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To protect the children, let’s make churches adults-only venues

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Guy Lancaster writes in the Arkansas Times:

When Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Of Course) spoke up in committee on January 19 in defense of his bill, SB43, which would designate drag shows as “adult” venues, he quoted at length from an ostensible communique he received from a drag queen, begging him to protect Arkansas’s children and assuring him that “a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, a lot of things” goes down at drag shows.

Granted, Stubblefield could give no actual examples of any child being assaulted at a drag show, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is genuinely interested in protecting Arkansas’s children. On January 25, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed total support for SB43, saying, “I think we have to do everything — I’ve been very clear and talked about this pretty extensively — to protect children. And I think that’s what this bill does, and so would be supportive of it in its current form. We’ll continue to take steps and do things that I believe protect the children of Arkansas.”

n that case, Sen. Stubblefield and Gov. Sanders will want to take the next logical step and put forward a bill designating the state’s many, many churches to be adults-only venues. We need to protect the children, after all, and we know that the church is a hub of child sexual abuse by clergy in Arkansas and the nation.

The Diocese of Little Rock maintains a website disclosing a list of all those Roman Catholic priests who have been credibly accused of abusing children. The list was made public in 2018, 16 years after the Boston Globe broke the story of a massive coverup of known pedophile priests in the United States. Then, in 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News started reporting on sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches; a 2022 third-party report highlighted how the Southern Baptist Convention, like the Roman Catholic Church, had been hushing up cases of such abuse for years and years. The SBC eventually released its own list of accused sex offenders, which included many in Arkansas.

Churches make opportune places for pedophiles to set up shop. First, most Christian ideologies position priests and pastors in the role of God’s emissary upon this earth. It’s hard to argue with “God’s will,” or to speak up from the very bottom of this well-established hierarchy. And in a church culture that prizes “sexual purity” above all else, children who have been molested are even more reluctant to come forward. It’s no wonder churches have been at the center of child sexual abuse scandals.

And children in church are also exposed to materials that would easily qualify as obscene or harmful to minors. For example, take this passage, Ezekiel 23:19-21 (New Revised Standard Version): . . .

Continue reading.

The comments are pretty good, too. One includes the almost-certain rebuttal from Sen. Stubblefield (and Gov. Sanders): “Well, that’s different.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 5:32 pm

Barr Pressed Durham to Find Flaws in the Russia Investigation. It Didn’t Go Well.

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Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

WASHINGTON — It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

Egged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

  • Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

  • Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

  • There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and Ms. Dannehy declined to comment. The current and former officials who discussed the investigation all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal, political and intelligence sensitivities surrounding the topic.

A year into the Durham inquiry, Mr. Barr declared that the attempt “to get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016 “cannot be, and it will not be, a tit-for-tat exercise. We are not going to lower the standards just to achieve a result.”

But Robert Luskin, a criminal defense lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor who represented two witnesses Mr. Durham interviewed, said that he had a hard time squaring Mr. Durham’s prior reputation as an independent-minded straight shooter with his end-of-career conduct as Mr. Barr’s special counsel.

“This stuff has my head spinning,” Mr. Luskin said. “When did these guys drink the Kool-Aid, and who served it to them?”

A month after Mr. Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended the Russia investigation and turned in his report without charging any Trump associates with engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow over its covert operation to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump would repeatedly portray the Mueller report as having found “no collusion with Russia.” The reality was more complex. In fact, the report detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” and it established both how Moscow had worked to help Mr. Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference.

That spring, Mr. Barr assigned Mr. Durham to scour the origins of the Russia investigation for wrongdoing, telling Fox News that he wanted to know if “officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in deciding to pursue the investigation. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate, and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together, people familiar with their work said.

In some ways, they were an odd match. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 5:03 pm

The backstory of the Half Moon Bay mass shooting in California

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Half Moon Bay is up the coast from where I live — back in the day and perhaps still, it had a terrific little cafe right next to the ocean that served superb seafood — so the shooting there caught my eye.

The LA Times has a report by Alexandra E. Petri and Salvador Hernandez that sheds some light on the situation. They write:

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The man charged with killing seven co-workers in a pair of mass shootings at farms in Half Moon Bay admitted to his role in the deadly shootings in a jailhouse interview Thursday.

Chunli Zhao, 66, spoke to NBC Bay Area’s Janelle Wang, telling the reporter he had experienced “years of bullying” and working long hours at the farm before he took a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire on his co-workers Monday.

“He admitted that he did do it,” Wang said in the report.

San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen M. Wagstaffe told The Times in an interview that although he could not go into details in the case, Zhao’s comments to the TV station were “consistent with what he told law enforcement.”

In the 15-minute interview, Zhao also said he had been suffering from “some sort of mental illness” and was “not in his right mind” at the time of the shooting.

Zhao said he planned to turn himself in to law enforcement when he drove to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and was writing a note in his car before he was taken into custody.

Wang said Zhao also told her that he regretted the deadly incident.

Zhao’s comments also come as state officials say they have opened investigations into labor and workplace practices at the two sites of Monday’s fatal shootings and cast a spotlight on the lives of California’s farmworkers who often live and work in dangerous conditions.

The investigation comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday visited the beachside community, where he spoke with the victims’ families and co-workers about the deadly shooting and their workplace environments.

Without naming specifics, Newsom said some farmworkers were “living in shipping containers” and working for $9 an hour, well below the state minimum wage of $15.50.

“No healthcare, no support, no services, but [they’re] taking care of our health, providing a service to us each and every day,” he said at the news conference.

A spokesperson for Newsom called the workers’ conditions “simply deplorable” in a statement.

“Our country relies on their back-breaking work, yet Congress cannot even provide them the stability of raising their families and working in this country without fear of deportation, which contributes to their vulnerability in the workplace,” Daniel Villaseñor, deputy press secretary for Newsom’s office, said in the statement. “California is investigating the farms involved in the Half Moon Bay shooting to ensure workers are treated fairly and with the compassion they deserve.”

<>News of the investigation was

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 4:56 pm

NY Times invents a Biden scandal — and the public’s reaction

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Jamison Foser writes at Finding Gravity:

When New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker tweeted yesterday that the discovery of classified documents at Joe Biden’s personal office and home, though “markedly different” from Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, would nevertheless inoculate Trump from criticism, it wasn’t hard to spot the flaw in Baker’s reasoning. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen responded to Baker:

Rosen’s critique of the “savvy style,” is spot on — as far as it goes. But here it’s missing an essential element. Baker isn’t just telling us perception matters more than truth — he is actively shaping perception, not merely observing or predicting it.

Look back at Baker’s tweet: “Democrats will now have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him, even though the particulars of the two cases are markedly different.” Stop and think about that for a second. Why would this be true? If the two cases are “markedly different,” why would Democrats “have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him”? The only way that makes sense is if the public wrongly perceives the two cases to be similar, rather than markedly different. And how does the public learn about the two cases? Well, in large part from journalists like Peter Baker. So if journalists like Peter Baker treat the cases as markedly different (as Peter Baker knows they are), the public will perceive them as markedly different, and Democrats won’t have any trouble using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him. But of course Baker isn’t treating them like they’re markedly different. He’s treating the Biden discovery as a huge problem for Biden, and a reprieve for Trump. And by doing that, he might indeed help cause the public to wrongly perceive the two cases to be similar. Baker is, in effect, both predicting the consequences of Baker’s own bad journalism (though he of course omits his role and treats the consequences as things that will just inevitably happen all on their own) and helping bring them about.

It isn’t just Peter Baker, of course. Baker’s tweet reflects the core thesis that has driven the New York Times’ coverage of the Biden documents from the very beginning. From January 9 to January 24, the Times’ news side has generated 19 articles plus four videos, a podcast, and a slideshow

about the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and foundation office. More than an article per day for two weeks — a volume of coverage that itself misleads the public about how important this is. I reviewed each one of those articles this morning, and two things immediately jumped out:

  1. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has grudgingly acknowledged that the Trump and Biden document situations are very different. Because they are.
  2. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has asserted that the Biden document discovery, although entirely different from the Trump document scandal, will be politically damaging to Biden and inoculate Trump from criticism.

Rather than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 12:36 pm

Court-watchers blocked

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Government should be responsive to the public (presumably the group on whose behalf they work), and not focus so much on self-protection and secrecy.

January 23, 2023

Fiona Apple
Courtwatch PG
Los Angeles
California

In favor of: H.B.133/S.B. 43 An Act Concerning Courts – Remote Public Access

My name is Fiona Apple and although I do not reside in Maryland, I have been courtwatching for Prince George’s county for two years and I am honored to have ties to this community. I could go on and on about the injustices I have witnessed and try to appeal to the humanity of the government but instead I will focus on the logic of granting remote video access.

We had Zoom access for many months during the height of the pandemic when everyone was equal in the regard that no one was able to attend court in person. When the courts opened their virtual doors we were reminded that so many people were already unable to attend court in person. People with disabilities who cannot make the physical trip to court. People with jobs where they can’t get time off to make the physical trip to court. People who lack the funds and the means to make the physical trip to court. The courts opened their virtual doors because it was the right thing to do. It is still the right thing to do. We had Zoom access until it was suddenly taken away and then we were left with audio that could hardly be called access. Many days, a person calling in to court would not be able to identify who is speaking. Proceedings continue to be delayed and cases postponed as we have found the audio quality changes constantly.

People have a constitutional right to open and public courts and people have the right to participate in their own defense. The audio “access” we have presently does not allow the judges to hear the defendants and sometimes vice versa. This violates the defendants’ constitutional rights.

We know it is possible to have video access because we have had it before but I only found out recently that DC already has video access in place and it seems to be working fine – so it’s very hard to see what the hold up is, unless the government of Maryland wants to hide what is happening inside its courtrooms the way a bad police officer wants to turn off his body camera.

If I could courtwatch virtually where I live, I would. But I’m glad that I’ve been a courtwatcher for PG County because it has taught me that community can stretch far across state lines and that being a good neighbor is possible even if you don’t live right next door.

This legislation would make Maryland leaders on the way to a more just, transparent, and accountable system that will protect the trust of the public you are meant to serve.

It is constitutional, it is available, and it is the right thing to do.

Thank you.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2023 at 12:43 pm

Paul Krugman tells us not to feed the debt scolds

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Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

in March 2011 Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, chairs of a White House deficit-reduction commission, issued a frightening warning about U.S. government debt. Unless America took major steps to rein in future deficits, they warned, a fiscal crisis could be expected within around two years.

Bowles described what he thought would happen: Foreigners would stop buying our debt. And then, he asked: “What happens to interest rates? What happens to the U.S. economy? The markets will absolutely devastate us.”

That was 12 years ago. At the time Bowles issued his warning, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. bonds was about 3.5 percent. Not much was done to reduce deficits, aside from a squeeze on discretionary federal spending that probably delayed economic recovery. But at the end of last week the 10-year rate, which has gone up substantially over the past year as the Fed raises rates to fight inflation, was … about 3.5 percent.

The point is that in the early 2010s, the last time we faced a potential crisis over the debt ceiling, there was an elite consensus that budget deficits were a severe, even existential threat. This consensus was, in retrospect, completely wrong. Yet it almost completely dominated the political conversation, to such an extent that, as Ezra Klein pointed out, the media abandoned the normal rules of reportorial neutrality and openly cheered proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare.

And those of us who challenged the elite consensus, mocking the peddlers of debt panic as Very Serious People (because ranting about the evils of debt sounds serious and responsible, even when the math doesn’t support the rhetoric), were treated as odd and out of touch.

Now the Very Serious People are trying to make a comeback, in effect lending cover to Republican efforts to hold America hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. So it’s important to realize that the case for debt panic is, if anything, even weaker than it was in 2011.

It’s true that U.S. debt is very large — $31 trillion (said in your best Dr. Evil voice). But America is a big country, so almost every economic number is very large. A better way to think about debt is to ask whether interest payments are a major burden on the budget. In 2011 these payments were 1.47 percent of gross domestic product — half what they had been in the mid-1990s. In 2021 they were 1.51 percent. This number will rise as existing debt is rolled over at higher interest rates, but real net interest — interest payments adjusted for inflation — is likely to remain below 1 percent of G.D.P for the next decade.

This doesn’t sound like a crisis. But what about demography? America is aging, which mean

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 4:55 pm

The story no one wants to touch: Why the Capitol Police enabled 1/6

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Our news organizations have become complacent and focused on profit, with the desire to rock the boat much diminished. This does the public a disservice, but large corporations are much more attentive to their own profit than to the public interest. Dan Froomkin writes at Press Watch:

The news media’s continuing failure to explore why the U.S. Capitol was so scantily defended against an angry horde of white Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, has now been compounded by the House select committee’s refusal to connect the most obvious dots or ask the most vital questions.

It’s true that there were countless law enforcement failures that day — indeed, far too many to be a coincidence.

But the singular point of failure — the one thing that could have prevented all of it from happening — was that Capitol Police leaders brushed off ample warnings that an armed mob was headed their way.

They lied to everyone about their level of preparedness beforehand. Then they sent a less-than-full contingent of hapless, unarmored officers out to defend a perimeter defined by bike racks, without less-than-lethal weaponry and without a semblance of a plan.

Even the insurrectionists who actively intended to stop the vote could never have expected that breaching the Capitol would be so easy.

Exploring why Capitol Police leaders chose not to prepare for combat, despite mounds of intelligence pointing directly toward such a scenario, should have been a key goal of the Jan. 6 committee.

That Capitol Police leaders — like so many others in law enforcement — were unable to imagine white Trump supporters as a clear and present danger remains one of the most tragically under-addressed elements of that day’s legacy, leaving crucially important lessons entirely unlearned.

The committee was instead focused on one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump. To that end, its report actively made excuses for law enforcement leaders, calling their failures essentially irrelevant. The “best defense,” the report concluded — should another president ever incite an attack on his own government — “will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.”

What hooey.

Yes, Trump was the instigator. But going forward, the law enforcement community’s blindness to the threat of white nationalism is a more immediate danger.

Learning the lessons of Jan. 6 requires understanding the role of racism, both conscious or unconscious, in law enforcement. It requires understanding whether individual law enforcement leaders flinched for political reasons. And it requires an adjustment in the law enforcement community’s skewed perception of the danger from white nationalists as compared to people of color.

The committee’s members and investigators, however, didn’t ask witnesses anything remotely along those lines.

Then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was the single person most responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol. But no one even asked him (or anyone else) to address how and why the lackadaisical preparations for Jan. 6 compared to the overenthusiastic deployments for Black Lives Matter protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol, and that weren’t even on the Capitol grounds.

Nobody asked any law enforcement officials if they viewed the Jan. 6 insurrectionists sympathetically, or if they were under political pressure not to upset Trump, or if they feared for their jobs.

And certainly nobody asked Sund or anyone else to consider whether the white privilege they shared with the Jan. 6 mob had made it seem unthreatening to them.

It’s no secret why none of these issues were brought up. Committee vice chair Liz Cheney is why.

As multiple committee staffers have told the Washington Post, Cheney’s leadership on the committee came with strings attached. She insisted that the focus of the hearings and the committee’s final report be exclusively on Trump, rather than on any other lessons learned — especially those that might not reflect well on law enforcement.

Asked about the committee’s plans in November, a month before the report was released, Cheney made her goals very clear at a University of Chicago event: “There’s one thing we will not do, and that is we will not blame the Capitol Police,” she said. “We will not blame law enforcement for Donald Trump’s mob, armed, that he sent to the Capitol to stop the electoral count.”

And unlike the excellent media coverage of Jan. 6 overall, reporting on the failure to protect the Capitol has been uniquely lacking every step of the way. I’ve literally been begging reporters since one week after the insurrection to explore how it was allowed to happen, to no avail. (This January 13, 2021, analysis by USA Today was a rare exception.)

To the contrary, press reports. particularly by the otherwise accomplished Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, have repeatedly cast Sund as a martyr and truth-teller when he is neither.

The lack of any public exploration as to why these white Trump supporters got as far as they did leaves us with a statement by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., only hours after the Jan. 6 attack, as the most insightful analysis of the day’s events.

“Had it been  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 11:29 am

Russia seems to have had quite a direct hand in the 2016 election

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Dan Froomkin on Mastodon:

Comey named McGonigal head of Counterintelligence of the NY FBI Field Office on October 4, 2016. Within weeks, Giuliani was dropping leak bombs on Fox News from the NY FBI field office—which turned out to be disinformation—but reopened the Clinton probe & tanked her shoo-in election.

Here’s the announcement at the time:

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2023 at 6:50 pm

This is how fascism comes to America

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Given the open and aggressive authoritarianism of the Republican party today — take a look at Kevin McCarthy kowtowing to Marjorie Taylor Greene, and at Ron DeSantis using government power to shut down libraries — it would be good to review this Washington Post column by Robert Kagan from May of 2016:

The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well.

But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as anyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous.

Republican politicians marvel at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2023 at 4:27 pm

Former top FBI official involved in Trump-Russia investigation under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his own ties to Russia

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This top FBI official led the investigation that found Russia was not involved in Trump’s election — and now we learn (or rather, we learned last September) that he was taking money from the Russians. Russia really is focused on undermining the US. Mattathias Schwartz reported in Business Insider on Sep 15, 2022:

A former high-level FBI agent who was involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia during the 2016 election has himself come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his ties with Russia and other foreign governments.

Late last year, according to internal court documents obtained by Insider, US attorneys secretly convened a grand jury that examined the conduct of Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence at the FBI field office in New York City. The Justice Department declined to comment on what the grand jury was investigating or whether it remained ongoing. But a witness subpoena obtained by Insider seems to indicate that the government, in part, was looking into McGonigal’s business dealings with a top aide to Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire Russian oligarch who was at the center of allegations that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to interfere in the 2016 election.

The subpoena, issued in November, requests records relating to McGonigal and a shadowy consulting firm called Spectrum Risk Solutions. A week after the subpoena was issued, a Soviet-born immigrant named Sergey Shestakov said in a separate filing that McGonigal had helped him “facilitate” an introduction between Spectrum and Deripaska’s aide. The filing also states that McGonigal helped introduce the aide to Kobre & Kim, a New York law firm that specializes in representing clients who are being investigated on suspicion of “fraud and misconduct.” Shestakov, who has been identified on TV panels as a former Soviet foreign ministry official and former chief of staff to the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, reported receiving $33,000 for the referrals.

While it wouldn’t necessarily have been illegal for McGonigal to work on behalf of Deripaska, failing to disclose activities covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, such as lobbying and public relations, is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Deripaska was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2018 for acting as an agent for the Kremlin, and has been accused of ordering the murder of a businessman. “If McGonigal is mixed up in any way shape or form with Deripaska, that strikes me as unseemly, to put it politely,” says Tim Weiner, the author of “Enemies: A History of the FBI.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2023 at 2:35 pm

Repeated Covid infections cripple your immune system

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Here in Victoria, most people seem unconcerned about Covid, even though an extremely infectious variant is active: XBB.1.5. I wear an N95 mask when I am indoors in a public space (eg, grocery shopping), but most people do not. Local Facebooks are hostile to any mention of mask mandates. The provincial public health officials stay silent and out of sight.

And yet Covid is dangerous. Jessica Wildfire writes at OK Doomer:

The mainstream news is spending a lot of time on Germany’s recent decision to scrap mask mandates on long train rides. There’s another story they probably won’t cover just yet, but it’s far more important. As German health minister Karl Lauterbach recently said during an interview with the Rheinische Post, multiple infections with Covid are causing “an immune deficiency that can no longer be cured.” He refers to studies, most of which I’ve gathered here.

There’s overwhelming evidence now that Covid infects and hijacks your immune cells. Researchers are still learning the details, but the takeaway is clear. Even just a couple of bouts with Covid can hamper your immune system for a long time, maybe permanently. It leaves you vulnerable to all other kinds of viral and bacterial infections. It leaves you open to fungal infections too, and those are especially dangerous. So the experts who tried to warn everyone were right the whole time, and the message is leaking out.

It’s a big deal.

The world is only just beginning to see the truth, as we trudge through a winter that makes the last two look almost pleasant.

This recent news from Germany slams the last nail in immunity debt’s coffin. It was a short-term fiction, meant to explain away one bad winter. It can’t explain what we’re seeing with children dying from strep throat and global shortages of basic medicine. Our politicians and their corporate media are out of lies. They were having to recycle old ones. They hauled out their Covid minimizers again to try and convince us we’re “overcounting” Covid hospitalizations and deaths.

I don’t think it’s working.

As many of us predicted, the true scope of the damage is becoming self-evident to the millions of people now getting sick constantly. Nobody cares how we’re counting hospitalizations and deaths if Strep throat and other common illnesses now pose an imminent threat to their lives. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the hospital with or for if we’re out of antibiotics and painkillers.

Basically, the gig is up.

Lauterbach has broken the silence on a major catastrophe. This is the first time a major public health official has acknowledged the severe damage Covid does to the immune system, not to mention Long Covid.

Until now, western leaders have said nothing about this problem. It’s good that Lauterbach is coming forward. Of course, someone was eventually going to have to acknowledge it. The constant waves of illness and sudden death were becoming too obvious to ignore. The anti-vaxxers were exploiting it for their own agendas. They were starting to get aggressive again. They even harassed Pfizer’s CEO on the street. Our leaders had no choice. They could either come clean about the true damage Covid is doing, or face mobs of angry conspiracy theorists.

It’s worth pointing out that Lauterbach just returned from The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, where the world’s elite go to hang out and trade world domination plans. As #DavosSafe showed, all the billionaires are availing themselves of every possible technology to reduce their risk of catching Covid. They’ve been lying to everyone.

Lauterbach’s remarks are just the beginning.

Over the next several months,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2023 at 7:16 pm

Republicans like for (other) people to suffer

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Kevin Drum points out an unappealing characteristic of the Republican mindset:

Proposed restrictions:
• No white grains - people can only purchase 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice and 100% whole wheat pasta.
• No baked, refried or chili beans - people can purchase black, red and pinto beans.
• No fresh meats - people can purchase only canned products like canned tuna or canned salmon.
• No sliced, cubed or crumbled cheese. No American cheese.
What's next: A House subcommittee will consider the bill.

Sami Scheetz, a state representative in Iowa, tweets today about a bill introduced by state Republicans that restricts the kinds of food that can be purchased with SNAP (food stamps):

It’s obvious that this is intended to make low-income workers on SNAP even more miserable than they already are. But there’s more. As the list of what’s allowed and what’s not gets longer and longer, it becomes more and more of a hassle for supermarkets and corner stores to keep track of it. Some will decide it’s not worth the bother and just stop accepting SNAP.

So SNAP will be harder to use and will restrict you to a diet not dissimilar from that of your average American prison.

This single tweet encapsulates about 90% of why I’m not a Republican. They’re just so goddam meanspirited.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2023 at 12:38 pm

The Deadbeat Limit — Understanding The Debt Ceiling

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Jay Kuo has a good explainer at Second Nexus:

There’s a lot of talk in Washington around the so-called “debt ceiling” which is a really unfortunate name. I prefer to call it the “deadbeat ceiling.”

Why? A “debt” ceiling implies that what we’re talking about is like a credit card, as if Congress were voting whether or not to raise our borrowing limit.

As former Missouri Senator Claire McKaskill succinctly put it, however, this “is NOT raising your credit card limit, it is making your car payment.”

Let’s walk through why that is, and then I’ll explain why the correct framing of the issue may answer another important and pressing legal question: Can Joe Biden just ignore Congress and fix the deadbeat limit problem on his own?

Why the “debt limit” is a “deadbeat limit.”

With Republicans in charge of the House, the question is whether the GOP will turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor. Deadbeats, if it even needs to be spelled out, are people who don’t pay the debts they promised to pay.

And that’s what this is really about.

You see, Congress already voted to pay for all the paychecks and programs that are supposedly now on the GOP chopping block. So by threatening to not pay them after the fact, they are trying to get two bites at this apple.

It would be as if you ran a big company and signed a lot of employee and vendor contracts, and then the next year you claimed:

“Well, I know I said I’d pay you, and I have that legal obligation, but I’m just not going to do that.”

“Not unless you agree that I can either not pay you anything or pay you a lot less, now that you really need that money!”

If this sounds familiar, this was the precise M.O. of the Trump Organization, which for years routinely stiffed small businesses, contractors and vendors out of the money they were owed and forced them to settle for pennies on the dollar rather than risk a protracted and expensive court fight.

By threatening to renege on payments it already agreed to, in this case by refusing to give the White House the authority to pay the nation’s debts, the GOP-led House is threatening to turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor, just like the Trump Org.

And that’s why Joe Biden is right to refuse to even negotiate with them.

There’s nothing to negotiate, because the payment agreements were already made last year with the passage of the budget.

As Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said plainly:

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing.”

He continued:. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2023 at 7:48 pm

The reality of climate change continues to emerge

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The American Southwest has not seemed to really care about water — think of all the green lawns in Phoenix and the fountains splashing in Las Vegas — but the reality is hitting a bit harder now that the Colorado River’s water supply drops and drops. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (no paywall):

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The survival — or at least the basic sustenance — of hundreds in a desert community amid the horse ranches and golf courses outside Phoenix now rests on a 54-year-old man with a plastic bucket of quarters.

John Hornewer picked up a quarter and put it in the slot. The lone water hose at a remote public filling station sputtered to life and splashed 73 gallons into the steel tank of Hornewer’s water hauling truck. After two minutes, it stopped. Hornewer, one of two main suppliers responsible for delivering water to a community of more than 2,000 homes known as Rio Verde Foothills, fished out another quarter.

“It so shouldn’t be like this,” Hornewer said.

Some living here amid the cactus and creosote bushes see themselves as the first domino to fall as the Colorado River tips further into crisis. On Jan. 1, the city of Scottsdale, which gets the majority of its water from the Colorado River, cut off Rio Verde Foothills from the municipal water supply that it has relied on for decades. The result is a disorienting and frightening lack of certainty about how residents will find enough water as their tanks run down in coming weeks, with a bitter political feud impacting possible solutions.

[Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River]

The city’s decision — and the failure to find a dependable alternative — has forced water haulers like Hornewer to scour distant towns for any available gallons. About a quarter of the homes in Rio Verde Foothills, a checkerboard of one-acre lots linked by dirt roads in an unincorporated part of Maricopa County, rely on water from a municipal pipe hauled by trucks. Since the cutoff, their water prices have nearly tripled. The others have wells, though many of these have gone dry as the water table has fallen by hundreds of feet in some places after years of drought.

“This is a real hard slap in the face to everybody,” said Hornewer, who has been hauling water to his neighbors for more than two decades. “It’s not sustainable. We’re not going to make it through a summer like this.”

The prolonged drought and shrinking reservoirs have already led to unprecedented restrictions in usage of the Colorado River, and the federal government is now pressing seven states to cut 2 to 4 million acre feet more, up to 30 percent of the river’s annual average flow. The heavy rain and snow pummeling California have not had much impact on the Colorado River Basin and major reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead have fallen to dangerous levels.

This grim forecast prompted Scottsdale to warn Rio Verde Foothills more than a year ago that their water supply would be cut off. City officials stressed their priority was to their own residents and cast Rio Verde Foothills as a boomtown of irresponsible development, fed by noisy water trucks rumbling over city streets. “The city cannot be responsible for the water needs of a separate community especially given its unlimited and unregulated growth,” the city manager’s office wrote in December. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of “We’re all in this together.” I suspect that the struggle will become considerably more intense once both food and water start to run short.

In the meantime, Wyoming is considering laws to prevent the sale of new electric vehicles to ensure that maximum burning of fossil fuels continue, and of course OPEC is pumping all the oil they can. There’s money to be made!

I’m reminded of a cartoon from the New Yorker years ago of a man floundering the water near a pier as he drowns. Another man, on the pier, shouts, “I’m sorry, I can’t swim. Would $10 help?”

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2023 at 1:13 pm

Ominous initiative by Pittsburgh police

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It’s a bad sign when the police are no longer under control, when they decide that they are independent of the elected government.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2023 at 8:50 pm

The Things You Are Getting Wrong About White Supremacists Is What Allows Them To Grow

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Speaking of denial, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton points out how most Americans practice denial about how widespread the White Supremacist movement is in the US:

Twelve years ago, I packed up a Uhaul and left the home my son was born in. I drove across the country with him in a car seat, singing hours of nursery rhymes to keep him entertained.

I loved that house — a big, collapsing, and beautiful Victorian farmhouse that my friends and I had sunk years of work into to make it a home. I loved that neighborhood; sweet neighbors who would holler at me to join them on their porch or come over late on New Year’s Eve with Jello shots and gossip. I loved that city — a big, heaving post-industrial city with greying art deco buildings from a more prosperous yesteryear. But it was time to go.

There were ten thousand personal reasons why I packed up that house and sold it, but there was also one troublesome thing that had been on my mind. A few years earlier the Vinlanders — a white power hate group — had set up a clubhouse only a few blocks away. They were disruptive, violent, and scary and they were recruiting the neighborhood’s poor white kids who they hoped had no other offers or chances in life. As a young, poor single mom of a white son, I knew he could eventually be a target.

I’ll take a lot of risks, but not that one.

***

Only days ago, a white mob marched from the White House to the Capitol building in order to break in and disrupt the Electoral College count. Some of the mob had zip ties to, apparently, take hostages. Some had guns and other weapons. Some chanted that they were going to kill the Vice President. Someone erected a platform with a noose. Five people died. The nation remains shocked. How did we get here? We each have asked. This is not us, we each have hoped.

Then, the day after the attack on the Capitol, the Indianapolis Star — the reputable, award-winning paper — ran a run-of-the-mill story including an interview with a man named Brien James. It was reported that James had joined about one hundred other Trump supporters and Proud Boys at the Indiana statehouse to oppose the Electoral College count and he spoke to the Star as the assault was occurring in Washington. The Star then also quoted James again the next day, documenting him as just another voice in this moment in history. It read like a benign human interest story: Some men, who you may or may not agree with politically, holding a protest at the statehouse — as we do and will continue to do in our American democracy.

But I know plenty about Brien James. He was my old neighbor.

Brien James was the founder of the Vinlanders Social Club — he is one of the ones I would see goosestepping outside the local bars in steel-toed boots ready to fight. He was the one who selected my neighborhood as a place for his hate group to target. It is documented that James created the Vinlanders after he was kicked out of the Outlaw Hammerskins for being too violent — he apparently nearly stomped someone to death for refusing to do a Sieg heil in the early 2000s. He later founded the Hoosier State Skinheads. For anyone who doesn’t know or doesn’t remember, “skins” are neo-Nazis. That’s not hyperbole, that’s what they call themselves.

The Vinlander house had a flag pole in the front yard and they flew Nazi and SS flags. They would blare Skrewdriver songs out the windows and sit up on the front porch drinking and glaring at passerbys. My neighbors and I regularly had to paint over swastikas that had been spray-painted on our garages and fences.

In 2007 and just a few blocks from where the Indianapolis Star interviewed James for their story this week, a gang of Vinlanders attacked a Black man in broad daylight, stomping him unconscious in the middle of a downtown street. Three Vinlanders went to prison for that attack. One later confessed to another murder and is serving that sentence, too. Plenty of Indianapolis residents remember the vile beating — when bystanders tried to call the police for help, they were attacked or threatened by the group.

Brien James continued to lead the Vinlanders even after many of his core members were in prison. Two years after the incident in downtown Indianapolis, another Vindlander (who was also a correctional officer) was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their child and put on death row. Police found Hitler memorabilia all through the man’s house. Later that same year, two more Vinlanders were indicted for murdering a woman because she was dating a Black man.

Both Indianapolis Star articles this week failed to include any context about who Brien James is or about his movement’s extremely violent history. That context has become extremely important as this long legacy of community violence has once again turned into clear political violence and, for the first time in history, has targetted the symbolic center of our democracy — something prophesied in The Turner Diaries, the Bible of the racist right.

We, as a nation and as individuals, are very adept at ignoring white supremacy (it may be the communal skill we have excelled in most). Even though our country experiences white supremacist violence regularly, we still can barely name it when we see it. The FBI confirms that the vast majority of terror attacks in the United States are committed by far-right white supremacists, but we continue to have no national or community plan to stop this.

From Charleston to El Paso, white nationalist terror is often incorrectly described as “lone wolf” incidents, in contrast to the broad brush that we use when we see acts of property destruction or the rare acts of physical violence at Black Lives Matter protests. Seeing white nationalist terror as incidental, organic, or outside of having a sophisticated and strategic radicalization process is not only misguided; it’s very dangerous.

Most white Americans have a good instinct to distance themselves from white nationalism. However, to do so they often use incorrect shorthands and stereotypes to denounce the “other.” Since Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, I have seen the mob described as anything from “bubbas” to “hicks” to “uneducated trailer trash.” However, just today I saw a CEO, a district court judge’s son, a pharmacist, a mayor, and a woman who flew on a private jet to the rally all be doxxed on Twitter for their participation in the mob. Our rush to distance ourselves from unsavory racists and discounting their intelligence ends up framing the threat incorrectly. And it is allowing the white supremacists to get ahead.

It turns out that Brien James left that old neighborhood just like I did. However, unlike me, he didn’t move to another working-class neighborhood with make-do houses, he moved to the suburbs. Brien James did what lots of Nazis did about a decade ago: He rebranded.

Sure, the neighborhood where the Vinlanders set up and where I lived was a poor, white neighborhood in a decaying industrial city. I am sure that my neighbors and I probably meet most of the stereotypes people have of who is racist in America, at least by physical appearance and income level. But the tiki torches in Charlottesville were overwhelmingly carried by frat boys and orthodontists, and the Capitol was just vandalized by veterans and small business owners in MAGA hats, Phish teeshirts, and Columbia jackets. America needs to come to terms with the idea that some cleaned up Vinlanders might live next to you, too.

One Vinlander, Bryon Widner, who frequented the house in my neighborhood, left the Vinlanders in the late 2000s and had . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. It seems increasingly as though the US is headed toward an ugly transformation.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2023 at 8:11 pm

“We Convinced Our School to Bring Back Masks”

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The denial regarding Covid continues to astound me. In OK Boomer Jessica Wildfire writes about her own efforts to break through the denial around her:

My 4-year-old started preschool last year. A few weeks later, they dropped their mask policy. It made me nervous, but my spouse said it would probably be okay. “They spend most of their time outside.”

A week later, we all got Covid.

It hit me the hardest. I wound up spending at least three full days in bed. Toward the end, I was getting cold sweats. Later that fall, the kids got struck by viruses. Our daughter kept wearing a mask, but it wasn’t enough. She came home with the sniffles a couple of times. By then I was snorting Enovid every day, which is a controversial move since it’s not FDA-approved.

For a little while, I felt paranoid.

Nobody wanted to listen to me talk about Covid, not even my spouse. It was hard enough just to convince the school to accept air purifiers. Nobody wanted to hear about strep throat killing kids, or antibiotics shortages.

It felt lonely.

Finally, I decided I’d have to start gathering more evidence. So I made mega-lists of sources on everything from indoor air quality to “immunity debt.” I went out and found experts who were challenging the mainstream narrative, breaking down actual scientific studies and their implications.

Here’s my lists.

I started sharing these lists with people. I scheduled times with my spouse to talk about them in more depth.

He started to see.

I was persistent, even pushy. I said the uncomfortable things, that Covid was more like HIV than the flu, that Covid was never going away, that we shouldn’t have to keep tiptoeing around the normalcy fairytale. I referred to all the research showing that we would have to invest heavily in HEPA filtration, even upper room UVGI down the line if we wanted our daughter to stay in school.

As Kraken began spreading, I put my foot down and said if our school didn’t bring masks back, we would have to homeschool her. “Our daughter isn’t going to get Covid again,” I said. “She’s just not.” Finally, I told him neither one of us would ever be able to live with ourselves if she developed a chronic illness because we were too weak to stand up for her health.

He said, “Sometimes I worry if they think we’re overreacting.”

“What they think about us doesn’t matter.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes. I didn’t say anything else.

I let it sink in.

“Okay,” he said. “You’re right.” He said he knew it was serious, but he needed someone to lay the truth out in a way that was undeniable. He said he’d been clinging to hope, but that was going to hurt our daughter.

Next, we had to convince the school.

I was exhausted from getting him on board, so my spouse offered to do most of the talking. We made a list of points:

  1. Covid is not over.
  2. Covid is more like HIV than the flu.
  3. Mild cases don’t spare you.
  4. The less Covid, the better.
  5. Immunity debt is an urban legend.
  6. Masks don’t have to be permanent.
  7. Other cultures mask.
  8. Masks = caring.
  9. Caring is a valuable lesson for kids.

We made some practical arguments, too. We reminded the school that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2023 at 7:34 pm

Grit & Grace: The Fight for the American Dream

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I learned about the 30-minute documentary included below from a post by James Fallows, a post very much worth reading: “Wins, Bravery, and a Loss: Stories about visionary leaders, effective institutions, the toll of struggles.”

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2023 at 5:58 pm

A somber post: We’re Living Through the End of Civilization, and We Should Be Acting Like It

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In OK Doomer Jessica Wildfire writes of what is now happening and what it portends for the future:

There’s no question anymore. This civilization is ending. You can relax. It’s not up for debate. It’s not a question of hope vs. doom.

It just is.

I’m writing this for a simple reason. The sooner everyone accepts the end of this civilization, the better. Humans don’t have to go extinct, but the way we’re living has to change. There’s no hope for this way of life, full of reckless consumption and convenience well beyond the planet’s means. The harder we fight, the more denial and delusional thinking we engage in, the worse we’re going to make it. Downplaying the truth has only made things worse. It makes everyone complacent. So, I’m going to explain things in the bluntest way possible.

First, let’s talk about Covid.

We have enough information about Covid to know we should’ve been taking it far more seriously. As one science writer shows in a thorough review of available research, we’re dealing with the most dangerous disease in modern history. It’s the most contagious virus scientists have ever seen. It does more damage than HIV, by hijacking our immune system and building reservoirs in virtually every organ in the body, from the brain to the liver. Viruses like HIV don’t cause severe illness at first. They cause mild illness. The true damage doesn’t become apparent until months later. Scientists know this now.

This virus has evolved beyond our antibody therapies and vaccines, and it’s even evolving beyond Paxlovid. As one study in Science says, “unselective use is expected to rapidly lead to emergence of drug resistance.” These are facts, and they don’t care how we feel about them. If anything, Covid wants everyone to keep living in fear of the truth. It loves our denial. This is going to be the worst year of the pandemic yet. Everyone’s tired, but we’re more vulnerable than ever. There are tools for us to make it through, but most humans aren’t interested.

Covid minimizers ask if we’re going to wear masks forever. Yes, we are. They’ve left us with absolutely no alternative.

Okay, let’s talk about the weather. A bomb cyclone followed by atmospheric rivers have dumped historic amounts of water on California over the last week. According to The New York Times, it’s going to cost at least $1 billion, and some sources estimate the damage will run far higher. The state already lost $18 billion in climate disasters last year. The flooding there is expected to go on for another week. More than 100,000 homes have been destroyed, and it’s hard to know how many people have fled. The heavy precipitation might replenish the snowpack, but at the expense of the state’s infrastructure.

What we’re seeing now has the potential to become a megaflood, something climate scientists predicted in Science last year. They discuss California’s Great Flood of 1861-1862, “characterized by weeks-long sequences of winter storms” that transformed parts of the state “into a temporary but vast inland sea nearly 300 miles in length.” Their models predict these megafloods will happen much more often now, thanks to us. One happened in Pakistan last year.

We could be watching one now.

In the southwest, it’s the opposite problem. Entire lakes are drying up. States can’t make simple water conservation plans. The federal government has finally stepped in, but it could be too late. According to a story in The Washington Post, “The negotiations will ultimately have to weigh cuts in rapidly growing urban areas against those in farming communities that produce much of the country’s supply of winter vegetables.” Parts of Arizona were already relying on trucked water. Now even that’s going away. Affluent suburbanites are losing their minds. They’re spending thousands of dollars to drill wells to nowhere.

Neighborhoods, cities, and entire states have already started bickering over water. Last year they began to demand the federal government divert the Mississippi into the desert so they could build waterparks. Then to everyone’s shock, the Mississippi river itself dried up to the point that ships couldn’t pass. Saltwater started leaching into people’s drinking water in some areas.

Soon, these places won’t have water at all.

That already happened last summer. In cities like Monterrey, people were lucky if they could find buckets to collect water from trucks. Their taps were completely dry. According to a piece in Scientific American, American cities are increasingly failing to provide clean drinking water, even while they claim brown sludge “meets federal standards.” They’re under constant boil water notices.

These things aren’t front page news.

They should be.

In Utah, the Great Salt Lake has shriveled to 25 percent of its normal size. In a few years, residents will have to evacuate. According to Live Science, the lake “could be set to disappear within the next five years, exposing millions of people to the toxic dust trapped in the drying lake bed.” Why is the dust toxic?

It’s laced with arsenic.

If the state wants to save what’s left of the lake and avoid a humanitarian disaster, they have to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 7:59 pm

Conservatives Clarify That They’re Pro-Boss, Not Pro-Market

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Eric Levitz writes in Intelligencer in New York magazine:

Progressives have long held that the right’s economic theories are just elaborate rationalizations for funneling money to the elite. The argument goes like this: In any capitalist society, business owners and senior managers will inevitably have economic interests that run contrary to those of ordinary workers. The less firms have to spend on wages for common laborers, the more they can increase compensation for executives and dividends for investors. Similarly, the less income governments progressively redistribute, the higher the wealthy’s posttax earnings.

Economic elites therefore have a strong incentive to fund political movements that minimize the bargaining power of workers and the fiscal ambitions of governments. And given their outsize share of national income, the rich also have copious financial means to bankroll such political activities.

In a democracy, however, it is untenable for a political movement committed to benefiting the few at the expense of the many to identify as such. Rather, such a movement would need to manufacture theories for why policies that appear to serve the interests of a tiny elite actually serve those of society as a whole.

In practice, a pro-plutocracy movement would need a theoretical justification for why it is generally bad for governments to interfere with “free markets.” After all, ordinary workers can exert more influence over democratic governments than they can over private investors. When state officials make a decision about how to allocate a society’s scarce resources, the masses can reward or punish them in “one person, one vote” elections. When private investors make such decisions, however, they are rewarded or punished by markets in which, effectively, one dollar equals one vote. Thus, one would expect pro-plutocracy movements to sing paeans to the efficiency, creativity, and justice of free markets. They might produce economic models showing that workers are better off without state-mandated minimum wages or theories detailing the logistical impossibility of state economic planning or treatises celebrating the indispensability of competition for innovation.

But these ideas would all just be means to an end. The movement’s ultimate commitment wouldn’t be to maximizing innovation, open competition, or economic liberty but rather to advancing the invidious interests of elite business owners and bosses. Were the movement ever forced to choose between upholding free-market ideals and safeguarding class domination, it would abruptly dispense with the former. The inequality would be the point.

As an account of American conservatism, I think this narrative is a tad unfair (there are some genuine insights in right-wing economic theory and some libertarian intellectuals who genuinely oppose elite rent seeking). But in the wake of the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements, conservatives have been making a compelling case for the vulgar Marxist point of view.

Last week, the FTC proposed a rule that would ban companies from subjecting workers to noncompete agreements. Typically nestled into the small print of labor contracts, such agreements prohibit workers from leaving their employers to work for a competitor or start a rival business. Initially conceived as a means of preventing a firm’s high-level executives from smuggling trade secrets to a competitor, noncompetes have trickled down into every segment of the labor market. Fast-food workers have found themselves barred from taking jobs with rival chains. Manuel laborers hired to shovel dirt have been sued by their former employers for taking better jobs with competing firms. Guards earning minimum wage have been forbidden from taking another security position within a 100-mile radius of their employer at pain of paying their former bosses $100,000 for the liberty of working for someone else. In all, an estimated one-in-five U.S. workers — 30 million people — are bound by noncompete agreements.

Noncompete clauses are antithetical to many of the conservative movement’s purported values. The right has traditionally celebrated the virtues of open and competitive labor markets. “One important economic dimension of individual liberty is the right to sell one’s labor services without attenuation,” the economist Richard Vedder argued for the Cato Institute in 2010.

Conservatives have specifically argued that, as long as that right is protected, workers don’t need heavy-handed government policies to secure fair wages: If laborers accrue coveted skills and experience, then a competitive market will give them the necessary leverage to earn a wage commensurate with their productivity. Meanwhile, Republicans have long insisted that the rigors of free-market competition are uniquely conducive to innovation, which increases our society’s collective prosperity.

Noncompete agreements violate Vedder’s conception of individual liberty and nullify the right’s preferred mechanisms for raising wages and productivity. A worker bound by a noncompete agreement cannot sell their labor services to the highest bidder. Instead, they must accept whatever terms their employer offers, since that company effectively boasts a monopoly on their skills. This not only reduces the bargaining power of that individual worker, but of other workers throughout the economy: Each worker who stays in an underpaying job because they’re legally barred from taking another opportunity is occupying a job opening that would otherwise be available to someone else.

Research comparing wage rates in states that enforce noncompetes strictly with those that do not indicates that such agreements reduce workers’ incomes by between 3 and 4 percent, or more than $250 billion, every year.

At the same time, noncompetes undermine economic dynamism and entrepreneurship. Many of America’s most celebrated tech companies were founded by individuals who left incumbent firms to start their own businesses in the same sector. Studies have found that noncompetes do in fact suppress start-up formation. As FTC Commissioner Lina Khan articulates the problem in a recent New York Times op-ed, “How can a new business break into the market if all of the qualified workers are locked in? Or if the would-be founder is bound by a noncompete?”

If one assumes that the conservative movement is earnestly committed to safeguarding workers’ economic liberty, promoting competitive labor markets, and encouraging innovation, then you’d expect it to oppose noncompete agreements and, thus, support the FTC’s proposed ban.

On the other hand, if one stipulates that the right’s avowed love of free markets is purely instrumental and that its real economic commitment is to capitalist class domination, then you’d expect it to support noncompetes and oppose the FTC’s rule.

Many conservatives have taken the latter position.

Brian Albrecht, of the International Law and Economics Center, decried the FTC’s decision in a blog post. His reasoning is as follows: . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 2:44 pm

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