Constitution’s supremacy to a relic. Those twin dangers are why the stakes are high in the suit by the United States to enjoin the Texas anti-abortion statute. And that’s why the October 14 Fifth Circuit order keeping the law in effect is so troubling.

This case stands on a very different footing from the one that a conservative 5-4 supreme court rejected on September 1 on procedural grounds. With the United States now suing, there is plenty of precedent for the federal government to come into court challenging a state law before it is enforced, and a state cannot hide behind sovereign immunity as a defense. The cases that the fifth circuit cited on Friday as reasons for refusing to block SB8 were entirely inapplicable because they have no relevance to a suit brought by the United States to force a recalcitrant state to obey the constitution. 

Texas’s reason for not arguing SB8’s constitutionality is obvious. The supreme court has affirmed many times since Roe v Wade in 1973 that states cannot prohibit abortions before the fetus is viable and capable of surviving outside the womb. Viability occurs at about the 24th week of pregnancy.

Nonetheless, Texas’s law makes all abortions illegal, without exceptions for rape or incest, once fetal cardiac activity can be detected – usually around six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.

The fact that the law is enforced by vigilantes’ private civil suits rather than by government prosecutions only aggravates its unconstitutionality. It is a Texas law that opens Texas courts to these bounty-hunting lawsuits. Since 1948, it has been settled law that individuals may not use state courts to deprive others of constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, 6 October, in a 113-page opinion, with some of the strongest language ever heard from a federal judge, US district court Judge Robert Pitman blocked Texas from enforcing this near-total ban on abortions. Judge Pitman’s opinion explained that Texas concocted a transparent “scheme” to “end run” the constitution. The court laid out the elaborate “machinations” Texas devised to avoid a court doing anything about a clearly unconstitutional law.

Judge Pitman also documented cases of women – sometimes minors – suffering “grievous wrong”, as they are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies or travel, if they can afford it, to another state to access their constitutional rights: “The court can only speculate as to the hardships” these women have “had to endure”.

Having temporarily reinstated SB 8, the Fifth Circuit noted that it will expedite review of the merits of Judge Pitman’s decision. That could affect the supreme court’s consideration of emergency relief to the United States. Whether now or later, this case will land on the court’s docket. 

Even justices who disagree with Roe v Wade should recognize the dire implications of letting any state deliberately design a blatantly unconstitutional statute in such a way that no court can block its enforcement until it’s too late to prevent the statute from doing irreparable harm by deterring people from exercising their rights.

In the 1950s, states tried to disregard supreme court decisions interpreting the constitution when they engaged in a concerted effort to thwart desegregation orders. Then, too, the United States government interceded against the states. When the Arkansas governor Orval Faubus attempted to block desegregation, the supreme court, in Cooper v Aaron, unanimously and emphatically reaffirmed the supremacy of the constitution and federal law.


The Hot New Back-to-School Accessory? An Air Quality Monitor.

The Hot New Back-to-School Accessory? An Air Quality Monitor.
Parents are sneaking carbon dioxide monitors into their children’s schools to determine whether the buildings are safe.
By Emily Anthes
Oct 10 2021

When Lizzie Rothwell, an architect in Philadelphia, sent her son to third grade this fall, she stocked his blue L.L. Bean backpack with pencils, wide-ruled paper — and a portable carbon dioxide monitor.

The device gave her a quick way to assess how much fresh air was flowing through the school. Low levels of CO2 would indicate that it was well-ventilated, reducing her son’s odds of catching the coronavirus.

But she quickly discovered that during lunch, CO2 levels in the cafeteria rose to nearly double those recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She shared what she’d learned with the principal and asked if students could eat outside instead.

“He expressed surprise that I had any data at all,” she said.

Ms. Rothwell is one of a growing number of parents who are sneaking CO2 monitors into schools in a clandestine effort to make sure their children’s classrooms are safe. Aranet, which makes a monitor popular with parents, says orders have doubled since the new school year began.

Some school systems have made the monitors part of their official pandemic precautions. New York City has distributed the devices to every public school, and the British government has announced plans to do likewise.

But elsewhere, parents are taking matters into their own hands, sneaking in the monitors — which can cost a hundred dollars or more — in their children’s backpacks or pants pockets.

Although the devices, which can be set to take readings every few minutes, work best when exposed to the open air, they can generate informative data as long as they are not completely sealed away, said Dr. Alex Huffman, an aerosol scientist at the University of Denver who has sent the monitors to school with his children. (He recommended leaving backpacks or pants pockets unzipped, or tucking the monitor into the mesh water-bottle pouch that is now standard on many backpacks.)

Many of these parents have forged a community on Twitter, where they are using the hashtag #CovidCO2 to trade tips about how to smuggle the monitors into the classroom, how to interpret the data they are collecting and how to approach the school with their findings.

Some school officials have frowned upon these guerrilla air-monitoring efforts, but parents say the devices have armed them with data to advocate for their children.

“It’s possible that the school district may not be all that happy with this because I think it gives us a window into the fact that they may not actually be treating ventilation as seriously as they should be,” Dr. Huffman said.

A window into indoor air

The coronavirus spreads through tiny, airborne droplets known as aerosols. Improving indoor ventilation reduces the concentration of these aerosols and the risk of infection in an indoor space, but there is no easy way for members of the public to measure the ventilation rate — let alone the accumulation of viral aerosols — in shared spaces.

“Ideally there’d be some machine that cost $100 and it starts beeping if the virus is in the air,” said Jose-Luis Jimenez, an aerosol scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, who is sending a carbon dioxide monitor to school with his son. But in the absence of such a device, he said, “CO2 is something that provides an affordable and very meaningful shortcut.”

Every time we exhale, we expel not just aerosols but also carbon dioxide; the worse the ventilation, the more carbon dioxide builds up in an occupied room.

“If we see the CO2 rising, then that also implies that the concentration of aerosols are rising,” Dr. Huffman said. “Even just bringing sensor for a day or two can give you a really interesting and useful window into the world of the ventilation of that space.”

Jeanne Norris, who lives in the St. Louis area, said that she bought her monitor after losing confidence in officials in her son’s school district.

“They just hadn’t been very transparent about their ventilation,” she said. “They say that it’s fine and that they did their own testing but then they wouldn’t share that data with me.”

Ms. Norris and her husband are both science teachers, and so far their data suggest that the ventilation is excellent in both of their classrooms. But CO2 levels in her son’s classroom sometimes surpass 1300 parts per million. The C.D.C. recommends that indoor carbon dioxide levels remain below 800 p.p.m.

After she collects more data, she plans to take her findings to school officials and ask them to improve the ventilation. “I’m willing to be creative and brainstorm with them,” she said.

Some parents have gotten results. When Jeremy Chrysler, of Conway, Ark., sent a monitor in with his 13-year-old daughter, this fall, the CO2 readings were a sky-high 4,000 p.p.m.

He brought his findings to district officials, who discovered that two components of the school’s HVAC system were not working properly. After the units were fixed, CO2 levels plummeted.

“What my measurements showed was, hey, measuring CO2 can identify problems and sometimes those problems are easy to fix,” he said.

Although Ms. Rothwell has not convinced her son’s school to move lunch outdoors, the principal has said he is committed to improving the ventilation in the cafeteria, she said.

Results may vary

“There are some success stories,” said Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, San Diego. “Unfortunately I’ve heard more parents rejected.”

After Shanon Kerr, of Waterloo, Canada, found high CO2 levels in some of her daughter’s school spaces, she asked district officials to monitor indoor air quality throughout the building, even offering up her own CO2 monitor. “They’ve been very dismissive,” she said.

In an email to The Times, Loretta Notten, director of education of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, said that follow-up testing in the classrooms Ms. Kerr identified revealed that carbon dioxide levels “were within acceptable parameters.”

Air quality testing is done on an as-needed basis, she said: “The Board does not intend on performing ongoing monitoring of carbon dioxide.”

(Ms. Kerr has also run into resistance closer to home. Her daughter no longer wants to take the monitor to school. “I’ve been bribing her with KitKat chocolate bars but it’s not working anymore,” she said.)

Graham Freeman, the father of two boys in Santa Cruz, Calif., said his request to send CO2 monitors to school with his sons was denied.

Kris Munro, the superintendent of Santa Cruz City Schools, said she is confident in the ventilation upgrades the district performed last winter and that it would be inappropriate to put individual students in the position of monitoring school air quality.