Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 2nd, 2022

It’s time to confront the Trump-Putin network

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Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian:

In 2014, the Putin regime invaded Ukraine’s Crimea. In 2016, the same regime invaded the United States. The former took place as a conventional military operation; the latter was a spectacular case of cyberwarfare, including disinformation that it was happening at all and promulgation of a lot of talking points still devoutly repeated by many. It was a vast social-media influencing project that took many forms as it sought to sow discord and confusion, even attempting to dissuade Black voters from voting.

Additionally, Russian intelligence targeted voter rolls in all 50 states, which is not thought to have had consequences, but demonstrated the reach and ambition of online interference. This weekend, British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr said on Twitter, “We failed to acknowledge Russia had staged a military attack on the West. We called it ‘meddling.’ We used words like ‘interference.’ It wasn’t. It was warfare. We’ve been under military attack for eight years now.”

As she notes, Putin’s minions were not only directing their attention to the United States, and included pro-Brexit efforts and support for France’s far-right racist National Front party. The US interference – you could call it cyberwarfare, or informational invasion – took many forms. Stunningly, a number of left-wing news sources and pundits devoted themselves to denying the reality of the intervention and calling those who were hostile to the Putin regime cold-war red-scare right-wingers, as if contemporary Russia was a glorious socialist republic rather than a country ruled by a dictatorial ex-KGB agent with a record of murdering journalists, imprisoning dissenters, embezzling tens of billions and leading a global neofascist white supremacist revival. In discrediting the news stories and attacking critics of the Russian government, they provided crucial cover for Trump.

In her 2019 testimony to House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, former National Security Agency staffer Fiona Hill declared, “Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified. The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart; truth is questioned; our highly professional expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. US support for Ukraine, which continues to face armed aggression, is being politicized. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter US foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.”

The assertions of interference were compelling all along. On 7 October 2016, US intelligence agencies released a bombshell press release declaring “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” In one of the weirdest days in US political history, the Access Hollywood tape of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women was released half an hour later, and half an hour after that, “WikiLeaks began tweeting links to emails hacked from the personal account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.” WikiLeaks is thought to have gotten its material from the Russian intelligence agency GRU; longtime Republican operative and Trump ally Roger Stone appears to have been a liaison between WikiLeaks and the Trump team.

On 30 October 2016, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reidput out a furious letter to then-FBI director James Comey, charging “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity.” He demanded, unsuccessfully, that Comey publicize this information. On 31 October, Obama contacted called Putin on the nuclear risk reductions hotline to demand he stop this interference, but the public didn’t know about this until after Trump had lost the popular vote but won the electoral college.

Of course the most striking role of the Russian government in the 2016 US election was its many, many ties with the Trump campaign, including with Trump himself, who spent the campaign and the four years of his presidency groveling before Putin, denying the reality of Russian interference, and changing first the Republican platform and then US policy to serve Putin’s agendas. This included cutting support for Ukraine against Russia out of the Republican platform when he won the primary, considerable animosity toward Nato, and ultimately trying to blackmail Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in 2019 by withholding military aid while demanding he offer confirmation of a Russian conspiracy theory blaming Ukraine rather than Russia for 2016 election interference.

A stunning number of Trump’s closest associates had deep ties to the Russian government. They included Paul Manafort, who during his years in Ukraine worked to build Russian influence there and served as a consultant to the Kremlin-backed Ukrainian president who was driven out of the country – and into Russia by popular protest in 2014 (the Russian line is that this was an illegitimate coup and thus a justification for invasion is still widely repeated). Manafort was, during his time in the campaign, sharing data with Russian intelligence agent Konstantin V Kilimnik, while campaign advisor Jeff Sessions was sharing information with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner held an illegal meeting in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked lawyer on 9 June 2016, where they were promised damaging material on the Clinton campaign.

After being seated next to Putin while being paid to speak at a dinner celebrating RT, Russia’s news propaganda outlet, Michael Flynn briefly became Trump’s national security advisor. He was soon was fired for lying to White House officials and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Jared Kushner allegedly directed him to make those contacts and as the Washington Post reported in May 2017, “Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.” The Guardian reported the same year that “Donald Trump Jr has been forced to release damning emails that reveal he eagerly embraced what he was told was a Russian government attempt to damage Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.”

What’s striking in retrospect is that all of this was made possible by corruption and amorality inside the United States. It was Silicon Valley’s mercenary amorality that created  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 6:49 pm

Rump Military Study Saw Brexit as ‘First Step’ in Russian ‘Information Blitzkrieg’ on West

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Nafeez Ahmed writes in BylineTimes on 2 March 2022:

US Army study commissioned by the Trump administration four years ago not only anticipated escalating Russian aggression in Eastern Europe but described in detail how Putin’s ‘information war’ against the West – including “election interference” and “mass-produced misinformation” – could escalate into a Russian “demonstration of global power” in Eastern Europe.

The study, carried out by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, was commissioned in 2018 by President Donald Trump’s then-Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, who would go on to serve as Trump’s Secretary of Defense.

Published in July 2020, the extraordinary study commissioned by the Trump administration concluded that Russia was engaged in a long-term military strategy against the West focusing on the use of worldwide information warfare as a mechanism to weaken Western institutions and extend Russia’s sphere of influence.

While President Trump had already gone on record in early 2018 downplaying Russian election meddling and claiming that “the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever”, the Trump administration’s own US Army study would go on to describe a whole host of Russian disinformation methods as an integral part of its wider military strategy.

The study vindicates journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s claim, which went viral on Twitter on Monday, that the invasion of Ukraine is an escalation of the “first Great Information War” launched by President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

The study referred to evidence of “interference in political processes” in relation to both the Trump and Brexit elections, suggesting that Britain’s departure from the European Union was “the first step in unravelling that European order” – a longstanding ambition of Putin. It warned that Putin would likely escalate Russian aggression in Eastern Europe as a way to try to ward off inevitable economic and military decline.

The Great Information War

According to the 2020 US Army study, Putin’s strategy has been focused on using information warfare to undermine Western power rather than a direct military confrontation:

“Russia will avoid military operations that involve direct armed conflict with the West. Instead, Russia will focus on informational activities to discredit NATO, the EU, and member organisations and governments. Examples of these information-based operations include election interference, malign cyber activities, propaganda, and exploiting internal differences.”

The study refers to a statement from General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who equated the expansion of Russian information operations as an integral dimension of a military strategy to weaken the enemy.

“The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” he wrote in 2016. “It is necessary to perfect activities in the information space, including the defense of our own objects.”

The biggest danger of Russian information warfare is that it is “incredibly difficult to counter”, partly because it is almost impossible to recognise when and how an information war is actually being fought.

“Messages consist of outright fiction or partial truths, which enable Russian propagandists to create false narratives much faster than targets can counter them,” the study noted, acknowledging that Russia believes with good reason that NATO deploys similar techniques of disinformation against Russia.

Citing the former head of US European Command, the study argued that the escalation point of the Russian military strategy was from 2014 onwards – a year in which Russia launched “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare”. The study concluded:

“Moscow will continue influence operations below the threshold of armed conflict to destabilise NATO relationships and protect Russia’s economic interests”.


‘Election Interference

Despite having been commissioned by a top Trump administration appointee, the study appeared to concede that this information warfare extended into covert Russian activity in both the 2016 elections which brought Donald Trump to power and in relation to European elections.

“Russia uses disinformation extensively, with Russian meddling becoming a focus of debate in the United States after the 2016 presidential elections, as well as subsequent elections in Europe… Frequent targets include both NATO Allies and Russia’s neighbours, chiefly to the west,” the report says.

According to the study, comments by the then European Council president in 2018 warning that “rising nationalism and anti-Europe sentiment would disrupt the whole European order”, should be taken seriously. The study suggested that Brexit played a key role in reinforcing Russia’s strategy to subvert Europe:

“The UK’s approved 2016 Brexit referendum to separate from the EU is seen by many as the first step in unravelling that European order. The loss of such a wealthy and stable member state will significantly reduce the EU’s resource pool and diminish its international political clout. Potentially, the most damaging factor is that the UK will have established a blueprint for other member states to depart the EU when their political sentiments shift toward nationalism.”


Facebook

The study also acknowledged the integral role of “the internet and social media” in amplifying Russian propaganda, describing them as “primary channels for Russia’s influence operations”.

Facebook is “particularly ideal” to disseminate misinformation that can be weaponised to “interfere with political processes”, it added:

“Platforms like Facebook are particularly ideal because . . .

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This should have been made public immediately.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 6:41 pm

Her Story Brought Down Alaska’s Attorney General. A Year Later, She Feels Let Down.

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Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, reports in ProPublica:

More than a year after the acting Alaska attorney general suddenly resigned, the criminal investigation into his alleged sexual contact with a teenager decades ago is not complete, and two special prosecutors hired to look into the case have billed for less than two weeks’ time.

Nikki Dougherty White told the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica in January 2021 that Ed Sniffen began an illegal sexual relationship with her in 1991 when she was a 17-year-old high school student and Sniffen was the coach of her school’s mock trial team. Sniffen was 27 years old at the time.

Under Alaska law, it is a felony for an adult to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old if the adult is the minor’s coach. (In most other cases, the age of consent in Alaska is 16.)

Sniffen resigned as the Daily News and ProPublica were preparing an article about the allegations.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who appointed Sniffen to the role, has said through a spokesperson that he was unaware of the allegations against Sniffen until the newsrooms began investigating White’s story. The governor then directed incoming Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor to “appoint a special outside counsel, independent of the Department of Law, to investigate possible criminal misconduct by Mr. Sniffen.”

Billing records obtained by the Daily News and ProPublica show two special prosecutors hired to look into the case have spent a combined total of 70.5 hours investigating the matter. As of Feb. 11, the state of Alaska had spent about $19,500 of a budgeted $50,000 on the investigation.

White, who has cooperated with the investigation, says she’s tired of waiting for answers.

“I feel like the state’s letting me down,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be a high level of interest from the government in getting this right.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Law referred questions to the independent prosecutor and said the department “is not involved in this investigation in any way and has no input or influence over the timing or status.” The special prosecutor, Gregg Olson, said this month that he cannot proceed until he receives a final report from the Anchorage Police Department.

“I anticipate that the investigation is near its conclusion,” said Olson, a retired state prosecutor who worked in the office of special prosecutions and as the district attorney in Bethel and Fairbanks. “But I don’t make any conclusions, form any opinions about a case until the investigation is complete.”

The Anchorage Police Department declined to answer questions about the investigation, which according to Olson is being handled by a detective within the Crimes Against Children Unit.

Sniffen has turned down repeated interview requests and, through his attorney, Jeffrey Robinson, would not say if he has cooperated in the investigation. Neither Olson nor the Department of Law spokesperson would say whether Sniffen has cooperated.

“Mr. Sniffen disputes any allegation of wrongdoing, and out of respect for the process undertaken by Mr. Olson, declines to comment any further,” Robinson wrote in an email.

One Resignation Followed Another

Dunleavy appointed Sniffen to the attorney general position on Jan. 18, 2021, pending confirmation by the state Legislature. Sniffen was a longtime attorney for the Department of Law’s consumer protection unit but was unfamiliar to many Alaskans until he was named as the replacement for Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

Clarkson had resigned in August 2020 after the Daily News and ProPublica revealed that he had sent hundreds of personal text messages to a junior state employee. (In his resignation letter, Clarkson acknowledged errors in judgment but characterized his texts to the woman as “‘G’ rated.”)

When Sniffen resigned, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law said the new attorney general had determined that it would have been a potential conflict of interest for one of the state attorneys who had been working for Sniffen to investigate the case, and the state would “contract with special counsel to ensure an independent and unbiased investigation into any possible wrongdoing.”

That was 397 days ago.

The Department of Law originally selected former sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Gernat to oversee the case. Gernat said at the time that she did not know Sniffen personally and was not a current or recent state employee.

Potential witnesses told the Daily News and ProPublica they were contacted for interviews in the first six months of 2021, and White said the investigation seemed to be moving swiftly.

White and her attorney, Caitlin Shortell, said they held multiple Zoom meetings with Gernat, providing additional details and the names of other potential witnesses.

“One thing that we heard from Rachael Gernat was that this case is astonishingly well corroborated despite the fact that it happened so long ago,” Shortell said. “That it is more well corroborated than cases that happened last month.”

Shortell said she doesn’t know what remains to be done in the investigation and that as far as she knows, “almost all of the witnesses were able to be contacted.”

But on June 8, 2021, while still under contract with the Department of Law, Gernat applied for a job within the agency.

“Based on that inquiry, I was replaced as the special prosecutor,” she wrote in an email to the Daily News and ProPublica. “This replacement was to avoid any appearance of bias and to ensure the confidence in the neutrality of the special prosecutor.”

Olson replaced Gernat as special prosecutor a month later, on July 12, 2021. Gernat had worked 49 hours on the case.

The next day, Gernat emailed White’s attorney to inform her of the change, noting that the “investigation itself is coming to a conclusion.”

To White and her attorney, there has appeared to be little movement in the case since Gernat’s departure.

“It’s been months and months of nothing but . . .

Continue reading.

On the surface, it looks as though Gernat was offered a job to get her off the case, so that it could then be killed.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 5:35 pm

‘Hungry’ Russian Soldiers Loot Ukrainian Shops

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Ukraine has been invaded by thieves, thugs, and assholes.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 1:45 pm

Stronger Muscles in 3 Seconds a Day

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I suppose I’m willing to invest 3 seconds a day. Gretchen Reynolds reports in the NY Times (gift link = no paywall):

Could three seconds a day of resistance exercise really increase muscular strength?

That question was at the heart of a small-scale new study of almost comically brief weight training. In the study, men and women who contracted their arm muscles as hard as possible for a total of three seconds a day increased their biceps strength by as much as 12 percent after a month.

The findings add to mounting evidence that even tiny amounts of exercise — provided they are intense enough — can aid health. I have written about the unique ways in which our muscles, hearts, lungs and other body parts respond to four seconds of strenuous biking, for instance, or 10 seconds of all-out sprinting, and how such super-short workouts can trigger the biological responses that lead to better fitness.

But almost all of this research focused on aerobic exercise and usually involved interval training, a workout in which spurts of hard, fast exertion are repeated and interspersed with rest. Far less research has delved into super-brief weight training or whether a single, eyeblink-length session of intense resistance exercise might build strength or just waste valuable seconds of our lives.

So, for the new study, which was published in February in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, scientists led by Masatoshi Nakamura at the Niigata University of Health and Welfare in Niigata, Japan, asked 39 sedentary but otherwise healthy college students to do three seconds of weight training every day. They also recruited an additional 10 students who would not work out to serve as a control group.

The exercising volunteers gathered during the workweek at the lab for strength testing and weight lifting, of a kind. They sat at a machine called an isokinetic dynamometer, which has a long lever arm that can be pushed and pulled, up or down, with varying levels of resistance, allowing researchers to precisely control people’s movements and effort.

The volunteers manipulated the weighted lever with all their strength, straining and contracting their biceps to the fullest possible extent. Some of the participants slowly lifted the lever’s weight, like curling a dumbbell, producing what is called a concentric contraction, meaning the biceps shortened as they worked. Other volunteers slowly lowered the lever, creating a so-called eccentric contraction. You get an eccentric contraction when you lengthen a muscle, like lowering a dumbbell during a curl, and it tends to be more draining. A third group of volunteers held the lever’s weight steady in midair, fighting gravity, in a type of contraction where the muscle doesn’t change length at all.

And each of the participants did their biceps exercise for a total of three seconds.

That was it; that was their entire daily workout. They repeated this exceedingly brief exercise routine once a day, five times a week, for a month, for a grand total of 60 seconds of weight training. They did not otherwise exercise.

At the end of the month, the researchers retested everyone’s arm strength.

Those three-second sessions had  . . .

Continue reading. (Again: it’s a gift link.)

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 1:08 pm

Good news: Indiana’s anti-CRT bill defeated

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

This year, Popular Information has reported extensively on legislation in Indiana that attempts to ban “Critical Race Theory” and related concepts in K-12 education. It appeared inevitable that the bill would pass Indiana’s legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, and become law. But instead, the bill was killed this week by the Indiana Senate. Senate President Rodric Bray (R) said “he didn’t have the votes.”

What happened?

The trouble started in January during a Senate Education Committee hearing on the legislation. During the hearing, Indiana history teacher Matt Bockenfeld testified regarding a requirement in the bill that teachers “remain impartial in teaching curricular materials.” Bockenfeld said he was teaching “the rise of Nazism right now” and “we’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

State Senator Scott Baldwin (R), the author of the bill, replied that he believed Bockenfeld and other teachers had an obligation to be “impartial” when discussing Nazism. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those isms… We need to be impartial,” Baldwin said.

Bockenfeld told the Indianapolis Star that he was “shocked” by Baldwin’s comment and he will “oppose Nazism until they fire me.” Baldwin, facing an avalanche of criticism, partially backtracked, saying he “failed to adequately articulate” his point. The Senate Education Committee, however, decided not to move forward with its plan for a vote later that week.

The engagement of teachers like Bockenfeld, explaining the practical impact of anti-CRT legislation in the classroom, played a critical role throughout the legislative process.

The legislation, however, was revived by the Indiana House. It was quickly approved by the House Education Committee and prioritized for a floor vote by House Speaker Todd Huston (R). The Indiana House approved the bill by a vote of 60-37 on January 26. (There are 71 Republicans in the Indiana House.)

On February 7, however, Popular Information reported that Huston, in addition to his role as speaker, was paid $460,738 annually to serve as the College Board’s Senior Vice President for State and District Partnerships. The College Board, which designs the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, has an enormous influence on what is taught in high schools across the country. The report noted that Huston’s role at the College Board directly conflicted with his role advancing legislation that limits “what teachers can say regarding race, history, and politics in Indiana classrooms.”

The bill would effectively ban teachers, including AP teachers, from including diverse materials that would appeal to underrepresented communities. If the bill became law, it would be difficult, for example, for an AP Literature teacher to include works by James Baldwin that include candid discussions of race and societal responsibility.

On February 8, the College Board  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:59 pm

Why peace in Ukraine isn’t likely soon

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Christina Pazzanese and Liz Mineo write in The Harvard Gazette:

Two panels of Harvard experts and scholars examined the historical roots of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and assessed where the situation stands after six days of fighting and whether the West’s tough financial sanctions will nudge Moscow toward a quick resolution.

During a discussion Tuesday afternoon at Harvard Kennedy School moderated by Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at HKS, analysts said the key to understanding Russia’s motives involves understanding President Vladimir Putin’s sense of injustice over the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

“What this is about is the post-Cold War writ large and the way Putin feels that he’s been marginalized by it,” said Mary Sarotte ’88, a professor of historical studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and an associate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

Putin wants to reclaim Ukraine for a mix of historical reasons, but primarily because of Ukraine’s success as an independent nation and its desire to move closer politically and culturally to the West. But the invasion doesn’t mean he is trying to rebuild the Soviet Union.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as Putin putting out a map of the Soviet Union and saying, ‘I want all this back,’” said Sarotte, author of “Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate” (2021). “I think there’s a weird overlap between his generalized grievance about the Soviet loss and the ‘unfair’ post-Cold War order and his specific grievance about Ukraine.”

“The Soviet Union, however flawed its ideology was, had an ideology. Vladimir Putin has no ideology,” said Emily Channell-Justice, director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute.

The fierce pushback from Ukrainians no doubt caught Putin off guard, which means there will be prolonged aggression until a solution is found, Channell-Justice said.

“Many people have been kind of surprised at the Ukrainian resilience, the Ukrainian response. I’m not, I’ve seen them do it before,” said Channell-Justice, a sociocultural anthropologist who studies political activism and social movements in Ukraine. “People will be fighting for a long time if that is what it takes. But that’s really not a good thing.”

A group of Harvard Law School experts agreed that the prospects for a quick resolution to the conflict look bleak.

“We’re still in day six of this war, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” said Mark Wu, Henry L. Stimson Professor of Law, at an online panel Tuesday sponsored by Harvard Law School. “We can chat about economic sanctions, but as we have seen over the past decade, they don’t have a good track record of getting authoritarian rulers to change their minds. At best, they do inject a lot of suffering on those populations that are governed by these types of authoritarian rulers.”

The response against Russia has been unprecedented and unified, said Anu Bradford, Henry L. Shattuck Visiting Professor of Law. In the absence of a military response, the Western alliance, including NATO countries, has engaged in “financial warfare” to isolate Russia from the international financial system and force Putin to back down. What is remarkable is the response from Europe, which has long relied on diplomacy and engagement in dealing with Russia, she said.

“What we have normally come to expect from Europe is a response of weakness when it comes to foreign and security policies,” said Bradford. “We now see a massive shift in Europe facing the new geopolitical reality… This is a war not just in Europe, but a war against Europe.”

Gabriella Blum, Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, called Putin’s arguments for invading Ukraine weak and baseless. In justifying the Russian assault, Putin has called Ukraine “an existential threat” and its government a “neo-Nazi regime.” He has also falsely claimed that ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine were facing “genocide.”

“There is no question that the extent of the war in Ukraine wouldn’t pass muster on any plausible necessity and proportionality principle that governs the use of force,” said Blum.

For Naz Modirzadeh, professor of practice, one of the biggest concerns in the conflict is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:52 pm

How Racial Bias Taints Customer Service: Evidence from 6,000 Hotels

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The US is not so “post-racist” as some claim. Indeed, outright racism is alive and well in the US. Pamela Reynolds writes at the Harvard Business School:

Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses in the service industry often thrive or die depending on whether they provide exemplary customer service, but new research shows that the color of a customer’s skin can determine whether the person receives good service—or any attention at all, for that matter.

Preliminary results from a series of studies of hotel concierge interactions show that front-line service workers often treat customers inequitably, providing better assistance to white customers than Black and Asian customers. Alexandra C. Feldberg, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Tami Kim, assistant professor at University of Virginia-Darden, conducted the research.

The findings come at a time when many companies are taking a hard look at whether their interactions with customers are equitable. Companies are trying to avoid incidents such as the time a Starbucks manager called police to arrest two Black men for loitering, though they were merely waiting for an acquaintance.

There are a lot of very negative consequences,” says Feldberg. “At one basic level, companies are not optimizing the experience of all of their customers. In terms of business outcomes, they’re not developing the best customer relationships they could.”

Companies that fix disparities in their service delivery are likely to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, say Feldberg and Kim in the manuscript they’re preparing, which will be called “Combating Discrimination in Customer Service with Foregrounding Interventions.”

White customers receive preferential treatment

In one of three studies conducted between 2016 and 2020, Feldberg and Kim contacted concierges in nearly 6,000 hotels across the United States using fictional email accounts.

Names used on the accounts were chosen to suggest a sender’s gender, race, and education. Examples include LaToya Washington, which was meant to signal a Black sender, Brad Anderson to indicate a white sender, and Mei Chen to represent an Asian sender. Credentials, such as MD or Ph.D., accompanied some names to indicate education levels.

In their emails, the researchers asked the same question: “Do you have local restaurant recommendations?”

After analyzing responses, the researchers observed a pattern: Hotel employees were more likely to respond to messages that seemed to come from a White sender than those from a Black or Asian sender. Hotel representatives responded to about 43 percent of messages coming from a stereotypically white name, versus 40 percent from a stereotypically Black name, and 36 percent from a stereotypically Asian name.

“We found discrimination in response rates on the basis of race,” says Feldberg. “But what is particularly striking is that it wasn’t just whether people responded to the requests that we sent; it’s that the quality of the information that people received varied.”

Concierges provide less information to some customers

Testing each of the return emails for responsiveness, helpfulness, and rapport, the researchers counted the number of restaurants recommended, calculated the number of characters in an email, and tracked whether a hotel concierge attempted to pass the buck by referring the email-sender elsewhere.

Theoretically, there should be no difference in the number of restaurants that people recommend to Mei Chen or Brad Anderson,” says Feldberg. “But what we found is that Mei was told about fewer restaurants than Brad. In other words, there is a disparity in information that people are given, and you can imagine how this would be impactful across a variety of different contexts.”

They also saw that other fundamental aspects of customer service, such as courteousness and politeness, vary according to a customer’s perceived race. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:45 pm

Beautiful? Perhaps. Ineffective? Definitely. Trump’s border wall has been breached more than 3,000 times by smugglers.

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Nick Miroff reports in the Washington Post:

Mexican smuggling gangs have sawed through new segments of border wall 3,272 times over the past three years, according to unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintenance records obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

The government spent $2.6 million to repair the breaches during the 2019 to 2021 fiscal years, the CBP records show. While the agency has acknowledged that smugglers are able to hack through the new barriers built by the Trump administration, the maintenance records show damage has been more widespread than previously known, pointing to the structure’s limitations as an impediment to illegal crossings.

Smuggling gangs typically cut the barrier with inexpensive power tools widely available at retail hardware stores, including angle grinders and demolition saws. Once the 18-to-30-foot tall bollards are severed near the ground, their only remaining point of attachment is at the top of the structure, leaving the steel beam dangling in the air. It easily swings open with a push, creating a gap wide enough for people and narcotics to pass through.

A spokesman for CBP, Luis Miranda, said effective border security “requires a variety of resources and efforts, infrastructure, technology, and personnel.”

“No structure is impenetrable, so we will continue to work to focus resources on modern, effective border management measures to improve safety and security,” Miranda said in a statement.

Along one 25-mile segment of new border wall between Naco and Douglas, Ariz., The Post recently counted 71 bollards with visible repairs and welds. In most instances, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:36 pm

How to Make Potatoes While Dread Presses In from Every Direction

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2 March 2022 at 12:31 pm

Dream Awhile, Scheme Awhile: The Love Theme in “Bringing Up Baby”

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Bringing Up Baby is my favorite screwball comedy, and Lesley Chow has an interesting article on it for the Criterion Collection. The article begins:

The comic climax of Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby (1938) comes when Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn join forces to foil an escaping leopard. While driving the animal to an estate, heiress Susan (Hepburn) and scientist David (Grant) collide with a poultry van. Their car narrowly avoids crashing, but the leopard gets excited by all the tasty birds on offer. At that point, Susan and David do the only thing they can: they break into a rendition of the beast’s favorite song, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby.” The two muster up a shaky version of the tune, their voices shivering with the terror and excitement of holding on to the big cat’s tail.

This is one of several abortive attempts to perform Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s ’20s jazz hit. With the ingenuity of the best screwballs, Bringing Up Baby devises one unbelievable situation after another that demands the frantic singing of this tune. From David and Susan’s discovery that singing calms the beast to a scene in which they conduct an argument to the melody of the chorus, the film uses the song to express the shifting nature of their relationship. No matter how fantastic the context is, each repetition of the song is emotionally precise: they sing it grudgingly, distractedly, then imploringly.

Their panicked singing in the car sets the pace for the many frenzied pursuits and accelerating chases that follow. This is a film that emphasizes stress and suspense in the quest for romance. Bringing Up Baby is driven by a whirling-dervish mania: the race to keep wildness and darkness at bay through feverish banter and the sky-high spirits of Hepburn’s heroine.

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:26 pm

Posted in History, Jazz, Movies & TV

The Radical Roots of Bikesharing

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Members of the counterculture group Provo gather in Amsterdam in 1966. The group launched a free bikesharing program called the White Bicycle Plan that’s considered the forerunner of today’s municipal fleets.Photographer: Jean Tesseyre/Paris Match via Getty Images

Feargus O’Sullivan writes at Bloomberg CityLab:

In 1967, a newly elected representative of the Amsterdam City Council named Luud Schimmelpenninck presented the city with a novel proposal: Why didn’t the city help to solve its traffic congestion problems by creating a fleet of bikes that were entirely free to use? At that time, the Dutch capital’s streets had become clogged with cars, with frequent pedestrian deaths and injuries. Would it not be better, Schimmelpenninck suggested, to make cycling so cheap and easy that cars disappeared?

Given that, 55 years later, Amsterdam today enjoys a reputation as a global cycling capital, the response to this proposal — for what would have been the world’s first urban bikeshare scheme — might surprise you: The council members almost unanimously rejected it.

The reasons for this dismissal reveal much about the radical past of bikesharing, a multibillion-dollar industry that now extends to over 3,000 cities worldwide. It wasn’t just that Amsterdam’s council believed cars were the future, it was also the proposal’s origins: It came not from an official with a mainstream party but a group of already notorious anarchist provocateurs who thought Dutch car dependency represented not just bad policy but the “asphalt terror of the motorized bourgeoisie.”

That group’s name was Provo — from the word provocative or provocation — and by 1967 they had already been making local headlines for some years. A mixed group of beatniks, anti-nuclear activists and young people from Holland’s Nozem subculture (akin to U.S. greasers or British Teddy Boys), Provo was a movement hoping to shake up what they saw as a toxic mix of conservatism and consumerism then dominating Dutch society. Their main tool toward this goal was initially not municipal politics, but pranks.

Provo had been staging weekly public “happenings” in central Amsterdam from 1965 onwards, intending to highlight the dangers and absurdities of consumer culture. Early happenings included handing out free currants (which were “symbols of love”) and painting the letter “K” for Cancer (Kanker in Dutch) on cigarette advertisements. They became notorious for smoke-bombing the wedding parade of the future Queen Beatrix (controversial because her German groom was a teenage Hitler Youth member) and spreading wild rumors that they had fed Beatrix’s carriage horses LSD-laced lumps of sugar.

Despite — or possibly because — of this prankish approach, Provo developed a following among Dutch young people. This could be because many of their concerns, which might have seemed outrageous at the time, seem current today: They wanted the police to be disarmed, vacant buildings to be squatted as housing and young people to get unlimited, non-judgmental access to contraception. 

Masterminded by Provo activist Schimmelpenninck, the Witte Fietsenplan, or “White Bicycle Plan,” also started as a happening. A crowd assembled in a central street to watch activists paint bicycles white. As the paint dried, Provo members passed out a leaflet thundering against cars. “Daily human sacrifices are made for that newest authority that the crowd have submitted themselves to,” it said. “The car equals authority. Suffocating carbon monoxide is its incense. Its image has ruined thousandfold streets and canals.”

The White Bicycle Plan was a far more makeshift affair than contemporary bikeshare schemes. Instead of locking docks and paid membership programs, Provo just left the bikes around central Amsterdam for anyone to pick up and drop off, in the hope that public-spiritedness would prevent theft. This might seem ludicrously naïve now, but Amsterdam’s streets at the time were already somewhat littered with abandoned bikes. Unscrupulous riders would sometimes steal a bike and then abandon it when they’d arrived at their destination. The white bikes would simply regularize this situation by providing a legal alternative, while the fleet itself could be created without huge expense from the city’s massive cache of unclaimed bikes.

The plan never really worked, however, because it was never really intended to. According to Schimmelpenninck, the idea was simply to illustrate how such an idea might work, initially using just 10 or so bikes. In the end, most of these bikes were taken not by thieves but by police, because it was illegal to leave bikes unlocked.

In 1966, Provo decided to seek a platform within the establishment itself, securing a single seat in that year’s municipal elections — not bad for a youth movement in an era when the Dutch voting age was 23. They agreed to occupy the post in rotation among several members. When Schimmelpenninck took the seat in winter 1967, he proposed a more ambitious plan for a 10,000-strong fleet of white bikes. 

That notion didn’t meet with the council’s approval, but the boldness of the idea seized imaginations. Provo came to inspire . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:16 pm

How bullying becomes a career tool in academia

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Related to the previous post is this letter to the editor that appeared in Nature. It begins:

To the Editor — Amongst recent high-profile bullying and (sexual) harassment scandals in academia, many have involved perpetrators who are ‘star academics’, yet had records of bullying and multiple complaints over many years1. People often believe that these scientists are bullies despite being star academics. Their misbehaviours are attributed to an unfortunate decoupling between being a good scientist and being a decent person. However, academics who have experienced bullying often describe patterns that suggest a different explanation entirely: bullying is a means for mediocre scientists to rise to the top. Some star academics reached their position because they are bullies, not in spite of it.

There are multiple, interrelated ways in which bullying can be a way to further one’s career and interests in academia. Bullying behaviours — including abuse of power, mobbing and devaluing the achievements of others — sabotage the careers of their targets, effectively removing competition from the academic environment. Once they rise to the top, academics can use the same strategies to promote their ‘chosen ones’, and become untouchable.

What makes bullying an unethical, yet effective, means to rise through the ranks? An emerging body of research suggests that mediocre academics in particular resort to bullying, to remove their competition2,3. Experimental research has shown that when male hierarchies are disrupted by women, this incites hostile behaviour specifically from poorly performing men, because they stand to lose the most4.

Members of underrepresented groups report they are the targets of bullying with the intent to sabotage their careers. Some anecdotes suggest that bullies spring into action when their targets become too successful for their liking — and thus viable competition. For instance, one international female scholar working in the Netherlands noted that she was treated quite well until she scored a multi-million grant3. After that, she became the target of harassment, including physical attacks. By sabotaging others’ careers, bullies effectively remove competition. When other academics in the department perform objectively better, sabotaging or ostracizing is chosen as an alternative path to the top2,3.

What are the structures that support bullies? Although highly competitive selection processes are abundant in academic environments, the evaluation criteria are often obscure. This allows perpetrators and their allies, who according to a global study are likely to be men and from the highest-ranked institutions5, to use ever-changing performance criteria to justify denying their targets tenure, promotions and professorships. The concept of bullies having allies, or building networks across the ranks, also transpires in some reports: targets of bullying talk of department chairs who may want to promote their own home-grown ‘crown princes and princesses’, even if they are performing at a lower level than their peers. One female international researcher working in the Netherlands reported that when she won a major grant, people started to doubt the capabilities of one of the department’s crown princes who was supposed to be promoted — which then was blamed on her3. She has been bullied out of the university as a result, and the “male colleague is associate professor now, even though his performance is not more than average.” The issue has been conveyed poignantly elsewhere, written with a focus on men sexually harassing women in academia6: “Abuse of power is not incidental to these men’s “greatness”; it is central to it.”

It is not only obscure criteria and favouritism that generate fertile ground for bullying: the hypercompetitive academic environment offers a ‘survival benefit’ for people with personality traits such as boldness, dominance, meanness and disinhibition7. These personality traits have been clearly associated with bullying behaviours8. This may play out as routinely overstating one’s own achievements but belittling those of colleagues, planting false stories to harm the reputation of colleagues, or publicly ridiculing, insulting or tarnishing the achievements of colleagues9. Thus, our current academic culture — with its hypercompetition, precarious employment and steep hierarchy — appears to incentivize bullies by providing the conditions that allow them to thrive9,10.

Academia urgently needs a paradigm change to remove the conditions that allow bullies to reign. It is time to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 12:06 pm

Sexism in science has many victims. Cecilia Payne is one.

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Matthew Gardner writes in a Facebook post:

Since her death in 1979, the woman who discovered what the universe is made of has not so much as received a memorial plaque. Her newspaper obituaries do not mention her greatest discovery. […] Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.”

— Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition Cecilia Payne gets, even today, for her revolutionary discovery. (via alliterate)

Cecilia Payne’s mother refused to spend money on her college education, so she won a scholarship to Cambridge.

Cecilia Payne completed her studies, but Cambridge wouldn’t give her a degree because she was a woman, so she said to heck with that and moved to the United States to work at Harvard.

Cecilia Payne was the first person ever to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College, with what Otto Strauve called “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”

Not only did Cecilia Payne discover what the universe is made of, she also discovered what the sun is made of (Henry Norris Russell, a fellow astronomer, is usually given credit for discovering that the sun’s composition is different from the Earth’s, but he came to his conclusions four years later than Payne—after telling her not to publish).

Cecilia Payne is the reason we know basically anything about variable stars (stars whose brightness as seen from earth fluctuates). Literally every other study on variable stars is based on her work.

Cecilia Payne was the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within Harvard, and is often credited with breaking the glass ceiling for women in the Harvard science department and in astronomy, as well as inspiring entire generations of women to take up science.

Cecilia Payne is awesome and everyone should know her.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 11:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, History, Memes, Science

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The Story of Fascism

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Via Open Culture, this documentary about fascism. The text accompanying the documentary reads:

In this one-hour special, Rick travels back a century to learn how fascism rose and then fell in Europe — taking millions of people with it. We’ll trace fascism’s history from its roots in the turbulent aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people rose up, to the rise of charismatic leaders who manipulated that anger, the totalitarian societies they built, and the brutal measures they used to enforce their ideology. We’ll see the horrific consequences: genocide and total war. And we’ll be inspired by the stories of those who resisted. Along the way, we’ll visit poignant sights throughout Europe relating to fascism, and talk with Europeans whose families lived through those times. Our goal: to learn from the hard lessons of 20th-century Europe, and to recognize that ideology in the 21st century.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 10:56 am

Two songs by Jude Perl

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 10:52 am

Posted in Music, Video

Grog with Goat + Horsehair, and the Parker Slant

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The brush is my Baili Goat+Horsehair brush, shown at right. The knot when soaked has little resilience, but this morning I did not soak the knot, and that improved the feel. I bought the brush mainly as a curiosity — it’s the only shaving brush I have that includes goat hair.

Still I was able to work up a good lather from Tallow + Steel’s Grog, though for the third pass I did have to reload the brush.

My Parker Slant — they call it a “Semi-Slant,” presumably for marketing reasons — is mounted here on a Yaqi handle. This is quite a good slant, and it did an excellent job: three passes to shaving perfection.

A splash of Grog finished the job, and The Eldest and her sons arrive within a few hours! (Light blogging for the next few days, I’m sure.)

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 9:25 am

Posted in Shaving

Trump always projects his own weaknesses onto others

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Trump often illustrates the psychological defense of projection, as when he called Hillary Clinton “dishonest” and criticized her handling of official communications. (“The emails!” — but Trump tore up and flushed away official documents he was legally required to preserve.)

Trump now calls President Biden “weak,” when in fact Biden has led an effective international cooperative attack against Russia for its aggression in Crimea, whereas Trump himself kowtowed to Putin, and treated him with great deference.

Biden has also seen 6.5 million new jobs added last year — “more jobs created in one year than in any other time in our history,” as Heather Cox Richardson notes in an excellent column. She goes on to write:

The economy grew at an astonishing rate in Biden’s first year: 5.7%, the strongest growth in 40 years. Forty years of tax cuts, initiated in the belief that freeing up private capital would enable the wealthy to invest efficiently in the economy, have led to “weaker economic growth, lower wages, bigger deficits, and the widest gap between those at the top and everyone else in nearly a century,” Biden pointed out.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris believe instead that both the economy and the country do best when the government invests in ordinary people. The administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America, creating well-paying jobs. The administration has also brought home military contracts, using tax dollars to provide Americans good jobs and to bring manufacturing back home. Biden called on Congress to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which invests in innovation and will spark additional investment in new technologies like electric vehicles.

. . . To those complaining about the effect of this spending on the deficit—this has the name of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) all over it—Biden noted that by the end of the year, “the deficit will be down to less than half what it was before I took office.” He is, he said, “the only president ever to cut the deficit by more than one trillion dollars in a single year.”

Her column begins:

In Ukraine, Russian troops escalated their bombing of cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Mariupol, in what Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky called a campaign of terror to break the will of the Ukrainians. Tonight (in U.S. time), airborne troops assaulted Kharviv, which is a city of about 1.5 million, and a forty-mile-long convoy of tanks and trucks is within 17 miles of Kyiv, although a shortage of gas means they’ll move very slowly.

About 660,000 refugees have fled the country.

But the war is not going well for Putin, either, as international sanctions are devastating the Russian economy and the invasion is going far more slowly than he had apparently hoped. The ruble has plummeted in value, and the Kremlin is trying to stave off a crisis in the stock market by refusing to open it. Both Exxon and the shipping giant Maersk have announced they are joining BP in cutting ties to Russia, Apple has announced it will not sell products in Russia, and the Swiss-based company building Nord Stream 2 today said it was considering filing for insolvency.

Ukraine’s military claimed it today destroyed a large Russian military convoy of up to 800 vehicles, and Ukrainian authorities claim to have stopped a plot to assassinate Zelensky and to have executed the assassins. The death toll for Russian troops will further undermine Putin’s military push. Russians are leaving dead soldiers where they lie, likely to avoid the spectacle of body bags coming home. It appears at least some of the invaders had no idea they were going to Ukraine, and some have allegedly been knocking holes in their vehicles’ gas tanks to enable them to stay out of the fight. Morale is low.

Associated Press correspondent Francesca Ebel reports from Russia: “Life in Russia is deteriorating extremely rapidly. So many of my friends are packing up & leaving the country. Their cards are blocking. Huge lines for ATMs etc. Rumours that borders will close soon. ‘What have we done? How did we not stop him earlier?’ said a friend to me y[ester]day.” The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, Andrew Roth, agreed. “Something has definitely shifted here in the last two days.”

According to the BBC, a local government body in Moscow’s Gagarinsky District called the war a “disaster” that is impoverishing the country, and demanded the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine. Another, similar, body said the invasion was “insane” and “unjustified” and warned, “Our economy is going to hell.”

Putin clearly did not expect the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the U.S. and other allies and partners around the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and others, to work together to stand against his aggression. Even traditionally neutral Switzerland is on board. The insistence of the U.S. on exposing Putin’s moves ahead of time, building a united opposition, and warning of false flag operations to justify an invasion meant that the anti-authoritarian world is working together now to stop the Russian advance. Today, Taiwan announced it sent more than 27 tons of medical supplies to Ukraine, claiming its own membership in the “democratic camp” in the international community.

This extraordinary international cooperation is a tribute to President Joe Biden, who has made defense of democracy at home and abroad the centerpiece of his presidency. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and State Department officials have been calling, meeting, listening, and building alliances with allies since they took office, and by last Thanksgiving they were making a concerted push to bring the world together in anticipation of Putin’s aggression.

Their early warnings have rehabilitated the image of U.S. intelligence, badly damaged during the Trump years, when the president and his loyalists attacked U.S. intelligence and accepted the word of autocrats, including Putin.

It has also been a diplomatic triumph, but in his State of the Union address tonight, Biden quite correctly put it second to the “fearlessness,…courage,…and determination” of the Ukrainians who are resisting the Russian troops.

The theme of Biden’s speech tonight was . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2022 at 5:15 am

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