• Jeffersonian or Springsteenian Democracy?

    February 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    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

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    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.

  • How Trump Lost

    November 15, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy

    The media, Deep State, big tech, and pollsters did everything they could to sway the vote, opening Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook while closing Hunter Biden’s laptop, weaponizing anonymous sources to gossip on the front page, brought the FBI and CIA deep into the political process (to the point of falsifying FISA applications to spy on American citizens inside the Trump campaign), showcasing performance polijournalism (see the Cuomo Power Bottom Twins, the scrappy Jim Acosta, the righteous Yamiche Alcindor), using social media to edit the public agenda, and purposing the whole of the entertainment industry from late night “comedy” to SNL to advocacy. That includes The Lincoln Project, whose East coast elite drunk frat-boy mockery changed nothing. In fact, Trump won a bigger share of Republican voters than in 2016.

    The big takeaway is how well it was all coordinated this time; no more cowboy Jim Comey tossing an investigative monkey wrench into campaign at the last minute. Hunter’s Mac was deep-sixed faster than you could say “Anthony Weiner’s laptop.” It worked like this: something regularly leaked from inside the intelligence community or military. Another anonymous source speaking to CNN, WaPo, or NYT, whomever didn’t service the initial dead drop, “confirmed” the leak. Blue Check Twitter fluffed the story so the MSM could give it one more kick down the road running reaction pieces. On a good day AOC or Pelosi would pile on, on a bad one day laborers like Avenatti, Cohen or Scaramucci would take the duty. Proof that it wasn’t just bad reporting? How many times did the MSM make a mistake or get caught lying favorable to Trump?

    The pollsters played as well, transitioning to political operatives trying to get voters on the bandwagon. You can imagine smart guys are actually dumb (one major poll had Biden ahead in Wisconsin by 17 points) and hide behind “a massive failure of polling” again, or you can see it was part of a larger plan, right through to the premature pro-Biden “calls” as the vote count drags. The whole thing was so well organized Joe literally did not have to campaign; someone did it for him. Black ops, Mr. Garrison.

    The surprise is how little it all mattered. The much-celebrated state flips involved tiny margins, literal handfuls of votes. Democrats spent more than $315 million to decisively lose six Senate races. They also failed to generate a Blue Wave downballot at the statehouses. The races designed to smite Trump enablers Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham did not. Ben Crenshaw won and will be running for something bigger in 2024.

    That as uneventful a candidate Biden got as far as a tie was in the end as much about luck as anything. The election was a referendum on Trump, and the idea was to create a Not Trump narrative. Many were tried but failed to scare voters towards Daddy Democrat.

    The Trump as a Russian agent collapsed on lack of evidence not on lack of effort. Its consolation prize to the Dem base, which only thanks to Democratic midterm gains actually made it to formal impeachment, had even less substance behind it. Both ended up comically failing with Nancy Pelosi as Wile E. Coyote suspended in midair as the cliff fell away. Meep meep!

    Tried was Orange Man Bad (bad racist, bad misogynist, bad white supremacist, bad sociopath, bad narcissist) repudiated by 66 million American voters. Trump won more minority votes, 26 percent, than any Republican in 60 years. Exit polls showed Trump’s support rose among women. Actual black voters it turns out are not the same as Black Lives Matter marchers. Some 17 percent of black men voted Trump, up from 13 percent in 2016. Support among black women doubled. Latin support rose by three percent and won Florida. The 2020 electorate was more conservative than in 2016.

    Those voters may have liked Orange Man naming three Supreme Court justices, facilitating more Middle East peace treaties and fewer wars, and at least pre-Covid, growing the economy. They may not all own stocks, but the people who employ them do and the market roared. Even The Economist was forced to admit “Growth never quite reached the lustrous annual rate of four percent he promised, but it did do better than many had forecast, and his tax cut in 2017 turned out to be a well-timed fiscal stimulus. At the end of last year unemployment was at its lowest level for half a century. The wages of the less well paid were rising swiftly.” Absent COVID, this election would have likely been a Trump blowout.

    If instances of bad application of Weimar history were rain we’d all have drowned by now. But the Nazi game got so wearisome it ultimately failed to persuade: lawful border enforcement -> kids in cages -> concentration camps -> Nazi! Or racist dog whistles -> brownshirt cops -> Trump encourages murder -> genocide -> Nazi! Instead, the sky never fell. Yer gay marriage, transgender toilet, and abortion rights were untouched. Paul Krugman at the NYT wrongly predicted a pre-WWII depression/severe recession six times in the four years, nearly praying for a Kristallnacht to bring down Trump. A non-exaggerated favorite from another NYT columnist made the jump in one step: “Trump says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens -> In 1933, Hitler issued his ‘Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State.'”

    There were no militia-organized suppression, no end of democracy, no civil war, no boogaloo, no Reichstag fire. Attempts to fan the BLM flames into any of that fizzled when even Democratic mayors figured out few voters were pleased to see their cities burn. The narratives were all wrong but they were never meant to be right. They were intended to influence.

    One narrative did stick, and if Dems take the White House success will be owed to their ability to create a radically misleading version of the pandemic, dovetailing perfectly with H.L. Mencken’s advice “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Exit polls are clear voters had the pandemic and its economic effects on their minds. How that was translated in the vote was somewhere between mass paranoia (someone has to be to blame!) like when witches were burned following natural disasters, and crude politicization of tragedy.

    The narrative evolved. At first “flatten the curve” was about reducing hospitalizations to not overload the system. Somehow a metric that would go down got replaced with dramatic case numbers which forever go up, even as the danger of being a case decreased.

    Despite evidence from Europe and Asia of tactical steps proving effective (anyone still alive in Sweden? Yes?) Democratic governors fell into broad lockdowns to press votes toward Biden by ramping up fear of an invisible enemy. Reality was an inconvenience for like the Russians, the mass graves and two million dead never appeared. The tens of thousands of ventilators and hospital ships were never needed. Everyone in unmasked Florida did not die. Lockdowns became punitive not palliative. Democrat leaders sacrificed their economies to ensure things stayed worse and a sense of crisis was maintained; the only other explanation is leaders in California and New York were too dumb to imagine what might happen if they drove away commerce, businesses, residents, and with them, their tax base.

    The real con was while devastating political decisions were made at the local and state levels blame was leveled at Trump. The meme was established early, even before anyone was the nominee, when in February the NYT sent up the Bat Signal, titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required). There’s irony in knowing  the word “influenza” comes from the Italian word for “influence” even as things reached peak fear mongering when Trump was accused of literally killing Americans via his superspreader event rallies.

    A Columbia University report claimed a better Trump response could have avoided up to 210,000 deaths, something like a 90 percent reduction. Deeper reading shows the claim is based only on a statistical model of population and deaths in several countries. Left out of the mix is how those European and Asian countries do not suffer America’s fractured healthcare system and immense health and social disparities. Poorer base health = more COVID deaths. The US also lacked those places’ central authority to nationally require masks, quarantines, open or closed schools, etc. Nonetheless, the “excess” American deaths were blamed on “politicization, leadership vacuum, and the failure of top officials to model best practices.”

    That tracked well with the original campaign meme of Trump vs. COVID. Election day would tally up the deaths with whomever was the Democratic candidate as a slightly interested bystander.

    The problem is the meme shifted from “Trump is the problem” to “Biden is the solution” as frightened strategists searched for something for Biden to stand for. So now the expectation is, if he wins, Biden, will presumably end politicization, fill the leadership vacuum, and model best practices to tidy things up. We will all be part of a mega-reveal of how much of the crisis was exaggerated. Watch for some magic improvements now that COVID no longer is needed for the election.

    Then come the real costs of the Democratic strategy — vast economic damage to major cities via the diaspora of workers, millions fewer people working than in February, barely more than one-third of pupils attending school normally, with hunger and poverty on the rise. The forces which created the narrative that will perhaps send Biden to the White House ended up gifting him a lousy starting position. He’ll need the luck of a long tailed cat stuck in a room full of rocking chairs going forward. As Biden learned when he and Obama took over the Bush financial crisis in 2008, the American people will only grant a brief pass before it becomes your crisis.

    And if any of that seems like a good thing, the better of two evils, the way you want to choose your government, message me. I hear The Lincoln Project is looking for interns.

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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 Voted For…

    November 4, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    I’m voting for change. But I’m playing the long game.

    Short term issues can be important — petty overseas wars tend to freeze progress at home and tax policies can feed growth or failure — but I am keeping one eye further down the road. But I believe the fundamental issue facing the United States is economic inequality. It controls or influences pretty much everything else. You know the numbers; over the last 30 years, wage inequality in the United States increased substantially, with inequality now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression. CEOs in 1965 made 24 times more than the average production worker, whereas in 2009 they made 185 times more. There are 750,000 homeless Americans. Some 21 percent of American children live in poverty. Households in the top 10 percent own 90 percent of the stock market, similar for real estate and other assets. We are two different nations.

    This is a long-term trend, untethered to Republicans or Democrats. It exists independent of Roe, LGBT rights, and while you can tease out racial and other factors (blacks remain the poorest of the poor, women fare worse economically than men) those are distractions, misdirection a magician uses so you’re looking the wrong way when he hides the card. The real action is the accumulation of capital by fewer people who acquire it from those below them. Until slavery ended human beings were considered capital resources, just like owning stocks today. Now we’re “human resources” so everything’s better. Bringing up race just hides the real story of how long this has been going on and how deeply it is a part of our way of life. The line between controlling someone with a whip and controlling someone through debt and low wages gets finer and finer over time. The perks are still better on one side of the line but the fundamentals continue to narrow the gap.

    Stock ownership was at its peak in 2002 when 67 percent of Americans owned stock. The Great Recession drove the earnings of those below the median household income down to where the typical household now owns essentially zero financial assets. Many who once owned their homes now rent. The rich got richer, and will continue to do so. We are on the threshold of a fully disengaged sub-society, one so rich it has its own schools and airplanes, lives literally hundreds of feet in the air above us in apartment towers built like castles for defense, has its own health care system and private security, and its own tailored political and tax structure. It has the ability to abandon the rest of us for self-sustaining yachts and private islands when something like COVID arrives suddenly. Absent a few hobbyist-celebrities and so-called philanthropists who emerge periodically like cicadas from their burrows to scold us, or offer solutions they profit from emotionally if not financially, what happens to roughly 90 percent of Americans is irrelevant to the other 10 percent. The ratio is headed toward 99.9 and .01 percents. They don’t know and they don’t care. That is not a democracy or even a good way to run a bowling league. It is an apartheid of dollars.

    The only mainstream modern-times candidate to emerge since perhaps Henry Wallace who understands this would have been a poor president. I voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and would have liked the chance to do so again; his being crudely swiped left offstage twice by the Democratic party establishment is as much proof as anyone needs to see how none of what is happening to our country is by accident. It is as scripted as a soap opera.

    Bernie might have beaten Donald Trump in 2016, and gone on to fail nearly completely. Bernie has spent his entire career being a pain in everyone’s political *ss, the guy when everyone is tired and just wants to vote and go home and the chairperson says “So if we’re all in agreement…” stands up to play devil’s advocate. Bernie had no mechanism to enact much of anything beyond maybe a piece or two of showpiece legislation along the likes of Obamacare, looks good on paper, does little in reality. Sanders would have been overwhelmed by foreign events, crushed in his midterms, tired and bitter at the end of his term. He would have been an imperfect, maybe terrible, president, but a necessary step, same as those awful nights that lead to redemption in detox.

    Instead the desire for change bubbled to the surface with Donald Trump. A privateer who knew to tell injured people who to blame, basically anyone but him or themselves. You choose, it doesn’t matter because it is all symptoms not disease. The Mexicans, or hell, all immigrants, the blacks, the liberals, the Chinese, whatever. It wasn’t your fault, and I see you out there in pain. Trump was the ultimate politician, zero ideas and 100 percent commercialization of people’s rage. In this sense he was more Obama than anyone wants to admit, albeit selling Anger instead of Hope, but selling selling selling and nothing much more nonetheless. A man of his times. Talk about being the right guy in the right place. He wasn’t a fluke, he was inevitable.

    Though the media’s abandonment of any commitment to objectivity in favor of ideological activism has clouded the reality of Trump, history will see him as remarkably mediocre. Not much happened. Not much changed. All the essays about America at civil war will be forgotten. Trump will get some credit for dialing back war abroad. Picking three Supremes may matter or may not in the long run. Perspective will show there wasn’t really all that much absent some nicer messaging anyone could have done with COVID, a global phenomenon with over 38 million cases in countries not presided over by Donald Trump. Most of the rest of Trump’s “accomplishments,” things like immigration reform via executive order, will be overturned at some point same as Trump overturned those which came before him. On the fundamental issue of economic inequality, Trump was Obama who was Bush who was… Faced with an economic crossroad, each made the rich richer and widened the gap. Every. Single. Time.

    But I can’t vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They would not be a bad president in the sense that Trump, Obama, et al were not bad, just status quo. Biden, either by dying in his term or not really giving a whit, will allow bad decisions on feel-good identity politicals. There will be lots of posing, lots of chest pounding defenses of settled things like various civil rights, constant accusations of racism everywhere without any resolution, intellectual Sudoku to pass the time. Oh the ernest op-eds which will be written!

    But a Biden/Harris win would more than anything else confirm not changing, locking in forever the current spiral of economic inequality. A reset to 2015. One-term Trump will forever be dismissed as a fluke, a novelty act in favor of Biden, the same as it ever was pol, Harris the Gumby of not-so-strongly held beliefs and a cynical nod to identity politics. A woman! Of color! Sort of an immigrant! It’ll be a long four years for anyone still thinking about when it used to be wrong to judge people by the color of their skin. Race is just a marketing tool for votes, fruit flavored vape to bring in the kiddies. I otherwise have no idea what Biden/Harris stand for or will try to accomplish and that’s a poor grounds for my support.

    Some 60 percent of Americans tell pollsters the nation needs a viable third party but then turn around and won’t vote for one because, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, voting third party somehow means the worst two party candidate ends up winning. Third party fails because we don’t trust it enough to give it the votes it needs to succeed. I hear loud and clear Democrats, from the Obamas on down, telling me I would be wrong to vote third party again, naive, a closet Trump or even Putin supporter. The wrong guy will have the nuclear codes, so I will literally be responsible for Armageddon. Hard to build a movement around possible responsibility for ending all life on earth. We might as well write “better of two evils” in Latin on our coins.

    I guess I can stay home, the functional equivalent of hiding out in the monastery coloring in manuscripts while medieval society devolves around me. Hmm, sounds like another plague out there, better close the window. But if I vote Biden/Harris I am endorsing the trumpet call of the Democratic Party against change. It would be comfortable; as long as you don’t change channels, everything makes sense.

    When I vote Trump I am telling the Democrats they failed, again, and they may realize they must become something of a third party in 2024 or they will functionally no longer exist, pretend opponents like those teams who played against the Harlem Globetrotters years ago. A Trump win could be a wake up call to the Democratic establishment that they have to deal with real desire for change, not ignore voters, or try to scare us into abandoning our conscience and principles by trading (again) short term goals for long term progress. Dismissing such a vote as only sending a message dismisses the importance of the message.

    For those who support Biden for some perceived short term gain, please, vote that way. But don’t disparage the rest of us for believing we can do better. Too many have accepted, election after election, the long con. Give an even longer view a chance.

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

  • Say You Want a Revolution?

    October 31, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy

    So you say you want a revolution? Or a coup, or an overthrow, or just a bit of the old ultra-violence, anarchy, les barricades? Apparently so. Journalists, politicians, and academics, almost of whom haven’t thrown a punch in anger since fifth grade, are advocating, planning, and warning us soon the SHTF (look it up, but the last word is “fan.”) Stuff (not exactly the first word) that used to be exclusive to preppers, FEMA teams, and guys with only a “Joker was Right” T-shirts outside in mid-February is now openly spoken of across the country.

    There are a couple of overlapping blasts. Trump can win only by cheating, thus if he wins, that is proof he cheated and the election is unfair and he is also a witch. Trump will lose the election (apparently he isn’t good at cheating) but refuse to cede power to Biden. No one wins the election and Trump steals it using his cabal of Supreme Court justices and/or some sort of civil war breaks out. A final category are academics writing in the third person predicting pretty much the same thing but using the historical wrapping paper of Weimar (the favorite), Rome, or 1914 WWI, maybe with Kathy Griffin’s assassination in a Central Park horse carriage as the trigger event.

    Paul Krugman of the NYT Nobel prepper team says there are “substantial odds that America as we know it will be damaged or even destroyed” by the election. He tells us to “expect violence from Trump supporters, maybe lots of it, both to disrupt voting on Election Day and in the days that follow” until Trump “stops counting of absentee ballots, claims massive fraud, and probably tries to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.” Krugman’s battle buddy in the Times’ bunker Thomas Friedman says America today reminds him of the Beruit at war with itself he covered as a cub reporter. Team Krugman are trying to preemptively discredit the election results in the event Trump does win, much as they did with his 2016 victory. The new twist is preparing us for the violence they seemingly wish will be a part of it.

    Over at The Nation, now largely serving as the antifa house journal, they skip the how-he-did-it and assume Trump simply remains in power. The writer’s concern is “we have the moral high ground. But we don’t have, frankly, the military leadership in place to direct a guerrilla campaign against an illegitimate regime. We don’t have a government-in-exile waiting to take power. We don’t have international allies. We don’t have an underground network of spies and saboteurs… but we can lay our bodies down in front of the tanks.” Any hope for the rule of law? Nope. “The Supreme Court too is, fundamentally, an antidemocratic institution run by people who are not subject to the popular will of our diverse society.”

    America, take a deep breath. Exhale slowly.

    I’m aware believing you are the only sane person in the room is a sign of mental illness, but that is the way things feel. People from Op-Ed writers to Candidate Biden (who believes Trump will not voluntarily leave office) to former colleagues I once revered for their ability to stay cool under stress are predicting or calling for riots and revolution, coups and looming dictatorships, right up to actual civil war. Almost no one seems think we are capable of just having an election. It is the expected end of four years of TDS, with the looming crisis always having to top the previous false ones.

    First, the irony. It was in fact the Democrats who refused to accept the results of the 2016 election, trying everything from self-delusion to claiming the Electoral College didn’t count to calling for recounts to writing the equivalent of Federalist Papers fan fiction trying to make up some alternate scenario where Trump lost. After all that failed, they quickly pivoted to a four year effort to throw Trump out once seated that ran the gamut from empty Emoluments Clause lawsuits to delegitimization via Russiagate to outright impeachment to demands to invoke the 25th Amendment for increasingly bizarre non-reasons. There were mini-versions of the same with Democrat Andrew Gilliam in Florida and everyone’s sweetheart Stacey Abrams not accepting the election results that made them losers. So in terms of not respecting the democratic process, it is the Democrats who have brought the gusto.

    The reality is there is no rational basis to expect Trump to act unconstitutionally. Sadly, people already delusional with a horrible track record of predicting events (that war with North Korea start yet?) have misinterpreted, exaggerated, or just made things up. One example — Trump calling for poll watchers morphed within minutes into him ordering militia groups to disrupt voting. Poll watching is a valid protection for our democratic system. Sign up here.

    It is also pretty hard to “steal an election.” Most dictators who steal elections do so by not having them, or allowing only themselves on the ballot. The intense presidential campaign now in its final stages is proof enough democracy is still quite alive. If Trump wanted to be dictator, why is he bothering with the election process at all? Why wouldn’t he just order his robot army into the field today?

    And guess what: elections are run on the hyper-local level, with yokels in small towns in charge and the Feds nowhere to be seen. Under a statute on the books since 1948, anyone who sends “any [federal] troops or armed men at any place where a general or special election is held” faces prison. Anything Trump demands along those lines would be an unlawful order troops would be required to refuse. Challenges to ballots are a part of the system, and there are long-standing procedures in place to resolve differences. More potentially manipulable things like whether to count ballots mailed before but received after Election Day are being resolved in preelection litigation at the state level. Attorney General Barr can play no role and is not. Court challenges have actually made it easier for more people to vote early and by mail than ever before. It is childishly simple to say “Trump will declare martial law” or whatever brings in the viewers, much much harder to outline in detail how many tens of thousands of people across 50 states would have to break the law to make it even begin to happen.

    The idea of Trump refusing the leave the Oval Office is simply silly. Sitting in the Oval Office does not make you president. Having people throughout government act on your orders makes you president. If no one listens to Trump he is not president. Just unplug the phones. A technician invalidating the nuclear codes in the Football would likely be enough to shut everyone up. Any further problem could be solved by a decent nightclub bouncer. As for the military, the left has signaled multiple times over the last four years they’d be OK with some sort of coup, and in each instance the military explicitly stated no thanks. And how often under far more dire circumstances has the American military refused to follow lawful orders? This ain’t Bolivia, folks.

    As for people throwing themselves under tank tracks, or right wing militias battling the Secret Service to keep Trump in office, get a grip. All the macho talk misses one point: very few people are willing to die because of Trump. It seems easy to extrapolate some rioters playing rough with the cops into, whatever, the Russian Revolution, but Americans aren’t starving. Those antifa rioters all went home to apartments with Netflix. No secret police kicked down their door and the KKK didn’t come and take their babies away. A night in jail where they secretly know no real harm will come to them? Sure, street cred. But charge a machine gun? Throw themselves under a tank? Please, these are people are so worried about dying they wear paper masks in their own car enroute to buy gluten-free products. Everyone thinks they are GI Joe until the first rounds crack in.

    People are going to storm the White House? And that Secret Service sniper who trained his whole life for this moment is going to refuse a righteous order and let someone set fire to the place because of his quiet commitment to a medicare for all? The FBI was inside the right wing militia scheme in Michigan for months. It’s fun for people like the Proud Boys to do Army man cosplay, but the reason they are strutting around here is they don’t really want to stand a post in Afghanistan and risk getting killed. Sure, incidents will occur. After all, we are Americans, hateful, savage, and armed to the freaking teeth. But a revolution requires people desperate enough today that dying tonight seems a reasonable compromise. Too many journalists writing this trash still have their Che T-shirt from undergrad.

    Far too many of us seem to truly believe if Trump succeeds in taking over via some violent or unconstitutional means, that’s it for America, and most of the unbelievers who comment here will wash up in Q-Anon reeducation camps. I happen to know while the guard jobs will be outsourced to North Korea (what do you think Trump and Kim talked about?) the actual camp management will be done by vetted young Americans via a revamped Teach for America program. For each person who leaves a comment below on this article, I will personally intervene on their behalf to see they get an extra ration of Freedom Gruel, made with Ma Pence’s own recipe.

    So humor doesn’t help either? I tried straight talk, I’ve tried facts, so how about shame? A few months from now when none of this happened perhaps the people who have been abysmally wrong for four years will feel some shame for making peoples’ lives darker and feel more fragile than they needed to be. Those who predicted economic depression and caused people to wrongly sell off stocks, or those who ruined lives, jobs, and educations with politically motivated lockdowns, maybe one of them for a moment will reflect and seek some sort of moral or intellectual redemption. Yeah, 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.

  • Twitter vs. the First Amendment in Social Media Censorship

    October 24, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Twitter and Facebook are the censors the Founders feared when they wrote the First Amendment. In the 18th century, none of those forward-thinking men could have envisioned a day when technology and global corporations would overshadow the power of governments to control information. But that day is here, and @jack and his colleagues are trying to steal an election for Joe Biden in real time.
    The social media giants this week tried to disappear a story from the New York Post claiming Hunter Biden had sold access to his father Joe to a Ukrainian company. I’m afraid to include a link to the story, for fear this article too will be blocked and made to disappear. See, you can’t tweet a link to the Post’s story or send it as a direct message on Twitter and you can’t post it on Facebook without some sort of red flag. If you’re an unimportant person your message will just be blocked. If you are important, like the White House press secretary, @Team Trump, or a conservative journalist trying to report out the fuller story, your account will be locked. The NY Post, one of the largest mass circulation dailies, can’t RT its own article on Twitter. In my case, I was life banned from Twitter years ago, censored so broadly I can’t even buy a ticket for this ride. Orwell of course anticipated all this, creating the term “unperson” for someone erased from society. But he, too, did not anticipate the power of the electronic media companies or he would have likely also created the term “unthought.”
    The goal of Twitter and Facebook censorship is unthought, to make the NY Post story go away to the extent possible, and to delegitimize it as much as possible in those spaces the giants do not yet control because it might hurt Biden’s chances in the election. They have reimagined free speech as a liability to democracy. They have also crossed some border into the bizarro world by claiming the NY Post story is unproven after years of pressing untrue Russiagate stories into the public conscious, and after featuring NYT stories on Trump’s taxes based on purloined documents never made public. They have given voice to their self-created Blue Check experts who, simply based on imagination, claim the Post story has been spiked directly into the American vein by the Russians. The latter is especially insidious, using a fully disproven story (the Russians controlled the 2016 election) to support another new unproven accusation. This is sadly consistent with another blow to democracy, the media’s abandonment of any commitment to objectivity in favor of ideological activism. This election, there is a Right Candidate and a Wrong Candidate and it is the media’s job to use the tools of censorship, propaganda, and now unthought to direct your vote accordingly.
    We have no protection. For something like this to be unconstitutional or illegal, the denial has to come from the government. Facebook and others can deny  speech rights anytime they want. We now know the argument only the government is covered by the 1A has reached its limit. Technology and market dominance give great power with no responsibility to a handful of global companies even as the law hides behind the simplicity of the 18th century. That way of thinking requires you to believe that Facebook, et al, would never act as a proxy, barring viewpoints on behalf of a politician who would not be allowed to do it himself.
    We are approaching a time when the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you’re allowed to say could depend on media’s opinion of how it will affect others, in this case, electing Joe Biden. Maybe you like Joe, but do I really have to include here “but what about the next time they use this power, maybe against something believe in?”
    For those muttering “it can’t happen here,” look how American tech companies are already employing their tools to serve the 1A-free China market’s social control needs. Companies exist to make money. You can’t count on them past that. Handing over free speech rights to an entity whose core purpose has nothing to do with free speech means it will inevitably quash ideas when they conflict with profits; it just happens to be going your way right now. Those who gleefully celebrate that the anthropomorphized @jack and good old ‘Zuck are not held back by the 1A and can censor at will seem to believe they will always yield power in the way “we” want them to. And trading away a little free speech, especially from a journalistic roach like the NY Post seems reasonable compared to another four years of Trump.

    It makes sense for them to unabashedly mainstream unthought and censorship Because Trump. Never before have a large number of Americans feared a politician more. Trump isn’t just against what you are for, he is someone literally out to kill you, via COVID, via some war, your life is in danger. He is not just bad, he is a pure strain of evil without goodness, like a pedophile.

    Google first introduced censorship in the most well-intentioned way: to stop child predators. The Internet giant tweaked its search results to block sites it believed linked to child porn. It went on to do the same for terrorist sites, and sites that encouraged suicide. But Google can skew search results any way it wants. It knows the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users will click on it. In a test, placing links for one candidate above another in a rigged search increased the undecided voters who chose that candidate by 12 percent. Burying an idea can have a similar effect; 21st century free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about finding a place to speak. Censorship in the 21st century targets both speakers (example: Twitter blocks someone) and listeners (Google hides that person’s articles). There will soon be no fear anyone will lock up dissident thinkers in some old-timey prison to silence them; impose a new Terms of Service and they are effectively dead. As are their ideas.

    The argument Twitter, Facebook, and Google are private companies, that no one forces you to use their services, and in fact you are free to switch to MySpace, is an out-of-date attempt to justify end runs around the First Amendment. Platforms like Twitter are the public squares of the 21st century (seven of 10 American adults use a social media site), and should be governed by the same principles, or the First Amendment will become in practical terms irrelevant.

    Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another company that sells stuff is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. These corporations understand their power to influence. They feel morally required in using it for partisan goals. They have exercised it for Joe Biden. When that happens, elections can be stolen in real time. Just watch.

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

  • China Policy: Trump vs. Biden

    October 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

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

    Despite the campaign’s focus on domestic issues, there is still a world out there the next president will have to deal with. And there’s a very significant policy difference between Trump and Biden to be explored: China.

    First, a quick look back at 2016. What to do about Syria was a major point of contention between candidates Trump and Clinton. Remember how “boots on the ground” was a popular catch phrase and ISIS our bad guys? Clinton was going to war in Syria. Trump wanted no part of it, and proposed a broader change in U.S. foreign policy to not look for buckets of gasoline abroad to throw matches into. Four years later no politician is talking about terrorism and the wars which dominated the past two decades are background noise for most voters.

    (Knock knock. Who’s there? 9/11. 9/11 who? Aw, you said you’d never forget.)

    Did we win? Well anyway, terrorism seems to be gone. The thing is America does always need a foreign enemy, enough but not too much, to fuel defense spending, to justify a global imperial stance, to blame for our economic woes, and to serve as a rallying point for American jingoism as needed for domestic political purposes. The Russians did well in the role for many years but are hard to see as a rising global threat. “The Terrorists” had a good run until disappearing in a fast fade.

    The problem of having a standing enemy found its solution in China. The sword rattling had already begun in Late Obama. As president, Donald Trump built on those brewing animosities to break long-standing U.S. policy toward China. Since 1979 the country was characterized as a rising autocracy with at times aggressive but containable behaviors, a competitor but not an enemy. Trade-offs were necessary in such a relationship, especially if the U.S. was going to continue to push China on human rights issues. Not Trump: he saw the U.S. and China as enemies across a multiverse of economic, intellectual, technologic, and military issues.

    Inflamed by the COVID crisis, Trump continued what in a second term may develop into a policy of real Cold War. Trump imposed trade sanctions. Trump cut back on student visas, academic exchanges, and turned up the heat on Chinese espionage inside the U.S. Trump is selling F-35s to Japan and South Korea as part of a broad military check on Chinese ambitions. Administration officials portray China as an existential threat to the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mocked “the old paradigm” and accused President Xi of seeking “global hegemony of Chinese communism.” Given the chance in November, Trump will likely continue to accelerate the process of “decoupling.”

    What about President Joe Biden? Biden has learned beating up on China is a cost-free way to prove his toughness, and has oddly even called out Trump for being too weak. It seems very likely Biden, if elected, will continue near but not in Trump’s footsteps with Target China. The difference will very likely be found in Biden himself, who with decades of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will pay attention to the actual state of affairs between the U.S. and China versus Trump the ideologue and populist. So more challenges and possibilities, fewer problems and threats.

    The economic relationship alone is staggering. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, such that China is the third-largest destination for American exports. China holds the most U.S. government debt of any foreign country. Much was made when one McDonald’s opened in Red Square during the Cold War. Yet the numbers for China represent a whole lot more reality for two supposed “enemies.”

    China’s military ambitions are both overstated and misunderstood. Beijing has made strides toward a real blue water navy but is it not there yet. Claims China might best the U.S. in the Pacific are mostly excuses to increase short-term defense spending. The PLAN is just the latest boogeyman for the military industrial complex.

    China does not yet have one modern carrier. The U.S. has 11 nuclear carrier groups, plus nine amphibious assault ships which can launch the F-35 as a strike aircraft. Japan, Korea, and Australia have similar amphibious ships to add to the fight. That of course is all just in the first responder category; land based American aircraft from Japan, Korea, Guam, and the U.S. mainland would assure air dominance. More importantly, America’s military is fully blooded and experienced, a sad legacy of the last 19 years of war. The modern PLAN has yet to fire a shot in anger, and learning under fire is expensive.

    Even more important is understanding China holds few territorial ambitions in the traditional sense of competing with the U.S. for control of land masses and populations. Nearly any place the U.S. might call a target — Japan and Taiwan stand out — is instead a major trading destination for China. Attacking a partner? War is bad for business. The Chinese do have a nationalist fixation on security and for a global order safe for their autocracy, but embarking on ideological or imperial crusades to remake other countries in its image is reserved for the United States.

    It’s not hard to see the difference in action. As head of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq, I was tasked with improving water supply in our sector for the Iraqis. Fruitlessly driving through small towns looking for some place to create a water project, we spied a large stack of crated water pipes and pumps. Upon inspection, all had come from China. The locals told us Chinese salespeople had sold them the stuff and left months ago. The U.S. sent the 10th Mountain Division, the Chinese sent a sales team.

    Some saber rattling and fusses over tiny islands, of course, but always within boundaries. This is how it has worked regionally for decades. For example, Japan has challenged Russia for control of some northern islands for 75 years without violence (or progress.) Much the same for Taiwan and the Spratlys, claimed by multiple nations. The last real shooting between Taiwan and the Mainland was in the 1950s.

    President Biden will need to cooperate with China as he returns to America’s traditional international agenda. Transnational issues like climate change demand active engagement between the world’s two biggest economies. China is a major buyer of Iranian oil and key to any effective sanctions. A sleeper transnational issue is North Korea. Any serious change in the North requires Chinese cooperation. Or imagine the need to work together following a massive earthquake or Chernobyl-level nuclear accident in the North, as China struggles with a refugee crisis on its border under a drifting cloud of radiation.

    That doesn’t mean Biden can’t have a little of everything. Talk tough at home, do little abroad is something the Chinese have come to understand and expect from the U.S., a kind of necessary tax on the more important parts of the relationship.

    So during the primaries Biden called President Xi a thug for having “a million Uyghurs in reconstruction camps meaning concentration camps.” After Beijing imposed the new national security law in Hong Kong Biden vowed to “prohibit U.S. companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” At the same time Biden is respectful of how the great game is played. So expect fewer tariffs via Tweet, less nasty jabs against things like student visas and cell phone apps. There are well-known soft spots the U.S. must be cautious of, and Biden has long been a champion of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan. Biden’s will be a pragmatic China policy. Trump’s an emotive, populist one.

    A significant danger will come from Obama alums like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, perhaps even Bloody Hillary as some sort of elder statesman/special envoy, who will try to press Biden into the kind of open conflict they bluntly championed across the Middle East. Biden will have to resist them, as well as the defense intellectuals who see war between the Dragon and the Eagle as inevitable. The NYT, out front as always, reviewed scary Chinese military propaganda videos on YouTube as a way of warning us, not even getting the irony that one video is pieced together from borrowed Hollywood blockbuster footage.

    But if Biden holds steady, it won’t be cold war; let’s call it lukewarm at worst. The ties that bind the two nations are important enough that Biden and the Chinese will always be careful to color inside the lines. It is likely Biden will sound like a version of Trump but act much like Obama’s predecessors. China understands this game; the rules were established long ago over things like the multi-administration tsk tsk response to Tienanmen and the One Child Policy. Look for semi-tough words even as the cargo ships crowd each other out crossing the Pacific.

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

  • Why the Dems Can’t Have Nice Things (Like the White House)

    October 10, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Here’s why the Democrats can’t have nice things. Like the White House.

    Though by now the media has awarded Biden all 270 electoral votes and taped a transcript of his debate performance on the national refrigerator door, it is unclear Joe Biden really wants to be president. He barely campaigns and usually ends his working day at noon. Since mid-August Biden logged 22 days where he either didn’t make a public campaign appearance (during the same period Trump visited 19 states.) Biden has slept at home every night of the campaign. He has no signature policy initiative. He often appears overwhelmed. He simply presents his waxy self as the embodiment of the empty and depressing strategy of I’m the Lesser of Two Evils and marks off the days until it will all be over.

    The Democratic party itself seems to feel much the same way. After four years of complaining Trump is an old white draft dodging man linked to corruption, the best the Dem process could cough up was an even older white draft dodging man linked to corruption. On a rare Biden visit outside his own yard to Charlotte, North Carolina, local organizers only turned out 16 people to meet the candidate. The chairwoman of the African American caucus only learned of the event from TV. Meanwhile, the party insists on its own demographic illusion. Latinos, key in crucial states like  Arizona and Florida, have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees, resistant to a campaign defining them as “people of color.” Some 98 percent of Latinos don’t want to be called “Latinx” even as the Democrats continue to do so pandering to the two percent. Ideology over reality, though it may not matter: 38 percent of Hispanic voters Dem imagine they control in battleground states are ambivalent about voting at all. A Telemundo poll shows 68.7 percent believe Trump won the first presidential debate.

    The Dems ignore other demographic bad news. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin net Democratic registrations are down by 38 percent from 2016. More to the point, registration among whites without college degrees is up 46 percent while registration by people of color is up only four percent. Turnout looks to be in trouble as well; in Wisconsin while 79 percent of black voters participated in the 2012 general election, in 2016 it was down to 47 percent. The risk of low turnout is even greater when one factors in age.  About 78 percent of blacks age 60+ are likely to vote, compared to only 29 percent for blacks age 18-29.

    Meanwhile, in this final stretch when they should be clawing for every vote, Dems are sending out scattered messages on in-person voting (“You might die of COVID but it’s so important you guys!!!! LOL”) and planning on relying on a 19th century mail in system run by local yokels that works poorly under the best of circumstances. Plan B is to claim the system they told everyone to use didn’t work and the president needs to be selected by Netflix users.

    If Democrats really wanted to win some swing states they should have found a way to fix the water in Flint. They might have persuaded Mike Bloomberg instead of buying felons’ votes in Florida to have created the equivalent in new jobs in Ohio. Dems never talked to the voters they needed the most. In fact, quite the opposite. They stomped their feet and held their breath in a four year tantrum and called them racists and haters when unmasked Midwesterners never got appropriately offended by Trump. These people worked hard for what they have only to hear that dismissed as privilege. Dems attack people as much for who they are as what they believe and still expect a vote for Biden.  The NYT calls them “the worst of us.” Call them the missing whites on election day.

    Democrats also believe their own self-illusion. Instead of understanding social media as a winnowed, mob-enforced minority of confirmational people, Dem strategists believe it all makes a difference. They came to think listening to podcasts, wearing cute #Resistance gear, retweeting and liking, holding Pink Hat marches and flash mobs, making $25 donations to GoFundMes, signing online petitions before going on Etsy to buy snarky t-shirts about vaginas, forwarding propaganda videos from the Lincoln Project, all while talking about NPR in line at Trader Joe’s, matter. All the devices don’t add up to a single vote. It isn’t a barometer, it’s a mirror.

    Voting Dem may just be too much of an ask for thinking people. Review the near-endless emotional hemophilia, hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, and fake news kudzu a Dem voter is asked to ignore. For example, a Trump rally, or a wedding, is a deadly super-spreader event but a BLM rally is not. Schools and businesses are open or closed at the discretion of governors and mayors but Trump is to blame. Demonstrations which devolve into riots are acceptable but a couple of rednecks open carrying at a statehouse is a precursor to civil war. BLM when the killer is a cop, a lot less so when the killer is a black gang member. The new Supreme Court will limit our rights, except if they extend our 2A rights and then more rights are bad. Kids in cages means Nazism but Biden bringing back the Obama national security advisors who created millions of refugees flowing out of Syria and Libya is no matter. Choosing a Supreme “too close” to an election is the end of democracy but Dems promising revenge by adding states, deep-sixing the Electoral College, and packing the court to jam through their own one party eternal majority is not. A Muslim woman in Congress is revered for her adherence to sexist Islamic doctrine but a Catholic woman who honors her spouse is Handmaid’s Tale in Biblical proportions. #BelieveWomen applies to accusers of Republicans but not Democrats. We must have more women in government, except if they’re Republicans. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, claims he will block any FDA-approved COVID vaccine from his state until his own scientists check it out, fearing a dangerous chemical will be released so that Trump can win the election. We must reawaken our democracy but if you vote for a third party you are working for Putin.

    More?

    When the stock market was soaring it didn’t matter because most people did not own stock yet when it fell during COVID it was the end of the economy but when it recovered it no longer mattered. None of the desperate warnings of war — Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela, civil war in America — came to be. No one did anything bad after the embassy moved to Jerusalem or the Iranian agreement ended. All the things which were to disappear — the ACA, Roe, LGBT rights, same sex marriage — did not. Martial law was not declared, though the MSM signaled numerous times they would be OK with a military coup to depose Trump. Puerto Rico did not descend into genocide. Trump did not launch nuclear weapons in a fit of psychosis. The Democrats over and over made insta-heroes of miserable people who then had to be disowned like Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller, James Comey, and every former general who was going to flip and tell all but didn’t. I honestly have no idea anymore if Dr. Fauci is seen as a good guy or a bad guy by Dems. The Democratic party claimed insubordination by government officials is to be honored if it is called #Resistance. We needed to see Trump’s taxes bad enough that it was OK someone stole them and even then the NYT won’t let anyone see the actual documents. Pee tape anyone? And in the final months before the election, the principle Democratic strategy is to claim if Trump wins it was all unfair. Update: the Reichstag is still standing.

    How can a thinking person look at all that and conclude “these are the people I want running the country.”

    Too many readers will see this article as pro-Trump. Where does it praise Trump? And that’s the last point here. Democrats and the MSM (let’s call it MSDNC) have divorced themselves from earth gravity. The rules of their home planet are any criticism of the party means you love Trump, are a hater, racist, Nazi, Russian or a bot. Inquiry is not allowed, so you must accept the Dossier, Russiagate, Ukraine, whatever crazy story is “reported” by “sources” and vote Biden or else.

    Maybe if a little introspection had been allowed amid demands for conformity of thought the Democrat party would not be imploring voters to believe the end justifies the means. Maybe they would not have cried wolf again and again until only the true crazies are still listening. Maybe they would have foregone the public humiliation of the Mueller report and the failed impeachment. Maybe they’d be running a candidate that represented, well, something to vote for. Maybe they would not be so worried their voters will stay home on November 3.

    If Trump wins again, it will be safe to say Dems lost this election in 2016 when they failed to see the change the nation wanted, pushed Bernie aside, and demanded we coronate Hillary. That gave Trump his first term. But rather than learn anything in the cold morning and seek redemption, the Dems basically did the same thing in 2020, albeit with the more likeable Joe Biden. But Biden carries most of the same old school baggage, inherits the same wounds of the Obama years, and has that lasting taint of corruption after 47 years in government.

    Yes, Joe’ll win the popular vote, the Electoral College are racist cheaters, Mrs. Jones’ ballot was lost in Raleigh, PutinPutinPutin, all a rich gumbo but whenever the end of the day comes, Trump will likely have his second term. More because the Democrats lost than because he won.

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

  • Flyover Voters More Tired Than Angry

    October 4, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    If the word for 2016 flyover voters was “angry,” in 2020 it’s “tired.” Anger four years ago put Trump in the White House, but it is unclear if tired will work for Biden. The Democrats’ strategy — our candidate isn’t Trump — may leave too many voters staying home.

    I spent a couple of days in Pennsylvania (before RBG’s death) talking to people, as it may be the keystone of the swing states, the one to decide the election. It’s a strange place politically, once described as “Philly in the East, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in between.” I visited in between, the people I chatted with consisting of those who would talk with me. Sometimes a few words, sometimes a couple of Yuenglings. But before dismissing any conclusions as too random to matter, consider in the current climate just how inaccurate polling is. I found folks slow to discuss what they were thinking, testing to see if I was going to bite them for not wearing a mask, or rant off about America being great again. It took more than “Which candidate do you support?” to learn much, especially when I felt I’d learned there are a helluva lot of shades of purple out there, and not much enthusiasm.

    In the mostly small towns I visited in, there were three types of people. Those who’d left a long time ago, those thinking about leaving, and those stuck there. Where in 2016 there was anger and passion, this year America just seems tired. The endless stream of Trump atrocities talked about on Sunday morning TV is not what voters are talking about. What neither candidate seems to address, or even be more than vaguely aware of, is how much on-the-ground economics matters to the people left in these places.

    Each town is an archaeological site, old brick buildings that used to make… what? Sometimes there are clues, a mini mall with far more vape shops than one place needs in an broken industrial cavern with the words American Ribbon still visible on the facade. Other times it’s an unused smokestack filled with echoes of small manufacturing. Look around and you can find the old train depot near main street (it’s either abandoned or a too-cute coffee shop.) The tracks themselves are buried like some ancient river.

    Nobody really believes the blue collar middle class life they remember from their childhoods, or for the young, from Grandpa’s rambling tales, is coming back, but they are desperate for a bone. Trump promised in 2016 to do something about the local economy and never really tried. Biden says he will revive things, but leaves hanging the question of why he didn’t do that during his eight years in the White House. Running on Obama’s record means just that, and people here remember more about those eight years than some nice speeches. People cringe when they hear Biden defend Obamacare. Unlike journos who tweet about it from Brooklyn while on company sponsored Blue Cross, these people tried and failed to get good health care instead of just insurance out of the plan. Like Bernie, Trump didn’t fix it, but he isn’t Joe telling people it’s all they’re ever gonna get either.

    People remember it was the Democrats who voted for NAFTA and crushed out their last wind (Biden voted for NAFTA) and while Biden claimed in 2008 it should be renegotiated during the Obama years, it wasn’t. It was Trump who renegotiated the agreement, and while that didn’t really help much here it is seen as better than nothing. People like Trump’s trade battles with China. Nobody is naive enough to think they will change much, but they like to see the pain spread around. “F*ck the Chinese” was heard more than once.

    While it is unclear if Trump will be seen as failing on his promises or just having made a weak try, it is hard to overstate how deeply these Americans despise the Obama response to the 2008 financial crisis. Many saw the values of their homes, the largest investments they will ever make, dramatically decrease. They don’t own much stock outside of flaccid IRAs, and so they benefited little from a recovery that first bailed out Wall Street. Trump certainly did his own best economic work for Wall Street, but home prices have risen over the last few years for many of the people, with even an odd twist: much of the area is within an hour or two of New York City, and city people fleeing COVID to buy homes out here have driven up prices (asking about real estate is a great conversation starter.)

    There are truths here. Social Security SSI, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance are a way of life now. One can accept food stamps but still think handouts are for the lazy. People can feel cheated working for minimum wage at a Walmart full of junk made overseas without being anti-immigrant. Legitimate anger doesn’t make you a racist. Trump understands all this better than the Democrats now speaking for their party, and that makes his voters ignore a lot of the things that drive progressives and the MSM into derangement. Biden meanwhile stumbles to gain relevance, frequently mentioning his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, making people smile Midwest-polite knowing he hasn’t lived there since age 11, 1953, when the place was thriving.

    The entire premise of the Democratic strategy misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam. Instead, Trump stumbled onto something hidden in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry (whites without bachelor’s degrees make up 55 percent of Pennsylvania’s population 25 or older). They were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone if not to fix it, to tell them who to blame. The Democrats tell them to blame themselves for being racist and uneducated — learn to code! Trump tells them it is not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants. Neither narrative is fully true but which one will find residuals of that anger to drive turnout? Hint: The area went for Trump in 2016. Prior to his victory, Pennsylvania voted Democrat in six straight presidential elections. Based on new registrations, Democrats lost more Pennsylvania voters in the last four years than they have gained. More Democrats also abandoned their party to become Independents compared to Republicans.

    People worry Biden is a Trojan Horse; not a single person could name a Biden signature policy initiative. They worry Democrats who don’t understand them will really be in charge. To some it seems men, old people, straight people, entire regions of the country, are being excluded or deemed unworthy. It isn’t status anxiety but a sense that what used to be a difference of political opinion now makes someone illegitimate as a person. They hear people who may soon be running the government call them haters and racists just because they are poor and white. While Trump is a known element, Biden could mean Obama without the gravitas, or he could mean a Pelosi regency, or a progressive charge of night riders lead by Harris. Like Biden, Trump is old and sick, but if not Trump you get Pence, not the deluge.

    When people are excluded from the most important decisions affecting their lives they lose faith. That bitter lived experience fueled distrust and an ideological drift that manifested itself in electing Trump in 2016 (it could have just as likely elected Bernie over Trump then.) And that distrust hasn’t dissipated enough for many to vote Democrat, even if they won’t vote Trump. Many of the people of color I met felt the same way as their white neighbors. Having started at the same place in the factories and fallen together into poverty, they ended up in the same dismal state as whites. A big difference, however, is that black frustration often shows up as low voter turnout, while whites vote Republican.

    Who wins Pennsylvania in November seems a battle of enthusiasm. Little understood by the coastal MSM is the important role of conservative talk radio in these areas. People spend a fair amount of time in their vehicles, and they listen to regional and local talk radio sometimes for hours. Nobody in New York pays much attention to these very conservative hosts, many mixing religious and political themes. They are skillful in using listener call-ins to make it seem an agenda is organic when it is driven. The idiots who draw societal trends and conclusions from Twitter have no idea who powerful a force this may be in driving a turnout which will favor Trump.

    For example, a lot of talk radio focuses on sports. Sports are a big deal out here, high school, college, and the pros. Nobody is happy to see games canceled because of COVID, and few seemed happy about the massive political tumor growing on sports, even if they supported the general ideas of BLM. Save it for off the field was what most said. Extreme loyalty toward a team has replaced a lot other loyalties in these people’s lives and should not be messed with lightly. It looks like just an affinity for the Yankees or  the Nittany Lions, but there is deeper water underneath. Trump’s role in getting the Big Ten teams back on the field was not overlooked. If many of the issues the MSM cares about come up a wash between Trump and Biden, don’t underestimate this kind of small-but-it-matters-to-me thing.

    For an exhausted electorate, tired now of being tired, that might just be enough.

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

  • Anonymous Sources Tell Us How Democracy Ends

    September 27, 2020 // 0 Comments

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

    Watch how this is done: Joe Biden plans to resign after only one year in the White House, according to someone with direct knowledge of the Bidens’ plans.
    A senior official at Northern Virginia Community College confirmed Jill Biden reached out recently to see if she could resume teaching if her husband was elected; Dr. Biden famously taught there while her husband served as Vice President and had befriended the official. The College immediately offered Dr. Biden a four year cycle of classes. She replied, however, she wanted to make only a one year commitment. “We won’t be in Washington for the full term,” Biden reportedly explained. “Joe’ll stay in office for a year and work on some signature issues like cancer research, but Kamala will be doing the heavy lifting from day one. Joe will quietly resign and give her plenty of time to make the job her own. It’s set in stone I’m afraid. I wouldn’t let him run any other way given his health.”
    I made that up. See how easy it is? Start with a known bias, that many people believe Joe Biden won’t serve his whole term. Play off the fear he is a Trojan Horse. Tell people what they already believe, Harris is selected, not elected. Use your own credibility to overcome the lack of it in your sourcing. Include some truth (Dr. Jill Biden did teach at Northern Virginia Community College during the Obama administration) and then take advantage of the magic of anonymous sources. Allow for faux confirmation — if another journalist contacted the college, they just might have indeed recently heard from Jill about teaching.
    This comes in the context of a recent article in The Atlantic by Jeff Goldberg, where anonymous sources claim the president disrespected America’s military. Goldberg’s piece was followed by former Russiagate FBI agent Peter Strzok telling another Atlantic writer, without evidence the equivalent of an no-name source, Trump is controlled by the Russians. Then came the return of Alexander Vindman (powered by an anonymous source, er, “whistleblower”) and excerpts from Bob Woodward’s Rage claiming without examination or details Dan Coates and Jim Mattis planned “collective action” against the president. Those are a few recent examples; in a four year tantrum the media has recklessly published anything anti-Trump without concern for truth, little better than the minor celebs who take to Twitter to announce #TrumpisaPedo who craves sex with his own children. Journalism has become propaganda, its purpose not to inform but to advocate. Influence operations. Propaganda.
    It’s worth poking a lot of holes in Goldberg’s article as an example because of its exclusive use of anonymous sources in pursuit of advocacy, in this case, trying to chip away at Trump’s pro-military base. Though Goldberg’s article talks about events from as long as four years ago, it was released alongside a current Military Times poll showing Biden gaining some support among service members, and dovetailed with fuzzy reporting Trump ignored Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan.
    The question of motive makes the validity of the sources ever more important. How do we know Goldberg didn’t make things up, or at least allow himself to be used for his partisan end as he did in advocating for the whole false narrative of WMDs and the Iraq War? Unless you are Goldberg’s mother or the town mayor from Jaws, credibility comes from the sources, not a writer’s inner soul. Goldberg comes up lacking. As a former diplomat, I staffed overseas presidential visits from Reagan to Obama. I sat in on planning meetings, and got a pretty close up view of the Secret Service. The president exists inside a series of bubbles, forgive me, like those nesting Russian dolls. The innermost bubble, the one where someone might hear his personal thoughts, is reserved for very, very few people. The universe of people who could have physically been close enough to Trump (or any president) to overhear sensitive remarks is tiny.
    So if we know the names of the sources it will be easy to place them in that special group, or not. If we know the names, it would be easy to check photos to see if they were where they would have needed to be to overhear. It would be easy to see who else was around to confirm or deny the story (11 Trump officials deny it by name, zero confirm.)
    A real reporter would also provide context, what was said before and after the damning remarks; it is not uncommon for civilians to respectfully ask what motivates men to run into fires, to sacrifice themselves for a buddy, to stand in harm’s way. Goldberg’s sources say Trump remarked to former White House chief of staff and retired Marine General John Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” He said this at Arlington National Cemetery at the gravesite of Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan. This photo shows who was there — Kelly, two family members, Trump, and Pence. This would have been the moment when Trump would have made his remark, and those are the only five people on earth who would have heard it. Trump and Pence deny it; the Kelly family has been silent from which one cannot draw any conclusion. The same photo set shows Trump meeting later with other Gold Star families, none of whom claim he made any disparaging remarks.
    There is also a sniff test to be applied. The credibility of journalism should not depend on the reader’s biases. Trump mocking Kelly’s son’s sacrifice at graveside would be among the most horrible things anyone could do to a parent. Who would say such a thing? There is no record of the worst humans in history, men like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, saying such things. There is no record of people such as concentration camp guards, men capable of killing children, saying such things. And would Kelly, a blooded Marine, stand silently with his family, accomplices in their own humiliation, then release the information only years later hiding behind the skirt of some minor journalist to score a glancing political point?
    Knowing the names of the sources also allows us to judge the credibility of the so-called confirmations by other journalists. Do their confirmations consist of nothing more than the same people who spoke to Goldberg repeating the same things to a second writer? That’s just saying the same thing twice, not a confirmation. Are the confirmations from people who heard the information second hand? The potential for circular confirmations is great and risky. It would also be easy to see who harbors grudges and deserves to have their motive to lie reviewed. It would be easy to ask a named source why he waited several years to reveal this information, just as an election is heating up. Knowing the names resolves the risk. Trust but verify.
    There are other sniff tests. Much has been made of the presumptive sources being “military men” who would not criticize the president. They are also not stupid, and if they did serve as sources knew exactly that they were attacking the president for political purposes weeks before the election. In addition, Kelly (Mattis, McMaster, et al) all took civilian positions in the Trump administration, and served out of uniform, so their refusal to comment is unjustified. The idea Goldberg would never risk his reputation as a journalist by writing a lie is silly. Goldberg and The Atlantic wholeheartedly supported the lies of the WMD story in Iraq and the lies of the Russiagate story. You can lie all you want as long as you tell people what they want to hear.
    Though it got much less attention, The Atlantic followed up Goldberg with a piece that included a named source but allowed him to simply list out baseless accusations of treason. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok sees Grassy Knolls everywhere. The Atlantic helps him along, introducing the back and to the left theory by saying “Despite multiple investigations by the FBI, Congress, and Mueller’s team, Americans have still never learned the full story about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia or Trump’s own decades-long financial ties with Russia.” Oh. Like what?
    Well, Strzok says he doesn’t really know, but it must be hidden in Trump’s taxes (which the IRS has reviewed for decades.) The writer feels it in her ample gut, too, stating “Strzok was getting too close to the truth” without actually saying what that “truth” might be other than it would be bad. Ah, from Strzok: “I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.” That is a straight-up accusation of treason, a capital offense.
    And there both the writer and the source just leave it, no specifics, no follow-up questions, not even a pee tape. We’re left to fill in They Are All In On It, everyone who could have blown this wide open is dummied up — FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, Congress. Remember Mr. X, the character in JFK played by Donald Sutherland? Strzok wants to be him. Problem is he’s not good enough for an Oliver Stone film, so he’s just out there pimping his book.
    Same for some of the gotchas in Bob Woodward’s Rage. What reveals Woodward in this case as a propagandist, not a journalist, is his lack of curiosity. For example, he quotes Mattis and Coates as talking about the possibility of “collective action” against Trump. And then drops it. You’d think Woodward would have asked “Tell me more about that, what were you thinking?” A strongly worded Op-Ed or tanks on the White House lawn? Who else would have been involved? Was this the first time this was raised or almost the last? Woodward goes on to report Coates “felt in his gut” the Russians have something on Trump. Coates was of course the Director of National Intelligence, with the full reach of the global U.S. spying apparatus at his control. He was in a position to do much more than have a gut feeling on things, but Woodward leaves it at that. Woodward purposefully allows the audience to decide what Mattis and Coates were up to, filling in the silence in whatever their worst nightmare was.
    The Atlantic articles are sucked oranges. They are a rehashed muddle of Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip people either have believed for several years because they will believe anything bad about Trump, or which people dismiss as a muddle of unsourced Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip. It is what comes next that matters.
    The danger is in not snapping back. If Trump wins in November, does the media just pick up where they left off? Do they simply find a new cause to drive a new impeachment, demanding the 25th Amendment in published pieces while hinting at assassination in their ALL CAPS social media? Goldberg’s article got far too much attention for how little it had to say. But it has not gotten enough review as a marker, the place we had to end up when the media wholeheartedly advocated for the Iraq War based on lies. It is where we had to end up when the media buried things of concern with Hillary and helped create Russiagate out of anonymous sources. It is where we had to end up when the MSM uses its own freedom of speech to quash dissenting voices  (deplatforming is the 2020 term), dismissing them as unpatriotic in 2003 and as “useful idiots” and Russian bots in the current world.
    In defense of what they call advocacy, journalists often cite Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War, or Ed Murrow publicly shaming Joe McCarthy. Not only are such  gold-standard examples rare enough that the list often ends there, they ignore negative examples, the most gleaming of which was the advocacy for the post-9/11 horrors. They also ignore how Cronkite’s and Murrow’s advocacy came at the end of dispassionate study, deep introspection, and clear sourcing. They did not seek to win the argument by literally rewriting history, as in the NYT’s 1619 Project. Cronkite and Murrow broke the objectivity wall not for a favored candidate, but over issues of deep national importance. And they knew the difference.

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

  • Reds Plot to Control America!

    September 19, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Like me, you got most of your news from PeaceData.net. It was what you looked to to form your opinions, including the all-important one about which way to vote. What you missed on PeaceData you caught up with via Facebook memes and Tweets from people you do not know.

    Or maybe not. Maybe like nearly everyone on planet earth you have no idea what I’m talking about and have never looked at the PeaceData site. That reality should pretty much end the discussion but this is 2020. So you must know by now Facebook claims an unvisited and now defunct web site named PeaceData was actually a Russian influence operation posing as an independent news outlet targeting voters in the United States. Including in their sneaky tactics were hiring American freelance “journalists” to write about U.S. politics and racial tensions from their parents’ basements.

    PeaceData operated 13 Facebook accounts, now suspended, supposedly using fake identities and “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by people with some kind of link “to individuals associated with past activity by the Internet Research Agency,” the Russkie company which U.S. intelligence officials say was part of Comrade Trump’s 2016 win.

     

    Yep, that old story, Russians, social media, blah. To say Peacedata itself truly does not matter, especially in relation to the attention it has received in death, gives too much credit to not mattering. What does matter is how the intel community, quasi-private tech firms, the media, and the Democrats worked together to exaggerate the threat and create the narrative outcome of “foreign influence.” Pay attention; this is the magician revealing how the trick is done.

    It seems the Russians have gotten so good at influencing cow-like Americans that only five percent of English-language articles on PeaceData actually directly concerned the U.S. election, out of over 700 articles published. You’d think no one would have even noticed they existed. However, some sneaky company called Graphika nonetheless told Facebook to conclude “this facet of the operation suggests an attempt to build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign.” See, the conclusion from Graphika is by making almost no impact whatsoever, PeaceData was actually “trying harder and harder to hide.” Graphika found most of the English-language posts achieved only single-digit engagement.

    Who funds net nanny Graphika? Their venture capital was raised privately, in two tranches of about three million dollars each, in 2014 and 2019. We do know who they work with. Their current “Innovation Officer” is Camille François, who once worked for Google’s analytics offshoot Jigsaw before quitting to run a secretive project for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, alongside now Graphika CEO John Kelly (no relation to the Marine.) Their December 2018 reporting helped “prove” how the Russians used social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to influence the 2016 election. Graphika also has ties to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Department’s Minerva Initiative. If you pay look at their stuff you realize they write like spooks, talk like spooks, and snitch out news sites like spooks. So you can decide if they’re involved in all this again because they are just good at proving Russian stuff or because they are tied to a corporate-quasi government structure alongside the intel community.

    What is missing from Graphika’s work is any evidence whatsoever of any actual influence on the only thing that matters: how people vote. Graphika offers nothing quantitative, claiming only that by using American freelancers PeaceData was part of the “fabric” of communities and this made them credible. A step up from 2016 efforts, which relied on what Graphika said were foreign “trolls who typically researched American life so they could more effectively pose as U.S. citizens online. One key trick was to watch American TV shows like House of Cards.”

    One is inclined to imagine here the customer service rep with a south Indian accent who asks you to call him “Mike” and wonders “How it goes my man in that American town of Iowa?” Older readers, please substitute Boris and Natasha voices.

     

    So who are these nefarious America writers unknowingly selling out their country? The New York Times tracked down one freelancer who ended up writing for no money somehow, though PeaceData rates of $75-$200 per article fluttered below average (lots of unknown sites recruit freelancers for small payouts; PeaceData used Guru.) This particular PeaceData journalist also once played Rusty in Starlight Express before selling insurance. One of his recent articles outlines his battle with dementia. Sorry to pick on the poor guy, but the NYT profiled him and it seems using such services to influence an election may not be the best use of those rubles.

    He did write a nice piece claiming Susan Rice would have made a fine Vice President. One point in her favor was “I challenge anyone to find a video, or statement which shows Susan Rice raising her temper, shouting, acting hysterical or making comments.” Rice of course is known for her signature profanity and temper; here’s the Washington Post calling her out for describing Lindsey Graham as a “piece of sh*t.” Her f-bombs are legend. She famously flipped the bird at Richard Holbrooke, told France’s U.N. ambassador “you’re not going to drag us into your sh*tty war” and drew complaints of disrespect from allies on the U.N. Security Council.

    But before just calling a Susan Rice-like bullsh*t on this whole sad attempt to frighten Americans into believing foreigners are here to steal our precious bodily Internet fluids, let’s go have a look at some of what else PeaceData had to say.

    For example, here’s a quote from a PeaceData article about Q-Anon: “The effort to mainstream conspiracy is meant to distract from the true mechanisms of exploitation and alienation, while allowing for the continued consolidation of capital and upending norms with power grabs. As liberal institutions fail and capitalism continues to deliver uncertainty, the extension of a false mythos — that promises to yield revolutionary change and free the masses — gives allure to desperately confused people.”

    Ok, that was too easy, somebody just held on to their Socialism 101 textbook. From a PeaceData article on the post office is lifted idea-for-idea from the NYT: “One way or another, the truth always comes out and with President Donald Trump, his motives were especially apparent after a news conference in the White House Briefing Room. He admitted on Thursday he opposed additional funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in order to make it more difficult to deliver mail-in ballots. Trump’s desire to not expand on voting by mail further sent society into a chaotic state amidst a pandemic.” Actually the NYT said “President Trump stirred new questions on Thursday about whether he would seek to hold up new money to the Postal Service to impede mail-in voting this fall in the middle of the pandemic.” Kinda the same thing but one is Russkie propaganda and the other is the New York Times.

     

    It is very unclear any of this is illegal. Foreign organizations hire American writers all the time. And the line between “taking an editorial stance” and “influencing an election” lies closer to how paranoid you are than anything in the law. That did not stop the FBI from telling social media to act against PeaceData based on Graphika tattling. The action Facebook (and Twitter, who called Peace Data “Russian state actors” and blocked them) took against PeaceData was based entirely on so-called violations of Terms of Service. It allows the social media giants to show off how they are doing something to whatever, save democracy. If the Founders were alive today they would be editing Terms of Service instead of creating a Bill of Rights. Facebook was not asked to return the $480 in advertising money Peacedata spent on the site.

    PeaceData doesn’t matter by itself.  The real value in this fluffy jihad against a no-name site is to allow the MSM and Democrats to announce again Trump is being helped by a foreign power, that our electoral process is corrupt if Trump wins, and to revive whatever distant wet memories the faithful had in Russiagate ending the Trump presidency. A fantasy, a little day dreaming maybe the old tricks will work this time where they have failed ever before.

    No big deal, just a glimpse behind the scenes where under the cover of blaming foreign collusion, corporate America, the intel community, and the media hide their own collusion, here, in the Twilight Zone of democracy.

     

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

  • Fear Itself

    September 13, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Barack Obama said at his convention you must vote Democrat even if you don’t care for the candidate as your president, out of fear for our democracy. Don, Jr. said pretty much the same a week later, just reversing the names and the politics. The messaging from all sides is one of fear. It sounds so 2020 but it as old as the modern era.
    America’s childhood fear was we were going to die at school when the Russians nuked America. We hid under our desks during drills, we huddled away from the windows with our coats over our heads (no one explained what we’d do on warm days) and waited to die. For an elementary student raised to believe what he was taught, it was a nightmare. My third grade teacher even identified Ground Zero, the cinder parking lot next to the school, and for some reason told us it would happen in the morning. Every day at lunch I could feel the tension drain away, at least until we had the first sex ed classes in fifth grade and I learned what venereal disease was gonna do to me.
    Americans were taught to be afraid even as we were the apex predator on the planet with the world’s only atomic bomb. We dutifully rewarded president after president for maintaining the most massive national security state ever known, but we never felt safe. We never saw it was all a trick, like conjuring a pandemic out of a virus which doesn’t even cause symptoms in many of its hosts and compared to most anything else, like cancer or heart attacks, has a fatality rate well below a single percent (so we count cases not fatalities to generate fear.) As with terrorism, diabetes and ladder falls harm more American lives than the Russians.
    With the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming like a hangover it is worth asking the price we pay for fear itself. For me, our first family plane trip after 9/11 started at a Japanese airport where security seemed about the same as before. But when we transferred to a U.S. domestic flight the world changed. The newly-empowered TSA (how did they get a new logo and uniforms so quickly?) torn into us. After shouting at my lack of preparedness to present various documents quickly enough, they pulled my pre-teen daughter away and impounded a nail clipper and some sort of medieval-looking eyebrow curling device. She started to cry, and when I tried to go to her I was held back. An incident was underway I was told. The TSA agent said harshly to her “I’m trying to keep you from dying on that airplane!” My little one started to say something, but I shouted to her to be quiet. I’d learned on an eastern European border long ago the only answer. Submit and board the plane. Submit and we can see grandma tonight at our destination.
    As the years unfolded post-9/11 we learned. Shoes off, no liquids, belts are bad. Even with a Diplomatic Passport was I screened into secondary inspection because I had flown internationally with only a carry on. Same again when I had a ticket purchased in cash, things I learned later were “profiles” of terrorists . A cabin attendant shouted me into my seat when I tried to use the toilet within a certain number of miles of Washington. Why was the person previously serving drinks now dressing me down me like a drill instructor? It seemed the wrong people were in charge. I wanted to obey but there were too many new rules. Even Winston Smith knew he had to find a way for 2+2 to equal 5 to make it all stop.
    Later, as a federal whistleblower, I was placed on some sort of list. I could fly, but my trips through the airport would be met with a firm “Sir, I need you to step over here, right now, sir!” Every time I was told I had been randomly selected, as Orwellian as things get. The protocols created to protect me from terrorists had been twisted to turn me into one. I of course could refuse to hand over my electronics, but TSA would just confiscate them so why resist? Of course I could speak to a supervisor, but I’d miss my flight. My old computer took minutes to cold boot and that angered the TSA agents and prolonged my searches. So I bought a fast Chromebook to make my surveillance more convenient.
    In a perfect melding of fears the 9/11 Memorial Museum showed us how much of this is farce. After being closed since March to protect us from COVID they will reopen to the general public on September 12. A symbolic day for sure but one with no science behind it. Why not September 3 or 24? Because it doesn’t matter, the danger was never very real. And the museum, with its cavernous interiors (it is built into the basements of the old Twin Towers) is allowed to host only 25 percent of its capacity. Same for every other museum in NYC, 25 percent whether they have state-of-the-art HVAC systems and thousands of square feet or are contained within early 19th century parlors. It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter; there’s no science behind it because there is no serious threat behind it.
    In New York we are told it will be the death of us to reopen restaurants for a quick meal, but from day one of the virus we have been welcome to sit in poorly ventilated subway cars. We can’t have more than a handful of customers inside a store, but we can spend six hours inside an airplane cabin. Ten people gathered for a party is a death trap but 300 massed for a BLM protest somehow isn’t. It makes no sense because it makes no sense. The less it makes sense the more it makes sense to just submit and go along, because thinking is hard.
    So it is no surprise I wear a mask outside. I alone seem to remember enough from biology class to question how a soggy piece of cloth, or a dust mask with an air escape valve on the side (i.e., your virus-laden exhaled breath goes out, dumbass) is unlikely to do much, like hanging garlic to ward off vampires. But I am allowed buy milk at the store with a mask. I am allowed to be part of society. I can avoid being scolded by the self-appointed mask Jugend. I can have a socially distanced conversation with my Democrat neighbor who believes she will literally risk her life to vote in-person, saving democracy itself after Trump gutted the post office. Like many, she has an Old Testament view of the virus; it is both punishment for electing Trump and the way of delivering us from him.
    Those irrational fears from the Cold War and post-9/11 are nothing compared to today; imagine the McCarthy Red Scare powered by social media and 24/7 news. Every week it has been something new that will destroy us — war with North Korea and Iran, Boogaloo Bois, Trump the Manchurian Candidate, not enough beds, and not enough ventilators. We’re worried a fascist government is taking away free speech and we’re worried the government isn’t doing enough to suppress free speech to stop hate. There are too many guns for us to be safe and not enough guns to protect us. After a decade of terrorists everywhere (when they were actually nowhere) we transition to live in terror of the virus. People not only support the restrictions and lockdown, they want more to feel safer, much like Americans demanded more nukes thinking they’d sleep better during the Cold War.
    It’s not to say people do not die from the virus or there aren’t reasons to take prudent action. It’s to say what we are doing in response does not keep many more alive for the price we are paying. Same story as with terrorism, the Cold War, whatever noise makes you jump in the dark. The bark outweighed the bite. The goal of conditioning through fear is always the same.
    Because submission scales. Decades-long nuclear arms race? OK. Support a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Libya and Yemen and Somalia? Patriot Act, torture, prison camps, drone assassinations? Yes is always the easiest way to imagine you can allay fear forever until the next scary thing is revealed. Yale welcomes students back to campus with all sorts of restrictions then warns them they will see death in their dorms. So in 2020, conditioned to accept being humiliated barefoot before every flight, it is easy to accept losing jobs, or to lock down whole cities, or close off state borders. It was easy for people to accept being denied saying goodbye to a terminally ill loved one, or to be blocked from attending church or their child’s birth, by the government.
    Fear is very powerful, and learned helplessness a dangerous thing. So forgive my dry heart when I am not sure I should fear for our democracy, or our safety, even as I fear for our sanity. And don’t be surprised at how quickly the virus clears away once the election is over. And don’t be surprised when it is replaced by a new thing to fear.

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

  • Don’t Be a Palooka, Joe

    September 5, 2020 // 0 Comments

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

    Joe, I’m writing to ask a favor, a big one, for America. Don’t be a bum, a palooka. If you lose the election, lose it graciously. Don’t drag a damaged America through a long fight designed to cripple the next Trump term, the way Democrats did it in 2016. Those same voices are gonna want you to never concede, to “sue ’til it’s Blue” but you gotta resist them and do the right thing. Don’t be the guy to wreck America. You don’t appear much in public, so I hope this message in a bottle reaches you.

    I gotta tell you Joe, while two months in America can change a lot, it doesn’t look like November 3 is gonna be your night, kid. So far you got nothing to offer but you’re not Trump, and because I know you play some poker, that’s stretching a pair of twos too far. Pennsylvania new voter registrations added 150,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Trump is beating you on Latino outreach, Joe, and owns the Cuban vote (as well the formidable Jewish vote) in crucial Florida. One pollster my TAC colleagues spoke with on our podcast believes that the “shy Trump voter” effect is even stronger today than it was in 2016. You see the raw data, but I bet your pollsters are undercounting Trump support. You gotta admit, Trump’s line about you — he sent your jobs to China and your sons to war — cuts pretty deep.

    That matters  I know the way many Trader Joe Americans noodle around when they want to see if it’s OK to talk positively about Trump. They’re afraid even at my age I’m gonna blast them for admitting they are doing OK in the economy, their retirement savings rebounded since the March fall. Once they open up, they’re afraid of you, Joe, afraid you’ll lose control to the progressives nipping at the party’s heals and with that they see chaos. When Elizabeth Warren sneaks in a pro-BLM message during your convention, they don’t see the justice they titularly support, they see chaos. And the crap they roll their eyes over happening in New York is now in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Swing states, Joe, on literal fire under Democratic leadership. Trump as the safe candidate, crazy, huh?

    I know you are counting on left behind out of work Americans without 401ks as your people, but Joe, they aren’t. Those folks are in fact Trump’s base. They don’t blame him, they think he fights for them. You and I can have a lo-carb beer alongside a little Maalox, or maybe just some nice Jell-O, after you retire and try to make sense of that, but you can’t say it ain’t so, Joe.

    So whattaya got? You cried wolf more times than Mrs. Blitzer. The sky never fell. Russiagate was a lie built on falsified FISA documents, sleazy CIA-aligned operatives, and paid-for propaganda. Impeachment was so weak it collapsed. Large numbers of voters don’t blame Trump for COVID, and statistics show the worst economic damage to individual voter’s wallets has been done by Democratic governors willing to act against their own citizens to help politically damage Trump. A Democratic governor keeps kids from school and you want the parents to blame Trump? Your party Goebbels’ are down to whimpering about violations of the Hatch Act most non-Beltway American know nothing of and care less about, and the Post Office. The Post Office, Joe? That’s your big talking point two months out? You sounds like Marcia Brady trying to snitch on Greg.

    (Joe, seriously, enough with the post office. The USPS handles 472.1 million mailpieces a day. There are only 153 million registered voters in the U.S., and typically only about 60 percent of them even bother to vote. You still get your paper Lands End catalog; handling the ballots is nothing.)

    Worse yet, you aren’t the only candidate using the Not Trump strategy. Your real opponent is Stay Home; that’s where a lot of the Never Trumpers may end up. Some important number of voters are not going to vote for Trump, but they don’t see much in you. They will “vote” by staying home, again.  Last election about 42 percent of eligible voters stayed home and given they tended to be young and of color they likely cost Hillary the election; registered voters who didn’t vote were more Democratic-leaning than the registered voters who turned out. You’re strategy is based on people who think they can solve problems by changing the channel. Most of those younger “democrats” aren’t. They hate Trump a little more than they hate you, but they’re not part of your party. They’d really like a third party, for change, but until then they’ve made it pretty clear they won’t vote for crappy candidates like you just because Nancy Pelosi tells them to.

    More? You didn’t get any post-convention bounce, not even with five nights of free media and both Obamas. Nice try with Kamala, by the way, but the only people who vote based on the VP choice want you dead, Joe. And talk about a plan backfiring, research suggests the more Democrats message democracy is dead and Trump is going to win by cheating no matter what, the lower Democratic turnout will be. And that’s on top of recent polls suggesting voter enthusiasm (which drives turnout) for you lags Trump in key battleground states.

    So sorry Joe, it does not look good. I’m sure you see more sunlight than I do, and a lot can happen in the world around you and Trump in the next two months. It ain’t over, and the race doesn’t always go to the swift and the strong, but that is the way you place your bets.

    And that brings me to the favor I’m asking of you, Joe. If you really lose, concede. Thank everyone, promise Kamala will be back fighting in 2024, and affirm  democracy worked. Don’t gin up a Konstitutional Krisis. If you really really have unambiguous proof of fraud, lay it all out in one splash, no weeks of leaks and hearings, and make sure it is clear enough all but the most committed ideologues have to admit you are right and let the process continue. You will save America.

    Everybody sees instead what the people around you are planning. Even you warned Trump will steal the election. Rep. James Clyburn said he believes the president “plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold onto office.” The Atlantic and The Washington Post regularly run stories speculating that Trump will usurp the election or reject its results. Hillary dictated you “should not concede under any circumstances” because “eventually I do believe he will win.” Her strategy for you is “a lengthy legal battle after the election,” the Sue ‘Til Blue plan which envisions November 3 as only an opening act, followed by lengthy counts and recounts of mail-in ballots, followed by court challenges, all in hope of shifting public opinion toward not accepting the election. Hillary made a good run at that four years ago, convincing a fair number of people her popular vote win meant the Electoral College didn’t count. You’ve sat with her after a couple of glasses of white wine, Joe. She really believes she won, doesn’t she? But you and I know that’s some Third World trip, not paying attention to elections whose results you don’t like.

    The poster child for being a Good Loser, Al Gore, is teeing it up for you as well. Gore believes the military will eventually have to remove Trump from office. But pay attention to Gore’s whole statement, the part when he said “there’s no intermediate step between a Supreme Court decision and violent revolution. You can always explore the option of dragging something out, tearing the country apart, mobilizing partisans against one another in the streets and all of that, but it is not a wise course for our country.” Gore of course is talking about Trump doing all that, but I’m talking about you, Joe.

    America can’t handle it, Joe, so please don’t bring it on us. Don’t listen to the voices saying you have to save democracy by refusing to accept the election results. We are so divided as a nation that you refusing to go along with the vote, fanning the flames by claiming the popular vote is controlling, insisting racism lost you the election or otherwise playing to the divisions could set off something that will be hard to control. It could ruin whatever confidence Americans have in our system, flawed as it may be. You won’t inspire people, you will inflame them. You opponent is a predator and will fight a nasty campaign. Go ahead and fight hard back. But when it is over, don’t fake losing, own losing. The critical tool for ending of democracy is people’s conditioned readiness to believe it does not work anymore.

    Joe, we’re both old enough to love the movie On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando at his most perfect. You remember the key scene, in the car with his mobster brother. Brando, a prize fighter who could have gone all the way, got talked into taking a fall to make the mob money betting against him. Brando realizes giving in, doing what the dark forces wanted him to do even when he knew it was so wrong, ruined him. He made some money, and the mob guaranteed him an easy job for life in thanks. But he knew he was a bum, a palooka, when he maybe could’ve had class, could have been somebody.

    Brando’s brother failed to tell him the right thing to do. I’m here for you, Joe. Leave Hillary and Stacey Abrams in the history books as bitter losers. Fight your fight, Joe, and then do the right thing for yourself, your legacy, for America.

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

  • Democrats Unveil the Most Cynical Campaign in American History

    August 30, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

     

    With the Democratic virtual convention history, excitement among voters ranges from lukewarm to sort of lukewarm while America deteriorates around them like a man being shaved by a drunk barber.

    The convention made it clear — the Democratic candidate is not Trump. And he is not our candidate. You can call our guy Biden if you remember his name. Either way just vote for the one not named “Trump.” It’s easy. In fact 60 percent of Biden voters say their support is more against Trump than for Joe.

    Everything else is uphill.

     

    The Not Trump candidate is an old white man, but don’t pay attention to age, gender, or race even though he’s the same as Trump. The Democratic vice presidential candidate is younger, blacker, and less male so in her case age, gender, and race are very important. Kamala Harris exists as a lure to get a few depressed prog voters to bite on Ole’ Man Biden. That voters rejected her in favor of Biden in the primaries illustrates the cynicism: it didn’t matter, any black woman without too much political baggage would do.

    About Kamala being a woman and all. Pink Hats, Hillary claiming misogyny helped defeat her. Yeah, we hit that pretty hard. Yet Democratic primary voters consistently rejected six decent women candidates to winnow the field down to two men. Harris herself was thumped badly, the high point of her failed run being humiliating Joe Biden as a racist in the first debate. We now need you to ignore all that.

    For four years Democrats chummed the water with talk about progressive issues like free healthcare, free college, college loan forgiveness, abolishing the Electoral College, you know, the Bernie stuff. Neither Biden nor Harris is into much of that and despite Bernie coming in second place twice his ideas are going to have as much influence on Biden as they are on Trump. Same for all the others hyped along the way to keep everyone’s attention, Beto, Pete, Stacey Adams, AOC, Warren, before featuring the lost John Kasich, the lonely Colin Powell, and the ghostly Cindy McCain at the convention to make it clear how little the party really cared about all that. Viewers might have expected the whole thing to shift into a commercial for reverse mortgages, or maybe adult diapers.

     

    A few more, sorry. You know how during COVID the post office delivered everything you needed? We now need you to believe the greatest election fraud conspiracy in the history of democracy is unfolding inside the same place. Yes, that post office, the one with the confusing signs about postal classes where grandpa buys those things he calls stamps. That place will likely end democracy because this election will have so many mail-in ballots and Democrats believe all those mail-in ballots will be for them and each requires its own blue corner mailbox. So Trump will win because Republicans will vote by magic laser beam or something.

    Before she woke up Kamala was a prosecutor, a person whose job it is to put young black men in jail. She liked the police. Harris specifically did not adopt what is known as a “Brady Policy” under which she would disclose past misconduct by law enforcement in order to help ensure defendants received a fair trial. She hid misconduct instead, at least until she received a judicial reprimand and had 1,000 criminals released as unfairly convicted by her. Joe Biden sort of helped, too, authoring a  law making it easier for prosecutors like Harris to put young black men in jail. We know it kind of sounds like they were on the wrong side of Black Lives Matter until they wanted black votes but trust us, we’re not going to talk about it ever again. We’re certainly not going to replay Tulsi Gabbard weaponizing Harris’ prosecutorial record against her in a later debate which ended one of their careers.

    On that same list of things not to talk about, we know everyone enjoyed saying President Bone Spurs. Yep, his pug faced rich daddy got a doctor to pretend little Donny had bone spurs and so was exempt from dying in Vietnam. Well, fuggedaboutit.

    See when Uncle Joey was younger he too did not go to Vietnam. Joey got five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. And in 1968, when his Joe’s student status was wrapping up, he was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Asthma can be nasty stuff or it can be a bone spur. In Joe’s autobiography he described his active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player, and lied (note to fact-checkers doing their research: Biden lies are called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. His vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. And Joe said “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Almost vice president Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq because she did not have asthma, called Trump a “coward.” But not Joe, got it?

    Same thing with sexual harassment. Fun for awhile, but Biden’s treatment of women means it’s a no-touch zone from now on. Go Google “Anita Hill” and you’ll get it. Same for “Tara Reade.” Tara’s been telling people since the 1990‘s Biden stuck his fingers in her private place unwanted, which is the same as Trump “grabbing them by the pussy” but maybe not. This will all get a little harder to pretend away when we spend the autumn replaying Kamala pounding #BelieveWomen into Americans’ skulls and tearing into Brett Kavanaugh for being a rapey high school kid but we pulled it off with Bill Clinton in 2016 and we can do it again.

    Kamala, wasn’t she fierce and nasty in cross-examining Brett Kavanaugh! And she tore new ones when Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr had their confirmation hearings, too. A street fighter! Let’s say that and not focus on the fact that she failed and all three men were confirmed, sort of like in her old world criminals were released back on the street because the prosecutor sounded good on the teevee but actually failed to make a real case as if she was doing it more for her than you which we acknowledge sounds sorta bad when you say it that way.

    Corruption used to be a good one to use against Trump. Unfortunately, after leaving the Obama White House, Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via sweetheart book deals. In fact, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. And sure, Biden charges the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they can protect him which sounds like Trump but well, isn’t. And there’s all that business with Joe and his son in Ukraine, and Joe and his son in China. But it’s not like Trump in any way. So talk about Beau, the dead soldier son, not the other one.

    And even though it was individual state governors, mostly Democrats, who closed your schools, threw you out of work, closed the bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, stores, beaches, gyms, and churches, and banned football, graduations, funerals, last visits with terminally ill loved ones, fathers at their child’s birth, and interstate travel while allowing BLM protests which did not in any way spread the virus, we need everyone to blame Trump. Simpler? OK, if Trump wins you are going to die.

     

    The Democratic vision is the most cynical of any in American history. It says “we have no vision” but you all need to square up and vote for a mediocre candidate with a AI-chosen running mate anyway. No real details of betterment through policy, no hope and change, no American dream, but a threat. As Michelle Obama said “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can.” In other words, vote for us or else.

    We’re about to really find out whether anyone would really be better than Trump. The Dems dangled Bernie and Warren and delivered a candidate from when Luke married Laura in the same voice a waitress uses when she says “Um, sorry, out of Coke. Diet Mr. Pibb OK?” Joe Biden is so old he’s lost the race for president twice already and comes off like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after Grandma Obama passed away. But think how hard this all was; the Democrats only had four years and couldn’t even get rid of Hillary in that time.

    But stay positive. Biden-Harris have four clean aces: 1) maybe Obama will come back for policy cameos; 2) Joe will probably die in office and Democrats will finally check the box with a backdoored first woman president; 3) Despite his drooling on his tie, Joe’s cognitive decline is no worse than Trump’s and 4) no matter what, he’s not Trump. The Democrats, who could have swung for the fence this time, are instead betting the house on that last one.

     

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