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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 10:48 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 6:17 pm

The GOP is disassembling American democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 11:33 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, Americans . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 June 2021 at 7:27 am

The importance of history

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:13 pm

Koch-and-switch

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

About seven months ago, billionaire businessman Charles Koch’s smiling face was in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The 85-year-old Koch had spent decades funding a vast network of far-right causes, including the Tea Party, the movement which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

Koch said his prior work was a mistake. He vowed that, from now on, he would eschew partisanship and focus on “building bridges across ideological divides.”

Koch’s feature in the Wall Street Journal was part of a broader rebranding effort that coincided with the release of a new book:

Mr. Koch said he has since come to regret his partisanship, which he says badly deepened divisions. “Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in his new book. “What a mess!”

In a separate interview with the Washington Post that was released the same day, Koch congratulated Biden and said he wanted to “work together” with the new Democratic president on “as many issues as possible.”

We’ve got people so hyped on politics now that it seems like they think that’s all there is. You know, ‘If the other side wins, it’ll ruin the country and destroy us forever.’ Both sides are saying that, and feel that, and think this is the most important thing. Well, it is important, but it isn’t going to make any difference unless we all learn to work together and help each other and move toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit.

Koch said he regretted hiring “ex-Republican operatives” and then “doing nothing” as they engaged in bare-knuckled political combat. Koch insisted that things would be different moving forward. “Let’s get together and make that happen so we can start helping each other, rather than hurting each other,” Koch said.

In the seven months since those interviews, however, Koch has deployed the full resources of his political network to try to stymie virtually every aspect of Biden’s agenda.

Most recently, one of Koch’s primary political organizations, Americans for Prosperity, has pressured Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to block various priorities of the Biden administration. CNBC reports that Americans for Prosperity has created ads, a video, and a website targeting Manchin. The website calls for Manchin to block a public option for Obamacare, a minimum wage increase, an infrastructure bill, and the For The People Act.

The effort appears to be working, as Manchin announced his opposition to the For The People Act in an op-ed on Sunday. But the campaign targeting Manchin is just one aspect of Koch’s multi-faceted attack on the Biden presidency.

Americans for Prosperity also . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I find that Popular Information has a lot of good content, though I don’t that often quote it in the blog. But I do read it and find it worthwhile.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 2:03 pm

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

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Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like clockwork.”

A department under federal control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the department agreed to track officers accused of misconduct.

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And there’s a link in the sidebar:

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 7:49 pm

Operation Underground Railroad’s Carefully Crafted Public Image Is Falling Apart

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The report by Anna Merian and Tim Marchman in Vice is amazing (and, unfortunately, credible). It begins:

im Caviezel appeared onscreen in Oklahoma on a Friday night, his digital visage bathed in the hot lights of Rhema Bible College’s amphitheater and the adulation of his audience, and proceeded to make a real mess. 

“You can do something now. You can end this,” he told the audience. “If we let our little ones continue to be slaughtered, boy, there’s gonna be a judgment on this world, and especially our country.” 

Caviezel, an actor known for playing Jesus Christ and for his passionate commitment to Christianity, was appearing at the Health & Freedom conference, a dizzying multi-day event devoted to election conspiracy theories and COVID denialism headlined by people like pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, who frequently and enthusiastically promotes conspiracy theories associated with QAnon. (The event was, in fact, ostensibly two conferences, one devoted to business and the other to health. They were indistinguishable.) Caviezel was there to promote his newest role, in which he plays Tim Ballard, the founder and most recognizable face of the famed anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR. The film, Sound of Freedom, has been in the works—and its release beset with mysterious delays—for several years. (You can, however, view a trailer here.)

Ballard couldn’t appear in person in Oklahoma, Caviezel explained. “He’s down there saving children as we speak. They’re pulling children out of the darkest recesses of hell,” he said. “All kinds of places, the adrenochroming of children.” 

 

“You said adrenochrome?” host Clay Clark, an Oklahoma personality who bills himself as a “growth consultant” and business guru, asked a moment later.  “We need to discuss that.” 

“Essentially, you have adrenaline in your body … and when you are scared, you produce adrenaline,” Caviezel explained. “If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline. And they have a lot of terms that they use that he takes me through, but it’s the worst horror I’ve seen. It’s screaming alone. Even if I never, ever, ever saw it, it’s beyond. And these people that do it, there will be no mercy for them.” The audience applauded, solemnly.

Caviezel, whose agents and managers did not reply to several requests for comment, had just promoted one of the more extreme and lurid conspiracy theories out there, and one central to the cosmology of QAnon—the utterly false idea that a cabal of elites is torturing and killing children to obtain a fictionalized biological substance—and he’d done it in the same breath that he promoted OUR. (Adrenochrome is a real chemical compound, but the idea that it can only be harvested from terrified torture victims was purely the stuff of horror movies before Q came along. For QAnon believers, however, it has a much larger significance. The concept that evil elites are harvesting the substance from murdered children is a central facet of their belief system; they believe those elites take the substance to maintain their youthful appearances or life force.) 

All of this was awkward at best for OUR, which has spent the better part of a year insisting that it “does not condone conspiracy theories and is not affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, like QAnon, in any way, shape, or form,” as it says on its website. Caviezel’s comments generated a minor tsunami of headlines linking him, the film, Ballard, and the organization to a poisonous conspiracy theory and a stunningly fringe conference, the highlight of which was Lin Wood, who claimed in November that associating him with QAnon is a “smear,” making the shape of a Q in the air for an adoring crowd. (Wood has more recently claimed to be confused about QAnon even is, writing on Telegram on June 2: “I have been repeatedly attacked for being a ‘Qanon conspiracy theorist. Why? I can do research to educate myself on Q. I can do research to educate myself on Anons. My question is: What is QAnon???”) 

In response to a request for comment from VICE World News, a spokesperson for OUR wrote, “Operation Underground Railroad does not condone child trafficking conspiracy theories, such as the harvesting of adrenochrome, nor is the organization affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, including QAnon. OUR has clearly stated that the effort to knock out child exploitation and human trafficking is being harmed [by] a number of conspiracy theory groups who have chosen to latch onto child exploitation and human trafficking and used a variety of conspiracy theories as a vehicle to deceptively bolster their causes.” The spokesperson also said that Ballard “participated in the conference out of respect to, and at the invitation of, Jim Caviezel to help promote the upcoming movie Sound of Freedom in which Caviezel plays the lead role.” In response to a specific question about Caviezel’s use of the phrase “he takes me through,” a second spokesperson said that Ballard had never explained the process of adrenochrome harvesting to Caviezel.

Before the blowback and the cleanup came, though, Caviezel and Ballard had a movie to promote. 

 

“This is one of the best films I’ve ever done in my life,” Caviezel said. He drew a parallel between it and The Passion of the Christ, an independently-financed film that was, he suggested, successful despite unnamed forces in Hollywood working against it because of people just like those in the audience. “Whether it ever gets seen in this industry is up to your prayers.” 

A moment before that, Ballard had appeared from what looked very much like a recording booth in an undisclosed location where he was, according to Clark, “actually rescuing kids, tonight.”

“I’m here doing an operation overseas which I hope to be able to tell you about soon,” he said. “It’s involving the rescue of children as young as 12 years old … that’s the only reason I’m not there with you.” The movie in which an actor best known for playing Christ portrayed him was, he said, “an opportunity for the world to understand what’s happening.” It would, he suggested, do nothing less than “save the lives of children.” 

This was classic Ballard: Urgent, heroic, a little bombastic, and deeply self-serving. The narrative of a small organization fighting desperately to shine a light on the darkness of children being trafficked and sexually abused also served to paper over another, truer narrative. In this one, OUR is rife with internal divisions, losing key employees who are starting up rival anti-trafficking groups, and under a serious and widening criminal investigation, which VICE World News has confirmed now involves federal authorities and focuses not just on OUR, but on for-profit companies connected to it.

 

After years of success—tens of millions of dollars of donations, flattering stories in the national press, high-profile partnerships with celebrities across the political spectrum, and seats for its founder before Congress and at Donald Trump’s right hand—OUR has reached a new stage. Its carefully-crafted image is coming undone.

OUR remains under investigation by a county attorney in Utah, Troy Rawlings of Davis County, as it has been since last fall. “The investigation is still very active and fruitful,” Rawlings told VICE World News in early June.

The scope of that investigation appears to have widened beyond what VICE World News and FOX 13 have previously reported, which was that Rawlings’ office was looking into whether OUR has made misleading claims in fundraising appeals. VICE World News has confirmed that several people have been interviewed about their dealings with OUR not just by investigators from Rawlings’ office, but by the FBI. Investigators from the IRS and Homeland Security are also said to be involved, according to people familiar with the scope of the investigation. (A spokesperson for OUR declined to say whether Ballard or other OUR staffers had spoken to the FBI, IRS, or DHS, writing, “We can’t comment specifically on your speculative inquiry.” In response to detailed inquiries about the investigation, the same spokesperson wrote, “OUR has complied with all laws that regulate nonprofits and intends to cooperate fully with any official inquiry, if asked.” The FBI and DHS declined to comment, citing policies of not confirming or denying ongoing investigations; the IRS did not respond to a request for comment.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much much more, including links to other reports on the organization:

A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth

Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity’s Blundering Overseas Missions

Also, this video of Caviezel’s interview:

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 6:00 pm

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

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:34 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:09 am

What Really Happened When Google Ousted Timnit Gebru

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Tom Simonite writes in Wired:

ONE AFTERNOON IN late November of last year, Timnit Gebru was sitting on the couch in her San Francisco Bay Area home, crying.

Gebru, a researcher at Google, had just clicked out of a last-minute video meeting with an executive named Megan Kacholia, who had issued a jarring command. Gebru was the coleader of a group at the company that studies the social and ethical ramifications of artificial intelligence, and Kacholia had ordered Gebru to retract her latest research paper—or else remove her name from its list of authors, along with those of several other members of her team.

The paper in question was, in Gebru’s mind, pretty unobjectionable. It surveyed the known pitfalls of so-called large language models, a type of AI software—most famously exemplified by a system called GPT-3—that was stoking excitement in the tech industry. Google’s own version of the technology was now helping to power the company’s search engine. Jeff Dean, Google’s revered head of research, had encouraged Gebru to think about the approach’s possible downsides. The paper had sailed through the company’s internal review process and had been submitted to a prominent conference. But Kacholia now said that a group of product leaders and others inside the company had deemed the work unacceptable, Gebru recalls. Kacholia was vague about their objections but gave Gebru a week to act. Her firm deadline was the day after Thanksgiving.

Gebru’s distress turned to anger as that date drew closer and the situation turned weirder. Kacholia gave Gebru’s manager, Samy Bengio, a document listing the paper’s supposed flaws, but told him not to send it to Gebru, only to read it to her. On Thanksgiving Day, Gebru skipped some festivities with her family to hear Bengio’s recital. According to Gebru’s recollection and contemporaneous notes, the document didn’t offer specific edits but complained that the paper handled topics “casually” and painted too bleak a picture of the new technology. It also claimed that all of Google’s uses of large language models were “engineered to avoid” the pitfalls that the paper described.

Gebru spent Thanksgiving writing a six-page response, explaining her perspective on the paper and asking for guidance on how it might be revised instead of quashed. She titled her reply “Addressing Feedback from the Ether at Google,” because she still didn’t know who had set her Kafkaesque ordeal in motion, and sent it to Kacholia the next day.

On Saturday, Gebru set out on a preplanned cross-country road trip. She had reached New Mexico by Monday, when Kacholia emailed to ask for confirmation that the paper would either be withdrawn or cleansed of its Google affiliations. Gebru tweeted a cryptic reproach of “censorship and intimidation” against AI ethics researchers. Then, on Tuesday, she fired off two emails: one that sought to end the dispute, and another that escalated it beyond her wildest imaginings.

The first was addressed to Kacholia and offered her a deal: Gebru would remove herself from the paper if Google provided an account of who had reviewed the work and how, and established a more transparent review process for future research. If those conditions weren’t met, Gebru wrote, she would leave Google once she’d had time to make sure her team wouldn’t be too destabilized. The second email showed less corporate diplomacy. Addressed to a listserv for women who worked in Google Brain, the company’s most prominent AI lab and home to Gebru’s Ethical AI team, it accused the company of “silencing marginalized voices” and dismissed Google’s internal diversity programs as a waste of time.

Relaxing in an Airbnb in Austin, Texas, the following night, Gebru received a message with a 😮 from one of her direct reports: “You resigned??” In her personal inbox she then found an email from Kacholia, rejecting Gebru’s offer and casting her out of Google. “We cannot agree as you are requesting,” Kacholia wrote. “The end of your employment should happen faster than your email reflects.” Parts of Gebru’s email to the listserv, she went on, had shown “behavior inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.” Gebru tweeted that she had been fired. Google maintained—and still does—that she resigned.

Gebru’s tweet lit the fuse on a controversy that quickly inflamed Google. The company has been dogged in recent years by accusations from employees that it mistreats women and people of color, and from lawmakers that it wields unhealthy technological and economic power. Now Google had expelled a Black woman who was a prominent advocate for more diversity in tech, and who was seen as an important internal voice for greater restraint in the helter-­skelter race to develop and deploy AI. One Google machine-learning researcher who had followed Gebru’s writing and work on diversity felt the news of her departure like a punch to the gut. “It was like, oh, maybe things aren’t going to change so easily,” says the employee, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak by Google management.

Dean sent out a message urging Googlers to ignore Gebru’s call to disengage from corporate diversity exercises; Gebru’s paper had been subpar, he said, and she and her collaborators had not followed the proper approval process. In turn, Gebru claimed in tweets and interviews that she’d been felled by a toxic cocktail of racism, sexism, and censorship. Sympathy for Gebru’s account grew as the disputed paper circulated like samizdat among AI researchers, many of whom found it neither controversial nor particularly remarkable. Thousands of Googlers and outside AI experts signed a public letter castigating the company.

But Google seemed to double down. Margaret Mitchell, the other coleader of the Ethical AI team and a prominent researcher in her own right, was among the hardest hit by Gebru’s ouster. The two had been a professional and emotional tag team, building up their group—which was one of several that worked on what Google called “responsible AI”—while parrying the sexist and racist tendencies they saw at large in the company’s culture. Confident that those same forces had played a role in Gebru’s downfall, Mitchell wrote an automated script to retrieve notes she’d kept in her corporate Gmail account that documented allegedly discriminatory incidents, according to sources inside Google. On January 20, Google said Mitchell had triggered an internal security system and had been suspended. On February 19, she was fired, with Google stating that it had found “multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included exfiltration of confidential, business-­sensitive documents.”

Google had now fully decapitated its own Ethical AI research group. The long, spectacular fallout from that Thanksgiving ultimatum to Gebru left countless bystanders wondering: Had one paper really precipitated all of these events?

The story of what actually happened in the lead-up to Gebru’s exit from Google reveals a more tortured and complex backdrop. It’s the tale of a gifted engineer who was swept up in the AI revolution before she became one of its biggest critics, a refugee who worked her way to the center of the tech industry and became determined to reform it. It’s also about a company—the world’s fifth largest—trying to regain its equilibrium after four years of scandals, controversies, and mutinies, but doing so in ways that unbalanced the ship even further.

Beyond Google, the fate of Timnit Gebru lays bare something even larger:  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 10:58 am

Be Afraid, America; Be Very Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GOP’s Creeping Authoritarianism

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

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

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

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

Last Fall, I was convinced that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2021 at 6:53 pm

America’s scarcity mindset

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Noah Smith writes Noahpinions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2021 at 3:33 pm

The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

Fake Nudes and Real Threats: How Online Abuse Holds Back Women in Politics

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Emma Goldberg reports in the NY Times:

— Julia Gillard, Australia’s first, and only, female prime minister, in a 2019 interview

The first year that more than two women simultaneously served in the U.S. Senate was 1992. It was dubbed the “Year of the Woman.”

Decades later, women now make up nearly a quarter of that legislative body. But as female representation grows, so do efforts to undermine it.

Researchers have found that female politicians tend to face more personal online attacks than their male counterparts, with social media posts that double down on character and sexuality rather than the politicians’ work. A 2016 global survey of female parliamentarians found that 42 percent of the respondents had seen “extremely humiliating or sexually charged” images of themselves shared on the internet. And another study found that immediately following Kamala Harris’s selection as Joseph R. Biden’s running mate in the 2020 presidential election, false claims were shared about Ms. Harris 3,000 times per hour on Twitter.

“The social media environment is so gendered and full of vile material when it comes to women politicians,” Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and only female prime minister, said in a 2019 interview.

It has also become increasingly clear that what begins as disinformation — a photoshopped image, a skewed piece of data — can escalate into offline violence. And that combination of online disinformation and offline threats can make many women question whether they even want to enter politics in the first place.

“It affects women’s willingness to be in public spaces, speak freely and participate in public discourse,” said Lucina Di Meco, an expert on gender and disinformation.

Online attacks on women frequently reference tropes that existed long before the internet, depicting women as mentally unstable or hyper-sexual. “It’s all the same racist and sexist dog whistles now magnified and supercharged anonymously across social media networks,” said Arisha Hatch, vice president and chief of campaigns of the civil rights organization Color of Change.

In Brazil, when the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, faced impeachment in 2016, following allegations of corruption and manipulation aimed at covering up the country’s financial crisis, the tabloids ran unfavorable photos of her, with her fists clenched or mouth wide open, in a concerted effort to turn public opinion against her, according to Mona Lena Krook, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.

“The tabloids made it look like she was having a mental breakdown,” Dr. Krook said. “It plays into the idea that women are too emotional for politics.”

Another approach paints female politicians as hyper-sexualized. That was what former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia encountered when tabloids ran pictures of another woman in a bikini and falsely claimed it was her. The photo’s subject was later identified as Coco Austin, the partner of American rapper Ice-T — but the damage to Ms. Grabar-Kitarovic’s reputation was done.

“If people aren’t critical and willing to take a moment to assess whether a story or image is real, the effects end up getting magnified,” Dr. Krook said.

Other female leaders have also found themselves the target of fake nude photos, like the former Ukrainian parliament member, Svitlana Zalishchuk, and a Rwandan female presidential candidate, Diane Rwigara. “It is one of many tactics that has been used to silence me,” Ms. Rwigara told CNN in 2017.

Once the disinformation is out there, it is difficult to counter, says Dr. Krook: It is hard to ensure a retraction reaches everyone who saw the inaccurate post, and even if it is seen, it might not change minds. Disinformation spreads rapidly, Dr. Krook added, because it taps into and reinforces existing sexist beliefs about female political leaders.

With social media, attacks on high-profile women can occur at an unprecedented scale, often anonymously and with impunity. And only in recent years have policymakers begun to focus on the risks that women face because of these online attacks, by publicly addressing them and accounting for them in policymaking.

Last fall, federal and state authorities revealed a detailed plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Ms. Whitmer had become a target of right-wing and anti-government activists because of measures she had taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The group that plotted the kidnapping spied on Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home, met regularly for firearms and combat training, and made plans to buy explosives.

But the kidnapping plot didn’t start in the basement where they held their meetings; its flames were fanned on the internet, according to Kristina Wilfore, an adjunct professor at George Washington University. The plot was preceded by weeks of online campaigns spreading disinformation about Ms. Whitmer. Right-wing social media accounts created memes depicting her frothing at the mouth or as a dominatrix shooting lasers from her eyes. At the time, President Donald J. Trump had urged his supporters on Twitter to “Liberate Michigan!”

“It was a cynical way to make her the poster child of accusations of Covid overreach,” Ms. Wilfore said. “The fact that the plot was aimed at a female governor was no accident.”

Republican legislators in Michigan recently introduced a bill that would require Ms. Whitmer to provide detailed notice when leaving the state, which the State Senate approved despite security concerns raised by Democrats.

The plot against Ms. Whitmer made apparent the high stakes of online conspiracy theories. “This is a very clear example of how misinformation that is fueled by sexism can lead to real-life consequences for women, and women in politics in particular,” said Ms. Di Meco.

Ms. Di Meco added that the same link between online disinformation and offline violence was visible on Jan 6., when tens of thousands of Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol after weeks of sharing fraudulent theories on Facebook and Parler discrediting Mr. Biden’s presidential victory.

With a new administration in power, some experts say that the moment is ripe for a more concerted national effort to counter online disinformation, particularly its pernicious effects on women. The Biden administration has committed to creating a National Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse, which would study the link between online abuse and violence against women.

And last August, 100 American female lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Tammy Baldwin, along with current and former legislators from around the world, wrote a letter to Facebook urging the site to take action to protect female politicians from online attacks, including by taking down posts threatening violence and removing manipulated images or videos of female public figures.

“Make no mistake,” the letter read, “These tactics . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Politics

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Where Gender-Neutral Pronouns Come From

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Michael Waters writes in the Atlantic:

On a frigid January day, Ella Flagg Young—the first woman to serve as superintendent of the Chicago public-school system—took the stage in front of a room of school principals and announced that she had come up with a new solution to an old problem. “I have simply solved a need that has been long impending,” she said. “The English language is in need of a personal pronoun of the third person, singular number, that will indicate both sexes and will thus eliminate our present awkwardness of speech.” Instead of he or she, or his or her, Young proposed that schools adopt a version that blended the two: he’erhis’er, and him’er.

It was 1912, and Young’s idea drew gasps from the principals, according to newspaper reports from the time. When Young used his’er in a sentence, one shouted, “Wh-what was that? We don’t quite understand what that was you said.”

Young was actually borrowing the pronouns from an insurance broker named Fred S. Pond, who had invented them the year prior. But in the subsequent weeks, her proposal became a national news story, earning baffled write-ups in the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press. Some embraced the new pronouns—but many dismissed them as an unnecessary linguistic complication, and others despaired that the introduction of gender-neutral pronouns would precipitate an end to language as they knew it. An editor for Harper’s Weekly, for instance, insisted that “when ‘man’ ceases to include women we shall cease to need a language.”

Today’s gender-neutral English-language pronouns make space not just for two genders, but for many more, serving as a way for people who fall outside the binary of “man” and “woman” to describe themselves. In recent years especially, they’ve become a staple of dating apps, college campuses, and email signatures. In 2020, a Trevor Project survey found that one in four LGBTQ youth uses pronouns other than he/him and she/her, and the American Dialect Society named the singular they its word of the decade.

Meanwhile, commentators have forecast the demise of language once again. A 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed went so far as to claim that using they/them pronouns amounted to “sacrilege,” and an Australian politician said that an effort to celebrate they/them pronouns was “political correctness gone mad.” Last month, after the singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary, a conservative commentator called they/them pronouns “poor grammar” and an example of “low academic achievement.” Bundled into these arguments is the idea that gender-neutral pronouns are a new phenomenon, an outgrowth of the internet that is only now spreading into other spheres—suggesting that the gender fluidity they describe is also a fad.

Until relatively recently, gender-neutral pronouns were something people used to describe others—mixed groups, or individuals whose gender was unknown—not something people used to describe themselves. But even though people did not, in Young’s time, personally identify as nonbinary in the way we understand it today (though some identified as “neuter”), neutral pronouns existed—as did an understanding that the language we had to describe gender was insufficient. For more than three centuries, at least, English speakers have yearned for more sophisticated ways to talk about gender.

Likely the oldest gender-neutral pronoun in the English language is the singular they, which was, for centuries, a common way to identify a person whose gender was indefinite. For a time in the 1600s, medical texts even referred to individuals who did not accord with binary gender standards as they/them. The pronoun’s fortunes were reversed only in the 18th century, when the notion that the singular they was grammatically incorrect came into vogue among linguists.

In place of they, though, came a raft of new pronouns. According to Dennis Baron, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who wrote the definitive history of gender-neutral pronouns in his book What’s Your Pronoun?, English speakers have proposed 200 to 250 pronouns since the 1780s. Although most petered out almost immediately after their introduction, a few took on lives of their own.

Thon—short for that one—has resurfaced frequently since an attorney named Charles Converse first introduced it as a more elegant way of writing he or she. Converse claimed to have coined the word as far back as 1858, but it didn’t actually appear publicly in a magazine until 1884. The word made a splash in

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 2:29 pm

The Frightening New Republican Consensus

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David A. Graham writes in the Atlantic:

Former President Donald Trump has been speaking publicly about running to reclaim the White House in 2024, but he’s also reportedly expecting to make a comeback before then. “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August,” Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ ace Trump reporter, tweeted Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as reinstating a president, but Trump is echoing claims made by Sidney Powell, the lawyer who briefly pursued his specious election-fraud claims in court after the November election. Trump “can simply be reinstated,” she said this weekend. “A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in.” Powell is the same person who argued in a court filing this spring that no reasonable person would believe her election-fraud arguments.

If reinstatement sounds kooky, that’s because it is. Most Republicans don’t believe that Trump is set to return to the Oval Office later this summer. But there is widespread agreement inside the GOP that Democratic fraud is stealing elections, and that Republicans must not let that happen. If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, it’s not about whether the problem exists, but how to fix it—by trying to undo the 2020 result, or instead by preparing for 2024.

From the most devoted QAnon fringes of the GOP to the surviving redoubts of old-school country-club Republicanism, the party’s leaders have come to a shared conclusion that the party doesn’t lose close elections—Democrats steal them. Republicans grant that Democrats win in heavily blue areas. Hardly anyone doubts that Democrats are winning big in majority-minority U.S. House districts in the South or in urban centers (though Trump did question low vote tallies for Republican candidates in Philadelphia).

But in close elections—which in this divided era include practically every presidential race and many U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races—the GOP has come to largely reject the notions that it didn’t turn out its core supporters, failed to persuade swing voters, or alienated former supporters by nominating fringe candidates. Instead, Republicans insist, they are losing because of rampant and systemic fraud. If this were true (which it is not), then it would stand to reason that Republicans must be able to prevent such theft or, failing that, overturn the results. In the Senate last week, the GOP caucus even filibustered a bipartisan panel to investigate the violent attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Conservatives have long complained about election shenanigans, especially in urban areas. Historically, there is evidence that major fraud once occurred, but changes to laws and processes make old-school corruption nearly impossible, and even advocacy groups have been able to find only a handful of cases of fraud, despite diligent searching—practically none of it having been enough to swing an election’s outcome. (One rare counterexample, in a U.S. House race in North Carolina, benefited the Republican candidate.)

The new claims are different in scale—encompassing jurisdictions across the country—and popular support. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than half of Republicans view Trump as the true president. But even GOP leaders who reject Trump’s allegations of fraud are happy to back stricter voting laws predicated on bogus fraud claims.

The responses of elected Republicans to this new consensus form a spectrum from the ridiculous to putatively respectable. On the far end of the range are chimerical answers such as those that Powell and Trump are apparently spreading, rooted in faith but with no factual basis.

More dangerous, and slightly more realistic—or at least achievable—are calls for a coup to topple the Biden presidency, which these opponents view as illegitimate. Over the weekend,  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:35 am

The Capitol Rioters Won

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

Republicans say they would like to move on from the 2020 election.

“A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward,” John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told CNN on May 19. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”

After Thune and 34 of his Republican colleagues used the filibuster last week to block a vote on creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of fearing the wrath of former President Donald Trump. “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump,” Schumer said on the floor.

But Republicans are not blocking a bipartisan January 6 commission because they fear Trump, or because they want to “move on” from 2020. They are blocking a January 6 commission because they agree with the underlying ideological claim of the rioters, which is that Democratic electoral victories should not be recognized. Because they regard such victories as inherently illegitimate—the result of fraud, manipulation, or the votes of people who are not truly American—they believe that the law should be changed to ensure that elections more accurately reflect the will of Real Americans, who by definition vote Republican. They believe that there is nothing for them to investigate, because the actual problem is not the riot itself but the unjust usurpation of power that occurred when Democrats won. Absent that provocation, the rioters would have stayed home.

Americans have suffered through a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a presidential election in the past year; it’s understandable that many would want to disengage from politics. With Trump gone from the White House and banned from his favorite social-media platform, the most visible symbol of the nation’s democratic backsliding is out of office. But Trump’s absence has not arrested the Republican Party’s illiberal turn—on the contrary, he is now a martyr to an election that he falsely claims was rigged. If anything, though, our electoral system is rigged in favor of Republicans; Democrats had to overcome a significant structural bias in the Electoral College, meaning Trump almost prevailed again even as his opponent won 7 million more votes.

As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote, the “accommodation” that Republicans “have reached between their violent and nonviolent wings is a legal regimen designed to ensure that the next time a Trump rejects the election result, he won’t need a mob to prevail.” Trump did not impose this belief that elections are valid only if they result in Republican victory on the conservative rank and file; he was a manifestation of it. Nor are Republican officials held hostage by a base they fear; falsehoods about election fraud have been deliberately stoked by Republican elites who then insist that they must bow to the demands of the very misinformed constituents they have been lying to. The last thing ambitious Republicans want is to let this fire go out.

Trump infamously refused to concede the 2020 election until after the mob he had incited ransacked the Capitol in an effort to overturn the outcome. But even afterward, most Republicans in the House, and several in the Senate, refused to vote to certify the results. The rioters were outliers in the sense that they employed political violence and intimidation in an attempt to overturn the election. But the rioters fell squarely within the Republican mainstream in sharing Trump’s belief that his defeat meant the election was inherently illegitimate. The main ideological cleavage within the GOP is not whether election laws should be changed to better ensure Republican victory, but whether political violence is necessary to achieve that objective.

The large majority of Republicans are content with simply changing the rules to make it harder for Democrats to win elections, but figures beloved by the party fringe, such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Representatives Matt Gaetz and Majorie Taylor Greene, openly flirt with the possibility of seizing power by force.

Greene has warned that freedom is “earned with the price of blood”; over the weekend, Flynn backtracked on a public call for a military coup; and Gaetz, on tour with Greene, told a receptive audience that “the Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.” As far as these three are concerned, this is the idle talk of studio gangsters. The issue is that it reflects a very real rejection of liberal democracy and the peaceful transfer of power among Republican voters.

Republicans are not “moving on” from the 2020 election. In state after state, Republican-controlled legislatures have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, in some cases explicitly targeting Democratic constituencies. Over the weekend, Texas Democrats temporarily blocked one such measure that would have not only outlawed methods that Democratic-led counties have used to increase turnout, but also curtailed early Sunday voting, a tradition for many Black churches. The Texas Republican state legislator Travis Clardy later insisted that the limitation on Sunday voting was a “typo”; if lawmakers can’t draw up legislation dealing with Americans’ fundamental rights without egregiously discriminating on the basis of race, they shouldn’t hold office to begin with.

Texas joins 14 other states in attempting to curtail voting rights in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Some Republican-controlled states have purged officials who refused to obey Trump’s instructions not to certify the election results; a few are considering measures that would allow state legislatures to overturn such results outright.

The risks of such measures are obvious. Between the effectiveness of gerrymandering and the partisan polarization of urban and rural districts, in some states winning a legislative majority is well-nigh impossible for the Democratic Party as currently constituted. In the event that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2021 at 2:34 pm

At least sobering, and more likely depressing: Does the U.S. Senate Resemble Ancient Rome?

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James Fallows quotes some readers, who agree that things look bad:

Over the weekend, this space held the third installment in the “Lessons of Rome” chronicles by my friend Eric Schnurer. This one went into the comparison between the Roman Senate, in the era of Cicero and the Catiline conspiracy, and the current one in Washington.

If you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try—among other reasons, for the speechwriter’s view of classic Latin rhetoric. This third piece also updated the “doomsday sundial”—a Roman Empire twist on the famous “doomsday clock” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—and set its time to “a year before midnight.”

Now, some reader reactions. First, from a reader with extensive experience in national government:

Thank you for conveying the very thoughtful observations of Eric Schnurer comparing our situation to that of late republican Rome.

One striking element is the complacency highlighted by Schnurer at the time of Cicero, and so evident now in the mistaken belief that “it” can’t happen here because we’re “exceptional.”

As political scientist David Faris observed in a recent interview on “Vox,” we could not be more wrong. Republicans are working to deprive the majority of its ability to control the agenda or to change the leadership. If they succeed, the result will be undramatic but definitive: “People are going to wake up the next day and go to work, and take care of their kids, and live their lives, and democracy will be gone.”

For all their failures (which have become ever more obvious), the Founders did not have this outlook. They had a lively fear that “it” could indeed happen here, and they constructed the government they made to preclude that outcome.

Our misfortune is that, partly because of the deficiencies of that design (owing largely to several forced compromises) and partly because of later developments (such as the emergence of parties and of the filibuster), we face the reverse of one of their fears: a dictatorship not of the mob but of an entrenched minority. And we don’t seem to be coping with that danger any better than did Ciceronian Rome. So we come to where Faris placed himself in his interview: “My current level of concern is exploring countries to move to after 2024.”

He did not quite despair, nor evidently does Schnurer. But the hour is indeed late, and time by our “atomic clock” is swiftly passing.

Race against time,” from another reader:

Reading your précis of Schnurer’s articles (thanks for bringing this to a wider audience), and the lead in of O Tempora! O Mores! my mind did a sort of leap to the smart Alec translation as Oh Times, Oh Daily Mirror ! [JF note: this was from the fabulous mid-20th century British comedy duo Flanders and Swann, whose records I loved listening to as a boy.]…

Schnurer is bang on, about the corruption (I think it’s way beyond cynicism) at the heart of the not-so-grand old party.

I sometimes find it ironic that ‘conservatives,’ who should be conserving our institutions, so often slide into radicals’ intent on destroying those institutions. Their focus on ends by any means would make Machiavelli blush. [JF note: compare the different approaches to considering a Supreme Court nominee in an election year applied by Mitch McConnell in 2016, when the nominee was Merrick Garland, and 2020, when it was Amy Coney Barrett.]

It is a race against time in my view. Will they succeed in subverting American democracy before people wake up to the con trick. I suspect they will.


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Storm Before the Storm”—a reading tip:

I read with interest the excellent article comparing Rome with today’s political situation. It immediately brought to mind a book called The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan, written in 2017 about Rome between 146-78 BC, starting with the Gracchi brothers. He reached a similar conclusion to Eric Schnurer at the end of the book. You might know Duncan from his history podcast “The History of Rome,” the granddaddy of history podcasts on the net.

In the book he wrote about,“rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct” as well as “a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” The parallel between that and what you wrote caught my attention.


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Looking Across the Atlantic (Ocean), 
from a reader in Texas:

This article is very well-taken. Reading Gibbon even 20 years ago felt like reading the news … now we can even go back to ancient Greek experience of demagogues.

I wonder if you would ask conservative Republicans you know, not whether they agree with those of us who fear a reprise of 1933 Germany, but if they could say at what point in German political history it would NOT have been wildly premature and hyperbolically alarmist to raise a cry that would bring developments to a halt. (Were that possible.)


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Ecocide
—the most sobering of the responses:

In these last four years of our own personal Catiline, I did read up on ancient Rome, and read Gibbon. I also wondered about the validity of democracy in this country, and now, with this article, the validity of democracy in Rome before Caesar.

It would seem to me that if there is a decline and fall of an American Empire, I agree that it would happen more quickly than the centuries it took Rome to splinter and disappear.

But I think the outside forces that will eliminate us will be natural in origin, and not a sleepy Chuck Grassley, Visigoths or Sandinistas pouring across the border at Brownsville. Argument by analogy may be the only tool historians have to predict the future, but it is still invalid.It isn’t hard to see that our highly interconnected world is dependent on resources that are nearly magically acquired and brought to life, and that have a limited abundance and existence. Yet our lives are increasingly dependent on them. So, just soothsayer-wise, I would predict that industry will be chewing holes in the Congo in search of the latest element needed for the most advanced iPhone in 2050, when the world population will hit 10 billion and the oil will run out.

That while Bangladesh is awash with the Bengal Sea, the Musk Ox, Polar Bear and Caribou go extinct, Mar-al-Lago builds a wall around itself and starts pumping, and LA burns back into the desert it once was.

Those natural phenomena are actually predictable and I think, regardless of what surprises democracy has in store for us, will be the end of us.

Because we still solve problems like the Romans did, after all is said and done. By killing them. Yet we are far more destructive, given our machines, than they ever were. Rome never had the ability to kill the biosphere. Everyone in America, and indeed, on planet Earth, is participating in that execution right now.

These are bad times.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 7:03 pm

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