• Black Men Are Dying in New York Like Their Lives Don’t Matter

    May 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy

     

    Black men are systemically shot and killed in New York City and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. If you say discussing this is a distraction from racism, you do it from atop a lot of graves. And how can anyone say that doesn’t matter?

     

    Begin by asking how many are dying in New York, who is dying, who is doing the killing, where is it taking place, and why. The context is New York City saw its bloodiest week in late April with 46 separate shooting incidents, a 300 percent surge from the same week in 2020. These shootings were part of a 205 percent overall increase in shootings in NYC in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996. The body count continued to rise in early May.

    Who is dying? Some 65 percent of homicide victims are black, though they make up less than quarter of the city’s population. In the unsuccessful homicides, e.g. “shootings,” blacks are over 70 percent of the victims. The dead include more and more young people. In the first half of 2020, 53 persons under 18-years-old were shot versus 37 during the same period a year earlier. Additionally, there have been 215 shooting victims ages 18-24 during the same period versus 125 in 2019. This is because it is gang-related activity that is driving the shootings in the city. Over 90 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks, not by white supremacists or cops.

    In 2020 290 black people were murdered and over 1000 were shot, almost all by other blacks. By comparison, only five of the 20 years of the Afghan war killed more Americans in a year. In further comparison, in 2020 the New York City police killed five blacks. You have to wonder which pile of bodies is really the distraction and which is really the more serious problem. This is what a systemic problem actually looks like.

     

    A disproportionate number of the killings and shootings take place inside the vast public housing world of New York City, the 2,602 buildings controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) There are 334 developments which fill an area three times the size of Central Park. Because there are so many people living “off-lease,” no one knows the actual NYCHA population, but it is believed to be over 600,000. If NYCHA were its own city, it would have about the same population as Boston. While much of the public housing is in “bad” parts of town, not all of it is. The housing was built largely on NYC-owned and available land and was championed by wealthy liberals in the 1950s and 60s. Some of NYCHA’s worst residences sit across the street from million dollar condos on the Upper East Side.

    New York in general, and NYCHA in the specific, is simultaneously one of the most diverse places in America and the most segregated. About 27 percent of the city’s households in poverty are white, but less then five percent of NYCHA households are white. In contrast, blacks account for about a fourth of the city’s households in poverty but occupy 45 percent of NYCHA units. But even that does not tell the real tale. NYCHA is segregated building-by-building. Rutland Towers in East Flatbush is 94.9 percent black. Though Asians make up less then five percent of the overall NYCHA population, the La Guardia Addition at Two Bridges is 70 percent Asian.

    NYCHA is also a very dangerous world. The NYPD counted 59 homicides in NYCHA properties in 2020, up 41 percent in 2019. The murder rate is far worse in the projects than elsewhere. As of late 2020, the projects had seen 15.5 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to only four per 100,000 elsewhere in the city. Police counted 257 shooting incidents in NYCHA projects in 2020, a 92 percent increase over 2019. Some 67 shootings were reported per 100,000 NYCHA residents, compared to 12 per 100,000 in the rest of the city.

    The vast majority of these shootings are gang related, the gangs involved in some of the worst locations are mostly black, and the beef is over control of turf to sell drugs inside the city’s vast gulag archipelago of public housing. The mayor’s office both acknowledges and sidesteps this uncomfortable truth by blaming the shootings on “interpersonal beefs.” Worried about the Thin Blue Line, when cops won’t testify against other cops? Try finding a witness inside the projects for a black-on-black gang killing.

     

    It wasn’t always this way. The last time NYC saw a decrease in crime was in 1993 after black Mayor David Dinkins implemented a “quality of life” initiative. This set the stage for what came to be known as “broken windows” policing. It posits minor infractions such as graffiti, panhandling, and public urination create disorder which, when left unchecked, gives the impression crime is tolerated. Aggressively punishing minor crimes creates a perceived intolerance of crime, thereby lowering serious crime.

    The numbers support this. New York City experienced a steep decline in homicides from 1990 to 1999. Homicides peaked in 1991 with a mean of 22 homicides per 100,000 people, and fell to a low of slightly more than four per 100,000 in 1998.

    Everything changed with the 2014 election of current Mayor Bill De Blasio, who did away with broken window policing, and specifically outlawed the liberal use of stop and search tactics by the police. In the wake of BLM, New York also stopped locking people up for many crimes where they had previously been held for bail, and cut back on undercover and special police units.

    Following these changes, complaints about discriminatory policing went down. But violent crime went up. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes last year.

    Since lived experience is so important today, before De Blasio changed policing policy, I could walk my dog through a nearby NYCHA complex. No one was gracious, but I was left alone. Today if I go to the same place a young black man will soon pop out to ask “You buying?” and when I say no he’ll growl “Get the f*ck outta here” in reply.

    These NYCHA islands, once thought to be the solution, are now incubators of the problem. We can argue over why they exist, but only in the face of how absolutely nothing that has been tried over decades has made a significant change. The deaths of young black people persist. It has proved near impossible to provide incentives that out do what the gangs offer, including quick money, access to drugs, a sense of belonging, a lifestyle promoted by hip hop music, and protection from other gangs. That’s needed today more than ever as the police withdraw (this year the NYPD saw an 75 percent increase in departures and retirements, the loss of over 5,300 cops.)

    We have been squawking about longer term solutions for decades, with NYC providing one of the most comprehensive menus of such ideas in the nation — near free housing, education, internships, public medical care, benefits to mothers and children, before and after school programs, pre-K, school breakfasts and lunches, college scholarships, help centers, free or reduced cost public transportation, renaming, canceled statues, and on and on. There is little of the lives of the people affected in New York that has not been touched in an effort to fix something.

    The standard progressive response to white people talking about black-on-black killings is that it is a distraction from the real issues, a trick of misdirection, a way to minimize the real problem of police killings. That ignores the harsh light; the score in NYC is 290 dead in black-on-black homicide to five killed by the cops. You bandage all wounds, but start with the one most life-threatening.

    Another argument is blacks already talk plenty among themselves about intra-racial violence and that’s enough. But it’s our city, too. We all live here, and sorry to break the narrative, but many of us care for others beyond ourselves. We can also talk about more than one thing at a time, especially if the media, politicians, and black “leaders” will give us the room to do so and stop trying to shut down the dialogue to keep the wound open.

    Whites talking about black violence isn’t a palliative for other violence but an acknowledgement complex problems exist which cannot be solved by ignoring some things, and dismissing others with argument-ending pronouncements of racism and systemic bias, now reduced even further to code words like “1619.” The job is pretty easy when you blame everything on one thing, racism, as if it was really that simple.

    Yet while we wait for all this to be sorted out, the young black men of NYCHA seem to face our choice between aggressive (“discriminatory”) policing which lands many them raw in jail even as it saves lives, or lite policing which allows young blacks to kill other young blacks as they wish. It’s almost as if their lives don’t matter when the politics of race are in play.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Fascism Americano

    May 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

     

    If you were upset or frightened by Trump, or Leftist Biden, hold on. They’re amateur opportunists; just wait for the pros.

     

    Once only on social media, now commonplace among the legacy media, we encounter near-constant pleas to kill white people, or cancel them, or push them aside. A friend married to the same Asian woman for decades is cursed at as a fetishist. It is completely acceptable in our public discourse to say things like that.

     

    Coupled with the sentiments toward white people is a similar theme against men. Twitter from time to time will blurt out popular hashtags like #WorldWithoutMen, with Tweets that range between funny-not funny jokes about how women can get by with “more batteries” (i.e., vibrators) to outright calls for violence.

     

    Of course the rules of media, social and anti-social, say this is OK even as they punish those who say exactly the same things but change the target from white to black (racist) or men to women (misogynists.) As each outlet cuts out more and more dissenting voices, the anti-white, anti-male pieces expand and absorb more and more of the bandwidth. To push back is hard, given the increasing lack of access to platforms which are not protected by the 1A and their increasing dominance of time-mind space. Absent repeated attempts to create a legal version of dismissing “hate speech,” progressives have used economic power to create a de facto one outside the law. The hate they fight against however, seems to only flow one way.

     

    This trend follows naturally the one developed over the last four years, that if you hold certain opinions (such as vote Republican, support free speech, own a legal weapon) you are inherently wrong and evil, not just your ideas. You can’t be persuaded, and you are not worth listening to. This is merging with the political currents of our time, and candidates who bark as progressive employ similar language in their campaigns. Even America’s two whitest dads, Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama, demonize many of us as toxic. Image that, a human being being toxic based on the way he was born. There should be a term for that.

     

    There comes now a concurrent theme that because of all this, when bad things happen to white men, they deserve it. Persons who otherwise advocate for better bail and prison conditions become joyous at the thought of white men who attacked the Capitol being assaulted in prison. The same sounds were heard during the Trump administration whenever the media decided henchman so-and-so was going to jail (most never did) he would be abused in the showers, homophobic threats of rape presented as justice when done to Trump supporters.

     

    Many people are savvy enough to know Twitter is just acting out and its daily wallop of threats are without merit. We get the desire to out shock one’s competitors with claims “whites are a public health crisis” and the like. Stick and stones. We know it’s mostly bull from journalists who call themselves “wypipologists” to ignore.

     

    But that angry, hateful bull more and more rises up enough to cause someone to lose his livelihood over a misunderstood Facebook post from 10 years ago, or false testimony about rape that is given credibility by a slogan (#BelieveWomen.) It begins to look like this can make the jump from online to the real world with real world consequences. That does alarm people, even nice people willing to dismiss much as just rhetoric.

     

    There is great danger. Leaving Dr. King’s dream of a world where color does not matter, progressive America is purposefully seeking a return to circa-1950 when color mattered a lot. They believe they can control the monster this time, so that favoring color (or gender) means advantages at work and school for blacks, and whatever nibblers they can attract from the mountain of “people of color” who in many cases see little of themselves in black activism. The point is the new progressive world damn well intends to base things on the color of one’s skin, relying on the most simplistic definition of racism: if the percentage of blacks (mortgage holders, Harvard, jail) is different than the percentage of blacks in society, that means racism. No complications, no explanations. Conveniently, if you disagree, you’re a racist! This is an imposed ideology, pressed home as truth without much discussion on either side.

     

    Seeing color as an essential part of identity is what America spent 120 years fighting to get away from. The progressive reversal is little short of a confession that that idea, and all that followed it, including the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and our first black president, failed. The answer, it seems, is to declare a mass of Americans, those male and/or white, essentially in the way, and that they must be eliminated for others to progress. We will never otherwise get 13.4 percent of blacks into everything, they say as if that goal rivaled the moon shot in the national mind. That is not going to go over well.

     

    It’s ironic because this solution to what some consider an unfair advantage for whites is to recreate that unfair advantage for themselves. They are in fact validating the worst racist impulses — that color matters — and the worst version of a society, that there are only so many chances out there, never enough to go around, so our group will have to take some from your group. It takes nothing more than watching toddlers, or puppies, fighting over limited toys to know how that has to end.

     

    And there is what is frightening. Many people are smart enough to know when someone is just shouting hateful things with little means or intent to do much about it. But what about everyone else? We saw a taste of this in the election of Donald Trump. Democrats want to fob that off as a mistake, a one-time thing, powered by foreign intervention (and maybe, in private, a bad decision to run a bad candidate in Hillary.) Joe Biden was supposed to be the ideological palate cleanser. Unity and all that.

     

    But Biden is instead fanning the flames in slavish debt paying to the people who reluctantly voted for him. Open the borders! More support for quotas and “empowerment” in the law for one group over another! Reparations! And if you don’t agree, you’re a racist hater KKK Nazi. No dissent tolerated. As a white supremacist, you don’t need to be heard, you need to be punched.

     

    Biden is at best passively following a pre-written social justice agenda (who knows what he believes himself, or is even aware of), and counting on the complexity of how we vote and choose a president to re-elect his party. He ignores how lousy a candidate and how clumsy a president Trump was but yet who still polls high in defeat.

     

    It is best to look at Trump as version 1.0 of who we’ll elect someday. Trump said the right buzz words to a group of Americans who were disenfranchised, and did well with many others despite being crude and often embarrassing. But he dragged around too much baggage from decades of public life, and proved himself unable to keep from reflexively firing the staff needed to run a national campaign, never mind govern. He never learned, or even tried, to understand how to get things done in Washington, wasting time trying to impose his own odd business management model on the Deep State. His opposition was almost comical, sticking with a fully false Russian narrative for three years.

     

    But with eye toward how this has evolved among rightists in Europe, think about the next guy, or one after that, who is articulate and smart, who can turn the knob up or down as needed when addressing unemployed factory workers or angry suburbanites whose kids can’t get into a good school due to quotas, both groups worn weary by the rising taxes imposed to pay for the Democratic version of “justice,” both groups suffering from rising crime even as leaders call for defunding the police and making them more liable for individual lawsuits for doing their job. Would you expect something else, given a multi-year effort first to scold then to scapegoat half the population? Did people think no one would notice?

     

    Put that candidate into a future world where media which backstopped Biden is even more granular, where the big guys like CNN matter even less, and new platforms emerge to make Twitter and Facebook less significant. The media’s credibility is heading toward the bottom anyway; all but the most partisan can see the doubles-standards employed. Some 58 percent of us already think “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.” Media has collapsed into pure unapologetic simplistic advocacy journalism.

     

    The kind of Republican candidate likely to emerge from all this will promise to take charge, to force change backwards, and will manipulate the newly validated laws which say discrimination by race is what people want. He will find an audience grown larger by ham-handed Democratic efforts to impose a partisan flavor of social change against the majority will. He will be called a fascist or an authoritarian and he may be so, but he will also be seen as the least worst answer to a system that has swung way too far from center.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Future is Hawaii

    April 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy


     

    I have seen the future. It looks a lot like Hawaii. What I saw there (absent the beautiful beaches, confused tourists, and incredible nature) was a glimpse of the future for much of America.

    COVID paved the way for internal travel restrictions — Americans moving around inside their own country — never before thought possible, or even constitutional. Hawaii, an American state, had to decide if they accepted American me, much as a foreign country controls its borders and decides which outsiders may enter.

    Hawaii required a very specific COVID test, from a “trusted partner” company they contract with, at the cost of $119 (no insurance accepted.) To drive home the Orwellian aspects of this all, after receiving the test kit I had to spit into the test tube during a Zoom call, some large head onscreen peeping into my bedroom watching to ensure it was indeed my spit. And now of course, after clicking Accept several times, my DNA information is in Hawaiian government hands along with whoever else’s name was buried in pages of Terms of Service. I was rewarded with the Scooby snack of an QR code on my phone.

    Hawaii used to offer the option of skipping the test and doing quarantine on-island. However, they now pre-screen at major airports and so no QR code, no boarding. And for those who don’t think good, today it’s a COVID test, tomorrow other criteria may be applied. Aloha!

    I will add that all the extra health screening at the airport made me a little nostalgic when I finally got to the bombs and weapons detecting set up by TSA. Just like the good old days when we worried about Muslim terrorists instead of each other turning our planes into flying death tubes, I was checked to make sure I was not carrying more than 3 ounces of shampoo. It felt… quaint to remove my shoes alongside everyone else, millions of pairs a day, all because some knucklehead failed to explode his shoe bomb and was subdued by other passengers 12 freaking years ago. For old times’ sake I prepared mentally to subdue my fellow cabin mates. The nostalgia was driven home as the TSA screener made everyone remove their mask for a moment to verify the face matched the ID picture except Muslim women, ensuring every non-Muslim woman passenger got to exhale a couple of COVID-era breaths into the crowd. Viva!

     

    The future in Hawaii strikes you as soon as you clear the airport into that beautiful Pacific air. It smells good in patches, but in fact there are growing masses of homeless people everywhere; the unsheltered homeless population is up 12 percent on Oahu. Coming from NYC I am certainly not surprised by the zombie armies, but these people live outside. You can’t escape them by surrendering control of the subway system, or by creating shelters in someone else’s neighborhood. The homeless here live in tents, some in gleefully third world shacks made of found materials, others in government-paid shanties creatively called “tiny houses.”

    Some make solo camp sites alone on the sidewalk, some create mini-Burning Man encampments in public parks. I’d like to say the latter resemble the migratory camps in Grapes of Wrath, but the Joad family could still afford an old jalopy and these people cannot. The Joads were also headed to find work; these people have burrowed in, with laundry hanging out, dogs running among the trash, rats and bugs happily exploring the host-parasite relationship. These folks stake out areas once full of tourists on Waikiki, and in public spaces once enjoyed more by locals. Drugs are a major problem and whether a homeless person will hassle you depends on which drug he favors, the kind that makes him aggressive or the kind that makes him sleep standing up at the bus stop.

    The future is built around the homeless, literally. My business was in the Kakaako area, once a warehouse district between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, now home to a dozen or more 40 story condos. They are all built like fortresses against the homeless. Each tower sits on a pedestal with parking inside, such that the street view of most places is a four story wall. There is an entrance (with security) but in fact the “first floor” for us is already four floors above ground. Once you’re up there, the top of the pedestal usually features a pool, a garden, BBQ, kiddie play area, dog walking space, all safely out of reach from whatever ugly is going on down below.

    If you look out the windows from the upper, most expensive floors, you can see the ocean and sand but not the now tiny homeless people. They become invisible if you’re rich enough. Don’t be offended or shocked — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most of the wealthy the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created. Never mind stuff like those bars on park benches that make it impossible to lay down. The architects in Kakaako have stepped it up.

    These heavily defended apartments can run lots of millions of dollars, with most owners either coming from the mainland U.S. or Asia. They will live a nice life. Most of them work elsewhere, or own businesses elsewhere, which is good, because the future in Hawaii does not look good for the 99 percent below. It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids.

     

    Hawaii’s economy may be the future. Very little is made here. As making steel and cars left the Midwest in the late 2oth century, so did Hawaii’s old economy based on agriculture. It was cheaper to grow food elsewhere and import it to the mainland. The bulk of pineapple consumed in the United States now comes from Mexican, Central and South American growers same as steel now comes from China, and the few pineapple fields in Hawaii are for tourists. Hawaii now depends on two industries: tourism and defense spending. And both are controlled by government.

    Tourism accounts directly for 24 percent of the state’s economy, more if one factors in secondary spending. The industry currently does not exist in viable form, with arrivals down some 75 percent. Unemployment Hawaii-wide is 24 percent, much more if you add in those who long ago gave up looking or are underemployed frying burgers. Much is driven by COVID. Will those ever recede? No one knows. When might things get better? No one knows. The decisions which control lives are made largely in secret, by the governor or “scientists,” and are not subject to public debate or a state congressional vote. One imagines a Dickensonian kid in hula skirt asking “Please sir, may we have jobs?”

    Everyone knows Pearl Harbor, not only once a major tourist destination but also a part of direct Pentagon spending which pumps $7.2 billion into Hawaii’s economy, about 7.7 percent of the state’s GDP. Hawaii is second in the United States for the highest defense spending as a share of state GDP, and that’s just the overt stuff. Rumor has it the NSA has multiple facilities strewn around western Oahu with thousands of employees. All those government personnel, uniformed or covert, do a lot of personal spending in the local economy, much as they do in the shanty towns which ring American bases abroad. Everyone relies on local utilities like water, power, and sewers, and those bases need engineers, plumbers, electricians and others. Many are local residents either directly employed by DoD or working through contracts with private companies. The point is even more then tourism, this large sector of the economy is controlled by the government. At least they’re still working.

    Another important sector of the Hawaiian economy is also government controlled, those who live entirely on public benefits. Benefits in Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175 and untaxed. For the last 9 years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out ten people in Hawaii get food stamps (SNAP), though the number is higher if you include free lunches at school and for the elderly. Fewer working people means fewer tax paying people, so this is unsustainable into the future.

    Who owns the future? The government in Hawaii owns the land. The Federal government owns about 20 percent of everything, and the state of Hawaii owns some 50 percent of the rest. Do Not Enter – U.S. Government Property signs are everywhere if you take a drive out of town. There are also plenty of private roads and gated communities to separate the rich from the poor, but the prize goes to Oracle owner Larry Ellison who owns almost the entire island of Lanai, serving as a gatekeeper inside another gatekeeper’s turf. For the rest of the people, homeownership rates in Hawaii are some of the lowest in the nation.

    The good news (for some…) is in the future whites will be a minority race in all of America. They already are in Hawaii. Asians not including Native Hawaiians make up 37 percent of the population, with whites tagging in at 25 percent. Local government, some 55 percent of the jobs, is dominated by people of Japanese heritage. Japanese heritage people also have the highest percentage of homeownership, 70 percent. Almost all have a high school diploma, and about a third have a four-year college degree.

    The well-loved mainland concept of “people of color” fades quickly in Hawaii, where Japanese color people are a majority over everyone else. And unlike in some minds, people in Hawaii are very aware that the concept of “Asian” is racist as hell, and know the differences among Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Things are such that local Caucasian and Hawaii Democratic Congressman Ed Case said he was an “Asian trapped in a white body” and meant it as, and was understood in Hawaii as, a good thing and was echoed by Case’s Japanese-American wife.

    White supremacy has clearly been defeated here, though I am not sure BLM would be happy with how that actually worked out without them. On a personal note, I will say as a white-identifying minority I was well-treated by the police and others. I was not forced to wear one of those goofy shirts or add an apostrophe to words while in Hawai’i against my cultural mores, so there may be hope yet in the future I saw.

     
     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Uncomfortable Truths, Justice, and George Floyd

    April 17, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

     
     

    We ignore uncomfortable truths. The melding of the horrors of slavery with civil rights era lynchings with the killing of George Floyd, all wrapped in the means-what-you-want-it-to-mean of systemic racism, flirts with incitement to violence. It won’t fix anything but falling MSM circulation rates, but that’s sort of the point.

     

    Charles Blow in the NYT writes there is a direct line from disobedient slaves whipped in the 17th century to blacks lynched in the 1950s to George Floyd in 2021, cranked on Fentanyl, dying in restraint after trying to pass a phony $20 bill. America has gone from “the noose to the neck” he writes with as little understanding of anatomy as he has of history. Blow uses all of his high school creative writing class skills to make his lurid case; slave aren’t just whipped, it is black bodies that are punished and defiled. Blow writes of “the flaying of flesh, the human beings torn apart by hounds, the stiff bodies dangling from the stiff branch of a tree. The display was the thing. The theatrical production of pain, to the point of mutilation, was the thing. The transmission of trauma was the thing.”

     

    We heard pretty much the same thing during the late Trump era, when Blow and others brought up an incomplete retelling of Marion Sims’ surgeries on black women in the 1800s and the 1932 syphilis experiments on black men as reasons why modern POC should not take the COVID vaccine. Anger today is insufficient unless fanned by multipliers from the past until any means necessary is justified as overdue justice.

     

    Those are fighting words. They are meant to set the stage should that Minneapolis jury fail to satisfy the blood lust masquerading as a call for justice. But no one really wants justice per se, they want an eye for an eye. The certainty across America that cities will burn if the jury reaches the “wrong” conclusion makes clear that eye will be taken one way or another. A near-majority of Americans probably agree that it should be.

     

    The sad thing about what Blow writes (and obviously he is just an avatar who puts into words what many think) is the assumption of intent by the cops who killed George Floyd. Intent is a critical part of justice. What did you intend to do? It’s the difference between Murder One and lesser crimes such as manslaughter or even self-defense. Blow sees no such distinction because it was a cop and a black man. At an Upper West side cocktail party 40 floors from reality Blow would probably say the application of intent in such cases is racist itself if it saves a cop from the gallows.

     

    Within the horrors of slavery the intent was indeed to create ghoulish examples. Violence was a cruel tool of communication. Same for the ravages of the civil rights era, where Klansmen went out of their way to tell people they may have hung the wrong man for the rape of a white woman but no matter, they’re all the same. Same for the Freedom Riders; how many do we have to kill before ya’ll stay home? The violence was systemic, intentional, organized, and towards a common purpose of racial dominance. We share a sick history.

     

    But does any thinking person believe those Minneapolis police officers woke up one day with the intent, the desire, the plan, to kill whatever black man fate put into their hands? That they each personally wanted to send a signal to the world white power as exercised by uniformed cops, like modern day overseers, will keep blacks in their place? That in the chaos of that moment, ignited by Floyd’s own actions of taking drugs and passing funny money, a complex socio-racial-political drama was intentionally acted out?

     

    That is exactly what Blow, the MSM, and BLM want everyone to believe. They use every tool available to create that emotional narrative complete with an awkward martyr, from Blow’s dramatic prose to the media linking every white-on-black act of violence to a national supremacist conspiracy whilst ignoring black-on-black or any other violence. The job is to start a fire, and you can’t start a fire without a spark. If you don’t have one, create one.

     

    Each week we have a new national outrage to pull on that thread. Which thing is elevated is driven by the presence of good video, a clever hashtag, and the ease with which the tragedy can be linked to others. So the mass shooting in Atlanta zooms to first place because of the anti-Asian theme (which is not even true) while the mass shooting in Colorado fades quicker than a beer buzz. Americans have been conditioned to take the bait; in the cesspool my Facebook page has become it is easy to see the tide come in on an issue and then just as quickly go out. The same people upset about Russiagate last year were all about anti-Asian violence last week and have shifted to Floyd  with equal vitriol this week.

     

    Thought is not allowed. Apart from the crude techniques of deplatforming and canceling (thanks, @jack!) one trick is to disallow people who speak uncomfortable truths or propose counter-narratives. The disallow response usually starts with “as a…” with the commentator moving on to say “as a woman…” or “as a trans man…” and dismiss any other understanding of events because of an inability to have their lived experience. So what can I know about George Floyd, systemic racism, etc.? HuffPost has built an entire vertical around this, with various “as a…” people claiming their victimhood as birthright.

     

    As a human being, in reply I often cite education, the ability to learn about others’ lives through books, music, listening to people via documentaries or in real life. Isn’t that what all that stuff in the library is for anyway? But we dismiss education today as part of the same system of racism. We self-righteously allow tweeting mobs to ban books instead of allowing people to determine the value of ideas themselves. We do not want to be challenged. We want to believe emotional narratives, as people once did making up tales about angered gods who controlled the sun and tides. We should aspire to be better than our troglodyte ancestors or we will disappear with them.

     

    But if emotion is all that matters, and I am trying to reach those who value it over all else, here goes. My now-deceased father was a Holocaust survivor. He lived, and I exist, only because someone on his side of the family realized they had to risk everything and do sometimes not-so-good things to survive and get out. And for those who want to argue now that that doesn’t count because he didn’t suffer as much as someone else, well, then let’s talk more about how slavery was OK if the owner was a nice guy. I thought not, bro.
    For those who say I can’t understand, you cannot point to a more comprehensive example of systemic racism than the Holocaust, an explicit nation-state goal in our lifetimes to use industrial resources to eliminate an entire people. When I visited Germany a few years ago and was singled out for jay walking, should I have claimed anti-Semitism, told the cop my family story, demanded reparations? Or maybe just not jay walk?

     

     

    So let us talk uncomfortable truths. Of course reforms are needed, they always are. But the cop killings that dominate our mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of blacks who destroy themselves with drug abuse, the road Floyd was on. The number of police killings of blacks, however tragic, is a drop compared to the ocean of blacks killed by other blacks, never mind all the other murders America tallies. For example, the recent murder of a Capitol cop by a black nationalist received little coverage, and less political comment.

     

    There’s another uncomfortable truth about George Floyd. Floyd wasn’t at home eating breakfast when he died, nor was he dragged to the cops in chains. He broke the law to arrive at that terrible moment. Now that doesn’t justify his death, but know there was more than ideology which brought Floyd and those police officers together. Meanwhile, no evidence exists of systemic racism. The most compelling “proof” of anything systemic is some simplistic numerical totals, more blacks killed then whites, naïve in ignoring every other possible explanation. The pattern is so clear that if we avoid it there must be some reason.

     

    That reason is the use of deaths for political power and partisan gain. If you want to enflame people and drive voters, you focus on cop killings (now with video because people film attacks instead of stopping them) If you believe all black lives matter, you would focus on issues less politically useful but many times more deadly.

     

    Without victimhood to dismiss every problem as someone else’s fault, what would Charles Blow write about? Steps to make the patient well instead of prolonging the disease? Could he and the others switch to demanding more work directed toward unemployment, drugs, single parent families, kids who skip school, juvenile crimes, teenage moms, children shot in gangland crossfire, intergenerational dependency on public assistance, and personal responsibility? Or would he find something else he could blame on anonymous forces, something seemingly without a solution other than to keep voting for charlatans and buying newspapers from exploiters?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • COVID Runs the 9/11 Playbook (Against You)(Again)

    April 10, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    After fanning COVID panic for a year, Democratic newsletter Salon admits it was all for partisan purposes: “Americans have been sucked into an all-or-nothing approach, with your choice of all or nothing depending largely on your partisan identity.”

    Salon continues “Trump’s rejection of sensible precautions caused many of his political opponents to run hard in the opposite direction, embracing the lockdowns as if they were a point of personal virtue and inherent good, instead of a temporary and deeply unpleasant measure necessary to contain the virus. Worse, liberals were so protective of lockdowns that even sensible criticisms were ignored, and liberals often acted like, well, cops. They often appeared more interested in lecturing people rather than empowering them through education. There was a lot of social media shaming for any social activity, no matter how safe it was. And in behaving this way, a lot of well-intentioned people made the pandemic much worse.”

    The Hill came to the same conclusion, confessing recently “Lockdowns don’t work: Remember 15 days to slow the spread? Well, since those fateful words were uttered, we have had a year of various efforts to slow down a virus that has an infection fatality rate of less than one percent. And what we have learned is that viruses are gonna virus. California, the United Kingdom, Florida and Sweden show the futility of lockdowns.” The Hill adds “The media is complicit in furthering the Panic… how you could die tomorrow, from a virus that kills virtually nobody healthy under the age of 70.”

    A study found no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. In other words, few people got sick riding in a poorly-ventilated metal tube with strangers, masked and unmasked, an admission that many of the so-called lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, rituals based on fear. It was easier to order people to stay home than to see if the woods really had bears in them.

    NY Magazine, after a year of scare stories about scary COVID variants taking over the world, now is running articles headlined “Maybe the Variants Aren’t So Scary After All.”

    The Atlantic wrote a year into the pandemic “Traditional and social media have been caught up in a cycle of shaming—made worse by being so unscientific and misguided.” They point out the nonsense of the response: “Cities closed parks even as they kept open indoor dining and gyms. Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts banned students from taking even solitary walks… pictures of people outdoors without masks draw reprimands, insults, and confident predictions of super-spreading—and yet few note when super-spreading fails to follow.”

    All but the most serf-like now know the response was partisan, on purpose. We know lockdowns have little effect on transmission even as they devaste people economically and psychologically. The response by government, unscientific and misguided, was encouraged by a media that correlated suffering with virtue, and pain with progress. The draconian measures taken were somewhere between merely ineffective and worse than the disease. If only somehow we could have known this a year ago and used it as a guide toward more prudent, focused, and balanced responses.

    If only we’d been able to see the disease wasn’t the hoax, the response was.

     

    As America reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin, I first wrote on March 5, 2020 how COVID fear was being used to manipulate people. I said the reaction to the virus will result in long term damage to the nation well beyond the health effects of the virus. I wrote on March 10, 2020 how many of the same COVID-era tricks to create fear to drive policy were used when AIDS broke into the mainstream. On March 26, 2020 I explained how the same playbook (terrify the American people for partisan goals) was run on us after 9/11. I wrote a second article on how the “cure” of lockdown was going to be worse than the disease on March 31.

    I’m not bragging. The information was as obvious as you wanted it to be. For example, in October 2020 a group of infectious disease epidemiologists wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, laying out”grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of prevailing COVID policies” such as sweeping lockdowns. They were largely ignored, though US News found time to call them arrogant and recklessness in calling for “focused protection.” The nation was as intolerant of COVID dissent as it was of anti-war dissent in 2001.

    The playbook run against Americans with COVID (and 9/11, and AIDS, and…) goes back as far as 1984, the book, not the year. Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to create a state of fear among Americans, and then manipulate that fear into specific support and policy. In fact in 2020 all it took was an initial handful of deaths, some of what Orwell labeled prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles that piled on to existing anti-Trump night terrors.
    The goal is always to make fear of something the problem and then empowering government becomes the solution. You have to give things up for a safe society. It just is no longer practical to try to have freedom and security, you will have to choose. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against society. You purposely have endangered your masked, compliant neighbors. Substitute in “terrorism” if you like at this point.
    Fear is a powerful a tool for manipulation. It rubs raw on the fight or flight part of our lizard brain, especially when you involve family members as potential spreaders who want to kill grandma or as victims (grandma again.) Fear is also self-reinforcing. We feel embarrassed when we’ve been fooled into over-reacting, like when our friend made us jump, springing from his hiding place at a party. So after you sold off your stocks at a huge loss in March 2020 fearing a global depression that never came, you were ready with self-reinforcing gab instead of admitting fear drove you into a dumb financial decision. “Well, at least I had peace of mind” said many trying to justify a needless 30 percent capital loss.
    Fear of the virus can be shaped into fear Trump would find a way via incompetence to kill us all somehow. That made it easier to believe he would seriously suggest you inject bleach. The MSM told us the vaccines, the scientific answer to the virus, were being rushed through, that Trump would manipulate the approval process for political gain and release dangerous untested drugs. The MSM throttled the black community with racist claims about the vaccine, invoking the 1943 syphilis experiments during last year’s Summer of Racism. Of course none of the media admit blame for today’s resistance to the vaccine.
    The COVID fear playbook is nearly identical to the post-9/11 playbook, though kudos to those Bush officials who pulled it off in 2001 without the help of social media and only 3,000 dead. They turned Americans into such fearful creatures they stopped traveling, signed off on multiple wars, a torture regime, and the effective end of privacy in American life. We were conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lockdowns, education, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. We became trained that when we saw something, we said something. Not unlike our modern mask patrols, rent-a-cops, and Karens demanding everyone stay back six feet, driven by things such as the Washington Post, which wrote “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public.”

    It will be hard for people to let go of their fear; folks will be wearing masks for a long time because there is no end game. We learned that when lockdowns went from until the curve flattens to until the vaccine until, well, forever. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said  “Unless and until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe, because if the virus is out there and continuing to proliferate, it’s also going to be mutating.” COVID fear mongering will be around as long as it is a political asset and gone before it becomes a political liability.

    Too many good people died of COVID. Many of us have a personal tale of a friend or loved one. The news is still so full of COVID porn you’d think they were trying to convince us of something. But as we grieve equally all deaths, we must understand death was not invented in 2020. Hospitals are sadly full of people dying painfully every day. COVID deaths will soon enough be down to a mere fraction of the current count. Deaths from heart attacks, cancer, and car wrecks will not. We just won’t talk about them and we certainly won’t blame one political party over another for them.

    But if drama is indeed a currency in the pandemic, let me spend some. I have physically visited with my relatives and hugged them for the past year. Not only are we all still COVID-free, we have the honor of saying the government did not tell us how to live and love each other. It was Orwell himself who wrote “They’re afraid of love, ’cause love makes a world they can’t control.”

    Remember that for the next time. No government should be allowed to create a world of fear and isolation for its citizens, and no citizen should willingly demand that from a government.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Asian Hate Crime or White Supremacy? No.

    April 3, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Trump

     

    Following yet another mass shooting in America (Atlanta, not Boulder or any others this week), we turn to the most important question: how it can be politicized?

    That means reflexively declaring the murders in Georgia a hate crime against Asians, triggered within a mentally ill white man by remarks Trump made months ago labeling COVID the “Wuhan Flu.” The women killed, with a mix of Korean and Chinese names, some of whom may have been American Citizens, simply are first turned into generic “Asians” by the media, and then ubiquitous victim-props of, well, Trump, white supremacy, maybe all Fox viewers. Of the eight shot, two, one-fourth, are not Asian at all and are quickly falling out of the media’s focal point as not tracking the narrative. Trump’s direct culpability may be grounds for another impeachment. The mass killing in Boulder, which appears mostly white-on-white, holds little interest for the nation.

    Kidding. Of course the anti-Asian hate crime politicization is wrong.

    What we should agree is the proper politicization is guns are simply too easy to obtain in America. While the media was focused on the three quarters of the victims who were Asian, working hard not to say something cliched as they gleefully mispronounced the “foreign” names (#SAYHERNAME, nah, too hard) and reaffirmed sex work and the trafficking that drives it are A-OK (the media sang a different song about rub ‘n tug joints when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught in one), they wasted valuable time not tracking down the gun store where the killer got his weapon. They skipped the interview with the owner in a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tee saying he had followed all the regulations, or maybe the bad dude at the gun show in his QAnon fan gear saying there were already too many laws against gun ownership. This could have been followed by a long discussion about whether the killer used an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” and whether his clothing was “tactical.”

    But that politicization would have meant leaving out the “this will keep happening until we get full socialized medicine, including mental health care” politicization. CNN would have wasted no time tracking down the killer’s neighbors, who would say either a) he was crazy as a drunk bedbug and everyone knew this was gonna happen someday or b) he was the quiet type, kept to himself, and that’s what worried them. Either way, had he lived in Sweden mental health care would have saved those poor Asians and any other races shot. With thoughts and prayers, we ask when will we learn, Chris, when will we learn? Back to you.

    The mental health politicization is a good one because it dovetails well with the dangers of social media (it used to be heavy metal and satanism) and white supremacy politicization. No doubt the killer posted more than cuddly kitten pictures on his social media. This would all be tracked down by some Social Media Hate Crimes Task Force who would no doubt locate some pretty odd stuff online (bonus points if it was Parler.) If the guy had any friends/followers, at least one of them would be flashing some sign which we would assured was a symbol of white supremacy, such as scratching his nose. The links would be clear: social media causes white supremacy. The problem with this one is the victims are really not that important to the narrative, just background players, and America is demanding a racial angle to loop Trump’s viral remarks in.

    Politicization in most any form also means the media can have fun being racist. Ignoring that many crimes against Asians appear to be perpetrated by blacks, the killer is not just white, he’s that kind of white — you know, the really bad kind, him being from the South, rocking that Joe Dirt cosplay look. And he was a Southern Baptist who told a roommate he worried about falling “out of God’s grace” for basically watching too much porn (bet it was the nasty stuff, too, not the good kind that encourages foreplay.) We all just know he has a confederate flag on his bumper, or tatted on his shoulder, or at least thought about getting one after he cashed his last welfare check whilst complaining about gay socialism.

    Some deep-thinking Op-Ed will call him a part of a “maligned minority to purchase firearms in the fear of worse to come as the pandemic deepens.” Sooner or later we’ll learn the killer was afraid of losing his high status as a white man, marked by a lifestyle that included cheap massage parlors and a flip phone. All followed by someone calling white people a “public health crisis” and another chiming in “White fragility is a disease, and it just killed six Asian women.”

    Every proper politicization benefits from a religious angle. So the NYT visited the killer’s church to reveal its “bylaws include a lengthy passage on marriage and sexuality that condemns ‘adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.'” And the Times dug deep to find the church’s lead pastor preached a sermon about gender roles in September, drawing on a biblical passage which instructs women to dress modestly and to “learn in quietness and full submission.” For those reading outside of Austin or the coasts, that’s all progressive code to say the killer’s natural sexual urges were warped as a child by some messed up religious doctrine which is why he killed people, just like all those raised in a conservative church eventually get around to doing. Had he only been allowed to attend more drag queen reading events things might have ended differently. Religion radicalized him, like with ISIS.

    To be fair, there is debate within the oppression olympics community over which politicization scheme is best employed. “People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians,” tweeted the founder of an Asian-American feminist and pop culture blog. “What if — wait for it — it was both.” Others also tried for a rich word tapestry of blame, coming up with “racialized misogyny” and “male supremacist terrorism.” One prominent feminist author wrote “I don’t care that the shooter told police his attack wasn’t ‘racially-motivated.’ This was a racist misogynist crime.” She also said “we should sideline white male reporters when it comes to mass shootings because they obviously can’t be objective.” Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth agreed that the evidence be damned if it does not fit the storyline. She expressed doubts about FBI Director Chris Wray’s assessment that the shooting may not constitute a hate crime because “it looks racially motivated” to her from several hundred miles away.

    After admitting “very little is known about the motives of the Atlanta gunman,” the Times quickly added “but organizations that track hate crimes have paid increasing attention to misogyny as a ‘gateway drug’ to other types of extremism, such as violent racism” (for younger readers, the term “gateway drug” was last used seriously by anti-marijuana crusaders in the 1980s certain one joint would have you addicted to heroin within a week.) An organization which claims to be a “grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition” tried for a Theory of Everything, stating “Whether or not they were actually sex workers or self-identified under that label, we know that as massage workers, they were subjected to sexualized violence stemming from the hatred of sex workers, Asian women, working class people, and immigrants.” The term for all this share-the-blame is “intersectionality” to deal with problems like racism and sexism that overlap to create Venn diagrams of social injustice and apparently endless commentary that itself is so full of hate.

    And if the story of the media creating a racist narrative t fit their needs sounds familiar, it is. Remember the Covington kids, whom the media cast without evidence as racist bullies who attacked an elderly Native American. It was not true, there was no evidence to support it and much to show it was wrong, but the MSM went on anyway, all the way to losing a defamation lawsuit, to show those white, Catholic, MAGA youth were the bad guys.

    And as if you needed more proof of how this works, pay attention to the relative lack of attention paid to the Boulder incident. Where are the rallies, the ethnic celebrities to tell us what to think? Is Biden enroute to Colorado to sing Amazing Grace? Unless the killer has a wacky manifesto in his closet, meh.

    Back in Atlanta, there seems little interest in weeping for the dead, unless that act too can be used for some political purpose amid more performance art journalism. The politicization of tragedies is so instant and so ingrained, even as the narrative shifts with popular whims, that it prevents us from ever understanding what really happened. Nowhere will we let this thing just be what it is, as if it is not terrible enough on its own, yet another mentally ill person in a violent, hateful, soulless, divided society.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Diversity Fail at State Department

    March 26, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State


    Politico just revealed a dirty little secret: the U.S. State Department was a more diverse workplace in 1986 than it is today. Despite efforts to recruit a more diverse pool of diplomats, the Department has failed miserably to promote them, and ultimately to retain them, even under Bill Clinton and Obama/Hillary.

    The Politico article does a comprehensive job of describing how the agency that represents America does not look like America. Minority staff made up 12.5 percent of employees at the end of the 1980s. Today black women make up nine percent, and just three percent of the Senior Foreign Service (the military equivalent of general) is black. And don’t fooled by statistics; we’re talking here about the Foreign Service, the elites, the diplomats. State will often intermix racial data from the Washington DC-based civil service, which is mostly minority people, to confuse outsiders.

    The Politico article, however, does a poor job of answering the question of why this is. It shows its 2021 bias with one solution “for more white men to miss out on recruitment or promotion.”

    State does have a diversity problem. It just is diversity of socio-economic class, not race or gender. State rarely imposes a quality standard on its work, meaning everyone’s job description is the same: just make your boss happy. That preserves the class system, and empowers those who would harass and discriminate.

     

    As a white man I was sort of part of a diversity program when I joined the State Department in 1988 for what turned out to be a 24 year career as a diplomat. State, from Thomas Jefferson’s tenure forward, followed a simple recruitment formula of “male, pale, and Yale.” In the late 1980s they decided male and pale (white) were good, but limiting recruitment to the Ivy League schools and their equivalents like Stanford and Georgetown was the problem. Someone found me and others like me at state schools and woosh, we were diversity-forward diplomats.

    But from Day One, with little change through today, it was clear not all pigs were equal. State divides its diplomatic work force into five specialities, known as cones. Only one matters in terms of a realistic shot at senior policy making roles, the Political cone. These people do what passes as traditional diplomacy. They and their work dominate the news and thus the Secretary of State’s world. The other cones fill in gaps and get hand-me-down senior promotions which are adequate in the Economic cone, down to nearly non-existent for the proletarian Consular cone that issues visas.

    Like at Hogwarts, new diplomats are sorted on entry to a cone which is very, very hard to change (seriously, the process is called a Snape-like “conal rectification.”) Ivy Leaguers can expect Political, kids from schools with good football teams Administration or Consular. All of this excludes political appointees, friends or large donors of the president who get appointed to the highest jobs without spending any time in the diplomatic corps.

    The Political cone, a club within the club, has proved porous enough for properly educated women. The key criteria is and has always been socio-economic background anyway, usually demonstrated by an Ivy diploma, not race or gender. The little climbing room for outsiders is provided by State-sponsored mid-career education, when a chosen few are sent off to Georgetown or the Kennedy School as midwestern losers to return two years later an honorary blue blood.

    The Government Accounting Office found among junior diplomats Ivy League grads had a 23 percent higher chance of promotion than colleagues with only a standard undergrad degree. And it is not just entry level diplomats and ambassadorships. Key internal positions like political and policy Assistant Secretaries are similar. Of course good old racism is still in the game when 87 percent of senior State Department personnel are white, compared with only three percent black. And of course the restrictive policies based on race, etc., at Ivy League schools means fewer “qualified” black people are produced for State to choose from, so the classic racism argument does apply indirectly. Just ask the Jews forbidden to attend Harvard who could not get into the State Department back in the day.

    What the successful diplomats in the Political cone seem to already know from Yale is what creates the full-spectrum lack of diversity. People call it The Code. Life is not fair, so best to have an advantage. Career success depends on the people above you and your relationship to them, and “trouble maker” is a bad one. Pleasing your betters is more effective then being right at a cost. There are rules, and if you do not know them you cannot follow them. And most of all, 99 percent of what matters is never written down. You are either trusted and welcomed into the circle or you are not.

    Advantages are everywhere, but usually start with who your parents are and which brand name professors you connected with in your brand-name college. The celebrity professor at Georgetown has close friends and former students for you to meet at State. The history teacher at Montana State, no. State has an up-or-out system, meaning almost all diplomatic new hires enter at the same bottom rung, and slowly advance over their careers upward. Somebody above you when you join is thus likely to stay above you for decades. There will not be any new blood flowing in. Make someone angry in 1990 in Taiwan and they’ll still be there waiting for you in 2010 in London. The people above you will write your performance reviews, sit on your promotion panels, and decide your assignments, all in private with little accountability, and all of which determine who sinks and swims. If you’re looking for the smoking gun on State’s diversity failure, for most of the past three decades most of that power was concentrated in one man, Ambassador Pat Kennedy (white, male, Georgetown) now retired.

    Those same people learned State is a change-adverse bureaucracy that likes things that way. Change at State is externally driven and internally resisted. The attitude at the top (except for public relations appearances, like making sure a few black folks are in public-facing positions) thinks the system has no need to change, it got it mostly right the first time. The proof is they themselve were promoted, and they saw their competitors stumble. People who want to do things different, make changes, etc., are generally shunned as troublemakers. The lack of interest in change is enhanced by the fact that State does little that can be objectively measured to allow someone to jump ahead. No sales figures, items sold, or stock prices to count toward promotion. Just exist for the most part, the details matter little except what your boss thinks.

     

    Here’s how that works in practice. No one does anything substantive alone at State. Most everything is a collaborative effort controlled by the clearance process. Say you write a report on metallurgy in India. You, the lowest on the rung, are directed to do this and you do all the heavy lifting gathering info and writing. Dozens of people above you, and depending on the subject that list can include people all the way up to the Secretary of State’s staff, then have to sign off, agree with you, “clear” your work. If one guy objects and won’t clear, your work cannot pass go to the next person until he is happy.

    If your report says basically the same thing as last year’s, that is safe and people clear it (one exception is if someone in the chain wants to make a political move and then directs you to come to a different conclusion, say to justify a budget increase as “matters have gotten worse.” You’re still just doing what you are told.) If you try and write something different from what you are told to write (often told implicitly, it is a skill to figure out what’s wanted because no one will jot down “Cook the data to match last year. Hope some reporter doesn’t see this. LOL.) your boss can’t clear it. If she is also a troublemaker and does clear, your work will likely just get stopped at a higher level, and that means a more important person will think you’re a troublemaker. Good bosses will thus try and protect their underlings by not clearing, keeping your problem inside the office.

    Absent any real measure of your work, your professional success is thus controlled by what State calls unofficially “corridor reputation,” basically what the people above you think of you. Imagine high school at the DMV. Careers are made or lost by a senior diplomat telling a peer “He’s OK, I’d bring him along” or “I heard he’s a problem, didn’t work out somehow in Beijing.” The official version of this is known as “lack of suitability,” a generic term which means you do not deserve a security clearance, or just can’t be trusted with the sensitive stuff.

    People in the right socio-economic groups seem to understand this stuff intuitively and, helped by others who think the same, get promoted. People from the wrong side of the tracks no matter their color do not understand the code so readily, and often are full of ambition to “make a mark.” They self-label themselves as not being part of the club and whether they know it or not, self-select out.

    So State can recruit all the people of color they can only to watch them slowly slide down the ladder along with lots of clueless whites who no one really cares about statistically. That is why many of both groups quit, or suffer in bureaucratic place to wait out pensions, and why State recruits minorities but cannot retain them. The result is a lack of diversity that has plagued the State Department for decades, both in race, and thinking.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • I Violated “Community Standards”!

    March 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    Just as a marker on the road to the complete loss of freedom of speech as well as losing my mind, here is my full post Facebook deleted.

    Their anonymous censors stated the post below violates “community standards” and because of that I was forbidden from posting or commenting for 24 hours.

    Since anyone reading this is part of my “community,” I leave it here for you to judge.

     

     
     
     

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  • Is Everyone in Texas Dead Yet? (Why I Rarely Wear a Mask)

    March 19, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy


    Texas governor Greg Abbott announced residents will no longer be required to wear face masks and encouraged businesses to reopen at full capacity. Some 15 other states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee — also do not have mask orders in place. Still more states have thrown off almost all restrictions.

    Criticism of the Texas decision (there are not enough votes in the other states to warrant much criticism) was swift.  Joe “Unity” Biden called the unmasking the result of Neanderthal thinking. No less than photogenic loser Beto O’Rourke said the unmandate is a “death warrant” and “Abbott is killing the people of Texas.”

    We’ve seen this all before. About a year ago when Florida reopened its beaches for Spring Break everyone was gonna die. The Republican convention was to be a superspreader event, as was the Super Bowl, and some motorcycle rally (here’s a complete list of all superspreader events to include dinner parties for five.) Each new variant of the virus is the end of us, each expansion of dining options a death sentence. Everyone is gonna die. Except they don’t. It works the other way, too. Places proclaimed the Gold Standard for COVID precautions end up with their own upticks. The numbers from place to place should be as dramatically different as the measures implemented and they are not.

    As for Texas, the problem is again everyone there and in those other unmasked states is not dead. And in states with the most draconian rules and lockdowns (looking at you New York) people are still dying in healthy numbers. This all used to be the former president’s fault, but inconveniently more than one-fifth of all the COVID-19 deaths occurred since Biden took office. New York leads the nation in virus hospitalizations per one million people. If it were a country, New York would have been the worst performing country in the world at handling COVID, and that’s despite NY’s fraudulent undercounting. In late November, right before New York’s winter spike, Governor Cuo­mo trumpeted mask compliance was 98 percent. Seven out of 10 states with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita have mask mandates. California, formerly an example of the positive impacts of viral fascism, had among the worst winters in the world.

    A year’s worth of data (science!) from the four largest states shows lockdowns had little effect other than to drive taxpayers out. Making the pro-lockdown argument even weaker was that the same thing happened with several heavy lockdown nations (most notably the UK) suffering at least as badly, if not worse, than everyone else did. We’re left with something that too many people refuse to consider: it is possible lockdowns and masks have very little effect on COVID. Waves come and go, seemingly independent of what we do or don’t do. Nature finds a way.

     

    I’ve conducted my own sort-of research. In the last year, one of my relatives who is a medical professional was exposed to COVID. She tests negative regularly. I see her in person whenever I can, hug her, we eat together unmasked as a baby’s behind.  And we live in NYC, ground zero, again, this time for COVID. I use public transportation.  Until when the company was forced to shut down by the government, in my day job I worked with people from all over, including enough Chinese from China to fill a Seuss book. In the last few months I was hospitalized twice (heart, not COVID) and saw doctors as an outpatient multiple times.  I went to the gym until it the government closed it. I ate in restaurants and shopped until the government closed them. I stayed in a hotel and drove a rental car in two different states. I attended what the media would have called a superspreader event if it hadn’t been organized by Democrats. I wear a mask only when the hassle factor from the scolds, Karens, and COVID cops rises to the point I can’t get whatever I’m doing done.

    I took two long airplane trips. No one had any idea if anyone was infected because the only check was a questionnaire and a temp with no medical training with a temp gun. Waiting a few minutes to board we were aggressively kept six feet apart (while the A/C and ventilation was moving air six feet away toward me) before sitting down for hours zero feet apart. Once at altitude, we were encouraged to spread out but only within our paid for cabin; the nearly empty business and first class sections stayed nearly empty and we all concentrated in the same cabin and used the same toilets. Drinks and then meals were served to the whole cabin at once, meaning everyone removed their masks to breathe recycled air in and out for the same 40 minutes. In the scrum to get off the plane we were literally pressed against each other. I haven’t heard from the airline through its contact notification system that anyone got sick.

    The experience was not that different from using the NYC subway, which never shut down throughout the COVID emergency. But there was no need; a recent study shows riding in a poorly ventilated metal tube with often unmasked strangers and no social distancing demonstrated no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. If you weren’t going to get sick that way, you are not going to get sick in most others. The lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, stopping infections that never were going to happen the same as TSA stopped terror acts that never existed outside some kid’s Facebook.

    My experience of not dying from COVID is not unique. It is shared by some 327,500,000 Americans.

    Someone will post a quickly Googled document saying all this is wrong. Maybe. But it seems the questions around the value of masks and lockdowns are worth at least some discussion instead of being dismissed as Neanderthal. Follow the science we are told, even as the decisions which control our lives are made by self-serving politicians and not scientists. We have 50 different “solutions” to the same problem. They can’t all be correct, yet we assume one variety is and the other is not, even when faced with contrary data.

     

    Live TV tickers count COVID deaths. Yet we ignore the deadly psychological effect the “solutions” have on our society. While there exists room for discussion on some topics, here’s one that is both indisputable and unconscionable: kids are dying because of what we are doing.

    Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. Since the pandemic began, the CDC reports the proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased 31 percent. Reasons include isolation from friends and family, and the effects of parental stress and economic hardship. Government for the most part controls those factors, making conditions worse for children while providing ambiguous protection against the virus. Schools in many areas have been closed for a year, even though the political guidance finally matches what doctors have long been saying: if schools follow basic public health precautions, there is very low spread of COVID.

    A peer-reviewed study found “social distance and security measures have affected the relationship among people and their perception of empathy toward others.” That science (!) concludes “a careful evaluation of the potential benefits of the quarantine is needed, taking into account the high psychological costs.” The WHO found “economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, with tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.” In the United States, that poverty risk is fully government-made, based on sweeping non-science based decisions to unemploy people by decree, and make them subject to surviving on unemployment payouts and stimulus check handouts. As for the future, the National Institutes of Health warns “the impact of long-term school closure is yet to be seen.” The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association acknowledges “an escalating crisis.” Other studies speak of a “lost generation.” Domestic violence is up. Drug overdoses are up. Crime is up. Academic performance has tanked. Our elderly die alone, unvisitable, in solitary confinement.

    Our nation has been suckered into ignoring a tormenting real public mental health crisis in favor of slapped together efforts at social distancing based on as much political as scientific factors (the mayor of NYC is more concerned about “racial equity” in locating vaccination centers then in how many shots can be administered.) False heroes and villains are created to buttress the argument. No one is allowed to seek the calculus, the balance, of prudent protections versus recognizing the cure is worse than the disease. We are literally destroying our society believing we are saving it. Too many are convinced there is zero doubt there is a significant positive result from taking away basic freedoms.

    It’s troubling when people decide I must be making a political statement, or am a QAnon member, unmasked. You wear a mask, or hang garlic on your belt if you wish. I’ll get vaccinated when politicians make it easier to get an appointment than front row Springsteen tickets. I do not want to die this year. I don’t want to kill you. But I keep thinking critically and asking questions at a time when I fear too many have either stopped.

    COVID solutions and lockdowns have not lead to limits on death. They have tanked the economy and brutalized the people. There is a lot more going on here than inconvenience over wearing a mask. The answers, rationale thinking and vaccinations, are elusive.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What Keeps Canada Safe at Night? Joe Biden?

    March 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria

     

    We know what keeps America safe at night — rough men on the walls stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm, duh. But what about Canada? Or say, Cambodia or Bolivia?

    This is by way of trying to figure out why Joe Biden bombed Syria and derailed the resumption of the Iran nuclear accord, and why he has called off, delayed, or stalled further withdrawals from the places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria along the bloody trail of the old Global War of Terror. Canada (along with Cambodia, Bolivia and most others) never sent any of their rough men to most of those places to begin with, absent Afghanistan where some Canadian forces were deployed until 2014, a long 7 years ago. The peak was only about 2,000 soldiers anyway. Canada maintains a handful of small foreign outposts, mostly to handle logistics. They’re not fighting anyone anywhere.

    The U.S. famously has some 800 bases strewn around the globe, with troops in 150 countries, and boasts its special forces during any given week are deployed in 82 nations. Many of those Sneaky Pete’s are killing people in those places without the knowledge of the “host” country. Last year they operated in 72 percent of the nations on this planet, including 13 African nations. Can you name them? Why were Americans risking their lives in Burkina Faso? So we can sleep better?

     

    Few expected much from Joe Biden foreign policy wise, and he has delivered. About a month into office he bombed Syria. The ostensible justification was the target was not “Syrian” but 22 people associated with Iran. Militias in Iraq allegedly under Iran’s control killed an American contractor in Erbil so the bombing in Syria was retaliation for that. This was not only supposed to be a legal, moral, and ethical act by the Home of Democracy (c), it was supposed to have accomplished something toward Americans being safer. It did not; a U.S. airbase in Iraq was rocketed a few days later.

    Imagine Chinese aircraft flying halfway around the world and killing 22 people in Detroit in retaliation for something that happened in, wherever, Thailand. That OK? Whatever nations are looking to China for “leadership” (one of the things Biden was to restore after Trump broke it) might not be sure. China is an interesting example, because they did not retaliate against the United States for bombing their embassy in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. As in 1988 when an American cruiser shot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board, Washington just said it was a mistake so no retaliation was necessary. The world is encouraged to accept America alone does bad things for good reasons. Or no reason at all. Talk about uniqueness.

    If I thought like a Canadian, I would find it difficult to understand why the U.S. has to fight everyone. It is very hard to imagine America has enemies who need killing in 72 percent of the nations on earth. Or maybe not — after decades of invading, bombing, and regime changing, maybe they really do hate us. The relationship between the U.S. bombing people and people not caring for the U.S. seems unclear to Joe Biden and most of his predecessors, however.

    Thinking like an American, the ostensible reason for all this bombing seems to be Hitler. He’s why we couldn’t support Trump’s nuclear diplomacy with North Korea and no other president has even tried for 20 years, and why Biden seems reluctant to revive the Iran nuclear accord. In 1938 olde timey British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain got hoodwinked by Hitler. No American president wants to be Neville Chamberlain. So every bad guy in the world, whether Slobo Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, the cabal that runs Iran, Hugo Chavez, Castro even dead, is Hitler.

    It follows every friction point is Munich 1938 and the only way to deal with it without appearing Chamberlain-level weak is to attack just one more country. When actual fighting cannot be on the table, presidents are content with crippling sanctions, a kind of economic Guantanamo, as have been in place against Cuba since about when the Beatles first came to America, before that with North Korea, and since roller disco was popular in the case of Iran.

     

    It works for us, at least as far as politicians are concerned. They don’t look like Neville Chamberlain. They hardly ever suffer any consequences. There is absolutely no demanding of accountability (the new Washington watch word) for any act of war committed by any American president, including those who lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and created a global torture system the actual Hitler would have been happy to have franchised. Foreign policy in general is not a constraint on policymakers, because most of the public doesn’t care about it (quick, find Burkina Faso on a map.) Those that do care usually are pretty supportive of America’s wars, love the troops and all that. Washington and the media help out, spending most of a decade messaging “we have to be at war” post-9/11 for example, and that poo stain doesn’t wash out easy. The thing that finally turned the country against the Vietnam War, the draft of nice white middle class kids, is gone. Also gone are the waves of body bags, as much of modern killing is death from way above.

    The other reasons Joe Biden bombed Syria are equally familiar and equally false. We have backed away from “we need to protect the oil” since the first Bush Gulf War in 1991 though the phrase had a good run. Still out there is some version of “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” No one has invaded the U.S. since 1812, and when push came to shove on 9/11 a bunch of guys with box cutters worked around the $305.4 billion 2001 military budget. People on the left used to talk about “The American Empire” but even that has turned out to be pretty weak; we don’t imperially profit by raping conquered lands as a proper empire does. Where is our Raj? Our Opium War? Our rubber plantations and breadfruit farms? America got no oil from Iraq and no minerals from Afghanistan.

    We instead mostly wreck places (Libya and Vietnam come to mind) and then abandon them, or grab a little land for yet another overseas base. Americans sometimes talk like it’s all a great game of Risk, but war to simply grab resources and territory isn’t how things have worked for a long time. Other justifications? Ask any still living Iraqi how “spreading democracy” worked out. Stopping various genocides comes up from time to time, though when a real one came along in Rwanda the U.S. wasn’t up for it. And, oh yeah, Biden is the leader of the free world. Was there a vote, because if so it’s likely Andrea Merkel would have won. Did American get tasked by all other good countries to protect them, as if Canada couldn’t build a nuke if it wanted one and who is threatening them anyway? The Canadian military could invade Burkina Faso if they wished to. They just don’t wish to.

    The fall back justification since 1945 has been the myth that the U.S. is engaged in some global muscle-tussle to be the most powerfulist place. It used to be just Russia, but lately China seems to be the one we imagine challenging us everywhere while still owning the largest foreign share of American debt and making nearly everything sold in our stores. When was the last time China shot at us, never mind invaded us? Some may even remember we already defeated globalist Russia once before (Google “the Cold War, we won.”)

    Military spending does absorb over half of the federal government’s discretionary budget, meaning more money is spent on the Pentagon than on schools, infrastructure, climate, research, and diplomacy combined, so that may also have something to do with all this. Fun fact: in addition to leading the world in bombing, America is also the leading global arms dealer.

     

    Most of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team are brutalist left-overs from the Obama administration, the one that invaded Libya and set the ball rolling in Syria and Ukraine. They’re needed in 2021 about as much as mimes at a funeral. Head of the gang is Victoria Nuland, who worked to start her own war in Ukraine a few years ago. Supporting her are Tony “Global Policeman” Blinken and Susan Rice, she of invading Libya fame.  Maybe they and the others of the Class of 2016 will finally have those full-on wars  have always wanted but a stronger president like Obama sort of resisted. Bloody Nuland says more wars are basically a requirement. She co-wrote an article titled “Superpowers Don’t Get To Retire,” proclaiming “there is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters.” With policy friends like this, it’s clear why Biden bombed Syria and will do more of that kind of thing as opportunities arise.

    “America is back,” Biden bleats at every opportunity. What that means America is back to business as usual, and that means people abroad are gonna die. Blame Canada.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)

    March 6, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    Joe Biden and the Democrats did OK getting elected. When do they plan to start the governing part?

    Everyone was supposed to calm down once Uncle Joe took office. Good old Joe. CNN got it, running an article about how Joe plays Mario Kart with the grandkids, has a nice non-dumpster wood fire in the Oval Office, and goes to bed early. Politico ran a hard-biting piece on how “the first couple’s romantic gestures aren’t just genuine — they’re restorative.” Mr. Rogers with some PDA. A lot of familiar people are in the cabinet and mid-level positions. It’s almost as if it is 2016 again. Safe, happy 2016. But better, as we now also have Kamala (remember her, the first ever this-and-that vice president?)

    It’s nice. But the governing part is off to a slow start. Congress has been busy, albeit with another failed impeachment trial (counting Russiagate/Mueller, let’s call it impeachment shot in the dark III) of a guy who is not even president anymore, with a 9/11 style commission apparently to follow. At his Senate hearing the nominee for Attorney General was goaded into agreeing to some sort of additional investigation. “Hold him accountable” people say. Well, he lost the election, that’s pretty accountable. And why not — hearings are scheduled for the Postmaster General, whose days in the job are numbered, about why maybe some mail-in ballots might have been delivered late on accidental purpose five months ago.

    Trump nostalgia? No, keep fear alive seems to be the driver. For the first time in history the Capitol has a non-scalable fence enclosing it, and the Kapitol Kops are asking that the barbed wire stay in place until September “while authorities work to track down threats.” The National Guard is on near-permanent assignment (cost to date $480 million) on the Hill for no apparent reason other than to give directions to a few lost tourists. Political theatre, re-election stunts. A waste of time when the clock is running so hard against us.

    Because if we accept the Democratic/MSM campaign premise Trump nearly destroyed America, then this is a time of great urgency, life or death stuff. Things need fixing. But not that you’d know watching Biden and his Democratic Congress run the partisan table while the real problems sit like grandma in a Cuomo nursing home.

     

    Let’s see what the Democrats, in full control of Congress, are really up to. They haven’t been in such a position of power since 2008 during First Obama, and they know it. Their solution to fix America? Stamp out the opposition ahead of the 2022 midterms.

    Start with a mess ‘o politically driven Executive Orders canceling Trump. No more Muslim ban! Yea, except nobody can travel anyway because of COVID. Except of course everybody along the Mexican border with hazy asylum claims, whom Biden is fast tracking into America. Business travel from Europe, hmmm, dangerous, but anyone living in a tent outside El Paso, bienvenido.

    So it’s no surprise the first major legislation the Democratic Congress is to take up is an amnesty to transform the 11 million illegal immigrants who have collected in the U.S. since the last amnesty into 11 million new Democrats, er, citizens, within eight years (i.e., the next next presidential election but it may not matter because climate czar John “Muppet Lurch” Kerry says we only have 9 years left to live) The bill includes $4 billion to boost economic development in Latin American countries, which are not in the unemployed United States. Viva!

    Elsewhere the House wants reparations for slavery ended 150 years ago because that will fix everything on TV. The military has been restocked with transpeople. In another game-changing Executive Order, Biden revoked Trump’s E.O. creating an apprenticeship program paid for by industry to be replaced by one paid for by the Federal government which will favor the unions Dems need to be re-elected. President Biden has shown real concern for the people of Texas, hit by natural disaster, by ignoring them. The Dems in general are no longer demanding Ted Cruz leave the state forever but return to it to stop the blizzards. Outside of the halls of Congress, Democrats are trying to cancel conservative media from major cable providers.

    But the real hot button issue is finding a way an Executive Order can wipe out trillions of dollars of student loan debt without any thought to the broader economic consequences of such a decision and without reforming the way higher education is funded going forward. Because giving out free temporary debt relief is a primary function of government, some clause or amendment they talked about in civics class the day everybody faked being sick to go to the KISS concert. The Dems haven’t (yet) gone as far as nominating the corpse of Ruth Bader Ginsburg back to the bench but keep an eye on the news.

     

    What about America’s real issues? Stuff like COVID vaccine availability, the economic and social effect of lockdowns (San Francisco kids are committing suicide at an alarming rate, in New York as well, but at least they’re not in cages), unemployment (millions of people are forbidden from earning a living by their government), maybe the crumbling infrastructure. Or lockdown-driven drug overdoses, with deaths 3x those from COVID in San Francisco. The solution so far? Not school openings, because the Dems owe the teachers unions big time for their votes. Most of Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill has little to do with public health; only 1 percent is allotted to the vaccine. Biden even said after whooping COVID, he is going after cancer. But for now here’s $1400 bucks, knock yourselves out, buy Gamestop.

    Remember foreign policy? Joe said recently “diplomacy is back” so, well, OK then. Iran still needs tending to and says we’re moving too slow. Russia must be up to something. Word is China is a big dealio. Anything? Bueller? All we’ve gotten so far is a non-decision to not follow through on Trump’s troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and elsewhere along the failed path of the Global War of Terror. We all know we do have Susan Rice’s next bright idea to look forward to. One hears Libya needs re-liberating.

    Everyone knows it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem is the Dems have chosen to only do one, not attempt both.

     

    On the other hand, think about how this might play in the midterms. Obama made the mistake of actually trying to take his election momentum and control of Congress and turn it into history making health care reform. He ended up losing his majority and producing a new half-baked health care system to augment the old half-baked system while creating a political football for all to play with.

    Not so for the Biden Democratic party. Their goal is paying off electoral votes while finding ways to make January 6 a 2022 top line issue for voters. That what running looks like, creating a narrative, not governing.

    “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people. I’m tired of talking about Trump,” Biden said during a campaign appearance at a CNN town hall tongue bath, albeit a month into his term as president not candidate. But while Biden takes pains to refer to Trump as “the former guy” or “the previous administration” the attention Trump gets from Congress and the media, coupled with Biden’s lack of action, keeps the whole machine in campaign mode and that always requires a villian, an opponent, and that’s Trump. Dems want to run against Trump whether he is or is not ever again a candidate.

    We need more than that, you even told us so Joe. Remember during the campaign, Joe, when you promised to “crush” the virus the day you took office? We’re quarantining until our skin becomes translucent for lack of sunlight. Our national symbol is Karen telling someone they need to wear a yellow hazmat suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. An America with its schools closed, its people out of work due to government decree, its worker’s economy weezing, its faith in itself low, an America where no one believes anything is true anymore and the president is just puddling along playing Mario Kart while settling political debts? Joe, you’ve been in office for six weeks, close to half of those all-important First 100 Days you talked about during the campaign.

    Like about half the country, I didn’t vote for Biden, but like all of the country I live here. Unlike some Democrats, who for example realized lockdowns were a useful tool in destroying the economy that was leading to Trump’s re-election, I do not want to see further suffering for partisan gain. If a Democrat can solve some of our problems, I celebrate that. So get started. Fix something. We’re bleeding out here, Joe.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • No Nuclear Iran; Try Again with the Accord

    February 27, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Iran, Syria, Trump, Yemen


     (This article ran originally on The American Conservative a week ago, pre-Syria, though I just posted it today here on the blog. It appears Biden didn’t read my advice…)

    As the new administration drags itself into the muck of Obama political cosplay-replay (everything but Joe in blackface) one leftover bit of foreign policy does really deserves a second life: the Iran Nuclear Accords. The events and situations which made steps toward peace a good idea in 2015 make it an even better idea in 2021.

    The United States and Iran have an opportunity to end decades of outright hostility that haven’t produced the right results for either side. The Nuclear Accord would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave open the door open to a far fuller relationship. Even under minimum standards, the accord would lower the temperature across the Middle East.

    For roughly the last six decades the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and violent. Untangling all this requires small steps; the Accord may be one of them.

    Begin in 1953 when the CIA helped oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh made the mistake of trying to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, then largely controlled by the U.S. and the U.K. Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil like a hobo who scored a bottle of the good stuff and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied more nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.

    Fast forward to 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to seize power through the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of rage into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months. In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would by “accident” shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington following American military successes in Afghanistan, George W. Bush pooed foreign policy the bed, declaring that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”

    Iran responded with a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. The U.S. and Israel gutted Iran’s nuclear program with malware. Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector. Iran won the U.S.-Iraq War and today runs Iraq as a client state. Under the Trump administration the U.S. killed Iranian general and national hero Qasem Soleimani (the Iranians responded with a missle attack on an American base in Iraq), grew even closer to Iranian enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia, fashioned peace accords with various Iranian rivals, former friends, and Gulf neighbors, and walked away from the 2015 Nuclear Accord.

     

    The current sum of this ugly history is Iran remains isolated globally. At the same time, Iran is in many ways an even more stronger regional power than it was a few years ago. The U.S. eliminated Iran’s border enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and handed the Iraqi oil reserves and pipeline pathway to the sea to Tehran. While the U.S.-Iran proxy war is over in Iraq, it continues in Yemen and Syria; holding the U.S. in place counts as a win for Iran.

    And it’s six years later and the same folks are still in power in Tehran and not going away. Iran is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

    And accord or no accord, Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, a very powerful position nearly akin (and in some ways better) than actually having the Bomb. A threshold state holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Dozens of nations exist in some version of that state, from South Korea to Saudi Arabia. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.”

    If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be inevitabile. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s.  The cyberwar attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges was a clear warning shot to back away from the fire, and a clear message (like the drone killing of Soleimani) that the West has tools beyond what you do. There are limits to this game, it all says, best you understand them. Call it a terrible game of chicken (Iran recently increased the purity of its uranium enrichment and threatens additional steps) and nobody really wins much, but one in which all the players involved always know who has to blink first.

    Iran knows while it cannot get too strong it also cannot become too weak. The example of Qaddafi’s Libya being destroyed after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions, never mind what happened to a non-nuclear Saddam, are all too clear. So think of the 2015 Obama Nuclear Accord as turning the nuclear dial down from 7 to 6, but nothing much more. There was no mechanism in the agreement to denuclearize and neither side intended it to do so. If a new Accord is signed with the same text as the old one Iran will slowly move from its desired current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the agreement will eliminate weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

    So why bother? Because there are issues far beyond Iranian breakout time that need the world’s attention and a new accord would be the start of the start. It would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave the door open to a far fuller relationship. It’s how essential diplomacy works. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, or solve every bilateral issue. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Then on to the next if possible. And for those who don’t yet see the other gorilla in the room, almost all of the above applies to North Korea, except that they managed to actually go nuclear while the U.S. was distracted by its global war on terrorism.

     

    The passage of the last few years, which despite all the incidents, of relative peace between Iran and the U.S. implies a growing maturity in Tehran that suggests it may be ready for a new accord. When I was in Iran a few years ago, the one consistent takeaway from everyone I met with was a failure to understand the role of domestic politics on U.S. foreign policy. There was little sense of the powerful role U.S. domestic politics played in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, faint awareness of the influence of the evangelical voting bloc. Instead, Washington’s actions are evidence of… everything. Iran is a nation under attack. Zionist banks control the media. There is a dictatorship of the United Nations, Hollywood, and the International Monetary Fund.

    But the Iranian reaction has sharpened (maybe dulled is a better word) to the point where they maybe — may be — ready to work within the complicated triangle of U.S. domestic policy, U.S. foreign policy, and their own needs for a status quo in the Gulf which would allow some lifting of sanctions. The Iranians did not overreact to the Jerusalem move. They did not press against the tender edges of the accord, when it was in place or not. They did not rise to the constant bait the Trump administration placed in front of them. They waited. They waited for Trump to leave office, they seemingly understood America’s motives are more complex then once thought, they showed they are taking steps toward working inside the current geopolitical system by not seeking to muck it up.

    It is time to talk. People from the Iranian foreign ministry and former diplomats spoke to me of a deep frustration over having no Americans to talk to, unsure why more than 40 years after the Revolution the United States still questions the stability of Iran’s complex democratic theocracy. The anger from Washington, one older diplomat said, was like a phantom itch that people who have lost limbs sometimes experience, left from some past, stuck in the present, an itch there is no way to scratch. “Do you want this to all fail?” he asked, sweeping the room with his arm. “The Americans everywhere seem to have quit trying.”

    It is time to try again. Reviving the Nuclear Accord is the place to start.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Jeffersonian or Springsteenian Democracy?

    February 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    That Super Bowl commercial could have been so much worse. 

     

    “This is Bruce ‘Born to Run’ Springsteen, and when I’m driving down Thunder Road in my Pink Cadillac listening to some Radio Nowhere looking for a Red Headed Woman, I know these aren’t my Glory Days any more. So it ain’t no sin to be glad for Cialis. Come on up for The Rising!”

     

    Or imagine Springsteen promoting a reverse mortgage, or some prescription drug with an X and Z in its name, ending with Bruce saying “Check with your doctor, and tell ’em the Boss sent ya.”

     

    I can forgive Bruce for recycling footage and the same damn clothes from his Western Stars movie in that Super Bowl commercial. I’ll give him a pass for the faux accent which no one in New Jersey, or maybe anywhere in earth orbit, actually sounds like. I’ll even forgive his semi-annoyed tone (“I’ve told you people all this before but I guess I gotta go over it one more time.”) And no worries about whether Bruce sold out or not. Of course he did. He has always been clear (see his autobiography and Broadway show) that he is mostly an actor playing a character called “Bruce Springsteen.”

     

    What I can’t overlook is Bruce is just wrong. The answer does not lie in Americans reaching the middle, as Bruce sternly instructs in his infomercial, but respecting the end points on either side as valid positions.

     

    Let’s start with the Boss himself. Despite all the guff shoveled around the media about Bruce avoiding politics for so long, that has never been the case. Very early in his career Springsteen appeared at the No Nukes concerts. Not the “let’s have some nuclear power plants but not too many” concert. His opposition to the Vietnam War grew to opposing America’s jingoistic wars broadly. His stance on economic inequality is the cornerstone of his songbook — think Nebraska and Ghosts of Tom Joad. He supported BLM before it had its own initials; remember American Skin (41 Shots) from 2001?

     

    Bruce has also always been about partisan politics, scolding the Reagan administration throughout the entire Born in the USA album, and actively campaigning for four Democratic presidential candidates. He even joked-not joked about moving to Australia if Trump was re-elected.

     

    A guy who calls himself The Boss has never been about seeking the middle, as he says is our goal in his commercial. He has always taken positions, proudly and clearly. And that is more than OK, it is what America should be about.

     

    The Founders made clearer than a ringing Clarence Clemons sax solo vigorous debate was critical to their vision of a democracy. They baked that into the Constitution via the First Amendment, ensuring free speech and the right to assemble. And no middle ground there — it says “Congress shall make no law…” and with narrow exceptions the Supreme Court has kept it that way for a couple of hundred years.

     

    The Founders had no problem with compromise when that seemed the best they could do; in the extreme they even bargained enslaved human beings into being counted as only 3/5 of a white man. But the thrust was never toward a goal of 50-50, a simplistic Springsteenian middle ground instead of the balanced Jeffersonian one. The founding documents gave equal powers to very unequal states. The whole sloppy mess of democracy is full of 2/3 of this and majority that.

     

    There would come very different ideas on once established things like whether women could vote. But after a robust process women got the vote, an extreme position. There was no meeting in the middle, say granting women a partial vote, or only letting them vote in national elections. The key is the mass of Americans accepted the result, and the ladies getting the vote seems to have worked out for us all.

     

    When we try to meet in the middle we usually end up with most people unhappy. In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court tried to hit some theorectical middle in granting nearly unfettered abortion rights in the first trimester, giving the states more decision making for the second, and leaving third trimester abortions as the very difficult decision they are. The results were that from the instant the opinion was issued one side demanded even freer access to abortion while the other tried to make access difficult at every step. Roe is settled law but not a settled issue.

     

    Contrast that with the decision by the Court to allow same-sex marriage. One side of that debate just plain lost, and the country moved on to the sideshow of arguing about baking cakes for the receptions. Meh.

     

    What is missing today in the majority of our Red-Blue is neither side understands the process. The goal is no longer to debate and resolve and move on. Today there is little respect for the other side and no empathy, just contempt and disgust. Their opinion is not only wrong, it is insane, dangerous, bonkers, a literal threat to our survival as a nation. How many times did we hear about the end of the rule of law, the end of democracy, fascism via racism, and that the Reichstag was burning during the Trump years?

     

    More than anyone’s ideas being wrong, we see him or her as a horrible person just for holding those ideas. The goal today is not to beat the other idea on the playing field. It is to cancel the speaker, deplatform him, hunt him down, demonize him, make it so he can’t find a job, burn his books, smite him with Terms of Service, eliminate his ideas if not the speaker himself. Or maybe impeach him as a private citizen, strip away his right to run for future office, force him out of his own house in Mar-a-Lago, and I don’t know, hear the lamentations of his women. The middle ground is a killing field.

     

    We end up believing that accepting the results of an election is optional if our candidate loses. We take “credible accusation” as a new standard, but only of course when it produces our desired results. Doxxing someone online or assaulting them in a restaurant is justified if he commits thoughtcrime. It has gotten to the point where even journalists have joined the scolds and censors to crusade against the First Amendment today to silence an opposing view without a thought to what will happen tomorrow to their own ideas when the wind shifts.

     

    So Bruce, would you take another crack at this commercial? You can keep the same B-roll images, even that kinda silly cowboy cosplay outfit (would a 20-year-old you have worn that into a seaside Jersey bar?) but let’s rewrite the script:

     

    “We demand diversity now in everything but thought and don’t see the irony. We’re in danger of losing what we strived and fought for, respect for different opinions. Don’t work toward the middle. Who has risked everything for a half-baked compromise? Anyone ever washed a rental car? No, you think hard, and you stake out a position, knowing the other guy is doing the same. Then you talk it out, you argue, you stomp your feet, write Op-Eds, and organize protests. You don’t repress speech you disagree with, you listen to it, then counter its ideas with better ones.

     

    “Then you turn it over to the wise tools the Founders granted us. They differ from issue to issue. So an election, or a Senate vote, or a court decision. And then you accept that outcome with neither celebration nor triumph and you respect those whose ideas didn’t make it. That’s our common ground.

     

    “It’s not about trying to all think the same way. It is about grasping for a higher rung because we don’t. We all live in one country and we all in the end want a life where we can care for family, do honest work, and join in this prayer for our freedom. The messy, awkward, slow way forward is well-marked for us.

     

    “Also, please buy this Jeep. Patty’s on me to put in a new pool at home before spring.”

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Incitement is the New Terrorism

    February 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Post-Constitution America

    You can only make up your own definition of “incitement” in the movies and at presidential impeachment trials. Otherwise the actual law is going to have to do.

    The picture is becoming clearer now: 1/6 will be sold to frightened Americans as a new 9/11, the prime mover for a whole new range of “crimes.” Incitement will become this generation’s version of “material support to terrorism,” meaning the complex legal definition will be massaged in the name of safety so that it will become a not-real crime based on the flexibility of a word that will mean whatever the Dems/MSM/FBI want it to mean in a particular scenario.

    So the kid in his bedroom chatting online will be talking to a Fed pretending to be a white supremacist instead of pretending to be ISIS. The kid’s arrest for incitement (those social media messages supposedly about white supremacy) will be played across the news and, like post-9/11, add fuel to the fires calling for more censorship, more surveillance, more arrests. It is literally the exact playbook from 2001.

    Only better. The upgrade to the old playbook is that incitement scales well. So instead of just being pointed at naive kids online, it can be a death ray aimed at a conservative writer, a Congressperson, anyone with a platform. It is a way to eliminate an opinion, take out a rival, even impeach a president. That is why incitement is not aimed at stopping violence but alongside big tech censorship, a tool aimed at thought, at unpopular ideologies, a tool to crush free speech. All in the name of preserving democracy.

    What stands in the way is current law, which following the evolution of free speech over the decades, has created increasingly specifics test on when speech becomes such a danger it must be stopped. And there’s a lot more to it than just that old bit about not being allowed to shout fire in a crowded theatre.
    From its earliest days concerns existed about the interplay between the 1A and the ability of  speech to incite violence to the point where words should be censored or criminalized. It sounds easy to sort out, until you consider almost any political viewpoint, passionately expressed, has the potential to incite. But a democracy can’t exactly lock up everyone who says aloud “abortion is murder” or accuses the president of murdering young boys sent into an unwanted war. Speech which inspires, motivates, stirs up the blood is not incitement, and in fact is an important part of a rugged democracy. Can every speaker be held responsible for what people who hear him talk do later? A finer line was needed.
    The Fire! quote from the Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. United States is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

    Words in these decisions have hyper-specific legal meanings, often defined through multiple cases, which is why simply Googling a term and passing judgment on its vernacular via Twitter usually is wrong. The Fire! line is actually a kind of inaccurate shorthand. The full decision says the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that meets three conditions: 1) the speech must be demonstrably false; 2) it must be likely to cause real harm, not just offense or hurt feelings, and 3) must do so immediately.

    But Schenck was what jurists call bad law, in that it sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer opposing WWI to stop free speech, not protect it. The case was eventually overturned, and Holmes’ statement is better understood not as a 21st century test but to simply mean that while the First Amendment is not absolute, restrictions on speech should be narrow and limited. It would be for the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio to refine the modern standard for restricting speech.

    Brandenburg v. Ohio (Clarence Brandenburg was an Ohio KKK leader who used the N-word with malice) precludes speech from being sanctioned as incitement to violence unless 1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; 2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and 3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech, a more specific definition than in Schenck. Brandenburg is the Supreme Court’s final statement to date on what government may do about speech that seeks to incite others to lawless action. It was intended to resolve the debate between those who urge greater control of speech and those who favor as much speech as possible before relying on the marketplace of ideas to sort things out.

    Intent as included in Brandenburg is purposely hard to prove. A hostile reaction of a crowd does not automatically transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not alone a basis for regulation, or for taking an enforcement action against a speaker. The speaker had to clearly want to, and succeed in, causing some specific violent act. The reliance on intent exposes the danger of the 1A not applying to corporate censors. Twitter suppressed the speech of 70,000 users simply for retweeting material with “the potential to lead to offline harm” under its Orwellian named Civic Integrity Policy, no intent required. They made up their own version of the law.

    The law is similar for (incitement to) sedition, seeking to overthrow the U.S. government by force. It is intimately tied to the concept of free speech in that any true attempt at overthrow, as well as any legitimate criticism of the government, will include persuasion and stirring up of crowds. The line between criticizing the government and organizing for it to be overthrown is a critical juncture in a democracy. Current law requires the government prove someone conspired to use force. Simply advocating broadly for the use of violence is not the same thing as violence and in most cases is protected as free speech. For example, suggesting the need for revolution “by any means necessary” is unlikely to be seen as conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered sedition.

    A 1982 case, Claiborne v. NAACP, not only made clear the Court’s strict standards on blocking speech for incitement but also how such suppression can strike any view, not just conservative ones. In the 1982 Claiborne v. NAACP the Court ruled NAACP civil rights leaders were not responsible for a crowd which, after hearing them speak, burned down a white man’s hardware store. The state of Mississippi had wanted to charge the NAACP leaders with incitement on the grounds their speeches urging a boycott of white-owned stores incited their followers to burn down a store. The state’s argument was that the NAACP leaders knew their inflammatory rhetoric would drive the crowd to violence.

    The Supreme Court rejected that argument, explaining that free speech will die if people are held responsible not for their own violent acts but for those committed by others who heard them speak and were motivated in the name of that cause. The Court wrote “there is no evidence — apart from the speeches themselves that [the NAACP leader] authorized, ratified, or directly threatened acts of violence… To impose liability without a finding that the NAACP authorized — either actually or apparently — or ratified unlawful conduct would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment.” They concluded instead the NAACP “through exercise of their First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, association, and petition, rather than through riot or revolution, sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.”

     

    All of this may soon change, however. Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress are actively considering new laws (“Patriot Act 2.0”) against domestic terrorism which will likely draw from and enlarge the current definitions of incitement and sedition, with the Trump impeachment as their philosophical touchstone. The new laws may seek to define beliefs such as “whites are a superior race” not as bad science or an unsavory opinion but as an actual threat, an illegal thought. Proposals include prohibiting people with such beliefs from joining the military or law enforcement.

    The groundwork is already in place. Don’t forget Biden often claims credit for writing the original Patriot Act. The MSM has been priming Americans to believe they have too many rights for their own safety. The NYT is opening soliciting stories about “right wing extremism” in the military.

    It is necessary to say it again. America at present, on paper at least, legally holds apart from some very narrow exceptions free speech exists independent of the content of that speech. This is one of the most fundamental precepts of our democracy. There is no need for protection for things people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive. Free speech is not needed to discuss the weather or sports. The true tests for a democracy come at the edges, not in the middle.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Failing to Make Sense of COVIDiocy

    February 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    The essence of science is asking questions, and then accepting the empirical answers no matter what conclusion they support. Superstition is where belief drives people to do silly things without evidence. Which method works better for authoritarians and bullies? The one driving America’s COVID response.

    Some 11 months into COVID so little makes sense. Masks have become a political talisman, health policy a way to enhance certain candidates and settle political scores. False dichotomies such as “lives or money” cloud people’s ability to make thoughtful decisions. Instead of working together we fear one another as carriers. The urgency to panic has not been replaced by an equivalent urgency to vaccinate. Meanwhile, belief and not science keeps us locked down and staying at home with long term economic consequences we don’t understand.

    Precautions in general seem to vary widely. In New York, the more expensive the store, the deeper into COVIDiocy they are. High end retailers have someone at the door scolding the unmasked, demanding hand sanitizing, and gleefully enforcing social distancing. Bottom feeders among the economy, such as NYC’s sinkholes of hope the bodegas, have few if any restrictions, the Yemeni cashier screaming something in bad Spanish at the project kids shoplifting Ding Dongs, his mask tucked under his chin.

    The highest expression of COVIDiocy here in NYC are the museums, all of which converted to a branch of The Museum of White Guilt during the Trump years, with special exhibits of a less-known artist of color, or a trans-something featurette. The overdone it award for COVIDiocy goes to the Jewish Museum. Enforced by guards whose behavior would make an exhibit on fascism on its own, they cling to the 25 percent of capacity rule even though their rooms are large with 20 foot ceilings. A guard ordered me to wear my coat, tie it around my waist, or leave. Asked how my coat style was COVID-related, he said “those are are only options.” A fellow patron, parka firmly wrapped waistward, suggested it was so I would not knock things over, but anything that small was encased and most of the items on display were fixed to the walls. As I walked toward one patron he extended his arms in front of him, zombie-like, to indicate his personal Cone of COVID safety.

    The “capacity” of a public space is based on fire regulations, a computation of how many people can safely get out of a space in a fire. It seems to have little to do with air volume, high or low ceilings, or how air is handled inside the space, things that might be directly relevant to COVID. Wouldn’t how far people stand apart depend on, literally, which way the wind is blowing? I have been unable to find anything explaining why 25 percent capacity was chosen; why not 18 or 27 or 41.5 percent for COVID? It seems to be an arbitrary number.

    But while the museums with their open spaces and high ceilings are obsessive about only allowing in guests to 25 percent capacity, there are no such rules on the subway some may take to get there. The trains run with whatever number of people decide to board. There are staff to mop the floors in defense of a largely airborne disease but none to disperse passengers among cars. It is unclear science is in charge instead of the institutional COVID fascists, enjoying their authority.

     

    You’d think the people, left to their own, would do be better at being human. In my apartment house of some 300 units there are people who simply have not left their boxes for the last ten months out of fear. They have everything delivered, and tip the maintenance people to carry it to the hallway outside their door. The COVID trolls then emerge, grab their groceries, and retreat inside, presumably to bleach their boxes of raisin bran. Then there are a few, meerkat-like, who venture out with caution. One uses paper towels to open the dryer door in the common laundry room.

    Many have given up speaking to anyone, seeing each of us passing in the halls as a potential Angel of Death, my massive, Caucasian nose ready to inject the virus into their souls. We are all adversaries now, gladiators in a viral fight to the death. As Biden’s senior adviser on COVID said, even our children are “like mosquitos carrying a tropical disease.” COVID is a good disease for such paranoia, very Twilight Zoney in how you can have it and not know it, spreading death while symptomless yourself.

    Most people around here do wear their masks, but even there it all makes no sense. You’ll see “masks” made by stretching a T-shirt over one’s nose. Next to him will be a guy with a respirator suitable for a Chernobyl picnic. In between are fresh surgical masks and stained paper ones likely in week four of a longer run. Some masks fit well, most have gaps on the sides where impure air is exhaled with impunity. Dudes with beards and unsealed masks. Old ladies with cobbled-together spacesuits, usually plastic gloves stolen from the produce aisle, a mask, a face shield, sometimes sunglasses, maybe a raincoat. One neighborhood family has matching full-face respirators for mom, dad, and two small kids and they walk around looking like characters out of some 1950s “Our Friend the Atom!” educational film. The vast army of homeless are unmasked, they and their heaps of trash and old clothes breeding grounds for hepatitis strains to make COVID seem like candy corn. Nothing is done with them, they just molt on the sidewalks, because homelessness is decriminalized and the cops ignore them.

    At the gym a mask is required when on the elliptical but not in the pool, though the same people are exhaling equally in both places. The pool is open but the shower is not, though it’s the same over-chlorinated water. An enclosed jumble shack filled with people built on the sidewalk counts as safe (outdoor) dining while four feet away indoor dining is prohibited under literal threat of death. A table on the sidewalk is safe without a mask but walking past that table without a mask calls forth a Mask Karen to chide you (a Karen complaining about someone taking her parking space is the subject of national mockery while a Karen telling people to put masks on at the beach is a national hero.)

    Placing all efforts in making people wear something symbolic, like an old soiled mask, and little to no effort into enforcing the efficiency of those masks (such as handing out fresh, clean ones everywhere) means the whole of effort is politics. The appearance of action without action. Much like 9/11 security theatre was.

    I have never experienced a crisis where the media has worked so hard to convince people there is a crisis. The MSM almost gleefully keeps a running on-screen tab of deaths, calculating each one with the care of another mailed in Blue vote on election night. The cliched stories are blankets over our lives. The (usually Republican) guy who, unmasked, did something anti-COVID and now has it. The latest celebrity to earn her liberal merit badge by testing positive. The Facebook sagas of people whose brother’s neighbor’s cousin’s kid tested positive and how that has devastated the family for the three days he felt like he had the flu. Lots of stories of couples married for decades denied a last visit for safety’s sake. Everyone is some sort of victim.

     

    It equally makes no sense why vaccinating Americans is not a 24/7 urgent national task. Of the vaccine doses delivered, only an estimated (why doesn’t anyone know?) one third have been used. Here in NYC, one of the supposed epicenters of COVID, 2020 finished with less than half of the available vaccine being used. We endured all of the last ten months to let vaccine doses spoil in the freezer? New York issues dire warnings to the elderly (58 percent of all COVID deaths are to people age 75 and older) but no vaccines. Why, unlike March, isn’t the National Guard out, this time with needles? Where are the Navy hospital ships, once docked in NY and LA harbors, providing 24/7 vaccinations?

    No one seems to know. No one seems to be asking for details. The same voices which screamed about not having enough ventilators and PPE and ICU space are now quiet. Who is worthy of living is a public decision of massive scale being made in absolute secrecy. Who gets the vaccine in NYC is in the hands of the Taskforce on Racial Equity and Inclusion, chaired by the mayor’s wife, not a medical doctor. The goal is to ensure “hard hit” areas get the civilian shots first. But somehow her list of hard hit areas skipped the hardest hit, Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews, who refused to follow the mayor’s dictates in early COVID days. Nothing says compassion in a crisis like a little political score settling.

     

    Why is it so hard to know what is going on in other places? It seems important to know more about Sweden, which took a lite approach to lockdown. Most MSM has concluded Sweden failed and needs to lockdown just like us as contrition. But when looking at worldwide COVID deaths per 100,000 Sweden does not make the Top 10 worst. Within Europe, the Swedish deaths per 100,000 are below other nations who had resorted to more draconian societal measures.

    So did Sweden fail? There are still many Swedes alive and their society suffered minimal impact. Would a lockdown lower the deaths in Sweden? We could benefit from asking the same sorts of questions about Florida and New York. Despite its tougher than the rest lockdowns the death per 100k rate in New York is double laissez faire Florida with its mass of elderly. North Dakota’s rate is almost identical to Connecticut’s, though we universally blame one on rednecks too dumb for science and don’t talk about the other. Is anyone even trying to weigh deaths per 100k against the secondary damage of lockdowns, the suicides, increased drug use, economic problems, etc., or is it that we simply “believe” in something based on Red or Blue and defend it to the last mask?

    Depend on the science, people say, then they ignore it. A recent study via Stanford actually did look at non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for controlling the spread of COVID-19, such as mandatory stay-at-home and business closures, across ten countries. The included Sweden and South Korea, which did not institute draconian measures such as destroying the American economy. They concluded (by science!) lockdowns and the like had “no clear, significant beneficial effect on case growth in any country.” In fact, their study suggested in some places lockdowns of business made COVID spread worse, as people concentrated in greater numbers in businesses which were allowed to open.

    Of course someone will Google up a conflicting study, but the lack of discussion around these issues is appalling. The success of the MSM in politicizing such debate, as they did with the Iraq War when basic questions were seen as disloyal and treasonous, has meant we proceed into darkness without the light of science. It was seen as a necessary step to defeat Trump, but he is now gone and we need to start making sense.

     

    Nearly the whole of the COVID response seems to make little sense. Distancing people with a communicable airborne disease is not a bad starting point, but what happened was a hyper-politicization of the idea, with everyone allowed to make up their own variations, with the wrong people often in charge, until the propagandists boiled it all down to an unquestionable dichotomy of “money versus lives.” This replaces earlier, similar mantras like “Lockdown or die,” or “Obey Fauci or die.”

    Why do we care so much about bullying people in stores and not about doing the things which without question save lives? COVID is indeed real. But for the most part over- and somehow now under- reaction seems as dangerous as the virus. Making people afraid is always how governments grow their power; frightened people usually demand someone exert more control over them. Rules that make little sense grossly enforced by bullies is great training for fascism. That may well be COVID’s legacy.

    Or maybe this. In New York, citing COVID, Governor Andrew Cuomo by decree canceled six special elections to favor his political allies, canceled the presidential primary to avoid embarrassing Joe Biden with too many Bernie protest votes, and expanded his budgetary powers. He determined who and when people would work, go to school, how they would spend their free time. He held life-and-death vaccine decisions in his own hands. His power to detain without trial sick people is a state congress vote away.

    The solution currently under consideration is to count antibodies differently, under a new standard likely to produce a dramatically lower “positive” total. The new standard was unveiled by the WHO the same day Biden had the U.S. rejoin the organization, along with the healthy U.S. monetary contribution.

    I am so glad we beat back fascism. Imagine what that would have been like!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Social Media’s Threat to Free Speech is Real

    January 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    The interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated.

    From the day the Founders wrote the 1A until very recently no entity existed that could censor at scale other than the government. It was difficult for one company, never mind one man, to silence an idea or promote a false story in America, never mind the entire world. That was the stuff of Bond villains.

    The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations like Twitter brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their rules, so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Meanwhile the same censors allowed the Iranian and Chinese governments (along with the president’s critics) to speak freely. For these companies violence in one form is a threat to democracy while similar violence is valorized under a different color flag.

     

    The year 2020 also saw the arrival of a new tactic by global media, sending a story down the memory hole to influence an election. The contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which strongly suggest illegal behavior on his part and unethical behavior by his father the president, were purposefully and effectively kept from the majority of voters. It was no longer for a voter to agree or disagree, it was now know and judge yourself or remain ignorant and just vote anyway.

    Try an experiment. Google “Peter Van Buren” with the quotes. Most of you will see on the first page of results articles I wrote four years ago for outlets like The Nation and Salon. Almost none of you will see the scores of columns I wrote for The American Conservative over the past four years. Google buries them.

    The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power. It is this power which negates the argument of “why not start your own web forum.” Someone did until Amazon withdrew its server support, and Apple and Google banned the Parler app.

    The same thing happened to The Daily Stormer, driven offline through a coordinated effort by tech companies, and 8Chan, deplatformed by Cloudflare. Amazon partner GoDaddy deplatformed the world’s largest gun forum AR15. Tech giants have also killed off local newspapers and other forums by gobbling up ad revenues. The companies are not, in @jack’s words, “one small part of the larger public conversation.”

    The tech companies’ logic in destroying Parler was particularly evil – either start censoring like we do (“moderation”) or we shut you down. Parler allowing ideas and people banned by the others is what brought its demise. Amazon, et al, brought their power to censor to another company. The tech companies also said while Section 230 says we are not publishers, we just provide the platform, if Parler did not exercise editorial control to tech’s satisfaction it was finished. Even if Parler comes back online it will live only at the pleasure of the powerful.

    Since democracy was created it has required a public forum, from the Acropolis to the town square on down. That place exists today, for better or worse, across global media. It is this seriousness of the threat to free speech that requires us to move beyond platitudes like “it’s not a violation of free speech, just a breach of the terms of service!” People once said “I’d like to help you vote ladies, but the Constitution specifically refers to men, my hands are tied.” That’s the side of history some are standing on.

     

    This new reality must be the starting point, not the end point of discussions on the First Amendment and global media. Facebook, et al, have evolved into something new which can reach beyond their own corporate borders, beyond the idea of a company that just sells soap or cereal. Never mind being beyond the vision of the Founders when they wrote the 1A, it is hard to imagine Thomas Jefferson endorsing having a college dropout determine what the president can say to millions of Americans. The magic game play of words – it’s a company so it does not matter – is no longer enough to save us from drowning.

    Tech companies currently work in casual consultation with one another, taking turns being the first to ban something so the others can follow. The next step is when a decision by one company ripples instantly across to the others, and then down to their contractors and supplies as a requirement to continue business. The decision by AirBnB to ban users for their political stance could cross platforms automatically so that same person could not fly, use a credit card, etc., essentially a non-person unable to participate in society beyond taking a walk. And why not fully automate the task, destroying people who use a certain hashtag, or like an offending tweet? Perhaps create a youth organization called Twitter Jugend to watch over media 24/7 and report dangerous ideas? A nation of high school hall monitors.

    Consider linkages to the surveillance technology we idolize when it helps arrest the “right” people. So with the Capitol riots we fetishize how cell phone data was used to place people on site, coupled with facial recognition run against images pulled off social media. Throw in the calls from the media for people to turn in friends and neighbors to the FBI, alongside amateur efforts across Twitter and even Bumble to “out” participants. The goal was to jail people if possible, but most loyalists seemed equally satisfied if they could cause someone to lose their job. Tech is blithely providing these tools to users it approves of, knowing full well how they will be used. Orwellian? Orwell was an amateur.

    There are legal arguments to extend limited 1A protections to social media. Section 230 could be amended. However, given Democrats benefit disproportionately from corporate censorship and current Democratic control of the government, no legislative solution appears likely. Those people care far more for the rights of some of its citizens (trans people seem popular now, it used to be disabled folks) then the most basic right for all the people.

    They rely on the fact it is professional suicide today to defend all speech on principle. It is easy in divided America to claim the struggle against fascism (racism, misogyny, white supremacy, whatever) overrules the old norms. And they think they can control the beast.

    But imagine someone’s views, which today match @jack and Zuck’s, change. Imagine Zuck finds religion and uses all of his resources to ban legal abortion. Consider a change of technology which allows a different company, run by someone who thinks like the MyPillow Guy, replacing Google in dictating what you can read. As one former ACLU director explained “Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.”

     

    The election of 2020, when they hid the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop from voters, and the election’s aftermath, when they banned the president and other conservative voices, was the coming-of-age moment, the proof of concept for media giants that they could operate behind the illusion of democracy.

    Hope rests with the Supreme Court expanding the First Amendment to social media, as it did when it grew the 1A to cover all levels of government, down to the hometown mayor, even though the Constitution specifically only mentions Congress. The Court has long acknowledged the flexibility of the 1A in general, expanding it over the years to acts of “speech” as disparate as nudity and advertising. But don’t expect much change any time soon. Landmark decisions on speech, like those on other civil rights, tend to be more evolutionary in line with society’s changes than revolutionary.

    It is sad that many of the same people who quoted that “First they came for…” poem over Trump’s Muslim Ban are now gleefully supporting social media’s censorship of conservative voices. The funny part is both Trump and Twitter claim what they did was for peoples safety. One day people will wake up and realize it doesn’t matter who is doing the censoring, the government or Amazon. It’s all just censoring.

    What a sad little argument “But you violated the terms of service nyah nyah!” is going to be then.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Start of Something Biden… But What?

    January 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

    If presidential inaugurations are all about symbolism, what to make of this one?

    There was no grace present as Trump slunk off early in the morning, a bitter use of Air Force One one last time taking him to his new home in Florida. No reports of Downton Abbey-like farewells with the White House staff, no scenes of a grateful First Family, no report of Trump leaving the customary note on the desk to his successor. No first lady faux-British ceremony. Hell, it’s not like the Biden’s haven’t seen the place. The Trump’s left the White House the way most people leave a hotel, might as well get an early start on it.

    If a city could cry it’d be Washington DC. DC certainly does not look like the capital of the World’s Greatest Democracy (C) or even one of the world’s mediocre ones. For those who fetishized Nuremburg imagery for the last four years, the Mall covered in flags should ring a bell. As might the 26,000 troops who line the closed streets, quartered in the Capitol itself, more boots on the ground than currently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria combined. The U.S. military failed to establish democracy via two decades of nation building over there. Perhaps they’ll have better luck in DC.

    But even the Guardsmen send a mixed signal — somebody was worried enough about their loyalty to have the FBI vet the lot of them, and send 12 home for whatever “ties to right wing groups” actually means. Were they card-carrying Boogaloo Bois or just unlucky troopers selected as symbolic sacrifices because they bought a MyPillow for the barracks? (Actually they made “inappropriate comments or sent inappropriate texts,” thought crimes once protected by the 1A.)

    Ironically after all the fuss over crowd size four years ago, we can say Joe Biden probably had the smallest inauguration crowd — roughly zero — in American history. But don’t worry — the NYT assured us because of COVID Biden’s “team has become adept at political set dressing aimed at making empty, unpopulated spaces appear welcoming, warm and patriotic.”

    Then there was Trump 2017, when the media symbolically marked the beginning of four years of playground taunting, calling him a liar by challenging the crowd size. Trump was not legitimately elected, they said, because no one showed up to cheer him into office (for the younger folks reading this, the narrative about half of America approached inauguration day 2017 with was Trump did not win the popular vote and thus the Electoral College was a sham and Trump illegitimate as one of Snoop’s kids. It was a different time, when questioning the results of an election was considered patriotic not seditious. Fashions change, you know how it is.)

    But as symbols go what didn’t happen at Biden’s inauguration is most noteworthy. For four years we have been told today was never going to happen. Trump was going to declare himself dictator, cancel the election because of COVID, start a war with Iran, start a nuclear war with someone, declare martial law, maybe make a pact with Satan. Like all of the Dems/MSM predictions, these had no factual basis and never happened. The only tanks on the streets were put there by Democrats.

    The Charge of the Rednecks on January 6 was whipped into another 9/11 but worse by the Dems/MSM. Though the crowd arrived with pipe bombs made and zip ties in their pockets, strong indicators of preplanned trouble, Trump was impeached with about as much debate as usually given to naming a new Post Office for inciting them. Though the mob had absolutely no method to stop Biden from becoming president, they were called seditious. Despite them staying inside the velvet ropes in the Capitol’s statuary hall and taking more selfies than chances, they were credited with complex assassination and kidnap plots.

    In the end absent some tragic deaths (one unarmed mobster was killed by aimed shots from a cop after she broke a window but since she was white and conservative she was quickly written out of the story; a cop killed was glorified as a defender of the people’s sacred house temple of democracy, an odd twist on this summer’s BLM view of the police) the mob didn’t even prove to be effective vandals. Our sacred Heartland state houses were not bum rushed by Big Gulp-sized guys in camo, each carrying enough supply to keep a squad in the field for a week in Iraq. Trump didn’t even pardon himself or his kids. Giuliani still at large.

    So on Inauguration Day everyone was left wondering what just happened and what it means. Joe Biden is the first president to achieve office without campaigning. His record was enough to have him not win twice before when he did campaign, so alongside his non-inauguration a pattern might be emerging. He’ll sign some symbolic executive orders undoing Trump symbolic orders dealing with the Wall and the Muslim Ban and then remember he forgot a few things in the basement in Delaware and leave a note himself on the Resolute Desk saying he’ll keep in touch. Kamala Harris, who is either the first something something to be VP or a cynical symbol of how desperate the Democrats were to scrape up some progressive votes, was sworn in by Mean Old Justice Sotomayor, herself symbolic of how much like a Karen a Supreme Court justice can be. And the question pends — can Kamala really play the Garfunkel role Biden himself excelled at for four years?

    Inaugurations used to be fun. They were the last time a candidate, warm and of the people, got to mingle with those people before becoming aloof and over-protected. The same guy who shook greasy hands at country fairs all summer would “spontaneously” stop the limo on Pennsylvania Avenue and walk a few blocks, waving and pointing like he recognized people who owed him money. High school bands would play, and at night the city would be filled with drunken fat donors and drunken political operatives and drunken young people who would giggle at old people trying to dance to the “popular” musical groups included in the festivities. This year, no. We got America’s blandest man, Tom Hanks, and the safe brown guy white people love, Lin Manuel Miranda. The Biden’s meanwhile likely went to bed early after a little TV.

    And so Trump is gone not with a whimper, nor a bang, just mostly silence. That leaves us with what is next. The inauguration offered few clues. Biden mumbled about unity, but was quite short on specifics on what that meant when 70 million Americans voted for Trump in the November referendum. How do you unify American on immigration, for example? Apparently you don’t, as Biden seeks to rewind everything Trump did, set a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegals, and re-welcome the faux asylum seeking caravans steaming up from Central America. Not much unity there, and likely the same for America’s long list of hot button issues.

    A dark shadow lurks. Forces around Biden will seek to turn America’s fears into a new War on Terror, the domestic kind. We saw plenty of seeds for this planted following the storming of the Capitol. The tools are already in place from the last War on Terror — surveillance, unconstitutional searches, the secretive FISA court, a politicized FBI, and an intelligence community which made its bones in internal politics pimping Russiagate and serving as a Greek chorus to CNN and MSNBC’s flood of warnings about democracy in danger.

    The Defense Department already announced they stepping up monitoring service members’ social media in much the way companies do with their employees. Avril Haines, Biden’s pick for national intelligence director, says she’ll help with a public threat assessment of QAnon, teed up to be America’s New Greatest Threat. She also vows to make sure the intelligence agencies “look at connections between folks in the U.S. and externally and foreign.” You just know it’ll be the Russkies again.

    CNN’s Don Lemon says if you voted for Trump, you’re with the Klan, the Nazis and the Rioters. AOC demands Congress rein in the media environment, a happy euphemism for censorship. The endearing Rick Wilson writes “Trumpists, here are your Terms of Surrender. Also, F*ck You.” Will America see ideological blacklists, purges of ideologically disloyal cops and soldiers, democratic elected officials canceled, impeached, shunned, or shamed? Hearings to see who in Congress now is or has ever been a QAnon retweeter? Is that what all those soldiers locking down DC represent, the first shock troops to turn 1/6 into 9/11? Biden lacks the strength and stomach to do this himself, but the ability of a new Cheney and Rumsfeld to manipulate a weak president cannot be discounted lightly.

    Or will it be four years (or less…) of Calvin Coolidge (Harding, Pierce, Fillmore) with Biden little more than a placeholder while both parties, free of Trump, reconfigure themselves? Biden might issue a single Executive Order resetting everything to status quo 2016 and be done with it. Maybe that’s the symbolism of the non-inauguration, without parades and bands, with no crowd, no pomp, and no sense of a torch being past.

    Is it morning in America? Will we try and make America great again? Are we a nation of hope and change? Are we going to be called to bear any burden for liberty? The emptiness of the inauguration says not only do I not know, but I’m not sure Joe Biden does either.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Trump, A Man in Full

    January 22, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Economy, Trump

    Twitterless, Donald Trump will soon disappear into obscurity or some commentator job, basically about the same. It will be for the fullness of history to judge his term, but it is certain the summation will be it was four years of lies and barely Constitutional actions that have forever dented America’s democracy. Lies and actions by Democrats and the media, of course. For Trump himself, history will show he accomplished little and personally mattered in the grander sweep even less.

    Trump’s term began with the Dem’s lie he was not legitimately elected. Though it was all swept away when Trump challenged the results in 2020, in 2016 the Democratic Party and MSM were embroiled in a whole of society effort to stop the Electoral College from making Trump the official winner (disbelievers, Google “faithless electors 2016” and note the fever over the technically meaningless popular vote) Another push was made to prevent Trump from taking office under the Emoluments clause. The actors described their own efforts as patriotic, life saving.
     
    The media told us with certainty the stock market would never recover. We’d be at war with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, maybe China. NATO would collapse. Putin would run the U.S. via blackmailing Trump because Trump had been a Russian agent since the 1980s. Trump judges would dismantle the rule of law, end same sex marriage, and make abortions illegal. White nationalists would control our cities. Everyone in Puerto Rico was doomed.
    None of that happened. It was all made up. Every bit of it fiction.
     
    Depending on your political stance, some “bad” things did happen. But they were stopped by courts (Trump’s plan to end DACA, his own election challenges) prevented by Congress (Trump’s plan to ease sanctions on Russia), undermined by the Deep State (Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria), throttled by the press (Trump’s continuation of the Obama child-separation policy), or corrected by civil servants (coronavirus misinformation.) Far from any authoritarian, when his executive orders were declared unconstitutional, Trump revised them to fit judicial requirements, as with the “Muslim ban.” Behind the chorus of whining from CNN and NPR, no one was jailed for criticizing Trump, let alone killed (Obama still solidly holds the record for the use of the Espionage Act to stifle sources and journalists.) By failing to understand how to work the levers of government, nearly everything Trump did was by executive decree and can be turned around on day one by Joe Biden the same way. Trump’s supposed fascistic acts were purely performative.
    Yet despite his repeated failings as a would-be dictator, false apocalyptic spiraling was applied to everything Trump touched. The Kavanaugh kid who was a slug in high school decades ago became a gang rapist whose purpose was to overturn Roe v. Wade while helping Hitler stay in power. A new standard was invented on the fly by the same people who worried about the rule of law, so instead of “innocent until proven guilty” it became “credible accusation,” adjudicated by online mobs. A narrative based on no facts whatsoever was created that somewhere in Trump’s taxes, undiscovered by the IRS all these years, was a 1099 form “Misc Espionage Work, Russia.”
    Russiagate was the peak. Democrats paid someone from British intelligence to make up bad things about Trump. American intelligence then used what they knew was a work of fiction as an excuse to spy for real dirt on Americans in the Trump campaign, lying to the FISA court along the way. It was an outrageous Constitutional violation and a direct act of interference by the intel community in a democratic election, as if this was Honduras or Guatemala. When even that illegal spying turned up nothing, the whole thing spoon-fed to the MSM, who ran the table with three years of outright falsehoods. 
    But COVID! The Democratic Party, et al, created one of the most successful information operations in history, convincing a large number of Americans they must fear for their lives and they must blame Donald Trump. The success here dwarfed the failure of Russiagate, though was equally untethered to facts.

    COVID was a global event. U.S. deaths (91 per 100,000 people) for example, are lower than in Belgium (158), Italy (107), Spain (102), Britain (97), and Argentina (92), none of which were presided over by Donald Trump. It seemed hard to point a finger based on those numbers, so the finger was pointed at mask shortages, ventilator shortages, hospital shortages, racism, and Republican-run superspreader events. The vaccine which was going to take years to develop instead took months. We never needed the Navy hospital ships. We never needed the hospital tent facilities set up in Central Park. We never needed the mass graves. We never ran out of ventilators.

    The irony is that if anything in the last four years might have opened the door to a more authoritarian president it could have been COVID. Trump, had he really had authoritarianism in mind, could have federalized the National Guard to secure hospitals (or whatever fiction the public would have accepted, and in March of last year they would have accepted pretty much anything.) He could have created some sort of WPA-like body to decide nationally who could work and who could not. He could have demanded censorship to “prevent panic.” It was all on the table, and Trump did none of it. Not exactly Kim Jong Un-level material.

    What the media wanted so badly to be the capstone event of the last four years, the Charge of the Rednecks against the Capitol Building, was not. A mob out of control at worst, with the usual weak performance by the Kapital Kops, amounted to nothing. America awoke the next morning to find it was not Judgment Day, merely morning. No tanks on the White House lawn. Not even a cop car burned.
    The event was goonish, embarrassing, but in the end about as historical meaningful as a floor brawl in the Taiwanese legislature. For it to be a coup, insurrection, etc., it would have needed a path toward accomplishing a change of government. There never was any. Joe Biden was always going to be president. All the mob accomplished was a meaningless few hours’ delay in that happening. Trump’s actions vacillated between bizarre and shameful, his tone pathetic, but it was almost all just meaningless words no one will remember; nothing stuck and he’s gone. No civil war. Hardly Weimar material. As the fat kid in Jojo Rabbit said, “Not a good time for Nazis.”

    So what did happen? Trump is the first president since WWII not to start a new war. U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s number to date is only 123. ISIS is gone. He was the first president in some 20 years to conduct active diplomacy with North Korea. For the first time in a quarter-century, Arab nations normalized relations with Israel, the Abraham Accords. Actually quite a bit of diplomacy from a guy popularly credited with destroying it. Record stock market highs. Trump appointed 227 conservative judges, more than a quarter of the total, including three to the Supreme Court.

    Some things did change under Trump. The media gave up any pretense of objectivity, and the majority of Americans welcomed it. They came to imagine tearing down some old statues or seeing a gay couple in a Target ad were real social progress. Public shaming by a mob — canceling — became a fine way to deal with thought crimes. Humiliation and name calling took the place of commentary. Terms of Service replaced the 1A. Corporate censorship of people and ideas is firmly now the norm, welcomed by a large number of Americans.

    Those left of center developed striking political amnesia. After decades of complaining about police brutality, they wanted more of it when directed at conservatives at the Capitol. They want censorship, against Trump, against ideas they disagree with, against whatever “hate speech” is defined as today. They want corporate speech police. They want a president who has voted for and helped run wars for the last ten years. They demanded new anti-democratic standards, Because Trump means any means is allowed if it justifies the end. They believed accusations of mental illness against a sitting president by doctors who never met him, a tried Soviet and Maoist tactic, are part of legitimate political discourse. Nancy Pelosi was still invoking this days before Biden’s inauguration, screeching for a resignation, the 25th Amendment, outright impeachment — something! — a bit of vengeance blithely supported by far too many Americans. Third World moves, bro.

    Those ideas, the rejection of democratic ideals and any politics but your own, won. The Trump era changed America but it is hard to argue it was for the better.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Goodbye to a Place, Like New York

    January 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Articles about how New York City will be reborn out of COVID better than ever, like in the 80s when she spawned the Ramones and Anthony Bourdain, miss the significance of what COVID has revealed: there is no longer a need for a place, like New York.

    Places die. Most die easy, like mining towns out in the Southwest that lasted only as long as a gold strike. Some die harder, like Youngstown and Weirton, when America found it cheaper to sacrifice its manhood and buy steel overseas. Some, like Detroit, died but just won’t admit it, caught in a pantomime of one eroding rebirth after another, maybe some local crafty manufacturing, some art districts, a high tech something, a corporate tax haven. It may find some life but there is no longer any need for a place, like Detroit.

    Same for New York, the place that had the longest and best run of all, that once was the most American place. When Dutch explorers first arrived on Manhatta Island in 1613 they had it all, centered around probably the greatest natural harbor any sailor had seen. Throw in a river system which promised deep reach into the continent (the Erie Canal proved the power of location in 1825, demanding New York, and nowhere else, to become the starting and ending point of massive amounts of Midwest commerce) and magnificent natural resources. There was no place else that could have become New York and that’s why no place ever did.

    Those commercial beginnings created the perfect storm for a place. First an infrastructure to procure and move goods to the harbor area with a financial and commercial system built around that. Sellers needed to meet buyers. Buyers needed loans from banks. Banks needed a stock exchange to raise capital, and everyone needed a physical place to do what they were doing. Alexander Hamilton founded the first New York bank in 1784, helping fund the Erie Canal which fed money into the city. In 1792 brokers created the New York Stock Exchange. Over two centuries the goods bought and sold changed wildly, but the place to do the job had to be New York.

    So the skyscraper, the quintessential symbol of New York. Skyscrapers exist for one reason: a helluva lot of people need to work in the same place. Since Manhattan is small they can’t build offices next to each other, they had to build them on top of each other. When you look at the City in profile, the clusters of skyscrapers are at one end, the Financial District — Wall Street, where the old docks were — and in Midtown, the center that grew up later around the nationwide railways terminals of Penn and Grand Central Stations as the big country got smaller. The rest of the city features mostly low-rise buildings not because of the soft soil, as the old tale goes (the underlying granite schist is similar island-wide), but because massive numbers of people did not need to work in those interstitial locations. The area of Manhattan almost devoid of tall buildings, Harlem and uptown, is also the area almost devoid of major commerce.

    That amazing harbor and direct crossing to England meant New York was the right place to establish the world’s first scheduled shipping services; ships used to wait around ports until they were full, a waste of time that stymied investors. All those ships moving daily mattered when immigrants began pouring out of Europe in the days before cheap passenger service was established. They went where the cargo ships were going, and that was New York (New Orleans for many years was the second largest immigration portal, taking in more Irish than Boston because it was also a prime cargo port.) As the Civil War ended and industrialization exploded, New York was the right place to take in millions of cheap immigrant laborers.

    The manufacturing centers that made 19th and early 20th century America were places as well. Most, like the steel towns, had to be built at the confluence of rivers, coal, and iron ore. They could not change, they were too bound to a location that served just one master need. Not New York. Unlike Detroit and much of the rest of the country, the business of New York was always being New York, and as such New York could transform itself. Publishing, fashion, the media, songwriting, entertainment, insurance, banking, investing all had to be in New York City because that is where the others were doing the same thing. The world fed talent into New York. If you could make it there you could make it anywhere.

     

    COVID did not cause the next change as much as it revealed it. The vulnerabilities of basing trillions of dollars of commerce at one location were made clear on one sharp September 11, 2001 morning. So well before COVID all of the New York Stock Exchange transactions were being processed on servers outside of Manhattan, though the famous Exchange building still stands, more a cosmetic backdrop than place of business. With the downsizing and integration of the financial business following the 2008 crisis, coupled with mass changes in communications, business no longer needed to happen in any one place. Since 2018 migration to New York was negative. By 2020 NYC’s “Financial District” was well over 80 percent residential, with the last of the big banks, Deutsche, scheduled to leave the area soon. Mobile phone location data put December foot traffic in the Financial District at only 20 percent of what it was in 2019. Subway ridership shows a 70 percent drop.

    COVID forced businesses to realize everywhere was somewhere and nowhere was a place. People in all sorts of businesses could work from wherever they wanted to live. The physical office, if needed, could be in a cheaper, warmer, safer location, with better schools, better governed, with a higher quality of life than New York. That change opened up the talent pool globally (who needs those pesky H-1 visas if your Chinese employees work from China?) When COVID asked the question “Why do we need an office in New York?” nobody had an answer.

    And so Goldman Sachs is looking at South Florida. JPMorgan Chase is weighing Texas. The rebuilt World Trade Center was already 20 percent empty before COVID; post-COVID it is losing its majority client Conde Nast, who once leased 23 floors. The majority client after Conde is now the U.S. Government General Services Administration. It is unclear how the building can be profitable so empty.

    It is a very strange thing to walk the business districts at midday and see New York without the New Yorkers. It all has the feel of a Twilight Zone set. Only about 17 percent of office workers have returned since the ban was lifted. New York’s commercial tenants meanwhile dumped more than 2.5 million square feet of sublease space in the year’s third quarter, a number unseen since the Great Recession.

    Meanwhile, about 3.57 million people moved out of New York City during the pandemic, resulting in $34 billion in lost income. Though businesses are closing across the city, a survey of national chains reveals the true demographic shift. Starbucks closed 54 stores, Victoria’s Secret and GNC about half their outlets, while cheap chicken Popeye’s was the only brand to increase its stores. More residents escaped from New York over the last year than from any other state, to the point where a House seat is threatened.

    It could not be simpler. The wealthy and the companies they work for pay most of the taxes. The top one percent of NYC taxpayers pay nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes. Property taxes add in more than a billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that generated by office space. The poor consume the taxes through social programs. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia. COVID is driving the wealthy and their offices out of the city. No one will be left to pay for the poor, who are stuck here, and the city risks collapse. A classic failed state scenario.

    New York once topped the global list of desirable places for the wealthy to live based on four factors: wealth, investment, lifestyle and future. The first meant a desire to live among other wealthy people (we know where that’s headed), investment returns on real estate (not looking great, if you can even find a buyer), lifestyle (bars, restaurants, shopping, and theaters are locked down, coupled with rising crime, shootings double, murder up 40 percent, what NYC cheerleaders call “grit”) and how does the future look?

    Places die. For many there is no coming back. Of course people will still want to live in New York, and at some point offices will see some return. But the need to be here is gone, that is what is different from every other time New York stumbled, a victim of technology and changing views of how to live. COVID accelerated a terrible trend, and some of the worst progressive governance in history made every step of the process worse than it needed to be. New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

    January 14, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


     
    Some Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

    The graced haiku of the First Amendment was defeated in this current age not by jack booted thugs but by Terms of Service.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. From 1984 through every dystopian movie, as well as the sordid history of real dictatorships past, the loss of free speech was supposed to come from the top down. A powerful man crushes the press, brown shirts take over TV stations, that sort of thing. Nobody foresaw the loss of free speech in a once great democracy would come – by popular demand – from many of The People themselves.

    But that is what is happening in these extraordinary times here in Post-Constitutional America. Before this, the other great losses of rights once confirmed in blood followed dark tradition: after killing four Americans by drone, Barack Obama’s attorney general claimed the president’s personal deliberation constituted enough due process to satisfy the Fifth Amendment. Exaggerated fear of terrorists saw the Fourth Amendment rights to privacy obliterated by the NSA and welcomed by the frightened masses.

    What Americans once saw as our highest values became luxuries that in a time of fear, first 9/11, then Trump, the country believed it could ill afford. Justice, fairness, and free speech became a risk, their indulgence a weakness.

    Among the rights lost, free speech is arguably the most dear. Without free speech people stop thinking, losing all but a narrowing band of ideas. Open discussion, debate, and argument are the core of democracy, good ideas defeating bad ones in the marketplace of the mind. Fascism seeks to close off all ideas except its own, falsely labeling dissent as disloyal, insubordinate, seditious, insurrectionist, and ultimately unlawful.

    Any discussion of free speech must acknowledge despicable people and their ideas have always existed. These people will use any freedom they have to promote the worst of ideas. Yet it is equally important to remind how at different times in our history speaking out against slavery, against war, against or for one politician or another, have all been seen as despicable. Restrictions on free speech have been used to ban great literature, books about women’s reproductive health, and photos once deemed “pornographic” now displayed as art. Someone will always find an idea or word offensive. Allowing that person to judge for all of us has never proven to be on the right side of history. The times when America stepped back from free speech – the WWI era Sedition Act, the McCarthy Years – are not the years we are proud of.

    Trumpism, neo-Nazis, alt-right, white supremacists, QAnon, Pepe, and the racists is sadly nothing new. Indeed many of those groups in different forms have been around for decades. What is new is Leftists are aggressively embracing many of the same tools once used to try and stop the anti-war movement, feminists, and other progressive groups in the past. Those tools which directly offend the Bill of Rights include violence, suppression, censorship, and twisty quasi-legal reasoning about incitement and sedition. In addition are the tools of the bully, including misuse of the No Fly List to ban pro-Trump travelers for their political beliefs, “canceling” by mustered mobs, and blacklists to bar people from earning a living due to their politics.

    But something else new turns up the dial: technology, coupled with the metastisization of new global media unabashedly willing to take advantage of not being under the control of the 1A. Combine that technological reach with liberal autocratic zeal all hidden behind the justification that Because Trump, Nazis, white supremacists, etc. the ends justifies the means and you have trouble. The justification is Everything Is Different and the old rules don’t apply. The democratic ideal of free speech is now a threat to democracy.

    The literal first shot was fired, er, thrown, at the Trump inaugural. Richard Spencer was explaining live on camera the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the movement Spencer promoted. An anonymous black-clad antifa protester ran into the scene and sucker punched Spencer. His free speech was ended by that act of violence.

    There followed tens of thousands of comments on the YouTube videos of the attack. The standard response was “I don’t condone violence but…” and then go on to condone violence if it was directed against “Nazis.” It only got worse. In 2021 the Leftists of social media cheered the shooting death of unarmed Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt at the hands of the Capitol Police. “She earned that bullet…” read one typical remark. “Don’t forget that she was participating in a domestic terrorist attack!”

    Another popular sentiment which echoed from 2017 into 2021 is to claim violence is justified as a leftist response to hateful speech by the right, and that if perhaps more people had punched Hitler in the early days the world would be a better place. More than a few people also suggest punching someone in the head is in fact a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others used phrases along the lines of “the end justifies the means” and “by any means necessary.” It was if half the nation had simultaneously flunked AP Government.

    Following the Spencer attack, similar violence landed at Middlebury College, then at a rally where one protester who displayed a Confederate flag was attacked, and at the University of California Berkeley (the university was ironically home to the Vietnam War protest-era Free Speech Movement.) Institutions, including Berkeley, Ohio State, Penn State, and New York University, canceled, postponed, or scheduled into dead zones speeches by conservative speakers, citing public safety concerns.

    The undergirding philosophy was in place. The stage was set for a series of arguments to sate the desire to restrict speech. Let’s look at some, and why they do or not hold up.

     

    The First Amendment Only Applies to Government

    The First Amendment only applies to government, and so corporations are free to censor, restrict or shut down speech altogether.

    Short Answer: True. The interplay between the 1A and corporations like Facebook is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. It can only be resolved by a landmark Supreme Court challenge.

    Until very recently no entity existed that could censor at scale other than the government. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness to do so. The rules are their rules, so we see the permanently banning the president of the United States from tweeting to his 88 million followers while allowing the Iranian and Chinese governments to speak freely to those same people. At the same time Trump was suspended from social media for inciting violence Twitter allowed the hashtag #HangMikePence to trend. Violence in one location is a threat to democracy while similar violence is valorized if under a BLM flag.

    The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been more clear. It represents a stunning centralization of power. It is this power which negates the argument of “why not start your own web forum.” Someone did – Parler – until Amazon withdrew its server support, and Apple and Google banned the app, and silenced them. The same thing happened to The Daily Stormer, driven offline through a coordinated effort by multiple tech companies, and 8Chan, deplatformed by Cloudflare (Parler is suing Amazon under antitrust laws to regain its platform, and may seek a new provider in the interim.)

    Try an experiment. Google “Peter Van Buren” with the quotes. Most of you will see on the first page of results articles I wrote four years ago for Leftist outlets like The Nation and Salon. Almost none of you will see the scores of weekly columns I wrote for The American Conservative over the past four years. Google buries them, like they never even happened. Try the same on the tiny DuckDuckGo search engine and the conservative articles appear.

    Currently safe from the 1A as private companies, and with the legal shield of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, there is nothing to stop Twitter and the others even as new technologies create new opportunities to control speech. The election of 2020, when they hid the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop from voters, and the election’s aftermath, when they banned the president and other conservative voices, was their coming-of-age moment, the proof of concept for media giants. Many on the Left cheered the companies’ actions. No surprise. Presciently, Senator Chris Murphy, seeing the power available, had earlier demanded social media censor even more aggressively for the “survival of our democracy.”

    While there are few things to currently prevent corporate censorship, whether for their own purposes or as a proxy for the Democratic Party as Murphy demands, there are some counter-veiling legal currents which recognize the need to extend the 1A.

    One victory confirmed the status of social media, when the Supreme Court struck down a law prohibiting sex offenders from using Facebook. Justice Kennedy wrote in Packingham v North Carolina social media is now part of “the modern public square” so denying access violated the First Amendment. The Court concluded in a separate case “public access cable TV channels constituted a public forum, notwithstanding that they were operated by a private company.” Recognizing new media, even if administered by private companies, as the modern equivalent of the public square is an important step.

    The next step is recognizing the civic responsibility of those providing public forums as part of the process of chipping away at the public-private divide shielding the big media companies.

    The Supreme Court recognizes two categories of public fora: traditional and limited public forums. Traditional public forums are places like streets, sidewalks, and parks. Limited public forums are not traditionally public, but ones the government has purposefully opened to some segment of the public for “expressive activity.” By inviting the public to Facebook for comment, the government transforms a private place into a limited public forum which should be covered by the 1A. The Court only requires a “forum” for 1A purposes “to be private property dedicated to public use” or when the government “retains substantial control over the private property.” Like how the government cannot censor public library books even if the library is located in a private storefront.

    In other words, by providing a public forum Facebook, et al, assume a new role. It seems reasonable that some protections for the public speech there be offered. They may not apply to Aunt Lisa’s cat pictures but should apply to her posting in favor of some local legislation on the ballot.

    Bottom Line: Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections through the forum it provides is just another company that sells stuff is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. There are legal arguments to extend limited 1A protections to social media. Section 230 could be amended. However, given Democrats disproportionately benefit from corporate censorship and current Democratic control of the government, no legislative solution appears likely.

    Hope rests instead with the Supreme Court expanding the 1A to social media, as it did when it grew the 1A to cover all levels of government, down to the hometown mayor, even though the Constitution specifically only mentions Congress. The Court has long acknowledged the flexibility of the 1A in general, expanding it over the years to acts of “speech” as disparate as nudity and advertising. But don’t expect much change any time soon. Landmark decisions on speech, like those on other civil rights, tend to be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

     

    Free Speech May Provoke Violence (A Clear and Present Danger)

    Some claim conservative speakers who use anti-LGBT or racist slurs to fire up their audiences can be banned or shut down. They say such speech is the equivalent of yelling Fire! in a crowded movie theater.

    Short Answer: The standards for shutting down speech are purposefully restrictive, and well-codified. Most pundits and politicians come nowhere close. This excuse is over-used.

    The Fire! line from Supreme Court decision Schenck v. United States is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Here’s what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

    “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

    The full decision says the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that meets three conditions: 1) the speech must be demonstrably false; 2) it must be likely to cause real harm, not just offense or hurt feelings, and 3) must do so immediately. Words in these decisions have hyper-specific legal meanings, often defined through multiple cases, which is why simply Googling a term and passing judgment on its vernacular via Twitter usually is wrong.

    This interpretation of the First Amendment imposed restrictions on speech. But Schenck was what jurists call bad law, in that it sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer opposing WWI to stop free speech, not protect it. The case was eventually overturned, and in truth Holmes’ statement was better understood not as a 21st century test but to simply mean that while the First Amendment is not absolute, restrictions on speech should be narrow and limited.

    It was the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio (below) that refined the modern standard for restricting speech past Fire! But Holmes’ “fire in a crowded theater” line sticks around as a kind of inaccurate shorthand.

    Bottom Line: The Supreme Court set a very high bar against restricting speech based on the idea that what was being said leading to harm, then in a later case moved the bar even higher. Offense or general threats alone are insufficient to justify silencing someone. People who cite “fire in a crowded theater” miss the fact that a more nuanced version of restrictions followed which currently controls speech.

     

    Speech Can or Should Be Restricted Based on Content (Hate Speech)

    There are no laws against “hate speech.” A speaker can insult people by their race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Often words are carefully chosen to inspire and promote hate or to appeal to crude and base instincts. Indeed, that is their point.

    Short Answer: You cannot restrict hate speech. Hate speech per se does not exist in American law. Free speech means just that, with carefully limited restrictions sketched out by the Court.

    Brandenburg v. Ohio (Clarence Brandenburg was a KKK leader in Ohio who used the N-word with malice) precludes hate speech from being sanctioned as incitement to violence unless (1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; (2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and (3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech.

    A hostile reaction of a crowd does not automatically transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not alone a basis for regulation, or for taking an enforcement action against a speaker. The speaker had to clearly want to, and succeed in, causing some specific violent act to take place. Intent in particular is purposely hard to prove.

    The Brandenburg test is the Supreme Court’s final statement to date on what government may do about inflammatory speech that seeks to incite others to lawless action. It was intended to resolve the debate between those who urge greater control of speech and those who favor as much speech as possible before relying on the marketplace of ideas to sort things out. Yet corporate censors have simply created their own definition of incitement, with Twitter suppressing the speech of 70,000 users simply for retweeting material with “the potential to lead to offline harm” under its Orwellian named Civic Integrity Policy.

    A second type of speech is categorically excluded from First Amendment protection and often erroneously labeled hate speech: “fighting words.” This category of unprotected speech encompasses words that when spoken aloud instantly “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace… [and is] “likely to provoke the average person to retaliation.” Offensive statements made generally to a crowd are not excluded from First Amendment protection; the insult or offense must be directed specifically at an individual.

    The law is similar for sedition. Sedition broadly refers to seeking to overthrow the U.S. government by force. It is intimately tied to the concept of free speech in that any true attempt at overthrow will need to be preceded by persuasion, rabble rousing, and the stirring up of crowds. The line between criticizing the government and organizing for it to be overthrown is a critical juncture in a democracy.

    Current law requires the government prove someone conspired to use force. Simply advocating broadly for the use of violence is not the same thing as violence and in most cases is protected as free speech. For example, suggesting the need for revolution “by any means necessary” is unlikely to be seen as conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered sedition.

    All of this may soon change, however. Joe Biden and other Leftist thinkers have been active considering new laws against “domestic terrorism” which will likely draw from and enlarge the current definition of sedition, so expect to hear more about all this. The new laws may seek to define beliefs such as “whites are a superior race” not as bad science or an unsavory opinion but as an actual threat, an illegal thought. Proposals include prohibiting people with such beliefs from joining the military or law enforcement.

    The upshot is apart from some very narrow exceptions the obligation to free speech exists independent of the content of that speech. This is one of the most fundamental precepts of free speech in a democracy. There is no need for protection for saying things people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive. Free speech is not needed for the weather and sports parts of the news. Instead, free speech is there to allow for the most rude, offensive, hateful stuff someone can imagine. The true tests for a democracy come at the edges, not in the middle.

    That is why it should make a college age ACLU donor proud to know her $25 contribution helps both BLM and Nazis to say what they think, but it apparently does not. Some 69 percent of American college students believe hate speech (defined as “language intentionally offensive to certain groups”) should be (unconstitutionally) banned.

    A professor at New York University wrote plainly, albeit as if he was unaware of the Constitution, “Freedom of speech means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned… [I]nvoking a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.”

    The good people at NYU who believe in censoring speech have some opposition. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared unpopular ideas should have their opportunity to compete in the “marketplace of ideas,” understanding free speech is not an ends but a means in a democracy. Justice Louis Brandeis held people must discuss and criticize ideas, that free speech is not only an abstract virtue but also a key element that lies at the heart of a democratic society. Even the fact that speech is likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” Brandeis concluded “the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent” violence and disruption “are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of free speech.”

    Bottom Line: There is no justification for restricting speech so that people are not offended. Speech may offend, indeed that may be its point, but bad ideas are then defeated by better ideas. It’s the law.

     

    What’s Said May Provoke Violence (Public Safety)

    The idea a university or other venue cannot assure a speaker’s safety, or that the speaker’s presence may provoke violent protests, or that the institution just doesn’t want to go to the trouble or expense of protecting a controversial speaker has become a go-to justification for canceling or restricting speech. Berkeley cited this in canceling and then de-platforming (rescheduling her when most students would not be on campus) Ann Coulter, and New York University cited the same justification for canceling a conservative speaker.

    Short Answer: Canceling a speaker to protect them or public safety is the absolute last resort, and some risk to safety is part of the cost to a free society for unfettered speech.

    The most glaring misuse of this argument is when such a justification is applied only toward one strain of speech, say unilaterally against conservative speakers and not against others. The conclusion can only be danger comes from unpopular ideas based solely on their being presented on a left-leaning campus. The argument of restricting a speaker “for their own safety” who is otherwise willing to take on certain risks to make their voice heard can thus be applied in a biased manner. Restricting speech for safety needs to be content neutral.

    Public safety has been long (mis)-used to silence otherwise protected speech. Such thinking has been used to deny permits for civil rights marches, with law enforcement saying they could not protect the black protesters from the KKK. Both sides in the abortion debate have used this argument as well outside clinics.

    While institutions do have an obligation to public safety, that obligation must be balanced against the public’s greater right to engage with free speech. The answer is rarely to ban speech outright simply to maintain order.

    One landmark case from 2015 provides some of the clearest guidance yet. The case involved a group called the Bible Believers who used crude language (“Turn or Burn”) at an LGBT gathering. The Court held:

    “When a peaceful speaker, whose message is constitutionally protected, is confronted by a hostile crowd, the state may not silence the speaker as an expedient alternative to containing or snuffing out the lawless behavior of the rioting individuals. Nor can an officer sit idly on the sidelines — watching as the crowd imposes, through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule — only later to claim that the speaker’s removal was necessary for his or her own protection. Uncontrolled official suppression of the privilege [of free speech] cannot be made a substitute for the duty to maintain order in connection with the exercise of that right.”

    The understanding that law enforcement, or any institution, can turn first to shutting down speech that requires physical protection, has failed the courts’ tests in cases as diverse as Occupy to a Christian group bringing a pig’s head to a Muslim Arts festival. The court has long recognized content-based regulation of speech in a public forum is permissible only when the regulation “is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”

    Bottom Line: An institution cannot cite avoiding public disruption as the initial or sole reason to restrict speech. The problems of having an unpopular person speak are outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech. Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech.

     

    Free Speech May Be Challenged by the Heckler’s Veto

    Another misargument is the Heckler’s Veto is in itself protected speech. Some on the Left feel while someone may have a right to speak, someone else has the right to shout them down and prevent them from being heard.

    Short answer: Free speech is not intended to mean whomever can literally “speak” the loudest. The natural end of such thinking is mob rule, online or off.

    Legitimate ways exist to challenge speakers, including engaging them or ignoring them entirely. In contrast, using a Heckler’s Veto to keep unpopular speakers from expressing their views not only stifles a particular idea, but threatens to chill public discourse generally by discouraging others with controversial ideas from sharing them. Who wants to stand up only to be shouted down by a mob, online (for example, via hacking or denial of service attackers) or offline? Protesters cannot unduly interfere with communication between a speaker and an audience. The Supreme Court concluded the government’s responsibility in these circumstances is to control those who threaten or act out disruption, rather than to sacrifice the speaker’s First Amendment rights.

    The most insidious use of the Heckler’s Veto is to have audience members create a disruptive situation that compels law enforcement to shut down a speaker for them, abusing their own freedom of speech to get the government to shut down someone else’s.

    Bottom Line: Balancing the rights of the speaker, those who wish to hear them, and those who wish to protest is complicated. But simply shutting down one party entirely, or allowing one party to block the rights of the others, is illegal.

    It is nearly professional suicide today to defend rude or racist speech on principle, that the right to speak exists almost fully independent of what one says. It is easy in divided post-Trump America to claim the struggle against fascism (racism, misogyny, white supremacy, etc.) overrules the old norms.

    But imagine your views, which today match @jack and Zuck’s, change. Imagine Zuck finds religion and uses all of his resources to ban legal abortion. Consider a change of technology which allows a Russian or Chinese company to replace Google in dictating what you can read. Instead of the outright glee the Left showed over the end of Parler and the misuse of the already evil No Fly List against Trump supporters in DC imagine the same used against something you personally believe in. Imagine the criminalization of certain thoughts and beliefs.

    There may be some hope. The American Civil Liberties Union warned the suspension of Trump’s social media accounts revealed “unchecked power.” The ACLU said the decision could set a precedent for big tech companies to silence less privileged voices if they chose. Once a leading voice for unfettered speech, the ACLU started applying a “woke” political litmus test to its chosen fights during the Trump years. It seems the organization finally figured out that censoring speech anywhere, even with Trump, is a threat to speech everywhere.

    Censorship is inherently wrong. People demand it when it supports their point of view (anything to dump Trump) but can’t seem to understand it will never stop there. As one former ACLU director explained “Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.

    Free speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. It’s messy as hell, and it is our essential defense against fascism and control, whether from the left or the right, from the government or from corporate actors.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Cleaning Up Biden’s Leadership Leftovers in Iraq

    January 9, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Iraq, Trump

    As Trump leaves office the only president to have not started a new war since WWII, and Joe Biden, who supported so many of America’s wars, including voting for and (vice-) presiding over the second and third Iraq Wars, heads into office, the talk is again what should be the most terrifying words anyone outside the U.S. could hear: American Leadership. Thing is, we haven’t really cleaned up the leftovers from the last bout of such leadership yet.

    President-Elect Biden pulls no punches about how he feels about Trump’s lack of war, saying “Trump has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain.”

    ‘Merica, hells yeah! In a 2015 speech SecState-nominee Antony Blinken employed some version of the word “leadership” 16 times. Biden himself wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs titled “Why America Must Lead Again.” Last week, when he introduced his national security nominees, he said that “America is back, ready to lead the world.” Let there be no doubt in foreign policy terms leadership is the happy-talk, bipartisan, and benign euphemism for America First nationalism. And that usually means some sort of war. Biden already has his warriors in place from the Obama years: Bloody Susan Rice, Blinken at State, Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense. There will be others filling in the mid ranks as those principals call in their former deputies, who call theirs. Turn the leadership dial up to 11 and burn the house down!

    The problem with America’s leadership spurts is that they are often left uncompleted. They are played for U.S. domestic political consumption and thus appear in four year bursts, and leave behind a mess someone else has to clean up when those politics shift. Worst of all, no one in America seems to ask those nice foreigners overseas who are about to be freed, liberated, encouraged to revolt, or otherwise enlightened by the arrival of the American Empire if they indeed want any leadership today.

    So maybe before spewing out any new leadership, Biden could start by cleaning up some of the leadership he and others left behind. Start with Iraq.

     

    Quick, Jeopardy-style, when did the Iraq War end? Correct answer of course is “What is never.” America wrecked the place from the air in 1991, then invaded by land in 2003. Those American troops mostly left in 2010, then returned in 2014, and loiter like last year’s dropouts in the high school parking lot in unknown but relatively small numbers today. The American Embassy in Iraq, physically still the size of the Vatican and once the largest embassy in the world in diplomatic headcount, sits mostly empty with a security guard-to-diplomat ratio that would embarrass any Twitter warrior.

    You would wish that was all, but the horrors of the Iraq Wars are such that even bodies already buried find their way to the surface. Among the many U.S. atrocities few today know about (Google “Haditha Massacre,” “Mahmudiyah rape,” and if you don’t know what happened there, “Abu Ghraib torture”) loom the Nisour Square murders.
    On a hot as hell September 16, 2007, Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department as security killed 17 Iraqi civilians, including two children, and injured 20, in Nisour Square, central Baghdad. The U.S. lied and prevaricated for years, until finally the truth slithered out that none of the Iraqis were armed, the Blackwater guys panicked, and their so-called defensive fire was beyond any legitimate rule of war. The State Department tried to intervene, allowing the defendants to claim State’s own Diplomatic Security officers had offered them on-the-street immunity in return for later recanted testimony (Nisour Square wasn’t the only time State lied to cover for Blackwater.) It took seven full years until four Blackwater employees were convicted in a U.S. court. All four were pardoned by Donald Trump in December 2020.
    “That was years ago” say many of the same Americans willing to connect a police shooting today to the first slaves arriving on this continent in 1619. Though the average American might remember something bad happened with Blackwater, every Iraqi knows what Nisour Square stands for: American invasion, false promises of freedom, arrogant use of power. The same way Vietnamese know My Lai and thousands of other such incidents whose names never made it into the American press. Or perhaps how the remaining scraps of the Lakota people still reference Wounded Knee. No reckoning allowed save the marvelous sleight of hand of America’s fragile memory.
    I’ve been to Nisour Square. It is a giant roundabout, a confusing place made worse by the Iraqi practice of driving with total disregard for traffic laws if not physics and, at the time, the American convoy practice of never slowing and never stopping for any reason. The place smells of diesel fuel and the cheap gas the old Iraqi cars ran off. There’s a perpetual blue-gray haze over the intersection. It is so noisy there most people would not have been aware of the attack, at least until Blackwater started using grenades against civilians.
    At the very beginning of my Iraq tour with the State Department Blackwater provided my security. They were bullies. They grab-assed women. They were sloppy with their weapons. You could practically get a contact high off the steroids they used just by hanging around. Count on them to wear the most expensive sunglasses and the most unnecessary gear (gold man bracelets, tactical hair gel), a bit like Jersey Shore rejects. Aryan and dudely. In my book I called them “a frat house with guns.” It is easy to imagine how it all happened.
    The Trump pardon of Blackwater personnel for their role in the Nisour Square killing was a grotesque mistake Biden will shrug off as if he had nothing to do with it. But the absolute lack of focus on what put those Blackwater killers and their State Department charges in Nisour Square in the first place — the lust to exert some American Leadership and reform the MidEast — assures it will happen again. The rest of the world knew this was all wrong long before Trump. Does Biden?
    Biden’s foreign policy does not start at zero on Day One. All the good American leadership failed to do lingers. Even while the physical infrastructure damage from Iraq War I keeps water and sewage resources to third world standards, the Iranian-installed government which took over after the chaos of War II 2003-2010 remains in power. The anti-ISIS War III campaign of 2014 created tens of thousands of internal refugees in Iraq, mostly Sunnis the majority Shia government blames for ISIS’ initial successes, and many of them are about to die.

    Years after the destruction of ISIS at least one million Sunni civilians remain in government-run displacement camps. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, backed by Tehran, has made shutting the camps a priority. Initial closures have already left more than 100,000 people homeless as winter comes and the pandemic continues.

    The Iraqi government plans to soon close the remaining camps, forcibly return the Sunnis to their villages. It will be a bloodbath. In many cases the places they came from still resemble the ruins of Dresden; there physically are no homes. Other Sunnis already know their Shia neighbors took what property they once held and have nothing to return to. The worst off face retribution for siding with ISIS, or because rumor says they did. Memories are long in the Middle East. Revenge reaches across generations. Blood for blood. The best scenario awaiting a few is to become a permanent underclass in Shia Iraq, ripe for exploitation by whatever Sunni group replaces ISIS which replaced Al Qaeda because across three wars of leadership the U.S. never resolved the underlying core issues in Iraq and just made them worse.

    The Obama-Trump leadership strategy was medieval: kill people until there was no Sunni-supported Islamic State left inside Iraq, then allow the Iranians and Shia Iraqis to do whatever they pleased with the Sunnis in the aftermath, expedience over morality. This was the big takeaway from the Iraq War III of 2014 onward: there would be no political follow-on, no nation building. The United States would pay no mind to internal Iraqi actions. Genocidal-scale events that might have once set American front pages atwitter aren’t even worth a tweet today. Whatever happens in Iraq to the displaced persons, the U.S. is not involved.

    Americans demanded answers when Trump sent refugees back across the border to Mexico to await processing, but remain willfully ignorant of the hundreds of thousands of internal refugees created by American actions left to disappear somehow in Iraq. But in a way perhaps this is hardly worth noting. It is part of the American way of leadership, arriving unwanted in some third world nation with promises to liberate and then leaving when that war turns into an unwanted child. And so our wars leave behind the children, refugees in Iraq and elsewhere, literal unwanted kids from Vietnam. We walk away from the destruction we create, having burned out the jungles in Southeast Asia with Agent Orange and turned functioning countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq who dare bark at the American Empire into failed states.
    When Joe Biden speaks of the need for American global leadership, perhaps he should first talk to those we have already left behind.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Guilty Conscience of Hunter Biden’s Laptop

    January 5, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden

    I read the files on Hunter Biden’s laptop. They paint a sleazy picture of multi-million dollar wire transfers, potential money laundering, and tax evasion. They raise serious questions about the judgment and propriety of Jim Biden, the president elect’s brother, and Joe himself. Call it smoke not fire, but smoke that should not be ignored. The files were supplied to TAC by a known source previously established to have access.

    Joe Biden is lucky a coordinated media effort kept Hunter out of the campaign. In the final weeks of the campaign, Hunter’s laptop fell into Republican hands. The FBI had had it since 2019, when they subpoenaed the files in connection with a money-laundering investigation. The story went public in the New York Post, revealing Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President, to a top executive at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company. The meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, sent Hunter Biden about a year after Hunter himself joined the Burisma board at a salary of $83,000 a month with no obvious work duties past making such introductions.

    Nice work if you can get it, and to get it your dad better be vice president. If all that alone does not meet the test of impropriety, we need a new test. Hunter Biden’s value to clients was his perceived access to the White House. His father Joe was at least a passive participant in the scheme, maybe more than that.

    The problem was many Americans never heard this story. Twitter led a social media charge to not allow the information online. After years of salivating on every bit of Trump family gossip, MSM claimed the Biden story did not matter, or was Russian disinfo. Surveys suggest the information could have swung the election. One showed enough voters in battleground states would have not voted for Joe Biden that Trump would have scored 311 electoral votes and re-election.

    No mind really. As soon as it became clear Joe Biden was going to win, the media on all sides lost interest in the laptop. The story became about the story. It devolved into think pieces about the Orwellian role of social media and some online giggling about the Hunter Biden sex tapes on the laptop. But our short attention spans have consequences. The laptop still has a lot to tell us.

    Hunter’s laptop was chock-a-block with video that appears to show Hunter smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with a woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images. There’s evidence there Hunter spent money on escorts, some $21k on cam sites, big plays on all sorts of depravities. There is also Joe’s car insurance information, Hunter’s SSN, pages of call logs, and lots of email addresses, bank account numbers, and personal information of prominent people. None of the material is encrypted, just dumped on a standard MacBook Pro using the password “Hunter02.” The machine was regularly connected to the Internet and might as well have had an electronic sign on it saying “My dad is important, here’s what you’ll need to blackmail me and others to get to him.”

    But there is more. The laptop shows Hunter, through a number of front companies, accepted money from Chinese and Ukrainian entities and moved that money to the U.S. where it was parceled out to other entities, including Joe Biden’s brother. Some of it then went back to Chinese hands. There is no way a simple read-through can tell if the money was legal consulting fees or illegal money laundering and tax fraud. But it all smells bad — multi-million dollar transfers to LLCs without employees, residences used as multiple business addresses, legal tricks from Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and even a minor CIA connection. Ask yourself if this demands more investigation. Ask yourself if we’re in part judging a man’s character in choosing a president, if voters might not have benefited from knowing more about Joe Biden’s side of all this.

    The majority of the contents of the laptop are a jumbled record of Hunter’s international business ventures and financial records. Outstanding in the haystack are a large number of wire transfers. Those with traceable addresses appear to be mostly anonymous shell companies run out of lawyers’ offices, with no employees and fuzzy public paper trails. One off the top involved $259,845 traveling on April 2, 2018 from the Hudson West III in New York to a numbered bank account held by Cathay Bank. Hudson West was created by Hunter Biden’s own law firm, Owasco, with several Chinese nationals, including a Jianming Ye associate, Gong Wendong. Ye Jianming is chairman of CEFC China Energy, who reportedly had close ties to both the Chinese government and the PLA. He’s been arrested in China on corruption charges and has conveniently disappeared.

    Biden in August 2018 also returned $100k back to CEFC in China via its own New York subsidiary LLC, Hudson West V, whose listed address is 12 Foxwood Road, Great Neck, NY 11024. That address is not a business office but instead a single family home worth over $6 million. Phone records suggest two people live there, including Gong Wendong. Money appears to move from physical China to virtual Hunter back to virtual China in the U.S., starting and ending in accounts tied to Gong Wendong after touching base with Hunter, a potential indicator of laundering. Chinese money in China changed into Chinese money in America. Caution is needed; while what looks like money laundering at first glance may indeed be so, but designed to hide the cash from the Chinese government while staying inside American law, a quasi-illegal service Hunter possibly supplied.

    That 12 Foxwood address shows up again on Biden’s laptop as the mailing address for another Gong Wendong venture, ColdHarbour Capital, which sent and received money to Biden. It is also listed as the residence of Shan Gao, who appears to control accounts in Beijing tied to Hudson, CEFC, and 12 Foxwood.

    But the most significant appearance of 12 Foxwood was as the mailing address for a secured VISA card in the name of Biden’s company, Hudson West III. The card is funded by someone unnamed through Cathay Bank for $99,000 and guaranteed by someone’s checking account held by Cathay worth $450,000. Shared users of the card are Hunter and Gong Wendong. The card was opened as CEFC secured a stake in a Russian state-owned energy company. Biden and others subsequently used the credit card to purchase $101,291.46 worth of extravagant items, including airline tickets and multiple items at Apple stores, pharmacies, hotels, and restaurants. A Senate report characterized these transactions as “potential financial criminal activity.” Putting money on a secured VISA card in lieu of a direct wire transfer to Biden may be seen by some as an attempt to hide the source of the money and thus allow Biden not to claim it as income.

    James Biden and Sara Biden were also authorized users of the credit card though their business connection to Hunter and Gong Wendong is very unclear. Jim is Joe’s brother, Sara his wife. Jim over the years has been a nightclub owner, insurance broker, political consultant, and investor. When he ran into financial trouble having triple mortgaged his home, he was bailed out via loans from Joe and Hunter, and by a series of Joe’s donors. Jim also received a loan of $500k from John Hynansky, a Ukrainian-American businessman and longtime donor to Joe Biden’s campaigns. This all was in 2015, at the same time the then-vice president oversaw U.S. policy toward the country. As a senator, Joe Biden made use of a private jet owned by Hynansky’s son.

    The 12 Foxwood address also appears on millions of dollars worth of bank transfers among Cathay Bank, CEFC, and multiple semi-anonymous LLCs and hedge funds. One single transfer alone to Hudson West III on August 8, 2017 represented the movement of $5 million from Northern Capital International, which appears to be a Chinese government-owned import-export front company.

    Switch over to the CDB Bank folder and you see a wire transfer from Burisma for $36,000 Euros, run through a bank in Cyprus, to Biden’s own account on that island. Burisma is the one company from the laptop which made the news. Biden’s role, however, what he actually did besides introduce his father to other people, is unclear.

    Burisma must be an interesting place. Hunter’s laptop partially exposes a complex web of sub-companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands such that figuring out who owns who is near impossible, speculates on using a Lithuanian bank to receive the Ukrainian money, and notes that Joseph Cofer Black, former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, also sits on its board. Black previously served as Vice Chairman at mercenary provider Blackwater Worldwide (now Academi.)

    All just business, right? Not everyone saw this that way. An email from Wells Fargo’s corporate compliance team (Wells Fargo handled many of the international wire transfers) asks on September 20, 2018 what the actual business of Hudson West is, who its owners are, and where it is located. Also asked is what the purpose of all the incoming wires is. It notes some business accounts appear to be for personal expenses. It also questions numerous outgoing wires to the Lion Hall Group (for example, on September 28, 2018, Hunter ordered $95,000 transferred without explanation), a “business” run by Jim Biden out of a residential address. Jim regularly invoiced Hunter for office expenses and employee costs, as well as a monthly retainer cost of some $68k, plus other fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    There is no record of these questions being answered. It is possible to see the disbursal of funds via credit card to Jim Biden as a way to diffuse the amounts away from Hunter, and via Jim’s invoices, a way to convert income from China into deductible business expenses for Hunter in America, reducing his tax burden. The involvement of Lion Hall and Jim Biden also spreads the money around, lowering its profile. If the invoices were shown to be fraudulent (i.e., Jim did not actually consult for Hunter) the potential of tax fraud exists.

    Besides Wells Fargo, others also had questions. Hunter’s own CPA preparing to file 2018 Federal taxes wrote to Hunter asking “As far as Owasco [Hunter’s law firm] is concerned there were some receipts we classified as loans. Owasco received approximately $550,000 from Burisma and paid about one half this amount to, I believe, someone named ‘Devon.’ I am not sure of the payee… The one half payment to ‘Devon’ was not recorded as income.”

    Devon is likely Devon Archer, co-founder and managing partner of Rosemont Capital alongside Hunter. Who else was part of Rosemont? Christopher Heinz, John Kerry’s son. And small world — Devon Archer sat on the board of Burisma alongside Hunter Biden. The CPA’s concern is the IRS is sensitive to the fact that some try to conceal income as loans to be written off as expenses later, especially if the amounts are large. This can trigger an audit. If the loans are “forgiven,” then they are income. If not declared, that is potential fraud.

    The same note from the CPA indicates Hunter owes $600,000 in personal taxes and another $204,000 for Owasco and urges him to file a return even if he is not going to pay the taxes. Besides taxes, things did not always go well for Hunter. On March 6, 2019 he sent an email to a friend saying “Buddy do you have a cash app to send me $100 until wire goes. I have no money for gas and I’m literally stuck at a rest stop on 95.” He earlier had sought a $35k advance from his regular “draw” out of Owasco. And keep an eye on Hunter’s health — he pays close to $9,000 a quarter for life insurance.

    Joe Biden is one lucky SOB. When the powers that be decided Barack Obama needed someone, you know, a little more, um, establishment, as his VP to calm voters, there was Joe, plucked into the White House which had otherwise alluded him. Joe, as whitebread as the state he represented. His only controversial points came from supporting the status quo for so many years it had changed underneath him. Are we tough on crime or do black lives matter? It didn’t matter to Joe, just point him in the right direction so he knows what to agree with. And so in 2020 when the Democrats realized exactly what kind of man they needed to wipe away the sins of two dishonest and chaotic primaries, well, there was Joe.

    Joe got lucky again when the MSM memory-holed Hunter’s story, and conservative media lost focus looking for a tweetable smoking gun when the truth was a bit too complicated to parse out in a sentence or two. But there is still a story here.

    The short version is there is a lot to suggest money laundering and tax fraud on Hunter’s part. The purpose of the money in/out was always unclear, with invoices for vague expenses and lots and lots of “consulting.” One could invent a legal explanation for everything. One could imagine many illegal explanations. There is no way anyone could know the difference without seeing Hunter’s taxes, asking him questions, and doing some serious forensic accounting. It is unlikely any of that will happen now that the election is over. Even to Guiliani, et al, it really doesn’t matter any more. They took one shot, missed, and walked away.

    That will leave undigested the bigger tale of president-elect Biden, who ran in part on an anti-corruption platform following the Trump family escapades. While Joe Biden no doubt regrets what appears to have been a one-off meeting with the Burisma official, he did indeed take the meeting as VP. It’s always easier to apologize when caught than seek permission in advance in Joe’s world.

    A 2017 email chain involving Hunter brokering an ultimately failed deal for a new venture with old friend CEFC, the Chinese energy company, described a 10 percent set-aside for the “big guy,” whom former Hunter Biden partner Tony Bobulinski publicly identified as Joe Biden. Joe also took Hunter to China with him on Air Force 2, and met with Chinese leaders while Hunter tried to make deals on his own. Joe also had Hunter and partner Devon Archer to the White House only two days before they joined Burisma. It was Joe’s donors and pals who bailed out brother Jim over the years with sweetheart loans.

    A lot of appearance of improprietous malarkey from a senior statesman who knows better. In places like China and the Ukraine, where corruption is endemic, it is assumed the sons of rich and powerful men have access to their father, and that access is for sale. Hunter Biden traded on those assumptions for millions of dollars, and Joe stood by understanding what was happening. Every father wants to help his son, and Hunter one can imagine went to his dad time after time, pleading for just one more little favor to get him past his sordid past. Joe, a decent but weak man at heart, likely nodded. So a meeting. A handshake, an office visit, a posed photo, whatever would help but was still plausibly deniable. Until the next time. Sorry Hunter, once an addict always an addict and sure, sure, not like last time, I’ll really quit after Just. One. More. Dad. Please?

    Joe’s larger role in all things Hunter needs to be questioned. Joe (as well as the Obama State Department) knew about Hunter’s antics. Joe pretended Hunter’s financial windfalls had nothing to do with their relationship and were simply a constant series of coincidental lucky breaks for a never-do-well drunk divorced drug using son who happened to fail upward just while his dad was VP. Joe says he and his son never talked about business, so we guess Joe just assumed Hunter’s Porsche (his car payments are on the laptop) was just a lucky find.

    While of course Hunter is an adult with his own mind, his father was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet apparently did nothing to stop what was going on among himself, Hunter, his brother Jim, the Chinese, the Ukrainians — at minimum, the gross appearance of impropriety — over a period of years. Biden’s defense has always been sweeping: “My son did nothing wrong.” That alone raises questions of judgment on the part of Joe Biden, not the least of which is because in a few weeks he becomes President of the United States. And if the president does it it’s not illegal, right?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • You’ll Vote Next Time with Amazon Prime Points

    January 3, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Biden, Economy

    I learned the facts of life from a drunk uncle. He was not an American, and worked in international construction in Asia, mostly Japan and Hong Kong. We were lost in cheap booze at a wedding and he started asking me about how things worked in America. I had just started working for the State Department and he specifically wanted to know how I handled being bribed. How much for a visa? To get someone an appointment at the embassy? I was naive. I wasn’t doing those things, wouldn’t know how.

    He explained his main job was to bribe people. He even had a joke to go with — my hands are dirtier than the guys who dig our foundations. Over the course of many tiny glasses of some awful clear Asian liquor I learned every yard of concrete poured required money to gangsters who controlled unions, politicians who controlled permits and inspections, cops who would or would not close down a street to speed things up, and to suppliers for better prices. It went on and on. A fact of life he said. You get used to it. You expect it.

    I asked him if, all jokes aside, he indeed felt dirty. It does change your way of looking at things, he said. Nothing is what it seems, you come to realize someone is pulling the strings behind everything and it usually isn’t you. Uncle never heard of George Carlin, who once said “it’s a big club but you’re not in it.” The odd official just doing his job for his salary is a rube, too stupid to bother with. You feel embarrassed for him. Even worse, the guy who says no for moral reasons. You’re just trying to put some extra money in his hands. You learn, uncle slurred, to trust nothing. Everything is available for a price. That politician on TV? The company just dropped off a nice check to his “charity.” Or maybe arranged for him to have some female company on a business trip. Everything was for sale. Play by the rules? Those were the rules. You’ll get used to it, I was assured.

    The first bribe I ever paid was to an Indonesian immigration officer, who noticed some small defect on my passport and was going to reject me. Of course, he said, it could be settled between us. With a fine. Off to the side. In cash. Have a nice day. It was all of US$20 to save my family vacation but I felt filthy, cheated, a chump. But I learned the rules. Living in New York, we rarely use the term bribe. We do use the term tip, and call it what you want it is as required to get through the day as oxygen. A table at a pre-Covid restaurant. A last minute anything. A friendlier handling by a doorman. Timely attention to fix-it requests. Servicepeople often won’t charge you sales tax if you pay in cash. My, um, friend, used to pay a lot of money for better hotel rooms until he learned $20 at check in with a friendly “anything you can do” to the clerk often got him the same thing at a third of the price. You get used to it. You get trained to accept it. What, you still paying retail, bro?

    I used to think it was all small stuff, like that, maybe with the odd mafia king bribing a judge with real money or something else movie-worthy. In America we were ultimately… fair, right? But things started to add up. We have our petty corruption like anywhere, but our souls are filthy on a much larger scale. America goes big or it goes home.

    Things like the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from the Saudis to help with women’s empowerment, an issue of course dear to the heart of the Kingdom. When it looked like his wife was going to be president Bill made six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of pay-for-play state. The humbly named Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, now mostly out of business, was at its peak a two billion dollar financial dangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. The media, big Clinton fans, told us we should be used to it, accept. Hey, Nixon was so much worse.

    Trump refused to be very specific about who his charity donates to. We know its off-shoot, the Eric Trump charity, donated to a wine industry association, a plastic surgeon gifting nose jobs to kids, and an artist who painted a portrait of Donald Trump. Trump-owned golf resorts received $880,000 for hosting Trump charity events. Reports show Trump donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions. Anybody think his, or the Clintons’, donors didn’t know what they were buying?

    As vice president, with his wife Jill teaching at a community college, the couple reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016. But since leaving the Obama White House, Joe and Jill made more than $15 million. In fact, as his prospects for election improved, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in one year as they did in the previous 19 years combined. Joe scored $10 million alone for a book no one read, Promise Me, Dad, roughly 10 times what his first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters, in 2018, by the same publisher. As soon as he left the Obama administration, Joe set up a tax dodge called an S Corporation that among other things donated money back to his own political PAC.

    For all the wrong reasons about half the nation got very twisted over Trump corruption and actively avoided notcing the Clintons and Bidens to the point of covering their ears and singing NYANYANAYNYA.

    But even all that money, measured in Epsteins (a unit of measure of influence buying I just made up) is petty cash now in America. The real corruption scales. The New York Times was startled to learn pre-COVID America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. As the Dow hit record highs this month, there are now 650 billionaires and their combined wealth is close to $4 trillion.

    In the COVID-driven economic crisis American billionaires’ wealth grew. Where’d all their new money come from? You, paying interest up to the Lord of Manor. For example, Dan Gilbert, chair of Quicken Loans, was worth $7 billion in March; he now has $43 billion. It takes a lot of poor people taking out expensive loans to sustain that amount of wealth at the top. Listen for the sucking sound as the cash moves.

    But it is wrong to think about money in dollars. That’s how small-timer grifters like doormen, waiters, and the Clintons, Trumps, and Bidens think. The real rich understand wealth as power. Basically, the power to shape and control society and government to ensure they make and keep more money for more power until someday they Have. It. All. The 400 richest Americans already own 64 percent of the country’s wealth. You dream of an upgrade to Business class, they own the jet.

    Now to talk about conspiracy theories is to imply something “different” happened, that the system did not work as usual and as intended; for example, instead of an election the president was assassinated to change of who was in charge. The term conspiracy has kind of a bad feel to it. So let’s not call whatever happened this autumn to elect Joe Biden a conspiracy. But here is what happened, see if you have a better word.

    The corporate media owned by that .01% spent four years attacking Trump. Working as a single organism fused to the Democratic party as its host, they tried to bundle Trump into a SuperMax as a literal Russian agent. When that failed they ginned up an impeachment with more holes in it than a bad joke about Stormy Daniels. The same media then pivoted to defense when it mattered most, sending information about Hunter Biden that would have changed the election down the memory hole, and policing social media to Joe’s advantage. Corporate pharma, also owned by the same people, held back announcement of Covid vaccines until just after the election. Once again the intel community, tightly bound with big tech, did its part leaking and concealing information as needed; for example, they worked to discredit the Hunter Biden story by calling it Russian disinfo. Donations are handy, but money that actually controls information is gold.

    Earlier in the contest “something” happened (it was just a coincidence two promising candidates, Buttigieg and Kohlbacher, dropped out nearly simultaneously just ahead of the South Carolina vote Biden desperately needed to end Bernie) again in Democratic primaries that started with some of the most progressive candidates since Henry Wallace to instead push a politician known as the Senator from Mastercard into the White House. Biden of course promptly returned the favors by filling his Cabinet with the same old thinkers corporate America liked from the Obama years. A highlight is Janet Yellen at Treasury, who helped run the massive corporate bailout that created the .01 percent out of the one percent after the Great Recession. No wonder Biden told donors “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.

    If you are only figuring this out now you are way too far behind to really matter. A tiny percentage of Americans own, control, and benefit from most everything; call it one percent but a large number of the one percent are just slugs and remoras (hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, etc.) who feed off the crumbs left by the .01 percent You know a handful of the real rich names — Bezos, Gates, Buffet — but only because they own public facing companies. Most of the others prefer less public lives while they control the public. And silly you, you worried that it was the Russians who stole the election. Here’s 20 bucks, go be quiet somewhere now.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Visit to God’s Waiting Room

    December 26, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    I just finished my last visit with my father. Hard words to write after sixty years of my life with him being around.

    I wanted it to go like this: We sat together, maybe for the last time, in the driveway where I went from diapers to parking the car returning from Iraq, sand from there caught in my boot treads mingling with the soil I near-literally sprung from. We talked about baseball, how cigars used to taste before Mom made him quit, “my old man” stuff.

    His memory was sharp in places, lost forever in others, so a lot of what was communicated crossed via some other wires we’d created over the decades playing catch, winking across the table at my wedding, arguing together with some car salesman to save a hundred bucks. He’s old school enough not to have cried at the goodbye forced on us. Bye, dad.

    None of that actually happened. It was what I wanted so badly. Instead it went like this.

    How the hell did my parents end up here, some “assisted living facility” in some god-awful part of Central Florida removed from planet earth if not time itself. God’s Waiting Room, the locals only half joke. The place was a swamp drained nine months ago and I got lost looking for my parents’ “home” because all the damn identical streets were named after trees that never grew here. Mom and dad had ignored long ago some good advice and made some bad financial choices and moved around; last I checked Zillow it seems my childhood home was going on its fourth owner since I packed out.

    My father was dying of dementia, which isn’t really death as much as erasure while you wait around for the Pneumonia Fairy to come as she finally did. It’s not the funny kind of memory loss where he thinks I’m someone else (“It’s me, Dad!”) Instead, the memory loss strips out the mental filters that let us all live together, and old folks like dad blurt out things. You tell yourself he doesn’t mean it and really doesn’t even know he’s doing it, but you also so badly want his last words to you not to be a slurred “I make poopy.” It’s a mean disease.

    Like any good writer I looked around at what other people wrote in these circumstances. It seems most stories take the high road, a man with flaws, sure, but one who, fill in the blank, served his country, worked two jobs to raise two kids, was quiet but fair, something like that. The writer reviews lessons learned, picks out some vignette from childhood to illustrate wisdom or some salt of the earth stuff. If the writer is going full drama, he builds it all around some talisman, a gold watch passed down, a family mystery revealed when dad finally explains the origin of that old pocket knife he always carried. It’s yours now, son, take care of it.

    Or the essay becomes the place to once and for all get it out. Bruce Springsteen build an entire career on this, rapping about how dad was not really a nice guy and he grew up to be better in spite of him. Dad drank, or whacked mom, or gambled, and life was about getting out. Optional: you made up in the end.

    But I sat in that awful small room angry as hell over mediocrity. Even the smell, that hospital cleaning fluid smell that never quite overcomes the old people odor, pissed me off. I never had enough to love or hate. My father was cold enough, uninterested in my sister and I enough, but that was kind of the extent of it. He never beat us, never squandered the family Christmas money.

    Instead, he was home almost every night frozen in his chair watching television. This was before cable  and he’d watch hours of whatever was on those handful of channels. Because this was also before remote controls and he didn’t want to get up to change the channel, he’d just watch whatever CBS had on Tuesdays from after dinner until when he fell asleep. There wasn’t so much to love and admire, and there wasn’t enough to hate and inspire. He was edgeless and his seeming goal was to pass that one on by example.

    I was determined to be the nerdy kid until I finally realized it was a terrible way to meet girls and a good way to get beat up. But in elementary and some of junior high I so wanted to be what I imagined was “educated.” I was the one who went to the public library after school and had a nodding relationship with the workers there, my semi-imaginary friends who feigned a little interest in how I was doing like paid escorts are so good at. I’d take out the classics, famous volumes I’d learned about in the World Book encyclopedia, and spend days turning the pages. I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying, and why it took these old writers so long to say anything I did figure out.

    So I moved on to plod through 10,000 pages of Ayn Rand because some stoner kid said the band RUSH got all their ideas from her. I so wanted my dad to tell me about things, to argue with me about whatever existentialism was (it seemed to be what RUSH was singing about) but nah, TV time. As I got older and our interactions switched to long distance phone calls, the equivalent was me saying something about my week and dad replying “OK, here’s your mom.”

    His one interest was a basic understanding of the American Civil War. I couldn’t follow the complex back-and-forth on the maps at an early point, but I found some dramatically illustrated picture books that were my first taste of what porn does to your brain. Dad planned a family trip to Gettysburg nearly every summer I can remember as a child but we never went. There was never any real reason, like money or work, we just never went and at some point he just stopped wanting to go. I had no idea if dad’s last wish was to see the place or he’d dropped the idea himself in 1972 and just not mentioned it.

    A very few times (OK, that once) when we talked about “fatherhood” with me as an adult raising two kids of my own he laid out his theory of it all: the dad earns money. That’s kinda it. In return everyone should basically leave him alone. It seemed at one glance practical, maybe stoic and even noble. Dad missed the school play every year (I did drama club, too, jeez I really had a need for approval and attention now that I think of it) because food isn’t free. And we always had enough, a decent life with the essentials for sure.

    But as I grew older and faced the challenges of raising kids myself I realized that was the easy part. Going to work was not so hard. Trying to find the right thing to say to an eight year old who just got teased at school is hard. You wanna leave a mark on a kid? Sigh and get out of the chair to go out back and watch her try to go around more than twice with the Hula Hoop.

    But time did pass. I remember how near the end he got to climbing out of the car like it was a space capsule, his biggest part of the day sorting out his pills for the week. It was those memories that made me angry sitting in Central Florida. What a terrible place to end any life. Assisted living and its ilk are just stopping off points for Americans to go and die. I don’t know if there is such a vast industry of such commercial places in any other country but they are everywhere in Central Florida, in every price range (the industry itself is worth $420 billion nationwide.)

    A couple of years ago I looked at a few and they are all the same. The more expensive ones emphasize the food they serve but I didn’t know until recently many dementia patients basically starve to death. They forget they are hungry, they forget how to chew, and at some point they forget how to swallow. They spit their food out, perhaps trying to communicate it is too hot and not knowing the words, or they are just not sure what to do with the stuff. It is really, really hard to force an adult to open his mouth, chew, and swallow and get anywhere near enough nutrition in him. It is not a thing you want to do for a long time and it is hard to find people to do it for money even once in awhile. The docs can offer various vitamins and supplements but in the end nature always wins and the people just get weak and die. I think most of them, if they could articulate it, are happier to close their eyes at some point.

    About the last thing you can do with dementia folks is talk subtly about childhood and disappointments and anger. Dad seemed to slip and slide mentally around the room. He’d actually retained a handful of generic phrases to interject in pauses of conversation, things like “Interesting” that at first made it seem like he was engaged. It did not take too long to realize he was understanding less than my dog, who has taught herself to cock her head to one side when she sees me talking earnestly at her.

    You realize you’re actually talking to no one, and that makes you wonder why you are talking at all. What is the point now, decades after I’ve left home and become whoever I am at my own hand, of telling dad I’m pissed off we never did stuff together? I feel ungrateful, then angry again, then try and explain some of it to him, and he cocks his head and says “Interesting.”

    I’m not sure what I expected. Was I looking for an apology, “sorry I ran off with the circus, son?” Was I looking for benediction, a blessing, “looks like you pulled it off with your kids where I stumbled.” Am I eight years old again with a book in my hand knocking on the door one more time hoping he’ll tell me about Pickett’s Charge? I don’t know why I’m there so I just settle on being angry about it all. Central Florida is a terrible place to wrap up a life no matter how poorly lived.

    Then I left. Unlike in movies, nothing changed. People expect some sort of conclusion, a zingy line, a “wrapper,” a proper ending, not just running out of time years ago. You realize any of that had to have happened years ago and you realize that was as impossible as the man getting up out of bed now to do it. Instead you walk outside and everything is just going on as it does.

    Mom made me go through his clothes and things, saying maybe there was something I could use and I followed her request out of habit more than respect. I thought hard thoughts that day, and I failed to distract myself by watching the dust in the sun beam. I handled his things too roughly, angry he never was the man I wanted him to be, but worried at the same time that as much as I cursed the image in the old glossy photos I was afraid of what I saw in the reflection.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • America in Black and White

    December 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy

    The New York Times was startled to learn pre-COVID America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. As the Dow hit record highs last week, there are now 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion.

    It is kind of neat that big-names in places like the NYT have finally noticed the state of economic inequality in America, albeit for all the wrong reasons (something else endemic to instead blame on Trump as he goes out the door.)

    In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third during the worst of COVID. Where’d all their new money come from? You, paying interest up to the Lord of Manor. For example, Dan Gilbert, chair of Quicken Loans, was worth $7 billion in March; he now has $43 billion. It takes a lot of poor people to sustain that amount of wealth at the top. Listen for the sucking sound as the cash moves.

    If like the NYT you are only figuring this out now you are way too far behind to really matter. A tiny percentage of Americans own, control, and benefit from most everything; call it one percent but a large number of the one percent are just slugs and remoras (hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, etc.) who feed off the crumbs left by the .01 percent You know a handful of the real rich names — Bezos, Gates, Buffet — but only because they own public facing companies. Most of the others prefer less public lives while they control the public. And silly you, you worried that it was the Russians who stole the election.

    Now to talk about conspiracy theories is to imply that something “different” happened, that the system did not work as usual and as intended; for example, instead of an election the president was assassinated to change of who was in charge. The term conspiracy has kind of a bad feel to it. So let’s not call whatever happened this autumn to elect Joe Biden a conspiracy. But here is what happened, so see if you have a better word.

    The corporate media owned by that .01% spent four years attacking Trump. Then it sent information about Hunter Biden that would have changed the election down the memory hole, and policed social media to Joe’s advantage. Corporate pharma, also owned by the same people, held back announcement of Covid vaccines until just after the election. And guess what — “something” happened again in Democratic primaries that started with some of the most progressive candidates since Henry Wallace to instead push a politician known as the Senator from Mastercard into the White House, where he promptly filled his Cabinet with the same old thinkers corporate America liked from the Obama years. A highlight is Janet Yellen at Treasury, who helped run the massive corporate bailout that created the .01 percent out of the one percent after the Great Recession. No wonder Biden told donors “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.

    One of the reasons economic inequality has ramped up to where it is after a slow remaking of society in the 1970s has been a clever manipulation of the people most impacted by it. Naturally, they first need to be divided so they will not work together. That was so simple it is genius: poor people of color are victims of racism and can’t climb up until that’s all cleared up, while poor white people are too lazy and stupid to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Encourage the POC to feel jealous of the chances the dumbs whites throw away and blame the whites for racism. Get the white folks to believe POC live off handouts. A trick as old as mud, set two sides against each other. As long as racism, the fate of the Rust Belt, and economic inequality are separate topics talked about by different people (blacks, whites, and socialist hippies) nothing changes.

    Please don’t think this is too original a thought. Lyndon Johnson pretty much gave the basic thesis statement in 1960 years before he kicked off the War on Poverty, in Appalachia, for the poor white people who were then the Democratic base. Johnson said “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.” The final step is to make it impossible to talk about any of this.

     

    There’s a new book out, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.”  There’s a new movie out of an old book, Hillbilly Elegy. The National Review has its own white trash story  and the MSM has made parachuting its elite columnists into the Heartland to write thought pieces into a sub-genre that could sit aside Business and Sports on the masthead. Whatever all those writers think their point is, their point ends up being poor whites are very different than poor blacks.

    The whole poverty-class cosplay industry got a meth-like boost in 2016 when east coast liberals tried to find another reason why Donald Trump won after their friends and fellow journalists snatched up Russian interference. Blaming Putin of course petered out after a three year run, about as long as Hillbilly Elegy took to move from book to movie. Why the fascination with white trash?

    Poor white people are a stand in for poor blacks. Kinda by proxy, the way the movie M*A*S*H* set in Korea was really criticism of America’s war in Vietnam. White liberals can say anything they want about Appalachians, stuff they can’t get away with saying about blacks.

    Nick Kristof of the New York Times, visiting Jackson, Kentucky, was shocked by parents who were taking their children out of school because improved academic performance would threaten $700-a-month Social Security disability benefits. These benefits have accrued over various feel-good administration gestures to the point where they are are paid out for nebulous afflictions such as loosely defined learning disorders in eight-year-olds. But Kristof wins for accidental honesty: “This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.”

    Next up is Kevin Williamson, because his Big White Ghetto is one of the newest books which says the same thing as all the others. Williamson writes, for example, without controversy “welfare has made Appalachia into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the underclass in place.” Now imagine the exact sentence with a little tweak — “welfare has made parts of New York City into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the black underclass in place” and imagine all hell breaking loose on Maddow that night. Imagine if Ta Nehisi Coates, instead of making a career out of cataloging black victimhood, said “Get off your asses, brothers. They hiring at KFC.”

    Or try this one: “The government gives people checks, but nobody teaches them how to live,” says a former high-school principal who spoke with Williamson in Kentucky.” Imagine your favorite conservative talk radio host saying “the problem among blacks is the government gives them checks, but never teaches them how to live.” Shall we talk about single moms in Appalachia whose baby daddies cook meth or shall we talk about deadbeat black dads who cook meth in the South Bronx? Write a book about the former and you’ll vie for a Pulitzer. Try that with the latter without making it a how-to on victimhood and Oprah will skin you alive on the TV.

    Here’s some evocative street scene talk about Appalachians: “Jimmy is attached to one of the clusters of unbusy men who lounge in front of the public buildings in Booneville — ‘old-timers with nothing to do,’ one observer calls them, though some of those ‘old-timers’ do not appear to have reached 30 yet, and while their Mossy Oak camouflage outfits say ‘Remington,’ their complexions say ‘Nintendo.’”  How far would a writer get with: “Tyron’e is attached to one of the clusters of unbusy men who lounge in front of the hookah shops in Compton — ‘old-timers with nothing to do,’ one observer calls them, though some of those ‘old-timers’ do not appear to have reached 30 yet, and while their NBA jerseys say “LeBron” their complexions say “Nintendo.”

    Or less serious but basically a taste of the same, remember SNL’s serial skits of Appalachian Emergency Room, featuring comical rednecks with comical injuries; one ongoing character came in with all sorts of things stuck up his anus. It was as if the Beverly Hillbillies image of rural people had never been updated. Imagine if Amos and Andy were still on, or maybe just a new series called Ghetto Emergency Room featuring hilarious episodes of gunshots and ODs.

    A forced viewing of Hillbilly Elegy showed it is to truth what hemorrhoids are to pleasant mornings. Just when you would think they had exhausted every “hick in the big city” cliche they pull out the old one where the protagonist gets invited to a fancy dinner party and is intimidated by which of the multiple forks to use. “What to Do” with all the forks was fully explained in the movie Titanic dinner scene, where the exact same scenario took place. Also there is always the church trick, just kneel when other people do. Or figure a guy like the main character in Elegy who went through an undergrad education, the Marine Corps, and got into Yale would puzzle it all out. This use of cliche for poor, dumb, white characters is routine. I wonder how many movies that feature poor, dumb, POC trying to make it would dare do the same. That’s be racist, right, mocking a ghetto kid for not knowing White Manners, whereas anything goes with slack jawed yokels. Even street-smart Eddie Murphy in Trading Places ultimately turned his lack of White Manners into an advantage. Imagine the Elegy guy saving the day at Yale in a tobacco spitting contest!

    Among the other terrible things about the Elegy movie (and the book, but less so) is a near total lack of empathy for any of the characters. They are all presented as terrible people, and all their problems are their own fault and made worse by their own actions. They are not presented in any way as victims of larger forces (such as racism or urban gentrification), as is common in stories like this about POC (think Boyzz in the Hood or Do the Right Thing.) There is no leavening poor white problems. Even the shared drug problem, same stuff, cheap crank, is treated differently. Black folk are victims of some white conspiracy, maybe even the CIA, to keep them down by flooding the ‘hood with narcotics. White trash? They have no self-restraint. Same as them using abortion as a cure for recreational sex.

    We tend to forget the War on Poverty started in Appalachia, under Lyndon Johnson in 1965, aimed at poor whites. It failed to help them, as it failed to help blacks as the program later grew. Too much welfare of the wrong kind without real jobs to back it just created generational dependencies. But we can only talk about one demographic group that way.

    That seems to be the take away from another new book, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. After an exhaustive study of decades of data, author Robert Putnam concludes the many gaps between blacks and whites — education, health, employment, financial — narrowed between 1940 and 1970, driven by the Great Migration into northern industrial jobs. Then around 1970 black life fell into a decline which continues today. Putnam is right as far as he goes, but he misses the big picture in his race to blame racism. From 1940 to 1970 the lives of all lower class Americans of all races improved, especially up north where what became the Rust Belt was once the manufacturing center of the universe. Everyone rose, and fell, the same. Real, adjusted wages were never higher for all Americans then in 1972. But the The Upswing only follows part of the crowd down.

    Putnam and so many others ignore how economic insecurity engulfs more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60. Pessimism among whites about their economic future is today at its highest point since 1987. More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks. Buchanan County, 99 percent white in southwest Virginia, is among the nation’s most destitute places, with poverty at 24 percent.

    So today we are allowed to mock one failed group as dumb Trump rednecks and treat them as subjects of a nature documentary. Blacks, they’re victims with the president elect still two-stepping around comments on reparations due. Don’t expect much progress for either group until we are allowed to talk openly about both. Try saying all American lives matter and you risk a broken nose. And wake me when a book called Urban Elegy becomes a best seller.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Hunter’s Guilty Laptop I

    December 17, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Biden

     

    What exactly did Hunter do? How involved was Joe Biden? Who owes or received favors from China and Ukraine?

     
    You can make up your mind based on TV heads or you can look over my shoulder as I go through the same files on Hunter’s laptop the FBI is seeing.
     
    My article in this month’s print edition of The American Conservative is the only one I’ve seen which actually lists what is there, with dollar amounts, dates, receipts, addresses, sources for the money, and includes details from the correspondence that will allow you to come to some conclusions of your own.
     
    Subscribe or check your local library. 

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Stormy Weather Ahead for Trump?

    December 12, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Will Stormy Daniels get Trump in the end?
    Since the election sputtered to a conclusion President-elect Biden has signaled multiple times his taste for revenge is limited. His former prosecutor VP, while showing some blood lust during the primaries, has since been mostly silent on the matter. The majority of the crowd demanding Trump face some sort of punishment sits in the cheap seats of blue check Twitter and Morning Joe. While at first glance it seems like there are multiple roads leading to Trump’s prosecution, in fact under even light scrutiny things fall apart like tissue paper in the rain.
    What’s left to poke into is Stormy Daniels (her real name, Stephanie Clifford, is far less punable.) The story is a former porn star whose antics are all over the Internet (Oh, Google it yourself) has sex for money with a private businessman. She then takes more money to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to keep silent. Sensing an opportunity when the businessman later runs for president, she willfully violates the NDA to revive her career. Meanwhile, when faced with jail time for all sorts of dirty deeds, the businessman’s now disbarred lawyer, a felon himself, violates attorney-client privilege to claim on his word the NDA payoffs (inherently legal) were actually complex technical violations of campaign finance law. That’s the basic case someone would have to take to a New York state grand jury after January 20 to bring down Citizen Trump in the ultimate act of political revenge. Think that’ll work? Fuhgettaboutit!
    The problems begin with paying money as part of an NDA is not illegal; lawyers regularly obtain discreet resolutions of issues threatening the interests of their clients. Without admitting much of anything, money is paid from Party A to Party B in return for Party B dropping all future claims, agreeing to never mention something again, handing over documents or photos, whatever you’d like. It happens all the time, and in fact is the dirty little secret which keeps sexual harassment alive and well. Wealthy and important men paid women to remain silent under NDAs. It does not change the legality of all this even if the media calls those payments hush money or payoffs. In fact, even you can create a NDA right at home; here’s a downloadable fill-in-the-blanks version.
    Things only fall into a gray area if you can twist them into a violation of a campaign finance law. The idea is when Trump had his sexytime with Stormy he was just another philandering scumbag sleeping around on his wife. You want to take the ride, you gotta pay for the ticket. However, a few years later Trump became a philandering scumbag presidential candidate, and that money shifted, maybe, from a legal NDA payoff to something akin to a campaign contribution. The what in this case (money for silence) is clear. It is the why, intent, that matters most.
    The alleged illegality comes from the supposition by Michael Cohen that he can speak to Trump’s intent, that the NDA was not, say, to spare Trump’s marriage from new embarrassment, but “for the principal purpose of influencing an election” amid everyone already knowing Trump was a serial philanderer. If the whole, um, affair was primarily for the purpose of hiding Stormy from voters instead of hiding Stormy from his wife and kids, then the money was essentially a campaign contribution and whole new set of laws kick in.
    The problem is campaign finance laws require proof a person was willfully violating the law. Cohen’s testimony does not prove Trump knew the payments he was making were illegal. Prosecutors would have to prove that willingness by Trump alongside proving his principal goal was to influence the election. If this ever reaches court, Trump will simply deny that and no jury can say weighing one man’s word against another, especially these guys, eliminates all reasonable doubt. Felons testifying out of self interest make poor “honor” witnesses.
    There’s more. Prosecutors would have to connect Trump directly to the payment. The check for $35,000 from Trump to Cohen, which was supposedly part of $130k paid to Stormy Daniels Michael Cohen displayed at his 2019 Congressional hearing and ten others alleged to exist do not show what the payments were for. The checks do not have Stormy’s name on them. Cohen simply claimed they were part of his reimbursement for “illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.”
    They are receipts for a crime only because Cohen says they are. Under direct questioning, Cohen claimed there was no corroborating evidence. He said he sent invoices to Trump only for “legal retainer fees,” so don’t bother with the invoices as evidence because Cohen now says he lied on them claiming it was a retainer fee. The checks total over $400k, because supposedly Trump rolled Cohen’s fee and bonus into the amount, so we just have to take his word for it that some of that money was for Stormy. Cohen said some of the checks were signed by Don, Jr. and the Trump Organization’s CFO. That means the checks would be used to implicate personally a person who did not sign them. If this all sounds complicated, it’s because it is.
    After all that, for Stormy’s payoff to be illegal it will also be necessary to determine the money came from campaign funds. If it was Trump’s private money, even private money he donating to his own campaign, there is likely no case. Even if the money is shown to be campaign funds, illegality is based on the $2,700 donation limit imposed on the supposed “giver,” Michael Cohen in this case who has already been charged, a limit which does not apply to the candidate himself. The payment is also not a donation if it was made for an expense that would have been paid even if there were no campaign. Say like hiding an affair from your wife. And oh yeah, the NDA with Stormy will soon be outside the statute of limitations absent some very creative legal maneuvering which would itself be subject to extensive litigation.
    But the core problem with this case is absence any hereto unknown witnesses it requires a jury to believe the uncorroborated words of Michael Cohen, a disbarred, convicted felon violating attorney-client privilege to beg for a shorter sentence. Summing it up as dryly as only a lawyer can, a former longtime state prosecutor of white-collar and organized crime cases who later oversaw enforcement at New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance said “The burden of proof is substantial.” Trump at worst would be shown to be a conspirator to a contested interpretation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, a de minimis violation. The most likely result would be a fine for something like failure to properly report contributions to the Federal Election Commission.

    There is a second sexytime bedtime story which somehow is even less likely to matter.  Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, began an affair with Trump in 2006, claiming she was attracted to his “intelligence and charm. Such a polite man,” which says something about her credibility. As Trump’s candidacy gained momentum in 2016, McDougal accepted a $150k fee from David Pecker (you just can’t make this stuff up) a Trump friend and chairman of The National Enquirer, for the rights to her story. The Enquirer never ran the story, technically known as “an (sleazy) editorial decision” but something which the media redubbed as the made-up crime of “catch and kill.” The idea was the Enquirer bought the story, which was featured across all media, with the intent to hide it.

    Politicians are naughty boys, and have violated campaign finance laws before. For example, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million, an amount that dwarfs the money in Stormy’s case. In that instance, Obama’s own Justice Department somehow decided not to prosecute and instead quietly disposed of the problem with a fine levied by the Federal Election Commission.

    People will also remember the 2012 failed prosecution of former Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards on charges of campaign finance violations. Edwards was accused of illegally arranging for two wealthy supporters to pay $925,000 to keep his pregnant mistress out of public view during the campaign. Sound familiar?

    As with Russiagate, impeachment, Emoluments, and all the other serial sagas which were supposed to bring Trump down, the basket of sex crimes is much more hopeful smoke and media hyperbole than actual fire. The further back prosecutors reach into Trump’s life before he was president, and the more obscure parts of law they feature, the more they try to reshape civil offenses into major crimes, the more likely Trump will overcome their efforts by claiming political motivation. Dems won the presidency, and Trump will soon leave the White House. Looking for more vengeance past that seems a dry hole. Remember, you wrestle with pigs, you just end up dirty, and the pig usually likes it. Best advice is stay out of the pen.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Biden’s Revenge

    December 5, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    AOC should talk. In fact, she has. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “Trump sycophants” should be held accountable for their “complicity in the future” and wants their Tweets archived, preserved as evidence presumably for some sort of people’s revolutionary tribunal. AOC is just one of many who want some. The talk in Washington is about revenge. It is not pretty.
    There’s a separate Trump Accountability Project designed to ensure “members of the Trump administration responsible for loosening the guardrails of our democracy are not rewarded in the private sector.” A WaPo columnist wrote the people helping Trump now should “never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into polite society. We have a list.” During the McCarthy years that was known as a blacklist; you’ll never work in this town again, comrade. Other people are simply estranging themselves from the Trump-supporting parents who raised them. Some suggest truth-and-reconciliation commissions.  The NYT wonders out loud if America Can Restore the Rule of Law Without Prosecuting Trump?
    Some have even  fantasized Trump will be arrested as Biden is inaugurated, complete with a tense face off between the Secret Service protective detail and the arresting FBI agents as Trump tries to flee. But never mind blacklists or shunning (“Will Manhattan’s Elite Really Spurn Ivanka and Jared?” gushes a headline) the real blood people want to be spilled would occur in the judicial system. Release the DOJ hounds. Replay the Nuremberg Trials. The goal is vengeance: in the minds of the werewolves Trump and his extended family belong in jail — for something, maybe just for being them, or destroying democracy, kids in cages, soul of America battered — and if somehow that is not possible then they should be driven into poverty.
    Keeping in mind that Trump was not responsible for the Holocaust, tyranny, totalitarianism, gulags, secret police disappearances, genocide, apartheid, a torture regime, offshore penal colonies, gassing his own people or the like, the calls seem a bit extreme. But in many ways we live in extreme times, so what are the chances President Biden would release the full force of the American system against his former rival?
    Zero.
    The simplest explanation is persecuting, humiliating or prosecuting political opponents after they lose is third world stuff. Biden won. There is no political value in dancing on Trump’s grave or in the criminalization of policy differences. Carter didn’t try it with Nixon, Bush I pardoned not prosecuted six Reagan White House officials who were involved in the Iran-contra affair, Bush II didn’t prosecute Lyin’ Bill Clinton, and Obama didn’t do it with George “The Torturer” Bush and his henchmen. Despite leading chants only weeks ago of  “lock her up,” even Trump didn’t do it when he had the power to try. Biden has a full plate and the last thing he wants is for some politically-motivated prosecution to ensure all wounds are kept open. Nope, nobody is throwing Baby political advantage out with the Trump bathwater.
    Biden also knows he can’t unring the bell. If he goes after his predecessor he’s next, when the sides inevitably switch again. Mindful of the failures of Russiagate and impeachment (absent being “saved” by COVID those bungles should have cost the Dems the election) Biden also doesn’t want to start with a non-win. Any prosecution of Trump will be endlessly tied up in questions of privileged conversations, sealed records, and evidence fights, followed by loyalist hearings into Hunter and His Most Excellent China Deal. You think Biden and his DOJ wants to have that stink on their shoes heading into the 2022 midterms (and yes they are already thinking ahead)? Yeah, also, it’s time to heal or whatever.
    No, the real wet dreams for revenge rest with the Southern District of New York (SDNY; led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance but ultimately controlled by Biden’s Department of Justice) and failing that, the New York State Attorney General Letitia James. The former already failed in 2012 to indict Trump’s children after they were accused of misleading investors, and faced judicial rebukes in the past for sloppy work and political motivations. The latter is beloved by progressives as an angry woman of color with a habit of talking bad ass. Either way the narrative runs like this: both offices have been compiling nasty stuff against Trump, held back only by custom which prevents them from indicting him as long as he’s the president. As of January 20 he is open game. In addition, if they can press New York state level charges, those are exempt from any federal pardon Trump might get from himself or from Mike Pence through some president-for-a-day 25th Amendment witchcraft.
    Leaving aside the untested law surrounding self-pardons, as well as double jeopardy concerns (NY’s laws there are among the strictest in the country; SDNY already failed in its prosecution of Paul Manafort based on double jeopardy) related to anything to do with impeachment or something under IRS audit, and the questions of jurisdiction and extradition (Trump is a Florida citizen) the forces of good have got to have something they can actually prosecute Trump for. An actual crime. Being an evil president or making mean decisions on immigration do not count in actual courts (and good luck finding an impartial jury.) The biggest problem with all this desired vengeance is the same thing that failed Russiagate; it is based on an assumption Trump must have done something wrong. The creation of a “crime” such as drove the impeachment only worked because of a partisan House willing to play along. The New York state system is no such kangaroo court, and affords defendants far more protections than federal courts. There are strict rules governing evidence that can be presented to a grand jury, and even minor procedural errors can result in indictments being thrown out. “If you’re a white-collar defendant, you’d rather be in New York State court than in federal court any day of the week,” said SDNY’s former top deputy.
    That said, a politically-minded prosecutor can always find some way to file charges for the show value, even while knowing the case will disappear on motions. But the hope is beyond a media event like that, somewhere in the complex finances of the Trump Organization lies a smoking gun. The problem with that for anything tax/finance related, one must remember the IRS and the New York Department of Revenue have had Trump’s taxes for decades. Whatever the SDNY hopes they show, the IRS, Treasury, FBI, NY state, NJ Gaming Commission and who knows who else already has seen them, or could have if they had suspicions, and for decades have not prosecuted Trump. The current IRS audit of Trump has been ongoing since 2010 and there is nothing to indicate it will conclude anytime soon. The IRS also tends to conclude cases by asking for money, as criminal fraud is very difficult to prove. In tax-fraud cases, prosecutors are required to prove misconduct was intentional by the principal, a high bar. A jury might wonder if Trump’s daughter’s consulting services were worth $740,000, but if Trump argued he valued them at that level, that could constitute a viable defense against fraud even if the deduction was ultimately disallowed. Trump’s teams of accountants also gives him personal cover for many potentially fraudulent claims.
    Another idea is Trump misvalued some New York real estate to obtain loans, a civil offense at worst usually settled with new assessments or a fine. The city of New York assesses a value to each property for tax purposes. Nearly every property owner in NYC believes his assessed value is too high and pushes back, to the point where this is not even handled by a court, instead through a tax commission grievance process. Owners want a lower value to pay less tax, except when they approach a bank for the equivalent of a refi loan, when they want their property to seem more expensive to secure a bigger loan. It is the bank who then decides what a property is worth to them as collateral, via their own due diligence. It is always complicated, as much art as science; beyond the usual valuation factors of location, location, location, some buildings in New York are iconic, or famous for their brand name (coug, cough, “Trump”), what history they represent, etc. Some just have nice views. Sometimes the bank is generous because in return for the loan they’ll secure some other business of value to them. Over-valuing/under-valuing real estate in New York City is sport, but as a crime is so much not ado about nothing it is not going to send anyone to jail. Imagine the yawns as a grand jury listens to accountants explain Trump’s tiered exemptions, and how their value is subtracted from the DOF assessed value to calculate a taxable value which is then multiplied by the current tax rate for the specific assigned property class. Tomorrow we’ll talk about easements going back to when Mayor Koch was in charge!
    That leaves Stormy. Michael Cohen would be the star witness in this Last Great Hope. At his 2019 televised hearing Cohen displayed a check for $35,000 from Trump to him, which was supposedly part of $130k paid to Stormy Daniels (there is at least one other woman, Karen McDougal, as well) under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. This one seems to have it all — lurid details, opportunities for the media to run bosomy photos of Stormy, and a recycling of all those Godfather references when Michael the Consigliere, the Fixer Cohen takes the stand. A case built around events predating the Trump presidency dependent on the testimony of gold digging porn star and a disbarred felon lawyer trying to sing his way out of jail that a grand jury will sign off on? As the kids say, it’s complicated. Complicated enough it deserves its own article, next week.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • A History of the Second Civil War (Satire)

    November 29, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    The last straw was Rudy Giuliani stripping down to his borats and shouting “Never concede! Wolverines!” The Second Civil War had begun.

    “Newspaper” (so called because it once contained news and was published on actual paper, for the elderly) columnists at the New York Times and Washington Post, now the Ministry of Truth, tried hard enough to warn it was coming. Statues now line the National Mall, and school kids know the names: Krugman, Friedman, Bruni, Rubin, and Boot. All perished in the White Guilt Plague of 2026, its origin traced to the Oberlin campus.

    The key event in the Second Civil War, the Great Confiscation of Guns, took place even before the struggle proper unfolded. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (after whom the aircraft carrier USS AOC, now in the process of being handed over to the Native American nation, spa, and casino formed out of the former state of Texas, is named) standing outside Fox headquarters, challenged anyone with one of those automatic guns with the handle on top to take a free shot at her. This was a clever solution to the problem of the people who have guns living nowhere near and having nothing to do with those who oppose guns.

    After over 200,000,000 people showed up, waves of millenials descended on the crowd. As most of the attacking wave only had one hand free (no one set down their Starbucks) the confiscation proceeded slowly. Sadly, during the delay, several thousand patriots were left unable to reproduce due to pistols-in-their belt-related accidents. Reinforcements were unavailable when QAnon, Boogaloo Boys, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and seven Michigan militias all turned out to be the same guys and they couldn’t get anyone to take their shifts at Chick-fil-A.

    The Maddow Division (General Maddow, her bearded face in relief wearing a black beret over shaggy hair, adorns a million t-shirts) struck south on Citibikes. The advance was delayed when the second wave’s surge-priced Ubers did not arrive on time and the black UN helicopters never showed up, again, but the division’s clever use of weaponized sarcasm caused Tr*mp supporters (while the name is banned, for historical clarity we use here the term Tr*mp rather than “The T word”) to quit the field and return to their RVs.

    It also turned out wearing bright red MAGA hats made for relatively easy targeting after Apple released its “Kill Kinda Kaucasians” app. Still, many of Maddow’s troops suffered after being deeply offended as the MAGA line displayed photos from old Hollywood movies of white actors playing Asian roles.

    Postal workers hiding ballots accidentally then discovered the secret Fox transmitter which had been broadcasting mind control instructions not only to vote Republican, but also to purchase MyPillow, items from that fishing store that has way too much stuff for just fishing, and massive amounts of Flexi-Seal people didn’t need so it’s in the garage now behind the cooler. The conservative economy collapsed. The images of conservative children forced to eat soy products when their regular high fructose food supplies ran out haunt even the toughest Resistance fighters to this day. Thoughts and prayers.

    But those images of children are nothing compared with the nightmare unleashed when Nancy Pelosi liberated the Kids ‘N Kages camps along what used to be America’s southern border (known today as “Newer New Mexico 2.0”) After being fed only expired Taco Bell products in what was assumed to be a failed humanitarian gesture by the Venezuelan Red Cross, the migrant children were each awarded H-1 visas posthumously.

    Pelosi blamed herself and regularly called in to Maxine Waters’ late night comedy show to explain how after she impeached Tr*mp, Pence, Barr, Kavanaugh, several junior Senators, and Tucker Carlson she was briefly seated as America’s first woman president before her untimely accidental death at the hands of a meth-addled Hillary Clinton wearing a Joker mask.

    The conservative last stand took place, appropriately, on the steps of the Supreme Court. Just before losing power, the final conservative government expanded the bench to 78 judges, all cloned from the last available saliva sample from Roy Cohen Tr*mp kept in a vial around his neck. No monument marks their abortive battle to prevent freedom, no plaque records their final words (“lower capital gains taxes”) and even their ashes were lost in the changeover from Obamacare to the Bidencare plan which provides unlimited free visits to a doctor but requires travel to Germany for appointments (“You can keep your own doctor as long as he speaks German.”)

    It is considered a step toward healing that once a year under the watchful eyes of the Greta Thunberg Youth Brigade a few old conservative men are allowed to observe a minute of unhinged ranting in honor of their fallen comrades before being forced to convert to Islam. A small group of survivors is rumored to exist deep in the jungle. Occasional broadcasts have been monitored, typically scraps of argument among libertarians and conservatives over the value of military intervention.

    Events moved quickly once fighting ended. The Amulet of Democracy was restored as Chelsea Handler and Chelsea Clinton brought their halves together and matched perfectly. The Ancient One Biden returned. Don, Jr. and his siblings were granted political asylum at that new Walmart out by where the high school used to be before Covid. Their father, the former president, now earns a modest living on OnlyFans.

    Reparations money (“Biden Bucks”) was mostly squandered on timeshares and everyone is still angry. The collapse of the National Bank of Venmo could not be prevented once it was revealed the app really did cheat the person who just had a salad when dividing up a check. The conversion to an all-Three Stooges marathon format allowed CNN to reclaim its title as “America’s Most Trusted New Source.”

    Ken Burns is still waiting to get started on his documentary about the Second Civil War, explaining he is contractually bogged down with 11 more years of footage from Kandahar to review first. Three states are locked in a court battle to rename themselves “Obama.” Locally, a consortium of Chinese investors purchased The American Conservative, renamed it TicTAC and converted it into a dating app for people who are certain they know better then everyone else.

    Microsoft went bankrupt when Windows 2025 proved so bulky it required the user to have a second computer. The creation of two Internets, one for porn and one no one uses, proved popular. The end of elections saved the nation trillions. The previous campaign process was replaced with a mass Zoom call, with the president being the last person to stay online after everyone else left early claiming “mic problems.” It mattered little; after 2020 presidents have simply serially been impeached and a new person sworn in who is immediately placed under investigation. The 25th Amendment was crowned “America’s Favorite” (pepperoni took second place) in a contest after the naming rights to our foundational document, now known as the Dominoes Pizza Constitution, were sold to pay for free college for everyone.

    Of course every American remembers where they were when Secretary of Why-Is-She-Still-Around Kathy Griffin announced the transition of 97 percent of Americans to becoming trans had really screwed up the NFL. The subsequent rise in attendance at WNBA games was not foreseen. The musical Biden, translated from the original Ukrainian, replaced Hamilton on Broadway despite the controversial Obama nude scene. America’s largest industry remained Patreon accounts as Etsy devolved into a market for the wealthy to purchase human organs. The U.S. government is currently looking for a new place for a capitol building, because after the move out of Washington to a Brooklyn WeWork prices have really gone up. Negotiations to invite Canada in as a roommate to share the rent are underway.

    The good news is the important things are still the same. Most decisions are still made by the heads of the intel agencies when they meet at Jeff Bezos’ house. American troops are still in Afghanistan. And the Rolling Stones have announced their for sure this time final tour. Even after a second civil war some things don’t change.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • How to Help Joe Biden Really Win the Election

    November 21, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy

    The Amulet of Democracy was restored as Kathy Griffin and Joe Rogan brought their halves together and matched perfectly. The Ancient One Biden was returned to the place he left what seems a lifetime before but was actually only four years ago. All across the land, masked millennials, inked and pierced progressives, liberals, and mediocre scribes emerged from their bubbles to see afresh the world they had abandoned amidst the Orange Man Dark Times. Here’s what everyone missed while Googling “What is the Reichstag fire?” for the last four years.

    We’ve become lousy at democracy. Because the guy they voted for won by fractions of a percent, roughly half of us think the voting system is just fine. The other half invoke fraud this time instead of Russians to explain the mistake voters made. Half the country’s love-hate relationship with the Electoral College just flipped. But we know if the percents were reversed then so will the people who think the system is fair and those that do not. We have fully surrendered to the end we prefer justifying the means. We have given up trying for fairness in lieu of looking the other way when it is going our way. It is more than concerning how one party is very worried about suppression and not so much about miscounts, and the other of course very worried about miscounts and not so much about suppression.

    We really need to trust elections because we no longer trust each other. We no longer have honest differences of opinion. We are only certain not only that our side is right, but that the other side is evil, immoral, wrong on an absolute level once held back save for Nazis, Pol Pot, and demons. In fact, people who disagree with us are Nazis, or maybe feminazis. Information which disagrees with us is fake news and not entitled to the 1A, or if you speak Orwellian, misinformation and deplatforming. “Let us unite” really means “Trump supporters be quiet.” There’s profit, political and otherwise, in encouraging these feelings so don’t expect things to change soon.

    We are compelled to reject results we don’t agree with. We see a vote tally not as a fact but as part of a system of belief. One of the milder versions of all that came from a NYT columnist who wrote “Like many Americans demoralized by the softness of the spanking that voters just gave President Trump, I spent the past few days in search of answers. Why were so many of my fellow citizens so content to continue spoiling him? And what happened to the comeuppance due Republican lawmakers for not giving him timeouts?” Another pundit wrote “Many Dems bought the polls because they could not imagine that half the country was not as disgusted by Trump and his Republican ‘enablers’ as they were. After four years of branding Trump a bigot, they had trouble understanding how the president succeeded in actually expanding his Black and Latino support in 2020, which helped give him his margin of victory in Florida.”

    So what do we call ourselves now — a democracy? a republic? an association? — when the fundamental system underlying what we are creates such feelings, leaves open so many doors to cheats, and requires a heavy application of partisan media lipstick-on-a-pig to convince us it is all OK as long as it ends our way? And which clause of the Constitution grants “calling power” to the Associated Press anyway?

    Read this carefully: I am not saying the election was decided by fraud or manipulation. The problem is that it is all too possible for fraud or manipulation to have taken place and that is what crushes faith in the system when we need it the most.

    During my 24 years at the Department of State when I worked on visa issues which could have been subject to bribery and manipulation, the standard was “avoid the appearance of impropriety.” Even if that visit to the applicant’s country club was just really for fun, or that big discount you got buying a car was because you really are a helluva guy, it might not look that way. We not only had to be clean to avoid people losing faith in our work, we had to look clean.

    If people questioned our honesty, they had already lost faith in us and our process. This was especially true when working in parts of the world where payoffs were almost always expected and we as Americans were supposed to be showing them a better way. Dismissing peoples’ questions as simply unsubstantiated does nothing to restore their faith, and for everything fueling questions to be dismissed as conspiracy theories brings us to the point where the other guy somehow winning becomes a “coup.” Dismissing these concerns as “yes, but too little fraud to matter” does not restore faith, it confirms fraud exists.

    An election that takes five days to a muddled conclusion with tens of thousands of ballots left uncounted, where critical numbers of votes seemed to appear on demand, where software glitches and undelivered mail even in small quantities kept entering the story, where fusses and fights over procedures by coincidence focused on Democratic machine run cities like Philly, that is all at minimum the very definition of an appearance of impropriety.

    Now overlay all that stink on a voting system involving one-party state legislatures gerrymandering voting districts, fifty different and increasing complex sets of voting laws, and a controlling census with its own set of problems done only once every ten years. Mix in a ridiculously complicated menu of rules to allow for a flood of partisan court challenges, with everyone accepting, counting, and verifying votes differently, all backed up by a broken postal system. It should not matter what kind of pen one uses to mark a ballot, but we had challenges over Sharpies. This is a dysfunctional system designed for manipulation, never mind outright cheating. That’s where we are today.

    It is hard not to be sad for our country. As a diplomat I was charged with explaining America to foreigners. It was an embassy tradition to have a big party election night, invite host country dignitaries and journalists, hold a mock vote, and then for those who stayed up late enough, a toast to whomever the actual winner back home was, with both sides coming together. Some years it was more acrimonious, some more fun (I may never have been drunker in a suit than the night First Obama won) but it was an important way to demonstrate how America more or less worked. Sure, a lot of the smiles were false — we were diplomats after all — but tomorrow was a work day and we’d be back at our desks, not at each other’s throats, because that’s how it was done.

    We did it to show the foreigners, we said, but I suspect we also did it in part for ourselves, we who served on regardless of who was temporarily president for a couple of years. Nobody talked of Resistance; what were we, WWII French saboteurs? I served from Reagan through Obama, a lot of political ground. It was not always easy to explain America, but it was usually possible. Now I have never been more glad to have retired from that job.

    Ignore Trump’s hyperbole (if you still can’t see past it by now it’s too late) but don’t ignore the underlying concern. Prove it wrong not by faux “fact checking” it into obscurity, or simply declaring it invalid as was done with Hunter Biden’s laptop, censored by Big Tech platforms as insurance. As my colleague wrote, “the fundamental reason all these claims remain ‘unsubstantiated’ is that the very people who reject them on this basis are the ones who are supposed to be substantiating them — and they have absolutely, entirely abandoned this basic duty.”

    We have to believe in those results for things to work, and anyone who believes this system is serving our country is foolish. We just spent four ugly years with a very large number of Americans believing the president was illegitimate. We are on the cusp of doing that again, with the sides reversed even as the arguments are fundamentally similar. And Joe Biden is going to need all the help he can get. Even as science sorts out the virus, Biden will have to wrestle with a weakened Democratic House and what will likely be a Republican Senate. So it will be Executive Orders, again, with the Supreme Court, again, the only real deliberative, adjudicative body left in America. Congress for another four years is unlikely to make much law. How can they, facing a United States as divided as they are, um, divided because we are, too. So the Court alone is pressed to sort the things which divide us out, from abortion to immigration.

    If you’re still adamant the election has to be over, try seeing it this way:

    Me: Doctor, I think I have cancer.
    Doc: Got any proof?
    Me: Um, no, but I don’t feel well.
    Doc: Sorry, I can only run tests if you already have proof. Otherwise, your pain is simply a medical conspiracy theory.

    Relax, it is an analogy, so it is supposed to be helpful illustrating a broader point without being 100 percent identical. The idea is the doctor doesn’t take your word you have cancer and start chemo that afternoon, nor does he kick you out of the office. He checks, does tests. Maybe the tests find a lump. Maybe the tests turn up negative and you go home feeling better knowing it was nothing.

    Not being allowed to ask questions, with the questioners themselves silenced as Russian spies, sore losers or useful idiots just for asking, is how we got the last four years of illegitimacy.  To help America (and for Biden to govern legitimately) we need to ask questions. We need to run tests. We need to rule out cancer. Call it a recount, call it an audit or an DOJ investigation, but send America home knowing that nagging pain in the neck is really nothing to worry about.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.