Later On

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Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine

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I wonder whether effective teaching of critical thinking skills, beginning in the earliest grades (see the CoRT program for an example) would help by making people less easily swayed by spurious arguments.

Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic:

Here’s a quiz: Which world leader made the following statements?

We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy.”

This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made. I want to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to expose … tremendous voter fraud and irregularities.”

“The election will be flipped, dear friends.”

If you guessed Donald Trump, you are only one-third right. The first statement was made by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, soon after his opponents formed a parliamentary coalition to oust him. He has since grudgingly made way for a new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, but he hasn’t conceded that his loss was fair. The third statement came from Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former autocratic leader. She also just lost an election, but has not yet recognized the result. But yes, Trump did make the second statement. It comes from a speech he delivered on December 2, in which he detailed “tremendous voter fraud and irregularities” at great length. Although Trump stepped down, he has also yet to admit that he lost.

And he never will. Neither Netanyahu nor Fujimori is likely to concede either, and no wonder: In all three cases, the personal stakes are high. Trump is threatened by multiple lawsuits and potential business failure. Netanyahu has already been indicted for corruption and fraud. Fujimori previously spent a year in jail while awaiting trial for allegedly collecting illegal campaign contributions, and she could conceivably be sent back.

The political stakes are high too, because—at least to hear them talk—all of these leaders claim to believe that, in addition to what they might personally suffer, their nation will pay a huge price for their loss as well. Netanyahu, who had to be ushered to his seat on the opposition benches after losing the vote, calls the new government a “dangerous coalition of fraud and surrender,” and has vowed to “overthrow it very quickly.” Fujimori has described her leftist opponent’s victory as a mortal threat to Peru and a guarantee that the country will follow Venezuela into repression and poverty. Trump, of course, has never acknowledged that there is such a thing as legitimate opposition to himself at all. Even before the election took place, he made clear that unless he won, he would not recognize the result.

The consequences for democracy—democracy around the world, not just in America, Israel, or Peru—are higher still. Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate? If, by definition, your opponent’s victory represents the death of the nation, then why should any election be allowed to take place, ever? A few days ago, I asked Larry Diamond, a scholar of democracy at Stanford, if he could think of a precedent for Trump’s fraudulent, virulent, ongoing campaign against the November election result, and he could not. “I know of no instance of an advanced industrial democracy coming anywhere near this close to abandoning fundamental standards of electoral democracy,” he told me.

Maybe we should be surprised that it hasn’t happened more often. Democracy has alway been corruptible. Aristotle dismissed democracy because it was so likely to slide into tyranny; the Founding Fathers stuffed the Constitution with checks and balances for exactly that reason. Benjamin Franklin, when once asked what America would be, “a republic or a monarchy,” responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.” More recent politicians, including some rather surprising ones, have understood the fragility of democracy too. Richard Nixon, when advisers suggested that he contest the results of the incredibly tight 1960 presidential election, refused: “Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis—and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.”

Democracy can’t function without a certain level of civic virtue, a modicum of consensus; at the very least, everybody has to agree to play by the rules. When that doesn’t happen, contested elections, violence, even civil war can result. For many decades now, Americans, like Israelis and many Europeans, have been spared those plagues. Unlike Franklin and Nixon, too many of us now take our system for granted. Few of us are mentally prepared for the highest offices of state to be occupied by people who do not play by the rules, are not suffused with civic virtue, and do not mind damaging the delicate democratic consensus if that’s what it takes to win.

For Americans, Israelis, and many others, the primary danger of “Stop the Steal” tactics lies precisely in their novelty: If you haven’t seen or experienced this kind of assault on the fundamental basis of democracy—if you’ve never encountered a politician who is actively seeking to undermine your trust in the electoral system, your belief that votes are counted correctly, your faith that your nation can survive a victory by the other side—then you might not recognize the hazard. The majority of Republican voters appear not to. Other than Representative Liz Cheney, Representative Adam Kinzinger, and a handful of other officials, even elected Republicans seem not to understand exactly how corrosive this form of politics might eventually become.

The secondary danger of these tactics is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:53 pm

The decay of American democracy is real

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From a column by Fareed Zakahria in the Washington Post:

“America is back,” Joe Biden kept repeating on his first trip abroad as president. It’s a fair description of what he accomplished — a restoration of the United States’ role as the country that can set the global agenda, encourage cooperation and deter malign behavior. So, American diplomacy is back — but is America? That’s a more complicated question.

The United States’ influence has always been built on a combination of power and purpose. Biden went into this trip with two significant achievements under his belt. First, he ramped up vaccinations so far and so fast that the United States is the first major country to enter a post-pandemic world. Second, he passed a massive relief bill that will ensure that the U.S. economy has a roaring recovery.

But prosperity alone is not enough to lead. President Donald Trump presided over a booming economy before the pandemic, yet polls showed that most leading nations neither respected him nor the United States under his leadership. . .

The Biden team has led by focusing on the big issues on which U.S. allies agree: strengthening ties among free countries, combating climate change, deterring Russian aggression in various forms, stepping up to the challenge from China. It was a far cry from the behavior of Trump, who reveled in denigrating NATO and its members.

The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was not a “superpower summit,” as some in the media described it. Russia is not a superpower. Its economy doesn’t even crack the top 10 and is in decline on many key measures. But the country, spanning 11 time zones, has one of the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons, a robust military and a United Nations veto. Under Putin, it has been eager to play the role of spoiler on the international stage — annexing territory in Europe for the first time since 1945, engaging in cyberattacks on a massive scale, and pursuing and assassinating dissidents even if they live abroad.

Biden handled the meeting with his Russian counterpart with professionalism and skill, prompting Putin to call Biden “a very experienced” statesman and “a balanced, professional man” (in contrast to his recent comments about Trump being a “colorful individual” who made “impulse-based” decisions). Despite Trump’s fawning behavior toward Putin, Putin might recognize that it is better to have a calm and rational U.S. president than a mercurial and unpredictable showman. For its part, Washington’s goal toward Russia should not be ceaseless hostility but rather some kind of stable relationship in which problems can be discussed, negotiated and managed.

The biggest news out of the Biden-Putin meeting involves cyberspace. The problem of cyberattacks, cybercrime and ransomware has grown exponentially. And yet governments have appeared either unable or unwilling to do much about it. When North Korea launched a devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014 to punish it for a movie satirizing Kim Jong Un, destroying 70 percent of the company’s computers, the U.S. government did little in response.

Biden has moved policy in this realm significantly forward, for the first time signaling that the United States would be willing to use its considerable cyber capacities to retaliate against a Russian attack.

 . . . In one fundamental way, things look worse now than in prior periods of crisis. After Watergate, many were surprised that the world looked up to the United States for facing and fixing its democratic failures. It was a sign of the country’s capacity to course-correct. But imagine if after that scandal, the Republican Party, instead of condemning Nixon, had embraced him slavishly, insisted that he did absolutely nothing wrong, settled into denial and obstructionism and proposed new laws to endorse Nixon’s most egregious conduct? Imagine if the only people purged by the party had been those who criticized Nixon?

The decay of American democracy is real. . .

Continue reading.

And see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:43 pm

Fleeing Venezuela

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Governments can go very bad, which is why the effort by Donald Trump to overthrow the election, an effort in which he has been aided and supported by many Republicans, is so worrisome. This article in Persuasion by Carlos Hernández shows the impact on an individual. The article begins:

It is easy to talk about the stakes in the fight between democracy and autocracy in abstract terms. Around the world, there is now a contest between freedom and tyranny, between the rule of law and the arbitrary exercise of naked power. But when dictators destroy democracy, this has a real and direct impact on millions of people. This harrowing account of fleeing Nicolás Maduro’s brutal regime, by the brave Carlos Hernández, gives a vivid description of what that impact looks like in Venezuela. We are proud to publish it. – Yascha


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By Carlos Hernández

If I turn my head, I can see a thick cloud of dust trailing the motorbike. We’re far off-road, riding fast along on a wildcat dirt track through the bone-dry shrublands that make up the northern end of Venezuela’s 2,000-kilometer (1,300-mile) border with Colombia. The Caribbean Sea isn’t far, but you can’t see it from here. I’m hanging onto the little grill behind me for dear life as my “driver” pushes the bike hard toward the border.

I have a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket. Nothing else. No money, no passport, no cellphone, no debit cards, no food, no water. Home—the once-industrial city of Puerto Ordaz, in Venezuela’s southeast—is some 1,300 kilometers behind me. My destination is about 950 kilometers ahead: Medellín, in the middle of Colombia. The sun is blazing overhead. I’m thirsty, hungry, and I’ve barely slept for two nights. I’m completely alone and utterly defenseless.

This part of the border is controlled by Colombia’s ELN guerrillas. They’re technically Marxist, but they seem to spend more time smuggling cocaine and fuel than overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The Venezuelan government calls itself Marxist, too, but also seems to spend more time dreaming up ways to make a buck than on anything like a revolution. They’re made for each other.

I know it’s not a safe route. But it’s safer than the alternative: the hardtop road, which is controlled by Venezuela’s viciously predatory military.

The bike comes up to a tiny adobe hut in the middle of the scrubland and we stop. Two little kids, both rake-thin, have laid a fallen tree trunk across the only passable bit of dirt track. It’s a “tollbooth,” and the umpteenth shakedown on my trip. With their short black hair and round faces, you can see that they’re Wayuus, the indigenous group that’s been living in these parts since before there was any such thing as a Colombia or a Venezuela, much less a border between them. The kids are barefoot. One wears black shorts, the other green ones.

The sun has sucked every last bit of moisture from the ground. It’s unbearably hot. The double face mask and my acute dehydration make even brief stops excruciating. The kids seem unfazed.

They say something to the bike driver in Wayuu, a language I don’t understand. He hands them a few Colombian peso coins. One kid lets out a small “hehe” as he looks at the coins, while the other goes running to drag the tree trunk away to open up the dirt track for us.

When I set off from Puerto Ordaz, two days earlier, I was prepared. I had my old national ID card (expired, but new ones take years to get issued), my Venezuelan passport, three different types of currency totaling almost $200, debit cards, face masks, hand gel, and food and water for the trip. By Venezuelan migrant standards, I was royalty.

Bit by bit, all but the COVID-related supplies got stolen.

I knew this could happen. I assumed it would. But I couldn’t stay in Puerto Ordaz. In 2014, after oil prices peaked, my country’s economy started shrinking, and it hasn’t really stopped. The basics of modern urban life have collapsed there, one after the other. There are power or data blackouts constantly, often multiple times a day, making my online freelancing gigs almost impossible to keep. Even when the internet works, it’s excruciatingly slow. There’s no public transport, sometimes there’s no cooking gas, and even the most basic of foods, like bananas, keep getting more and more expensive.

Water problems came close to driving me over the edge. The taps usually run dry, and the water that does come through the pipes is so dirty you can’t possibly drink it. So every other day, my morning routine there included heading out to buy bottles of drinking water to carry home. Sometimes there’s no water in the city at all, and all I can do is wait, thirsty, sweaty, in a house that smells like the toilet we can’t flush.

Probably what did it for me, though, was . . .

Continue reading. There’s MUCH more. And see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:19 pm

Facial Recognition Failures Are Locking People Out of Unemployment Systems

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Todd Feathers writes in Vice:

People around the country are furious after being denied their unemployment benefits due to apparent problems with facial recognition technology that claims to prevent fraud.

Unemployment recipients have been complaining for months about the identity verification service ID.me, which uses a combination of biometric information and official documents to confirm that applicants are who they claim to be. The complaints reached another crescendo this week after Axios published a “deep dive” article about the threat of unemployment fraud based on statistics provided to the outlet by ID.me.

Some unemployment applicants have said that ID.me’s facial recognition models fail to properly identify them (generally speaking, facial recognition technology is notoriously less accurate for women and people of color). And after their applications were put on hold because their identity couldn’t be verified, many should-be beneficiaries have had to wait days or weeks to reach an ID.me “trusted referee” who could confirm what the technology couldn’t.

On Twitter, there are dozens of complaints about ID.me per day, and local news articles all over the country have detailed the problem over the course of months. In California, 1.4 million unemployment beneficiary accounts were abruptly suspended on New Year’s Eve and the beneficiaries were required to re-verify their identity using ID.me, a process which many found difficult and resulted in them waiting for weeks to reactivate their accounts while they struggled to make ends meet.

In Colorado, benefit recipients who had no problem establishing their identity before ID.me took over were suddenly rejected and went months without receiving the payments they were eligible for.

The story is similar in FloridaNorth CarolinaPennsylvaniaArizona, and many other states.

ID.me CEO Blake Hall told Motherboard that the company’s facial recognition technology does one-to-one matching—comparing one face against a picture of that same face (from a driver’s license, say)—whereas other applications of facial recognition attempt to find a match for a face in a large dataset of faces, known as one-to-many matching.

“The algorithms used for Face Match operate ~99.9% efficacy,” Hall wrote in an email to Motherboard. “There is in fact no relationship between skin tone and Face Match failure on a 1:1 basis” according to a regression analysis the company performed.

That doesn’t mesh with the experiences being shared on Twitter by people like Tim Weaver, a gig economy worker in Las Vegas who was suddenly cut off from his unemployment benefits in late March after ID.me failed to identify him.

Weaver told Motherboard that when he attempted to pass ID.me’s facial recognition test he held a phone in front of him in the instructed position but “it rejected it, didn’t give us a reason, just rejected it. It rejected it three times, and then it locked me out of the system.”

Weaver said he attempted to contact the company’s customer support through its chat feature, which claims to provide assistance 24-hours a day, seven days a week. He tried numerous times at all hours of the day. He tried contacting the state of Nevada for help, but the employees there directed him back to ID.me.

This went on for several weeks, Weaver said, until he tweeted a scathing criticism of the company, which then reached out and—after several more frustrating days—verified Weaver’s identity.

Weaver went for three weeks without receiving his benefit. “I couldn’t pay bills,” he said. “Luckily I had enough food saved up so I didn’t have to worry about that. It’s just ridiculous.”

In his statement to Motherboard, Hall said that facial recognition failures are not a problem with the technology but with  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

This is bad, and the company is taking no responsibility. Welcome to dystopia.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 1:13 pm

Climate Change Batters the West Before Summer Even Begins

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And still there are people who deny that it’s happening and fight against efforts to combat it.  Brad Plumer, Jack Healy, Winston Choi-Schagrin, and Henry Fountain report in the NY Times:

A heat dome is baking Arizona and Nevada, where temperatures have soared past 115 degrees this week and doctors are warning that people can get third-degree burns from the sizzling asphalt.

At Lake Mead, which supplies water for 25 million people in three southwestern states and Mexico, water levels have plunged to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. In California, farmers are abandoning their thirstiest crops to save others, and communities are debating whether to ration tap water.

In Texas, electricity grids are under strain as residents crank their air-conditioners, with utilities begging customers to turn off appliances to help avert blackouts. In Arizona, Montana and Utah, wildfires are blazing.

And it’s not even summer yet.

“We’re still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Things are likely to get worse before they get better.”

Global warming, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, has been heating up and drying out the American West for years. Now the region is broiling under a combination of a drought that is the worst in two decades and a record-breaking heat wave.

“The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”

With temperatures expected to keep rising as nations struggle to rein in their planet-warming emissions, the Western United States will need to take difficult and costly measures to adapt. That includes redesigning cities to endure punishing heat, conserving water, and engineering grids that don’t fail during extreme weather.

This month has offered glimpses of whether states and cities are up to that task and has shown they still have far to go.

From Montana to Southern California, much of the West is suffering from unusually high temperatures. Some 50 million Americans face heat-related warnings. Records have been tied or broken in places like Palm SpringsSalt Lake City and Billings, Montana.

As 115-degree temperatures cooked Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District on Tuesday, Timothy Medina, 58, was perched on a black metal platform 12 feet above the sidewalk, finishing the blue lettering of a sign for a coffee shop. “It’s brutal — that heat against the wall,” he said. “Let me take a quick swig of water.”

Construction workers, landscapers and outdoor painters like Mr. Medina have few options but to bear the heat. He wore jeans to avoid burning his skin, along with a long sleeve fluorescent yellow shirt and a $2 woven hat. But soon the heat was winning.

“I start feeling out of breath, fatigued,” he said.

Extreme heat is the clearest signal of global warming, and the most deadly. Last year heat killed at least 323 people in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, a record by far. . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more, and many photographs.

And from here on, it’s going to get worse. What we’re seeing now is mild compared to what’s coming. But inaction seems attractive to most. An article by Catherine Garcia in Yahoo News, “NASA: Earth is trapping ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, warming ‘faster than expected’,” spells it out. From the article:

Since 2005, the amount of heat trapped by the Earth has roughly doubled, according to a new study by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.

This is contributing to warming oceans, air, and land, the scientists write in the study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented,” NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told The Washington Post. “The Earth is warming faster than expected.”

Using satellite data, the researchers measured the planet’s energy imbalance, which is the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun and how much is radiated back into space. If there is a positive imbalance, the Earth is absorbing more heat than it is losing; in 2005, there was a positive imbalance of about half a watt per square meter of energy from the sun, and in 2019, the positive imbalance was one watt per square meter, the Post reports.

“It is a massive amount of energy,” NOAA oceanographer Gregory Johnson, a co-author of the study, told the Post, adding that this energy increase is equivalent to everyone on Earth using 20 electric tea kettles at the same time. The team needs to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 5:19 pm

Phone Network Encryption Was Deliberately Weakened

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Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai writes in Vice:

A weakness in the algorithm used to encrypt cellphone data in the 1990s and 2000s allowed hackers to spy on some internet traffic, according to a new research paper.

The paper has sent shockwaves through the encryption community because of what it implies: The researchers believe that the mathematical probability of the weakness being introduced on accident is extremely low. Thus, they speculate that a weakness was intentionally put into the algorithm. After the paper was published, the group that designed the algorithm confirmed this was the case.

Researchers from several universities in Europe found that the encryption algorithm GEA-1, which was used in cellphones when the industry adopted GPRS standards in 2G networks, was intentionally designed to include a weakness that at least one cryptography expert sees as a backdoor. The researchers said they obtained two encryption algorithms, GEA-1 and GEA-2, which are proprietary and thus not public, “from a source.” They then analyzed them and realized they were vulnerable to attacks that allowed for decryption of all traffic.

When trying to reverse-engineer the algorithm, the researchers wrote that (to simplify), they tried to design a similar encryption algorithm using a random number generator often used in cryptography and never came close to creating an encryption scheme as weak as the one actually used: “In a million tries we never even got close to such a weak instance,” they wrote. “This implies that the weakness in GEA-1 is unlikely to occur by chance, indicating that the security level of 40 bits is due to export regulations.”

Researchers dubbed the attack “divide-and-conquer,” and said it was “rather straightforward.” In short, the attack allows someone who can intercept cellphone data traffic to recover the key used to encrypt the data and then decrypt all traffic. The weakness in GEA-1, the oldest algorithm developed in 1998, is that it provides only 40-bit security. That’s what allows an attacker to get the key and decrypt all traffic, according to the researchers.

A spokesperson for the organization that designed the GEA-1 algorithm, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), admitted that the algorithm contained a weakness, but said it was introduced because the export regulations at the time did not allow for stronger encryption.

“We followed regulations: we followed export control regulations that limited the strength of GEA-1,” a spokesperson for ETSI told Motherboard in an email. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 3:36 pm

To ban teaching about systemic racism is a perfect example of systemic racism

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I am indebted to The Eldest for pointing out the nice recursion of the title. Someone then commented about a video of a teacher who totally understands teenagers:

Teacher: I’m not allowed to teach you about critical race theory.

Class: What’s that?

Teacher: I’m not allowed to tell you.

Class: What?? Not fair! (Then they all looked it up in Wikipedia.)

Chris Argyris in his (excellent) books on management theory and what distinguishes a learning organization from one that resists learning. One difference, of course, is success vs. failure over the long term, but also organizations that resist learning typically have double-layer taboos on some topics within the organization: not only can you not talk about X, you also cannot talk about not talking about X. It will be interesting to see whether the Right is so far gone they will prohibit teachers from explaining why they cannot teach critical race theory. (My guess is that the Right is indeed so far gone — and even farther.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 2:25 pm

Leaked Audio of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse of Dealmaking on Filibuster and January 6 Commission

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A little glimpse of the process of making sausage legislation. Lee Fang and Ryan Grim report in the Intercept:

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, in a private call on Monday with a group of major donors, provided a revealing look at his political approach to some of the thorniest issues confronting lawmakers.

[report at the link includes an audio playback of the call – LG]

The remarks were given on a Zoom teleconference session that was obtained by The Intercept.

The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Among the gathering’s newsworthy revelations: Manchin described an openness to filibuster reform at odds with his most recent position that will buoy some Democrats’ hopes for enacting their agenda.

The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country. The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests.

The meeting was led by Nancy Jacobson, the co-founder of No Labels.

The wide-ranging conversation went into depth on the fate of the filibuster, infrastructure negotiations, and the failed effort to create a bipartisan commission to explore the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and offers a frank glimpse into the thinking of the conservative Democrat who holds the party’s fate in his hands.

Manchin told the assembled donors that he needed help flipping a handful of Republicans from no to yes on the January 6 commission in order to strip the “far left” of their best argument against the filibuster. The filibuster is a critical priority for the donors on the call, as it bottles up progressive legislation that would hit their bottom lines.

When it came to Sen. Roy Blunt, a moderate Missouri Republican who voted no on the commission, Manchin offered a creative solution. “Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy,” Manchin said. “Roy is retiring. If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, that’d be nice and it’d help our country. That would be very good to get him to change his vote. And we’re going to have another vote on this thing. That’ll give me one more shot at it.”

Regarding Blunt, Manchin appears to be suggesting — without, perhaps, quite explicitly saying so — that the wealthy executives on the call could dangle future financial opportunities in front of the outgoing senator while lobbying him to change his vote. Senate ethics rules forbid future job negotiations if they create a conflict of interest or present even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Manchin, notably, doesn’t suggest that the donors discuss a job, but rather says that people who Blunt may later be working with would be likely to have significant influence, reflective of the way future job prospects can shape the legislative process even when unspoken.

The commission, Manchin tells No Labels, is important in its own right, necessary to determine how security failed and what former President Donald Trump’s role was in the riot, if any. But it’s also critical to maintaining support for the filibuster. The January 6 commission got 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster — a thorough embarrassment for those like Manchin who claim bipartisanship is still possible in the divided Senate chamber.

Manchin told the donors he hoped to make another run at it to prove that comity is not lost. He noted that Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who missed the vote, would have voted for it had he been there, meaning only three more votes are needed. “What I’m asking for, I need to go back, I need to find three more Republican, good Republican senators that will vote for the commission. So at least we can tamp down where people say, ‘Well, Republicans won’t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan.’ It just really emboldens the far left saying, ‘I told you, how’s that bipartisan working for you now, Joe?’” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 9:37 am

Big Telecom Blocks Attempt to Bring $15 Broadband To Covid Victims

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Karl Bode reports in Vice:

A Judge has sided with the broadband industry and barred New York State from offering discounted broadband to those struggling during the COVID crisis.

The order by US District Judge Denis Hurley imposes an immediate injunction on New York State, barring it from enforcing the Affordable Broadband Act (ABA), a new state law requiring ISPs provide 25 megabits-per-second broadband for no more than $15-per-month to those struggling financially during the pandemic.

The broadband industry immediately filed suit against the effort, claiming New York was barred from regulating broadband thanks in part to the Trump administration’s 2017 net neutrality repeal. The Trump FCC claimed the repeal would boost job growth and investment in the telecom sector, yet data shows neither actually happened.

Instead, the repeal left the FCC ill-equipped to protect consumers during an economic crisis by eroding much of the agency’s consumer protection authority under the Communications Act. At telecom sector request, the repeal also attempted to ban states from being able to step in and fill the consumer protection void left by an apathetic federal government.

Both broadband experts and previous court rulings have argued that when the Trump FCC gave up its authority over broadband providers, it also gave up its right to tell states what to do. Still, the broadband industry continues to use the repeal as the basis of lawsuits undermining state efforts to hold US telecom giants accountable or pass state net neutrality laws.

Judge Haley sided with industry, proclaiming that providing discounted broadband to poor Americans struggling during Covid would impose “unrecoverable losses” on the hugely profitable and heavily monopolized broadband industry.

“Beginning June 15, 2021, Plaintiffs will suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time, and the enormity of the matter—six plaintiffs with multiple member organizations attacking a statute affecting one-third of all New York households—portends a lengthy litigation,” the Judge wrote.

Dana Floberg, a telecom expert at consumer group Free Press, stated that the Biden administration could lend a hand by properly staffing the FCC and reversing the Trump administration’s net neutrality repeal.

“The path forward to reining in exorbitant internet prices is clear,” she said. “We need an FCC empowered with the legal authority to investigate and intervene in the market, and we need a long-term benefit to support internet adoption for low-income people.”

Under the law, the party in control of the White House enjoys a 3-2 partisan majority at the FCC. But the Trump administration’s rush appointment of Trump ally Nathan Simington to the agency last December left the agency intentionally gridlocked at 2-2, incapable of obtaining a majority vote on any issues of controversy.

Despite this, the Biden administration has been in no rush to appoint a new commissioner or reverse the net neutrality repeal. More than fifty consumer groups and union organizations wrote the administration this week asking for more urgency in the matter.

“Restoring the FCC’s Title II authority over broadband would give the agency the strong, flexible toolbox it needs to curtail unjust and discriminatory practices, including unreasonable pricing schemes, while avoiding the pitfalls of rate-setting,” Floberg said.

Cable and broadband providers routinely engage in all manner of dodgy pricing practices, from the use of . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

15 June 2021 at 3:47 pm

Republicans are on a mission to destroy democracy in the US, and Mitch McConnell is their leader.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.

While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.

McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.

Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.

States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”

The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.

While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 10:48 pm

GOP Senator Says Democracy and Majority Rule Are Not What Our Country Stands For

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In New York Jonathan Chait writes about Rand Paul and his radical beliefs:

One of the edifying side effects of the Trump era has been that, by making democracy the explicit subject of political debate, it has revealed the stark fact many influential conservatives do not believe in it. Mike Lee blurted out last fall that he opposes “rank democracy.” His fellow Republican senator, Rand Paul, tells the New York Times today, “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for. The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Paul is a bit of a crank, but here he is gesturing at a recognizable set of ideas that have long been articulated by conservative intellectuals. Importantly, these ideas are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives. Indeed, they have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.

The belief system Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok.

National Review has consistently advocated this worldview since its founding years, when it used these ideas to oppose civil-rights laws, and has persisted in using these ideas to argue for restrictions on the franchise. “Was ‘democracy’ good when it empowered slave owners and Jim Crow racists?,” asked NR’s David Harsanyi. Majority rule “sounds like a wonderful thing … if you haven’t met the average American voter,” argued NR’s Kevin Williamson, rebutting the horrifying ideal of majority rule with the knock-down argument: “If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.”

It is important to understand that these conservatives have taken Trump’s election, and escalating threats to democracy, not as a challenge to their worldview but as confirmation of it. If Trump is threatening democracy, this merely proves that the people who elected him are ignorant and therefore unfit to rule. The attempted coup of January 6, another NR column sermonized, ought to “remind us of the wisdom that the Founders held dear centuries ago: We are a republic, not a direct democracy, and we’d best act like it.”

The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

The most insidious aspect of the Lee-Paul right-wing belief system is  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 6:17 pm

The GOP is disassembling American democracy

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Kevin Drum points out how the US is sliding into becoming a banana republic:

The most dangerous part of all the new Republican voting laws isn’t the hodgepodge of rules about closing times and ballot boxes and so forth. It’s the rules that allow Republican legislatures to replace election officials if they’re unhappy about how the count is going. But the AP reports that these rules might not even be necessary:

After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job of elections administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party.

….About a third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left in the last year and a half….The executive director of a clerks association in Wisconsin said more than two dozen clerks had retired since the presidential election and another 30 clerks or their deputies quit by the end of 2020.

….The exodus comes as Republicans in a number of states pursue legislation that imposes new fines or criminal penalties on local elections officials or makes it easier to remove them, as part of the GOP campaign to rewrite rules for voting and administering elections. A new law in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine on elections administrators for a technical infraction of election rules. A similar law in Florida could lead to $25,000 fines for elections supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside early voting hours or is left unsupervised.

The new Republican rules are apparently just a backup. The real plan is simply to terrorize local election officials into quitting so they can be replaced with true believers who can make sure that next time Donald Trump has all the votes he needs to win. Welcome to the latest installment of Banana Republicanism, my friends.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 11:33 am

“I took a vote that cost me my seat. I know what Joe Manchin is facing.”

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Impressive column in the Washington Post by Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and a former U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes Region, now serving as the U.S. executive director of the Open Society Foundations. He writes:

“Just promise you will never forget that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day.” That was the advice — directive, really — my father offered when I asked about running for Congress. He was born and raised in Dunbar, W.Va., with the deep faith in the community, the Catholic Church and the New Deal that defined many Italian immigrant families recruited by the coal mines or Union Carbide. My dad died a few months after seeing me sworn in as a member of the 111th Congress in 2009, just three weeks after he retired as a pediatrician. He had cared for so many children of every race, faith and class that more than 1,000 people showed up for his funeral.

When I cast one of the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act that year— a vote many warned might cost me my seat — I wore one of my father’s old wool suits. He had opposed Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health-care plan but watched regretfully as the insurance companies spread like a cancer across his profession, choking out the space between doctor and patient. I felt him nodding with approval from on high.

My dad liked Governor Joe Manchin and would have really loved Sen. Manchin for his decency and determination to fight for forgotten towns and workers. This year, the Democratic senator from West Virginia has shown marked political courage by embracing at least the aspirations of President Biden’s agenda to “build back better,” sending a signal to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this is a time to unite around solutions rather than hide in the shadow of base politics.

[Yes, the Senate is rigged for small states. But not for Republicans]

As his colleagues fail to answer this call, Manchin is rapidly approaching a test of his convictions on what he must do to protect America’s historic experiment with democracy. West Virginia became a state when its citizens had the honor to break away from Virginia to defend our more perfect union. Now, their senior senator may need to break traditions to defend voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Manchin recently indicated his inability to support the For the People Act unless Republican senators show the courage to put democracy over party. He stated no substantive disagreements with the reforms, which would limit partisan gerrymandering, dark money, foreign election interference, and corporate corruption, while adopting existing voting rights and expanded election protections.

Defending voting rights and election integrity should not and cannot be a partisan issue. As the Pew Research Center found, large majorities of Americans support making it easier to vote and reducing the power of special interests through the kinds of policies enshrined in the For the People Act. It’s just the Republicans in Congress who refuse to support it.

One party is attacking democracy, and that same party is blocking attempts to protect it. Citing that as an excuse to disarm unilaterally is like telling a farmer whose cattle are being stolen that he needs the thief’s permission to put up cameras or hire guards. The bipartisanship Manchin celebrates from the 1980s, at its best, represented genuine compromise. Frankly, in this era, anything the diverse body of 50 Democratic senators can agree on probably would have been seen as “bipartisan” back then. My father’s family swung from JFK Republicans to Reagan Democrats, but they’d be at a loss to understand the Republican caucus of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

When I came to Congress, I represented a deep red district and dreamed of bipartisanship, and I was proud to retain support from independent and Republican voters and outperform the party brand by double digits. But the one place I found no bipartisanship was on the Hill. A few months after I was sworn in, I knew reelection the following year was a long shot. We Democrats failed to convince Americans that we were focused on the economy, and the quiet recovery was not being felt by fall of 2010.

Biden’s bold approach today reflects an understanding that, had we been able to move bolder and earlier — for instance, passing health-care reform in the summer of 2009 with a Medicare buy-in and cheaper prescription drugs — we would have won over more moderates than by taking the perceived “moderate” path that enabled corporate-captured senators to waste time and water down reforms.

A decade later, I carry three lessons from my 2009 health care vote.

First, no regrets. Why ask the voters for political power if not to use it when it matters most? I still get letters from people thanking me: Parents whose kids are growing up with the security Obamacare provides, or entrepreneurs able to start businesses because they no longer felt tied to their old job for the health insurance. I have also been reminded time and again that there is a job much better than being in Congress, and that’s being a former member of Congress. I have devoted the past decade to issues of justice at home and abroad dear to my heart, with a bigger staff and free from the constant fear that an innocuous remark will be taken out of context to become a viral attack ad.

Second, tough votes are better taken early in the election cycle than late. The months we took debating health care did not make the bill stronger or more popular. It just left more time for it to be demonized and less time for the positive effects to be felt. The reforms in these two new voting rights bills are widely popular — for instance, making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering eligible voters. They’ll be even more so when voters see how easy and safe it is for them to vote, how much harder it is for politicians to gerrymander districts, and why corporations will have a harder time corrupting our politics.

Manchin has taken a strong stance in favor of protecting voting rights and election integrity. He has said he supports another important voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the voting and election protections in the For the People Act are urgently vital complements to that legislation for addressing 21st century threats to our democracy. Many other reforms Manchin has touted are in the 800 pages of the For the People Act and must find their way into law.

Third, Americans . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 June 2021 at 7:27 am

The importance of history

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.

To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.

This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.

When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”

Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.

The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.

The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.

Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.

Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.

So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world?. . .

Continue reading; inks and sources and sources are at the end of the article.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:13 pm

Unaccountable: The push to remake policing takes decades, only to begin again

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To balance the good news, a problem that’s more intractable than dengue. Robert Klemko and John Sullivan report in the Washington Post:

In 1988, as Joe Collum drove the New Jersey Turnpike to his new job at a local TV news station, he noticed a recurring scene on the side of the highway: White state troopers rifling through the belongings of Black and Latino motorists.

Collum, an investigative reporter, scoured arrest records in dozens of municipalities. Along the turnpike, he found, Black and Latino drivers accounted for the vast majority — 80 percent — of all state police arrests on the turnpike. “Without Just Cause,” his investigative report on WWOR-TV Secaucus, introduced the world to the term “racial profiling.”

“There was this big initiative to stop drugs coming in and out of New York City, and they were transparent about that,” Collum said, “but the troopers individually and collectively, to some degree, decided that the best way to catch people with drugs was to target dark-skinned people.”

Collum’s reporting exposed how troopers’ biases and assumptions about people of color had infected policing along New Jersey’s main artery. State police denied they were targeting minorities. But a group of attorneys, motivated by Collum’s reports, sued troopers, and a state court affirmed for the first time the existence of racial profiling by law enforcement. The Justice Department ordered an end to the practice.

But nearly 30 years later, the most recent audit revealed that Black drivers were still being subjected more often to searches, arrests and uses of force after traffic stops by state police.

The attempted reforms after Collum’s revelation of racial profiling have led to yet another chapter in the long line of attempts to cleanse policing in the United States of its persistent afflictions — an ongoing exercise in reform that never ends.

For decades, police misconduct and the use of controversial tactics have fueled cycles of outrage that have been followed by commissions, studies and orders or promises to reform. In 1929, the federal Wickersham Commission produced 14 volumes of reports documenting widespread police corruption, including the use of the “third degree” to extract confessions. Eighty-six years later, after the killing of a Black man, Michael Brown, by a White officer in Ferguson, Mo., the Obama administration convened the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which produced 116 pages of recommended changes in U.S. law enforcement.

Last year, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police renewed the calls for change.

Since then, more than 2,000 policing-related bills have been introduced nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In April, Maryland became the first state to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a set of legislative protections that included scrubbing any record of complaints against an officer after a period of time. And in Congress, the Democrat-led House in March passed a bill named for Floyd that bars chokeholds and no-knock warrants; it is stalled in the Senate.

The Washington Post examined three historic firsts in policing reforms: the effort to stop racial profiling by troopers in New Jersey, the deployment of early-warning technology to identify troubled deputies in Los Angeles and the use of federal intervention to force change on police in Pittsburgh.

The legacies of these firsts reveal the difficulty of remaking law enforcement. At each agency, the attempts have been stifled by entrenched cultures, systemic dysfunction, shifts in leadership and swings in public mood. Outrage at officers’ conduct eventually gives way to demands for aggressive enforcement when crime flares, and the cycle continues.

“Eventually, too many people get murdered, too many people get raped, and people start saying, ‘Come on. Beef up the police,’ ” said former Los Angeles County sheriff’s assistant chief Neal Tyler, who helped develop the first computerized early-warning system. “And we do that, and then slowly, eventually, we lose our resolve and the pendulum swings back the other direction, and there’s a police scandal of epic proportions.

“Like clockwork.”

A department under federal control

In 1995 in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, an officer pulled over Jonny Gammage, a Black businessman who was at the wheel of a luxury sports car. He had been stopped for erratic driving. Police wrestled Gammage to the ground, putting pressure on his chest and neck until he died of asphyxia. His last words: “I’m only 31.”

Gammage’s death, along with fatal shootings by the Pittsburgh police and other allegations of officer misconduct, pushed the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the department. The ACLU had been investigating the police for three years, gathering evidence of alleged civil rights violations, including by jump-out squads, free-roaming patrol units that stopped people on the street.

After filing suit, the ACLU asked the Justice Department to take on the case.

“A short time later, they had three attorneys in Pittsburgh hungrily downloading everything we’d learned,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director, who handled the case.

The Justice Department investigated and for the first time invoked a civil power tucked into the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, filing its own lawsuit against Pittsburgh to address a “pattern or practice” of civil rights abuses by the city’s police. In 1997, the city became the first to enter into a federal consent decree, agreeing to changes that would be monitored by the government.

In 83 paragraphs, Justice laid out a plan for the department of 900 officers, including mandates to implement diversity training, better document traffic stops, reduce the use of strip searches and track complaints filed against officers.

But when the federal monitors moved on nearly a decade later, the pressure for reform had dissipated.

Sheldon Williams, who joined the department as an officer in 1997, experienced it firsthand.

Before Williams became a Pittsburgh officer, his encounters with police had included running from them as a child in Wilkinsburg, a mostly Black borough in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. In high school, he said, his family moved to a White part of town, where Williams said most residents did not fear officers. “It’s hard to make people see the unpredictability Black Americans face when dealing with the police,” he said.

Williams, who signed up as the department pushed to diversify, took a job in a new public integrity unit, a team created to look for internal corruption. He said he thought he would be applauded for working to restore public confidence. Instead, he was shunned.

Commanders embraced the reforms, he said, but the rank and file often did not. “As I came in, I started seeing the shifts and the changes right away,” he said. “But I also heard the kicks and scrapes and the complaints about it.”

Under the consent decree, officers were taught how to navigate their own biases and understand why Black people might fear them. The decree also gave police nonlethal tools, including pepper spray, he said. “We used to get issued blackjacks to control suspects,” said Williams, referring to the leather-wrapped piece of metal with a wrist strap.

Officers had to document more precisely why they stopped and questioned people and provide more justification for the use of force.

And the department agreed to track officers accused of misconduct.

“There was a sense from members of the community that the department was doing things that increased the professionalism of the officers,” said Williams, who retired in 2011 and has since become a pastor and member of the Citizen Police Review Board.

In 2002, federal monitors pronounced the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police rehabilitated, ending the consent decree except for a provision to monitor the internal affairs department as it investigated a backlog of misconduct cases. That ended in 2005.

The decree worked initially, said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who wrote a book about the intervention, “A City Divided.”

“It changed some of the most dysfunctional parts of the way the department was operating,” Harris said. But once the federal pressure ended, reforms slipped, he said. “When the public pressure is off, departments tend to backslide.”

In 2006, there was a newly elected mayor, and Police Chief Bob McNeilly lost his job. Old problems reemerged. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And there’s a link in the sidebar:

Accountable
An examination of policing in America amid the push for reform.

Civilian oversight is undermined by politicians and police, who contend citizens are ill-equipped to judge officers.

I would point out to politicians and police that the Secretary of Defense is, by strong tradition, a civilian.

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 7:49 pm

The US always seems to betray people who have helped it. Current instance: Afghan interpreters

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The Kurds are another ally treated shabbily (at best) by the US. Now Afghans who assisted the US are being left to the Taliban’s dubious mercy. David Zucchino and Najim Rahim report in the NY Times:

It was an offhand comment, blurted out in frustration. It may have destroyed Shoaib Walizada’s chances of earning a cherished visa to the United States.

Mr. Walizada, who interpreted for the U.S. Army for four years until 2013, said that he had complained one day, using profanity, that his assigned combat vest was too small. When the episode came to light later that year, Mr. Walizada’s preliminary approval for a visa was revoked for “unprofessional conduct.”

Mr. Walizada, 31, is among thousands of Afghans once employed by the U.S. government, many as interpreters, whose applications for a Special Immigrant Visa, or S.I.V., through a State Department program, have been denied.

The program, established to relocate to the United States Iraqis and Afghans whose lives are threatened because they worked for the American military or government, has rejected some applicants for seemingly minor infractions and others for no stated reason.

Now, as American troops depart and Afghans experience a growing sense of anxiety and despair, the visa applications have taken on renewed urgency. With the Taliban taking advantage of the U.S. withdrawal, many former interpreters say they are more likely than ever to be killed.

“I get phone calls from the Taliban saying, ‘We will kill you’ — they know who I am and that I worked for the Americans,” Mr. Walizada said. He has delayed marriage because he does not want to put a wife at risk, he said, and he has moved from house to house for safety.

The slightest blemish during years of otherwise stellar service can torpedo a visa application and negate glowing letters of recommendation from American commanders. In the last three months of 2020 alone, State Department statistics show, 1,646 Afghans were denied one of the special visas, which are issued to applicants satisfying demanding requirements and rigorous background checks even though interpreters would already have passed security screenings.

Among reasons cited for denial were the failure to prove the required length of service, insufficient documentation, failure to establish “faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information.”

More than 18,000 Afghans are awaiting decisions on their S.I.V. applications, according to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Many say they are seized by dread, fearing they will be denied, or approved only after they have been hunted down and killed.

No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the United States, says that more than 300 translators or their relatives have been killed since 2014. Thousands of S.I.V. applicants have submitted “threat letters” they received from the Taliban.

The visa program, first approved by Congress in 2006 for interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq, has long been slowed by chronic delays and logjams. Most recently, a 2020 report by the State Department Inspector General identified six serious shortcomings in the Afghan S.I.V. process, including staff shortages and lack of a centralized database.

Many interpreters complain that they wait for months, and in some cases years, for a decision. Some joke that they have “S.I.V. syndrome” from constantly logging on to a State Department website for updates.

Nearly 21,000 visas were issued to Afghans from 2009 to March 2021, according to State Department figures. Just under 11,000 visas are still available.

Sayed Obaidullah Amin, 46, who interpreted for the U.S. Marine Corps for two years, said that he had passed an in-person interview at the American Embassy. But he was abruptly denied in 2019; a terse letter cited “lack of faithful and valuable service” and “derogatory information associated with case.”

Mr. Amin says he believes the S.I.V. program learned that, during one stint with a Marine unit, he returned to duty two days late after being granted leave to deal with his father’s heart attack.

Officials at the State Department and at the embassy said they could not provide the percentage of Afghan S.I.V. applicants who had been denied.

Most interpreters carry thick folders stuffed with letters from former commanders extolling their dedication and courage. A letter from a Marine officer, sent in hopes of reversing Mr. Amin’s rejection, praised his loyalty and steadfast service.

The officer, Andrew Darlington, a retired captain, said in an email that the embassy had not responded to his queries about the denial. “Thousands like Obaid are facing certain death in the next 12 to 24 months,” he wrote.

Waheedullah Rahmani, 27, said he had been waiting since 2015 for an S.I.V. decision. That year, he said, the embassy asked him to resubmit threat letters and letters of recommendation. He did so, he said, but his emails to the program have since gone unanswered. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s disheartening.

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 5:09 pm

Biden DOJ: Trump attacking a woman he allegedly raped was part of his job as president

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

The Department of Justice has decided to continue defending Donald Trump in a case filed by E. Jean Carroll, who claims Trump raped her in the mid-90s. The case does not concern the alleged rape itself but Trump’s repeated attacks on Carroll after she went public with her accusations in June 2019. Carroll sued Trump for defamation in November 2019.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in the case in September 2020, arguing that Trump “was acting within the scope of his office as the President of the United States at the time of the alleged conduct.” Barr argued that, as a result, the United States, not Trump, should be the defendant. This would essentially end the case, since the federal government is immune from this kind of lawsuit.

What did Trump say about Carroll? A few hours after Carroll published her allegation, Trump released a statement in which he claimed he never met Carroll, accused her of lying to sell books, and suggested she was conspiring with the Democratic Party. Here is an excerpt:

Regarding the ‘story’ by E. Jean Carroll, claiming she once encountered me at Bergdorf Goodman 23 years ago. I’ve never met this person in my life. She is trying to sell a new book – that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section. Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda…

If anyone has information that the Democratic Party is working with Ms. Carroll or New York Magazine, please notify us as soon as possible. The world should know what’s really going on. It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations.

At the White House the next day, a reporter asked . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:34 am

Exit the Fatherland: Germany’s work to rebuild its common culture

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In the decades following WWII, Germany deliberately and slowly reformed its cultural outlook and common values, working at every level to create a society that doesn’t encourage blindly following a leader. The US seems in need of a similar effort to build a culture of common values and understanding, and looking at how Germany did it might help (though the US seems loathe to learn from other countries’ experience). – See update below.

Helmut Walser Smith, the Martha Rivers Ingram Chair of History and professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and author of The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Antisemitism in a German Town (2002), The Continuities of German History: Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long 19th Century (2008), and Germany: A Nation in Its Time (2020), writes in Aeon:

After 12 years of fascism, six years of war, and the concentrated genocidal killing of the Holocaust, nationalism should have been thoroughly discredited. Yet it was not. For decades, nationalist frames of mind continued to hold. They prevailed on both sides of the so-called Iron Curtain and predominated in the Global North as well as in the developing world of the Global South. Even in the Federal Republic of Germany, the turn away from ‘the cage called Fatherland’ – as Keetenheuve, the main character in Wolfgang Koeppen’s novel The Hothouse (1953), called his depressingly nationalistic West Germany – didn’t commence immediately.

When the turn did begin, however, Keetenheuve’s country would set out on a remarkable journey – not one racing down the highway to cosmopolitanism, but rather a slow one that required a series of small steps leading to the gradual creation of a more pacific, diverse and historically honest nation – a better Germany.

After the collapse of the Third Reich, Germans widely blamed other countries for the Second World War. ‘Every German knows that we are not guilty of starting the war,’ asserted the Nazi journalist Hildegarde Roselius in 1946. With ‘every German’, this acquaintance of the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White certainly exaggerated. But in 1952, 68 per cent of Germans polled gave an answer other than ‘Germany’ to the question of who started the Second World War, and it was not until the 1960s that this opinion fell into the minority.

In the mid-1950s, nearly half of all Germans polled said ‘yes’ to the proposition that ‘were it not for the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.’ Until the late 1950s, nearly 90 per cent gave an answer other than ‘yes’ when asked if their country should recognise the Oder-Neisse line, the new border with Poland. Perhaps most revealing of all was their stance on Jews. On 12 June 1946, Hannah Arendt hazarded the opinion to Dolf Sternberger, one of occupied Germany’s most prominent publicists, that ‘Germany has never been more antisemitic than it is now.’ As late as 1959, 90 per cent of Germans polled thought of Jews as belonging to a different race – while only 10 per cent thought of the English in these terms.

The sum of these attitudes suggests that Keetenheuve’s cage called Fatherland remained shut for more than two decades after the fall of the Third Reich.

Like most of Europe and indeed the world, Germany lacked a powerful alternative discourse to nationalism. Until the 1970s, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights possessed little traction in postwar Europe. Regional affiliations, such as those to Europe (or Pan-Africanism or Pan-Arabism), were more viable but as yet confined to a small number of elites. Strident defences of capitalism also did little to deplete the store of nationalist tropes. And on the western side of the Iron Curtain, anti-Communism supported rather than undermined Nazi-inspired nationalism.

The postwar world was, moreover, awash in new nation-states, especially as it shaded into the postcolonial era. In 1945, there were only 51 independent countries represented at the UN: 30 years later, there were 144. Whether in Jawaharlal Nehru’s India or Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, nationalism and promises of self-determination fired anti-colonial independence movements in Asia and Africa. In Europe, nationalism also continued to shape claims to group rights and territorial boundaries. In Germany, divided and not fully sovereign until 1990, it informed discussion over eventual unification, the right of the ethnic German expellees to return to their east European homelands, and the validity of Germany’s eastern borders. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1970, a quarter-century after the war, that the Federal Republic of Germany finally recognised as legitimate the German border (established at the Potsdam Conference in 1945) with Poland. And still nearly half the citizens of West Germany opposed the recognition.

The pervasiveness of exclusionary nationalism in the postwar period also reflected a new underlying reality. The Second World War had created a Europe made up of nearly homogeneous nation-states. A series of western European countries, now thought of as diverse, were at that time just the opposite. The population of West Germany who were born in a foreign country stood at a mere 1.1 per cent, and the minuscule percentage proved paradigmatic for the tessellated continent as a whole. The Netherlands had a still smaller foreign-born population, and foreigners made up less than 5 per cent of the population in Belgium, France and Great Britain. In the interwar years, eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary had significant ethnic minorities and large Jewish populations. In the postwar period, both were all but gone, and Poles and Hungarians were largely on their own.

Nor, in the trough of deglobalisation, did Europeans often get beyond their own borders, and Germans were no exception. In 1950, most Germans had never been abroad, except as soldiers. Some 70 per cent of the adult women had never left Germany at all. Travel, a luxury enjoyed by the few, didn’t begin to pick up until the mid-1950s, while international travel became a truly mass phenomenon only in the 1970s, when most people had cars of their own. In the first decades of tourism, Germans mainly visited German-speaking destinations, such as the castles on the Rhine or the northern slopes of the Alps. In these decades, few Germans, save for the highly educated, knew foreign languages, and most other Europeans, unless migrant workers, were no different.

The cage called Fatherland was thus reinforced. The persistence in a world of nationalism of the habits of thought of a once-Nazified nation-in-arms constituted one set of reinforcements. The relative homogeneity of postwar nations and the lack of peacetime experiences abroad constituted another. There was also a third reinforcement keeping the cage shut. This was that Germans had something to hide.

In the postwar period, Germany was full of war criminals. The European courts condemned roughly 100,000 German (and Austrian) perpetrators. The sum total of convictions by the Second World War allies, including the United States, the Soviet Union and Poland, pushes that number higher still, as does the more than 6,000 offenders that West German courts would send to prison, and the nearly 13,000 that the much harsher judicial regimen of East Germany convicted.

Nevertheless, there was still a great deal left to cover up. Lower down the Nazi chain of command, a dismaying number of perpetrators of various shades of complicity got off without penalty or consequence. Two jarring examples might suffice. Only 10 per cent of Germans who had ever worked in Auschwitz were even tried, and only 41 of some 50,000 members of the murderous German Police Battalions, responsible for killing a half a million people, ever saw the inside of a prison.

Trials and sentences reveal only part of the story of complicity. Many Germans not directly involved in crimes had come into inexpensive property and wares. Detailed reports from the north German city of Hamburg suggest that, in that one city alone, some 100,000 people bought confiscated goods at auctions of Jewish wares. Throughout the Federal Republic, houses, synagogues and businesses once belonging to Jewish neighbours were now in German hands. Mutatis mutandis, what was true for the number of people involved in the murder and theft activities of the Third Reich also held true about what people knew. ‘Davon haben wir nichts gewusst’ (‘We knew nothing about that [the murder of the Jews]’), West German citizens never tired of repeating in the first decades after the war. Historians now debate whether a third or even half of the adult population in fact knew of the mass killings, even if most scholars concede that few Germans had detailed knowledge about Auschwitz.

The Germans shared a European fate here as well, even if they had the most to hide. In his trailblazing article ‘The Past Is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe’ (1992), the late Tony Judt pointed out the stakes that almost all of occupied Europe had in covering up collaboration with Nazi overlords. This wasn’t merely a matter of forgetting, as is sometimes assumed. Rather, it involved continuing and conscious concealment. After all, many people (especially in eastern Europe, where the preponderance of Jews had lived) had enriched themselves – waking up in ‘Jewish furs’, as the saying went, and occupying Jewish houses in what was surely one of the greatest forced real-estate transfers of modern history.

For all these reasons, the cage called Fatherland wasn’t easy to leave and, rather than imagine a secret key opening its door, it makes more sense to follow the hard work involved in loosening up its three essential dimensions: a warring nation, a homogeneous nation, and a cover-up nation. It wasn’t until West Germans could take leave of these mental templates that they could even begin to exit the cage. Fortunately, in the postwar era, Germany was blessed with prolonged prosperity, increased immigration, and the passing of time. When brought together with small, often courageous steps of individuals and institutions, these factors allowed West Germans eventually to embraced peace, diversity and the cause of historical truth: in short, to exit the cage.

he vision of ‘a living, not a deathly concept of Fatherland’, as Dolf Sternberger put it in 1947, had already been laid in the early years of occupation. Sternberger, who cut off the ‘A’ from his first name, argued for a different kind of nation, one that commanded openness and engagement but didn’t end in the glorification of killing and dying in war or in the marginalisation and persecution of others. The nation as a source of life, as a caretaker of its citizens, and not as a vehicle for power, expansion, war and death: this was Sternberger’s initial vision.

It was a conception of Germany that West Germans slowly embraced, symbolically replacing the warfare state with the welfare state, swapping barracks and panzers for department stores and high-performance cars. Enabled by . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I suspect that this essay is essentially an extract from his latest book.

Update

There’s still work to be done: see the report “German commando unit disbanded over suspected far-right links within ranks,” by Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck, published today (10 June 2021) in the Washington Post. It begins:

German authorities disbanded a Frankfurt police commando unit Thursday over suspected far-right links to a group of active officers, the latest in a string of extremist-related scandals to blight the country’s police and military.

Peter Beuth, interior minister for the Hesse state where Frankfurt is located, said “unacceptable misconduct” prompted the decision to close the unit. He also said superiors had turned a “blind eye.”

Hesse’s prosecutor on Wednesday said the office was investigating 20 officers from the force with the majority suspected of sending messages in far-right chat groups, including Nazi symbols and “inciting content.” Three supervising officers were accused of failing to stop or report the exchanges. All but one of the 20 was on active duty.

The chat groups were uncovered after examining the phone of an officer suspected of possessing and distributing child pornography.

One officer has been officially suspended, and the others have been “banned from conducting official business,” the public prosecutor said.

The move comes in the wake of revelations over far-right links that have embroiled Germany’s security forces, from other far-right chat groups sharing neo-Nazi content to a group of extremist doomsday preppers who hoarded ammunition ahead of “Day X.”

A court in Hesse is trying Franco Albrecht, a former soldier accused of posing as a Syrian refugee in an attempt to carry out a “false flag” attack. Hesse’s police chief was forced to resign last year after police computers were used to search for personal details of prominent figures before they were sent threatening letters and emails.

A year ago, Germany also partially disbanded its military’s elite commando force because of the extremist links of its officers.

Germany’s Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has pushed back against assertions of structural racism or far-right sympathies in the country’s police forces. But he has agreed to commission a study into the issue last year as pressure grew amid a slew of such cases.

A similar study by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said there were 370 suspected cases of right-wing extremism in the country’s police and security forces.

I will point out that far-right extremists have been discovered in US law enforcement (police departments and state police) and in the US military. Indeed, some of those active in the insurrection of January 6 were active in military service and some were active police officers. The problem is not unique to Germany.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:09 am

Be Afraid, America; Be Very Afraid

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Michael A. Cohen (the columnist, not the lawyer) writes:

Yesterday, I had an op-ed in USA Today looking at how Republican-controlled state legislatures seek to criminalize political protest in red-state America. I wrote about this issue earlier this year, but that was before any news laws had been enacted. Over the past several months, cooler heads have not prevailed, and Republican state legislatures have passed a series of bills that threaten the First Amendment-guaranteed to right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here’s just a few examples that I cited in the piece:

In Oklahoma …the Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP governor granted civil and criminal immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while driving away from a riot. In effect, Oklahoma Republicans are making it easier for drivers to run over and potentially kill political protesters.

Not to be outdone, Florida Republicans enacted a similar law as part of a larger “anti-riot” bill. Floridians who block traffic, even temporarily, could now be looking at up to 15 years in jail if convicted. The law also now classifies a public gathering of three people or more as a “riot” and anyone who chooses to participate in such a protest can now be charged with a felony – even if their behavior is not violent.

In Arkansas, a riot can involve as few as two people engaged in “tumultuous” conduct that creates a “substantial risk” of “public alarm.” Those convicted of rioting will also be required to pay restitution – and would face a mandatory 30 days in prison.

In Tennessee, simply joining a protest in which there is “isolated pushing” and no one is hurt would now be considered a crime.

The Volunteer State is a trailblazer in anti-protest laws. After Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered for weeks on the grounds of the state Capitol last year, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that made it a felony to camp out on state property. The bill also made it a crime to make it “unreasonably inconvenient” to use a street or sidewalk – and those found guilty could face up to one year in jail. The governor signed it last August.

Other states have passed laws making it illegal to demonstrate near “critical infrastructure” such as gas and oil pipelines. In Florida, it’s now a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years in prison, to deface a monument. In Arkansas, such behavior is considered an “act of terrorism.”

It’s an open question about whether these laws are constitutional or even that prosecutors would be willing to bring cases to court, but that isn’t really the point. As I note in the piece, “The goal of these bills is to make protesters question their decision to demonstrate in the first place. How many Americans would want to risk substantial jail time merely for peacefully participating in a demonstration that the police now have broad discretion to define as a riot?”

The impetus for this legislation is not January 6, but instead, the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Republicans appear to be okay with insurrectionists storming the Capitol and putting lawmakers in harm’s way. But deface a monument or block a roadway, and that means war.

Indeed, after several weeks of BLM protesters gathering at Tennessee’s State Capitol building, the GOP-controlled state legislature enacted legislation making it a crime to camp out on state property. Laws that prevent protesters from blocking traffic or broadly define what constitutes a riot seem almost surgically enacted to target BLM activists – and to dissuade them from trying to make their voices heard.

The GOP’s Creeping Authoritarianism

A few months ago, relying on the work of two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, I wrote about the GOP’s authoritarian trajectory. This chart comes from their book “How Democracies Die,” and it’s what they call the “four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior.”

What is stunning is that , arguably, the answer to every single one of these questions is yes.

Over the last six months, a majority of congressional Republicans have refused to accept the credible results of the 2020 election. The former Republican president endorsed a violent insurrection, and now congressional Republicans are blocking a full investigation of it. Donald Trump has regularly portrayed Democrats as a threat to America’s way of life and accused them of being pawns of the Chinese government. Now Republican-controlled state legislatures are enacting laws restricting the ability of ordinary citizens to protest, criticize their government, and exercise their right to vote.

Now I am the guy who has praised those Republicans who not only refused to go along with Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election but actively thwarted it. There were many of them, and their adherence to the rule of law is laudable. But, incredible as it may seem, the Republican Party (as currently constructed) is arguably more radical and less wedded to democratic norms than it was when Trump was president. During his four years in office, the vast majority of congressional Republicans were happy to look the other way at Trump’s crimes. Most didn’t want to get their hands dirty. That’s less the case now. Republicans who have challenged Trump or who upheld the rule of law during the 2020 election face tough primary challenges from Trump acolytes. Marginal conspiracy theorists, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are becoming rising GOP political stars, and, as was the case with Trump, establishment Republicans seem loathe to criticize her for fear of alienating their supporters. In GOP-controlled state legislatures, there has been a feeding frenzy of new voters restrictions, all based on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Last Fall, I was convinced that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2021 at 6:53 pm

America’s scarcity mindset

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Noah Smith writes Noahpinions:

“This land was made for you and me” — Woody Guthrie

“I’m all right Jack, keep your hands off of my stack” — Pink Floyd

I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980. Like all Perlstein books, it’s excellent and you should read it. Anyway, one of the things that really jumps out about the Carter years is the way scarcity and pessimism (which is just anticipation of future scarcity) made the country more selfish. The oil crises of the 70s created absolute chaos, with gunfights at gas stations and violent trucker strikes. It’s not hard to see how that era led to the every-man-for-himself attitude of the conservative 1980s.

But the crazy thing is that America seems to be falling back into this scarcity mindset. Only this time, the shortages are almost entirely of our own creation.

Stephen Covey, the self-help author who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the terms “abundance mindset” and “scarcity mindset”. Basically he means that some people going around thinking of the world as a set of positive-sum, win-win situations, while other people go around thinking of everything as a zero-sum competition where you’re either a winner or a loser.

Meanwhile, the psychologist Ronald Inglehart came up with the related idea of “self-expression values” vs. “survival values”. Survival values, which supposedly come about because of economic scarcity, include ethnocentrism, xenophobia, fear of disease, and a hunger for authoritarianism. Sounds a lot like Trumpism, but I think you can also see echoes of this in various leftist ideologies and spaces.

The World Values Survey keeps track of these values, and it’s interesting to see how the U.S. has evolved over time. Here’s the map of countries from 2008 (click graphic to enlarge):

You can see that while we were more traditionalist than most other rich countries, we were also very high on the “self-expression” end of the scale — about the same as Australia, New Zealand, or Denmark. This is basically the classic view of the U.S. — a bit religious, but a very open and tolerant society. Now check out the map for 2020: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including the second map, which shows some significant changes.

For whatever reason, the US does seem to have lost or abandoned a united effort to work for the common good.

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2021 at 3:33 pm

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