Later On

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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Lead Poisoning and Domestic Violence

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At Mother Jones Kevin Drum points out a tragedy of bad technology:

Alex Tabarrok reviews Franklin Zimring’s When Police Kill and notes the following:

A surprising finding:

Crime is a young man’s game in the United States but being killed by a police officer is not.

The main reason for this appears to be that a disproportionate share of police killings come from disturbance calls, domestic and non-domestic about equally represented. A majority of the killings arising from disturbance calls are of people aged forty or more.

I can’t fool you guys. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? A likely explanation for this is that in 2015, when this data was collected, 20-year-olds were born around 1995 and grew up lead free. This means they were far less likely to act out violently than in the past. Conversely, 40-year-olds were born around 1975, right near the peak of the lead poisoning epidemic. They are part of the most violent, explosive generation in US history.

This is the saddest part of lead poisoning: it scars your brain development as a child and there’s no cure. If you’re affected by it and are more aggressive and violent as a result, you will be that way for the rest of your life.

The biggest villain in the lead-poisoning of a country was leaded gasoline. After it had been phased out, George W. Bush flirted with bringing it back, but fortunately rationality in that case prevailed.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2020 at 11:48 am

The US and its new “Can’t Do” spirit, expressed in a graph

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From this article:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2020 at 12:53 pm

The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything; or, Botched Opportunities

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Coping with a pandemic is one of the most complex challenges a society can face. To minimize death and damage, leaders and citizens must orchestrate a huge array of different resources and tools. Scientists must explore the most advanced frontiers of research while citizens attend to the least glamorous tasks of personal hygiene. Physical supplies matter—test kits, protective gear—but so do intangibles, such as “flattening the curve” and public trust in official statements. The response must be global, because the virus can spread anywhere, but an effective response also depends heavily on national policies, plus implementation at the state and community level. Businesses must work with governments, and epidemiologists with economists and educators. Saving lives demands minute-by-minute attention from health-care workers and emergency crews, but it also depends on advance preparation for threats that might not reveal themselves for many years. I have heard military and intelligence officials describe some threats as requiring a “whole of nation” response, rather than being manageable with any one element of “hard” or “soft” power or even a “whole of government” approach. Saving lives during a pandemic is a challenge of this nature and magnitude.

It is a challenge that the United States did not meet. During the past two months, I have had lengthy conversations with some 30 scientists, health experts, and past and current government officials—all of them people with firsthand knowledge of what our response to the coronavirus pandemic should have been, could have been, and actually was. The government officials had served or are still serving in the uniformed military, on the White House staff, or in other executive departments, and in various intelligence agencies. Some spoke on condition of anonymity, given their official roles. As I continued these conversations, the people I talked with had noticeably different moods. First, in March and April, they were astonished and puzzled about what had happened. Eventually, in May and June, they were enraged. “The president kept a cruise ship from landing in California, because he didn’t want ‘his numbers’ to go up,” a former senior government official told me. He was referring to Donald Trump’s comment, in early March, that he didn’t want infected passengers on the cruise ship Grand Princess to come ashore, because “I like the numbers being where they are.” Trump didn’t try to write this comment off as a “joke,” his go-to defense when his remarks cause outrage, including his June 20 comment in Tulsa that he’d told medical officials to “slow the testing down, please” in order to keep the reported-case level low. But the evidence shows that he has been deadly earnest about denying the threat of COVID-19, and delaying action against it.

“Look at what the numbers are now,” this same official said, in late April, at a moment when the U.S. death toll had just climbed above 60,000, exceeding the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. By late June, the total would surpass 120,000—more than all American military deaths during World War I. “If he had just been paying attention, he would have asked, ‘What do I do first?’ We wouldn’t have passed the threshold of casualties in previous wars. It is a catastrophic failure.”

As an amateur pilot, I can’t help associating the words catastrophic failure with an accident report. The fact is, confronting a pandemic has surprising parallels with the careful coordination and organization that has saved large numbers of lives in air travel. Aviation is safe in large part because it learns from its disasters. Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board go immediately to accident sites to begin assessing evidence. After months or even years of research, their detailed reports try to lay out the “accident chain” and explain what went wrong. In deciding whether to fly if I’m tired or if the weather is marginal, I rely on a tie-breaking question: How would this look in an NTSB report?

Controlling the risks of flight may not be as complex as fighting a pandemic, but it’s in the ballpark. Aviation is fundamentally a very dangerous activity. People are moving at high altitudes, at high speed, and in high volume, with a guarantee of mass casualties if things go wrong. Managing the aviation system involves hardware—airframes, engines, flight control systems—and “software,” in the form of training, routing, and coordinated protocols. It requires recognition of hazards that are certain—bad weather, inevitable mechanical breakdowns—and those that cannot be specifically foreseen, from terrorist episodes to obscure but consequential computer bugs. It involves businesses and also governments; it is nation-specific and also worldwide; it demands second-by-second attention and also awareness of trends that will take years to develop.

The modern aviation system works. From the dawn of commercial aviation through the 1990s, 1,000 to 2,000 people would typically die each year in airline crashes. Today, the worldwide total is usually about one-10th that level. Last year, before the pandemic began, more than 25,000 commercial-airline flights took off each day from airports in the United States. Every one of them landed safely.

In these two fundamentally similar undertakings—managing the skies, containing disease outbreaks—the United States has set a global example of success in one and of failure in the other. It has among the fewest aviation-related fatalities in the world, despite having the largest number of flights. But with respect to the coronavirus pandemic, it has suffered by far the largest number of fatalities, about one-quarter of the global total, despite having less than one-20th of the world’s population.

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

The organization below differs from that of a standard NTSB report, but it covers the key points. Timelines of aviation disasters typically start long before the passengers or even the flight crew knew anything was wrong, with problems in the design of the airplane, the procedures of the maintenance crew, the route, or the conditions into which the captain decided to fly. In the worst cases, those decisions doomed the flight even before it took off. My focus here is similarly on conditions and decisions that may have doomed the country even before the first COVID-19 death had been recorded on U.S. soil.

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that—when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell—will be a central part of the history of our times.

But what happened in the two months before Trump’s statement, when the United States still had a chance of containing the disease where it started or at least buffering its effects, is if anything worse.

1. The Flight Plan

The first thing an airplane crew needs to know is what it will be flying through. Thunderstorms? Turbulence? Dangerous or restricted airspace? The path of another airplane? And because takeoffs are optional but landings are mandatory, what can it expect at the end of the flight? Wind shear? An icy runway? The biggest single reason flying is so much safer now than it was even a quarter century ago is that flight crews, air traffic controllers, and the airline “dispatchers” who coordinate with pilots have so many precise tools with which to anticipate conditions and hazards, hours or days in advance.

And for the pandemic? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2020 at 6:13 pm

What Next for Democracy?: Defining America’s place in the world

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David Warsh writes at Economic Principals:

The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today (Princeton, 2020), by David Stasavage, of New York University, gives the impression of being an easy read. Three hundred pages of text present a powerful narrative delivered with disarming clarity, with no showier claim to authority than the precision of its arguments.

But then come 37 pages of notes and a bibliography of 850 items, adding another hundred pages to the book. Stasavage has mastered so much history, and located it so deftly in recent controversies of social science, that he covers nearly everything that I have so much as glimpsed going on as an economic journalist these past fifty years, and a great deal more that I hadn’t. No wonder I missed on the couple of previous swings I took at it. I’ve got a bead on it now.

We won’t know for a while, but my hunch is that Decline and Rise will turn out to be the most compelling work on grand strategy since The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, and The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel Huntington, in the euphoria of the early ’90s. Since then there’s been Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? (2017), by Graham Allison, but that was somehow less helpful than the much earlier The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline 1895-1905 (1988), by Aaron Friedberg. Meanwhile, Decline and Rise is differently grounded from the agendas of realists such as John Mearsheimer (The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, 2018) and Stephen Walt (The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy, 2018). The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty (2019), by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is somewhat similar to Decline and Rise.

Stasavage begins by rehearsing the narrative familiar to anyone who has taken a course in world history:  how democracy was invented in Greece, and how it died out after a very short time – “about as much time as the American republic has existed.” Resurrected in Italian city republics like Venice and Genoa, after more than a thousand years, thanks to the rediscovery of Aristotle; and in the England of  Magna Carta, democracy then resumed its long slow evolution to the present day.

That takes no more than a paragraph.  The “problem with this story,” Stasavage writes (a phrase that occurs many times in the book) is that it is highly misleading.  When Europeans in the sixteenth century began fanning out across the world they often found themselves dealing with systems of government in which consent of the governed played a greater role  than the ones that prevailed at home. These included tribes like the Huron people of southwest Ontario, whom Jesuit missionaries studied intently; and the Tlaxcala people of Mesoamerica, whose government Hernan Cortez described as resembling that of Genoa or Pisa, because there was no king.

These early democracies, as Stasavage calls them, flourished wherever states were weak, which as recently as five hundred years ago, was most of the Earth.   They involved tribal chiefs who ruled collectively with the aid of assemblies and councils that constrained their power. These bodies were in turn responsive to the ordinary people whom they led, at least a subset of them, and they were to be found all over the world in communities that shared three characteristics:  small scale; leaders who lacked knowledge of what their subjects were producing; and an option for the disaffected to flee into the forest or otherwise “light out for the territory.” Fans of the saga of King John and Robin Hood will recognize the situation. Leaders who lacked dependable tax systems were more likely to govern consensually.

Early democracies existed in contradistinction to autocracies, which prevailed wherever a state could get a leg up on the citizenry, chiefly by knowing whom to tax and how much, in settlements  from which there  was no easy exit. China, with its fertile plateau of loess soil, was the first state.  From at least the beginning of the second millennium BCE,  dynasties in northwest China were able to support armies and build proto-bureaucracies by levying taxes on farmers whose productivity was more or less visible.  Rulers were hereditary. Councils had no say in the matter.  Other autocracies emerged out of similar geography:  the Third Sumerian Dynasty of Ur, the Aztec Triple Alliance, the Incas, the Mississippian chiefdoms, the Azande kingdom in central Africa. Islam inherited a state when it burst out of Arabia to conquer the Sasanian Empire in the Fertile Crescent.  Islam retained the local bureaucracy and converted it to its use.

Then came “the great divergence.” Everyone seems to agree that the different economic trajectory that Europe pursued began with representative government. But if the economic divergence has political origins, where did the politics come from? Representative government in Europe stemmed from the backwardness of its state bureaucracies, Stavasage argues. Rulers had no alternative but to seek consent from Europe’s growing towns. China and the Islamic world were far better off than Europe for five centuries or more; autocracy served development well. But at a certain point the Renaissance commenced, followed by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Modern democracies had their beginnings in England, not the Dutch Republic, as has often been argued, England borrowed many Dutch institutions, so what made England  different? A new kind of parliamentary government, in which representatives could be bound by voter mandates, nor were they required to report back to their constituencies before making decisions. The Dutch retained institutions that permitted vested interests to forestall technological innovations; England sprinted ahead economically.

If the English went halfway to modern democracy, building a centralized state in which kings had powers as well as the newly-animated parliament, American colonists took the process to the next level, creating the broad suffrage for white males as a means of maintaining the consent of the governed necessary to the existence of a strong executive state. But the same conditions that produced democracy for European immigrants produced slavery for Africans and disaster for native American peoples. Stasavage is especially acute on the forces binding today’s Americans together – and those driving them apart.

The picture that emerges is of a world divided into two deep traditions, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2020 at 3:27 pm

The US healthcare system and its inequities

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People seem to be willing to put up with it, and the GOP is determined to destroy the reforms that came with the Affordable Care Act, with Trump’s Department of Justice even now arguing that the ACA is unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety. And, oddly, many Americans like the current state of healthcare in the US and indeed many support abolishing the Affordable Care Act.

Sarah Kliff reports in the NY Times:

Before a camping and kayaking trip along the Texas Coast, Pam LeBlanc and Jimmy Harvey decided to get coronavirus tests. They wanted a bit more peace of mind before spending 13 days in close quarters along with three friends.

The two got drive-through tests at Austin Emergency Center in Austin. The center advertises a “minimally invasive” testing experience in a state now battling one of the country’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. Texas recorded 5,799 new cases Sunday, and recently reversed some if its reopening policies.

They both recalled how uncomfortable it was to have the long nasal swab pushed up their noses. Ms. LeBlanc’s eyes started to tear up; Mr. Harvey felt as if the swab “was in my brain.”

Their tests came back with the same result — negative, allowing the trip to go ahead — but the accompanying bills were quite different.

The emergency room charged Mr. Harvey $199 in cash. Ms. LeBlanc, who paid with insurance, was charged $6,408.

“I assumed, like an idiot, it would be cheaper to use my insurance than pay cash right there,” Ms. LeBlanc said. “This is 32 times the cost of what my friend paid for the exact same thing.”

Ms. LeBlanc’s health insurer negotiated the total bill down to $1,128. The plan said she was responsible for $928 of that.

During the pandemic, there has been wide variation between what providers bill for the same basic diagnostic test, with some charging $27, others $2,315. It turns out there is also significant variation in how much a test can cost two patients at the same location.

Mr. Harvey and Ms. LeBlanc were among four New York Times readers who shared bills they received from the same chain of emergency rooms in Austin. Their experiences offer a rare window into the unpredictable way health prices vary for patients who receive seemingly identical care.

Three paid with insurance, and one with cash. Even after negotiations between insurers and the emergency room, the total that patients and their insurers ended up paying varied by 2,700 percent.

Such discrepancies arise from a fundamental fact about the American health care system: The government does not regulate health care prices.

Some academic research confirms that prices can vary within the same hospital. One 2015 paper found substantial within-hospital price differences for basic procedures, such as M.R.I. scans, depending on the health insurer.

The researchers say these differences aren’t about quality. In all likelihood, the expensive M.R.I.s and the cheap M.R.I.s are done on the same machine. Instead, they reflect different insurers’ market clout. A large insurer with many members can demand lower prices, while small insurers have less negotiating leverage.

Because health prices in the United States are so opaque, some researchers have turned to their own medical bills to understand this type of price variation. Two health researchers who gave birth at the same hospital with the same insurance compared notes afterward. They found that one received a surprise $1,600 bill while the other one didn’t.

The difference? One woman happened to give birth while an out-of-network anesthesiologist was staffing the maternity ward; the other received her epidural from an in-network provider.

“The additional out-of-pocket charge on top of the other labor and delivery expenses was left entirely up to chance,” the co-authors Erin Taylor and Layla Parast wrote in a blog post summarizing the experience. Ms. Parast, who received the surprise bill, ultimately got it reversed but not until her baby was nearly a year old. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2020 at 12:41 pm

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

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And I just started (re)reading Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon. Wonder what Trump thinks of his good buddy Putin now? Charlie SavageEric Schmitt, and report in the NY Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

The Kremlin had not been made aware of the accusations, said Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Mr. Peskov said. A Taliban spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Spokespeople at the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment.

The officials familiar with the intelligence did not explain the White House delay in deciding how to respond to the intelligence about Russia.

While some of his closest advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have counseled more hawkish policies toward Russia, Mr. Trump has adopted an accommodating stance toward Moscow.

At a summit in Helsinki in 2018, Mr. Trump strongly suggested that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite broad agreement within the American intelligence establishment that it did. Mr. Trump criticized a bill imposing sanctions on Russia when he signed it into law after Congress passed it by veto-proof majorities. And he has repeatedly made statements that undermined the NATO alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression in Europe.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence and internal deliberations. They said the intelligence has been treated as a closely held secret, but the administration expanded briefings about it this week — including sharing information about it with the British government, whose forces are among those said to have been targeted. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2020 at 1:09 pm

And the flood gates open: US Covid-19 deaths jump — UPDATE: False alarm.

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Apparently it doesn’t work to simply deny that Covid-19 is a problem. The denial does allow the US not to address the problem, particularly in states that still believe President Trump and his minions like Mike Pence, but that denial has a price:

Kevin Drum updated the chart to remove the jump. He notes:

UPDATE: I originally showed a sharp uptick in deaths, but it turns out this was because New Jersey reported a whole bunch of “probable” deaths all at once on June 25, which caused the spike. I’ve now corrected for that and the chart shows roughly the same plateau that we’ve had for the past few days.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2020 at 9:57 am

Scientific Panel on New Dietary Guidelines Draws Criticism From Health Advocates

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The US is to a great extent controlled by major corporations, whose interest in the public’s welfare is minimal. Thus nutrition/food guidelines tend to be crafted to support the sale of (highly profitable) junk food rather than fresh vegetables and fruit, dried beans and whole grain, because those are commodities and the big bucks are in candy, soda pop, and highly processed foods.

Andrew Jacbos writes in the NY Times:

Are children who consume prodigious amounts of sugary drinks at higher risk for cardiovascular disease?

Can a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes reduce the risk of hip fractures in older adults?

Should sweetened yogurts be a part of a healthy diet for toddlers making their first foray into solid food?

These and other nutrition-related questions will be addressed on Wednesday when a panel of 20 nutrition scientistsmeeting publicly by videoconference, discusses suggested changes to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommendations that directly impact the eating habits of millions of people through food stamp policies, school lunch menus and the product formulations embraced by food manufacturers.

The guidelines, updated every five years by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, have long prompted jousting among nutrition advocates and food industry interests, like pork producers and soda companies, seeking to influence the final document. But the process this year is especially fraught, given the Trump administration’s skepticism of science and its well-established deference to corporate interests.

More than half of this year’s panel has ties to the food industry, and the scientists leading newly created subcommittees on pregnant women, lactating mothers and toddlers have ties to the baby food industry.

Some groups have criticized federal officials for omitting questions about red meat and salt consumption from the 80 diet-related questions that panel members were charged with answering. And government watchdog groups have questioned the panel’s objectivity.

“Amid a pandemic made worse by diet-related disease that’s hitting black and Indigenous communities hardest, junk food corporations should be paying for their abuses, not stacking scientific panels and official drafting committees,” said Ashka Naik, the research director at the advocacy group Corporate Accountability.

In a statement, the Department of Agriculture said panel members were nominated by the public and that those chosen were required to submit financial disclosure forms that were reviewed by agency staff members for possible conflicts of interest. The entire process, it noted, has garnered 62,000 public comments.

“Throughout the entire 2020-2025 dietary guidelines process, we have relied on the nation’s leading scientists and dietary experts to inform our development of science-based guidelines and have taken numerous steps to promote transparency, integrity, and public involvement,” Pam Miller, the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service Administrator, said in the statement.

The final guidelines, scheduled for release later this year, shape federal food programs in schools, prisons and military bases that sustain one in four Americans.

The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a greater sense of urgency over the guidelines, given emerging research suggesting that people with diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease have a significantly higher risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19.

Such diseases, like Covid-19 itself, have struck African-American and Hispanic communities particularly hard. The members of the nutrition panel, however, are almost all white.

“People of color are already disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases but Covid-19 has really placed a magnifying glass on the health disparities that make us more vulnerable to the pandemic,” said Dr. Yolandra Hancock, a pediatrician and obesity expert at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health. “My concern is that these guidelines, heavily influenced by the food and beverage industry, will dictate what kinds of food are offered at schools and set the eating habits of children, particularly black and brown children, for the rest of their lives.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2020 at 10:24 am

Coincidence? Every Federal Reserve Board Member Is an Old Millionaire

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The subtitle to this post by Matt Stoller hits hard:

Why it’s a problem that a central bank whose job is to organize credit only has creditors in charge.

Stoller writes:

I tried to make this issue a bit shorter than normal, though still packed with peanuts. Here’s what I wrote up:

  • Every Single Member of the Fed Board Is a Millionaire
  • The Federal Trade Commission just did something… good?
  • Trump DOJ Intervening in Foreign Antitrust Cases
  • Apple Relents, Slightly
  • Supermarket Consolidation and Black America
  • Facebook Buys a Mapping Company
  • Big Tech and Trade Agreements

Whom Does the Federal Reserve Notice?

There are five Senate-confirmed members of the Federal Reserve. It won’t surprise you to know that all five of them are millionaires. Here’s a list, with links to their financial disclosure forms. (If you have some time to poke around and find anything interesting, let me know or put it in the comments.)

  • The Chair, Jay Powell, 67, is worth between $20 million and $55 million, the richest Fed Chair in history.
  • Randal Quarles, 62, is worth between $24.7 million and $125 million.
  • Richard H. Clarida, 63, is worth between $9 million and $39 million.
  • Michelle Bowman, 49, is worth between $2 million and $11 million.
  • Lael Brainaird, 58, is worth between $3 million and $11 million.

I’ve gone over the financial disclosure forms of all five of these members, and they are all invested in various forms of indexes. Some are invested in private equity funds, Blackrock iShares, or various other assets referencing financial corporations. These strike me as a violation of Section 10, part 5 of the Federal Reserve Act, which says:

No member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System shall be an officer or director of any bank, banking institution, trust company, or Federal Reserve bank or hold stock in any bank, banking institution, or trust company;

It’s been decades since anyone took conflicts of interest seriously, and I suspect that the Fed has lawyers who can weasel their way into ensuring that Fed board members get to invest in the financial services industry without violating this law. But the statute is there for a reason, which is that the Fed was created in 1913 to take power from Wall Street banks, not to place them on a publicly sanctioned monetary throne. (The original House passed version of the Federal Reserve Act had the Secretary of Agriculture as a Fed Governor, because farmers were the main labor force and borrowing group in the economy back then.)

There’s a more fundamental problem with the arrangement of having an all-millionaire Fed board, aside from any pecuniary gain that might result from all members of the Fed having public positions in which their policy decisions affect their portfolios in similar ways. The Fed is supposed to manage lending and borrowing conditions, but the only people represented among decision-makers are lenders, as opposed to a balance of lenders and borrowers.

America is full of people with credit card debt, student debt, auto debt and medical debt, people who have had trouble getting jobs, or people with bad credit, or entrepreneurs who can’t get loans to build their businesses. Young people. Old people. Middle-aged people, of different races. Yet the Fed board is composed of those with graduate degrees and high net worths, most of whom are in their late 50s or early 60s in terms of age.

In other words, based on their asset ownership and educational credentials alone, no one on the Fed is in touch with the world in which most Americans live. My analysis actually understates the problem, because there are members of the key policy committee at the Fed, known as the Federal Open Markets Committee, that aren’t even appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but are hired by regional bankers to run Fed branches. (I’m not kidding. It was actually a brief flashpoint during the debate over post-financial crisis legislation, whether bankers could continue to hire their own regulators. Barney Frank’s compromise was that they could.)

This lack of representation has serious consequences. In 2017, I reported on how key Fed policymakers mocked unemployed Americans behind closed doors, laughing at and making jokes about them as lazy drug addicts. People didn’t want jobs, according to several officials, one of whom based his commentary on what his wife had told him about her charity work.

These rigid members had to debate Fed board member Sarah Bloom Raskin, who had gone, undercover, to a job fair, to see how employment conditions were on the ground. She was shocked at the poor quality of job offerings, despite what appeared to be a solid economy. Raskin’s undercover attendance at a job fair caused a bit of a stir, because it was a violation of decorum; Fed members simply don’t do such things. Her view, unsurprisingly, was that the Fed should see unemployment as a function of the bad economy, not poor work ethic. I don’t know if anyone on the FOMC has gone to a job fair since Raskin did. But the stack of old millionaires on the board suggests there’s a serious imbalance in terms of representation; there are more private equity barons on the Fed board than people with student debt.

One of the main policy problems in America is that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2020 at 4:41 pm

A Friday-night dump for the history books

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Tonight saw a Friday night news dump that will go into the history books.

Trump tried to fire the US Attorney from the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, who has managed a series of cases against Trump and his allies, including Trump fixer Michael Cohen, Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were indicted for funneling Russian money to Republican candidates for office. Berman is reported to be investigating Trump’s finances, among many other things.

It happened like this: Attorney General William Barr issued a statement announcing that Berman would be stepping down and that Trump would nominate Jay Clayton to replace him. Clayton has never been a prosecutor. He is currently the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but before he took that position he was a lawyer who, among other things, represented Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is the only bank that would work with Trump after his bankruptcies. It might have given him loans he did not repay, and the Russian money-laundering that landed the bank in legal trouble might have helped Trump.

Legal analyst and Congressional staffer Daniel Goldman noted that this whole scenario was unusual. Normally, when a US Attorney leaves, that person’s deputy takes over. Bringing in a replacement from elsewhere meant that “Trump/Barr did not want anyone at SDNY running the office—likely because there was a serious disagreement.”

But then things got crazier. Berman issued his own statement, saying “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor—and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

What’s Berman saying? Well, it might be that Trump’s preference for “acting,” rather than Senate-confirmed, officials has come back to bite him. Berman was not Senate-confirmed; he is an interim U.S. Attorney. By law, the Attorney General can appoint an interim U.S. Attorney for 120 days. At the end of that time, the court can appoint that person indefinitely.

Berman was one of those interim appointees, put in place by Trump’s first Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Berman’s appointment raised an outcry because he was handpicked by Trump. The U.S. Attorney for the SDNY oversees Manhattan and thus the president’s businesses and at least nine Trump properties. Trump went out of his way to take the unusual step of personally interviewing Berman, who donated $2,700 to the Trump campaign, served on the presidential transition team, and was a partner at the law firm where Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani is a member. Democrats vowed to block Berman’s nomination, but never got the chance because Sessions used the workaround so Berman would not come before the Senate.

Now, this means that because Berman was appointed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, not the president, he apparently cannot be removed except by the court, or, possibly, by the president… but not by Barr. Lawyers are fighting over who, exactly, can remove Berman, but that itself says that any challenge he files will land in the courts for months… likely until after the election.

And that’s another notable thing about Berman’s statement. He suggests he is being fired because the administration wants to delay or interrupt an investigation, and his language suggests that both he and the administration know exactly what that investigation is. There are a number of reasons the SDNY might be examining the finances of the president or his family, but former National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested another reason in his forthcoming book: he apparently claims Trump assured Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would fill the SDNY with his own loyalists, which would enable him to do Erdogan a political favor.

As Berman’s predecessor in the job, Preet Bharara tweeted, “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?” President of the Center for American Progress Neera Tanden noted: “To attempt a Friday night massacre 5 months before an election means there’s a pretty big investigation they are trying to kill.”

It seems worth noting that the Supreme Court is about to hand down a decision on whether Deutsche Bank and Trump’s accountants have to hand Trump’s financial records over to Congress and to the Manhattan district attorney, which might well spark legal trouble for the president in New York.

Law professor Stephen Vladeck also asked us to keep in mind that Barr “out-and-out * lied * in a written statement—and in a context in which there could have been little question to him that Berman would publicly call him out for doing so… And he did it anyway.” “Something * really * stinks,” Vladeck concluded.

Something else stinks about this crisis, too, and that is the Tulsa rally the president originally scheduled for tonight. Widespread objection to holding a Trump rally on Juneteenth—the historic celebration of Black freedom– in Tulsa, where a race massacre destroyed the Black community of Greenwood in 1921, forced him to reschedule for tomorrow. But had the rally been held, with media focus on disturbances at it and on the spread of coronavirus there, it seems likely that Berman’s firing would not have gotten much attention.

Indeed, it has seemed all day as if Trump was deliberately stoking trouble in Tulsa. He began today by tweeting a threat: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!” (Americans have a constitutional right to protest.)

Then he made sure his supporters would be in the streets. In consultation with the Secret Service, the Tulsa police chief had asked Tulsa’s mayor to declare a curfew around the BOK Center where the rally will be held. He did so. But Trump pressured the mayor to rescind the curfew, which the mayor did. Trump tweeted “I just spoke to the highly respected Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, who informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters attending the # MAGA Rally…. Enjoy yourselves – thank you to Mayor Bynum!”

This crisis feels big. Trump and Barr know an investigation is out there barreling toward the president, and they are willing to take extraordinary steps, steps that undermine our democracy and threaten our citizenry, to stop it.

—-

Notes:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/19/trump-nominate-sec-chair-clayton-us-attorney-southern-district-330039

Goldman: . . .

Continue reading. At the link are footnotes with links to the news reports and other sources.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2020 at 9:42 am

The Slow Road to Sudden Change

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Ernest Hemingway famously wrote (in The Sun Also Rises):

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

The same phenomenon can be observed in many spheres. Sometimes it’s simply because the incremental change is not noticed until it is glaringly obvious, and the suddenness of the tipping point is an artifact of inattention, but often there truly is an abrupt phase shift, as when the ice breaks up on a lake or river, or when a key log is removed from a log jam.

Rebecca Solnit writes at Literary Hub:

I. The Bonfire

The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire, and how the fuel for the bonfire piled up is worth studying. That is, for a national and international uprising against anti-Black racism and police violence to achieve such scale and power, many must have been ready for it, whether they knew it or not. Not in the sense of planning it or expecting these events, but by having changed their minds and committed their hearts beforehand. For those who were not directly impacted by decades and centuries of racist police violence this great uprising underway is about a long-overdue critical mass of solidarity with the fury and frustration of those directly impacted.  And finally there is something mysterious about why something happens at this moment and not that—in this case why the response to the police killing of George Floyd is so much larger than previous reactions, and why it is having such a widespread impact on Americans understanding of racism.

A great public change is the ratification of innumerable small private changes; the bonfire is a pile of these small changes lit by some unforeseen event. Looking back on the American Revolution, this country’s second president,  John Adams reflected, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities commenced.” Adams was a waffler on slavery, both opposed to it and opposed to strong measures to abolish it, but he offers a useful description of how change works: the revolution was in consciousness; the war with Britain was just an outcome of it. Chateaubriand said something similar of the French Revolution, that it “was accomplished before it occurred.”

CNN reported on June 9, “that 67% of Americans believe the criminal justice system favors white people over black people in this country. And the same percent say that racism is a big problem today, compared to just 49% in 2015, a year after [Michael] Brown’s death in Ferguson… Those findings were echoed in a recent Monmouth University poll that found 57% of Americans believe police are more likely to use excessive force against black people—up from 34% in 2016.” And then the report cited a Republican pollster who exclaimed, “In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply. We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.” But the change in consciousness didn’t happen overnight, or over 30 days; it happened over years, and the organizers—most especially Black Lives Matter, founded in 2013—deserve credit for building this.

You can point to specifics about this moment—the horrific brutality of Floyd’s public death by lynching at the hands of the police. To the frustration and desperation of people who had been locked up and financially crushed by the pandemic and had seen Covid-19, thanks to structural racism, become increasingly a disease of black and brown people. To the years of simmering disgust and rage against the white supremacist destructiveness of Donald J. Trump. But none of these would have signified if the smallest thing hadn’t happened millions of times over: people changed their minds. Or in the case of the young, grew up with minds shaped by something better than the obliviousness and indifference that passed as not being racist in my own youth.

There is a danger of believing, as the Republican pollster seemed to, that this happened all at once, rather than that something slowly growing and changing suddenly became visible. The same misperceptions happened with what got called #MeToo in 2017: several years into a remarkable era of feminist activism, organizing, education, and transformation things suddenly escalated when the Harvey Weinstein stories broke in the New York Times and New Yorker and a number of other stories came tumbling out.

And at last there were consequences where there had been none. Too many pundits and amnesiacs framed that as something that began then and there. It wasn’t a beginning, but a culmination, of decades of work by feminists that resulted in people who believed women deserved equal rights, power, and valuation began to be in charge—to some extent—of what stories got told, who got believed. Gradually, more people who regarded women as people whose rights mattered and voices should be heard had come to play a role the news, the courts, the universities, and it mattered. And so it is with this moment.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.

 

II. The Waterfall

You can think of it as a bonfire. Or a waterfall. The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash.

This had already happened in a way with the pandemic. Suddenly life changed; institutions from schools to air travel largely shut down; the federal government pulled three trillion dollars out of thin air and threw it around; nearly everyone changed their daily life. The status quo’s old excuses that change is impossible got smashed up in the torrent of change. And this too prepared the way for what is happening now. The civil unrest has shifted and grown and had extraordinary effect. Early on people who preferred order to justice carped that riots never change anything, and then out of this uprising monumental change came.

Cities all over the USA are rethinking the funding and parameters of policing and what the alternatives are. Minneapolis, where all this started, actually voted to abolish the police department, and dozens of cities, from Los Angeles to New York, voted to cut funding to the police and in many cases narrow their mission. While all this actual living out of the mandates to #abolishthepolice and #defundthepolice was happening way too many mostly white people around me fussed that #defundthepolice was scary and incoherent and proposed exactly the kind of polite language for reform that has accomplished little in recent years.

It was both a kind of tone policing and a tone deafness about the fact that the people who feared being killed by the police—or mourning those who were—were impatient, six years after the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. and seven after the birth of Black Lives Matter. Impatient and not looking for messaging lessons from white people. The willful incomprehension and disapproval brought back the early days of Occupy Wall Street, when pundits and purse-lipped onlookers were calling the insurrectionary gatherings incoherent and incomprehensible and demanding to know what the demands were, imagining the occupiers as supplicants, not people in earnest conversation with each other about what the alternative to economic injustice might look like. Occupy was immensely effective as it spread across the world, and in the US it reshaped the conversation about the economy in ways that still matter.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

One interesting point, later in the essay:

It is an ongoing mistake to refer to politicians as leaders. Almost all are followers, and they should be if they are to be representatives.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 2:36 pm

Murder exposes Facebook’s Boogaloo problem

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Judd Legum points out in Popular Information how Facebook promotes a violent right-wing anarchist group, a member of which murdered two law-enforcement offices. The column is definitely worth reading (as is Popular Information in general). A small snippet from a column that contains much more:

On June 2, shortly after Underwood’s murder, Facebook announced it would exclude Boogaloo pages from its recommendation engine. “We continue to remove content using boogaloo and related terms when accompanied by statements and images depicting armed violence. We are also preventing these Pages and groups from being recommended on Facebook,” a company spokesperson told Popular Information.

That doesn’t appear to be true. Boogaloo content continues to thrive on Facebook — and many Boogaloo-related pages continue to be included in Facebook’s recommendation engine.

Facebook still recommends the Boogaloo

Popular Information visited Boogaloo Side Quest, a popular Boogaloo page with more than 11,000 followers. Facebook then recommended two other Boogaloo pages: Boog Memes About Living The Dream (23,000 followers) and Rhett E. Boogie 2020 (13,700 followers).

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 9:46 am

The Scientist Who Predicted 2020’s Political Unrest On What Comes Next

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Interesting interview in Vice with a link to the predictions published in 2012. Jamie Clifton interviews Peter Turchin (aka Hari Seldon?):

In 2012, VICE published an article titled, “2012 Is Bullshit; 2020 Is When We’ll Really Be in Trouble”. That headline was fairly prophetic: while 2012 saw the embers of the Arab Spring uprisings and quaint fears of a foretold apocalypse, it had nothing on what we’re experiencing now.

In 2020, the climate is on its deathbed. A global pandemic has killed almost half a million people and sent economies spiralling. The world is finally reckoning with centuries of entrenched racial inequality, with street protests met by a violent response from police and the far-right, exacerbated by an American president who intentionally stokes division among his base.

That 2012 headline was for an interview with the scientist Peter Turchin, whose field of study, “cliodynamics”, tracks “temporally varying processes and the search for causal mechanisms” throughout US history, to essentially predict the future. You can read his team’s assessment of the last ten years here. VICE News recently caught up with him over email to ask what’s coming next.

VICE: When we spoke in 2012, you explained that 2020 would see the next state of upheaval in the US. Do you feel validated? Or were you just always certain it was coming?
Peter Turchin: The theory that made this prediction was validated, rather than me. Of course, nobody could be certain it was coming – future cannot be predicted in any absolute sense.

Fair point. Was there any stage over the last few years where you began to see it coming, though, and could tell what it might be related to?
It is a cumulative thing. The structural trends driving up instability – falling living standards, increasing intra-elite competition and conflict – have actually been going in the wrong direction since roughly 1980, so by 2010, I and my colleagues saw three decades of these trends already.

Furthermore, there were no signs that our political elites were ready to take the appropriate action to reverse these trends. They still aren’t. Then there was a growing wave of suicide terrorism, AKA rampage shootings. Life expectancies of large swaths of the American population actually shrank in absolute terms – I didn’t expect that things would get so bad. The election of Donald Trump is a very good example of a political entrepreneur channeling mass discontent – there are lots of historical examples of this. So, as I said, it was a cumulative thing.

READ: Know Their Names – Seven Stories of Police Brutality in Europe

You also said revolutions start when “members of the elite try to overturn the political order to better suit themselves”. Could you expand on that, knowing what we know now?
As I said, Donald Trump is a good example of intra-elite conflict. In terms of our theory, he started as a frustrated elite aspirant who was attempting to translate his wealth into political power. He was eventually able to do it riding the wave of mass discontent with the established elites in 2016. This resulted in even more polarisation and intra-elite conflict than what we saw before 2016.

Finally, your theory says these periods work in 50-year cycles, but does it predict when this specific period of upheaval will come to an end?
You actually didn’t get this part right – the fundamental dynamic results in very long cycles. So in American history we had two broad cycles. First, there was a rising tide of prosperity and elite unity that peaked around 1820. From there, the crisis indicators rose sharply in the years leading up to the Civil War. Indicators of crisis conditions then dropped slightly from their peak but remained high until 1920 – the years of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Gilded Age and violent labour unrest, and the anarchists. This was our first Age of Discord.

Then the tide shifted; as a result of the reforms introduced during the Progressive Era and clinched in the New Deal, wages rose and political unity grew stronger. The 1950s were . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2020 at 7:35 pm

It Can Happen Here

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In the New York Review of Books Cass R. Sunstein reviews a couple of ominous books about how a public can blind itself to what is happening (review also available in complete form here):

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45
by Milton Mayer, with a new afterword by Richard J. Evans
University of Chicago Press, 378 pp., $20.00 (paper)

Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century
by Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press, 446 pp., $35.00<

Liberal democracy has enjoyed much better days. Vladimir Putin has entrenched authoritarian rule and is firmly in charge of a resurgent Russia. In global influence, China may have surpassed the United States, and Chinese president Xi Jinping is now empowered to remain in office indefinitely. In light of recent turns toward authoritarianism in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines, there is widespread talk of a “democratic recession.” In the United States, President Donald Trump may not be sufficiently committed to constitutional principles of democratic government.

In such a time, we might be tempted to try to learn something from earlier turns toward authoritarianism, particularly the triumphant rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The problem is that Nazism was so horrifying and so barbaric that for many people in nations where authoritarianism is now achieving a foothold, it is hard to see parallels between Hitler’s regime and their own governments. Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imaginable series of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought that it can’t happen again.

But some depictions of Hitler’s rise are more intimate and personal. They focus less on well-known leaders, significant events, state propaganda, murders, and war, and more on the details of individual lives. They help explain how people can not only participate in dreadful things but also stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of them. They offer lessons for people who now live with genuine horrors, and also for those to whom horrors may never come but who live in nations where democratic practices and norms are under severe pressure.

Milton Mayer’s 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free, recently republished with an afterword by the Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, was one of the first accounts of ordinary life under Nazism. Dotted with humor and written with an improbably light touch, it provides a jarring contrast with Sebastian Haffner’s devastating, unfinished 1939 memoir, Defying Hitler, which gives a moment-by-moment, you-are-there feeling to Hitler’s rise. (The manuscript was discovered by Haffner’s son after the author’s death and published in 2000 in Germany, where it became an immediate sensation.)* A much broader perspective comes from Konrad Jarausch’s Broken Lives, an effort to reconstruct the experience of Germans across the entire twentieth century. What distinguishes the three books is their sense of intimacy. They do not focus on historic figures making transformative decisions. They explore how ordinary people attempted to navigate their lives under terrible conditions.

Haffner’s real name was Raimund Pretzel. (He used a pseudonym so as not to endanger his family while in exile in England.) He was a journalist, not a historian or political theorist, but he interrupts his riveting narrative to tackle a broad question: “What is history, and where does it take place?” He objects that most works of history give “the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved, who happen to be ‘at the helm of the ship of state’ and whose deeds and decisions form what is called history.” In his view, that’s wrong. What matters are “we anonymous others” who are not just “pawns in the chess game,” because the “most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.” Haffner insists on the importance of investigating “some very peculiar, very revealing, mental processes and experiences,” involving “the private lives, emotions and thoughts of individual Germans.”


Mayer had the same aim. An American journalist of German descent, he tried to meet with Hitler in 1935. He failed, but he did travel widely in Nazi Germany. Stunned to discover a mass movement rather than a tyranny of a diabolical few, he concluded that his real interest was not in Hitler but in people like himself, to whom “something had happened that had not (or at least not yet) happened to me and my fellow-countrymen.” In 1951, he returned to Germany to find out what had made Nazism possible.

In They Thought They Were Free, Mayer decided to focus on ten people, different in many respects but with one characteristic in common: they had all been members of the Nazi Party. Eventually they agreed to talk, accepting his explanation that he hoped to enable the people of his nation to have a better understanding of Germany. Mayer was truthful about that and about nearly everything else. But he did not tell them that he was a Jew.

In the late 1930s—the period that most interested Mayer—his subjects were working as a janitor, a soldier, a cabinetmaker, an office manager, a baker, a bill collector, an inspector, a high school teacher, and a police officer. One had been a high school student. All were male. None of them occupied positions of leadership or influence. All of them referred to themselves as “wir kleine Leute, we little people.” They lived in Marburg, a university town on the river Lahn, not far from Frankfurt.

Mayer talked with them over the course of a year, under informal conditions—coffee, meals, and long, relaxed evenings. He became friends with each (and throughout he refers to them as such). As he put it, with evident surprise, “I liked them. I couldn’t help it.” They could be ironic, funny, and self-deprecating. Most of them enjoyed a joke that originated in Nazi Germany: “What is an Aryan? An Aryan is a man who is tall like Hitler, blond like Goebbels, and lithe like Göring.” They also could be wise. Speaking of the views of ordinary people under Hitler, one of them asked:

Opposition? How would anybody know? How would anybody know what somebody else opposes or doesn’t oppose? That a man says he opposes or doesn’t oppose depends upon the circumstances, where, and when, and to whom, and just how he says it. And then you must still guess why he says what he says.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”


Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.”

Mayer did not bring up the topic of anti-Semitism with any of his subjects, but after a few meetings, each of them did so on his own, and they returned to it constantly. When the local synagogue was burned in 1938, most of the community was under only one obligation: “not to interfere.” Eventually Mayer showed his subjects the local newspaper from November 11, 1938, which contained a report: “In the interest of their own security, a number of male Jews were taken into custody yesterday. This morning they were sent away from the city.” None of them remembered seeing it, or indeed anything like it.

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.” In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”


Focusing largely on 1933, in Defying Hitler Haffner offers a radically different picture, in which the true nature of Nazism was evident to many Germans from the start. Just twenty-five years old that year and studying law with the goal of becoming a judge or administrator, he describes the mounting effects of Nazism on the lives of his high-spirited friends and fellow students, who were preoccupied with fun, job prospects, and love affairs. Haffner says that as soon as the Nazis took power, he was saved by his capacity to smell the rot:

As for the Nazis, my nose left me with no doubts. It was just tiresome to talk about which of their alleged goals and intentions were still acceptable or even “historically justified” when all of it stank. How it stank! That the Nazis were enemies, my enemies and the enemies of all I held dear, was crystal clear to me from the outset.

As Haffner describes it, a form of terror began quickly, as members of the SS made their presence felt, intimidating people in public places. At the same time, citizens were distracted by an endless stream of festivities and celebrations. The intimidation, accompanied by the fervent, orchestrated pro-Nazi activity, produced an increase in fear, which led many skeptics to become Nazis. Nonetheless, people flirted, enjoyed romances, “went to the cinema, had a meal in a small wine bar, drank Chianti, and went dancing together.” Sounding here like Mayer’s subjects, Haffner writes that it was the “automatic continuation of ordinary life” that “hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Government, Law, Politics

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Permanent Assumptions

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Morgan Housel writes at Collaborative Fund:

If you were told in January what April would look like, you wouldn’t have believed it. If you were told in April that in May we’d face a nationwide protest so important it would crowd out almost all Covid-19 news, you wouldn’t have believed it.

How do you analyze the world when everything feels broken?

And how do you even begin to make sense of the future when things change so fast?

Humbly, is the answer.

But humility doesn’t mean clueless.

Some things are always changing and can’t be known. There can also be a handful of things you have unshakable faith in – your permanent assumptions.

Realizing it’s not inconsistent to have no view about the future path of some things but unwavering views about the path of others is how you stay humble without giving up. And the good news when the world is a dark cloud of uncertainty is that those permanent assumptions tend to be what matter most over time.


Amazon is successful because it predicted how the world would change. But it’s been really successful because it bet heavily on what wouldn’t change – a permanent assumption. Jeff Bezos said:

You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher.” Or, “I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little slower.” Impossible.

So we know the energy we put into these things today will still be paying off dividends 10 years from now. When you have something you know is true, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

When you have something you know is true, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it. That’s why permanent assumptions are important.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next in the economy or society. But I have a handful of permanent assumptions I’ve put a lot of energy and faith into that guide almost everything I think about business and investing.

Here are nine.

1. More people wake up every morning wanting to solve problems than wake up looking to cause harm. But people who cause harm get more attention than people who solve problems. So slow progress amid a drumbeat of bad news is the normal state of affairs.

2. The world breaks about once a decade. There are so few exceptions it’s astounding. It can be economic, political, military, social, or a mix. But it breaks all time, in ways few see coming. The breaks aren’t as scary if you have a permanent assumption that they’ll keep happening and don’t preclude long-term growth.

3. Stories are more powerful than statistics. And most statistics are incomplete props to justify a story. Stories are easier to remember, easier to relate to, and emotionally persuasive.

4. Nothing too good or too bad stays that way forever, because great times plant the seeds of their own destruction through complacency and leverage, and bad times plant the seeds of their own turnaround through opportunity and panic-driven problem-solving.

5. Knowing there will be a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2020 at 2:07 pm

Corporate Power, Protests and the Breakdown of a Social Contract

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

In 2012, I published a law review article titled “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” predicting the rise of protests and social disorder on the one hand and authoritarian politics on the other. I wrote it after several years as a Congressional staffer working on the bailouts, Federal Reserve transparency, and the foreclosure crisis. The trends playing out now were evident back then.

With that in mind, today I’m going to make a few observations about the relationship of corporate power to protest. It’s hard not to have sympathy for the aims of the protesters, considering the murder of George Floyd is just the latest in a long line of obvious and flagrant violent acts. I do suspect that the outpouring of anger reflects something deeper than frustration with police brutality. There’s a broad sense of impotence, and not just among protesters, a feeling that our social contract has broken down, that we no longer have the means to come together and address social problems via politics.

This is something of a long essay, because these are delicate topics, but if you want the short version, here you go: Protestors Criticized For Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First, an article in The Onion.

And now…

Wall Street, the New Deal and Jim Crow

William Levitt was the creator of the modern post-WWII suburb, and in many ways, his thinking illustrated how we chose to structure a key part of the long New Deal era, in the form of the American home. Two quotes illustrate his views. First, he argued for homeownership as an important instrument in social order. “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist,” he said. “He has too much to do.” In other words, a working person with a stake in society takes seriously their obligation to society, whereas someone with no stake has nothing to lose and turns radical.

The 1940s through the 1970s was a time when Wall Street had lost its power and relevance, and the American economic order was a diversified mix of manufacturing, agriculture, services, social welfare, military equipment, research, and high-technology. The collapse of financiers and monopolists was epitomized by the public financing of housing stock that enabled Levitt to build what he did. America had an increasingly empowered middle and working class.

And yet, this era co-existed with a fascist Jim Crow regime in the South enforced by vigilante terrorism against the black population, especially black leaders who were economically empowered. There was wide and broad cultural support for segregation, though not the specific violent tactics used to uphold such an order. As an example, just 4% of Americans in 1958 approved of black-white interracial marriage.

Segregation in the North was almost as bad as it was in the south, but was organized through economic arrangements, not public Jim Crow statutes but private contract law. Levitt, whose first suburbs were in the North, believed that racial segregation was a necessary mechanism to address the serious housing shortage Americans confronted. “We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem,” Levitt argued. “But we can’t combine the two.”

There was a massive housing shortage immediately after World War II, because America essentially hadn’t built any housing stock since 1933. Levitt was a businessman, but he refused to integrate his housing developments racially, and had white-only covenants which made it impossible for black people to buy into his suburbs. Broadly speaking, Levitt was reflecting the social consensus of the era.

While bigotry was a widely held cultural attitude, racism as an institutional phenomenon was buried in every nook and cranny of the American order. It was not just police violence, Jim Crow laws, or the subtext of vigilante racial terrorism, though those were the most obvious signposts. There were serious disparities in health care treatment, access to capital, auto insurance, business insurance, patent law, hiring decisions, housing, media ownership, transportation, education and nutrition options, not to mention the endless number of opportunities closed off because of segregated social networks. Most of these disparities still exist. Even today, with an increasingly wealthy number of black businesspeople, monopolists like Comcast undermine the ability of black business leaders to operate as independent sellers of content.

Throughout American history, racism and corporate power have intersected in a variety of important ways. Sometimes our market structures have aided the struggle for racial liberation, sometimes they’ve impeded it, and oftentimes racial backlash has been used as a pretext to implement autocratic economic policies. There are moments when economic inequality comes wrapped in the language of justice, and moments when those who seek broad economic equality diminish the importance of racial discrimination. The relationship between corporate power and racism is not simple.

So to look at the post-war suburban creation as purely a moment of monstrous and publicly sanctioned racism is to miss that the Jim Crow order was weakening because of some of the same trends propelling Levitt’s success. Jim Crow, as I’ve written, was a *deal* between Northern monopolists and Southern whites, and it was both social and economic in orientation.

Attacks in the 1930s on financiers undermined racial segregation by replacing monopolists with public institutions responsive to a broad middle class. FDR in the 1930s made fun of Virginia Senator Harry Byrd, a segregationist Democrat who had grown wealthy growing apples. In one instance where Byrd opposed a program to put Americans to work, FDR told a subordinate Rex Tugwell, “I know what’s the matter with Byrd, he’s afraid you’ll force him to pay more than ten cents for his apple pickers.” Roosevelt did not attack segregation directly, but he did attack its economic roots. The Civil Rights movement then built on top of the political structure Roosevelt created. Political leaders, and black and white activists, sought the same economic and political empowerment for blacks that the New Deal had offered to whites.

The narrative of Jim Crow as an economic deal was first characterized in rigorous scholarly detail by W.E.B. Dubois in the 1930s in Black Reconstruction, and then reiterated by C. Vann Woodward in the The Strange Career of Jim Crow. There’s been a lot of critical and important scholarship advancing and critiquing these ideas, but Martin Luther King Jr. called Woodward’s book the “the historical Bible of the civil rights movement.” At Selma in 1965, MLK said the following.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.
By the time MLK spoke these words, the collapse of Jim Crow was evident. Woodward dubbed the post-war era a “Second Reconstruction,” analogizing it to the hopeful period after the Civil War when America had a brief chance to forge a racially egalitarian nation.

In the 1950s and 1960s, racial terrorism existed, lynchings were common, and racism was open and brutal, but gone were the days of the 1920s, when the Democratic Party feuded over whether to openly align with the Ku Klux Klan, which was then so powerful it could elect Governors and Senators all over the country. From the 1940s onward, blacks were moving out of the South due to a low unemployment rate organized by New Deal economists, and income among blacks rose at roughly twice the rate as whites for decades, albeit from a much lower base. Lifespans too closed a yawing gap.

America did chip away at these immoral racial disparities, slowly and incompletely, until the late 1960s. We used politics in the 1930s to restore economic liberties to citizens, and then we gradually broadened the scope of who could be a citizen. It is easy to sound callous in making this observation; someone killed by racial violence in the 1960s never got to experience the improved circumstances. Broadly, though, circumstances for lot of people began getting better, though not quickly enough.

And then came the 1970s, and the attack on racial egalitarianism. This was framed not as attacking the idea of racial equality, but on its economic underpinning, the New Deal. As Judith Stein observed in Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies as well as Running Steel, Running America, policymakers like Paul Volcker, Jimmy Carter, and William Simon chose to trade away increasing chunks of the middle class through offshoring jobs for geopolitical purposes. There were legitimate problems with the New Deal order, such as bad regulations, a loosening financial order, and gruesome errors like the Vietnam War, so change was coming regardless. But the change we sought was to elevate the political power of financial middlemen, and downgrade the political power of workers, farmers, engineers, and businesspeople.

As Stein chronicled, this was most evident in the deindustrialization of unionized heavy industry. Offshoring steel and automobile production had a special role in fueling racial tensions. White workers usually had a longer tenure of work, and according to union rules would be the last laid off because of this tenure. So offshoring would cause black layoffs first, and then white layoffs. Civil rights groups rightfully understood that as racist, but few recognized the largest context that racial tension was a result of white and black workers feuding over a smaller and smaller pie.

In my research, what I found is that an increasingly upscale neoliberal Republican and Democratic Party elite were oblivious to the underlying dynamics at play. The New Right, led by Ronald Reagan, was animated by racial backlash politics and social conservatives, as well as a goal of rolling back the New Deal order of constraining corporate power. Still, Robert Bork, an intellectual leader of the Reagan revolution, never achieved the conservative popular culture he wanted, but he did end antitrust law and public constraints on financiers.

The left, meanwhile, did not understand that the Civil Rights movement was built on top of the New Deal, and many were obsessed with New Age rhetoric, elite technocracy, and consumer and environmental politics. Futurist Alvin Toffler talked of getting rid of that “old New Deal clap-trap” and was a constant presence at Democratic party convenings in the mid-1970s, as well as an advisor to Al Gore. Michael Milken, the godfather of private equity, used countercultural rhetoric in his justification for financial power, saying in the 1970s, “Unlike other crusaders from Berkeley, I have chosen Wall Street as my battleground for improving society.” (He’s still at it today, pretending he was inspired to work in junk bonds after talking to a young black man following the Watts riots in 1965. “I was 19,” Milken recalled in 2016. “Everything I knew, I had to rethink. I changed my major from physics and math to business.”)

Culturally speaking, America is far less bigoted than it used to be. In the 1950s, virtually no one approved of intermarriage between blacks and whites, and even into the 1990s, a majority of Americans still did not approve of it. Today intermarriage rates are higher than they ever have been, and 87% of Americans favor interracial marriage. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And note his conclusion:

. . .  What I found in researching housing is that Levitt was a small part of a specific social contract, one in which a house would be the focal point for a white community, a school, a neighborhood, as well as a forced savings vehicle. Income growth, aka raises, would structure the middle class, which was rooted in producing things. The Federal Reserve, though the banking system’s connection to housing, could control swings in the economy, connecting the financial elite to the middle class directly. This contract existed because working class people had power, and were willing to seek other social organizational forms if they did not have their needs met.

Ronald Reagan shifted this social contract, by making the home a financial asset more than a bulwark of community. People no longer really got raises, but they were able to continue consumption by drawing down on savings and borrowing, a substitute of credit for income. The 1980s saw mass offshoring, as America turned increasingly into a rentier economy. The connection from the Fed to the real economy was weaker, but it still held. It was in this era that black people were finally able to buy homes, and so they never were able to build wealth as white people had. And most people were falling behind.

The housing crisis of 2007-2012 snapped the spine of the Reagan-era weaker social contract. Bankers and politician not only didn’t stop the foreclosure crisis, but began asserting that homeownership wasn’t an important social goal. The Federal Reserve’s strategy turned entirely towards buying or selling the financial assets of the wealthy as a means of engaging in macro-economic stabilizing. And so, leaving aside the moral validity of any particular movement, popular radicalism returned, on the right and the left. in the the form of the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Trump, right-wing anger at lockdowns, and now protests over police brutality, as well as riots.

To take just one issue, and not the only one at issue, reducing police brutality is a question of leadership, of bureaucratic management, and it requires the ability to come together as citizens and do politics. But since the 1980s, predatory financial elites have worked aggressively to break our public institutions so that we can’t collectively do politics. In some cases, they adopted the rhetorical form of racial tolerance while fighting its economic underpinning, in other cases they adopted the rhetoric of racial backlash. Either way, they have destroyed the ability of citizens to come together and do politics to foster needed social change.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, has dedicated his whole career to blocking democratic institutions from functioning, with the goal of putting conservative judges on the bench so they can write the law, immune from popular social pressure. That’s a brilliant strategy for maintaining rigid social hierarchies, but it doesn’t allow for any release of social pressure except despair and popular explosions.

We now have two paths. Restoring a stable social contract broadly will mean restoring the ability to do politics, to rearrange our productive capacity in ways that are safer, more efficient, and more fair, which will necessarily mean a reorganization of power. Or it will require a far more authoritarian society, one in which we accept a much higher level of security spending to protect a narrow elite from a disempowered and angry populace.

Either way we go, William Levitt understood that people without a stake in society tend to rebel. And that is what we are seeing play out.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2020 at 3:12 pm

The direction the US is going: The Messengers

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Maddy Crowell writes in the Virginia Quarterly Review:

The offices of Caravan, a small but influential Indian monthly magazine, are housed on the third floor of a Soviet-style building in New Delhi. For a long time, Vinod Jose, the magazine’s executive editor, didn’t give much thought to the view outside his window: a budding thicket of gulmohar trees where, down below, smokers convened in small circles on their lunch break. But then, a few years ago, the view began to change. The netted steel cage of a new building began to rise out of the foliage, piquing Jose’s interest: It would be, he soon found out, the New Delhi headquarters for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s most powerful right-wing Hindu-nationalist organization, and a longtime fixation of Jose’s journalistic career.

“A colleague once told me that if he were writing a profile of me, that this would be the opening scene,” Jose said, gesturing to his view of the RSS headquarters, when we met in April 2019. Jose, who is forty and speaks in tranquil bursts, carries himself with a calm authority that can often feel out of place in Delhi’s cacophony. He crossed his office, passing precariously stacked books and locked filing cabinets with labels such as “The Gujarat Files” and “Amit Shah,” then fell into a worn swivel chair. For Jose—one of India’s more subversive journalists, and my former boss when I was an intern at Caravan six years ago—pointing out a good opening scene was no different than providing me with the weather forecast for the day. His life and his journalism are practically inseparable.

He was right: The scene was, indeed, a good metaphor. Caravan and the RSS are intimate adversaries in the Indian public sphere. Founded in 1925, the RSS has long advocated for India to abandon its pluralistic ambitions and become an entirely Hindu nation—an idea that has only gained strength since Narendra Modi, an early protégé of the group, was first elected prime minister in 2014 through the RSS’s unofficial political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Caravan, meanwhile, has embraced a mission of protecting India’s tradition of democracy and religious pluralism, more often than not through exhaustive investigations into the RSS and its affiliates.

For the most part, confrontations between the magazine and the nationalist organization have remained in the courts and online. This should go without saying in just about any democracy, but lately there has been concern that a story could lead to actual violence. In one incident, a few months before Modi’s election, Caravan published an explosive cover story based on a series of interviews with Swami Aseemanand, a right-wing Hindu monk who claimed that the RSS had been aware of his plans to bomb multiple venues targeting Muslims from 2006 to 2008, attacks that left more than a hundred dead. The day the story was published, around one hundred RSS protestors gathered outside Caravan’s offices, waving the party’s saffron flags and carrying signs reading ban anti-hindu caravan as they set fire to copies of the magazine. That morning, Jose received dozens of calls, to both his office and cell phone, from anonymous numbers: “We are coming for you,” several callers told him; another screamed “motherfucker” and threatened, vaguely, to “stop” the magazine. Police and private security arrived to prevent protesters from entering the building, while television reporters covered the chaos outside. Since the protests, menace toward the magazine has persisted in the shadowy, nebulous way that most journalists are pressured these days: online trolls, breaches of its computer network, and, in Caravan’s case, a handful of defamation lawsuits.

Living under a constant, simmering threat is, for Jose, evidence that he’s doing something right as a journalist. Nearly every day, he receives ominous online messages that accuse him of being “rabidly anti-Hindu” or “anti-national” or a “Christian bigot” or “DEEP STATE JOURNALIST VINOD K JOSE…FROM COMMIE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.” Jose is almost certain that his cell phone is bugged, not to mention the entire Caravan office. Six months after Modi first became prime minister, Jose fired his personal driver, who had been acting suspiciously; friends, meanwhile, began warning him to take different routes to work each day, just in case.

As tense as the atmosphere was for India’s free press following Modi’s first election, things have only worsened since. A number of editors claim to have been bullied by Modi loyalists seeking to remove online coverage that was critical of the BJP; newspapers that have published negative stories have been penalized financially, often through the loss of government-funded advertisements. At the same time, journalists at mainstream outlets have become ever more explicit, if not boastful, about their political connections. When Arun Jaitley, the BJP’s finance minister, died in August 2019, a reporter from one of India’s largest television channels, Times Now, tweeted: “I’ve lost my Guiding Light my mentor. Who will I call every morning now?”

Most sinister of all, the censorship of Modi’s critics has escalated into violence. Since he first came into office, twelve journalists have been killed because of their work, and at least nine have been imprisoned. In 2017, the prominent journalist and editor Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in the early evening in front of her estate in Bangalore. Lankesh, an outspoken feminist and human-rights activist famous for her left-wing tabloidesque attacks on Hindu-nationalist figures, was a close friend of Jose’s—the two had worked together covering contentious riots in Goa in 2005. Her death confirmed the seriousness of what Indian journalists were up against under the new regime. Not long after, a right-wing nationalist followed by Modi on Twitter posted: “One bitch dies a dog’s death all the puppies cry in the same tune.”

After Lankesh’s murder, Jose began implementing protocols for Caravan’s staff to follow: All communications are now handled on encrypted channels, such as ProtonMail or Signal (WhatsApp, he believes, is compromised in India), and reporters working on sensitive stories are instructed to be especially vigilant in protecting their sources. And yet, like almost everyone else I spoke with at Caravan, Jose wasn’t all that interested in talking about the government’s intimidation. “You . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows what can happen.

Later in the article:

. . . One of the best known of those features was written by Jose in 2012—an eighteen-thousand-word profile of Modi, a star of the BJP who was rumored to be considering a run for prime minister. The article traces Modi’s political evolution, beginning at age eight, when he volunteered to join an RSS training camp in his hometown in Gujarat, to his ascent as one of the BJP’s leading figures. At the same time, the story exposed the inner workings of one of the most powerful political machines in India’s modern history. “The story of Narendra Modi,” Jose wrote, “is also the story of a series of organizations under which he was nurtured and trained,” the most important of which, he argued, was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

According to Jose, to understand Modi’s rise is to understand a history nearly one hundred years in the making—one that begins with the birth of the Hindu-nationalist movement in 1925, when an Indian doctor named K. B. Hedgewar founded the RSS. Hedgewar was concerned that the Hindu identity—which he saw not just as a religion but as an entire race—needed to be protected, purified, and preserved from other religions, and believed India’s Muslims and Christians were actually descendants of Hindus who had been converted to their respective religions by force.

A self-proclaimed admirer of European fascists, Hedgewar soon established military training camps in his hometown of Nagpur, in central India, in order to tutor young Hindus in combat techniques using swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears often seen in Hindu mythology), explosives, and gas cylinders. After Hedgewar died, in 1940, the group’s new “supreme director,” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, maintained the RSS’s extremist views, writing glowingly of Nazi Germany in his popular manifesto, We, or Our Nationhood Defined. “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture,” Golwalkar wrote, “Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.” To Golwalkar, India was not a pluralistic, religiously diverse country but “Hindusthan”: To him, Muslims and Christians were godless “invaders.”  . ..

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2020 at 2:11 pm

“Police Blinded Me in One Eye. I Can Still See Why My Country’s on Fire.”

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Linda Tirado writes in The New Republic:

I have been weeping since Friday night, because that is the night I was shot in the face. I have, since then, begun to piece together what happened to me: It wasn’t a rubber bullet, it was a foam bullet. I was standing near Minneapolis’s Third Police Precinct. I will not regain sight in my left eye. I will need more surgeries. But I have not been crying for my lost vision; rather, it feels as though my body is reacting to what is happening to my country.

This has been coming for years; anyone with wisdom has felt it in their bones. You cannot elevate to leadership the most base elements of humanity, the most amoral and reckless and cruel, and think that things will go well for the nation. Back in 2016, a week or so before the presidential election, I wrote a piece about how Donald Trump’s campaign speeches were openly fascist, how they spiked fear in those parts of my soul that remember being raised as a nativist. Back then, you couldn’t say Trumpism was a form of fascism—it was considered a bit hysterical.

That remained true in mainstream consensus throughout 2017 and 2018. Sometime last year, more people started to realize that the norms were shattering, and they weren’t reassembling by way of any magnetic properties of self-healing constitutionalism. It was after we put migrant kids in camps and after the president started encouraging people to batter the press and after impeachment, but before the current stage of authoritarian collapse, which has us gassing clergy and desecrating churches for photo ops. Fascism is always a slow slide into routinized mayhem, noticeable to most people only in retrospect.

Since I was shot, I have been worldwide front-page news: China is using my bloodied face as propaganda, for instance. Hundreds, if not thousands, of interview requests have flooded in. All anyone wants to talk about is freedom of the press, if I am angry, what I will do next. I think that I am angry—but no more than I was this time last week, when I was watching America burn for the pleasure of our vainglorious leader. I lost an eye; George Floyd lost his life. What right do I have to rage on my own behalf?

I rage instead on behalf of my country, for the hundreds of millions of people who were appalled when Trump administration officials tried to change the words of Emma Lazarus into a brief for white resentment. I rage for the irony of the line “yearning to breathe free,” because we would not have our cities ablaze had our leadership cared an instant for the freedom or breath of those it considers its opposition, which is to say the citizenry.

If we must talk about press freedom, we must also talk about the First Amendment’s absolute guarantee of freedom of peaceable assembly—and the fact that it is the police, not some mythic rogue formation of antifa saboteurs, who are escalating conflicts. We know this because journalists keep documenting it, and because any person in a demonstration can become a momentary journalist if they have a cell phone and a data connection. We have seen the violent thugs in their stormtrooper uniforms joyfully unleashing violence, spitting on citizens during a pandemic, running civilians over with their SUVs, saying fuck your rights—and worse, fuck your life.

I have lost half of my vision, but I lack no clarity: There can be no peace without justice, and no justice without full-throated, damningly righteous anger. I am asked over and over again why are people burning and looting, and I wonder what anyone thinks they would do if they spent their whole lives being told they were lesser than and not equal, and then one day they woke up to a police state.

We saw this six years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, where I was embedded for weeks in the protest zone, sleeping in a tent with a group of youths who called themselves Lost Voices. It’s important to remember that the designated protest zone was about five blocks of a street called Florissant—and that people lived in cul-de-sacs off that street. That meant they had to drive through the tear gas and chaos to take their children home safely. Once police gassed the children, mothers broke down the glass door of the McDonald’s trying to get milk for their babies’ eyes. Employees were throwing milk to them, rushing to the back cooler to get more because tear gas is self-evidently bad for children. None of this got mentioned in the next day’s reporting from the mainstream press, which simply recited that the McDonald’s was looted.

A few days after that, I was taking photos on the highway where protesters were blocking traffic. Media were behind concrete barriers, clearly working as press rather than participants. An officer dressed all in black with plastic shin guards and elbow pads, dangling zip ties from his belt, pepper-sprayed me point-blank in the face. I have a picture of him somewhere, three feet away from me, shot when my camera was staring down the muzzle of his chemical weapon, and the hatred and glee twisting his face still gives me nightmares.

I am thinking about him a lot in recent days, as I watch footage of TV crews being arrested on live air and police spraying what they call “less lethal” rounds into crowds indiscriminately. I am thinking about him as I scroll Twitter, where brave men hide behind burner accounts to tell me “play stupid games win stupid prizes”—alt-right shorthand for calling me a traitor, to either the country or my race. In their discursive world, good white ladies are not supposed to scream that Black lives matter or point out the bigotry inherent in a system of law enforcement that started with slave patrols. White women, to those kinds of men, are not supposed to do much of anything except be quiescent until it is time to have babies or furnish a sexual pretext for some good old-fashioned racism. We are certainly not supposed to refuse to learn our lesson, even after we have been punished by having an eye put out.

Perhaps my best and worst quality is my defiance: I am . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2020 at 3:48 pm

Heather Cox Richardson on May 30

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Dr. Richardson writes:

It is too early to know what is actually happening inside the protests and riots happening in cities across the country, especially Minneapolis, after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin there on Monday. That is, we know there are protests and looting and violence, but who is doing what remains unclear, and will stay unclear for a while. There are plenty of videos and tweets, but they can only give us windows into events, not a full picture.

That being said, there do seem to be some patterns emerging.

The protests began as Black Americans and allies protested Floyd’s murder, coming, as it did, after a number of similar murders—such as Breonna Taylor’s, shot in her own home during a botched police raid—that illuminated police brutality against Black Americans. Quickly, though, the protests appeared to turn into something else, as more people—possibly (and I would guess probably) from outside the cities—rushed in to create chaos.

It is not clear who these people are. This morning, Trump tweeted that the protesters at the White House were “professionally organized,” and midday, Attorney General Barr gave a hasty press conference in which he claimed that “outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.” He said, “in many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far-left extremist groups, using antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from outside the state to promote the violence.”

There is currently no evidence that what Barr said is true.

He went on to say “It is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting, and we will enforce those laws.” After Barr spoke, Trump tweeted: “80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE. They are harming businesses (especially African American small businesses), homes, and the community of good, hardworking Minneapolis residents who want peace, equality, and to provide for their families.” He added: “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!”

About the same time Barr was speaking, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter told reporters that “Every single person we arrested last night, I’m told, was from out of state,” and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz estimated that 80% of those destroying property were from out of state. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey added: “We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out-of-state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region.” The Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said they had begun tracing those they arrested to see if they were part of larger networks.

A preliminary study today by local network KARE found that, in fact, 86% of those arrested were from Minnesota. Of the others, at least one was associated with a white supremacist group.

While we cannot know yet what’s going on now, it is of note that the president has encouraged violence lately in his tweets, retweeting a video in which a supporter says “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and a famous line from segregationist politician George Wallace “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

In some places, police are deescalating protests and things are calming. In others, they seem to be deliberately escalating riots and violence.

In the places the police are escalating the riots, they seem to be targeting journalists and photographers, as well as people of color—there are harrowing videos of young men dragged from cars or from the street and mobbed by officers. Multiple stories tonight tell of journalists arrested or shot with rubber bullets, even after identifying themselves as press. One has lost an eye.

This recalls the president’s constant attacks on the press. He has tweeted the phrases “Fake News” and “Enemy of the People” 796 times, and suggested in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he, Trump, should “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia [where Putin has journalists killed], but we do.”

If we cannot yet fully know the dynamics of the protests, there are a few things we do know.

First, the protests have wiped from public discussion all the major stories that were distressing Trump: the deadly toll of the coronavirus and his administration’s abysmal response to the pandemic, the skyrocketing unemployment as the economy falters, and Friday’s revelations about his 2016 campaign team’s collaboration with Russian spies.

Second, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2020 at 10:04 am

The Pillage of India

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I found this book review interesting because I’m getting the feeling that the US is being pillaged as well. Christopher de Ballaigue writes in the NY Review of Books:

The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire
by William Dalrymple
Bloomsbury, 522 pp., $35.00

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
by Shashi Tharoor
Melbourne: Scribe, 294 pp., $17.95 (paper)

In the eighteenth century a career with the East India Company was a throw of the dice for unattached young British men. Arriving in India wan and scurvy after a year at sea, many quickly succumbed to disease, madness, or one of the innumerable little wars that the company fought in order to embed itself on the subcontinent. The salary was hardly an incentive. In the 1720s junior clerks, or “writers,” received just £5 per year, not enough to live on in Bengal or Madras and a pittance when set against the handsome 8 percent annual dividend the company’s shareholders awarded themselves back in London. Such drawbacks tended to put off all but those whom circumstances had already disfavored: second sons, members of the down-at-heel Anglo-Irish gentry, dispossessed Scottish landowners who had backed the losing side in a rebellion against the crown.

Being on the company payroll was rather a means to an end; moonlighting was where the money lay in one of the richest places on earth. In 1700 India is estimated to have accounted for 27 percent of the world economy and a quarter of the global textile trade. A considerable number of company employees who survived the shock of arrival went on to make fortunes from off-books trading in textiles, saltpeter, indigo, opium, salt, tobacco, betel, rice, and sugar; sidelines also included selling Mughal-issued tax exemptions and lending money to distressed Indian grandees.

The wills of company officials in the early 1780s show that one in three left their wealth to Indian wives, or as one put it, “the excellent and respectable Mother of my two children for whom I feel unbounded love and affection and esteem.” Others went home. Newly enriched returnees elbowed their way into high society and were rewarded with a moniker, “nabob,” which derived from an Indian word for prince, nawab, and signified an Indian-made plutocrat of boundless amorality.

Neither the directors in Leadenhall Street, the company’s headquarters in the City of London, nor the Mughal authorities who had granted the company its trading privileges in return for “presents” and taxes, approved of the nabobs’ freelancing. But the directors didn’t particularly mind, provided that the thirty-odd ships that sailed east every year from England’s south coast returned laden with luxury imports, along with a share of the taxes collected from the Indian enclaves that the company controlled. All the while the authority of the emperor, the unwarlike Shah Alam, was crumbling under the pressure of repeated Maratha, Afghan, and Iranian incursions into the Mughal heartland of the Gangetic Plain. These and the foragings of another group of armed Europeans, the French Compagnie des Indes, turned what the Mughal chronicler Fakir Khair ud-Din Illahabadi called “the once peaceful abode of India” into “the abode of Anarchy.”

Through adroit use of its well-trained, disciplined armies, over the course of the eighteenth century the company expanded its influence inland from the three littoral “Presidencies” of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. By the 1750s, William Dalrymple tells us in The Anarchy, his new account of the rise of the company, it accounted for almost an eighth of Britain’s total imports of £8 million and contributed nearly a third of a million pounds to the home exchequer in annual customs duties.

Awell-known historian both in his native Britain and his adoptive India, where he cofounded what may be the world’s biggest literary festival, at Jaipur, Dalrymple has influenced the scholarly as well as the popular understanding of South Asian history through his use of both European and Indian sources, thus uniting the halves of a previously bisected whole. (To pick just two examples from the extensive company literature, both John Keay’s 1993 book, The Honourable Company, which also deals with its extensive involvement in Southeast Asia, and Nick Robins’s commercial history, The Corporation That Changed the World, from 2012, are entirely reliant on British sources.) Dalrymple’s ability to present events from an Indian as well as a European perspective owes much to his mining of the National Archives in Delhi and his collaboration with the late Bruce Wannell, a waspish global flaneur and gifted linguist who lived in a tent on Dalrymple’s lawn in South Delhi while translating Mughal-era texts for him.

The company was transformed into an instrument of imperialism under Robert Clive, a terse, pugnacious delinquent from Shropshire. After arriving in Madras as a writer in 1744, Clive distinguished himself on the battlefield, making up in daring what he lacked in experience. In 1752 he and a fellow officer led a company force that took prisoner almost three thousand troops from the Compagnie des Indes, for which he was rewarded with a lucrative sinecure.

In 1756, after a spell back home, Clive’s taste for conquest and treasure took him to Bengal, whose production of silks and muslins made it the biggest supplier of Asian goods to Europe. In 1757 Clive led the company’s forces to victory against both the French and the uncooperative local nawab; from defeating the latter the company received what Dalrymple calls “one of the largest corporate windfalls in history”—in modern terms around £232 million. Clive himself pocketed an astronomical £22 million, with which he went on to acquire a string of desirable British properties, including an estate outside Limerick to go with his Irish peerage, while Lady Clive, as the Salisbury Journal informed its readers, garlanded her pet ferret with a diamond necklace worth more than £2,500.

Besides his military exploits Clive was admired by the directors for his administrative vigor, and he ended his Indian career as governor of Bengal. In 1765—two years before he returned to Britain for good—he secured his most substantive legacy when he forced Shah Alam to recognize the company’s financial authority over three of his richest provinces, Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. A Mughal chronicler lamented that the British “have appointed their own district officers, they make assessments and collections of revenue, administer justice, appoint and dismiss collectors…heaven knows what will be the eventual upshot of this state of things.”

The baneful consequences of a commercial concern enjoying political power but answering only to its shareholders became apparent during the Bengal famine of 1770–1771. Company officers exacted dues from a dying populace as diligently as they had from a healthy one. Tax evaders were publicly hanged. The following year Calcutta informed Leadenhall Street that “notwithstanding the great severity of the late famine…some increase [in revenue] has been made.”

While at least one million Bengalis were dying of the famine and its effects, some company employees enriched themselves by hoarding rice. According to one anonymous whistleblower whose account was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine back in London:

Our Gentlemen in many places purchased the rice at 120 and 140 seers a rupee [a seer was about two pounds], which they afterwards sold for 15 seers a rupee, to the Black [Indian] merchants, so that the persons principally concerned have made great fortunes by it; and one of our writers…not esteemed to be worth 1,000 rupees last year, has sent down it is said £60,000 to be remitted home this year.

In Calcutta, the same source went on, “one could not pass the streets without seeing multitudes in their last agonies,” while “numbers of dead were seen with dogs, jackalls, hogs, vultures and other birds and beasts of prey feeding on their carcases.”

Back home, denunciations of the company’s conduct equaled in vehemence anything that would be uttered by nationalist Indians in the later stages of British rule. One satire attacked the directors of the company, among them “Sir Janus Blubber,” “Caliban Clodpate,” “Sir Judas Venom,” and “Lord Vulture,” as a “scandalous confederacy to plunder and strip.” But when Clive was investigated by Parliament on charges of amassing a fortune illegally, his achievements in defeating the French and increasing company revenues counted for more than the regime of plunder he had overseen—and Parliament included company shareholders and men who owed their seats to his largesse. Clive was exonerated in May 1773. The following year he committed suicide. He had, Samuel Johnson wrote, “acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat.”

The company was now a permanent subject of controversy in Britain, which was, in strenuous, unemphatic fits, moving from absolutism to accountability. But only rarely . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2020 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law, Military, Politics

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