Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Today’s issue is about how a subtle form of speech control works in 21st century America, as seen through two ongoing antitrust cases. The first is a merger trial where the government is trying to block the combination of publishing giants Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster, and the second is a lawsuit where conservative video service Rumble is suing Google for monopolization.

In both, dominant firms are trying to gain or protect market power, and in doing so, end up with too much power over the public square. It’s not intentional, but monopoly power fosters centralized control of what we can discuss.

Speech and Concentration Creep

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star as two business rivals who hate each other in ‘real life’ but connect and fall in love anonymously over the internet. Hanks plays Joe Fox, a tycoon who owns a Barnes and Nobles-style corporate book chain, trying to crush the small store owned by Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan. After a noisy but adorably silly protest, the movie ends with Kelly losing her store, but getting Tom Hanks as a soulmate. It’s a delightful film, a Nora Ephron-written classic.

What’s interesting about this movie from an anti-monopolist standpoint, however, is not the romance, but the politics. The movie is almost aggressively apathetic about concentrations of power. We tend to look at corporate concentration as a relatively recent phenomenon. Big tech emerged in force in the 2000s, that’s when offshoring to China happened in force, and the key major ruling ending monopolization cases didn’t occur until 2004. But here’s a movie showing that almost 25 years ago, before all that, consolidation was so well-known as to be a relatively unremarked central plot element of a popular film.

You’ve Got Mail is also a movie about a specific industry, publishing. Indeed, in many ways, the book industry has been a canary in the coal mine for concentration in the American economy. Books were the very first industry dominated by Amazon, but it isn’t just the retail giant. Every part of the book business, from retail stores to distribution to printing to retail to audio and ebooks to publishing houses, has been consolidating for decades. In the movie Tom Hanks is kind and charming; in real life, Barnes and Nobles used its power over shelf space to act as the industry bully, until Jeff Bezos came along and turned market power into performance art. Then, ten years ago, Penguin and Random House merged, allowed by the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers. The book business is an increasingly cruel and lawless world, not a romantic one. . .

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

Norman Lear: “On My 100th Birthday, Reflections on Archie Bunker and Donald Trump”

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Norman Lear writes in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

Well, I made it. I am 100 years old today. I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.

Reaching my own personal centennial is cause for a bit of reflection on my first century — and on what the next century will bring for the people and country I love. To be honest, I’m a bit worried that I may be in better shape than our democracy is.

I was deeply troubled by the attack on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021 — by supporters of former President Donald Trump attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Those concerns have only grown with every revelation about just how far Mr. Trump was willing to go to stay in office after being rejected by voters — and about his ongoing efforts to install loyalists in positions with the power to sway future elections.

I don’t take the threat of authoritarianism lightly. As a young man, I dropped out of college when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. I flew more than 50 missions in a B-17 bomber to defeat fascism consuming Europe. I am a flag-waving believer in truth, justice and the American way, and I don’t understand how so many people who call themselves patriots can support efforts to undermine our democracy and our Constitution. It is alarming.

At the same time, I have been moved by the courage of the handful of conservative Republican lawmakers, lawyers and former White House staffers who resisted Mr. Trump’s bullying. They give me hope that Americans can find unexpected common ground with friends and family whose politics differ but who are not willing to sacrifice core democratic principles.

Encouraging that kind of conversation was a goal of mine when we began broadcasting “All in the Family” in 1971. The kinds of topics Archie Bunker and his family argued about — issues that were dividing Americans from one another, such as racism, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War, and Watergate — were certainly being talked about in homes and families. They just weren’t being acknowledged on television.

For all his faults, Archie loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.

It is remarkable to consider that  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2022 at 12:43 pm

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

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Dishonesty and bad faith are endemic in business and politics — and doubtless in all large swaths of human relations — and those will be what will destroy us. Ignoring reality is a strategy for failure because reality endures.

Jane McMullen reports for BBC News:

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other.

At stake was a contract worth half a million dollars a year – about £850,000 in today’s money. The prospective client, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries – was looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change.

Don Rheem and Terry Yosie, two of Harrison’s team present that day, are sharing their stories for the first time.

“Everybody wanted to get the Global Climate Coalition account,” says Rheem, “and there I was, smack in the middle of it.”

The GCC had been conceived only three years earlier, as a forum for members to exchange information and lobby policy makers against action to limit fossil fuel emissions.

Though scientists were making rapid progress in understanding climate change, and it was growing in salience as a political issue, in its first years the Coalition saw little cause for alarm. President George HW Bush was a former oilman, and as a senior lobbyist told the BBC in 1990, his message on climate was the GCC’s message.

There would be no mandatory fossil fuel reductions.

But all that changed in 1992. In June, the international community created a framework for climate action, and November’s presidential election brought committed environmentalist Al Gore into the White House as vice-president. It was clear the new administration would try to regulate fossil fuels.

The Coalition recognised that it needed strategic communications help and put out a bid for a public relations contractor.

Though few outside the PR industry might have heard of E Bruce Harrison or the eponymous company he had run since 1973, he had a string of campaigns for some of the US’s biggest polluters under his belt.

He had worked for the chemical industry discrediting research on the toxicity of pesticides; for the tobacco industry, and had recently run a campaign against tougher emissions standards for the big car makers. Harrison had built a firm that was considered one of the very best.

Media historian Melissa Aronczyk, who interviewed Harrison before he died in 2021, says he was a strategic linchpin for his clients, ensuring everyone was on the same page.

“He was a master at what he did,” she says.

Before the pitch, Harrison had assembled a team of both seasoned PR professionals and almost total novices. Among them was Don Rheem, who had no industry credentials. He had studied ecology before becoming an environmental journalist. A chance meeting with Harrison, who must have seen the strategic value of adding Rheem’s environmental and media connections to the team, led to a job offer on the GCC pitch.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to get a front row seat at probably one of the most pressing science policy and public policy issues that we were facing.’

“It just felt enormously important,” Rheem says.

Terry Yosie – who had recently been recruited from the American Petroleum Institute, becoming a senior vice-president at the firm – remembers that Harrison began the pitch by reminding his audience that he was instrumental in fighting the auto reforms. He had done so, in part, by reframing the issue.

The same tactics would now help beat climate regulation. They would persuade people that the scientific facts weren’t settled, and that alongside the environment, policy makers needed to consider how action on climate change would – in the GCC’s view – negatively affect American jobs, trade and prices.

The strategy would be implemented through an extensive media campaign, everything from placing quotes and pitching opinion pieces (so-called op-eds), to direct contacts with journalists. . .

Continue reading. The report includes a link to a video, which can be viewed only in the UK, that provides more information:

Big Oil v the World

Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

It is thanks to the efforts of such PR professionals and the industries that funded them that we face the climate catastrophe that is our future.

A quotation commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin (though not found in any of his works): “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” Though Lenin may not have written or said those words, it certainly seems true that capitalists will embrace their own destruction so long as they make money from it. In this, they resemble alcoholics who embraces illness and death so long as they can drink, cigarette smokers who continue smoking even while fighting lung cancer, and gambling addicts who will continue to play until all their money is gone and their credit is exhausted and their lives are ruined. In other words, capitalists are addicts who are willing to destroy anything for their fix, and now they are well on their way to destroying our livable world.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:04 am

The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy

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Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert, and Hiba Yazbek have a compelling (and chilling) report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

The journalists thought they were safe.

Several blocks away, a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian men had just stopped. Hoping to interview witnesses, the group of reporters headed down the street toward an Israeli military convoy. Among them was Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American television correspondent.

Suddenly, six bullets flew toward them, and they ran for cover. Ms. Abu Akleh crouched next to a carob tree.

Seven more shots rang out.

“Is anyone injured?” a bystander, Sleem Awad, yelled, before seeing Ms. Abu Akleh slumped facedown on the ground. “Shireen! Shireen!” he shouted, having recognized the well-known journalist. “Oh man, Shireen!”

Palestinian officials said Ms. Abu Akleh was intentionally killed early on May 11 in the West Bank city of Jenin by an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials said a soldier might have shot her by mistake but also suggested that she might have been killed by a Palestinian gunman. The Israeli Army’s preliminary investigation concluded that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire.”

A monthlong investigation by The New York Times found that the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.

The evidence reviewed by The Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman.

The Times investigation also showed that 16 shots were fired from the location of the Israeli convoy, as opposed to Israeli claims that the soldier had fired five bullets in the journalists’ direction. The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally. The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.

A Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera, Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name in the Middle East. She had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for more than two decades. Now, she was the latest casualty.

Her killing drew global outrage, and for Palestinians it came to embody the dangers and frustrations of living under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted.

Ms. Abu Akleh had come to Jenin that day to cover Israel’s ongoing military raids on the city.

In the weeks leading up to that day, a wave of Palestinian attacks had killed 19 Israelis and foreigners, and some of the attackers had come from the Jenin region. In response, the Israeli military launched a series of raids into Jenin, sometimes to make arrests, and the soldiers were often met with Palestinian gunfire.

As the sun was rising on May 11, another raid was kicking off.

At about 5 a.m.,  . . .

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall).

Written by Leisureguy

20 June 2022 at 6:58 pm

The (Almost) Bulletproof Plan to Take Down America — and How to Stop It

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Dave Troy writes on Medium:

There is a nearly foolproof plan underway to crush the United States and bring it fully under fascist rule. In recent months, this chorus has been on repeat:

  1. “Federal overspending has pushed inflation to new levels.” This claim, which is in fact difficult to back up with facts, connects two facts in a misleading way. Yes, the Federal government, under Trump and Biden, authorized significant stimulus spending to help with the severest effects of the pandemic. These efforts were mostly successful. And while there has been significant inflation over the last year, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that COVID stimulus did in fact lead to inflation.
  2. “Gas prices are too high, hurting everyday people at the pump. And it’s Biden’s fault.” Yes, gas prices are very high — in every country in the world, where Biden is not president. Regardless of whether gas should be as cheap as it was (we need to get off of it entirely), we certainly are dependent on it now. So this has important real-world effects for everyday Americans, but importantly the costs of all goods. Including food. But oil and gas companies are realizing record profits, suggesting that high prices are not a result of supply shortage, but rather discretionary profit-taking.
  3. “The Fed needs to raise interest rates to keep inflation in check, since it lost control of the economy.” Arguably, near-zero interest rates were not a great thing for the economy anyway, and we saw a lot of speculative bubbles (like the entire crypto market, more on that later) arise from this policy. But the Fed can raise interest rates to 10% and it won’t make a damn bit of difference to fuel prices, which are actually behind the inflation.
  4. “Wow, the Fed sure is raising interest rates aggressively and nothing is getting better… this is going to kill the economy.” This is because the inflation is coming primarily from profit-taking in the energy sector and supply chain imbalances, things that will remain unaffected by interest rate hikes. We are being goaded into treating a symptom that will explicitly not address the disease.
  5. “Looks like Joe Biden’s overspending led us right into a recession, just like we said it would. Mass unemployment can’t be far behind.” Nevermind that unemployment is at all-time lows… this recession that Biden caused is certainly going to lead to doom and gloom! Good thing the oil and gas companies made record profits throughout all of this — but let’s not mention that!

These false assertions, repeated ad infinitum from every possible media outlet, will guarantee that Democrats lose control of Congress in November. Whatever else people think will motivate voters, pushing fuel and food prices to the point of civil unrest will make it impossible for any other issue to matter. November will be a referendum on energy prices and food prices. Banks are already planning for civil unrest, according to a report obtained by the Byline Times.

This is all, well, really bad, and is going to lead to a lot of pain. But it could have been worse. Parts of their otherwise solid plan to push the economy into disarray are not going to plan.

Here’s what they hoped would also happen: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 June 2022 at 3:47 pm

Daniel Taylor Was Innocent. He Spent Decades in Prison Trying to Fix the State’s Mistake.

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The report by Steve Mills in ProPublica has this as the blurb (emphasis added):

He was in police custody at the time of the murders, but a dubious confession led to his wrongful conviction while Chicago police and prosecutors turned a blind eye to inconvenient facts that eventually exonerated him.

Land of the free, eh? The report, well worth reading, begins:

When guards first brought Daniel Taylor into a room at the Stateville Correctional Center outside Chicago, we were strangers. It was 2001. I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was an inmate serving a life sentence.

He had written to me earlier. His was one of the dozen or so letters I’d get from inmates each month — each in an envelope red-stamped with a note saying they were from an inmate at the Illinois Department of Corrections, as if to warn me about their contents. But his letter stood out. He had been convicted of a 1992 double murder, he wrote, but he had records that showed he was in a police station holding cell when the murders were committed.

Even in Chicago, which was fast becoming known for its miscarriages of justice, it was stunning.

Over more than a decade, I talked with Taylor scores of times on the telephone. I visited him in prison. And with Tribune reporters Maurice Possley and Ken Armstrong, I investigated his case as part of a series of stories on false confessions, then followed it until he was exonerated in June 2013.

That it took some two decades for Taylor to be exonerated and win his release spoke to many things, but none more so than the frailties of the criminal justice system and Taylor’s fierce persistence.

Taylor had a kindness and openness I liked immediately. He was candid about his troubled childhood growing up in foster homes and shelters, about leaving school and about life on the streets. Some three months before the murders, he joined the Vice Lords street gang, largely because his friends were in it. He had been arrested a handful of times for such minor offenses as mob action and theft.

Over the years, we got to know each other better. More than anything, I came to admire his  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2022 at 5:29 pm

Social media as agents in the breakdown of shared understanding

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The above image is from an interesting and useful article by the Center for Humane Technology. The article begins:

In our last newsletter, we unpacked why technology is never neutral. Social media is no exception. Social media doesn’t simply reflect society; it shapes society. 

The world we see through social media is distorted, like looking into a funhouse mirror. These distortions are negative externalities of an advertising-driven, engagement-maximizing business model, which affects people and relationships in myriad ways.

8 WAYS SOCIAL MEDIA DISTORT REALITY 

  1. The Extreme Emotion Distortion 🥵 occurs as users have access to virtually unlimited amounts of personalized, emotional content, any user can find overwhelming evidence for their deeply held beliefs. This situation creates contradicting “evidence-based” views, resulting in animosity and fracturing of our collective sensemaking. 
  2. The Information Flooding Distortion 🤯 happens as algorithms and bots flood or curate the information users see based on their likelihood to engage with it, resulting in users believing that what is popular (e.g., hashtags, comments, trends) is public consensus, when in fact it can also be manipulated distortion. 
  3. The Micro-Targeting Distortion 🔬 happens as . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

THE IMPACT

These distortions don’t just affect individuals. Over time these distortions warp society’s perception of reality, breaking down our ability to find shared understanding.

Shared understanding is needed for . . .

It’s important to note that the article is not simply a jeremiad. It includes:

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE

We can uphold open society values by enabling . . .

The whole thing is worth reading.

I highly recommend subscribing to their (free) newsletter, The Catalyst.

Written by Leisureguy

15 May 2022 at 5:49 am

How Postwar Italy Created The Paparazzi

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Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2022 at 3:59 pm

Inside Starling Lab, a moonshot project to preserve the world’s most important information

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Interesting project — and important, as more and more of our history and culture becomes digital or digitized, and as AI-assisted alteration and fakery become better and easier. Katharine Schwab writes at Fast Company:

hen the British army liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, they found horrors so shocking that a journalist’s eyewitness reports to the BCCwere held for days because their veracity was in doubt.

“We lived among heaps of bodies,” says Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a survivor of the camp whose firsthand experience at both Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz is now memorialized in a 130-minute video testimony. In the 1998 video, she tells an interviewer from the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the memories of genocide survivors, about how playing the cello in the Auschwitz orchestra helped her endure one of the most horrific atrocities in human history.

Lasker-Wallfisch’s recollections have now become the first test case for an ambitious project to preserve the foundation’s archive of 56,000 audio-visual testimonies through a radical means: the blockchain. While most oral histories are stored in more traditional ways—on hard drives, for example, or in the cloud—the digital file of Lasker-Wallfisch’s testimony is also being archived using a decentralized web protocol, creating extra redundancies in an effort to preserve her account on the internet for the long term. Right now, her testimony lives on dozens of different servers. One day, it may live on thousands.

The foundation’s move to the blockchain is in partnership with Starling Lab, a nonprofit academic research center that’s on a mission to use decentralized ledgers to help preserve historical data of importance to humanity. Its lofty goal is to restore integrity both to data and to the internet itself—starting with some of the most precious information we have.

For the past three years, the lab’s founding director, Jonathan Dotan, has been developing a set of technologies, called the Starling Framework, that aims to maintain the integrity of a piece of information as it is captured and stored. Now, the lab is working with the USC Shoah Foundation to upload the nonprofit’s interviews from survivors and witnesses of 14 genocides and episodes of mass violence to a decentralized storage system. Each testimony is first checked to make sure the file’s data hasn’t degraded over its lifetime. It’s then given a unique content identifier—called a hash—that refers to both the image and its corresponding metadata, which includes where and when the testimony was taken. The storage system that Starling uses, called Filecoin, is built on a blockchain that requires data providers to constantly prove that they hold the same data that they were originally tasked with storing—ensuring that information hasn’t been tampered with.

A low-resolution copy of the foundation’s archive has already been uploaded to four Filecoin data providers. Starling and the foundation are currently in the midst of uploading a high-resolution copy to 20 storage providers—a 15-week-long process. (Starling and the foundation are also experimenting with how new testimonies can be embedded with a content ID and stored on the blockchain as they are filmed.)

The ultimate goal, says Dotan, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2022 at 11:54 am

Barbara Ehrenreich Is Not an Optimist, but She Has Hope for the Future

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I just came across a New Yorker interview in which Jia Tolentino interview Barbara Ehrenreich, and I thought it was quite good. It appeared two years ago — March 21, 2020 — and it begins:

Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, where her family had lived for generations, in 1941. Most of her male ancestors lost fingers working in nearby copper mines. But her father attended night school, then won a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon; the family moved to Pittsburgh and rose into the middle class. Ehrenreich studied physics in college, got a doctorate in cell biology, and, in the late sixties, alongside her husband at the time, John Ehrenreich, she became involved in health-care organizing and antiwar activism.

In the decades since, Ehrenreich has tried, as a writer and an activist, to forge a bridge between the working and middle classes. She published her first two books—one on chemistry and one, co-written with her husband, about student protest—in 1969, and started attracting a wide audience in the nineteen-seventies, when she began writing for the influential feminist magazine Ms. She’s now published more than twenty books, including the 2001 bestseller “Nickel and Dimed,” about the daily indignities of low-wage work, and “Natural Causes,” a 2018 polemic about the wellness industry and the illusion of control. Her latest, “Had I Known: Collected Essays,” which brings together work from the past four decades, examines health, the economy, feminism, “bourgeois blunders,” God, science, and joy.

I recently visited Ehrenreich at home, in her fifth-floor condo outside Washington, D.C. Like her, the place was no-nonsense but welcoming. There were magazines on side tables, and shelves piled with books. She had broken her arm the previous weekend—“attacked,” she said, “by a laundry basket,” which she’d tripped over in the dark—and had enlisted a publicist at Twelve Books to pick up sandwiches and drinks for us. She asked over e-mail if I had any dietary preferences or restrictions, and I said that I valued all sandwiches but preferred one without mayonnaise, a choice that later became the subject of discussion. After selecting a turkey sandwich with mustard—Ehrenreich had chicken salad—I sat down with her in a small sunroom overlooking the Potomac River, with a peaceful view of our nation’s stressful capital. Ehrenreich nestled into a wicker love seat, propping her feet up, her right arm balanced gingerly in a sling. Later, as the coronavirus began shutting down the country, we spoke again, over the phone. These two conversations have been combined and edited for length and clarity.

I saw that you tweeted, “Got up this morning and self-quarantined, just like I do every morning.” The writer’s life has prepared us both for this.

Yes, and they’re saying that old people shouldn’t be outdoors, so there we go.

Coronavirus has illuminated a lot about the limits of individualism, and our lack of a safety net. Is that where your mind has been?

My mind has been full of grim and rageful thoughts, many of which are about the lack of paid sick leave. We turn out to be so vulnerable in the United States. Not only because we have no safety net, or very little of one, but because we have no emergency preparedness, no social infrastructure. In other places—Barcelona, for example, where my son is now—there’s much more of a community feeling in how you face disaster. We have a little bit of it—Rebecca Solnit has written beautifully about the subject. But we don’t have enough. From the prehistoric perspective, people have gotten through a lot of stuff by coöperating and sticking together. We built cities, we irrigated fields. Whether we’ve lost that capacity, I don’t know.

There’s an underlying argument in your work, I think—in “Blood Rites,” for instance, your book about war, from 1997, and “Dancing in the Streets,” your book about collective joy, from 2006—that we are wired for solidarity but molded for competitive betrayal. You’ve also written about how solidarity can manifest both constructively and destructively—about how the rush of solidarity that accompanies war is not so different from the rush of solidarity that accompanied the birth of the socialist movement, say.

Solidarity can embody so many things—fascism, religious fervor. I don’t trust it inherently. I’m thinking a lot more about this dialectic right now because of a book I’m supposed to be working on—that’s what you saw me doing when you walked in—about narcissism. We want, we crave connectedness, and yet it can turn against us in awful ways.

What was the impetus for writing a book about narcissism?

Oh, you know—across the river. It is a rich topic, though I hate to say it that way, looking at the news right now and thinking that Trump, maybe the biggest narcissist that we have in the world, could be defeated by this speck of RNA and protein. And, as a species, humans are so narcissistic. We forgot that the animals with fangs and claws once dined on our predecessors. We forgot that the so-called defeat of the infectious diseases, in the early twentieth century, was never actually a defeat. We have to understand that our place in the scheme of things is not very high.

Coronavirus seems to be spotlighting the question that underlies everything right now: whether survival—of climate change, let’s say—will be something we negotiate individually or collectively.

The question is really: How many people do we expect are going to make it? The Silicon Valley view is that it’s about three hundred and fifty of us. The left point of view has to be, “We stand shoulder to shoulder and try to get through this.”

Do you think that’s—

Awesome?

Or naïve, or something? Mathematically, it is daunting.

I just became a grandmother for a third time. I can’t not think that some of us will survive.

When your third “grand-dot,” as you put it, was born, you tweeted, “The universe starts all over again.” And you’ve said that having your first child prompted a political and personal transformation. In “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses,” which you co-wrote with Deirdre English a few years after your daughter was born, you argued that women, for most of history, had been doctors without degrees—that learning and practicing medicine was women’s heritage, and that the gender imbalance in the medical field at the time, with ninety-three per cent of American doctors being male, was deeply unnatural.

Having my first child made me into a real feminist. It was the sexism of doctors, the whole system. With my first pregnancy, the doctor at this hospital clinic—I couldn’t afford private care—did a pelvic exam to see if I was good to go and have the baby. When it was over, I peeked up and said, “So, is the cervix beginning to be effaced?” And he looked at the nurse, and said to her, “Where did a nice girl like this learn to talk like that?”

I would say that that’s when I transitioned to raging feminism.

I imagine “Nickel and Dimed” was another turning point in your career.

That was a complete change for me. I thought of it as a kind of excursion into reporting. I’m not really a reporter, so I had no idea what to do. I just went out and got the jobs, and then after a few days I figured, well, I’ll just write down everything that happens during the day, during the shift, after.

What about in terms of the book’s success? It’s sold a million and a half copies.

Oh, yeah, because then I made money. I made money running around the speaking, lecture circuit for years, which combined well with activism for raising wages, to the dismay of the people and the administrators who invited me.

There was this one college that invited me to give a speech to all the incoming students. I was contacted before I came by some workers at the college asking if I could meet with them to discuss their organizing drive. I said, “Sure, let’s have dinner when I get there.” And I did. Maybe six of them. The word of this meeting got to the president of the college, who then did everything he could to sabotage me. Right before the talk, he told me I had twenty minutes, whereas before he’d said forty. And one other thing, can I be nasty?

Please.

He had a limousine pick me up at the airport and drive me back to the airport—a stretch limo, the kind where you can’t even talk to the driver, you’re so far back. Then he complained about my being a diva to the press, implying that I’d insisted on this limo.

When you were writing that book, who were you writing for? And who did your publisher think you were writing for? You’ve noted before that you received a pretty small advance—to the point that, when you were later diagnosed with breast cancer, you had to borrow money from family and friends.

I have a hard time, as a writer, picking an audience. I mostly just write whatever I’m comfortable with. I remember, writing “Nickel and Dimed,” thinking maybe I was using words that might not be familiar to some people—like “glossolalia,” speaking in tongues. And I thought, Hell, I feel like using it, you can look it up too, dammit.

I think the book struck such a nerve because the biggest media outlets rarely depict the actual textures of working-class life. About a decade later, you founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which funds and co-publishes stories about inequality in mainstream outlets—often written by people who are themselves receiving the sharp end of the stick. What inspired that? And do you see the project as having to do with the downward mobility of the journalistic profession?

Well, in 2009, I was appalled by the New York Times’ coverage of the recession, which was all about people on the Upper West Side who could not afford their personal Pilates trainer anymore. So I approached them and said I want to do some things about people who had already been struggling when the recession began. They agreed. I got space in what was then the Sunday Review section and got to work. In my mind, to do this I had to go to different places around the country, see different people. So it was costing me money, and, at a certain point, I realized that what they were paying me was so much less than what they’d paid me five years earlier, when I did a column for the same section of the paper. It was forty per cent of that.

And I thought, Geez, I’m losing money on this, but I guess I made money on “Nickel and Dimed,” I can afford it. And then I thought, What kind of bullshit is this? Only rich people can write about poverty? That’s when the idea of E.H.R.P. came to my mind.

Speaking of the Times, I was reading an old David Brooks column, from 2006, in which he wrote, “Liberals have adopted an overly negative view of reality. Barbara Ehrenreich’s books are well and good, but if you think they represent the broader society, you’ll get America wrong.” The underlying argument of the column was that things were going pretty well, actually—that the poverty rate, at about a quarter of the American population, was just fine.

Class insularity in the media élite is a huge obstacle—people who, when they see a working-class person, it’s probably the FedEx guy. I can’t tell anyone how bad that is if they haven’t already noticed. The other problem is that publications are afraid to offend advertisers, who tend not to want their ad for diamonds to be facing a page about indigent women with cancer.

The journalism professor Christopher R. Martin recently wrote a book called “No Longer Newsworthy” that’s about this problem. He writes about how, throughout the twentieth century, newspapers shifted their coverage of labor issues from the perspective of the worker to the perspective of the consumer—talking to and implicitly sympathizing with the woman who was inconvenienced by a bus strike, rather than the bus drivers who were striking. I wonder if you think this is a problem in coronavirus coverage so far.

Do you think it is?

Sure—there’s more about cruise-ship passengers who are quarantined than about the cruise-ship workers who have to sanitize spaces, and lots of talk about online ordering and few interviews with warehouse workers and delivery drivers who have to shoulder the risk.

I’ve been thinking about Typhoid Mary, who woke people up to the fact that they had a biological connection with people they barely looked at. Maybe this will be an opportunity to remind us of our dependence on everyone else. But I don’t see that happening yet.

I wanted to ask you about a term you coined, with your first husband, in 1977: the professional-managerial class, or the P.M.C. It’s become a popular term among the young left, and a big point of contention. The P.M.C. are people whose economic and social status is based largely on education rather than capital ownership: teachers, managers, lawyers, doctors, and culture workers of various kinds. These professionals make up about twenty per cent of the country’s population, but a person reading the news and watching TV might think they make up ninety per cent of it. Many of these professions began with missions of social improvement, but in practice the P.M.C. have largely reinforced an existing order rather than lifting up the people they represent or teach or care for. You originally asked whether the P.M.C. could actually align itself with working-class interests rather than continue to seek control. Then, in 2013, you wrote a follow-up, in which you observed that the P.M.C. lay “in ruins”—that its members were either placing themselves in increasingly direct service to capital, being disempowered by corporate control, or spiralling down the ladder into hourly wage work. You asked, “Should we mourn the fate of the P.M.C., or rejoice that there is one less smug, self-styled elite to stand in the way of a more egalitarian future?” Do you have an answer to that question, and has it changed?

I would say mourn. What’s happened to the P.M.C. has been a disaster that’s sort of localized. Like in journalism, in all the creative occupations, there’s no stability unless you’re a superstar of some sort. Law. A lot of software jobs have gone. I can’t rejoice. And what puzzles me about the young folks is their use of P.M.C. as a slur.

That puzzles you?

Yeah.

When people use it as a pejorative, they mean the massive non-radicalized faction of it, right? They’re echoing your analysis—which I found to be a pretty useful framework for parsing, let’s say, the divide between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters in 2016.

I should explain that the concept of the P.M.C. did not flow from long meditations about Marxist theory. It came from things that were happening in groups I belonged to, the way in which you could not keep together the blue-collar and P.M.C. people. The P.M.C. people were so goddam rude.

How so?

This may sound trivial, but it’s not to me. We had a meeting—this was the New American Movement, one of the predecessors of the Democratic Socialists of America—that was hosted by this blue-collar couple, Pat and Ed, who set out a really nice spread of cookies and little sandwiches at their house. And our two self-important P.M.C. members walked in and completely ignored the offering of food and just launched into a tirade against me, because I’d brought these blue-collar people into the group and they were “diluting the politics.” I was just like, “Fuck you. One of them is a practicing nurse and the other one is a locksmith. Because you guys are professors, you think you can do this?” Exposure to P.M.C. contempt for working-class people really is what did it. I began to think, “What’s going on here?”

That contempt still exists, don’t you think? And that same “fuck you” feeling—and the degree to which P.M.C. disregard for the working class has been the story of the Democratic Party’s failures—is why the term is used in a derogatory sense.

But I also like the definition of the working class that the professor of economics Michael Zweig has suggested: people who lack authority in their professional lives. That definition accounts for the ways that people who might have belonged to the P.M.C. people are aligning with the working class in part because of some shared experience of professional disempowerment. There are recent movements—the teacher’s strikes, the Google walkouts, organizers including Uber drivers as tech workers—that seem to reflect this.

In the seventies and eighties, when I was very involved with health workers, beautiful things would happen when the doctors aligned themselves with the struggles of aides and orderlies—saw them as people they would make change with. For example, if you want to understand what’s actually happening with patients, it’s the person who cleans the rooms who might know more than anyone else. That’s the terrible thing about capitalism: not just its exploitativeness but its refusal to let information flow uphill. That’s how we get things like Boeing, where the engineers know that things are really fucked but no one listens to them. And we make that mistake again and again.

How did you hold on to a working-class identity, when so many people who go to fancy universities and get advanced degrees do not? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2022 at 2:43 pm

Republicans hate it when they’re accurately quoted because it reveals what outliers they are.

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Heather Cox Richardson has another good column:

Right on cue, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana today told a reporter that states not only should decide the issue of abortion but should also be able to decide the issues of whether interracial marriage should be legal and whether couples should have access to contraception. He told a reporter: “Well, you can list a whole host of issues, when it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country as Roe v. Wade did.”

After an extraordinary backlash to his statements, Braun walked back what he had said, claiming he had misunderstood the question. “Earlier during a virtual press conference I misunderstood a line of questioning that ended up being about interracial marriage, let me be clear on that issue—there is no question the Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, that is not something that is even up for debate, and I condemn racism in any form, at all levels and by any states, entities, or individuals,” he said.

But he had stated his position quite clearly, and as he originally stated it, that position was intellectually consistent.

After World War II, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights in the states, imposing the government’s interest in protecting equality to overrule discriminatory legislation by the states.

Now, Republicans want to return power to the states, where those who are allowed to vote can impose discriminatory laws on minorities.

Senator Braun is correct: it is not possible to overrule the Supreme Court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights on just one issue. If you are going to say that the states should be able to do as they wish without the federal government protecting civil rights on, say, the issue of abortion, you must entertain the principle that the entire body of decisions in which the federal government protects civil rights, beginning with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in the public schools, is illegitimate.

And that is off-the-charts huge.

It is, quite literally, the same argument that gave us the claimed right of states to enslave people within their borders before the Civil War, even as a majority of Americans objected to that system. More recently, it is the argument that made birth control illegal in many states, a restriction that endangered women’s lives and hampered their ability to participate in the workforce as unplanned pregnancies enabled employers to discriminate against them. It is the argument that prohibits abortion and gay marriage; in many states, laws with those restrictions are still on the books and will take effect just as soon as the Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are overturned.

Braun’s willingness to abandon the right of Americans to marry across racial lines was pointed, since Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose confirmation hearing for her elevation to the Supreme Court is currently underway in the Senate, is Black and her husband is non-Black. The world Braun described would permit states to declare their 26-year marriage illegal, as it would have been in many states before the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision declared that states could not prohibit interracial marriages. This would also be a problem for sitting justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

But it is not just Braun talking about rolling back civil rights. This week, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has challenged the Griswold v. Connecticut decision legalizing contraception, and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has questioned Obergefell.

Seventy percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. In 2012—the most recent poll I can find—89% of Americans thought birth control was morally acceptable, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of 2008, 99% of sexually active American women use birth control in their lifetimes. And even the right to abortion, that issue that has burned in American politics since 1972 when President Richard Nixon began to use it to attract Democratic Catholics to the Republican ticket, remains popular. According to a 2021 Pew poll, 59% of Americans believe it should be legal in most or all cases.

A full decade ago, in April 2012, respected scholars Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norm Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, crunched the numbers and concluded: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream,” they wrote, “it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”

And yet, in the last decade, the party has moved even further to the right. Now it is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2022 at 6:21 pm

Russia recommends using parts of Tucker Carlson program for propaganda

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Heather Cox Richardson has a very good column, one in which the notes and links following the column are particularly important.

Read the entire column. Here’s the last part of the column:

. . . Putin, of course, has used chemical weapons before, most recently against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. His goons also did so on March 4, 2018, in the U.K, in a poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. That poisoning seemed to be a sign that Putin was confident enough in his power that he was willing to kill someone in England and dare then–prime minister Theresa May to do something about it.

What happened next seemed to illustrate Putin’s growing security in the face of weak U.S. and European resistance. May condemned the attack, as did U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But May couldn’t do much because Brexit had isolated England and then-president Trump refused to back her. He promptly fired Tillerson, along with one of Tillerson’s deputies who contradicted the White House version of why Tillerson was out. Russian state TV then warned May not to threaten a country armed with nuclear warheads. And, just about then, Republicans in the House exonerated Trump from “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election, outright rejecting the evidence and findings of our own intelligence community.

There remains a lot to learn not only about why former president Trump allowed such aggression, but also about why members of the Republican Party were willing to look the other way when U.S. policy under Trump benefited Russia—when the U.S. abruptly withdrew from northern Syria in October 2019, for example, or when Trump withheld money appropriated for Ukraine’s defense to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky into helping him rig the 2020 election.

At least part of the answer to that question is the disinformation campaign launched by Russia to undermine our democracy. False stories in the media have divided us and convinced many people in the U.S. of things that are simply lies.

Former representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) released a video today echoing Russia’s false story of “25 to 30 U.S. funded bio labs in Ukraine,” and demanded a ceasefire to secure them.

Later this afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted: “This is preposterous. It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) slammed Gabbard for “parroting false Russian propaganda.”

David Corn of Mother Jones today broke another news story: a Russian government agency distributed a 12-page document to media outlets telling them, “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally….”

The call to feature Carlson is in the section titled “Victory in Information War.”

Do read the column and the footnote links as well.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2022 at 1:34 am

The American Pundits Who Can’t Resist “Westsplaining” Ukraine

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Jan Smoleński and Jan Dutkiewicz write in the New Republic:

War is hell for anyone in it. And it’s a predictable but regrettable call to arms for people with opinions who aren’t. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, as the fighting on the ground has escalated, so has the volley of opinions about the war. And for Eastern European scholars like us, it’s galling to watch the unending stream of Western scholars and pundits condescend to explain the situation in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, often in ways that either ignore voices from the region, treating it as an object rather than a subject of history, or claiming to perfectly understand Russian logic and motives. Eastern European online circles have started using a new term to describe this phenomenon of people from the Anglosphere loudly foisting their analytical schema and political prescriptions onto the region: westsplaining. And the problem with westsplaining is illustrated particularly well when pundits westsplain the role of the eastward expansion of NATO in triggering Russia’s attack.

Eastern Europe is maddeningly complex. It doesn’t even have a clear definition: Spanning from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania down (depending on whom you ask) through Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary, then east to encompass Moldova, and south to Romania and Bulgaria, and perhaps taking in other countries, the region has little to give it cohesion. It’s not unified culturally, religiously, linguistically, racially, politically, or even geographically (Greece and Finland are further east but never get included in the category, Georgia is discontiguous from the others and yet is often counted, and Ukraine’s conceptual membership and very existence are at stake in the current conflict).

If anything unites the region, it is its historically unfortunate location as the plaything of empires, its borders and definitions made and remade over the centuries, most recently through its emergence from the collapse of the USSR. The defining geopolitical feature of the region is that it is defined from the outside. As the Polish linguist Piotr Twardzisz puts it, “There is relatively little of Eastern Europe in Eastern Europe itself. There is more of it in Western Europe, or in the West, generally.”

In the past week, westsplainers on American televisions and in American opinion pages have suggested that NATO, by allowing in Eastern European countries as members, has driven Putin to lash out like a cornered animal. The story goes more or less like this: After the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO promised Russia it would not expand. But in 1997 it nonetheless expanded. In 2007, ignoring Russian complaints, it opened the way for expansion into Georgia and Ukraine. Russia was forced to react, hence its invasion and occupation of Georgia that year. Later, when the U.S.-sponsored protests deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for abandoning the country’s pro-Western course, Putin again reacted, this time invading and occupying Donbass and Crimea in 2014. And now he is trying to take over Ukraine to head off American influence in the region.

This story isn’t surprising, coming from so-called realist international relations scholars intellectually forged during the Cold War. The University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, for instance, recently claimed in The New Yorker that NATO’s expansion was perceived as a security threat, eliciting a lethal response. To Mearsheimer’s credit, he admits that great powers are predators ensuring that their smaller neighbors are not free to pursue policies of their own choice. But on this reading, it is NATO’s fault, driven primarily by America’s interest in expanding its sphere of influence, that Russia has lashed out, seeking to protect its own sphere of influence. This isn’t a novel view: It’s the position Putin himself laid out in a speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007.

The prescriptive implications of this position are clear: NATO should cease its efforts to woo countries like Ukraine, and countries like Ukraine should give up any aspirations of becoming members of NATO or potentially the European Union if they want to survive as states. In other words, Eastern European countries should recognize their status as second-class citizens in the community of states and accept their geopolitical role as neutral buffers at the edges of the vestiges of the American and Russian empires.

In recent weeks, this argument has caught on across the political spectrum. It has made bedfellows of Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute and the seminal German leftist intellectual Wolfgang Streeck, who wrote that “the war over Ukraine” exploded out of the “uncompromising brinkmanship on the part of both the U.S. and Russia.” (War over Ukraine? Given that the only combatants on the ground are Russian invaders and Ukrainian defenders, the implication that this is a battle between the U.S. and Russia over influence is ridiculous.) It has united the economist Jeffrey Sachs, apparently cured of his intoxication with neoliberalism but not from telling Eastern Europeans what to do, and Greek anti-neoliberal politician Yannis Varoufakis. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and progressive economist Mariana Mazzucatto both likened the situation to China convincing Mexico to join an anti-American security alliance. The Guardian’s populist columnist Owen Jones suggested that the war could have been avoided had there “been an attempt to craft a neutral buffer zone after the Cold War.” (The tweet in question has since been deleted, and Jones apologized for ignoring the rights of the people living in said zone and “sounding like an imperialist playing Risk with the people of Europe.”) The implication is also there in a tone-deaf statement released by the Democratic Socialists of America that called for an end to the war but blamed “imperialist expansionism” for leading to it.

Leftists in particular may think, when criticizing NATO expansion, that they are correcting their own or fellow citizens’ biases as citizens of an imperial power that has often acted in bad faith. They may think they are adequately acknowledging this fraught legacy by focusing their critique on what they perceive to be Western expansionism. But they in fact perpetuate imperial wrongs when they continue to deny non-Western countries and their citizens agency in geopolitics. Paradoxically, the problem with American exceptionalism is that even those who challenge its foundational tenets and heap scorn on American militarism often end up recreating American exceptionalism by centering the United States in their analyses of international relations. It is, in Gregory Afinogenov’s words, a “form of provincialism that sees only the United States and its allies as primary actors.” Speaking about Eastern Europe and Eastern Europeans without listening to local voices or trying to understand the region’s complexity is a colonial projection. Here the issue of NATO is particularly telling.

There is, of course, plenty to criticize about NATO and American foreign policy, not least the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. As The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen points out, this has been used by Putin to justify his expansionism. But by focusing almost exclusively on the wrongs of NATO, critics ignore the broader question of Eastern European states’ right to self-determination, including the right to join military alliances. Westsplaining ignores Eastern European history and the perspective of the Eastern Europeans, and it selectively omits facts on the ground about NATO expansion.

As much as U.S. militarism and imperialism should be criticized, it has to be acknowledged that in Eastern Europe it is not the U.S. or NATO who have been an existential threat. In the twentieth century the formative experience for the countries of the region was direct and indirect Soviet control. States like . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2022 at 11:31 am

Americans assisting Putin

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Fox News — or perhaps I should write Fox “News” — has long acted in Putin’s interests, whether deliberately or not, by sowing divisiveness and undermining social order in the US (a course they continue), and they are joined in that effort by many in Trump’s circle. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its second week, the lines are clear.

This morning—in America’s time—Russian president Vladimir Putin called French president Emmanuel Macron and talked for an hour and a half. Putin warned that he aimed to take “full control” of Ukraine by diplomatic or military means. He said that he was “prepared to go all the way.”

Tonight, Russian troops shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex in southeast Ukraine. A fire broke out at the plant but, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not affect essential equipment. What the attack did do, though, was sow fear of nuclear meltdown, giving Putin a psychological win in his war.

Standing against Putin and his vision of freedom to act as he wishes against sovereign countries are countries around the world that are exerting financial pressure on Russia, cutting it off from the rest of the world. It is a new moment in global history, one in which businesses and economic pressure are being enlisted to protect democracy, rather than undermine it.

That economic pressure in the form of sanctions is working not just on large financial transactions, but also on things like simple maintenance of airplanes. Airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have suspended the shipping of parts, maintenance, and technical support for the Russian airplane fleet. Russia is huge. Downing the whole airplane fleet though economic pressure will severely affect the ability of goods and people to move throughout the country.

The Biden administration increased pressure on 8 more oligarchs close to Putin, along with their families, and restricted the visas of 19 oligarchs and 47 members of their families in hopes that that pressure would lead them to undermine the president. The sanctioned Russians include Yevgeny Prigozhin and his wife, daughter, and son. In addition to being close to Putin, Prigozhin is the owner of the Wagner Group, an infamous paramilitary organization that has been accused of war crimes. Prigozhin is also wanted by the FBI for his role in attacking the 2016 U.S. election.

Concerns that Putin might continue to invade sovereign nations have led countries to turn to European democracies for protection. Moldova has officially applied for membership in the European Union. “We want to live in peace, prosperity, be part of the free world,” said Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu. “While some decisions take time, others must be made quickly and decisively, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come with a changing world.”

The U.S., and other countries that belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are supporting Ukraine from outside its borders. For NATO to take on the fight against Putin’s armies directly in Ukraine runs the risk of uniting the currently demoralized Russian people behind their leader, and enables him to start a war against NATO, which would engulf all of Europe.

Tonight, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham crossed that line when, on Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s television show, he called for someone to assassinate Putin. He then repeated his comment on Twitter. This was an astonishing propaganda coup for Putin, enabling him to argue that he is indeed in a war with America, rather than engaging in an unprovoked attack on neighboring Ukraine. This is exactly what the Biden administration has gone out of its way to avoid.

It was an astonishing moment… and also an interesting one. It undermines the position of the U.S. and our partners and allies, but in whose service? After initially opposing Trump’s reach for the presidency, Graham threw in his lot utterly with the former president, who has many possible reasons both to undermine Biden and to keep Putin in power. Perhaps Graham’s comment was intended to help Trump. Or perhaps Graham might have simply made a colossally stupid mistake. Whatever the case, the enormous implications of his statement make it one that would be a mistake to ignore.

Graham was not the only one to bolster Putin’s position today. Tucker Carlson tonight told his audience that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s an interesting note about John Hanick, one of the founders of Fox News, and his work in support of Putin.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2022 at 6:16 am

The Roger Stone Tapes: The longtime Trump adviser working to overturn the 2020 election

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A remarkable article (gift link; no paywall) by Dalton Bennett and Jon Swaine in the Washington Post shows Roger Stone at work. The article begins:

As a mob ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, hurried to pack a suitcase inside his elegant suite on the fifth floor of the Willard hotel. He wrapped his tailored suits in trash bags, reversed his black face mask so its “Free Roger Stone” logo was hidden, then slipped out of town for a hastily arranged private flight from Dulles International Airport.

“I really want to get out of here,” Stone told an aide, as they were filmed at the hotel by a Danish camera crew for a documentary on the veteran Republican operative. Stone said he feared prosecution by the incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland. “He is not a friend,” Stone said.

Stone allowed the filmmakers to document his activities during extended periods over more than two years. In addition to interviews and moments when Stone spoke directly to the camera, they also captured fly-on-the-wall footage of his actions, candid off-camera conversations from a microphone he wore and views of his iPhone screen as he messaged associates on an encrypted app. Reporters from The Washington Post reviewed more than 20 hours of video filmed for the documentary, “A Storm Foretold,” which is expected to be released later this year.

The footage, along with other reporting by The Post, provides the most comprehensive account to date of Stone’s involvement in the former president’s effort to overturn the election and in the rallies in Washington that spilled over into violence on Jan. 6.

Stone privately coordinated post-election protests with prominent figures, and in January he communicated by text message with leaders of far-right groups that had been involved in the attack on the Capitol, the footage shows. The filmmakers did not capture conversations between Stone and Trump, but on several occasions, Stone told them or his associates that he remained in contact with the president.

[How Danish filmmakers made the documentary on Roger Stone.]

Stone has refused to give testimony and evidence to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment. Last week, he sued members of the panel to try to block them from using a subpoena to obtain his telephone records.

On the day of the attack, as he packed his bags, Stone told the filmmakers the riot was a mistake and would be “really bad” for the pro-Trump movement.

On the eve of the 2020 election, however, he seemed to welcome the prospect of clashes with left-wing activists. In a recorded conversation, as an aide spoke of driving trucks into crowds of racial justice protesters, Stone said: “Once there’s no more election, there’s no reason why we can’t mix it up. These people are going to get what they’ve been asking for.”

Stone declined requests for an interview. In response to questions, he said in an email that he had no involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. “Any claim, assertion or implication that I knew about, was involved in or condoned the illegal acts at the Capitol on Jan 6 is categorically false and there is no witness or document that proves otherwise,” he wrote.

Without providing specifics, Stone accused The Post of employing “a clever blend of ‘guilt by association,’ insinuations, half truths, anonymous claims, falsehoods and out of context trick questions.” He suggested that video clips of him reviewed for this article could be “deep fakes.”

“You attribute things to me I never said,” Stone wrote, without citing any examples.

Stone moved quickly after Trump’s defeat to help mobilize the protest movement that drew thousands to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, The Post found. He privately strategized with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and rally organizer Ali Alexander, who visited Stone’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late November 2020 for a dinner where Stone served pasta and martinis.

A few hours before the Jan. 6 attack, the video shows, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group — who has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy — was in Stone’s suite at the Willard. Other rooms in the same hotel were used as a “command center” by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and other advisers involved in the fractious battle to overturn the election. Stone was not part of their effort, the footage indicates, and he said he feared that top organizers were trying to exclude him from the rally.

Stone used an encrypted messaging app later in January to communicate with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy, and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, the footage shows. Prosecutors have said that Rhodes erased some messages from his phone before it was taken by the FBI.

A federal judge considering lawsuits filed against Trump by Democrats and Capitol Police officers over the Jan. 6 riot said in an order in February that Stone’s connection to Trump, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers may prove to be “an important one.”

Stone did not permit the filmmakers to record him for a 90-minute period covering the height of the violence on Jan. 6. A Stone aide blocked a cameraman from entering his hotel suite, claiming that Stone was napping, the cameraman said. When he eventually got inside, Stone was speaking on his phone.

After he left Washington, Stone lobbied for Trump to enact  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that there was a group with a deliberate and serious intention to overturn the results of a valid election (none of the 60 or so lawsuits claiming election fraud held up in court) and take over the Presidency.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2022 at 5:54 am

The dark side of social media: A Child’s TikTok Stardom Opens Doors. Then a Gunman Arrives.

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Elizabeth Wilson has a stunning report in the NY Times. (Gift link = no paywall) The report begins:

NAPLES, Florida. — Ava Majury downloaded TikTok when she was 13, and at the height of the pandemic lockdowns a year later had more than a million followers. Her fans, nearly three-quarters of them male, watched her lip-sync and dance to trending music on an account with the profile message, “Hey, I love you!!”

In early 2020 Ava noticed that one fan, EricJustin111, was trying to get her attention in comments on TikTok. He messaged her in Snapchat and on Instagram, and turned up in online games she played with her brothers. Ava responded to him a few times at first, she said, “because I used to reply to my fans, like ‘Hey, how was your day?’’’

Early on July 10, the fan — Eric Rohan Justin, 18, of Ellicott City, Md. — arrived with a shotgun at the Majury family home in Naples and blew open the front door. His weapon jammed; Ava’s father, Rob Majury, a retired police lieutenant, chased him off but fell. Mr. Majury told Collier County sheriff’s officers that he returned to the house, retrieved his handgun and stood guard at the front door, only to see the gunman return a short time later. By sunrise Mr. Justin lay dying, shot by Mr. Majury.

What began as an enterprising teenager’s lockdown venture has awakened the family of five to how online fame can fuel real-world violence. In interviews with The New York Times, they spoke for the first time about an ordeal that illuminates the dark side of a social media platform favored by millions of children.

TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., and many of its users emphasize the friendships, innovative content and creative collaboration enabled by the platform, but its enormous popularity among vulnerable, underage people has also been linked to mental health problems, injuries and deaths.

Today Ava Majury remains on TikTok, where she is netting thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals and has attracted interest from Hollywood, including from reality TV producers. Her TikTok fame has brought sponsorship opportunities on Instagram and Snapchat, too. Instagram, owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has also been accused of causing mental and emotional health problems among teenage female users.

“Her creations, her contacts, her videos became such a big part of her that to take it away would have been hard,” her father said.

“We chose what’s best for our family,” Ava’s mother, Kim Majury, added. “We know there are going to be two sides, and some people won’t understand.’’

Continue reading. (Again: it’s a gift link, so bypasses the paywall.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 February 2022 at 1:28 pm

Hunter S. Thompson and the Four Secrets to Gonzo Journalism’s Success

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This article will appeal principally to readers of a certain age. Peter Richardson writes in the New Republic:

Fifty years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s celebrity remains a durable fact. Yet there was nothing inevitable about his notoriety or the style that gave rise to it. Gonzo journalism—Thompson’s unique blend of hyperbolic commentary, satire, invective, hallucination, and media critique—developed unevenly, haphazardly, almost by accident. That body of work, and the rock-star celebrity it created, almost didn’t happen.

In 1965, Thompson was a freelancer begging for assignments when The Nation commissioned an article on the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Thompson parlayed his first-person account into a bestselling book, and Random House quickly signed him for three more titles on short schedules. The second book stalled, however, and Thompson struggled with his magazine work. Playboy spiked his lengthy profile of Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic skier who became a pitch man for Chevrolet. Fortunately for Thompson, Warren Hinckle ran the Killy piece in the premiere issue of Scanlan’s Monthly.

Hinckle also published “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” Thompson’s 1970 account of the famed sporting event—or rather, the drunken revelry surrounding it. Illustrated by Ralph Steadman, that piece is usually considered the first work of gonzo journalism. Thompson set the debauchery at Churchill Downs against a backdrop of political violence—including President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the slaughter at Kent State University, which occurred the same week as the Derby. Finishing the story was an ordeal, and Thompson considered it an abject failure. When it was heralded as a breakthrough, he compared the experience to “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

Thompson’s next articles skipped the gonzo pyrotechnics, but “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” which Rolling Stone ran in November 1971, etched gonzo journalism in the public imagination. Based on a pair of wild weekends in the desert, the two-part article was a freewheeling epitaph for the 1960s counterculture. It made a bigger splash than the Kentucky Derby piece, but in a letter to James Silberman, his editor at Random House, Thompson worried that it would diminish his credibility as a serious journalist. Once again, he had underestimated gonzo’s career-altering appeal.

Gonzo journalism thrived at Rolling Stone, especially during the Nixon era. As the decade wore on, Thompson’s outsize persona—which featured his drug consumption, gun fetish, and “fortified compound” near Aspen—began to eclipse his work. Yet Thompson understood his literary gift quite apart from his celebrity. In 1975, he correctly described himself as “one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.”

p>But how, exactly, did Thompson achieve that status in a single decade? With the benefit of hindsight, we can identify four separate developments that pushed Thompson toward his unique niche in the media ecosystem.

Chicago

Early in his career, Thompson admired the Kennedys, detested Nixon, and attended the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco. Even so, he considered American politics a dead end. He wanted to follow the example set by Tom Wolfe in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965). An early version of the New Journalism, that book featured Southern California’s hot-rod scene as well as the spectacular growth of Las Vegas. Later, Wolfe profiled the psychedelic scene around novelist Ken Kesey, whom Thompson had introduced to the Hell’s Angels. In short order, Thompson also carved out a niche as a student of exotic West Coast subcultures.

His outlook changed dramatically in 1968. By that time, Thompson had befriended Hinckle, who presided over Ramparts magazine. Through his connection with the legendary San Francisco muckraker, Thompson learned that all hell would break loose at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He asked Silberman to obtain press credentials for him and booked a trip to Chicago. His sources were correct: Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets and public parks, and police officers flayed provocateurs, peaceful protesters, and observers alike. The clashes provided a dramatic backdrop for the debates inside the convention, especially over the party’s position on the Vietnam War. Senator Edmund Muskie maintained that the anti-war contingent wanted peace at any price, the peace plank was defeated, and Hubert Humphrey received the party’s nomination. By the end of the convention, both Humphrey and Muskie earned Thompson’s lasting contempt.

The real story was in the streets, however, where Thompson recoiled from the police violence he witnessed. Scampering from agitated cops on Michigan Avenue, he encountered two officers blocking his retreat to his hotel.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 11:47 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Media, Writing

‘Word salad of nonsense’: scientists denounce Jordan Peterson’s comments on climate models

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Graham Readfearn writes in the Guardian:

Leading climate scientists have ridiculed and criticised comments made by controversial Canadian psychologist and author Jordan Peterson during an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

During a new four-hour interview on Spotify’s most popular podcast, Peterson – who is not an expert on climate change – claimed that models used to forecast the future state of the climate couldn’t be relied on.

Peterson told Rogan that because the climate was so complex, it couldn’t be accurately modelled.

He said: “Another problem that bedevils climate modelling, too, which is that as you stretch out the models across time, the errors increase radically. And so maybe you can predict out a week or three weeks or a month or a year, but the farther out you predict, the more your model is in error.

“And that’s a huge problem when you’re trying to model over 100 years because the errors compound just like interest.”

Peterson said that if the climate was “about everything” then “your models aren’t right” because they couldn’t include everything.

But climate scientists have described Peterson’s comments as “stunningly ignorant” and said he had fundamentally misunderstood the concept of climate modelling.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales Canberra, said Peterson’s description of how climate models work was fundamentally wrong. While weather forecasts do become less accurate the further out they go, this was a different process to climate modelling.

“He seems to think we model the future climate the same way we do the weather. He sounds intelligent, but he’s completely wrong.

“He has no frickin’ idea,” she said.

The backlash from scientists comes as Spotify removes the music of veteran songwriter Neil Young after the singer issued an ultimatum to the company.

Young was furious at what he described as “misinformation” spread on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast about the Covid-19 pandemic. Rogan’s show has previously aired claims by a different guest that hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely diagnose deaths as having been caused by Covid-19 and that world leaders had hypnotised the public into supporting vaccines.

“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young wrote in a letter to his management.

According to Spotify, which paid US$100m for exclusive rights to Rogan’s podcast in 2020, the platform has 381 million users and 172 million subscribers. Rogan tops the platform’s podcast charts in the UK, USA and Australia.

Dr Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller and senior adviser at Nasa, said on Twitter: “Guys, for the love of everything holy, please, please, have somebody on who knows what the heck a climate model is!!!”

Schmidt told the Guardian he was reminded of a quote from the famous British statistician George Box.

“Peterson has managed to absorb the first part of George Box’s famous dictum that ‘all models are wrong’ but appears to have not worked out the second part ‘but some are useful’,” Schmidt said. . . .

Continue reading. Jordan Peterson is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, supremely confident in subjects of which he is totally ignorant because he is too ignorant to understand how little he knows. He should learn when to speak and when to keep his mouth shut. The same applies to Joe Rogan. They both exemplify a toxic (and noxious) combination of ignorance, arrogance, and narcissism.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 2:10 pm

Newsletter Natural Selection

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Slime Mold Time Mold has a very interesting post, which begins:

Apparently, Substack wants to destroy newspapers. And maybe that would be good — maybe it would be good for journalism to be democratized, for bloggers to inherit the earth. Of course we’re bloggers and not newspapers, so maybe we’re biased.

Obviously it would be great if someone came up with a set of blogging and newsletter tools that were just amazing, that were the clear front-runner, that outperformed every other platform. We’d love it if the technical problems were all solved and we just had a perfect set of blogging tools.

But if everyone ends up on the same platform, well, that’s kind of dangerous. If one company controls the whole news & blogging industry, they can blacklist whoever they want, and can squeeze users as much as they want.

Even if you think Substack has a good track record, there’s no way they can guarantee that they won’t squeeze their writers once they control the market. Even if you trust the current management, at some point they will all retire, or all die, or the company will be bought by wesqueezeusers.biz, and then you’re shit outta luck.

Substack just can’t make a credible commitment that makes it impossible for them to abuse their power if they get a monopoly. You have to take them at their word. But since management can change, you can’t even really do that. They just can’t bind their hands convincingly.

But there may be some very unusual business models that would fix this problem. 

On the Origin of Substacks

Imagine there’s a “Substack” company that commits itself to breaking in half every time it gets 100,000 users (or something), creating two child companies. Each company ends up with 50,000 users. All the blogs with even-numbered IDs go to Substack A, and all the blogs with odd-numbered IDs go to Substack B. The staff gets split among these two companies, and half of them move to a new office. Both companies retain the same policy of breaking in half once they hit that milestone again — an inherited, auto-trust-busting mechanism.

(Splitting into exactly two companies wouldn’t have to be a part of the commitment. They could equally choose to break up into Substack Red, Substack Blue, and Substack Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition.)

In addition, a core part of the product would be high-quality, deeply integrated tools to switch from one of these branches to another. Probably this would involve an easy way to export all your posts and a list of your subscribers to some neutral file format (maybe a folder full of markdown, css, and csv files), and to import them from the same format into a new blog. If you end up in Substack B and you want to be in Substack A instead (your favorite developer works there or something), the product would make it very easy to switch, maybe to the point of being able to switch at the push of a button.

To help with this, the third and final commitment of the company, and all child companies, would be to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall. And it’s intriguing — and something a company could easily do.

What I like is that it harnesses the power of cultural evolution in a way that supports the common welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:25 pm

Fox News makes money from poisoning society

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Is it a good thing that Fox News profits from creating a toxic political environment? Not for the public, nor for the functioning of our society and government, but quite good for Rupert Murdoch and his family and shareholders. 

Read this post by Kevin Drum.

A hospital might profit from contaminating a town’s water supply. I don’t think we would want that, nor would we allow it. I do know about freedom of the press, but the press for which that freedom was guaranteed is not at all like the “press” we experience today.

I’m not sure what the right remedy would be, but doing nothing risks the breakdown of social trust and productive amity. 

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:35 pm

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