Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Situation Report: Killing off the Libertarian Hellscape Timeline

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Dave Troy’s Situation Reports are always worth reading. Here’s the latest.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:04 pm

How a New Hampshire libertarian utopia was foiled by bears

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This Vox report by Sean Illing is from just over a year ago — published in December, 2020 — but it deserves some recognition and reading:

Every ideology produces its own brand of fanatics, but there’s something special about libertarianism.

I don’t mean that as an insult, either. I love libertarians! For the most part, they’re fun and interesting people. But they also tend to be cocksure about core principles in a way most people aren’t. If you’ve ever encountered a freshly minted Ayn Rand enthusiast, you know what I mean.

And yet one of the things that makes political philosophy so amusing is that it’s mostly abstract. You can’t really prove anything — it’s just a never-ending argument about values. Every now and again, though, reality intervenes in a way that illustrates the absurdity of particular ideas.

Something like this happened in the mid-2000s in a small New Hampshire town called Grafton. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, author of a new book titled A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, says it’s the “boldest social experiment in modern American history.” I don’t know if it’s the “boldest,” but it’s definitely one of the strangest.

The experiment was called the “Free Town Project” (it later became the “Free State Project”), and the goal was simple: take over Grafton’s local government and turn it into a libertarian utopia. The movement was cooked up by a small group of ragtag libertarian activists who saw in Grafton a unique opportunity to realize their dreams of a perfectly logical and perfectly market-based community. Needless to say, utopia never arrived, but the bears did! (I promise I’ll explain below.)

I reached out to Hongoltz-Hetling to talk about his book. I wanted to know what happened in New Hampshire, why the experiment failed, and what the whole saga can teach us not just about libertarianism but about the dangers of loving theory more than reality.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

How would you describe the “Free Town Project” to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

I’d put it like this: There’s a national community of libertarians that has developed over the last 40 or 50 years, and they’ve never really had a place to call their own. They’ve never been in charge of a nation, or a state, or even a city. And they’ve always really wanted to create a community that would showcase what would happen if they implemented their principles on a broad scale.

So in 2004, a group of them decided that they wanted to take some action on this deficiency, and they decided to launch what they called the Free Town Project. They sent out a call to a bunch of loosely affiliated national libertarians and told everyone to move to this one spot and found this utopian community that would then serve as a shining jewel for the world to see that libertarian philosophies worked not only in theory but in practice. And they chose a town in rural New Hampshire called Grafton that already had fewer than 1,000 people in it. And they just showed up and started working to take over the town government and get rid of every rule and regulation and tax expense that they could.

Sean Illing

Of all the towns in all the world, why Grafton?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

They didn’t choose it in a vacuum. They actually conducted a very careful and thorough search. They zeroed in on the state of New Hampshire fairly quickly because that’s the “Live Free or Die” state. They knew that it would align well with their philosophy of individualism and personal responsibility. But once they decided on New Hampshire, they actually visited dozens of small towns, looking for that perfect mix of factors that would enable them to take over.

What they needed was a town that was small enough that they could come up and elbow the existing citizenry, someplace where land was cheap, where they could come in and buy up a bunch of land and kind of host their incoming colonists. And they wanted a place that had no zoning, because they wanted to be able to live in nontraditional housing situations and not have to go through the rigamarole of building or buying expensive homes or preexisting homes.

Sean Illing

Wait, what do you mean by “nontraditional housing”?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

As the people of Grafton soon found out, a nontraditional housing situation meant a camp in the woods or a bunch of shipping containers or whatever. They brought in yurts and mobile homes and formed little clusters of cabins and tents. There was one location called “Tent City,” where a bunch of people just lived in tents from day to day. They all united under this broad umbrella principle of “personal freedom,” but as you’d expect, there was a lot of variation in how they exercised it.

Sean Illing

What did the demographics of the group look like? Are we talking mostly about white guys or Ayn Rand bros who found each other on the internet?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

Well, we’re talking about hundreds of people, though the numbers aren’t all that clear. They definitely skewed male. They definitely skewed white. Some of them had a lot of money, which gave them the freedom to be able to pick up roots and move to a small town in New Hampshire. A lot of them had very little money and nothing keeping them in their places. So they were able to pick up and come in. But most of them just didn’t have those family situations or those 9-to-5 jobs, and that was really what characterized them more than anything else.

Sean Illing

And how did they take over the local government? Did they meet much resistance?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

When they first showed up, they hadn’t told anyone that they were doing this, with the exception of a couple of sympathetic libertarians within the community. And so all of a sudden the people in Grafton woke up to the fact that their town was in the process of being invaded by a bunch of idealistic libertarians. And they were pissed. They had a big town meeting. It was a very shouty, very angry town meeting, during which they told the Free Towners who dared to come that they didn’t want them there and they didn’t appreciate being treated as if their community was an experimental playpen for libertarians to come in and try to prove something.

But the libertarians, even though they never outnumbered the existing Grafton residents, what they found was that they could come in, and they could find like-minded people, traditional conservatives or just very liberty-oriented individuals, who agreed with them on enough issues that, despite that angry opposition, they were able to start to work their will on the levers of government.

They couldn’t pass some of the initiatives they wanted. They tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from the school district and to completely discontinue paying for road repairs, or to declare Grafton a United Nations free zone, some of the outlandish things like that. But they did find that a lot of existing Grafton residents would be happy to cut town services to the bone. And so they successfully put a stranglehold on things like police services, things like road services and fire services and even the public library. All of these things were cut to the bone.

Sean Illing

Then what happened over the next few years or so?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and indeed, there’s the book.

It strongly reminds me of Don Quixote, who spend so much time and study in reading his books of knights-errant that those became his reality, so that when he encountered things in the real world, he could see them only through the warped lens of his reading, so he attacked the windmills as though they were giants and the flock of sheep as though they were an army. He could no longer see things as they were, but only as his books and readings told him they should be.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 4:44 pm

The mask conundrum: A dialogue

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Kevin Drum treats us to a Socratic dialogue. He writes:

There’s a fundamental problem with our campaign to get people to wear masks. It’s pretty obvious, but here it is:

Socrates: Our greatest healers and physicians are united in urging us to wear masks in order to fight the plague that runs rampant among us. Do you believe their advice to be sound?

Glaucon: Why yes.

Socrates: And what evidence do they offer that you find so persuasive?

Glaucon: It is obvious that masks reduce the expulsion of bad airs from breathing and coughing. If I am suffering from the plague—but still out in the agora because I am not yet feeling any ill effects—it diminishes the number of malignant corpuscles that I introduce into the world.

Socrates: So when you wear a mask, you do it to help other people, not yourself?

Glaucon: That is so. It is not perfect, but it is still beneficent to the good health of Athens.

Socrates: And you consider this a virtuous act.

Glaucon: Indeed I do. A respect for the good of society is one of the highest virtues.

Socrates: Quite so. But you’ll admit that not everyone thinks as you do.

Glaucon: Unhappily, all my experience among men teaches me that you are right.

Socrates: So on the one side, we have your fellow citizens of virtue. They are the most likely to heed the advice of our physicians, are they not?

Glaucon: I cannot disagree.

Socrates: And being virtuous, they have probably already visited a physician and procured for themselves a potion that protects against the plague?

Glaucon: Indeed, I myself have done so. I believe it was called a “vaccine.”

Socrates: And what does this “vaccine” accomplish?

Glaucon:  . . .

Do continue reading. Drum points out a paradox we need to solve.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 1:36 pm

The roots of Libertarianism

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Libertarianism has never made any sense at all to me, though I do understand some people find its ideas attractive and its logic irrefutable. The fact that it doesn’t work doesn’t bother them because, dad-gummit, it should work. (You may detect aspects of Don Quixote in this attitude, and if so, we we are in agreement.)

But where did this strange delusion originate? As it happens, there’s an excellent history that’s available as a PDF. Here it is:

From that document:

The more people got to know about LeFevre’s libertarian program, the more they started calling it out as an elaborate swindle hatched by wealthy interests, designed to talk the public into dismantling their own government power and institutions the only power that protected the public from the sort of corporate abuse that had brought on the Great Depression.

The purpose of Freedom School’s teachings, it was becoming increasingly clear, was to turn the American public against their own government, to free up corporations and the rich to do as they pleased, by selling it as “freedom” and to tarnish the forces that impeded corporate power government, democracy, labor unions as “tyranny.”

Read the whole thing.

And see also this previous post. (Libertarian Texas power grid)

And this one. (Libertarian destruction of Sears)

And this one. (Libertarians take over and destroy a city in Texas)

And this one. (Libertarians take over and destroy a city in New Hampshire)

And this one. (Libertarian naïveté)

Oh, heck: here’s the whole list. (blog search on “libertarian”)

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 11:04 am

How Predator Priests Avoid Jail

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The previous post contains a detailed example of how a large and strongly hierarchical organization failed its expressed ideals, and this video describes another large and strongly hierarchical organizations failure in ts expressed ideals. It seems to me the source of the problem is not the size — even small organizations, as small as a family, sometimes provide glaring examples — but the strong hierarchy. The families that fail — for example, Amish families that conduct and conceal the rape of their children — are also typically strongly hierarchical. 

Something about a strong hierarchy corrupts those to whom the hierarchy delivers power — perhaps it’s as simply as Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts, perhaps because those near the top see themselves as free from rules that apply to the lower ranks, granting themselves privileges by virtue of their position. The lesson is clear: beware strong hierarchies.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 3:07 pm

Abolish Coroners

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Eleanor Cummins writes in the New Republic:

They’re responsible for a massive undercounting of Covid deaths in America. But that’s just the latest reason to get rid of this poorly regulated, overly politicized, and utterly unscientific relic of the colonial era.

Wavis Jordan “doesn’t do Covid deaths.” That’s what the pastor and Republician coroner of Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi, told Missouri Independent last month. He requires families to submit a positive test if they want coronavirus listed on the death certificate. Otherwise, the cause of deaths at home in his county are attributed to a range of other conditions that might be exacerbated by Covid-19, including Alzheimer’s, heart attack, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—but never the virus itself.

Jordan isn’t the only death investigator undercounting Covid-19. In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish, for example, people are currently being pronounced dead over the phone; without enough Covid tests, the county writes down “what the families tell us,” according to a recent USA Today report. In Rankin County, Mississippi, the local coroner told USA Today that many families initially refuse Covid-19 as a cause of death—until they learn about the federal government’s burial reimbursement program. The cut corners add up: In 2020 and 2021, there were one million excess deaths in the United States, but only 800,000 have been attributed to Covid-19 by the coroners and medical examiners on the ground.

These stories may seem shocking. But they’re no surprise to anyone familiar with the American coroner system, a notoriously underfunded, under-regulated, and often unscientific relic of the colonial era—and the crumbling bedrock of modern public health surveillance. The pandemic has simply shown what many public health experts have been arguing for years: The coroner system has got to go.

Historically, coroners have been political appointees or elected officials associated with the criminal justice system. They investigate any death that doesn’t appear natural—a broad category that includes suicides, homicides, and accidents. They may also pitch in with pandemics, natural disasters, and other mass casualty events that overwhelm frontline services. For those who die in a hospital, the majority of death certificates are signed by physicians. But when people begin to die en masse at home, as happened in the early parts of the pandemic, the responsibility falls on coroners and medical examiners. In 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, more than 1.3 million deaths were referred for further investigation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In the last century, the role of coroners and medical examiners has become increasingly important for tracking diseases, researching outcomes of both chronic and infectious diseases and safety issues, and developing effective public health intervention strategies. But unlike medical examiners, who are physicians and, in ideal cases, trained forensic pathologists, the bar for coroners is often much lower. In some states, anyone 18 years or older with no prior felonies may be elected coroner. Once they’re in office, training is patchwork; some jurisdictions require no further education at all.

The coroner system has its roots in medieval England, where coroners protected the interests of the crown, including investigating deaths and collecting taxes. It arrived in the U.S. in the colonial period, where  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:36 am

Biden renewed a free program to feed needy kids. Most states haven’t even applied.

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Like the previous post, this Washington Post report by Laura Reiley illustrates the degree to which in the US those who are struggling are invisible to those who are not. Note that those would do the actual work of applying are not struggling to put food on the table, so what do they care? Not their problem. The report begins:

Odessa Davis worked three jobs to get by, until the pandemic shutdowns made it impossible to work to put food on the table for herself and her 12-year-old son, Leon.

Previously, Leon had gotten reduced-price meals at his school. Now the expense and preparation of his meals fell to Davis, 33. At first, the Montgomery County, Md., resident resorted to picking up food boxes from Capital Area Food Bank, whipping up meals on the fly as if in an episode of “Chopped,” trying to make it fun.

“I went to whatever food drives were available. I was sad that I had to do it,” she said. “I felt like a failure.”

Soon, the federal government devised a plan to get lunch money into the hands of low-income families, like Davis and her son, to make up for meals missed because of school closures or illness, which meant $200 every month for the duo.

The money was a lifeline. But at the start of this school year, it stopped.

“I was upset that it stopped, because I did rely on it.” she said. “They cut it off, and we’re still in a pandemic.”

At its peak, 18.5 million kids relied on Pandemic-EBT, which began under the Trump administration and continued under President Biden. The program gave families forced home a debit-card benefit to use at the grocery store, for some online food shopping or even at farmers markets.

Now the program is flagging. Most states have not applied for the school year that began in September. Experts say the pandemic has changed in ways that make maintaining the program an impossible burden for already strapped administrators.

As Deputy Agriculture Undersecretary Stacy Dean told The Washington Post, “The context has changed.”

With only eight states approved for this federal aid, and another 17 somewhere in the application process, the remaining states threaten to leave billions of dollars on the table in direct assistance to students and preschoolers who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

And now there’s renewed urgency: As the omicron variant surges, at least 5,409 schools had canceled class or switched to virtual learning by the end of the first week of this month. Under the current law, students in states that aren’t approved for the benefit this school year are ineligible to receive assistance in the summer, when school is not in session.

As the pandemic continues to drive widespread food insecurity, these administrative difficulties could result in millions of kids going hungry — all while money intended for their relief goes unused.

“Throughout the pandemic, the P-EBT program has been one of our best tools for providing children the meals they need to stay healthy,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. Scott said it is alarming that some states have not yet secured access to the program, estimating that 30 million eligible kids might not receive summer benefits.

“These decisions will have serious consequences for millions of families. I hope that every state will fulfill its responsibility to prevent child hunger as we continue to fight this pandemic,” he said.

The program was designed to get money for food into the hands of the kids who qualified when schools went remote. At the time, it was easy: Almost all . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 6:11 pm

How Debt-Based License Suspensions Criminalize Poverty

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This is the kind of injustice that is mostly invisible to those who live in economically segregated neighborhoods and make a good salary. From the video description:

Delaware could end one of the cruelest ways the legal system criminalizes poverty. Millions of Americans have suspended driver licenses due to outstanding fines, leading to lost jobs and endless cycles of debt. Delaware may soon join 22 states working to stop this injustice of debt-based license suspensions.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 4:49 pm

The Texas Electric Grid Failure Was a Warm-up

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Russell Gold reports in the Texas Monthly:

Anthony Mecke had drifted to sleep in the break room when a loud knock roused him at 1:23 a.m. “We just got the call,” a coworker said.

Mecke, a moonfaced 45-year-old, is the manager of systems operation training at CPS Energy, the city-owned electricity provider that serves San Antonio. He started at the company not long after high school, working at one point as a cable splicer, a job he performed in hot tunnels beneath the sidewalks of San Antonio. He thought he’d seen it all. But when he hustled from the break room, where he’d sneaked in a power nap after an all-day shift, into the company’s cavernous control room, housed in a tornado-proof building on the city’s East Side, what he witnessed unsettled him.

This was Monday, February 15, 2021. A winter storm had brought unusually frigid temperatures to the entire middle swath of the United States, from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande. In San Antonio, it dropped to 9 degrees. In Fort Worth, the storm’s icy arrival a few days earlier had led to a 133-vehicle pileup that left 6 dead. Abilene and Pflugerville had advised residents to boil their water, the first of thousands of such warnings that would eventually affect 17 million Texans. Across the state, families hunkered down and did anything they could to stay warm. The overwhelming majority of Texas homes are outfitted with electric heaters that are the technological equivalent of a toaster oven. During the most severe cold fronts, residents crank up those inefficient units, and some even turn on and open electric ovens and use hair dryers.

Mecke could track the spiking energy use in real time. One wall of the control room is covered in enormous computer monitors displaying maps and data. He scanned for one particular piece of information. The state’s electricity reserves, which are tapped to prevent emergencies, were already depleted. The problem wasn’t just surging demand. Power plants all across the grid were shutting off, incapacitated by frozen equipment and a dearth of natural gas, the primary source of fuel.

The Texas power grid was, at that moment, like an airplane low on fuel that needed to jettison cargo to stay aloft. That’s what the call had been about. The state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, had just told CPS Energy and fifteen of the state’s other electric utility companies to immediately begin turning off power for portions of their service areas. The result would be blackouts.

Nobody yet knew just how widespread the blackouts would become—that they would spread across almost the entire state, leave an unprecedented 11 million Texans freezing in the dark for as long as three days, and result in as many as seven hundred deaths. But neither could the governor, legislators, and regulators who are supposed to oversee the state’s electric grid claim to be surprised. They had been warned repeatedly, by experts and by previous calamities—including a major blackout in 2011—that the grid was uniquely vulnerable to cold weather.

Unlike most other states that safely endured the February 2021 storm, Texas had stubbornly declined to require winterization of its power plants and, just as critically, its natural gas facilities. In large part, that’s because the state’s politicians and the regulators they appoint are often captive to the oil and gas industry, which lavishes them with millions of dollars a year in campaign contributions. During the February freeze, the gas industry failed to deliver critically needed fuel, and while Texans of all stripes suffered, the gas industry scored windfall profits of about $11 billion—creating debts that residents and businesses will pay for at least the next decade.

Since last February, the state has  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 1:23 pm

Mini-golf game based on Congressional districts

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The Washington Post has an interactive mini-golf game that’s actually a lot of fun, while also displaying just how aggressive gerrymandering has become. That’s a gift link, so no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 1:14 pm

How coal holds on in America

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Cultural forces, conventions, pressures, and loyalty can result in what appears, to someone who is not a part of the culture, something that seems senseless if not outright stupid. The practice, thankfully abandoned, of footbinding in order to deform the feet, or (still practiced) female genital mutilation come to mind. Coal in North Dakota seems to be an example. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link, so no paywall):

David Saggau, the chief executive of an energy cooperative, tried to explain the losing economics of running a coal-fired power plant to a North Dakota industry group more than a year ago.

Coal Creek Station had lost $170 million in 2019 as abundant natural gas and proliferating wind projects had cut revenue far below what it cost to run the plant. After four decades sending electricity over the border to Minnesota, Coal Creek would be closing in 2022, Saggau said, and nobody was clamoring to buy it.

“We made folks aware that the plant was for sale for a dollar,” Saggau, of Great River Energy, told the Lignite Energy Council during an October 2020 virtual meeting. “We’re basically giving it away.”

A renewable future was at hand. Winds come howling over the Missouri River in the heart of North Dakota — at the site where Lewis and Clark spent their first frigid winter — and Great River Energy planned to supply wind power over Coal Creek’s valuable transmission line. NextEra Energy, EDF Renewables and other powerhouse firms were racing to lock landowners into leases to harvest some of the most powerful and sustained winds in the country.

But that new clean-energy future never materialized in this part of coal country, with a landscape that has been mined for more than a century and has the scars and sinkholes to prove it. And the sale of Coal Creek Station, which received its last major permit approval earlier this month, illuminates the United States’ halting transition to renewables. Even in places such as North Dakota, where supply and demand align with clean energy, culture and politics pose major obstacles.

In these rural North Dakota counties, local officials passed ordinances that blocked wind and solar projects. State officials rallied to save Coal Creek, and a politically connected North Dakota energy firm stepped in to prolong its life, promising someday to capture its carbon emissions and store them underground.

“I’m not just looking to prop up coal,” Stacy Tschider, the president of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp., said in July when his company announced it was buying the plant. “I’m looking to take coal to the next level.”

During the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in the fall, conference head Alok Sharma declared that “the end of coal is in sight.” More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the single-biggest source of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide emissions. The United States did not join them. Despite its rapid decline, coal still generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and has strong political backing in pockets of the country.

Charles Stroup, a local banker and land agent who supports wind power in North Dakota’s Mercer County, compared the coal industry here to a dying relative that the community is desperate to save, no matter how grim the prognosis.

“Mother doesn’t die in 10 minutes,” Stroup said. “She takes a while.”

For many here, the loss of coal remains unthinkable, and new sources of energy — no matter how promising for local residents and governments — represent a serious threat.

“If we get the word that [Coal Creek Station] is gone for sure, the best business and economic play for the lignite counties and the State is to ban any more renewables,” McLean County state’s attorney Ladd Erickson wrote in an email in 2020 to aides to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), part of a batch of documents obtained through a state public records request.

Otherwise, Erickson, an elected official who serves as prosecutor and legal adviser to the county commissioners, warned that “there will be no more coal mining because new mine areas will be all wind turbines, solar panels, and power lines.”

Homages to coal

The prospect of Coal Creek’s closing landed hard in Underwood, a city of about 800 people. The antiques shop on its . . .

Continue reading.(Gift link: no paywall)

The fate of human civilization is small potatoes compared to local politics and cultural allegiance. You can see now why the residents of Easter Island were able to chop down every palm on the island and thus destroy the forests that were the basis of the environment on which they depended. North Dakota proudly continues that tradition.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 2:54 pm

The Billionaires Funding the Coup’s Brain Trust

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Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

The Claremont Institute, once a little-known think tank often confused with the liberal-arts college of the same name, has emerged as a driving force in the conservative movement’s crusade to use bogus fraud claims about the 2020 election to rewrite voting laws and remake the election system in time for the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election. Most infamously, one of the group’s legal scholars crafted memos outlining a plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence could potentially overturn the last election.

Conservative mega-donors like what they see.

The biggest right-wing megadonors in America made major contributions to Claremont in 2020 and 2021, according to foundation financial records obtained by Rolling Stone. The high-profile donors include several of the most influential families who fund conservative politics and policy: the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee, and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation donated $240,000 to Claremont in 2020 and approved another $400,000 to be paid out in the future, tax records show. The Bradley Foundation donated $100,000 to Claremont in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021, according to tax records and a spokeswoman for the group. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of several charities tied to the late right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, supplied another $450,000 to Claremont in 2020, according to its latest tax filings.

Claremont’s own tax filings show that its revenue rose from 2019 to 2020 by a half-million dollars to $6.2 million, one of the highest sums since the organization was founded in 1979, according to the most recent available data. A Claremont spokesman said the group wouldn’t comment about its donors beyond publicly available data but estimated that Claremont’s revenue for the 2021 fiscal year had increased to $7.5 million.

The DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes are among the most prominent donor families in conservative politics. For Bradley and Scaife, the giving to Claremont tracks with a long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, from the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the “bill mill” American Legislative Exchange Council, to anti-immigration zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Bradley in particular has given heavily to groups that traffic in misleading or baseless claims about “election integrity” or widespread “voter fraud.” Thanks to a $6.5 million infusion from the Bradley Impact Fund, a related nonprofit, the undercover-sting group Project Veritas nearly doubled its revenue in 2020 to $22 million, according to the group’s tax filing. Bradley is also a long-time funder of the Heritage Foundation, which helped architect the wave of voter suppression bills introduced in state legislatures this year, and True the Vote, a conservative group that trains poll watchers and stokes fears of rampant voter fraud in the past.

The Bradley Foundation was founded in 1942 by the Bradley family. Brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley co-founded the Allen-Bradley company, which would later provide much of the funding for the Bradley Foundation. The nonprofit, which has given out more than $1 billion in its history, no longer has any Bradley family members on its board.

But while the Bradley donations are to be expected, the contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation to Claremont are perhaps more surprising. Betsy DeVos, in one of her final acts as Trump’s education secretary, condemned the “angry mob” on January 6 and said “the law must be upheld and the work of the people must go on.”

A spokesman for the DeVoses, Nick Wasmiller, said Betsy DeVos’s letter “speaks for itself.” He added: “Claremont does work in many areas. It would be baseless to assert the Foundation’s support has any connection to the one item you cite.” While the foundation’s 2020 tax filing said its grants to Claremont were unrestricted, Wasmiller said the filing was wrong and the money had been earmarked. However, he declined to say what it was earmarked for.

The donations flowing into Claremont illustrate that although the group’s full-throated support for Trump and fixation on election crimes may be extreme, they’re not fringe views when they have the backing of influential conservative funders. “Were it not for the patronage of billionaire conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would likely be relegated to screaming about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog group Accountable.US.

The Claremont spokesman responded to Herrig’s comment by saying . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

Hope on the Horizon

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

“Despotism, be it financial or political, is vulnerable, unless it is believed to rest upon a moral sanction. The longing for freedom is ineradicable. It will express itself in protest against servitude and inaction unless the striving for freedom be made to seem immoral.” – Louis Brandeis, 1914

Today I’m writing about how the fight against monopolies is moving into a new stage. We’re actually starting to win some things here and there.

In the courts, the regulatory agencies, and Congress/states, the power of dominant firms is, ever so slightly, beginning to erode. It’s a weird time to say that, because politics is otherwise so dysfunctional. Retail sales are down, so is manufacturing output, inflation is at 7%, and a majority of Americans, pretty evenly across both parties, feel that democracy is in danger of collapsing. So that’s not good.

But beneath the surface, the relationship that the public with the most powerful institutions in American society – dominant corporations – is changing.

Here are eight different examples from the last week showing that monopolists are facing real headwinds.

(1) Big Tech Antitrust Trials Move Forward as Facebook Loses Motion to Dismiss
The antitrust trials against big tech are moving forward, and the government is doing well. There are two big trials, one by the Federal Trade Commission, and one by a group of state attorneys general. On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission won an important procedural step against Facebook. Judge Boasberg – who is not particularly friendly to antitrust enforcers – had dismissed the first agency complaint filed in 2020, but Lina Khan filed a new complaint with stronger claims. Facebook asked for another dismissal, and even more aggressively, for Khan to be recused. The judge ruled against Facebook on both counts, so the case will be going to trial. (I was on Marketplace talking about this development, which you can listen to here.)

On the second case against Facebook, with state attorneys general, the judge had ruled against them on obscure procedural grounds. In a different context, the states would have given up in a fight against one of the biggest companies in the world. This time, however, they appealed.

Meanwhile, in the Texas case against Google, a judge unsealed the price-fixing deal between Google and Facebook in which Google paid Facebook to withdraw from the third party online market, further revealing that Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg both personally signed off on the deal. Oh, and there are more details on exactly what Google was doing in its rigging of advertising auction markets, which is known in technical terms as ‘stealing.’

(2) Antitrust Law Hits Individual Executives
Martin Shkreli, the infamous pharma bro put in jail for securities fraud, was found personally liable for directing a scheme to inflate the cost of the life-saving drug Daraprim by excluding competitors from the market. A judge order him to pay $64 million, and also barred him from the pharmaceutical industry for life. More than the obnoxiousness of the villain, the precedent here matters. It’s rare for an individual to be found liable for monopolization, so this decision means that judges are getting more comfortable seeing antitrust violations as immoral behavior, instead of seeing the problem as well-meaning businessmen being a bit too zealous.

Antitrust expert Dina Srinivasan had an interesting comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and we could all use some cheering up.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 11:10 am

Fox News makes money from poisoning society

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

Read this post by Kevin Drum.

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:35 pm

Russia’s Mystic Destiny

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David Troy’s current situation report in Medium:

The Hunt for Casus Belli

What’s Happening Now

Some academic Kremlinologists tend to dismiss Dugin’s influence in the Kremlin, a message that also seems to be echoed in some Kremlin propaganda. However, as Putin’s domestic fortunes become increasingly precarious, Kremlin actions and messaging seem to be converging with Duginist themes — namely the “mystic destiny” of the Rus people represented in the reunification of Russia and Ukraine.

This piece from the Center for European Policy Analysis also cites Dugin’s recent rhetoric:

According to Dugin: “The moment has come for Moscow to announce the renaming of the CIS into the Eurasian Union, including all the political units of the post-Soviet space.”

Dugin advocates a Russian land grab in Ukraine. This would involve the occupation of so-called Left-Bank Ukraine — that is, the land between the current international border and the River Dniepr — presumably including eastern Kyiv, making the Ukrainian capital a divided city and placing much of its hinterland under Russian rule. He also argued that Russia should push right up to the borders of the Baltic states, which would likely mean sending troops through Belarus, and issue an ultimatum to the thee NATO members: neutrality or war. He was echoed by the head of the RT TV channel Margarita Simonyan, who wrote on Twitter that if Russia itself could produce the goods that it buys in the United States, it could “liberate Donbas right now, and not leave out Odesa either.”

The convergence of that rhetoric with that of Margarita Simonyan, who is very close to Putin and the Kremlin, represents a new high water mark for Dugin’s apparent grip on Putin’s imagination. Russia also has been contemplating false-flag attacks that would provide a casus belli to justify an invasion.

The next few weeks will be critical. It seems likely that if there is an invasion it will be in the next couple of weeks. If for some reason Russia loses its nerve, possibly this episode will pass, but that seems increasingly less likely.

It was a busy week in imaginary money land. One of the more insane projects to surface this week is a project called “Cryptoland,” a Disneyland-style crypto theme park island fully divorced from reality. It was unveiled in a 20 minute infomercial video that features Pixar-style animation, and an apparently pirated John Williams soundtrack. It truly must be seen to be believed.

It’s so insanely ludicrous as to stretch the imagination, and raise questions whether it might in fact be some sort of intelligence operation. But the evidence so far just points to sheer lunacy. The Financial Times has more [behind a paywall – LG].

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman has started to see the substantial ties between the MAGA and crypto worlds. :

But let’s leave market predictions aside and ask what’s with the deepening alliance between Bitcoin and MAGA?

The answer, I’d argue, is that Bitcoin was supposed to create a monetary system that functions without trust — and the modern right is all about fostering distrust. Covid is a hoax; the election was stolen; California’s forest fires had nothing to do with climate change, and they were started by Rothschild-controlled space lasers.

In this context it’s perfectly natural for MAGAesque politicians to demand an end to a monetary system that runs through banks — we know who controls them, right? — and rests on a currency that’s managed by government-appointed officials. There’s no evidence of widespread monetary abuse, but that doesn’t matter on the extreme right.

A couple of weeks ago . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:28 pm

Misinformation is mostly spread by chaotic evil conservatives

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Kevin Drum points out a new study:

Who spreads misinformation? A pair of researchers says it’s not liberals in general and it’s not conservatives in general. It’s a very specific subset of conservatives:

Using statistical analysis, we found that the only reliable explanation was a general desire for chaos — that is, a motivation to disregard, disrupt, and take down existing social and political institutions as a means of asserting the dominance and superiority of one’s own group. Participants indicated their appetite for chaos by using a scale to express how much they agreed with statements like, “I think society should be burned to the ground.” For LCCs, we concluded, sharing false information is a vehicle for propagating chaos.

An LCC is a “low-conscientiousness conservative,” and they were 2.5 times more likely to share misinformation than anyone else:

Written by Leisureguy

14 January 2022 at 12:45 pm

Could Small Still Be Beautiful?

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Bryce T. Bauer writes in Craftsmanship:

1. “Economics as a Form of Brain Damage”
2. The Schumacher Center for a New Economics
3. The New Economics of Land Ownership
4. The New Economics of Business Financing
5. The New Economics of Currency
6. The New Economics of Entrepreneurship
7. Challenges to the New Economy

Four decades ago, just as some of the forces that have caused today’s problems with globalization and inequality began to take hold, a British economist by the name of E.F. Schumacher took America by storm with a set of contrary ideas about how an economy should work.

Schumacher aimed squarely at supporting everyday people and the communities where they lived. For a brief period in the mid-1970s, his name enjoyed headline status — and his book, “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” joined a pantheon of powerful, call-to-action works of the time. Schumacher’s book was taken so seriously that, a few years after its publication, it was listed alongside such enduring critiques as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Paul R. Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”

While “Small Is Beautiful” hasn’t endured with quite the same power those works have enjoyed, its ideas have still seeped into the thinking of some of the nation’s latter-day acolytes of social and environmental sustainability, including Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs, and Bill McKibben. Schumacher’s work also inspired a small think-tank focused on turning the small towns and bucolic countryside of the Massachusetts Berkshires into a laboratory for further exploration of his theories.

Given how rarely Schumacher’s once-popular ideas are discussed today, one can’t help but wonder—were his perceptions all wrong? Or, as the director of the institute focused on sustaining his ideas, and as Schumacher himself also said, was their time yet to come? If the latter, might that time be now? Every day, it seems, more and more experts join the argument that the accelerating dominance of global companies — in a world struggling with income inequality, resource depletion, and the growing ravages of climate change — has put us on an unsustainable path. If that bleak outlook is correct, maybe it’s time to give Schumacher’s ideas a second look.

“ECONOMICS AS A FORM OF BRAIN DAMAGE”

When “Small Is Beautiful” came out, in 1973, Schumacher had already worked for several decades as an economist. In the years after its publication, he toured the United States speaking to crowds across the country and meeting with political leaders, including an address before 50 members of Congress and a meeting with President Jimmy Carter. At the time, America was being wrenched by many of the ills he said modern economics would cause. The 1970s was a decade marked by oil and gas shocks, labor unrest and stagflation, a growing concern over the environment, and the discord of the Vietnam War. Schumacher was attuned to what it all portended. (In fact, the first use of the term “global warming” occurred just two years after Schumacher’s book was published.) Schumacher wrote “we do well to ask why it is that all these terms — pollution, environment, ecology, etc. — have so suddenly come into prominence…is this a sudden fad, a silly fashion, or perhaps a sudden failure of nerve?”

Born in Bonn, Germany, Schumacher had fled Nazi Germany to England in 1937. During the Second World War, when Great Britain began interning Germans, including Jewish refugees, Schumacher and his family moved to the countryside, where he worked on a farm until his writing caught the notice of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who launched the 20th century’s activist alternative to unfettered, free-market economics.

The core of Schumacher’s argument lay in his book’s subtitle: “Economics as if People Mattered.” For far too long, economists had approached the problem of development in a way that focused too much on goods over people, emphasizing the elimination of labor instead of job creation. He accused these experts of treating consumption as the end itself, always to be maximized.

In Schumacher’s view, the economy would not benefit from the standard methods of stimulation; if anything, it should be de-intensified. If this could be managed, Schumacher believed, it would allow time “for any piece of work — enough to make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real equality, even to make things beautiful.”

The opportunity to work this way — which is central to any artisan or tradesman, and to his or her ability to produce top-notch, innovative work — clearly has only declined further in the years since Schumacher made this observation. And if anything, his critique might be even more timely today. In a new book, “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” veteran New York Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that the growing scarcity of jobs that offer such visceral satisfactions is part of what’s plunged America’s working class into unprecedented levels of despair, drug addiction, and suicide.

To be truly helpful, Schumacher argued, development funds in poor areas should be spent on “intermediate technology” — that is, technology that’s cheap, resilient, and simple enough to be used by workers in areas that lack access to education, ready capital, and sophisticated infrastructure. Technology that’s too expensive, and too complex to be readily used in developing economies, he said, destroys “the possibilities of self-reliance.”

Whenever he traveled to speak about these ideas in the U.S., crowds met his stops — 2,000 in Chicago, 500 in Minneapolis, 200 at the Colorado School of the Mines in Golden, 600 in an overflow crowd at the Helena, Montana Civic Center — and his book was, at one point, reportedly selling 30,000 copies a month. His ideas also inspired a government “Office of Appropriate Technology” in California, where then-governor Jerry Brown introduced Schumacher during a 1977 tour of America. (That organization is still in existence, in slightly altered form in Montana, as the National Center for Appropriate Technology.) During Gov. Brown’s more idealistic days, he once said, “if you want to understand my philosophy, read this,” as he brandished a copy of “Small Is Beautiful.”

“The 60s was a generation that wanted to do things different…and there was Schumacher saying I was a conventional economist and I was mistaken,” says Susan Witt, who became the executive director and co-founder of what’s now called the E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics. “I didn’t take into account human beings. I didn’t take into account their spiritual lives. I didn’t take into account concern for the earth and I’ve had to re-think my economics. Those essays in ‘Small Is Beautiful’ touched a generation.”

One of those touched by Schumacher’s ideas was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2022 at 12:07 pm

A Q&A With the Scientist Who Discovered Cannabis Can Prevent COVID-19

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Science has its gatekeepers — those who control funding and thus can refuse funding to projects they dislike (because, for example, the project goes against current trends or is contrary to received scientific wisdom). Audrey Cafleton in Vice interviews a scientist whose project was rejected by the gatekeepers and was thus not funded, but who did it anyway and made some interesting findings:

A groundbreaking new study out of two Oregon universities has identified an unusual naturally-occuring substance as a promising tool to prevent COVID-19 infections: cannabis.

Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Natural Products, the study identified three cannabis compounds—non-psychoactive precursors found in the plant before it’s converted into the stuff that gets you high—as being notably effective at blocking the entry of SARS-COV-2 into human cells by glomming onto the virus’s spike protein. The study is an early sign that cannabis could be an effective tool in the arsenal of global coronavirus responses; but with piecemeal laws and pushback from federal agencies, the future of cannabis in COVID-19 treatment remains unknown.

Here, Dr. Richard van Breemen, first author on the study and professor of medicinal chemistry at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, tells Motherboard about his findings, the public response to the study, the legal challenges he encountered in this research, and why cannabis-derived gummies might just be an important public health intervention.

Motherboard: Your paper is really making the rounds—congratulations! Can you walk me through your key findings?
Dr. Richard van Breemen: 
Our interest has always been in discovering natural products that have medicinal value. With COVID, we thought we’d go about trying to find natural products that can stop the virus from infecting cells or inhibit their ability to replicate and go on to infect other individuals. We decided to attack the virus at the starting point, where it enters the cell. That’s the exact same point at which antibodies attack the virus.

We asked the question: “Could small molecules from nature, like from plants, have the same ability to stop the virus from infecting a cell if they had an ability to bind to the surface of the virus and specifically to the spike protein of the virus, which is what’s making contact with the human cell and enabling it to infect the cell?”

Initially, when we proposed this to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) back in 2020, one of the reviewers said, no one’s made the proof of principle that this can work. So they didn’t give me the money. We did it anyway, and we’ve established this principle that small molecules including natural products, in this case from hemp, have the ability to stop the virus from infecting human cells.

We were looking at black cohosh, and red clover and licorice, and we added hemp, and we discovered three compounds in hemp that had this high ability to bind to the spike protein. And we even determined that some of them bind to sites on that spike protein and synergistically they can have a bigger effect than if one is using one compound at a time instead of the mixture. So we think the mixture of cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A), cannabigerolic acid (CBG-A), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A) would be more effective than any one of them alone. So this speaks to the idea that the supplement, containing a complex extract of a plant, sometimes is better than monotherapy in the traditional drug approach, where you purify it and use only one compound at a time.

I did see in the study that, crucially, you couldn’t really test THC-A in the ways that you wanted to, because it’s a controlled substance, and you just weren’t able to get your hands on enough of it to test it. Is that right?
That is correct. We screened extracts of hemp, and there are traces of THC-A in these extracts. And so we identified it, but we weren’t allowed, actually due to campus rules. We weren’t allowed to purify it and even test it alone, because it can be converted to THC. If one heats it, the acid group can be removed and chemically it transforms into a psychoactive substance, but THC-A alone is not psychoactive.

Neither CBD-A nor CBG-A are psychoactive, right? So what we’re looking at is a little more complicated than smoking weed to prevent COVID-19 infection. What we’re talking about is something that would be orally ingested. What do you envision for that?
I envision  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 5:18 pm

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

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Jason Kottke notes:

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit,

Continue reading. . .

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 1:24 pm

Why more stringent regulation is needed for ‘forever chemicals’

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The Harvard Gazette has a three-question interview:

 The Biden administration recently announced a plan to set enforceable drinking water limits on certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—long-lasting, man-made chemicals that are used in a wide range of consumer products and that are known to pose health risks to millions of Americans. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, discusses the importance of regulating PFAS.

Q: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to establish a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS chemicals by March 2023. What do you think of the plan?

A: I’m thrilled about it. Any support we can conjure for the EPA to get going is good, because we’re so far behind in limiting the use of these dangerous chemicals. PFAS are used in many products, such as waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, firefighting foams, cosmetics, food packaging, cleaning supplies, and electronics. We know that the blood of nearly all Americans contains some PFAS, which we call “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the body. And we’ve shown with two decades of intensive research that PFAS are linked to serious health issues such as kidney and testicular cancer, weakened immune system, endocrine disruption, fertility problems, and decreased birth weight.

The European Union (EU) is way ahead of the U.S. on regulating PFAS. In September 2020, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a new safety threshold for the four most common PFAS. The EPA’s limit is for only two PFAS—PFOS and PFOA—and it’s more than 30 times higher than the European limit, and it pertains only to drinking water. So that illustrates how far behind the U.S. is.

In setting their limit, the EFSA took into account toxicity to the immune system posed by PFAS, which is expressed by lowered antibody responses to childhood vaccines—an effect that we first reported in JAMA in 2012. The EFSA’s exposure limit is meant to ensure that women of reproductive age do not accumulate too much of a PFAS burden. The strategy makes sense, in my opinion, because PFAS compounds tend to pass through the placenta during pregnancy, so that a mother will share her accumulated burden of these compounds with the next generation. In addition, our 2015 study found that when the mother is breastfeeding—something that is strongly recommended by the CDC and WHO—these compounds are excreted through human milk. The infant may reach a blood concentration of PFAS that is 10-fold higher than the mother’s. And this happens at the most vulnerable stage of life, when various organs and biochemical functions are being fine-tuned. If something goes wrong at this stage, it will likely stay with us for the rest of our lives and affect our disease risks later on.

For example, in a study we published recently, we found that, even in nine-year-old children, their accumulated PFAS exposures were associated with elevated cholesterol, an outcome that was thought only to affect adults. And people who have high cholesterol as children or young adults are also likely to have high cholesterol later in life.

Q: The EU regulated four PFAS, but not others. Why?

A: The EU decided to look at those four because they are so-called “legacy” PFAS, about which there is substantial documentation. They didn’t address the field of substitutes—new potential compounds that might enter the environment in the future. But we have to face this problem at some point. These compounds are so useful that, if industry realizes there’s a certain compound they can’t use, they will immediately look for alternatives. That’s my concern, and many of my colleagues have the same concern: that if the physical and chemical properties of the substitutes are the same, they may have the same toxicological problems as the legacy chemicals.

One positive development in the U.S. is that, in late December, the EPA granted a petition from six North Carolina public health and environmental justice organizations to compel companies to conduct toxicity testing of additional PFAS. It’s a step in the right direction.

Q: Given that substitutes may be dangerous, what do you think governments should do in terms of regulating PFAS?

A: I’m willing to accept that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 12:56 pm

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