Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Pakistan is Bankrupt

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This video is another that takes a look at the economic storm now in progress. Video is from two days ago.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:54 am

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

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

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

Speech and Concentration Creep

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

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

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

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

This photo triggered China’s Cultural Revolution

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This short video is well worth watching. The Great Chinese Famine’s death toll was staggering (see this earlier post). As China lurches toward another Great episode (as depicted in three recent videos), it’s worth taking a few minutes to see the course earlier taken.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:34 am

US crisis also intensifies: This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

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The pace seems to be picking up. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

Perry was deeply involved in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He connected former president Trump with Jeffrey Clark, the environmental lawyer for the Department of Justice (DOJ) who supported Trump’s claims and who would have become acting attorney general if the leadership of the DOJ hadn’t threatened to resign as a group if Trump appointed him. Cassidy Hutchinson, former top aide to Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Meadows burned papers after a meeting with Perry.

The DOJ searched Clark’s home in June. On the same day, it seized the phone of John Eastman, the author of the memo laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to refuse to count presidential electors for Democratic candidate Joe Biden and thus throw the election to Trump.

Eastman sued to get his phone back and to force the government to destroy any information agents had taken from it; the Department of Justice says the phone was obtained legally and that purging it would be “unprecedented” and “would cause substantial detriment to the investigation, as well as seriously impede any grand jury’s use of the seized material in a future charging decision.” A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for early September.

Trump and his supporters have spent the day complaining bitterly about yesterday’s search of Mar-a-Lago by the FBI, painting it an illegal “witch hunt” and threatening to launch a “revolution” over it. A search warrant requires a judge to sign off on the idea that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and that a search will provide evidence of that crime. While the FBI cannot release the search warrant, Trump has a copy of it and could release it if he wanted to.

Legal analyst Andrew Weissmann, who spent 20 years at the Department of Justice, pointed out on Twitter that the law requires the FBI to give Trump an inventory of what they found. If indeed he wants to claim the search was a witch hunt and he had no government property in his home, he should release the search inventory.

Kyle Cheney at Politico noted that on January 19, 2021, the day before he left office, Trump revoked the authority he had previously given and named seven new loyalists as his representatives to the National Archives with regard to his presidential records. They were Meadows; then–White House counsel Pat Cipollone; then–deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin; lawyer John Eisenberg, who as legal advisor to the National Security Council tried to keep the story about Trump’s call to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky under wraps; Scott Gast, also of the White House counsel’s office during Trump’s term; lawyer Michael Purpura; and lawyer Steven Engel, who argued that Congress could not subpoena White House advisors.

Meanwhile,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 10:06 pm

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making

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Mark Olalde and Maya Miller report in ProPublica:

The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres. Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.

Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die. Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.

“We were sacrificed a long time ago,” said Candace Head-Dylla, who created the death map with her mother after Head-Dylla had her thyroid removed and her mother developed breast cancer. Research has linked both types of illnesses to uranium exposure.

Beginning in 1958, a uranium mill owned by Homestake Mining Company of California processed and refined ore mined nearby. The waste it left behind leaked uranium and selenium into groundwater and released the cancer-causing gas radon into the air. State and federal regulators knew the mill was polluting groundwater almost immediately after it started operating, but years passed before they informed residents and demanded fixes.

The contamination continued to spread even after the mill closed in 1990.

The failures at Homestake are emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry, one that has been well-documented from its boom during the Cold War until falling uranium prices and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power decimated the industry in the 1980s. Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history.

But for four decades, the management of more than 250 million tons of radioactive uranium mill waste has been largely overlooked, continuing to pose a public health threat.

ProPublica found that regulators have failed to hold companies to account when they missed cleanup targets and accepted incorrect forecasts that pollution wouldn’t spread. The federal government will eventually assume responsibility for the more than 50 defunct mills that generated this waste.

At Homestake, which was among the largest mills, the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away. Interviews with dozens of residents, along with radon testing and thousands of pages of company and government records, reveal a community sacrificed to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal and atomic energy industry.

Time and again, Homestake and government agencies promised to clean up the area. Time and again, they missed their deadlines while further spreading pollution in the communities. In the 1980s, Homestake promised residents groundwater would be cleaned within a decade, locals told the Environmental Protection Agency and ProPublica. After missing that target, the company told regulators it would complete the job around 2006, then by 2013.

In 2014, an EPA report confirmed the site posed an unacceptable cancer risk and identified radon as the greatest threat to residents’ health. Still, the cleanup target date continued shifting, to 2017, then 2022.

Rather than finish the cleanup, Homestake’s current owner . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

Prediction of China’s 9/11: “China’s ENTIRE economy will crash by September 11, 2022”

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That’s the prediction made in the video below: that China’s economy will collapse 34 days after August 7, 2022. Perhaps by coincidence, that date is 9/11/2022. I have marked my calendar. In the meantime, it’s an interesting report and worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 9:54 am

The continuing struggle to make America what it claims to be

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Heather Cox Richardson looks at the history of America’s conflicted aspirations:

On this day in 1880, the Republican candidate for president, James A. Garfield, spoke to thousands of supporters from the balcony of the Republican headquarters in New York City. Ten years before, in 1870, Americans had added the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, making sure that Black men could vote by guaranteeing that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

As soon as the amendment was ratified, though, white southerners who were dead set against their Black neighbors participating in their government began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds. Their objection to Black voting, they claimed, was that poor, uneducated Black men just out of enslavement were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services, like roads and schools, that could be paid for only with taxes levied on people with the means to pay, which in the post–Civil War South usually meant white men.

Complaining that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—white southerners began to keep Black voters from the polls. In 1878, Democrats captured both the House and the Senate, and former Confederates took control of key congressional committees. From there, in the summer of 1879, they threatened to shut down the federal government altogether unless the president, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, agreed to end the federal protection of Black Americans in the South.

The congressional leader who eventually forced them to back down was James A. Garfield (R-OH). Impressed by his successful effort to save the country, in 1880, party leaders nominated him for president.

Garfield was a brilliant and well-educated man and had served in the Civil War himself. On August 6 in New York City, he singled out the veterans in the crowd to explain how he saw the nation’s future.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “ideas outlive men; ideas outlive all earthly things. You who fought in the war for the Union fought for immortal ideas, and by their might you crowned the war with victory. But victory was worth nothing except for the truths that were under it, in it, and above it. We meet tonight as comrades to stand guard around the sacred truths for which we fought.”

“[W]e will remember our allies who fought with us,” he told them. “Soon after the great struggle began, we looked beyond the army of white rebels, and saw 4,000,000 of [B]lack people condemned to toil as slaves for our enemies; and we found that the hearts of these 4,000,000 were God-inspired with the spirit of liberty, and that they were all our friends.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “We have seen white men betray the flag and fight to kill the Union; but in all that long, dreary war we never saw a traitor in a black skin.” To great applause, he vowed, “[W]e will stand by these [B]lack allies. We will stand by them until the sun of liberty, fixed in the firmament of our Constitution, shall shine with equal ray upon every man, [B]lack or white, throughout the Union.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “Fellow-citizens, fellow-soldiers, in this there is the beneficence of eternal justice, and by it we will stand forever.”

Garfield won the presidency that year, but just barely. The South went solidly Democratic, and in the years to come, white northerners looked the other way as white southerners kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses that cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had voted, literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed, poll taxes that were enforced arbitrarily, and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. In 1880, the South became solidly Democratic, and with white men keeping Black people from the polls, it would remain so until 1964.

But then, exactly 85 years after Garfield’s speech, on August 6, 1965,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 2:39 pm

Doctors don’t want to take jobs in antiabortion states

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Christopher Rowland has an interesting article in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall). From the article:

. . . One large medical recruiting firm said it recently had 20 obstetrician-gynecologists turn down positions in red states because of abortion laws. The reluctance extends beyond those interested in providing abortion care, as laws meant to protect a fetus could open doctors up to new liabilities or limit their ability to practice. . .

One large health-care staffingfirm, AMN Healthcare, said clients in states with abortion bans are having greater trouble filling vacancies because some prospective OB/GYN candidates won’t even consider opportunities in states with new or pending abortion bans.

Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company, cited 20 instances since the Supreme Court ruling where prospects specifically refused to relocate to states where reproductive rights are being targeted by lawmakers.

“To talk to approximately 20 candidates that state they would decline to practice in those restrictive states, that is certainly a trend we are seeing,” Florence said. “It is certainly going to impact things moving forward.”

Three candidates turned down one of the firm’s recruiters, who was working to fill a single job in maternal fetal medicine in Texas, he said: “All three expressed fear they could be fined or lose their license for doing their jobs.”

In another example, a physician contacted by phone by an AMN Healthcare recruiter trying to fill a post in an antiabortion state “simply said, ‘Roe versus Wade,’ and hung up,” Florence said.

Florence said the shift has especially serious implications for small, rural hospitals, which can afford just a small number of maternal specialists or, in some cases, only one.

“They can deliver hundreds of babies each year and see several thousand patients,” he said. “The potential absence of one OB/GYN that might be in their community, if not for the Supreme Court decision, is highly significant. The burden will be borne by the patients.”

Tellingly, Florence added, none of the recruiters had encountered a single physician seeking to practice in a state because it had banned abortion.

There’s quite a bit more, so read the whole thing (gift link, no paywall).  Conservatives have sown the wind; now they reap the whirlwind.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 11:17 am

“Zero City,” a fascinating surreal late-Soviet movie

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Zero City (aka Zerograd) was released 34 years ago and is a stunning movie. You can watch the entire movie on YouTube in full HD. (Unless you understand Russian, you’ll want to turn on the English subtitles by clicking the little “CC” box in the screen’s menu bar.)

Politico has an interesting article on how the movie relates to current Russian events (and of what became of some of the participants in the movie), but it is chockablock with spoilers, so I recommend you watch the movie before you read the article in Politico.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2022 at 7:29 am

Why Power Brings Out Your True Self

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Lord Acton took the view that power corrupts, but it seems rather to reveal the corruption already present in the person. Matthew Hutson wrote in Nautilus back in 2017:

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the crowd, “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”

Growing up, Michelle said, she and Barack learned important lessons from their families about “dignity and decency” and “gratitude and humility.” “At the end of the day,” she said, “when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.”

Research in cognitive science reveals the former First Lady is right: Power exposes your true character. It releases inhibitions and sets your inner self free. If you’re a jerk when you gain power, you’ll become more of one. If you’re a mensch, you’ll get nicer. So if you happen to all of a sudden become president, or at least president of your lab or book club, what inner self will come out?

Psychologists generally define power as control over others, by providing or withholding resources, without social interference. Tapping your true nature, though, begins with feeling powerful. Getting the corner office boosts creativity and reduces conformity.

In a 2008 experiment, undergraduates were asked either to recall a time they had power over someone or to recall a time someone had power over them.1 Then they were asked to draw an alien creature. Some were shown an example creature that had wings. When feeling powerless, seeing a creature with wings increased the chance a student would add wings to his own creature, a demonstration of conformity. Those made to feel powerful, however, remained unaffected by the example, following their own creative urges.

Power also makes people more likely to act on their desires. In one experiment, those made to feel powerful were more likely to move or unplug an annoying fan blowing on them.2 When working with others, the powerful are also more likely to voice their opinions. In another experiment, students were paired for a joint task.3 The one assigned to be the leader of the pair typically expressed her true feelings and attitudes more than her subordinate did.

We are less deliberative and more persistent in pursuing our goals when we gain power. In one of a series of experiments, researchers asked students to recall having or lacking power, then asked how much time and information they would need to make various decisions, including which roommate to live with or which car to buy.4 Those who felt powerful said they’d need less time and information. In a second experiment, participants made to feel powerful spent more time trying to solve an impossible geometric puzzle. In a third, they were quicker to interrupt someone who disagreed with them.

Overall, power makes us feel authentic. In one study, participants recalled a time they had power or a time they lacked it.5 Then they rated their personality traits in three contexts:  . . .

Continue reading.

See previous post that lets us see the authentic nature of US Border Patrol agents.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

Border Patrol Agents Are Trashing Sikh Asylum-Seekers’ Turbans

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John Washington reports in The Intercept:

Gurjodh Singh was leaning against a rusted vehicle barrier — planted like a giant jack in the sand — at the end of the line of migrants. It is late July, and about 400 people seeking asylum are waiting alongside a gap in the border fence as dawn breaks over the sky in southern Arizona.

Singh is 22, fleeing India for America, without any family, to seek political asylum. Slipping off the vehicle barrier, he joined a huddle of five other Indian men, all Sikhs from the state of Punjab. A Border Patrol agent told Singh he had to move to the back of the line because he didn’t have papers. The rest of the men recovered their IDs after being robbed on a grueling monthslong trek across the jungles of Panama, but Singh still has no ID.

As the minutes tick by, the sky brightens, and the temperature notches steadily upward, reaching above 110 degrees that day. The men are waiting for the agents to begin their processing and load them onto buses heading to a nearby Border Patrol station.

Word has begun circulating among those seeking asylum in the Yuma area: Border Patrol is forcing everyone to throw away all personal belongings, except for cellphones, wallets, and travel documents. Agents are demanding Sikh men remove their turbans and are dumping the sacred religious garb in the trash.

Bhupinder, an 18-year-old Sikh man wearing a purple turban, said, simply, “I can’t take it off.” An important expression of Sikh men’s faith is not cutting their hair, and covering their head with a turban.

The forced removal and confiscation of turbans violates Border Patrol policies that are meant to respect religious freedom. It also violates policies that require agents to track and return personal belongings.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to Border Patrol documenting dozens of cases of agents confiscating and discarding turbans, explaining the significance of the item, and how the actions “blatantly violate federal law,” Border Patrol policy, and protections of religious freedom.

A month earlier, a third Sikh man seeking asylum said Border Patrol ordered him to turn over his belongings — including two sacred symbols of his faith.

“They told me to take off my turban. I know a little English, and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted,” the man said, speaking through an interpreter in a July phone interview.

The man pleaded with the officers, who forced him to remove his turban and tossed it in a trash pile. He asked if he could at least keep his turban for when he was released from custody. They told him no. “I felt so bad,” he said.

The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In addition to keeping uncut hair, maintained in a head covering, Sikhs, according to their faith, carry a comb; wear a bracelet; wear custom cotton underwear; and carry a small, curved sword or knife.

Border Patrol agents also cut a ribbon that was holding up the third asylum-seeker’s traditional Sikh underwear. Since there is no elastic on them, he was unable to continue wearing them.

“They said it was to prevent suicide,” he said, “but you can use pajamas to commit suicide if you want to. You can use socks. This underwear is important to us.”

Violating Policy [and human rights – LG]

Despite complaints that Border Patrol agents are violating their own policies that say they must “safeguard” personal property not deemed to be contraband or dangerous and “should remain cognizant of an individual’s religious beliefs,” Yuma’s Border Patrol has confiscated at least 64 turbans this year, according to the ACLU of Arizona and the Phoenix Welcome Center. In just the last two months, the organizations have documented at least 50 such confiscations.

The turban confiscations have ramped up in recent months, said Maria Jose Pinzon, a program manager for Phoenix Welcome Center, which is run by the International Rescue Committee that offers a few nights of rest and humanitarian assistance to asylum-seekers.

Because the Welcome Center is only able to record self-reported cases, and many asylum-seekers are scared to register a complaint, Pinzon is confident the number is much higher.

In June, according to Pinzon, a Department of Homeland Security ombudsman visited the Phoenix Welcome Center, promising to address the issue with Border Patrol. Yet the confiscations continued, with at least 11 documented cases as of July 20. Homeland Security’s Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman did not respond to requests for comment.

There are currently no regulations that require Border Patrol to document and publicly report the number of people its agents removed turbans from in violation of their own policy. . .

Continue reading.

The only way to fix this, I fear, is to complete replace current US Border Patrol Personnel.

The following post provides some insight into what happens to Border Patrol agents to make them that way.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

Lies as warfare

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

I have spent the day rereading the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the news of the day has heightened its relevance.

During the Trump administration, after an extensive investigation, the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election…by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

But that effort was not just about the election. It was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society…a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood…the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions of the United States.” It was “a sustained campaign of information warfare against the United States aimed at influencing how this nation’s citizens think about themselves, their government, and their fellow Americans.”

That effort is not limited to foreign nationals. This week, Alex Jones, a purveyor of conspiracy theories and false information on his InfoWars network—the tagline is “There’s a War on For Your Mind!”—is part of a civil trial to determine damages in his defamation of the parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in which 26 people, 20 of them small children, were murdered.

Jones claimed that the massacre wasn’t real, and his listeners harassed the grieving families. A number of families sued him. In the case currently in the news, Jones refused for years to comply with orders to hand over documents and evidence, so finally, in September, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, issued a default judgment holding him responsible for all damages. Since the judge has repeatedly had to reprimand Jones for lying under oath during this trial, it seems that Jones intended simply to continue spinning a false story of his finances, his business practices, and his actions.

The construction of a world based on lies is a key component of authoritarians’ takeover of democratic societies. George Orwell’s 1984 explored a world in which those in power use language to replace reality, shaping the past and people’s daily experiences to cement their control. They are constantly reconstructing the past to justify their actions in the present. In Orwell’s dystopian fantasy, Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history for the Ministry of Truth to reflect the changing interests of a mysterious cult leader, Big Brother, who wants power for its own sake and enforces loyalty through The Party’s propaganda and destruction of those who do not conform.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt went further, saying that the lies of an authoritarian were designed not to persuade people, but to organize them into a mass movement. Followers would “believe everything and nothing,” Arendt wrote, “think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” “The ideal subject” for such a dictator, Arendt wrote, was not those who were committed to an ideology, but rather “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist.”

It has been a source of frustration to those eager to return our public debates to ones rooted in reality that lies that have built a certain right-wing personality cannot be punctured because of the constant sowing of confusion around them. Part of why the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been so effective is that it has carefully built a story out of verifiable facts. Because House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew the pro-Trump Republicans from the committee, we have not had to deal with the muddying of the water by people like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who specializes in bullying and hectoring to get sound bites that later turn up in on right-wing channels in a narrative that mischaracterizes what actually happened.

But today something happened that makes puncturing the bubble of disinformation personal. In the damages trial, the lawyer . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 9:56 pm

Nancy Pelosi, China and the Slow Decline of the U.S. Military

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

As military tensions flare between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, it’s easy to put all eyes on Nancy Pelosi and her visit to the island. Symbolism matters deeply in international relations, and this event is setting the direction for how Chinese and U.S. leaders will relate to one another. But six weeks ago, an obscure military bureaucrat named Cameron Holt offered another, equally important signal about this relationship. Holt is the head of acquisitions for the Air Force, which means he oversees the buying of everything from drones to nuclear missiles. And in a fascinating and spicy speech, he said that if the U.S. doesn’t get better at buying weapons, America will lose in a future conflict to China. “It’s simply math,” he argued.

The reason is that China is better at procurement. China is getting weapons “five to six times” more rapidly than the United States. “In purchasing power parity,” he said, “they spend about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability.” This problem is directly related to market power in the U.S. Holt went over the business strategy of U.S. defense contractors, noting their goal is to lowball contracts but keep control of intellectual property. Then, he said, they create vendor lock-in, and raise prices later. In other words, they underprice upfront so they can eventually exploit pricing power over the Pentagon. Chinese acquisition strategies are more efficient and less brittle, which means over time their military will overtake ours.

Nothing Holt said is a surprise. Everyone knows how screwed up U.S. procurement is, the warnings come in almost daily. For instance, the U.S. can’t replace its stocks of Javelins and Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine, it’s going to take years to restart some of the assembly lines. Raytheon and Lockheed are having supply chain issues, and are unable to deliver weapons despite strong orders. We can’t even make the chips for weapons systems like the B-2 bomber, because semiconductor firms are shutting down the fabs that made the old parts. One could argue these are anomalies, unusual situations, but war is the ultimate moment of supply chain disruption, so that’s cold comfort.

To put the problem simply, we spend massively on weapons and get too little for it. Why? Just like health care or most other bloated sectors, it’s the prices, stupid. We consolidated economic power in the hands of a few dominant defense contractors and financiers, and they have become slothful and expensive. Fortunately, since it’s a problem caused by policy, it’s also a problem that can be solved by policy. And there are useful legislative attempts to do so.

Let’s start with how the U.S. organizes its defense thinking around procurement and economics. Traditional American strategy was laid out after the Revolutionary War, when U.S. policymakers recognized that to be an independent nation required domestic manufacturing and shipping capacity to reduce dependency on foreign actors, which through much of the 19th century was Great Britain. The idea we should be able to supply ourselves with industrial goods that could be repurposed for weaponry was key to every U.S. war, both then and since. For instance, in World War II, the U.S. became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ largely by transforming its peacetime industrial capacity to focus on industrial-scale warfare. Instead of cars, Ford factories churned out tanks and aircraft. Similarly, the Cold War aerospace industry in the form of Boeing and regulated airlines such as Pan Am served both civilian and military purposes.

Until the early 1990s, this basic strategy held; retain an industrial base for security purposes, so as to be able to produce lots of cheap interoperable machines and weapons if necessary. Public control over the defense part of this base occurred through competition; during World War II, there were more than a dozen prime contractors for every major weapons system. So if one entity screwed up or under-invested, military officers could procure elsewhere.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. strategists changed this successful model of governance. The national security world and Wall Street, whose relationship had always been somewhat tense, became more aligned in their vision of how to project U.S. power. They coalesced around . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 11:41 am

When the dog catches the car: Republicans successes bring backlash

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have stripped it of protections for abortion rights. With 86% of the vote in, 62% of voters supported abortion protections; 37% wanted them gone. That spread is astonishing. Kansas voters had backed Trump in 2020; Republicans had arranged for the referendum to fall on the day of a primary, which traditionally attracts higher percentages of hard-line Republicans; and they had written the question so that a “yes” vote would remove abortion protections and a “no” would leave them in place. Then, today, a political action committee sent out texts that lied about which vote was which.

Still, voters turned out to protect abortion rights in such unexpectedly high numbers it suggests a sea change.

It appears the dog has caught the car, as so many of us noted when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision on June 24. Since 1972, even before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Republican politicians have attracted the votes of evangelicals and traditionalists who didn’t like the idea of women’s rights by promising to end abortion. But abortion rights have always had strong support. So politicians said they were “pro-life” without ever really intending to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision explicitly did just that and has opened the door to draconian laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions, promptly showing us the horror of a pregnant 10-year-old and hospitals refusing abortion care during miscarriages. Today, in the privacy of the voting booth, voters did exactly as Republican politicians feared they would if Roe were overturned.

But this moment increasingly feels like it’s about more than abortion rights, crucial though they are. The loss of our constitutional rights at the hands of a radical extremist minority has pushed the majority to demonstrate that we care about the rights and freedoms that were articulated—however imperfectly they were carried out—in the Declaration of Independence.

We care about a lot of things that have been thin on the ground for a while.

We care about justice:

Today, the Senate passed the PACT Act in exactly the same form it had last week, when Republicans claimed they could no longer support the bill they had previously passed because Democrats had snuck a “slush fund” into a bill providing medical care for veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the bill was unchanged, and Republicans’ refusal to repass the bill from the House seemed an act of spite after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced an agreement on a bill to lower the cost of certain prescription drugs, invest in measures to combat climate change, raise taxes on corporations and the very wealthy, and reduce the deficit. Since their vote to kill the measure, the outcry around the country, led by veterans and veterans’ advocate Jon Stewart, has been extraordinary. The vote on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 tonight was 86 to 11 as Republicans scrambled to fix their mistake.

In an ongoing attempt to repair a past injustice, executive director of the Family Reunification Task Force Michelle Brané says it has reunified 400 children with their parents after their separation by the Trump administration at the southern border. Because the former administration did not keep records of the children or where they were sent, reunifying the families has been difficult, and as many as 1000 children out of the original 5000 who fell under this policy remain separated from their parents. [This is fucking shocking. – LG]

And we care about equality before the law:

Today, Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, and Alexander Mallin of ABC News reported that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 7:58 am

How the NRA has blocked gun control in the U.S.

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2 August 2022 at 10:58 am

The reactionary roots of crypto and web3: A TEDx talk by David Troy

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Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:56 am

‘They’re Just Going to Let Me Die?’ One Woman’s Abortion Odyssey

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Men should not be passing laws on abortion. This long read from the NY Times (gift link, no paywall) tells a harrowing story:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Madison Underwood was lying on the ultrasound table, nearly 19 weeks pregnant, when the doctor came in to say her abortion had been canceled.

Nurses followed and started wiping away lukewarm sonogram gel from her exposed belly as the doctor leaned over her shoulder to speak to her fiancé, Adam Queen.

She recalled that she went quiet, her body went still. What did they mean, they couldn’t do the abortion? Just two weeks earlier, she and her fiance had learned her fetus had a condition that would not allow it to survive outside the womb. If she tried to carry to term, she could become critically ill, or even die, her doctor had said. Now, she was being told she couldn’t have an abortion she didn’t even want, but needed.

“They’re just going to let me die?” she remembers wondering.

In the blur around her, she heard the doctor and nurses talking about a clinic in Georgia that could do the procedure now that the legal risks of performing it in Tennessee were too high.

She heard her fiancé curse, and with frustration in his voice, tell the doctor this was stupid. She heard the doctor agree.

Just three days earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the constitutional right to abortion. A Tennessee law passed in 2020 that banned abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy had been blocked by a court order but could go into effect.

Ms. Underwood never thought any of this would affect her. She was 22 and excited to start a family with Mr. Queen, who was 24.

She and Mr. Queen had gone back and forth for days before deciding to terminate the pregnancy. She was dreading the abortion. She had cried in the car pulling up to the clinic. She had heard about the Supreme Court undoing Roe v. Wade but thought that since she had scheduled her abortion before the decision, and before any state ban took effect, the procedure would be allowed.

Tennessee allows abortion if a woman’s life is in danger, but doctors feared making those decisions too soon and facing prosecution. Across the country, the legal landscape was shifting so quickly, some abortion clinics turned patients away before the laws officially took effect or while legal battles played out in state courts.

Century-old bans hanging around on the books were activated, but then just as quickly were under dispute. In states where abortion was still legal, wait times at clinics spiked as women from states with bans searched for alternatives.

It was into this chaos that Ms. Underwood was sent home, still pregnant, and reeling. What would happen now? The doctor said . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2022 at 11:24 am

Trump Just Told Us His Master Plan

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I hope voters in the US are paying attention. David Frum reports in the Atlantic:

Yesterday, an ex-president who had tried to overturn a democratic election by violence returned to Washington, D.C., to call for law and order. Again and again, the speech reversed reality. The ex-president who had spread an actual big lie against the legitimacy of the 2020 election tried to appropriate the phrase big lie to use against his opponents. The ex-president who had fired an acting FBI director days before that official’s pension was due to be vested lamented that police officers might lose their pension for doing their job.

Yet scrape aside the audacity, the self-pity, and the self-aggrandizement, and there was indeed an idea in Donald Trump’s speech at a conference hosted by the America First Policy Institute: a sinister idea, but one to take seriously.

Trump sketched out a vision that a new Republican Congress could enact sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a “weak, foolish, and stupid governor,” and to fire “radical and racist prosecutors”—racist here meaning “anti-white.” The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials.

Much of this may be hot air. All of it would require huge legal changes, and some of it would require the 6–3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn established precedents. You should listen to Trump’s speech less as an agenda of things to be done, and more as an indication of the direction of Trump’s thought.

The Trump Republican Party faces a strategic problem and a constitutional opportunity. The problem is that under Trump, the Republican Party is a minority force in American life. The opportunity is that an ever more unbalanced federal structure can enable a minority party based in many small states to control the majority population that lives in fewer big states. Abortion rights are one area where Republicans can use this opportunity, but that is not an area that especially interests Donald Trump.

Instead, and as always, the opportunity that most fascinates Trump is the opportunity to use the law as a weapon: a weapon to shield his own wrongdoing, a weapon to wield against his political opponents.

Trump’s first term was  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2022 at 4:27 pm

Inside an international network of teenage neo-Nazi extremists

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Nick Robins Early, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause report in Insider:

Last year, a 20-year-old named Christian Michael Mackey arrived at the Phillips 66 gas station in Grand Prairie, Texas, hoping to sell his AM-15 rifle to make some quick cash. He’d said he wanted to buy a more powerful gun, something that could stop what he called a “hoard of you know what.”

Mackey told an online group chat he’d started looking at Nazi websites at around 15-years-old, when he began spending hours on white nationalist message boards and talking to other extremists on Instagram and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Five years later, he was active in a network of violent neo-Nazi groups that organized and communicated through online group chats. He described himself as a “radical Jew slayer.”

When Mackey met his buyer in the gas-station parking lot in January 2021, he didn’t know he had walked into a sting. The woman purchasing his rifle was a paid FBI source with numerous felonies, and Mackey was arrested as soon as the gun changed hands. At his detention hearing a month later, an FBI agent said authorities had found a pipe bomb in Mackey’s parents’ house, where he lived.

Mackey’s stepfather told local news soon after the arrest that his stepson had been radicalized online, and footage showed him ripping up a copy of “Mein Kampf” in Mackey’s bedroom. FBI records and court documents indicated that Mackey had posted more than 2,400 messages in one neo-Nazi Instagram group chat alone, and had told another user “I’m just trying to live long enough to die attacking.”

Stories like this have increasingly played out across the US and around the world in recent years — young people, overwhelmingly white and male, who have become involved in a global network of neo-Nazi extremist groups that plot mass violence online.

Canadian authorities earlier this year arrested a 19-year-old on terrorism charges after they say he tried to join a neo-Nazi group similar to the ones Mackey was involved in. In April, a 15-year-old in Denmark was charged with recruiting for a neo-Nazi organization banned in the country. A 16-year-old became the UK’s youngest terrorism offender after joining that same group, where he researched terror manuals and discussed how to make explosives. Others made it further along in their plots, like a 21-year-old who planted a bomb outside the Western Union office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

As far-right extremism has grown over the past decade, so too has the notoriety of various groups and their leaders. Far-right gangs such as the Proud Boys as well as suit-and-tie-wearing white nationalists like Richard Spencer regularly make headlines. But there are also lesser-known groups with more directly violent aims that follow an ideology called accelerationism — the belief that carrying out bombings, mass shootings, and other attacks is necessary to hasten the collapse of society and allow a white ethnostate to rise in its place.

Countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have designated accelerationist groups such as Atomwaffen Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base as terrorist organizations. Atomwaffen, which is now largely defunct, was linked to at least five murders in the US alone. The Base’s leader was sentenced in May to four years in prison after plotting to kill minorities and instigate a race war.

Experts trace the origins of groups like these to a neo-Nazi website called Iron March that went offline in 2017, and which notoriously helped extremists from many countries forge international connections and spread accelerationist propaganda.

The ideology has been linked to the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, where a white nationalist killed 51 people at two mosques while livestreaming the attack online, and a shooting earlier this year at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY where 10 people were killed.

As part of a joint investigation that Insider undertook with Welt Am Sonntag and Politico, reporters gained access to two dozen internal chat groups linked to a broader network of neo-Nazi accelerationists. Comprising 98,000 messages from about 900 users, the data includes photos, videos, text, and voice messages.

Various participants in the groups have been charged with a range of crimes related to plots to bomb or burn down synagogues and gay bars, attack anti-fascist activists, and illegally traffic firearms. In chat logs that reporters reviewed, members showed off homemade explosives, encouraged one another to kill minorities, and discussed how to get access to weapons.

The scores of messages and propaganda in these chats provide a glimpse into one of the most dangerous corners of modern far-right extremism. It is increasingly international, intent on radicalizing young people, and committed to using violence to further its fascist ideology.

Rather than a centralized group, it is a loosely connected network that rises and falls as its members are killed or arrested — but never seems to entirely go away. And unlike extremist groups that want to integrate their beliefs into political parties or run for local office, the aim of accelerationist groups like these is primarily to create violent chaos. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 4:57 pm

Excellent movie: “The Last Full Measure”

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The Last Full Measure on Netflix now is an excellent movie with an excellent cast. Based on a true story.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 2:19 pm

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