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The January 6 insurrection was planned and supported by Trump’s people

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Heather Cox Richardson’s entire column for yesterday is well worth reading, but I want to extract just one part:

In the last days of his term, the area of Washington, D.C., around our government buildings has been locked down to guard against further terrorism. Our tradition of a peaceful transition of power, established in 1800, has been broken. There is a 7-foot black fence around the Capitol and 15,000 National Guard soldiers on duty in a bitterly cold Washington January. There are checkpoints and road closures near the center of the city, and 10,000 more troops are authorized if necessary. Another 4,000 are on duty in their states, protecting key buildings and infrastructure sites.

In the past two days, there have been more indications that members of the Trump administration were behind the January 6 coup attempt. Yesterday, Richard Lardner and Michelle R. Smith of the Associated Press broke the story that, far from being a grassroots rally, the event of January 6 that led to the storming of the Capitol was organized and staffed by members of Trump’s presidential campaign team. These staffers have since tried to distance themselves from it, deleting their social media accounts and refusing to answer questions from reporters.

A number of the arrested insurrectionists have claimed that they were storming the Capitol because the president told them to. According to lawyers Teri Kanefield and Mark Reichel, writing in the Washington Post, this is known as the “public authority” defense, meaning that if someone in authority tells you it’s okay to break a law, that advice is a defense when you are arrested. It doesn’t mean you won’t be punished, but it is a defense. It also means that the person offering you that instruction is more likely to be prosecuted.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2021 at 2:45 pm

“Sense of Entitlement”: Rioters Faced No Consequences Invading State Capitols. No Wonder They Turned to the U.S. Capitol Next.

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Economics has the term “moral hazard,” which refers to a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences, e.g. by a bail-out. This issue was discussed a lot in the 2008 bailout of big banks, and indeed since the banks were protected from the consequences of their actions, they quickly returned to their old (and profitable) ways.

It strikes me that the lack of consequences for various offenses against the government (starting with, say, the 2014 Bundy armed refusal to stand down) has over time resulted in the insurrection in DC — and indeed many of the particcipants think they should not in any way face consequences for their actions.

Jeremy Kohler reports in ProPublica:

The gallery in the Idaho House was restricted to limited seating on the first day of a special session in late August. Lawmakers wanted space to socially distance as they considered issues related to the pandemic and the November election.

But maskless protesters shoved their way past Idaho State Police troopers and security guards, broke through a glass door and demanded entry. They were confronted by House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican. He decided to let them in and fill the gallery.

“You guys are going to police yourselves up there, and you’re going to act like good citizens,” he told the invaders, according to a YouTube video of the incident.

“I just thought that, on balance, it would be better to let them go in and defuse it … rather than risk anyone getting hurt or risk tearing up anything else,” Bedke said of the protesters in an interview last week. He said he talked to cooler heads in the crowd “who saw that it was a situation that had gotten out of control, and I think on some level they were very apologetic.”

That late-summer showdown inside the Statehouse in Boise on Aug. 24 showed supporters of President Donald Trump how they could storm into a seat of government to intimidate lawmakers with few if any repercussions. The state police would say later that they could not have arrested people without escalating the potential for violence and that they were investigating whether crimes were committed. No charges have been filed. The next day, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and two others were arrested when they refused to leave an auditorium in the Statehouse and another man was arrested when he refused to leave a press area.

In a year in which state governments around the country have become flashpoints for conservative anger about the coronavirus lockdown and Trump’s electoral defeat, it was right-wing activists — some of them armed, nearly all of them white — who forced their way into state capitols in Idaho, Michigan and Oregon. Each instance was an opportunity for local and national law enforcement officials to school themselves in ways to prevent angry mobs from threatening the nation’s lawmakers.

But it was Trump supporters who did the learning. That it was possible — even easy — to breach the seats of government to intimidate lawmakers. That police would not meet them with the same level of force they deployed against Black Lives Matter protesters. That they could find sympathizers on the inside who might help them.

And they learned that criminal charges, as well as efforts to make the buildings more secure, were unlikely to follow their incursions. In the three cases, police made only a handful of arrests.

The failure to stop state capitol invasions is especially chilling after the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, which left five dead, including a police officer, as lawmakers met to certify the election of President-elect Joe Biden.

Experts and elected officials said the lack of action by lawmakers and police created an environment that encouraged political violence. The FBI has warned of armed protests occurring in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to the inauguration on Wednesday. Authorities in both Washington and state capitols have dramatically strengthened security.

“Eventually, you get to the point of entitlement where you can get away with anything and there will never be any accountability,” the Idaho House minority leader, Ilana Rubel, a Democrat, said. “I don’t know that (Bedke) was wrong under the circumstances, but it adds up to creating a sense of entitlement.”

Bedke said he saw no correlation between the events in Boise and Washington. But domestic terror experts said in interviews that the statehouse invasions likely created a sense of impunity among right-wing activists. The feeling grew throughout the year as Trump praised gun-carrying activists at state capitols as “very good people” and emboldened the insurrectionists in Washington.

Amy Cooter, a Vanderbilt University sociologist and expert in the militia movement, said the U.S. Capitol attack may have been less likely to occur if the violence in state capitols had been met with harsher punishment.

What’s more, she said that authorities who failed to take action against protesters earlier may find it difficult to do so now.

While many Trump supporters already see their First Amendment rights as being under attack, they may see efforts to block them from state capitols as an attack on their Second Amendment rights, she said, further legitimizing their need to stand up to what they perceive as tyranny.

When officials acquiesce to demands, “it typically makes these folks feel like those are ‘constitutional’ officials who support their general aims, which can then embolden them against officials they believe to be the opposite, that is, officials they believe to be betraying their oaths to the people,” Cooter said.

If extremist groups “believe they have been given allowances in the past and are not moving forward, this can further reinforce that notion of officials who are derelict in their duty, officials who should be removed and, depending on what group we’re talking about, possibly officials who should be confronted with force.”

Days after Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” protesters taking part in an “American Patriot Rally” outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing on April 30 swarmed into the building demanding an end to the stay-at-home order put in place by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group, which numbered in the hundreds, included several heavily armed men. Few wore face coverings or observed social distancing. A line of state police troopers and other Capitol employees held the mob back from entering the House floor.

“We had hundreds of individuals storm our Capitol building,” state Rep. Sarah Anthony said in an interview. “No, lives were not lost, blood was not shed, property was not damaged, but I think they saw how easy it was to get into our building and they could get away with that type of behavior and there would be little to no consequences.”

Some armed invaders entered the Senate gallery. While none of the protesters faced charges, two of the men seen in a photo posted by state Sen. Dayna Polehanki looking down on lawmakers would be among the 14 people charged months later in a plot to kidnap Whitmer and bomb the state Capitol.

“It made national and international . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — other statehouses, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2021 at 12:55 pm

Letter from 68 Colorado elected officials requests investigation into Rep. Lauren Boebert’s actions

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KUSA reports from Colorado:

 In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, dozens of Colorado elected officials in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District expressed their “condemnation of Representative Lauren Boebert based on her association with the right wing groups that supported the insurrection of the Capitol Building,” and asked for an investigation into the Rifle Republican’s actions.

The letter, first obtained by Steamboat Pilot and Today, says “there is deep concern about her actions leading up to and during the protests that turned into a violent and deadly mob.”

Trump supporters on Jan. 6 stormed the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were trying to confirm the Electoral College certifications, making Democrat Joe Biden the presidential election winner.

The mob took over the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, the offices of the House speaker and the Senate dais. . .

Continue reading.

The text of the letter:

January 12, 2021

Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi
House Majority Leader, Representative Steny Hoyer
House Minority Leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. McCarthy,

As individuals who hold elected offices within the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado we are
writing to express our condemnation of Representative Lauren Boebert based on her association
with the right wing groups that supported the insurrection of the Capitol Building on Wednesday,
January 6, 2021. We have heard overwhelmingly from our constituents, therefore her
constituents, that there is deep concern about her actions leading up to and during the protests
that turned into a violent and deadly mob.

Representative Boebert’s actions, including her statements on the floor immediately preceding
the insurrection and her social media posts leading up to the riots were irresponsible and
reprehensible. The nation saw a direct attack on American democracy and the long-standing
symbol of that democracy. Representative Boebert’s speech and tweets encouraged the mob
mentality of her social media followers and the people who directly participated in the
destructive violence that disrupted a lawful democratic process from taking place as scheduled.
Three days prior, she took the oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Her recent behavior is in direct conflict with her responsibility as an elected official and we ask
the leadership of the House of Representatives to thoroughly investigate her actions. We believe
there is more than enough information to warrant an investigation and we ask that you follow
through with any appropriate disciplinary actions.

Our bigger concern is that hate groups are proliferating in America and they are heavily armed.
We request that you create a Congressional panel to thoroughly investigate these groups. They
pose a real threat to American democracy, to our communities and to our residents. We are all
deeply disturbed by the events that unfolded on Wednesday and we urge the appropriate legal
and congressional responses against the individuals and groups involved to prevent similar
actions in the future.

As elected officials we are dedicated to serving all those in our region regardless of their
affiliation. We take this responsibility seriously and expect Representative Boebert to do so as
well. We made multiple efforts to reach out directly to Representative Boebert without a
response.

Thank you for your leadership in these trying times.

Matt Scherr, Eagle County
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County
Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County
Jonathan Goades, Mayor, City of Glenwood Springs
Shelley Kaup, Mayor pro tem, City of Glenwood Springs
Ingrid Wassow, City of Glenwood Springs
Paula Stepp, City of Glenwood Springs
Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County
Roland Mason. Gunnison County
Elizabeth Smith, Gunnison County
Sara Gutterman, Hinsdale County
Greg Levine, Commissioner – Elect Hinsdale County
Kayla Marcella, Lake County
Sarah Mudge, Lake County
Jeff Fielder, Lake County Commissioner-elect
Gwen Lachelt, La Plata County . . .

And the list continues to include 68 names in all.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 10:30 am

Rep. Watson Coleman: “I’m 75. I had cancer. I got covid-19 because my GOP colleagues dismiss facts.”

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Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, writes in the Washington Post:

Over the past day, a lot of people have asked me how I feel. They are usually referring to my covid-19 diagnosis and my symptoms. I feel like I have a mild cold. But even more than that, I am angry.

I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick. I am angry that several of our nation’s leaders were unwilling to deal with the small annoyance of a mask for a few hours. I am angry that the attack on the Capitol and my subsequent illness have the same cause: my Republican colleagues’ inability to accept facts.

When I left for Washington last week, it was my first trip there in several months. I had a list of things to accomplish, including getting my picture taken for the card I use when voting on the House floor. For the past two years, I appeared on that card completely bald as a result of the chemotherapy I underwent to eliminate the cancer in my right lung. It was because of that preexisting condition that I relied so heavily on the proxy voting the House agreed to last year, when we first began to understand the danger of covid-19.

I was nervous about spending a week among so many people who regularly flout social distancing and mask guidelines, but I could not have imagined the horror of what happened on Jan. 6.

To isolate as much as possible, I planned to spend much of my day in my apartment, shuttling to the House floor to vote. But the building shares an alley with the Republican National Committee, where, we’d later learn, law enforcement found a pipe bomb. I was evacuated from that location early in the afternoon.

The next best option would have been my office in the Cannon House Office Building, where just three of my staffers worked at their desks to ensure safe distancing. Before I arrived, security evacuated that building as well, forcing us to linger in the hallways and cafeteria spaces of the House complex. As I’m sure you can imagine, pushing the occupants of an entire building into a few public spaces doesn’t make for great social distancing. Twice, I admonished groups of congressional staff to put on their masks. Some of these staffers gave me looks of derision, but slowly complied.

My staff and I then decided that the Capitol building would likely be the safest place to go, since it would be the most secure and least likely to be crowded. I’ve spent a lot of time since in utter disbelief at how wrong those assumptions turned out to be.

Everyone knows what happened next: A mob broke through windows and doors and beat a U.S. Capitol Police officer, then went on a rampage. Members and staff took cover wherever we could, ducking into offices throughout the building, then were told to move to a safer holding location.

I use “safer” because, while we might have been protected from the insurrectionists, we were not safe from the callousness of members of Congress who, having encouraged the sentiments that inspired the riot, now ignored requests to wear masks.

I’ve been asked if I will share the names of those members. You’ve probably seen video of some of them laughing at my colleague and friend Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) as she tries to distribute masks. But it’s not their names that matter.

What matters are facts, both about the covid-19 pandemic and the conduct of the 2020 election:

You can, in fact, breathe through a mask. Doctors have been doing it for decades. It is occasionally annoying — my glasses tend to fog, and when I wear makeup and a mask, I end up with smudged lipstick. That is a small price to pay for the safety of those around me.

You can, in fact, count on a mask to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Studies of how many droplets escape into the air and the rates of infection following the implementation of mask mandates both prove effectiveness.

Refusing to wear a mask is not, in fact, an act of self-expression. It’s an act of public endangerment. The chaos you create  . ..

Continue reading.

Alex London (@ca_london) noted on Twitter:

Members of Congress who feel they have to carry a gun to protect their colleagues but won’t wear a mask to protect their colleagues, don’t want to protect their colleagues. They’re just hoping they get to kill someone.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 10:16 am

Pure corruption: Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump

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Michael S. Schmidt and Kenneth P. Vogel report some nasty business in the NY Times:

As President Trump prepares to leave office in days, a lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head, with some of his allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, according to documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers.

The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Mr. Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers. Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Mr. Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies.

The pardon lobbying heated up as it became clear that Mr. Trump had no recourse for challenging his election defeat, lobbyists and lawyers say. One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme.

Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer John M. Dowd has marketed himself to convicted felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients to leverage Mr. Trump’s grievances about the justice system.

A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, according to a copy of an agreement.

And Mr. Kiriakou was separately told that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani could help him secure a pardon for $2 million. Mr. Kiriakou rejected the offer, but an associate, fearing that Mr. Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, alerted the F.B.I. Mr. Giuliani challenged this characterization.

After Mr. Trump’s impeachment for inciting his supporters before the deadly riot at the Capitol, and with Republican leaders turning on him, the pardon power remains one of the last and most likely outlets for quick unilateral action by an increasingly isolated, erratic president. He has suggested to aides he wants to take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of pardoning himself, though it was not clear whether he had broached the topic since the rampage.

He has also discussed issuing pre-emptive pardons to his children, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Giuliani.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Legal scholars and some pardon lawyers shudder at the prospect of such moves, as well as the specter of Mr. Trump’s friends and allies offering to pursue pardons for others in exchange for cash.

“This kind of off-books influence peddling, special-privilege system denies consideration to the hundreds of ordinary people who have obediently lined up as required by Justice Department rules, and is a basic violation of the longstanding effort to make this process at least look fair,” said Margaret Love, who ran the Justice Department’s clemency process from 1990 until 1997 as the United States pardon attorney. . . .

Continue reading. I suppose technically it’s not corruption, since those getting the payments do not hold office, but it certainly strikes me as corruption’s cousin. Trump and his circle continue to degrade the US.

The article continues with a list of convicted criminals who want pardons and the connections they’re using and the money they are paying.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 8:02 am

Good insight: The far right embraces violence because it has no real political program

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Suzanne Schneider, a historian at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and author of the forthcoming book “The Apocalypse and the End of History,” writes in the Washington Post:

More than a week has passed since a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol, but we are still struggling to come to terms with the day’s events. Much of the difficulty stems from the fact that the Trump mob was both menacing and ridiculous, dangerous and utterly delusional. On one hand, there was an absurdist quality to many participants: conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, militia members, fans of animal pelts. Yet our cosplaying revolutionaries were not playing at all, leaving five dead and dozens wounded. Some said they were intent on genuine violence: “We will storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount,” a user reportedly wrote on 8kun the day before the assault.

We cannot make sense of the Capitol attack simply by trying to assess whether its perpetrators were really out for blood or just acting out a game of make-believe for the benefit of the cameras. The Trump insurrectionists exposed that a politics of spectacle, built upon delusion, is no less dangerous than “the real thing.” Precisely because they lack an affirmative political vision, far-right movements fetishize violence as the premier form of civic participation. It is what is offered to the masses in lieu of actual power. The result is violence that becomes almost casual, shorn of any political rationale and reflecting a reality in which human beings are just as disposable as their video game counterparts.

Events from recent years make it clear that the binary between fantasy and danger is a false one. Consider, for instance, the mass shooters who live-stream their rampages on Facebook or gaming platforms such as Twitch, a growing trend from Florida to New Zealand to Germany. Performative violence of this sort is no less real for being optimized for our new media ecosystem. If anything, performative violence gains its horrific quality because it treats human beings as means to an end — props that frame the protagonists’ moment of glory. The attack on the Capitol exists on a spectrum with these acts of violence, offering yet another instance of live action role play directed against real human bodies. The truly frightening thing about cosplaying in this regard is that it is part of a politics of delusion that is acted out in the real world. That many who participated in the attack are having trouble grasping the legal consequences that came along with their live-streamed insurrection testifies to this sense of confusion between material life and the revolutionaries they played on TV.

What does the growing prevalence of this mode of violence as spectacle — and the groups that embrace it — mean? In 1936, the German-Jewish critic Walter Benjamin observed that “fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.” That is to say, fascists used art in the service of politics to deflect people from pursuing the redistributive demands that historically came alongside mass political movements. Today, too, such performances furnish excitement and purpose for participants while leaving alone the underlying power structures that oppress them. Benjamin noted the rise of fascist aesthetics in contemporary film, visual arts, and ceremonies and other civic rituals; today, we encounter a much-reduced range of aesthetic expression. To the extent that the far right makes art, composes music or writes literature, it is so poor in quality that it can be read only as kitsch. What is left, and what is truly glorified within the emerging far-right imagination, is violence. Ours might be a hollowed-out fascism, a reality TV version of the 20th century’s premier political horror, but that does not make it any less dangerous. Kitsch can also kill.

For far-right leaders today, inciting violence against the nation’s “enemies” offers the fan base a pathway to political participation that preserves the anti-democratic character of the movement, as if to say: We do not need you to govern, only to harm. It is no wonder, then, that intimations of violence have become a common mode of personal expression among adherents of current far-right movements: Cue a thousand photos of extremists decked out in tactical gear, toting their professional-grade death tools and looking eager to reenact some bit of revolutionary drama. The insurrectionist wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt seemed ready to take up his guard duties against political prisoners but not to stop the certification of Biden’s victory. Violence has become the central act through which the far right understands political agency, which is why fantasies about harming the nation’s “enemies” — journalistsactivistsopposition politicians — abound within the right-wing imaginary.

Violence is not, in this sense, ancillary to far-right politics but central to preserving the vast inequalities that even its “moderate” supporters wish to maintain. Beyond the tax cuts and deregulation so favored by his plutocratic backers, President Trump’s signature accomplishments were notable for their gratuitous cruelty: the ban on travel from Muslim nations, family separation at the southern border, home invasions and deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that served no material interest beyond offering his fan base reasons to cheer. These are not disjointed parts of the right-wing agenda, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have recently argued, but rather co-dependent, which is one reason the growth of white nationalism has mirrored the uptick in economic inequality. Acts of violence, particularly against people of color, are the spoonful of sugar that helps the GOP’s economic platform — notoriously unpopular among its base — go down. Violence does the deflective work Benjamin identified with fascist aesthetics.

The events this month also underscored that “freedom” — that most signature of conservative values — has been refashioned to contain violence at its core: freedom to carry a weapon and use it at will, to infect others around you during a pandemic, to die of preventable disease rather than submit to a national health-care system. Moreover, the primacy of violence within the right’s political vision also helps explain why our authorized death dispensers — police officers and military personnel — have become demigods in certain circles. (That’s why it was so shocking to see the Trump mob engage Capitol Police officers in battle, violating the unmatched sanctity of blue lives.) The right fringe also likes to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 7:09 pm

The American Abyss: Fascism, Atrocity, and What Comes Next

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Timothy Snyder, Levin professor of history at Yale University and the author of histories of political atrocity including “Bloodlands” and “Black Earth,” as well as the book “On Tyranny,” on America’s turn toward authoritarianism, writes in the NY Times Magazine on the mechanisms and failures that brought the US political system to its current state of wreckage:

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent. In 2020, in the knowledge that he was trailing Joseph R. Biden in the polls, he spent months claiming that the presidential election would be rigged and signaling that he would not accept the results if they did not favor him. He wrongly claimed on Election Day that he had won and then steadily hardened his rhetoric: With time, his victory became a historic landslide and the various conspiracies that denied it ever more sophisticated and implausible.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices. Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.

In this sense, the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome.

Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.

Of course this did make a kind of sense: If the election really had been stolen, as senators and congressmen were themselves suggesting, then how could Congress be allowed to move forward? For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Afterward, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that had forced them to flee their chambers.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — it’s a long article — and at the link you can also listen to it (30 minutes at normal speed).

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 1:56 pm

Combat in the Capitol

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It was worse than it’s been portrayed. Rebecca Solnit on Facebook:

One of the things seldom remembered is that 9/11 in NYC could have been much worse. Nearly everyone in the Twin Towers below the plane impacts got out alive, the great majority of people there, before the buildings collapsed (and because there was an election that Tuesday morning, a lot of people were not at work at all, so the towers were much emptier than usual).

Likewise, 1/6 could have been much worse. It nearly was.

Reading the Washington Post‘s riveting, horrifying firsthand accounts (published Thursday night; posted on my page) from the police who were battling the insurgents is a reminder that thousands of would-be assassins with guns were engaged in hours of brutal, almost unhinged hand-to-hand combat to try to get at the elected officials. (One police account says that they confiscated a lot of guns and knew there were far more, and that he suspected the protestors were waiting for the police to shoot first, so, aside from the shot that took out the Navy vet, they didn’t.) That the mob did not manage to lay hands on any of our representatives, so far as we know, seems remarkable under the circumstances. There would have been beatings, probably rapes and murders, possibly torture and hostage-taking.

The first round of images of the goofballs lounging among the paintings and sculptures, taking selfies, putting feet up on a Pelosi staffer’s desk were misleading. Elsewhere, it was combat. A lot of police, ex-soldiers, militia members in the crowd were committing some very organized violence.
We were misled by the early photographs and media accounts, which didn’t sufficiently portray the sheer violence of that day. I think that some blame for what happened lies with some members of the Capitol police; much will probably turn out to lie with those officials elsewhere who failed to gather or act on the information that monumental violence was planned or possibly actively suppressed that information and the aid that should have been given to the Capitol force beforehand and during what it now feels legitimate to call a battle.

What I know for sure is that we know a lot more today than we did on 1/6, and we will continue to learn. About, among other things, a broad conspiracy to try to topple the government by attacking the legislative branch with lethal violence. (As I wrote in Lithub a few days ago, their devout faith in violence was misplaced; even had they succeeded in taking the building and killing some congresspeople and senators or taking hostages, they would not have convinced the nation and the world that 45 was the legitimate winner of the November election and entitled to stay in office.) I think we are seeing the first edges of a many-faceted conspiracy.

The more people recognize this, the more the alliance between these invaders and their supporters in right-wing media, among elected officials, and beyond will be questioned. This is the culmination of who this sector has become over the past four years, a disinhibited, intoxicated version of the worst of what the far right has long been. The supporters need to either assent to what happened or disown it; the long having it both ways needs to end. Or so it seems to me tonight.

See also: ‘We got to hold this door’: How battered D.C. police made a stand against the Capitol mob.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2021 at 8:18 pm

Two good quotes from David Pell’s newsletter

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David Pell writes:

ET TWO, BRUTE

No, you’re not seeing double. No need to do a double take. The House of Reps is serving up impeachments, and Trump said, “Make mine a double.” The two-faced, two-timing, double-crossing, seditious recidivist, for whom treachery is second nature, is a repeat offender, setting a double standard by becoming the first president to suffer twin falls; getting impeached twice over, suffering double trouble and a second reprimand because he couldn’t accept coming in second place and instead turned America’s Capitol into a two-bit riot act. In other words, Trump finally grew a pair. Now we’re tired of all the twinning. Individual One just made number two. You dropped a deuce, Ace.

And also offers this observation:

Some GOP House members indicated to reporters that they would have voted for impeachment but they feared for their lives. Folks, this is the very definition of living in an autocracy: Fear of violence bends elected officials away from the people they represent, or the law, in favor of the autocrat’s will. It’s how the mafia runs. It’s how bullies rule the school yard. It’s not how America is supposed to work.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2021 at 8:52 pm

Where Journalism Fails

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Doc Searls blogged in July 2019:

“What’s the story?”

No question is asked more often by editors in newsrooms than that one. And for good reason: that’s what news is about: The Story.

Or, in the parlance of the moment, The Narrative. (Trend.)

I was just 22 when I wrote my first stories as a journalist, reporting for a daily newspaper in New Jersey. It was there that I first learned that all stories are built around three elements:

  1. Character
  2. Problem
  3. Movement toward resolution

Subtract one or more of those and all you’ll have is an item, or an incident. Not a story. Which won’t run. So let’s unpack those elements a bit.

The character can be a person, a group, a team, a cause—anything with a noun. Mainly the character needs to be worth caring about in some way. You can love the character, hate it (or him, or her or whatever). Mainly you have to care about the character enough to be interested.

The problem can be of any kind at all, so long as it causes conflict involving the character. All that matters is that the conflict keeps going, toward the possibility of resolution. If the conflict ends, the story is over. For example, if you’re at a sports event, and your team is up (or down) by forty points with five minutes left, the character you now care about is your own ass, and your problem is getting it out of the parking lot. If that struggle turns out to be interesting, it might be a story you tell later at a bar.)

Movement toward resolution is nothing more than that. Bear in mind that many stories never arrive at a conclusion. In fact, that may be part of the story itself. Soap operas work that way.

For a case-in-point of how this can go very wrong, we have the character now serving as President of the United States, creating problems and movement around them with nearly everything he says and does.

We have never seen Donald Trump’s like before, and may never again. His genius at working all three elements are without equal in our time—or perhaps any time. So please, if you can, set your politics aside and just look at the dude through the prism of Story.

Donald Trump spins up stories at least four ways:

  1. Through constant characterization of others, for example with nicknames (“Little Mario,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Failing New York Times”)
  2. By finding or creating problems, and characterizing those too: “witch hunt,” “fake news,” “illegal ballots,” “Dominion-izing the Vote.”
  3. By creating movement via the Roy Cohn and Roger Stone playbook: always attack or counter-attack, sue constantly, claim victory no matter what. (Roy Cohn was a lawyer Frank Rich felicitously called “The worst human being who ever lived … the most evil, twisted, vicious bastard ever to snort coke at Studio 54.” Talk about character: Cohn was absolutely interesting. As Politico puts it here, “Cohn imparted an M.O. that’s been on searing display throughout Trump’s ascent, his divisive, captivating campaign, and his fraught, unprecedented presidency. Deflect and distract, never give in, never admit fault, lie and attack, lie and attack, publicity no matter what, win no matter what, all underpinned by a deep, prove-me-wrong belief in the power of chaos and fear.”)
  4. By playing the ultimate alpha. That’s why he constantly calls himself the winner, no matter what.
  5. By de-legitimizing facts, truths, norms, and those who traffic in them. Key to this is accusing others of wrongs he commits himself. This is why he labels CNN and other news organizations “fake news” while turning the generation of it into an art form. Also why his accusations against others are a reliable tell of his own guilt for doing the same thing.
  6. As for movement, every new problem Trump creates or intensifies is meant to generate an emotional response, which is movement in itself.

Look closely: the news Trump makes is deliberate, theatrical and constant. All of it is staged and re-staged, so every unavoidably interesting thing he says or does pushes the last thing he said or did off the stage and into irrelevance, because whatever he’s saying or doing now demands full attention, no matter what he said or did yesterday.

There is true genius to this, and it requires understanding and respect—especially by those who report on it.

You can call this trolling, or earned media coverage, meaning the free kind. Both are true. So is comparing Trump to The Mule in Isaac Azimov’s Foundation and Empire. (The Mule was a mutant with exceptional influence over the emotions of whole populations. It was by noting this resemblance that I, along with Scott Adamsexpected Trump to win in 2016.)

Regardless of what one calls it, we do have two big fails for journalism here:

  1. Its appetite for stories proves a weakness when it’s fed by a genius at hogging the stage.
  2. It avoids reporting what doesn’t fit the story format. This includes most of reality.

My favorite priest says “some truths are so deep only stories can tell them,” and I’m sure this is true. But stories by themselves are also inadequate ways to present essential facts people need to know, because by design they exclude what doesn’t fit “the narrative,” which is the modern way to talk about story—and to spin journalists. (My hairs of suspicion stand on end every time I hear the word “narrative.”)

So here’s the paradox: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 6:09 pm

Insurrection Timeline – First the Coup and Then the Cover-Up

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Steven Harper writes at Moyers on Democracy:

The Department of Defense’s January 8, 2021 press release purports to “memorialize the planning and execution timeline” of the deadly insurrection that it calls the “January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC.”*

The memo’s minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump’s central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Who is Christopher Miller?

By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller’s promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).

At such a late date in Trump’s presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.

Prior to the Attack

The department’s January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump’s central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard “to support law enforcement.”

Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with “(DoD Memo)” summarize items from the Defense Department’s January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.

Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: “I will be there. Historic day.”

Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.

January 6, 2021:

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.

  • “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
  • “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.”
  • “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump’s crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won’t intervene in Congress’s electoral count: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority.”

1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. “We’re going to the Capitol. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The Attack

If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.

(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.: The Capitol Police orders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.

1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy — who reports to Miller — for more federal help to deal with the mob.

Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.

(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.: The Capitol Police chief asks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.

2:15 p.m.: Trump’s mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.

(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.

They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It’s been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, “Hang Mike Pence.” Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.

2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.

“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund says. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”

The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.

(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser’s request.

(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.: Miller gives “verbal approval” to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).

It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn’t know the status of her request.

(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.: Pelosi and Schumer call Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser’s request has now been approved.

(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy calls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.

The Defense Department’s notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.

While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser’s request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.

3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia’s National Guard. But there’s a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state’s National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn’t come until almost two hours later.FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence

(DoD Memo) 3:47 p.m. Governor Hogan mobilizes his state’s National Guard and 200 state troopers.

The Defense Department “repeatedly denies” Hogan’s request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.

4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Also of interest: “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” a report in the Washington Post. Republicans in general, and particularly those who supported the Trump administration prior to the uprising (that is, almost all Republicans), are frantically trying to hide or minimize their involvement and support of the insurrection, including making the ludicrous claim that those storming the Capitol were not Trump supports but Antifa members disguised as Trump supporters.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 12:08 pm

20 Lessons from the 20th Century About How to Defend Democracy from Authoritarianism: A Timely List from Yale Historian Timothy Snyder

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This post on Open Culture is worth reading in full, but let me extract just this:

Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, is one of the foremost scholars in the U.S. and Europe on the rise and fall of totalitarianism during the 1930s and 40s. Among his long list of appointments and publications, he has won multiple awards for his recent international bestsellers Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin and last year’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningThat book in part makes the argument that Nazism wasn’t only a German nationalist movement but had global colonialist origins—in Russia, Africa, and in the U.S., the nation that pioneered so many methods of human extermination, racist dehumanization, and ideologically-justified land grabs.

. . .

Rather than making a historical case for viewing the U.S. as exactly like one of the totalitarian regimes of WWII Europe, Snyder presents 20 lessons we might learn from those times and use creatively in our own where they apply. In my view, following his suggestions would make us wiser, more self-aware, proactive, responsible citizens, whatever lies ahead. Read Snyder’s lessons from his Facebook post below and consider ordering his latest book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century:

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 5:18 pm

Superspreader Down: How Trump’s Exile from Social Media Alters the Future of Politics, Security, and Public Health

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Peter W. Singer writes at Defense One:

By the numbers, no person in human history has shared more conspiracy theories with a greater number of people than Donald J. Trump. Among all the momentous events of the last week, the silencing of his social-media megaphones is a “yuge” moment not just for American politics but a host of issues from public health to national security.

In researching LikeWar, Emerson Brooking’s and my book on the weaponization of social media, I actually went back and read every single @realdonaldtrump tweet, going back to his very first: a May 4, 2009, announcement of his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show. As you sift through the more than 57,000 tweets that follow, the sheer scale of the lies and insults becomes mind-numbing. (I joke about my “information warfare PTSD.”) Yet what is also notable is how many conspiracy theories Trump both started or massively elevated long before becoming president. They ranged from well-known lies like birtherism to other ones that are even more despicable in retrospect, like fueling anti-vaccine myths.

Most importantly, we found that Trump was spectacularly effective in persuading others to spread his conspiracy theories. Our research showed that, just like in public health, superspreaders are the key to virality. The path to making the internet less toxic is placing limits on these superspreaders, be they ISIS propagandists or right-wing extremists. Instead of trying to police everyone, we must focus on key nodes that affect everyone.

Banning Trump is obviously the headline event for social media, but it reflects a larger policy shift by the companies that created and run these now-essential networks. These firms are now making content moderation decisions based increasingly not just on whether a user or a post violated their rules, but what effect these might have on people off the network. This was already shifting as firms adjusted to reduce COVID-19 misinformation, but hit its culmination in Trump’s ejection.

Over the last year, and seen most explosively in the violent seizing of the Capitol, the political context changed, both on social media and in the real world. But Trump didn’t seem to understand it. Or, maybe, having never been held accountable from birth onwards, the outgoing president thought he could keep on operating the same way: crossing a line, and getting away with it. Importantly, Twitter decided he had crossed a final line. He had not just repeatedly broken the platform’s rules on election-fraud claims. Now, even after all the events at the Capitol, he had used his return to Twitter after an initial suspension to immediately break the pledge of a “peaceful transition” that he had made in a stilted video released just the night before.

What too many in media and politics are missing, but what Twitter and the other platforms couldn’t ignore, was Trump’s announcement that he would not be participating in the Inaugural events. With that, he didn’t just go back on his pledge of peaceful transition, but threw gasoline on the fire yet again. There were already a series of extremist militia events planned for Jan. 17 in various state capitals. (The storming of the U.S. Capitol was not isolated; last week saw armed pro-Trump mobs also attempt or succeed in breaking into state legislatures and governors’ homes in Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington state.) Even more worrisome, security analysts had picked up online discussion of a “Million Militia March” set for Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C. Its purpose, at least in the chatter, is not just to disrupt Biden’s inauguration, but also to seek violent payback on police for the supposed “martyrdom” of the rioter killed in the Capitol. Twitter officials concluded that Trump’s tweets “are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021.”

Whether Trump intended the dual dog whistle or not, it was heard that way by both the “patriots” whom he’d told he “loved” even as they rampaged and chanted “Hang Mike Pence, Hang Mike Pence,” and by the platform companies that own the networks he needed for his rabble-rousing messages. And for them, as it should be for the rest of us, Trump had lost the benefit of the doubt.

The reverberations of Trump’s deplatforming as part of this larger shift will shake out for not just the coming days, but over the long term — and in everything from terrorism to public health. The reason is that it fundamentally alters the playing field.

Everything in the social media ecosystem was once  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:35 pm

The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage

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Josh Hawley, like many on the Christian Right, have the attitude toward belief that Henry Ford had toward car color: Ford said that you could have a car in any color you wanted so long as you wanted black, and Hawley and his ilk say you can believe anything you like so long as you believe as they tell you to.

Katherine Stewart reports in the NY Times:

In today’s Republican Party, the path to power is to build up a lie in order to overturn democracy. At least that is what Senator Josh Hawley was telling us when he offered a clenched-fist salute to the pro-Trump mob before it ransacked the Capitol, and it is the same message he delivered on the floor of the Senate in the aftermath of the attack, when he doubled down on the lies about electoral fraud that incited the insurrection in the first place. How did we get to the point where one of the bright young stars of the Republican Party appears to be at war with both truth and democracy?

Mr. Hawley himself, as it happens, has been making the answer plain for some time. It’s just a matter of listening to what he has been saying.

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”

In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. Mr. Hawley is not shy about making the point explicit. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, he declared — paraphrasing the Dutch Reformed theologian and onetime prime minister Abraham Kuyper — “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” Mr. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his claim that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm,” Mr. Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

Mr. Hawley has built his political career among people who believe that Shariah is just around the corner even as they attempt to secure privileges for their preferred religious groups to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove. Before he won election as a senator, he worked for Becket, a legal advocacy group that often coordinates with the right-wing legal juggernaut the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is a familiar presence on the Christian right media circuit.

The American Renewal Project, which hosted the event where Mr. Hawley delivered the speech I mentioned earlier, was founded by David Lane, a political organizer who has long worked behind the scenes to connect conservative pastors and Christian nationalist figures with politicians. The choice America faces, according to Mr. Lane, is “to be faithful to Jesus or to pagan secularism.”

The line of thought here is starkly binary and nihilistic. It says that human existence in an inevitably pluralistic, modern society committed to equality is inherently worthless. It comes with the idea that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness.

At the heart of Mr. Hawley’s condemnation of our terrifyingly Pelagian world lies a dark conclusion about the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies. When he was still attorney general, William Barr articulated this conclusion in a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he blamed “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

Christian nationalists’ acceptance of President Trump’s spectacular turpitude these past four years was a good measure of just how dire they think our situation is. Even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.

That this neo-medieval vision is incompatible with constitutional democracy is clear. But in case you’re in doubt, consider where

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:31 pm

A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon

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In watching the videos of the attack on the Capitol it struck me that it seemed somewhat like a multplayer online game acted out in real life (especially given that such games usually seem to involve combat — as if we are doing simulation training to make people adopt violence as the standard way of solving problems). The parallels — and the effects of learning behaviors from online games — are discussed in a very interesting article on Medium.

Friedrich Nietzche’s famously wrote, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” First I’ll observe that the QAnon worldview does indeed have its converts fighting monsters (cannibalistic pedophile Satan-worshiping liberals), and as we saw on Wednesday, some of the QAnon faithful have indeed become monsters. Moreover, as the following article points out, those playing the game QAnon are being played by the game.

One thing I gleaned from the article is why teaching by the Socratic method is so effective

Reed Berkowitz writes:

I am a game designer with experience in a very small niche. I create and research games designed to be played in reality. I’ve worked in Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), LARPsexperience fictioninteractive theater, and “serious games”. Stories and games that can start on a computer, and finish in the real world. Fictions designed to feel as real as possible. Games that teach you. Puzzles that come to life all around the players. Games where the deeper you dig, the more you find. Games with rabbit holes that invite you into wonderland and entice you through the looking glass.

When I saw QAnon, I knew exactly what it was and what it was doing. I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)

QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.

It is the differences that shed the light on how QAnon works and many of them are hard to see if you’re not involved in game development. QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.

Guided Apophenia

In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

Apophenia is “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it’s not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at. More about this later.

Everyone on the board agrees with you because it’s highly likely they were the ones that pointed it out to you just for that purpose. (more on this later)

“Hey, what’s that?!”

“It looks like an arrow, pointing at the wall.”

“Why do you think it’s there? Do people just leave arrows pointing to things randomly? What does your common sense say about that?”

“It says there must be something there.”

“Yes. You are right. Maybe you should look at it more closely?”

Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.

Even Q-Anon was only one of several “anons” including FBIanon and CIAanon, etc, etc. Q rose to the top, so it got its own YouTube channels. That tested, so it moved to Reddit. The theories that didn’t work, disappeared while others got up-voted. It’s ingenious. It’s AI with a group-think engine. The group, led by the puppet masters, decide what is the most entertaining and gripping explanation, and that is amplified. It’s a Slenderman board gone amok.

Let’s go back to the arrow on the ground again.

It was not an arrow on the ground, pointing to a clue in a wall. It was just some random bits of wood. They did not discover an arrow. They created it. They saw random pieces of wood and applied their intelligence to it, and this is everything.

It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.

Propaganda and Manipulation

Another major difference between QAnon and an actual game, is that Q is almost pure propaganda. That IS the sole purpose of this. It’s not advertising a product, it’s not for fun, and it’s not an art project. There is no doubt about the political nature of the propaganda either. From ancient tropes about Jews and Democrats eating babies (blood-libel re-booted) to anti-science hysteria, this is all the solid reliable stuff of authoritarianism. This is the internet’s re-purposing of hatred’s oldest hits. The messaging is spot on. The “drops” implanted in an aspic of anti-Semitic, misogynist, and grotesque posts on posting boards that, indeed, have been implicated in many of the things the fake conspiracy is supposed to be guilty of!

Q is also operating in conjunction with  . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 12:30 pm

Why poor people find Trump attractive

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This is a Twitter thread that seems to have been deleted. It is by @jpbrammer and was posted 18 Nov 2016. I have typed it out from screengrabs of the tweets.

So I’m a Mexican-American from a poor rural (mostly white) town in Oklahoma. Missing from this debate? How poor whites seem themselves.

If you’re wondering how poor exploited white people could vote for a dude with a golden elevator who will fuck them over, here’s how.

They don’t see themselves as poor. They don’t base their identity on it. They see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The stigma against poverty is incredibly strong. It is shameful to be poor, to not have the comforts of the middle class. So they pretend —

that they aren’t poor. They are willing to lie to make it seem that they aren’t poor. They purchase things to make it seem like they’re not.

In my town, wealth waan’t associated with greed, but with hard work and inherent goodness. You are blessed if you have material wealth.

When they see Trump they don’t see an extortionist who is rich because of the very conditions that keep their own communities in poverty.

They see someone who worked hard and was justly rewarded with wealth. Most men, especially, think they too could be Trump were it not for

the unfair obstacles put in their way. White men who don’t consider themselves successful enough have so many excuses for their “failures.”

The idea that immigrants are the reason they are poor and not wealthy like Trump is so appealing. It takes all the shame and blame away.

And here we have a man who, they think, “tells it like it is’ and is willing to name the things stealing prosperity out of their hands.

If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn’t stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different.

But American has so entangled wealth with goodness and poverty with moral deficiency that they can’t build that identity. They won’t.

Trump is rich, and so according to American criteria, he is also:
1. Wise
2. Fair
3. Moral
4. Deserving
5. Strong
6. Clever
He *has* to be.

Capitalism and the American Dream teach that poverty is a temporary state that can be transcend with hard work and cleverness.

To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit that you are poor, is to admit that you are neither hardworking nor clever. It’s cultural brainwashing.

So if an exploited class of people don’t want to admit they’re exploited and they blame themselves for their oppression, what manifests?

Xenophobia. Hatred of anyone who is “different,” queer people, people of color. These people are eroding the “goodness” of America.

And if they would just stop ruining America, then the perfect design of America could work again and deliver prosperity.

I’m telling you, as someone who has spent almost his entire life in this environment, that if you think cities are a “bubble…” Good God.

How you balance those realities, and what conclusions you reach to improve the lives of both, well, I’m not smart enough to have the answer.

Still, we need to understand the identity working class white people have built for themselves, on diametrically opposed to, well, reality.

Because Trump won’t make them rich. Even if he deports all the brown people, it won’t bring them what they’re hoping for.

It strikes me that once a person’s falls into accepting an illusion as true, they become vulnerable to more deceptions because they’ve lost touch with the testing ground of reality — false hopes, false dreams, false statements have more power on those who already live in self-deception or who already believe a false vision.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 3:01 pm

A Truth Reckoning: Forbes Will Hold Accountable Those Who Lied For Trump

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Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor of Forbes, writes:

Yesterday’s insurrection was rooted in lies. That a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world’s oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline.

That Donald Trump devolved from commander-in-chief to liar-in-chief didn’t surprise Forbes: As we’ve chronicled early and often, for all his billions and Barnum-like abilities, he’s been shamelessly exaggerating and prevaricating to our faces for almost four decades. More astonishing: the number of people willing to lend credence to that obvious mendacity on his behalf.

In this time of transition – and pain – reinvigorating democracy requires a reckoning. A truth reckoning. Starting with the people paid by the People to inform the People.

As someone in the business of facts, it’s been especially painful to watch President Trump’s press secretaries debase themselves. Yes, as with their political bosses, spins and omissions and exaggerations are part of the game. But ultimately in PR, core credibility is the coin of the realm.

From Day One at the Trump White House, up has been down, yes has been no, failure has been success. Sean Spicer set the tone with the inauguration crowd size – the worst kind of whopper, as it demanded that people disbelieve their own eyes. The next day, Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lie with a new term, “alternative facts.” Spicer’s successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied at scale, from smearing those who accused Trump of sexual harassment to conjuring jobs statistics. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, over the course of a year, never even held a press conference, though the BS continued unabated across friendly outlets. And finally, Kayleigh McEnany, Harvard Law graduate, a propaganda prodigy at 32 who makes smiling falsehood an art form. All of this magnified by journalists too often following an old playbook ill-prepared for an Orwellian communication era.

As American democracy rebounds, we need to return to a standard of truth when it comes to how the government communicates with the governed. The easiest way to do that, from where I sit, is to create repercussions for those who don’t follow the civic norms. Trump’s lawyers lie gleefully to the press and public, but those lies, magically, almost never made it into briefs and arguments – contempt, perjury and disbarment keep the professional standards high.

So what’s the parallel in the dark arts of communication? Simple: Don’t . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 1:31 pm

Arnold Schwarzenegger points out similarities between Capitol Hill insurrection and Austria’s Kristallnacht

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 11:27 am

Why Parler is doomed

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A very interesting Twitter thread by David Troy in a very interesting new app that presents Twitter threads in readable form. The thread begins:

THREAD: Now that @amazon @awscloud has announced they will no longer host @parler_app, many have speculated that they will just “find another host.”

Here is why that’s not so simple and what it will likely mean for the app’s future. First, let’s look at where things are… 

2/ Google and Apple have removed the app from their app stores, effectively terminating growth on mobile devices. People can still access the (not good) web UI until Amazon terminates them today. CEO Matze has said they may be down “up to a week” while they find new hosting. 
3/ Translated to English, that’s code for “we have no idea what’s going to happen next.” No US cloud provider (Microsoft, Google, IBM, Digital Ocean) is likely to touch this, as it could be seen as providing material support for sedition. No CEO or counsel wants to get near this. 
4/ They could potentially “roll their own” data center by buying servers and putting them in a co-location facility. But that’s a single point of failure, and many colo providers would be just as likely to decline their business. It would be hard and risky to pursue this. 
5/ Imagine, after they sweated like pigs to get this hardware all setup, if they get told their colo provider is booting them. That’s a lot of metal to then move somewhere else. Meanwhile, the user base is deteriorating because chaos and dying apps. They will go to other venues. 
6/ They also have . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And also read his earlier thread about Parler and its intimate connections with Russia. That is a must-read.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 11:00 am

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?

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In Wired Steven Levy writes on a long bet come due. It’s also a litmus test for one’s own view of societal progress over the past quarter-century: are the average person of today better off now than the average person in 1995? The article begins:

ON MARCH 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush.

Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that, they believed, reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production.

Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

Kelly hated Sale’s book. His reaction went beyond mere disagreement; Sale’s thesis insulted his sense of the world. So he showed up at Sale’s door not just in search of a verbal brawl but with a plan to expose what he saw as the wrongheadedness of Sale’s ideas. Kelly set up his tape recorder on a table while Sale sat behind his desk.

The visit was all business, Sale recalls. “No eats, no coffee, no particular camaraderie,” he says. Sale had prepped for the interview by reading a few issues of WIRED—he’d never heard of it before Kelly contacted him—and he expected a tough interview. He later described it as downright “hostile, no pretense of objective journalism.” (Kelly later called it adversarial, “because he was an adversary, and he probably viewed me the same way.”) They argued about the Amish, whether printing presses denuded forests, and the impact of technology on work. Sale believed it stole decent labor from people. Kelly replied that technology helped us make new things we couldn’t make any other way. “I regard that as trivial,” Sale said.

Sale believed society was on the verge of collapse. That wasn’t entirely bad, he argued. He hoped the few surviving humans would band together in small, tribal-style clusters. They wouldn’t be just off the grid. There would be no grid. Which was dandy, as far as Sale was concerned.

“History is full of civilizations that have collapsed, followed by people who have had other ways of living,” Sale said. “My optimism is based on the certainty that civilization will collapse.”

That was the opening Kelly had been waiting for. In the final pages of his Luddite book, Sale had predicted society would collapse “within not more than a few decades.” Kelly, who saw technology as an enriching force, believed the opposite—that society would flourish. Baiting his trap, Kelly asked just when Sale thought this might happen.

Sale was a bit taken aback—he’d never put a date on it. Finally, he blurted out 2020. It seemed like a good round number.

Kelly then asked how, in a quarter century, one might determine whether Sale was right.

Sale extemporaneously cited three factors: an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.

“Would you be willing to bet on your view?” Kelly asked.

“Sure,” Sale said.

Then Kelly sprung his trap. He had come to Sale’s apartment with a $1,000 check drawn on his joint account with this wife. Now he handed it to his startled interview subject. “I bet you $1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe,” he said.

Sale barely had $1,000 in his bank account. But he figured that if he lost, a thousand bucks would be worth much less in 2020 anyway. He agreed. Kelly suggested they both send their checks for safekeeping to William Patrick, the editor who had handled both Sale’s Luddite book and Kelly’s recent tome on robots and artificial life; Sale agreed.

“Oh, boy,” Kelly said after Sale wrote out the check. “This is easy money.”

Twenty-five years later, the once distant deadline is here. We are locked down. Income equality hasn’t been this bad since just before the Great Depression. California and Australia were on fire this year. We’re about to find out how easy that money is. As the time to settle approached, both men agreed that Patrick, the holder of the checks, should determine the winner on December 31. Much more than a thousand bucks was at stake: The bet was a showdown between two fiercely opposed views on the nature of progress. In a time of climate crisis, a pandemic, and predatory capitalism, is optimism about humanity’s future still justified? Kelly and Sale each represent an extreme side of the divide. For the men involved, the bet’s outcome would be a personal validation—or repudiation—of their lifelong quests.

Continue reading. There’s much more (including the judge’s decision), and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 10:54 am

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