• Post-Covid 2021 Thanksgiving Tips

    November 25, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas

    Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (Not in Iraq)

    It’s time to admit America is facing a crisis. Families are going to have Thanksgiving together this year.

    Nobody wants to admit “We may die of Covid” was a better excuse for not getting together last year than “I’m stuck in O’Hara.” Nobody wants to admit chicken tenders from the microwave and a Friends marathon was actually more fun and way less stressful than cooking a mutant breasted 27 pound bird for 12 hours only to find that it was still a little under done. Even the Friends episodes where Jennifer Aniston wore all her underwear were better than Grandpa Mark’s retelling of some event from his childhood or the War of 1812 or whatever the heck he was talking about after four Amarettos. It is thus little surprise seven out of 10 young Americans prefer Friendsgiving to Thanksgiving with the fam. Surveys show two out of five young people anticipate biting their tongue during Thanksgiving dinner. It is unclear if they mean holding back on saying something or actually looking forward to self-inflicted pain as a way to get through the day.

    No, this year, because of the Thanksgiving Mandate, it is gonna get ugly. This year it’s family of origin not family of choice. Here are some survival tips.

    For Everyone: Anything with three letters is off-limits: AOC, SNL, NFL, BLM, CRT, CNN, Fox, Joe, Vax. Same for anyone known just by a single name: Kyle, Karen, Fauci, Beto, Greta, Brandon, Pete, #, Maddow, Hannity, and unless you have immediate family named “George” or “Floyd,” just no. Same with Loudon County, unless you actually live there and even then it’s weather only. Anyone without an advanced degree in the subject cannot discuss how supply lines, inflation, vaccines or masks work. In fact, things are the way they are in America such that microbiology in general is banned as dinner table conversation. Same for anything to do with law in Texas, Atlas Shrugged, Handmaiden’s Tale, and 1984. Nobody ever really read To Kill a Mockingbird or Tom Sawyer anyway, we just heard about the racist parts somewhere, so skip those, too.

    For Younger Folks: This would be a good time to admit your old man was right when he told you for four years democracy was not dying in darkness, Trump was never going to set up labor camps for LGBTQ illegal immigrant POC refugees, and a few Nazi cosplayers were not the same as Kristallnacht. Set some boundaries for yourself. You are allowed only one eye roll and one snarky remark per holiday gathering, such as when your dad says “So Trump wasn’t so bad after all” you can reply “Neither was Hitler — at first.” Also youngster folks, just let the heaving carcass of the turkey sit untouched on your plate; do not say “I guess no one remembers — again — I’m vegan.” Your parents haven’t seen you in a year, so ease them into that additional ink you spent your stimulus check on. Remember, for your parents your #Medusa tattoo is to them what their Trump vote was to you. Save announcements regarding trans anything for later.

    If you play nice on all those things you are allowed one bonus exchange over pronouns. Put your phone down. Do not fact check your parents in real time. Spend time not being offended. Pretend it’s organic or keto or paleo enough, Gwyneth Paltrow will forgive you. Basically, lighten up for an afternoon. Accept your personal life is a side dish for this meal, so have a plan to deal with that. Edibles are a better idea than taking the dog for her fifth long walk of the afternoon.

    Psychiatrists tell us traditions and rituals help sustain happiness and family bonds. Remember, Detroit losing and someone making light fun of anything that combines the words marshmallow + salad is a tradition. Calling your parents fascist AF misogynist racists is generally not, even though you did it last year over Facetime. Same with ironic “I’m thankful statements,” so no to “I’m thankful the patriarchy didn’t murder Colin Kaepernick this year.” Similarly, there is no need to remind the table that “kids in the third world are starving while we eat ourselves into a coma again, I hope everyone is enjoying dessert. I’m not.” Thanks in advance for not introducing the colonialist roots of Thanksgiving and the genocide of the Wampanoag tribe to your younger nieces and nephews over at the kids table. If you can’t handle when grace is being said, just close your eyes and think about how funny Pete Davidson is. Also, sorry, 1/6 did not change the world.

    For Older Folks: Sorry, 1/6 did not change the world. Set some boundaries for yourself. Only one Dad Joke (suggestion: What did Yoda say when he saw himself in 4K? HDMI.) You are allowed two “I told you so’s” about Russiagate among like-thinking adults before the kids arrive from the airport, and only one in front of the kids. Be magnanimous in victory; serve avocados. Put them on everything. Millennials love avocados. It’s their cat-nip. Sigh and accept your kids do not know any history predating Obama. Just let go of any pop culture references or hip hop stars’ you do not understand.

    One exception is Pete Davidson. If any of your children can explain why he is a celebrity, write down their answer and share it with others of us olds. Don’t panic, however, if they retort with “So you explain why your generation thought Jack Black was funny.” Just be the bigger guy and say no one knows. Only Joe Biden can use the word negro unironically. “When are you going to get a real job?” is better stated as “So, your Cousin Mandy said Indeed was a good way to find work in her field but then again she studied engineering.” Don’t ask “Are you dating anyone?” unless you’re prepared to know more than you really want to know about pansexuality and fluidity over a carb-heavy meal. Instead, try and make your kids feel at home — use terms like fulfilled, give back, and impactful, and say “research” to mean Googling something. Don’t claim music was better in your day. It was. Your kids will come around to admitting it in a few years but let that slide this holiday season.

    For Everyone: For gawd’s sake, remember, they’re your kids. They’re your parents. Kids do stuff, probe boundaries, overreact thinking they’re the first young person ever to notice the Constitution uses only male pronouns, and think podcasts make them experts. Your parents mean well, mis-abled as they are having grown up without social media and irony. They are your kids, good kids. They will figure out the people on late-night TV are comedians not prophets well-before your second stroke. Your parents tried hard, packed you horrible lunches they thought were nutritious, and thought they were doing the right thing not letting you have the car that night.

    Thanksgiving is just one meal built around food nobody likes enough to eat twice a year. It’s a Ron holiday, one for the fun Trans-Am Uncle Joe, so save witchy Nancy and the necro-animated Joe for another date and cut everyone some slack. You never know, next year you might not get to see them. Make it count and save the culture wars for the next phone call.

     

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

  • Old Old vs. Old Valuable

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


     

    I’m looking at a knife my grandfather gave me when I was in 6th grade. I’m about to use it on a new project, some 50 years after. The question it brings up is when does something change from being just old to being important?

    A lot of stuff just gets old. Clothing wears, the blender suddenly stops blending, paint dries in the can. I guess one idea is the thing was hanging around to be used and when it was no longer useful it just became old. This could also apply to people but that is a nastier road then we’re on today. We’ll stick with things.

    New York was a great place to wonder about this sort of thing because nearly everything there is old. The subway dates back 120 years, many of the apartments about the same, and a lot of the public infrastructure like park benches is in the same age group. They had all been patched and repaired over and over, usually just to the edge of working again without being “restored.” The subway system, for example, employs people to hand-make electrical parts from the 1950s. Newer stuff won’t work in the ecosystem as a whole so until someone rebuilds the entire switching network someone else is going to be hand-making old-new parts.

    The entire city is made at its core of old stuff that is tolerated as payment to live in the Greatest City in the World and all, but is mostly just an inconvenience. At some point a lot of stuff gets so old it becomes an antique, in a museum. For much of the rest, it is just old, not valuable, and everyone would like to have a modern subway like Tokyo or Singapore.

    Same for housing. It is nothing in NYC to have to walk up five flights of stairs to an apartment whose walls are only held together by cobwebs interlaced in with the asbestos. The tub is in the kitchen and the toilet has been used by literally thousands of assholes over its lifetime. If the lead paint is peeling it is just old. If the lead paint has been over-coated then the place becomes vintage. There seems to be such rules that can be discovered through observation, like what physicists do with the universe.

    The peak of all this old old and old valuable thing is the famous High Line on the west coast of Manhattan. Around the turn of the century it was a stretch of elevated railway spurs designed to move cattle from the docks into the nearby slaughter houses (the area is still called the Meatpacking District though many young people think the name is a nod to the area’s once-thriving rough gay sex clubs) and then the same tracks would then take the dressed meat off to market. It was a pretty clever system actually that eventually fell into disuse when animal slaughtering near to residential areas was seen as a kind of health threat.

    As the area fell into disuse absent the under-the-radar sex clubs, it proved to be too expensive to tear down the elevated train tracks, so they were just left in place. Nobody cared whether they would eventually rust and crumble or survive to be discovered by future archaeologists. They were just old.

    Then somewhere along the 1990s in one of those only-in-New-York stories only New Yorkers tell themselves, a group of locals still clinging to the cheap rent and gritty ambiance of the area decided to turn the elevated tracks into a park. They battled city hall, they cleaned up trash, they planted flowers, and they birthed the High Line.

    The thing about the High Line is on the one hand it is just a narrow park one floor or so above the street. It has benches and nice plants and you can walk there. The walk is mostly from one random location to another; only last year did a developer create a destination at the north end of the Line, Hudson Yards. Stairs to get on and off the Line seem randomly located, so the idea of walking nowhere just to walk is kind of baked in from the start.

    Walking on the Line is basically no different in theory from walking on the street below it. One’s first impression is “Cool!” quickly followed by “So this is it?” The secret unspoken real answer is the High Line is New York as New Yorkers want the city to be. It’s much cleaner than the street. The homeless and other street evils do not seem to go up there, instinctively staying below. Some of the last benches you can still lie down on in the city are on the High Line. It is thus not old. It is valuable.

    The knife my grandpa gave me 50 years ago is an X-Acto handle with a replaceable blade. You can buy a similar one in most art stores today for a few dollars. The range of hundreds of blades made for these knives means you can cut all sorts of stuff but the cool factor is a blade from 50 years ago will fit in a modern handle and vice-versa. They never needed to update or change anything; they got it right the first time.

    Sadly however, quality is an issue. My old handle is made of machined aluminum, and has acquired a patina after having been handled by me for thousands of hours. It is now a slightly different color about half-way up, right where it fits in to the fold between my thumb and first finger. The new handles are some kind of cheap chrome-like metal and will not change with human contact. The old handle has some heft to it, so you know it is in your hand, but it is not heavy. The new ones are too light.

    Same on the blades. I actually have a few 50-year-old blades as well. They are sharp enough to shave with (bloody but the experiment was once done by a younger me) and made of real steel. They rust. Newer blades do not hold their edge and do not rust. They are not as sharp and are too thin. They tend to bend on long cuts, producing a wavy edge.

    One major design flaw has never been corrected. The knife handle is round, a tube. It rolls around whatever surface you place it on and with all the weight in the tip with the blade and tightening collar, it will absolutely always fall point first. It has pierced my thigh more than once, went into my bare foot more than once. Anyone who uses such a knife puts tape or some kind of bit of foam rubber on the end to stop the knife from rolling. You can always tell the newbies by their knives.

    Grandpa originally gave me the knife for a science fair project. My topic was volcanoes and the plan was to create a large, 3D map-model of Hawaii to show how volcanoes formed the land. Hawaii was chosen because Hawaii was everywhere in the media at the time, focused on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV show. My plan to free-hand sketch the islands on a piece of wood and then glop some plaster into little lumps of hills was intercepted by my grandfather. He thought of himself as a craftsman, and decided this was a learning opportunity for me.

    We got a small map of Hawaii and he taught me to take measurements with a protractor and drawing compass off the map. We’d then do math to enlarge those measurements and transfer them to the large piece of heavy paper that would be a template for my science fair display board. So with the compass I would measure say the distance from Honolulu to the airport as 1/8th inch on the small map. We’d then multiple that by say 5, and on the big piece of paper I’d reproduce it as a distance of 5/8ths of an inch. It would be 100 percent accurate!

    I was expected to create these 5x maps for all the major islands. Then, using the X-Acto knife grandpa gave me, I would carefully cut each island out of the heavy paper and glue it to a big piece of plywood. We would then mix up plaster to sculpt all the volcanic mountains on top of that. The problem was that doing this all the way my grandpa suggested would take approximately one million years. I may or may not have painstakingly outlined one of the smaller islands this way but as the science fair deadline came closer and closer and I grew more bored and frustrated by the process, Hawaii did not form from my plaster sea.

    I am ashamed even now to admit my grandpa finished the thing for me. In the end he sketched the islands by hand, mixed paint with the plaster so the islands would at least be brown, and used a sponge to texture the “ocean” portion of paint a bit so you knew it was the ocean. The plaster was barely dry when I carried the project to school. I got a shitty grade because I had left no time to do anything science-like, just built the board, sort of. I might as well just have crayoned “Hawaii” on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall as a project.

    The good news was I got to keep the knife. I used it for all sorts of school projects and crafts, hundreds of models, as a letter opener, and of course dangerous plaything. I held on to it through a series of moves that started with me leaving my parents’ house at 18. The knife is a valuable thing. It is useful and still does its job well. It holds many memories. It is one of a small handful of things I have from my grandfather, most of them tools he used that I still use. That is old and that is valuable.
       

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  • Hiroshima, Syria, Wherever, What’s Different?

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Syria

    America doesn’t want to know what happens in its wars. It wants to believe each war starts in righteousness, usually something as lofty a goal as freeing people from oppression or bringing them democracy. It then wants to believe our side is clean, as any force of righteousness must be. And then at some point it wants to forget about it all absent a few Business Class upgrades for soldiers flying home next week over Thanksgiving. But what happens when the truth, the overriding truth bigger than a single atrocity, peaks out from under the heavy cover of lies?

    You may remember America went to war in Syria in 2015 under Barack Obama. What was going to happen next there was a major campaign issue in 2016. The catch-phrase was whether either candidate supported “boots on the ground.” Trump, who did not overtly support that, did it anyway, and under now a third president some 900 Americans are still on the ground in Syria on a mission looking for a strategy. It would be surprising if one out of 100 Americans knew today we were still at war in Syria. Don’t ask Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate in 2016. During a recent Senate hearing on Afghanistan, he declared, “I am relieved that for the first time in 20 years, children being born in this country today are not being born into a nation at war.” It is doubtful Kaine or more than one out of ten thousand when told of the ongoing fight in Syria could explain why.

    So it is surprising to see the New York Times front page an investigation into a more than two year old U.S. air attack in Baghuz, Syria which killed some 80 women and children. Though the entire strike was preserved on drone video, a precise death count is unlikely because the three weapons dropped, totaling over 2,500 pounds of explosives, would have reduced most of the dead to a fine, pink mist. Hard to count that. The amount of explosives used against these undefended human targets in the open was roughly the equivalent of that carried by a B-25 into actual combat during WWII.

    The rest of the Times’ story is much the same story. The 2019 Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war, but was never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. A military legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military moved to conceal what happened. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized, and of course classified. Coalition forces quickly bulldozed the blast site to destroy any possible evidence. A whistleblower in contact with Congress lost his job. The New York Times pieced together what happened, detailed the coverup, and published the story last week. After the Times made its findings known to CENTCOM, a military spokesperson stated “We abhor the loss of innocent life” but stood by the airstrike as justified under whatever rules they were following. It is very unlikely anything more will come of all this.

    There is of course so much to be outraged over here but one realization is that good people were trying to report something very wrong through the chain of command and at every turn were blunted and thwarted. There seems to be no such thing as oversight or accountability. And yep, the whistleblower got burned.

    But the real outrage is the one not acknowledged by the Times. They treat this as if it is all new, headline stuff, the shock of civilian deaths, the coverup, the whistleblower himself the new target. But we refuse in our new righteousness over the cindered bodies of women and children to acknowledge it is closer to the norm than the exception. After nearly 1,000 air strikes in Syria and Iraq in 2019, using 4,729 bombs and missiles, the official military tally of civilian dead for the year was only 22. As a State Department civilian embedded with the military during Iraq War 2.0 I saw many remains of buildings hit by airstrikes. It was very difficult to maintain the illusion that that building, the one with four floors and multiple apartments, had held only insurgents when it was obliterated some night.We choose to only use the word atrocity when we can pin it on a rogue platoon or a sadistic SEAL. But when it all scales up to the use of modern weapons against civilian clusters it turns into some sort of quasi-legal event to be debated and tsk’ed over in the passive voice. Were mistakes made? Can we find a way to reduce it all to some avoidable/unavoidable error, maybe by one pilot or one Special Forces operator who can be punished at little overall cost to the larger organization that put him in the position to screw up?

    We allow the United States to portray its wars as precise and humane because in order to sustain war on an Orwellian scale it is necessary to believe that. We need to believe every report of civilian casualties is investigated and the findings reported publicly, a model of accountability. We believe these things so dearly that we are shocked to read what happened with one airstrike in Syria and rush focus on the coverup not the killing.

    The preferred narrative sounds like a Netflix series log line “One man/A handful of brave reporters knew what was right and risked it all to expose the crime witnessed!” We want to miss the coverup of the coverup, the one that hides what happened in Syria was because we were at war in Syria against a dubious enemy under dubious rules of engagement for a dubious purpose and, to hell with it, people are just gonna die under those circumstances. Same as in Vietnam, same as in Fallujah, same as across dozens of Afghan wedding parties. It is a conversation about the difference between combat and killing. It is the conversation America has avoided since the day it proclaimed itself world policeman and unilaterally declared our right to be right simply because it is us doing it, whatever it might be. Thus in 2021 we still pretend Hiroshima was the exception and not the rule.

     

     

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  • Appearance of Action is Not Action

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas


    It’s bad enough when someone actually thinks reposting a “I Stand With…” meme is an act of woke resistance. But when the problem is enlarged to societal-scale, it hurts us all. Nothing actually broken actually gets fixed, and a deep sense of cynicism is injected into the souls of once-believers when they realize they’ve been conned. We live in an age where the appearance of action is mistaken for action.

    So we are left to wonder about the point, other than setting the stage for more future cynicism, of the Google “doodle” this past Veteran’s Day. The illustration showed various vets, all appropriately racially ratioed, drawn half in uniform and half in civilian garb. One’s a painter, one’s a baker, and the Marine is shown as trans. The figure has a man’s face but half his body is in dress blue and half in a civvie dress. We’re left to wonder what the point is. Are Americans more sensitive now to the needs of male Marines who wear women’s clothing? Or is the illustration just a naughty stunt like a gay kiss on The Simpsons, a way of angering some made-up version of a conservative who was never invited to the barbeque in the first place?

    The same question begs with TV commercials, seemingly all of which now feature either black actors alone, or as part of interracial LGBTQBLT couples. Just like white folks used to, they suffer from bloating and tsk tsk over which paper towel picks up better. Google and Apple don’t seem to even let old people use their products anymore. It’s all very hip youngers with I-didn’t-comb-it hair skateboarding or creating or influencing. Movies and streaming series’ are exclusively about people struggling with coming out, going out, or staying in. Every POC who has ever suffered has had his/her/their story made into a mini-series with the tag line “Against all odds…” As time goes by, perhaps more older movies can be remade with black actors digitally replacing white performers, like colorizing old B&W movies.

    All the bad statues have been torn down. All the bad high schools have been renamed. Most Americans now know Thomas Jefferson was little more than a rapist, albeit with a way with words we will not longer talk about. All the bad companies we were asked to boycott on Twitter for donating to the wrong candidates or promoting transphobia are out of business. No one ever shops at the Home Depot or Chik-a-Filet or purchases racist bed pillows. And Dems, kudos. You got more women, like Kristen Smyrna, into office. In each election the media tally the faux progress telling us how many whites were replaced with POC, how many female Asians bested men, and so forth towards a mythical Übermensch trans black disabled left-hander who refuses to speak English, the language of the patriarchy.

    But what happens when an entire generation realizes one day it is full of baloney, that none of that changes anything? What happens when people realize after a summer of BLM violence Minnesota did not defund its police, and rising crime in New York lead to bringing back an anti-gun task force once disbanded as a racist tool? When people realize the Glasgow climate conference wrapped up with no real plan to reduce fossil fuels?

    Yet people still too deep into the con to see the con cheer openly for awareness being raised, conversations being started, dialogues opened, and all that as it it mattered. Black Lives Matter took over the hivemind of American media and academia. Major corporate institutions fell over themselves to “go black,” assuring Colin Kaepernick will never have to work a day again in his life. BLM became a third rail — criticize it and lose your platform, your job, maybe your freedom. But not much changed for the good and if you’re counting black-on-black gun violence things got a whole lot worse. Black men are systemically shot and killed in, for example, New York City, and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. New York saw its bloodiest week in late April, with a 300 percent surge in shooting incidents from the same week in 2020. About the only thing left for the movement is to arrange the lynching of white supremacy poster child Kyle Rittenhouse.

    Same with climate change. Delegates from around the world, including President George H.W. Bush, met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for a first “Earth Summit,” promising to stop wrecking the planet. A new global treaty was made, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And yet… And yet Glasgow is the 26th time delegates from around the world met to again discuss change, without change. About the only thing left in the movement is to arrange the symbolic coronation of climate change poster child Greta Thunberg.

    It is important to understand these movements did not fail. They were never intended to succeed in the sense of actually ending racism or changing the climate. They were designed as political stunts, fund raising slams, a way to promote some person into celebrity status with the help of a compliant media. That’s the flim flam being pulled.

    We live ever deeper in a fantasy world where progressives convince themselves destroying old symbols, or creating new ones like Greta, will change real life. They have convinced themselves maintaining white supremacy requires having a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the courthouse and expect somehow with the statue gone so are all the problems. Way back when an old girlfriend did me wrong I threw out all the photos I had of us together. I felt better in the moment but learned a hard lesson: symbols are not real life. Getting rid of them does not fix things.

    The failure of peace, love, drugs, and rock and roll to change the world in the 1960s eventually gave us the cynical and self-centered “Me Generation” of the 1980s. That era’s deeply embedded sense of greed and bland acceptance scarred us as a society. It is no surprise then mired in cynicism pretending to be resistance a generation today defines people like AOC and her squad as a success. In their terms of office they have passed no legislation or done much of anything but self-promotion and fund-raising; AOC voted against her party’s infrastructure bill to make some vague political feel good point instead of helping her constituents. Attention is treated as political currency when it’s just narcissism. Welcome to America, where everything ends up a grift.

     

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

  • Russiagate: Proof It was Hillary All Along

    November 20, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    It was Hillary all along. The indictment by Special Counsel John Durham of Igor Danchenko for lying to the FBI demonstrates conclusively the Steele dossier was wholly untrue. Clinton paid for the dossier to be created and Clinton people supplied the fodder. Steele, working with journalists, pushed the dossier into the hands of the FBI to try to derail the Trump campaign. When that failed, the dossier was used to attack the elected president of the United States. The whole thing was the actual and moral equivalent of a Cold War op where someone was targeted by the FBI with fake photos of them in bed with a prostitute.

    Start with a quick review of what Durham uncovered about the most destructive political assassination since Kennedy.

    Christopher Steele, paid by the Clinton campaign (after Clinton’s denial, it took a year for congressional investigators to uncover the dossier was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, working for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, paid through the Perkins-Coie law firm) did no investigative work. Instead, his reputation as a former British intelligence officer was purchased to validate a dossier of lies and then to traffic those lies to the FBI and journalists.

    Durham’s investigation confirms one of Steele’s key “sources” is the now-arrested Danchenko, a Russian émigré living in the U.S. Steele was introduced to the Russian by Fiona Hill, then of the Brookings Institute (Hill would go on to play a key role in the Ukraine impeachment scam.) Danchenko completely made up most of what he told Steele about Trump-Russian collusion. What he did not make up himself he was spoon fed by Charles Dolan, a long-time Clinton hack and campaign regular. Ironically, Dolan had close ties not only to the Clintons but to the Russians as well; he and the public relations firm where he worked represented the Russian government and were registered as foreign agents for Russia. Dolan is credited with, among other things, making up the pee tape episode. Dolan also fed bogus info to Olga Galkina, another Russian who passed the information to Danchenko for inclusion in the dossier. Galkina noted in e-mails she was expecting Dolan to get her a job in the Hillary administration. Steele, a life-long Russia and intelligence expert, never questioned or verified anything he was told.

    In short: Clinton pays for the dossier, Steele fills it with lies fed to him by a Clinton PR stooge through Russian cutouts, and the FBI swallowed the whole story. There never was a Russiagate. The only campaign which colluded with Russia was Clinton’s. And Democrats, knowing this, actually had the guts to claim it was Trump who obstructed justice.

     

    That the dossier was a sham was evident to anyone who ever read a decent spy novel. It was a textbook information op and The American Conservative, without any access to the documents Durham now has, saw through it years ago, as did many other non-MSM outlets. See here (2/5/2018). Here (2/15/2018). Here (6/15/2018.) Here (3/25/2019.) Here (12/11/2019) and more. What was obvious from the publicly available information was, well, obvious to everyone but the FBI.

    The dossier was the flimsy excuse the FBI used to justify a full-on investigation unprecedented in a democracy into the Trump campaign. That included electronic surveillance (obtained by the FBI lying directly to the FISA court and presenting Steele’s lies as corroborating evidence,) the use of undercover operatives, false flag ops with foreign diplomats and case officers, and prosecution threats over minor procedural acts designed to legally torture low level Trump staffers (Carter Page, who the FBI knew was a CIA source, and George Papadopoulos)  into “flipping” on the candidate.

    Page in particular was a nobody with nothing, but the FBI needed him. Agents “believed at the time they approached the decision point on a second FISA renewal that, based upon the evidence already collected, Carter Page was a distraction in the investigation, not a key player in the Trump campaign, and was not critical to the overarching investigation.” They renewed the warrants anyway, three times, due to their value under the “two hop” rule. The FBI can extend surveillance two hops from its target, so if Carter Page called Michael Flynn who called Trump, all of those calls are legally open to monitoring. Page was a handy little bug used for a fishing expedition.

    What’s left is only to answer was the FBI really that inept that they could not see a textbook op run against them or that the FBI knew early on they had been handed a pile of rubbish but needed some sort of legal cover for their own operation, spying on Trump, and thus decided to look the other way at the obvious shortcomings of Steele’s work.

    “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign,” said Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief. “And yet they knowingly ran with its false information to obtain legal process against an American citizen. They defrauded not just a federal court, they defrauded the FBI and the American people.”

    The 2019 Horowitz Report, a look into the FBI’s conduct by the Justice Department Inspector General, made clear the FBI knew the dossier was bunk and purposefully lied to the FISA court in claiming instead the dossier was backed up by investigative news reports, which themselves were secretly based on the dossier. The FBI knew Steele, who was on their payroll as a paid informant, had created a classic intel officer’s information loop, secretly becoming his own corroborating source, and gleefully looked the other way because it supported their goals.

    How bad was it? At no point in handling info accusing the sitting president of being a Russian agent, what would have been the most significant political event in American history, did the FBI seriously ask themselves “So exactly where did this information come from, specific sources and methods please, and how could those sources have known it?” Were all the polygraphs broken? The FBI learned Danchenko was Steele’s primary source in 2017, via the Carter Page tap, and moved ahead anyway.

    From the FBI’s perspective, turning a blind eye was not even that risky a gambit. They were so certain they would succeed (FBI agents and illicit lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page exchanged texts saying “Page: “Trump’s not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”) and Hillary would ascend to the Oval Office that they felt they would have top cover for their evil. After Trump won and the FBI’s coup planners shifted to impeachment, they held on to their top cover as James Comey presented himself as the man on the cross, aided by a MSM which cared only about a) ending Donald Trump and b) cranking up their ratings with dollops of the dossier’s innuendo. A mass media that bought lies about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then promised “never again” did it again. 

     

    If a genie granted me a wish, I would want a conversation with Robert Mueller under some sort of truth spell. Did Mueller “miss” all the lies in his lengthy investigation, hoping to protect his beloved FBI? Or did he see himself as a reluctant white knight, having realized during his investigation the real crime committed was coup planning by the FBI and thinking that by ignoring their actions but clearing Trump he would bring the whole affair to its least worst conclusion?

    I suspect Mueller realized he had been handed a coup-in-progress to either abet (by indicting Trump on demonstrably false information) or bury. He could not bring himself to destroy his beloved FBI. But the former Marine could also not bring himself to become the Colin Powell of his generation, squandering his hard won reputation to validate something he knew was not true. Mueller split the difference, and kept silent on the FBI and left Trump to his own fates.

    This is the third indictment by Durham. Danchenko’s indictment, Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann’s, and FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith’s depict criminal efforts to get Trump. The arrest of Danchenko makes clear Durham knows the whole story. What will he do with it? Will he walk his indictments up the ladder ever-closer to Hillary? Will he proceed sideways, leaving Hillary but moving deeper into the FBI? Maybe see if Fiona Hill connects the failed Russiagate coup she played a pivotal role in with the failed Ukrainegate impeachment she played a pivotal role in? Or will he use the stage of Congressional hearings as a way to bypass Joe Biden’s Justice Department and throw the real decision making back to the voters?

    History will record this chapter of America’s story as one of its more sordid affairs. Only time however will tell if the greater tale is one of how close we came to ending our democracy via an intelligence agency coup, or whether Russiagate was just a nascent practice run by the FBI, on a longer road which led to our demise a president or two later. For those who belittled the idea of the Deep State, this is what it looks like exposed, all pink and naked.

     

     

     

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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 #MSWL: Where Wokeness Starts Its Day

    November 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas

    When sociologists look back on how Woke Theology helped turn earth into a world of talking apes, they will discover the #MSWL. Hidden away on Twitter, this is one of the actual headwaters of all things woke, the way the mighty Mississippi begins as a shallow stream.

    #MSWL is a hashtag on Twitter meaning “manuscript wish list.” For anyone interested in publishing fiction, the road to a book deal is complex. Publishers aren’t interested in reading manuscripts sent directly to them because most are truly horrible. They will only consider reading manuscripts from agents, who are forced to root in mountains of garbage to find something “good” so they can sell it to a publisher and claim a commission. The agents don’t want to read whole books submitted because they are mostly awful, so they ask instead for a query, a short summary in a prescribed format. But even these are so uniformly awful most agents want to be pitched with a tweet (it’s called #PitMad, pitch madness.) So for Harry Potter, the author might have written “Boy wizard and friends learn life lessons defeating evil with owls and a big fat guy helping.” The actual Harry Potter query was rejected by nearly ever publisher in the UK, so the system needs some work. It is a poor way to evaluate anything more complex than directions to 7-11.

    So the agents now simply tell writers what to write about via the manuscript wish list. That way they would hopefully never see anything too original to fit into a tweet and they could shape the world of literature. That’s where we get to wakey-wakey time.

    Big time agents do not need to troll Twitter like pedophiles offering candy in the park. Instead, if you are a recent or maybe not so recent AmLit grad who can’t work at the New Yorker because they stopped hiring Caucasians, you can be an agent. On Twitter, the mass of these agents are white, straight female or gay male, with a tendency toward pink or blue hair, and liberal to the point where it physically hurts. Their bios (here’s a typical one) seem to describe the same person, just switching Sarah Lawrence for Oberlin and favorite TV show from The Office or Friends to “anything with queer representation.” They love cats. They love coffee. They love pronouns. They just hate racism, you guys.

    Just because their dreams were crushed when the trumpet player in high school band turned out to be just weird, not gay, they want to take it out on your kids. Through the #MSWL they demand only books with BIPOC characters, or LGBTQIA+ stories. They beg for marginal representation in tales, and often combine themes so the actual request is for a fantasy magical realism story featuring queer vampires who also excel on the school lacrosse team. Here’s one actual list: “anything set on an HBCU campus, all of the magical realism, mythological retellings, romance/love stories, all the millennial joy and adulting hardships.” They don’t like things, they “celebrate” them. They don’t promote women, they “champion” them. Oddly, often their comps — comparisons, things that they want to see more of — are based on TV shows and movies instead of actual books. So it is “send me the new Avatar” not “send me drama like Hamlet.” If they do list Hamlet as a comp, it’s only because some modern version appeared on Netflix with Lady Gaga playing the prince. One asks for books that will remind her of Nancy Drew computer games, seemingly unaware of the iconic book series.

    Some agents don’t even get around to the actual subject for a couple of subtweets, instead leading with “First and foremost, I’m looking to partner with folks from traditionally marginalized groups to help elevate their voices.” Others call for books that no one would possibly want to read, based on this week’s buzzwords: “I’d love to see more urban fantasy/paranormal romance that doesn’t rely on traditional government bureaucracy or law enforcement structures!” Sometimes wanna-be writers will tweet from their mom’s basement at the agents seeking more details, as in “How do you feel about the unseelie taking the form of conservative Christian preachers to start the apocalypse?” The agent responded “I’m really, really picky about apocalypse stories to be quite honest” to which another would-be writer replied “Honestly, this was an element in an urban fantasy setting idea I was fleshing out. Vampires had just gotten out of a civil war where the old vampire patriarchs were toppled and a crop of women vampires were in charge now and trying to both figure out how to survive ethically.” Better to write to this prompt: “I want a story with this vibe: Three women discovered they were dating the same man. They dumped him and went on a months-long road trip together.” Just lean hard into sisterhood and you’ll hit most of the #MSWL requests.

    They have no idea how shallow it is the say they “only want books that are compelling, with great characters and plotting” like they discovered that insight. They know nothing about hypocrisy, how demanding a narrow list of subjects is supposed to be supporting diversity, or how marginalizing white writers is a poor start toward championing others. Straight was boring until gay was scary and now that gay is dull it has to be trans.

    So when you wonder how we got from Clifford the Big Red Dog to drag queens reading children’s books about anal sex out loud in public libraries, it starts with the #MSWL and its over-schooled and under-educated agents imaging their role is to be the shock troops of social justice. Never mind that most of what they do contributes little to social justice, that’s not even the point. The point is to win feel good points and prove you were sincere in that winter semester same-sex fling, not just experimenting. And make no mistake, yep, they’re coming for your kids.

     

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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 Constitutional Crisis If You Will Keep It: Vax Mandates

    November 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

    Sometimes a thing can be two things at once, one good and one bad. That requires a choice. In a free society that choice is usually best made by the individual affected. If not, then by an open, democratic process. That is not what’s happening with the vax mandate and why the cure may be worse than the disease. Literally and metaphorically.

    It is best to be clear: Like many people, I am, by my choice, thrice vaccinated. I understand the Covid vaccine prevents me from getting sick. I am not anti-science. But vax mandates are an unhealthy thing for our democracy and represent a willful effort by government to exert additional control over an already cowed population. There is a direct line between the Patriot Act, mass surveillance, and vax mandates that allows claims it is all for our own good when it is more broadly for our own bad. We are going to have to chose. This is about politics, not medicine anymore.

    Whatever you call a country where a central authority makes unilateral decisions which control its peoples’ lives at a granular level, that is now what America has become. In escalation of that new reality, the Biden administration announced a mandate requiring U.S. employers with 100 or more workers to ensure employees are vaccinated for Covid or tested weekly, likely at their own expense. A separate mandate requires employers participating in Medicare or Medicaid to have a fully vaccinated workforce, with no testing alternative.

    The first rule alone covers 84 million U.S. workers, or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce. People who do not comply will lose their jobs. Workers who test positive for Covid will be removed from the workplace.

    It is critical to understand that these national-level mandates affecting two-thirds of workers (for now; expansion is likely) have been imposed; there was no legislation, no vote, no public debate, no public record of who supports and who opposes them. It all begs the question of if the threat is so obvious, why has this needed to be so coercive and sneaky? The Biden administration disingenuously created the mandate through the back door of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a sub-office inside the Department of Labor otherwise created to ensure workplace safety. The mandate places an unvaccinated worker (not a diseased worker) in the same category as frayed electrical cords and wet floors, a workplace hazard. OSHA, under threats of penalty, outsources enforcement (i.e., firing the unvaxxed worker) to the conscripted employer. Fines are up to $136,532 for employers who willfully violate standards. OSHA will carry out inspections and a whistleblower hotline is available to rat out your boss.

    The Biden administration is also requiring Americans abroad seeking to return to the U.S. to either be vaccinated or test negative, the first time in history something other than citizenship has been a criteria for a citizen’s reentry. The decision to allow an American Citizen to return to his own country, a right seen as guaranteed by the Constitution, has been outsourced to a local airline employee at a foreign airport in contrivance of any due process. That last bit is what’s new; even during the Ebola outbreak screening was done by American government officials at American airports. Not any more. By outsourcing enforcement to an airline clerk in Paris, as with outsourcing censorship to Twitter, Biden disposes of Constitutional 5A protections.

    All of this has been justified as a legitimate response to an emergency, albeit an “emergency” now heading into its second year and one which has been essentially put to rest in many other democracies, such as in Scandinavia, with much lower social costs. The problem is that what may seem like a reasonable step in today’s emergency will have a hangover effect when invoked as precedent in less dire circumstances for even more authoritarian rules. The impulse to map restrictive rules on larger and larger populations is also to be expected. In simpler terms, power seized by governments rarely is relinquished, even long after the urgency has passed. That’s why you are still taking your shoes off at the airport. It’s why after “two weeks to flatten the curve” we are talking about vax mandates and the government controlling who can work, travel, go to school. Like terrorism, who can ever say when Covid has gone away forever?

    There is some hope already visible. In his dissent on an earlier case in which the Court upheld a state-level healthcare worker vax mandate, Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed cynicism about what he views as the government’s protracted suspension of liberties due to the pandemic. “I accept that what we said 11 months ago remains true today — that [s]temming the spread of COVID–19 qualifies as ‘a compelling interest.’ At the same time, I would acknowledge that this interest cannot qualify as such forever.”

    The government’s history of such liberties taken with our liberty is poor. Think back to the powers taken by post-9/11 presidents to address that emergency. The result was ongoing mass surveillance of Americans in America (4A), a global kidnapping and torture program (all laws of decency and human dignity. 5A as Guantanamo is still open to house American permanent residents,) near-endless wars started without Congressional approval (War Powers Act, Article I, Section 8) and drone killings of American citizens abroad (5A.)

    If it was still about medicine we would be testing workers and travelers for chlamydia and tuberculosis, deadly and infectious diseases, and making a yearly flu shot mandatory (38 million people in America got the flu last year.) If we shared so much concern for our fellow citizens that we force them to vax, it is important to ask why we don’t show similar concern for their general lack of access to medical care for other life threatening things. Why only Covid? Why not malnutrition, an underlying cause of a third of children’s deaths, 2.6 million every year?

    Biden’s assertion of control over who can work and who cannot is clearly overreach when well-more than half of all Americans are already vaccinated. It is also unconstitutional. Cases already filed will inevitably reach the Supreme Court. The cases will likely hang on the hook of states’ rights, or the 14A equal protections clause preventing discrimination based on health status, for example, workers with AIDS. Another hook might be the government violating the 1A by taking it upon itself to adjudicate which religious objections qualify and which it claims are bogus.

    But the cases filed will not be at their heart about Covid, or medicine at all, but about our democracy. Any notion that public health demands the government take for itself the power to dictate who can work, or which Americans have the right of return, misses the point. Covid should not be the driving force of life in America. A truly healthy society is one where freedom is its core value, not 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.

  • The Final End of the Clintons, Long Live the Democratic Party!

    November 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    The worst bout of food poisoning I ever had took days to run through me. Every orifice worked day and night to rid my body of whatever evil I had ingested and even when it was all gone it took more time for things to reset themselves. It was as awful as it was necessary to cleanse. And so it goes with the Clintons.

    The defeat of the Democratic party in Virginia in general and Terry McAuliffe for governor in the specific could truly be the end of the Clintons and a chance for the Democratic Party to reset itself from the self-destructive path it is on. It can heal and be a righteous challenger to Republicans. Or it might just eat another chili dog and puke through the midterms.

    Of all the things Terry McAuliffe is (mediocre former governor, race-monger, liar, visa fraudster, investment scammer) he is also the last bit of Clintonite political feces the body politic needed to have expelled to allow healing to begin. McAuliffe was co-chairman of Bill’s 1996 reelection campaign, Clinton-installed chair of the Democratic National Committee 2001-2005, and chair of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary leveraged their then-popularity to help McAuliffe win the Virginia governorship as payback. In 2013, Bill did a nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary raised money for him in California. McAuliffe had never held public office and wasn’t even from Virginia but the job was up for grabs in a state turning blue and the Clinton’s turned on the money spigot.

    As Virginia’s governor, McAuliffe was a campaign surrogate for Hillary 2016. Bill Clinton, disgraced as he is, actually still held fundraisers for McAuliffe in 2021, albeit in New York, not Virginia, an early clue to how things would end. Terry nurtured the relationship at every opportunity and got ahead, a reminder of the transactional politics the Clintons thrived on. Compare his political run with fellow Clinton syncopate Andrew Cuomo. After the departure of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros under the cloud of an FBI investigation at the end of Clinton’s first term, Cuomo took over as Secretary of HUD. You know the rest of the story. Of all the faithful, McAuliffe is the last vestigial limb of what once was a Democratic dynasty.

    To understand what the end of that dynasty means one has to understand the damage the Clinton’s did not only to America but to their own party. It was in part Hillary’s willingness to stay silent that allowed Bill to escape being removed from office for perjury and overall conduct unbecoming when he had sex in the Oval Office with an intern. Hillary demanded and got her pound of flesh, a walk-on coronation as a New York Senator (it was Terry McAuliffe who in 1999 personally guaranteed the mortgage on the New York home the Clintons bought so Hillary could claim residency) which would be her springboard to the White House. She consistently voted with the political winds of the day for wars, free from any morality. When she was beaten by Barack Obama in 2008, she took SecState as an obvious consolation prize alongside a fairly certain promise she would be the Democratic candidate when Obama retired (sorry, Joe, tonight ain’t your night kid.) She taught a generation of women and girls to have no self-respect, no honor, take whatever your man deals out with over-done smiles and understated pearls, and have nothing but appetite.

    Hillary’s destruction of the Democratic party continued with the political castration of Bernie Sanders. Love him or hate him, Sanders represented what is likely to be the last true set of original ideas presented by a mainstream candidate who actually had a chance at winning. The Democratic party’s willingness to destroy Sanders to press Hillary into the nomination left a whole generation of Sanders supporters, the youth which should be today coming into their own as the party base, bitter and disenfranchised. She casually threw away rural voters, once a Democratic mainstay, practically demanding they vote for her opponent after she dismissed them as deplorables. She welcomed silly social justice memes into the party thinking she was building herself a new base. She made the Democrats wholly dependent on the notoriously unreliable black vote. And then Hillary lost to Donald Trump, the only person to claim that title.

    What happened next was a void in Democratic leadership. The party went insane, with Nancy Pelosi and her crowd becoming serially addicted to impeachment and a collection of political curiosities like AOC and the Squad elevated to some sort of odd status (be very loud but accomplish nothing) by the media. It was clear no one was in charge. Democratic election strategy became a carnival game of try and dunk Trump. Mueller threw a few balls, until that broke down into a free for all featuring a quasi-coup attempt over a phone call to the Ukrainian president, graphic descriptions of Trump’s penis by Stormy Daniels, and ended with Trump being impeached after he left office for inciting an insurrection that didn’t happen. In the background the Democratic party imploded searching for a nominee, with people like Beto the Clueless Cowboy headlining for a few weeks, then a local mayor who got some tailwind out of being gay, and whatever Andrew Yang was supposed to be. The impression that no one was in charge post-Clintons was finally made clear when the system coughed up a crash test dummy like Joe Biden as the best it could manage and then limp into office thanks to Covid fear and media fealty.

    That scenario won’t happen twice. White women in Virginia recorded a 15 point voting swing to the GOP in the gubernatorial election compared to the 2020 presidential election. The setbacks in heavily suburban blue Virginia suggest a backlash to the whining about race and identity championed by Democrats. These voters are not white supremacists and to label them as such is to dismiss a parent’s rightful desire to see their child get the best possible education. The Dems campaigned on a very visible contempt for the people in calling them haters and racists needing to have their children saved from their parents. Dems, you went too far and you lost Virginia. It wasn’t about Trump, it was about you.

    The Democrats have a chance to try again. McAuliffe’s defeat frees them from the last of the Clinton influence, an empowering marker that it is safe to finally leave Bill and Hillary behind. McAuliffe’s defeat, based on social justice issues like trans-everything and racism-everything losing to common sense, can be equally empowering, freeing the party from having to listen to people like the Squad ever again. Nobody wants to see Biden run for a second term, and Democrats know there is equally as little support for Kamala Harris (reminder to all, she is still officially listed as vice president.) The Dems, finally, have a chance to find a real candidate. A first sign they see the light might be turning to jobs, Covid, inflation, and the supply chain, indicating they do understand there are voters outside Brooklyn and the Bay Area who care deeply about things other than climate change and transrights. Call it centrist if you like, though realist is a better word. If all the Dems have going into the midterms is some renamed school houses and recycled anti-Trump rhetoric (Van Jones said of the Virginia loss “Glenn Youngkin represents delta variant of Trumpism,”) why would anyone vote for them?

    The Dems need the equivalent of drinking clear soup for a few days after a bout of food poisoning has run its course, learning the hard lesson and coming back stronger. Or they can eat another couple of chili dogs at the first sign of feeling better and get sick all over again.

     

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

  • What’s the Point of Cancellation (Halloween Edition)?

    November 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    I’m holding an old Polaroid, taken at a Halloween party at one of my early State Department assignments in the 1980s. One of my diplomatic colleagues is in blackface, done up to look like the minstrel player who was on the “Darkie” toothpaste boxes then for sale in every drugstore in Asia. You can see a photo of the packaging; the white teeth against the minstrel player’s face were supposed to show how good the toothpaste was. My other colleague is dressed as the Frito Bandito, a caricature of Mexicans used to sell corn chips. The costume theme for the night was advertising icons. In the 1980s these were acceptable ways to advertise and acceptable costumes for Halloween.

    But looking at the photo now I realize it is a weapon. Both my State Department colleagues pictured managed their careers much better than me and are in senior positions. There is no doubt in 2021 the photo would at least make it to Buzzfeed, maybe make a bigger splash, you know “Blinken Denies Racist Diplomats in Charge” and all that. It’s a familiar playbook today, an old photo pulled out of time and litigated in the media under the harsh light of 2021. The outcome is predictable — America has no tolerance. There’s a new rule that says people who used the wrong word or gesture, no matter how long ago or in what context or with what intent or no matter what else they did in the intervening years of their life, should not be allowed to work. Anyone in a public position, or who can be dragged into public, is especially vulnerable.

    The thing is neither colleague was or is racist. They were mocking goofy advertising characters of the day. One went on not long after that photo was taken to protect the human rights of a group being treated unfairly by the U.S. government. He risked his career to speak out, and made actual change happen in an organization resistant to it. The other colleague has done the right thing in a lot of difficult situations. The State Department is a better place for them working in it. I doubt either remember the Halloween photo, or realize how thin the ice is underneath them in 2021.

    But splashing the photo on some front page would accomplish nothing that matters, certainly nothing the self-righteous babble that would have to accompany it would claim. You know it by heart. Secretary of State Blinken would ritually say “We have reassigned diplomats X and Y pending their voluntary retirements. We have zero tolerance for racism no matter when or where it takes place. This is not who we are. Their actions fly in the face of the Department’s public denouncements of racism and sexism and its promises to be more inclusive amid criticism for its past treatment of black and Hispanic employees.”

    To be fair, the words I just put into Blinken’s mouth are not fully original. I stole them from statements the NFL made recently around the firing of Raider’s coach Jon Gruden. Emails recently surfaced, some 10 years old, where Gruden used language likely heard in any NFL locker room today. In fact, language used most places, albeit not by a white man. So in stories about Gruden we see p*ssy while on another page we read about a Pink Pussy Hat march. Never mind the so-called n-word which means burn the street down if a white person says it but is a term of endearment in a hip hop song. I guess Gruden was supposed to have thought about all this years ago when he wrote his emails. Same as my diplomatic colleagues should have thought twice three decades ago when they chose their Halloween outfits. In today’s logic, that “mistake” means Gruden is unfit to coach and my colleague is unfit to sit in an ambassador’s chair. The thing is no one accused Gruden of being a racist, or favoring players of one race over another. And I can comfortably swear in court I never knew either of my colleagues to make a racially-oriented decision.

    The people who believe they are fighting racism in this way spend their days digging through old yearbooks, watching hours of video, trolling emails and social media, and receiving hacked fodder from someone’s political enemy. The result is teachers, sportscasters, cops, and whoever else being run out of their career not for being a racist but for just using words some don’t like. These are not crimes of action. They are thought crimes, tied to a specific political theology.

    One of the latest thought criminals is Dave Chappelle. Chappelle, a black comedian, is under attack for jokes in a Netflix special “the community” considers transphobic. Netflix black and trans employees have expressed their concerns to upper management. Employees took to Twitter. People called for a boycott if Chappelle wasn’t punished somehow someway.

    I watched his show, The Closer. Yep, he sure said some things about trans people. Maybe the things were funny, maybe not. Maybe they would sound hurtful to some people, maybe not. But left unsaid in the trans-fuss was almost all of Chappelle’s show was about his dislike of white people. He actually explained that most of his jokes about trans people are actually jokes about how he hates white people. One story was about how he almost got into a fight with a transman and how the transman called 911. Chappelle as a punchline said something like “Dude was trans only until you need to be white to call the cops on a [n-word]” He went on to explain how he finds white fans who recognize him in public a bother while welcoming black interactions, made remarks like it was 1950 about “white bitches,” and so forth.

    We’re all well past noting the hypocrisy that racism in 2021 can only occur from a white person to a POC and never the other way. This Halloween, I bet anyone can go to a party dressed as A White Couple, with whiteface makeup, Bermuda shorts, a pink polo shirt or whatever racist clichés carry the message (someone actually sells such costumes as a joke/not joke) and no one would raise an eyebrow. But if you do dress that way, be careful. Someone may take a photo that could sink your career 20 years from 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.

  • Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)

    November 6, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    Pre-Covid I walked into a café in Florence and said “Expresso, please.” The waitress replied “No, here we say buongiorno first, we smile, then we order. Try it, it is nice.” That is a civil place. America has become an uncivil place.

    Almost all of us are convinced this is a broken place; the problem is we differ violently over what is broken never mind how to fix it. Most of us are sure our schools are broken. This is a very fundamental thing for a society, as schools teach kids how to live with each others (“values.”) But we can’t even come close to agreeing which books to read in English class, never mind whether the whole education system is simply an expression of systemic racism, with racism baked into everything else from whose history to tell, to the role of demanding precision in math, to which historical figure’s name is on the school building.

    The result is schooling by ideology. The wealthy choose among private schools, neat because it also means their kids don’t have to mingle with the poor kids. You can find a private school based on ideology, religion, a grab-and-go set of choices. Outside urban areas, middle class families buy their homes based on the public school that comes with them. If a family can move interstate, they can choose between the most conservative Texas public school and the most liberal school in the Bay Area, assuming conservative and liberal mean something clear enough anymore to act on. American children now get very different content educations, never mind qualities of education.

    One thing schools used to universally try to do was teach “citizenship,” the role an individual plays in a democracy. The concept must have failed, because few of us believe our elections have much to do with democracy. Too many have simply given up to the point where if more than half of eligible voters show up for a presidential election it is newsworthy. The election outcome is only fair when our person wins, or when the winner is a woman or a POC not Dave Chappelle over a white man. The system for choosing has become so complex few of us fully understand it, from registering to vote to districting to the Electoral College. The result is a large number seeking ways to manipulate the system (some justifying modern manipulations because of past manipulations they find unjust), and a large number giving up and voting based simply on social media propaganda. That describes a dying democratic system.

    Nobody expects much and is even then disappointed interacting with government. The lines are long at the DMV, the software to sign up for government programs doesn’t work, pressing button one for a representative is a fool’s quest. The only thing that generally works in day-to-day life is buying stuff. But buying things requires you to be on full alert lest an unchecked box commits you to a subscription, or an extended warranty you don’t want, or some ridiculous convenience fee. Of course even when the buying is easy the ending is broken. Signing up for cell service is swift online; ending that service requires long phone calls preceeded by long waits followed by “errors” which keep billing you for months.

    Each of us at this moment is party to hundreds, maybe thousands, of legal agreements. We do have the choice of reading a multi-page contract in detail before renting a car, assuming of course we have the legal knowledge to actually understand the full implications of what we are agreeing to. We can refuse to sign, but find quickly living without a phone, car, home, or credit card in 2021 is borderline impossible. The choice is no choice.

     

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over black lives matter or the now scrums at political rallies. We don’t know how to discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas dear. What were once sincere beliefs now come in packages conveniently labeled “progressive” or “conservative,” no substitutions please. Commentary is just name calling and junior high-level mocking.

    We’re often alone together. We avoid physical contact or even proximity with each other, even loved ones. We don’t share things. Our communal spaces like restaurants are divided up into mini-bubbles. We don’t speak to one another about small problems, we call the manager. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. The range of topics of conversation closes down more and more for fear of offending someone, facing a summons to HR, or a lawsuit. People are more hesitant to give advice or discuss an opinion for fear of getting in some sort of trouble, or being canceled, or being told they are mansplaining. We casually discard real world friends on “social” media over the smallest thing.

    We got rid of landlines because their primary purpose morphed into demanding we listen to ads at inconvenient times. Our cell call screening is spoofed so the phone’s primary purpose is to force us to listen to ads. Email is a struggle to use because much of it is forced advertising. We don’t check our voicemail because most of it is just forced advertising. We’re afraid to click on an article about insurance for fear our web experience will be clogged for days with forced ads. We have come to understand there is no way to opt out. We can no longer civilly just ask to be left alone.

    I worked a minwage retail job that required getting used to women screaming at me because some item in the weekly ad wasn’t in stock. Previously, the last time anyone screamed right in my face was in high school, when a psychotic football coach thought it was the solution to a missed catch. We join in today classist sport testing how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally. People devote hours to digging through years of someone’s history to find something politically incorrect to destroy what’s left of their life. Complete strangers profanely yell at me because I wasn’t wearing a mask, or had the wrong mask, or wore it improperly in their opinion.  People I didn’t know accused me of wanting to kill their children with a virus I don’t have. Others accuse me of hating them, or wanting them dead, if I make a bad word choice (even with the best of intentions, it seems purposefully hard to keep up) to describe their gender or race. Everyone not only thinks this behavior is OK, they believe it to be righteous. They assume ill intent on my side.

    Force us together and we attack one another. Our masses of crazy people turn like the Walking Dead toward attacking Asians. Hate crime grows like mold. Road rage is our national sport. We refer endlessly to “communities” which are just anonymous associations of people online who claim to have been victims of something similar. Our discourse often begins with “As a…” to make clear the separateness of being one gender or another, or of having had the same disease. Our differences become the fuel of victimhood and we loathe solutions that make those victims feel less special. The most spoken sentence in America is now “You have no idea what it’s like to be me because I’m a…” despite some 300 million of us sharing the same living space.

    More often than not the conclusion is violence. In a typical year, the FAA sees 100-150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. But in 2021 so far the number jumped to 1,300, ever more remarkable since the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels. Fliers know cabin attendants have become less civil alongside their passengers. What they take in abuse they return in passive aggressiveness.

    The lack of civility spills over into communal living settings, like condo associations, which come up with increasingly complex rules on how to interact with each other as a stand-in to civility. Condo boards, elected to handle simple community business like renewing landscape contracts, have turned into bitchy little Vaticans. They respond to residents’ complaints with pages of rules about masks and gym use, never mind those multiple pages already in the handbook about pets and stuff hanging from the veranda railing. The answer always seems to try to quantify civility instead of asking for it. As the rules multiple the residents divide those with the vice principal’s voice backed up by the condo’s jailhouse lawyers versus those who stop reading after page 49 and just don’t care.

    I’ve always loved the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson” that asks “Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” as the best example of what writers are supposed to do, show not tell. The line sums up a feeling in America that a more ordered time passed without demanding the listener chose if that was good or bad.

    The yield of our behavior is a place where people don’t talk to each other, cannot agree on what their mutual problems are never mind how to solve them, a violent place, an unfriendly place, an uncivil place. Who wants to live like this? Judging by our actions, Americans. Ciao!

     

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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 Won’t Be Fighting a War with China over Taiwan (So Why the Fuss?)

    October 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    The United States and China will not go to war in our time over Taiwan. China is not engaging in provocative actions leading toward an invasion. So why the fuss?

    I’d prefer to let the argument speak for itself, but my background is relevant. I threw away my Mao (and Che) T-shirt sophomore year. I don’t have a grey pony tail. I know Beijing is not a democratic regime, much like America’s allies across the Middle East and Africa are not. I’ve been in Taiwan when it was under military rule, and China under autocratic rule. The food was great, but I do not want to live that way. So none of this is about defending that. As a U.S. diplomat, I served in Taiwan, Beijing, and Hong Kong, as well as Korea and Japan, and speak a bit of all their languages. Many of my former colleagues, who managed their careers better, now hold senior positions in State’s China and East Asian bureaucracies. I certainly don’t speak for them, but I speak to them.

    Focus is also important; this is about war. It is not about China being unfriendly to democracy in Hong Kong; why act surprised, the government does not like democracy in Shanghai or Guangzhou either. But when we talk about democracy in the area, let’s not forget Hong Kong was taken from Imperial China by force by the British, who exploited it as a colony for most of its history. It was peacefully returned to China in 1997, not taken by China militarily any time along the way. Taiwan was an unimportant and undemocratic place inhabited mostly by indigenous people until 1949, when the Nationalists displaced the locals to create the enclave of the Republic of China. It existed under strict military rule, with U.S. support for the thugs in power, until around 1988. So democracy in China writ large is a fairly new thing. Many might wish to see America as concerned about democracy in Saudi Arabia as it is in Hong Kong.

    China has always been America’s as-needed partner, friend today, adversary tomorrow. An ally during WWII, the U.S. backed away in 1949 after Mao took power, considering China one more link in world Communism’s march to global supremacy. Then in the midst of the Cold War Nixon “opened” China and the place was remade into a friendly bulwark against the Soviets. In 1979 the U.S. diplomatically recognized Beijing and unrecognized Taipei. The U.S. and China then grew into significant trading partners until sometime during the Obama years when China, without a clear precipitating event, morphed again into an adversary (the U.S. called it a pivot toward Asia.) Trump, and now Biden, have since upgraded China into a direct threat. In one of his few unambiguous foreign policy speeches, Biden said “On my watch China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim we were at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” Along the way China has always stayed pretty much the same. It’s our fear of the same China which changes.

    Those U.S. fears are mostly bunk. Take for example the boilerplate articles about Chinese “incursions” into Taiwan’s air space. Chinese aircraft are not overflying Taiwan. They are flying within Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone. Look at a map of that zone, and other zones declared by Japan and China. Taiwan’s zone, the one Beijing is flying in, actually is large enough to cover thousands of miles of the Chinese mainland itself; PLA planes are in violation when sitting on their own runways. Taiwan’s zone also overlaps Beijing’s Air Defense Zone which overlaps Japan’s and Korea’s. Japan’s Air Defense zone also overlap’s Taiwan’s to take in a small island which is disputed between Tokyo and Taipei, a diplomatic fist fight the U.S. ignores. Criss-crossing everyone’s zones are American aircraft conducting “freedom of navigation” exercises (known in Beijing as “incursions.”) Chinese air flights are provocative only to the uninformed, or those who want them to be seen as provocative. Left unsaid: as China was supposedly provoking a fight in the air this October, the U.S. was simultaneously conducting some of the largest multi-national naval exercises in the Pacific since WWII.

    As for that invasion of Taiwan Beijing is accused of planning, no one has ever explained why they would undertake such a enormous risk in the face of little gain. Instead, the articles claiming Beijing is readying for war are like those science fiction movies which begin with the premise most people have disappeared from earth, or some apocalyptical event took place, and then the story of the survivors begins. All the complicated stuff is left unexplained.

    No one seems to examine the reasons China has no reason to invade Taiwan. China and Taiwan do loft rhetorical bombs at each other, particularly around CCP events and political holidays, while maintaining a robust economic relationship. Between 1991 and March 2020 Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. Pre-Covid, travelers from China made 2.68 million visits to Taiwan. China applied in September to join the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. “One country, two systems” has not only kept the peace for decades, it has proven darn profitable for both sides. As Deng Xiao Ping said of this type of modus vivendi, “who cares what color a cat is as long as it catches mice.” China might one day seek to buy Taiwan, but until then what incentive would it have to drop bombs on one of its best customers?

    A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would also require China to fight the United States. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which established the framework behind the U.S. relationships with Beijing and Taipei makes clear Washington will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States” and that the U.S. will “maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” The language, unchanged since the roller disco era, is purposefully one of strategic ambiguity. It was crafted by the parties concerned specifically to incorporate flexibility, not signal weakness. Diplomats on all three sides understand this. Anyone saying the U.S. needs to rattle sabers at China to demonstrate commitment to Taiwan would better spend his time trying to explain away our abandoning Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring.

    Apart from the potential the nuclear destruction of the Chinese state (the U.S. has 10 nukes for every one China does) why would China even considering risking war with the U.S.? Total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. U.S. investment in China passed $1 trillion. When Covid shut down world logistics, everyone learned the American economy is voluntarily dependent on Chinese manufacturing and vice-versa. The Chinese are literally betting the house on America’s success.

    Because there is no plausible scenario in which China would want to invade Taiwan, we need not dwell on the military impracticality of the thing. A failed invasion of Taiwan would topple Xi. Chinese amphibious forces would be under fire from Taiwan’s F-16s armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles practically as they left harbor and tried to cross the Taiwan Strait (Harpoons have a range of 67 miles; at its narrowest the Strait is only 80 miles wide. Taiwan will soon field a land-based anti-ship missile with a range of over 200 miles.) How many could even reach the beaches? Estimates are China would need to land one to two million soldiers on day one (on D-Day the Allies put ashore 156,000) against Taiwan’s fortified rocky west coast, navigating among tiny islets themselves laden with anti-ship weapons. China’s primary amphibious assault ship, the Type 075, carries about 1,000 men, meaning something like a 1000-2000 sorties. China currently has only three such ships. Its troops are unblooded in combat. Meanwhile American and British carriers and submarines patrol the waters. American aircraft from Guam, Okinawa, and Korea would shut down the skies, and decimate Chinese aircraft on the ground via stealth, drones, and stand-off missiles. This is not Normandy. It is also not the counterinsurgency struggles which defeated America. It is the Big Power conflict played out in the Strait instead of the Fulda Gap, the war U.S. has been preparing to fight against someone since the 1960s.

    But one of the most compelling arguments China plans no war is they haven’t yet fought any wars. No shots have been fired over the disputed islands, which have rabidly disputed for decades. Taiwan broke away in 1949 and after a handful of artillery exchanges in the 1950s, no shots have been fired. China never moved militarily against British Hong Kong from 1841 forward, or Portuguese Macau from 1557. Chinese President Xi’s rhetoric about reunification is essentially the same as Mao’s. Nothing really seems to have changed to the point where a stable situation has suddenly become unstable enough to lead to war, yet the Financial Times warns “The moment of truth over Taiwan is getting closer” and the NYT headlines “U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory Over Taiwan.” The WSJ decided on its own China is ready to “reunify their country through any means necessary.”

    The war fever splash in U.S. media comes with curious timing. The U.S. is provoking a new Cold War to ensure an enemy to struggle against, guarantee robust defense spending for decades, and to make sure there is no repeat of the “peace dividend” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s the same playbook run from 1945 to 1989 against the USSR. Expensive arms development needs a target: the Soviet Union served well in that role until around 1989, when in the midst of declaring themselves the world’s last superpower, Americans also demanded less spending on the military. A new enemy was quickly found in various flavors in the Middle East, first in Saddam Hussein and then, after 9/11, in basically most Arabs. The terrorist boogeyman was shushed off stage this summer as America retreated from Afghanistan. We’re unlikely to return to the Middle East in force, especially with oil no longer the principle driver of American foreign policy.

    And so to China. Chinese plans to invade Taiwan may be the new WMDs, a justification much talked about but never to materialize. Chinese weapons advances are the new missile gap, and Asia the new frontier in the faux struggle between the forces of good and another damn group of foreigners bent on world domination. Indeed, if anyone seriously believed war was likely, even imminent, where are the calls for diplomacy, a regional summit, some kind of UN help, to resolve tensions? The U.S. doesn’t even have an ambassador in Beijing nine months into the Biden administration.

     

     

    However impractical an invasion might be, how unnecessary, or how risky, hasn’t China declared repeatedly it will reunite with Taiwan? Yes. But if you want to cite Chinese propaganda as evidence of actual intent, it is best to pay attention to the details.

    It was the United States itself that most clearly asserted the shared tripartite goal was reunification, declaring as part of the diplomatic break with Taiwan “there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it.” Chinese President Xi regularly reiterates reunification as a goal, but always stresses the process is historical (as in, it is inevitable and we just need to be patient, don’t wait up for it to happen) and must be peaceful. Sorry, if you’re going to quote Chinese propaganda statements as proof of intent, you can’t cherry pick out only the scary parts. It makes no sense to trust Xi on the plan but claim he’s lying about the (peaceful) execution in the same breath.

    Not by coincidence most of these reunification proclamations occur around important political holidays. One of Xi’s most recent invocations was in a speech marking the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai 1911 Revolution, aimed at the foreign Manchu Qing dynasty. The chosen occasion is important, because Xinhai, ideologically midwifed by Dr. Sun Yat Sen, is acknowledged by both the most hardcore Communists and the most fervent Nationalists as the common origin point for modern China. This is drilled into every schoolkid on both sides of the Strait and forms a common vocabulary among their diplomats. The point is to understand Xi’s remarks in the same context as the Chinese, not John Wayne, likely do.

    In Sun’s spirit Xi reiterated a vow to peaceful reunification with Taiwan. He urged the Chinese people “stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete reunification,” invoking the way the people who would form the Communist and Nationalist parties worked together against a common enemies — the Manchus, then warlordism and feudalism, then the Japanese, and perhaps someday the Americans. Xi, talking to his own people and those on Taiwan, sketched a shared vision a long way from the PLA amphibious assault the West fears. Xi was also aware that the day before his speech HMS Queen Elizabeth, USS Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan, and Japan’s Ise conducted joint carrier operations in the China Sea featuring the soon-to-be-nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft.

    Far from anything new or provocative, Xi’s rhetoric was consistent with 70 some years of speeches maintaining Beijing has no quarrel with the people on Taiwan, who are today mostly Mandarin-speaking ethnically Han Chinese same as in Beijing. Instead, the theme has always been a few bad apples in Taiwan’s government are preventing all Chinese from seeing they need to work together. To invade Taiwan, China would commit itself to killing Chinese, something that would cause Xi to lose legitimacy in the eyes of his own people; the Mandate of Heaven still applies. Meanwhile, on Taiwan, the current president more or less acknowledges the official line of a reunited China someday but quickly says there are more important things on her mind, like making money. Many in the West failed to notice it was Dr. Sun’s portrait which hung behind both leaders as they spoke. The idea that all these factors boil down to “China is gonna invade Taiwan” is beyond silly. America’s obsession with Taiwan independence is more Washington’s problem than Taipei’s.

    Philosophically Chinese leaders have for thousands of years believed in historical cycles. They waited close to 300 years to end the foreign Qing dynasty. They waited out Britain for hundreds of years for the peaceful return of Hong Kong. Such things come up in conversation with Chinese diplomats as casually as talk about the weather. Chinese diplomacy is patient, not short-term optimistic or spasmatically reactive. There is no fierce urgency to reunification. Sun Tzu: One waits to win.

     

    In contrast stands America’s foreign policy. A comparison of countries where the U.S., and China have military intervened post-WWII is telling. Chinese troops entered Vietnam only after the U.S. began its own campaign of regime change there. China entered the Korean War only after the U.S. Army threatened to cross into Chinese territory. Both of these events are celebrated in the People’s Army Museum in Beijing as examples of defending the homeland’s borders. The Museum, in addition, features an American U-2 spyplane shot down over the mainland. The Museum also has exhibits showing the U.S. purposely bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, killing three and destroying the diplomatic sanctuary. The U.S. claimed it was an accident, but history makes clear it was retaliation against an undefended target accused of spying in former Yugoslavia. How many American embassies has China bombed?

    China got its first blue water aircraft carrier last year; the U.S. has maintained multiple carrier groups in the Pacific since WWII, recently facilitated the permanent deployment of two British carrier groups in the area (their first big show of naval force in the area since losing Singapore to the Japanese) and will sell nuclear submarines to Australia with the understanding they will patrol the South China Sea. The U.S. recently brought India into the Quad Pact agreement against China, and convinced Japan to abandon its official neutral stance on Taiwan to support the U.S. Japan has quickly grown into a multiple carrier blue water naval force under American encouragement and with American technology; an unprecedented pledge by Japan’s ruling party seeks to double defense spending and underscores the nation’s haste to acquire missiles, stealth fighters, drones and other weapons that can target China.

    For the first time in decades U.S. forces are officially stationed on Taiwan. The White House recently announced the existing U.S.-Japan security treaty now extends to some additional disputed islands, and the Philippine security treaty covers Manila’s claims to Chinese-occupied islets. The U.S. maintains military bases in a ring around China’s eastern coast. Economically, Barack Obama via the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tried to isolate China from the Asian trade sphere. Trump imposed and Biden maintains punitive tariffs on goods out of China. This autumn Congress will take up the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, which would authorize Biden to initiate (nuclear) war on China without any input from America’s elected representatives.

    So who in fact is acting provocatively in the Pacific? Which side is saber rattling, and which simply responding the way a dog barks to warn off an aggressor?

     

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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, Covid Edition

    October 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Economy


    I took a friend of a friend and his wife on a tour of Chinatown the other day. She arrived double-masked and immediately asked if I was vaccinated (I am.) She didn’t say much or eat anything, her husband was the one clearly interested in new foods. The wife, maybe 28 or so, then had a full-on panic attack.

    We were inside one of the wet markets when the woman shouted “Covid, I have to get out.” She turned pale and broke out in sweat. She pushed her way through the crowd to get outside, full fight-or-flight mode. Outside, gasping for air, she said she suddenly felt she was going to “get Covid and die” in the market. I suggested sips of water but she said she would not remove her mask. The husband apologized. They were educated. No signs they were Fauci fans, QAnon shamen, or addicted to one biased network or another. What I guess we once called regular people.

    I felt genuinely sorry. This is what appeared to be an otherwise healthy woman who had lost her mind over an exaggerated fear of Covid. I see people like this, albeit usually with less physical signs of panic, often. They truly are convinced they will die soon. They are shelter dogs seeking to form coalitions of grievance. No safety measures, including the vaccine, can be sufficient when fear transitions into irrational phobia. I’ve talked more than a few friends off virtual Covid ledges. At best both sides of any sub-argument (say, masks) think the other is kidding.

    Meanwhile a new neighbor greets me every morning with the latest local case count and policy rumors, the way finance bros reel off the S&P numbers to each other before saying good morning. He has become a Covid enthusiast. The rest of us, we now snap at one another over petty Covid rule infringements — been on a plane recently? The lashing out is then justified by fear, because that means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination.

    A year and a half ago I never would have believed I’d still be writing about Covid. I now have to wonder if ten years from now will people look back at this all the way we remember a particularly rough winter, or will this truly be something that changes us forever. Even at this point our lives have been altered. If you want to blame one politician or another, take that argument outside. It all matters less and less as the events become not politics but our history. Even with so much road still ahead we can say clearly our economy has been devastated. “Cashing a stimulus check” seems to be one of the Top Ten new careers in America, followed closely by “Collecting Unemployment.” Many people depend on free rent aka the eviction moratoriums, paused student loan payments, and the range of food aid. No one seems to know what happens when those programs sunset.

    Education has effectively disappeared for large numbers of kids and despair grows menacingly. A statistic which should set off alarm bells across the nation barely made the scientific journals as suicide attempts by teen girls increased 26 percent during summer 2020 and 50 percent during winter of 2021. We have forgotten the critical role in-person school plays in children and teens’ emotional development. All that rough and tumble adolescent socialization is there for a reason, along with sports and extracurriculars. They make kids normal and when you take them away from already fragile developing minds, kids want to destroy themselves. But we still do not ask if shutdowns actually deter Covid and we never ask what the secondary effects are.

    Economic inequality grows. The power of government exploded to reshape how we live, shop, work, and eat, all handed on-the-fly to a near-endless range of actors, from the president to store clerks. None of this was voted on, challenged, reviewed, studied, or even discussed. For people who spent the last four years finding totalitarianism under every rock, they seemed to miss it when it became obvious — a sense of things being out of control is what every wanna-be authoritarian lives to exploit. Americans cleaved into those who welcomed the nannyism as unfortunate but warmly necessary and those who did not. Things went topsy-turvy: once upon a time in a free society the burden of proof was on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

    In the face of new dependence on government to eat and to keep a roof over one’s head, and with a core element of growing up stripped away from kids, and with the constant death harping from the media, how can we expect anyone to snap back? As with the pandemic of PTSD-driven soldier suicides after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have little to look forward to but the same thing coming for the rest of us.

    It sounds over-dramatic to claim some sort of national-level PTSD is metastasizing among us, but if you understand PTSD as a psycho-physical reaction to a perceived life-threatening event it makes some sense. In the early days of Covid, The New York Times set the tone, calling this a “land of denial and death.” Many of us are now convinced our vote is a literal life-or-death decision because the wrong party will kill us through their flawed Covid policies. We are convinced our unmasked neighbor is trying to kill us. We are convinced our government is trying to kill us with an untested vaccine. We are convinced the schools are trying to kill our kids. We are convinced the same teachers we are ready to trust with our children are lazy, lying bastards who don’t care enough about education to go back into the classroom. Who wouldn’t have PTSD faced with this onslaught?

    Anyone trying to think this through drowns in cognitive dissonance. One concert is a superspreader event while another is not depending on whether the bands are mostly country or hip hop. One protest is a superspreader event but another larger one is not. Disney is OK but Sturgis is not. The vaccine is safe but a significant number of medical professionals won’t get it. The vaccine works but vaccinated people still experience breakthrough cases. The vaccine works but vaccinated people still need to social distance. The disease is airborne but you have to prep gym surfaces like you will do surgery on them. European tourists are too dangerous to welcome to the U.S. but Guatemalans on the border are OK.

    It is unsafe to gather in parks but OK to gather on airplanes. It is safe to be unmasked eating at a table but unsafe to stand unmasked at the bar. A two foot plexi shield protects us from an airborne disease riding warm currents to the ceiling of the room before descending. It is necessary for nearly everyone to get vaccinated but leaders won’t mandate that. Masks and school and travel can be mandated but not vaccines. Vaccines for smallpox, polio, and hepatitis can be mandated but not Covid. Crossing an invisible state line changes all the rules. There are states with layers of restrictions and states with none at all but everyone isn’t dead in either one.

    We know it all can’t be true but in one place it is true, while next door it is untrue.  Alice herself could not make sense of it no matter how many mushrooms she ate.

    How can anyone retain their mind when the narrative for the last 18 months has been a largely false series of proclaimed death wishes: we aren’t doing enough testing so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough ICU space so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough ventilators so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough masks so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough nurses so we’re gonna die, we aren’t locked down enough so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough vaccines so we’re gonna die, people won’t take the vaccine so we’re gonna die, there’s now a new stronger form of Covid coming so we’re gonna die. How do we keep faith when life is a video game where every time we surmount a challenge we are told something new has arisen to kill us?

    No other nation on earth is fighting two wars, one against the virus and the other against itself. Other countries have Covid. But they don’t seem to have lost their collective minds to where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from a panic that levies the consequences of living higher than those of dying.

    At this point my question about the woman in the Chinese wet market having a panic attack has to change. The real question is not why she lost it, it is why the rest of us haven’t yet. I honestly do not know how this all ends.

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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 Times for the First Amendment

    October 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

    These are bad times for the First Amendment.

    The very big picture is bad. Progressives woke up one morning to realize they controlled the media. People who thought like them made our movies, TV shows, and most importantly, owned the greatest propaganda tool ever invented, social media. They could significantly influence not only which breakfast cereal America liked best, but also which candidate America should vote for.

    And none of it fell under the First Amendment. That old saw only protects people from government censorship, not corporate censorship or propaganda. The Founders never conceived we the people would want to have our media censored, or that companies would grow more powerful than the government to be able to do so, or that the age-old remedy for misinformation – truth – would become so reviled and feared. Of all the Founders’ omissions of issues unimaginable in the 18th century, this is the one which may prove fatal to the Republic.

    The big picture is bad. Thanks to legal razzle-dazzle aimed at limiting corporate liability for the garbage they publish, Section 230 of the Communication Act was born. This removed the threat of libel to allow social media to become an even more powerful influence in our lives. They could shove anything up America’s nose or down the memory hole penalty free.

    The law reads “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what is on their platforms. So if Twitter wants to only include false happy news about Hunter Biden, it can. If Twitter wants to enable those who spew out out-and-out lies about Trump, it can. They ran amok with Trump and Russia, willfully promoting lies that were part of a professional disinformation campaign Goebbels would have looked at in awe.

    The Founders envisioned media as an essential element of democracy, affording it unique status in the Bill of Rights to inform the people. Social media repurposed that grace into an anti-democratic tool which works like this: a journalist “publishes” a falsehood on social media. The mainstream media then does a story about that tweet, cleverly using Twitter as the quoted source to cover themselves from any claims of libel or obligation to the truth. They are just reporting what was already on Twitter.

    This legal and moral sleight of hand allows places like the NYT to whore out their credibility to front page the most atrocious gossip – see, we’re not saying it’s true, only that it was on Twitter. The power of the 1A protects the NYT, which becomes a front for the partisan work of so-called non-publishers on social media. Think of it as an 1A reach-around.

    This willful journalistic malfeasance could not exist without the collaboration of the search engines to hide the truth. Search engines have become of the most politicized interactions of anyone’s day, shoving information and denying it in equal amounts, all driven by the views of, well, someone, no one is really sure who anymore.

    What we do know for sure is in the end the massive global media infrastructure was recruited to drive Trump from office. Where the effort failed with Russia, Ukraine, January 6, and all the sideshow acts of Emoluments and Stormy Daniels, it finally got enough traction to matter with Covid. Trump killed your grandma. Today the guns are all reloaded, and the media is already declaring 2024 stolen if Trump wins.

    The small picture is also bad. Journalists, who depend on the 1A for their jobs, no longer believe in its most foundational tenet: informing the public to enable them to participate more fully in our democracy. On a small scale, journalism is now a weapon to take 1A rights away from those deemed politically unsuitable. Here’s one case study to spoil breakfast.

    I don’t know Shawn McCaffrey or Christopher Mathias. I do know both of them believe in ideological purity. But one’s a threat to the 1A and one just likes to hear himself talk.

    Shawn belonged to Identity Evropa, which among other things played a role in the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville. Chris meanwhile identifies as a journalist for Huffington Post and covers “far right, disinformation, and hate.” He believes Identity Evropa Shawn is dangerous because he is “racist, homophobic and hosts an anti-Semitic podcast.”

    Chris believes Shawn is so dangerous he devoted his own First Amendment rights as a journalist to stomp the wind out of Shawn’s First Amendment right to say hateful things, to the point where Chris and HuffPo stalked Shawn to discover he had enlisted in the Air Force. They turned over their 1A-protected “journalism” to a progressive-aggressive Congresswoman for weaponization, not unlike the two-step practiced by place like NYT and Twitter. The Congresswoman made the Air Force throw Shawn out.

    Why did Chris, HuffPo, and the Congresswoman go so far out of their way to get Shawn out of the Air Force? Because they believe people like Shawn join the military not to serve their country, but “to receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilian targets and can recruit other servicemen and servicewomen to their cause.” Journo Chris adds this is “a problem brought into focus by the prevalence of current and former military personnel taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” At worst only 15 percent of those arrested had some vague “tie” to military service.

    This game is not new for Chris and HuffPo. They got an elementary school teacher fired for writing things on “extremist” sites they did not agree with. The teacher also wrote for The Atlantic, Vice, The Daily Caller, and The Weekly Standard, the latter two Chris tells us “let him make his racist sympathies clear in print.” In 2019 Chris and HuffPo “exposed” 11 racist servicemen. Evidence HuffPo amassed included a Facebook posting by one who wrote he likes “Tennessee because it is conservative and Christian, implicitly white.” That’s not even true; the state is almost 17 percent black but whatever.

    Chris the journalist also believes without evidence “many nameless fascists today lead double lives, hiding behind avatars to promote their noxious beliefs online while holding down respectable day jobs in education, military, law enforcement, medicine or government.” He works with whatever the hell the Anonymous Comrades Collective is “to expose Nazis, racists and fascists.”

    By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, paranoid Journo Chris is the threat and Racist Shawn is the one who just likes to hear himself talk.

    When so-called journalists judge ideological purism, we see in practice the same hatred and bigotry, backed up by self-granted righteousness, they claim to oppose. Shawn blathering out of his basement about how gays aren’t suitable for the military is no different than Chris standing atop HuffPo’s platform and saying people like Shawn aren’t suitable for the military.

    Like any good National Socialist of old, Chris is certain what he is doing protects the country in what he wrote is a moment of moral emergency. He and HuffPo are nasty ideologues who believe their ends – ideologically cleansing America – justify the means. Right now that cleansing is a version of cancellation but really, why stop there? Go full Inglorious Basterds and really take out some Nazis as a final solution to free speech, the threat to democracy that keeps electing Republicans.

    Things have moved beyond journalists sniping at each other in print, or even partisan reporting. The case with Chris and Shawn is repugnant because it involves a journalist who finds someone else’s exercise of a Constitutional right so distasteful that he used the full power of an international media organization protected by that same First Amendment to destroy the speaker. That’s far more distasteful than anything out of Shawn’s potty mouth. And, biggest picture of all, that’s what is left of journalism at this point.

     

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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 One About Malaise

    October 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

     

    The word malaise, a general feeling of uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify, is starting to creep in to discussions. It’s a word, albeit like most everything these days, politically-loaded after its use by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to describe the country he could not figure out to how lead.

    Carter’s specific use of the term focused on the energy crisis, when OPEC monkeyed with America’s oil supply. But Carter saw something much deeper was wrong. Not just an oil shortage to manage, but a recession of hope, a crisis of confidence that someone would have to lead America out of. He perceived we were tired, worn down, unable to come together in common purpose to fix something.

    It would be interesting to hear what Carter thinks about 2021. where things don’t work well. Flights don’t fly. Inflation returned. Gas is expensive. Supply chain problems mean Americans are for the first time since WWII rationing getting used to hearing “We don’t have any and aren’t sure when we will.” Unemployment plagues us as Covid tore the wool off many Americans’ eyes about how little meaningless jobs for sub-living wages contributed to their piggy banks or their sense of self-worth. Nurses who were last years heroes for working unvaccinated are fired today for being unvaccinated.

    There appears no end to Covid. The promised conclusion, the vaccine, proved as rich a lie as two weeks to flatten the curve. Even fully vaccinated people are prisoners to restrictions and mandates that often make no sense, or at the very least vary so much from state to state as to challenge their usefulness. There is little faith the economic devastation caused by mismanaged Covid restrictions will ever be addressed; the poor will just get poorer. There is a declining sense Covid is a problem that can be managed as it has been in much of the world (see Europe, especially Scandinavia.) The conclusion is no one is really in charge.

    Economic inequality has risen to where there are two systems, one for the wealthy and one for most of the rest of us, for everything. Education, healthcare, travel, shopping, how you are treated by the law, where you can eat or entertain yourself, what masking rules apply to your social events. Diseases of despair, suicide, alcohol, and drug overdoses, drive a drop in our life expectancy.

    Is there anyone who can claim, in the American tradition, that our lives are getting better? That they are confident in a better future?

    Looking for leadership, Americans come up short. The best our system could produce last election was two geriatric candidates. Biden, elected, has done little to move the nation past Covid. He hid behind our national exhaustion with Afghanistan to not suffer a greater political defeat over the botched Gotterdammerung in Kabul. His open borders policy created a massive humanitarian crisis, and a growing political one as an unknown number of immigrants play a version of the Squid Game to flood America. The Border Patrol reports “200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in July,” the highest monthly total since Bill Clinton was president.

    The president can’t even exercise leadership over his own party, and it appears likely his signature infrastructure bills and social spending initiatives, if they pass at all, will be more symbolic than transformational. In the background, police reform legislation failed, and most defunded departments have been refunded to face down rising crime. “Disappointed” is likely the term most Biden voters would be apt to use.

    America alongside all this has become a deeply cynical place. We once were to the annoyance of most of the world an endlessly optimistic place. Now we take for granted AOC and the media would be at the border for the Kids in Kages spectacular but missing when an even worse situation unfolds on Biden’s watch. We roll our eyes when the media tells us what we’re hearing isn’t what we’re hearing but “Let’s Go, Brandon.” Newspapers will print any Trump gossip but not one actual Hunter Biden email.

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over whether black lives matter, or the combat on planes, in restaurants, and at Walmart. We don’t discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas. It doesn’t matter anyway because what were once sincere beliefs now come in packaged memes. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. We enjoy as classist sport how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally.

    How prescient was Jimmy Carter when he made his “malaise” speech in 1979? The seeds he saw being planted have now grown to sad, desperate fruition. What he said then might well describe where we are now:

    “There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

    “All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path — the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our… problem.”

    For all he foresaw in his ferocious tenderness towards America, Carter failed to find a way to lead, and in 1980 suffered complete election defeat at the hands of someone who promised he would. Biden certainly did not create the current malaise in America. But his failures, far too many in too short a time, have not helped fix it. Disappointed and unhappy people vote for change. Never mind all the screeching Republicans might steal the next election. Democrats should recognize history suggests they simply will win it.

     

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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 China Policy is Dangerous

    October 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

    Joe Biden’s China policy is unnecessarily adversarial. It is impractical and dangerous. It plays out as if U.S. foreign policy is run by WWII reenactors.

    China was artificially reimagined as an enemy-in-a-box as the wars of terror sputtered out and America needed a new Bond villian. Biden envisions China as an autocratic foe for democracy to wage a global struggle against. “On my watch,” Joe said, “China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim the world was at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” In Biden’s neo-Churchillian view, the U.S. and what the hell, the whole free world he believes he is president of, are in a death match with China for global hearts and minds.

    One problem in this world view is the unbelievable hypocrisy underlying America’s claimed role. Biden seems oblivious the U.S. mows down Muslims by drone and cluster bomb even while it self-righteously tsk tsks China for bullying its Uighur minority. After our two decade hissy fit of invasions and nation building brought kleptocracies and terrorists to lead countries, we dare bark that China is not democratic. We seem not to notice our lack of clothing when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with petty tyrants and dictators strewn around Africa and the Middle East. We see no issues demanding democracy in Hong Kong while ignoring its weakening across the United States (never mind not having had much to say about democracy in Hong Kong when it was a British colony stolen by war from Chinese sovereignty.) A pretty weak resume when you’re aiming at Leader of the Free World.

    Apart from sheer hypocrisy, there are other reasons to wonder how China ended up America’s sworn enemy for Cold War 2.0. The relationship otherwise does not look much like that of our old nemesis, the Soviet Union. The Russkies had a nasty habit of rolling tanks across borders, as of course does the U.S. Sometimes it was even the same country — how’d that Afghanistan thing work out? In contrast is the utter lack of countries China has invaded since WWII. Unlike the wheezing old Soviet economy, China is the world’s second largest economy, and one deeply tied, integrated, and in a symbiotic relationship with the U.S. China is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt just behind Japan, with massive investments across the board inside the United States.

    Not counting Hunter Biden (we kid) the total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. The Cold War joke, countries with a McDonald’s never made war on each other, seems under revision. The Chinese are literally betting the house on America succeeding. Meanwhile, U.S. investment in China has passed $1 trillion. As we learned when Covid briefly shut down world logistics, the American economy is voluntarily dependent on Chinese manufacturing and vice-versa.

    With all this co-dependent commerce it is also increasingly unclear what we have to fight about, and what we have to gain in picking a fight. About the best the war influencers can come up with are lurid predictions that Chinese investments are a secret tool to control the U.S. (as opposed to any other investors [Jeff Bezos, cough cough] domestic or foreign, yeah right.) They claim “someday” China will “weaponize” its investments and harm the U.S. Left unexplained is how China would need to take a $1.1 trillion bath on its Treasuries alone, never mind slamming closed its largest export market and having to find a way to use unfinished iPhones as a food source.

    So why the lust for a new Cold War? The problem Biden faces on China, and everywhere else really, is the biggest player in today’s foreign affairs is the military. In many parts of the world (particularly Asia and Africa) the combatant commanders are putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian, and commercial affairs. One reason is range: unlike ambassadors, whose budget and influence are confined to single countries, combatant commanders’ reach is continental. Unlike the White House, whose focus is ever-shifting, the military has the interest and manpower to stick around everywhere. Colonels grow up to be generals. Generals outlast administrations.

    The military has written America’s adversarial China policy. Following the old Cold War playbook, the goal seems to crank up tensions and exaggerate threats until confrontation looks inevitable but never really happens. Here’s how that plan recently exposed itself with China.

    Australia just ditched a $66 billion contract for French diesel-electric submarines to instead buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. This is alongside a new alliance which will also see Australia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom share advanced technologies. The genesis was the U.S. military’s muscular diplomacy, ramping up for a war with China they hope will power their budgets for decades. A side deal with Britain to station its newest aircraft carriers in Asia was certainly part of the package. This brings both the British and the Australians, nuclearized, into the South China Sea in force. An arms salesman just wrote Biden’s China policy.

    For what? China fusses with its neighbors over ownership of a handful of islands in the neighborhood, hardly worth risking total nuclear war over. See, it’s the nukes that rule out another Falklands. Even so, the U.S. can’t help but contribute to the saber rattling. The White House recently announced the existing U.S.-Japan security treaty now extends to the disputed Senkaku islands and the Philippines security treaty covers Manila’s claims to Chinese-occupied islets in the South China Sea. Flashback: once upon a time it was the Soviets who were supposed to invade disputed islands held by Japan. Never did.

    China and Taiwan make sport out of lofting rhetoric at each other, all the while maintaining a robust economic relationship that defines modus vivendi. Between 1991 and March 2020, Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. Pre-Covid travelers from China made 2.68 million visits to Taiwan. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. What incentive would China have to drop bombs on one of its best customers? Um, how about… none?

    As they say, follow the money. The money leads toward rapprochement, right under America’s nose. Barack Obama sought the economic isolation of China. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a 2016 proposed trade agreement among most everyone in Asia except China. Trump withdrew the U.S. from TPP in 2017. In 2018 the remaining countries negotiated a new consolation prize-like agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership which meant little without the participation of economic superpowers U.S. and China. Yet while Biden has made no moves to bring the U.S. back into the play, and has kept Trump’s tariffs in place against China, Chinese diplomats have been busy beavers.

    In an end run timed to mock the American submarine deal with Australia, China applied in September to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. Radio silence on both applications from Washington, who, as a non-participant in the group, doesn’t even have a vote on the matter. And Biden has made clear he has no plans to join in the future. Ironically, the genesis of all this, the Obama TPP, was designed to force China at dollar-point to reform itself and be More Like Us. Who is it now that seems to be setting the rules of today’s international system in both trade and diplomacy? China is offering favorable access to its lucrative market to diplomatically influence the alliance on its own terms. All the U.S. has to offer its allies is a subordinate and expensive role in a new Cold War.

    Where is the State Department? Nine months into his administration Biden still does not have an ambassador in Beijing, leaving China policy in caretaker hands. His nominee for ambassador, Nick Burns, is an old State Department hack, having made a career by bending over backwards in both directions as administrations changed. Coming out of a spokesmodel-type retirement university job, Burns will be read by Beijing, if he ever gets there, as a placeholder, a political crony handed a sweet, mostly ceremonial, final job.

    Elsewhere, Beijing seeks to make friends with its “belt and road” trade and investment initiative in Asia. If the America’s Afghan War had any winners, it’s probably the Chinese, who found some common ground with the Taliban (look it up, it’s called diplomacy, often done even with your enemies) and thus potential access to their vast mineral resources. American businesses meanwhile demand from Biden’s deaf ears he clarify the economic relationship with China.

    While Biden passively allows the military to prepare for war under the sea, China is winning in the competition over our heads in a game Biden does not seem to even know exists. American foreign policy credibility and its confrontational strategy has been shown to be a farce. America is still a big, mean dog, but our ability to influence events around the world is limited to barking and biting and only works when barking and biting is the solution. When anything beyond threats is needed, say when dealing with near-peers like China, we have few if any tools but to reimagine legitimate competitors into enemies. Our policy toward China, like our president, is a failed artifact from another era.

     

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

  • Old Laws Never Die, A Tale of Covid and the DMV

    October 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    Two weeks to flatten the curve became 18 months of masks and vax mandates with no end in sight. New powers to regulate lives seized from the people by government. Rules which make no common sense dominate our lives, experiments in compliance not science. How do Covid restrictions end? They likely never will.

    I learned this at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) My re-education started when I was told to prove as an American citizen in an American state that I am “resident” here, not simply being an American in America. I’m a good sport and wanted to comply, just like I try to keep up with the latest rules and Purell my hands 600 times a day against an airborne virus. I knew threats weren’t inherently political, right, and you just can’t be too careful.

    For proof of residence the DMV wants some sort of olde timey paper trail, returned check stubs and paper utility bills. No one at the DMV seems aware all this stuff went to “the online” a while ago, and that it is sort of normal to reside in one state with an online bank in another state and no paper bills or statements from anywhere with only a cell phone from an area code from two moves ago and which banks still return cancelled paper checks each month anyway? They growled at me for even raising the question.

    Like the waitress who had no idea how to explain why I needed a mask to walk to my table but no mask when I sat at my table, the DMV clerk said she was not allowed to look at my phone screen or scroll through my apps to see evidence of me paying local condo fees, having a local address with a distant bank, etc. I was told to go home and print out everything and she’d take a look. And because of Covid, next available appointment is, let’s see… never. I will have to keep my old McLovin’ license a while longer. I timidly asked why?

    “Because of 9/11” the clerk said in that voice used with really stupid children. It was clear she did not know more than that about why she was demanding these things of me, so no point pressing it. It took me a moment to remember 9/11 as 9/11 was twenty years ago. I asked the clerk where she was on that fateful day and she said “In fifth grade.” I can easily imagine my children 20 years in the future having a similar conversation about why they had to prove their 35th booster shot to go bowling.

    I said a silent thanks that our vax passports are all electronic now, handy on the same phone my movements are tracked by so if I get lost someone can find me. Think how silly jokes like “Papers, bitte, mein herr!” will sound in the future when there’s no paper! LOL.

    The problem with old laws that once were enacted for our safety amidst an emergency is they never go away. They don’t adapt to new realities. Power taken is not returned. Fear becomes the standing justification for everything. I realized while threats aren’t necessarily inherently political, the responses sure are. It’s easy, and politically fun, the claim all the fears over Covid restrictions on our liberties are just conspiracy theories, deplorable gasping. It is easy for the media to ignore the many people opposed to masks are not anti-science but anti-politically charged public policy. The media forget once upon a time a driver’s license was just so you could drive not an excuse to gather personal information.

    The Real ID law was where my problems at the DMV started, the 2004 law a result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, who discovered 18 of the 19 hijackers obtained legit state IDs. Fun fact: the hijackers were all legally present in the United States, most fully resident and able to prove it, holding legitimately issued student visas for their flight schools and would have passed the Real ID speed bump had it existed then. Nonetheless, in the interest of safety Something Had to Be Done, albeit the equivalent of a cloth condom. Or a poorly fitting dust mask.

    So America’s 245 million license holders had to make an in-person visit to their DMV with all these bits of paper in order to obtain a Real ID compliant license. Your local DMV now gathers more information about you than your mother knows and stores it nationally accessible to, well, not sure who, but a lot of people, at an estimated implementation cost of $23.1 billion. But we’re safer, right, can’t put a price on that. Actually, we will be safer. Though proposed in the smoldering ruins of 2004, delays and rolling implementation mean Real IDs were not required for domestic flights until October 2020, and full enforcement does not begin until May 2023. Until then, keep an eye on your masked seatmates.

     

    The best part of all is the last time anyone actually tested my ability to drive was in 1976, when I drove my mother’s car around the block and then parallel parked it to the satisfaction of an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. In getting my new driver’s license in 2021, no one actually checked if I could safely do the actual thing the license was in place to allow me to do.
    I can almost hear the voice of the Twilight Zone guy, saying “And therein lies our cautionary tale. Rules proposed, let’s allow, in good faith often fail to accomplish that what they were originally intended to. Rather, they empower small bullies disguised as clerks and waiters who in the name of safety taunt us to provide bits of paper from the scavenger hunt of our lives to entertain them. But that’s the least of our troubles. They are but background players in a bigger game: governments collecting more and more information, placing restrictions without accurate explanation, claiming it is for our own good when clearly it is actually for their own good. We’ll check back in 20 years, to see how many of the Covid restrictions still apply here, at the DMV, or elsewhere… in the Twilight Zone.”

     

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

  • Covid State of Things

    October 9, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Economy

    It is important to stop every once in awhile and sum up where things are, to lay down some breadcrumbs to refer back to when someone asks “How did we end up here?”

    In many ways, the story is the same story. The message of 9/11 was give up freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Now 20 years later, you realize you went along with it because you were scared. The message of Covid is to give up more freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Fear is infectious and now we’re here.

    As a young David Petraeus asked early in the Iraq War, tell me how this ends. What is the Covid endgame? Victory was once defined as making testing available to all. Then lock downs to free up ventilators. Then vaccinations available to all. No one knows anymore what the goal is but some sort of return-to-normal with 100 percent vaccination and 0 percent infection is as real as a democratic Afghanistan once seemed.

    What started as “two weeks to flatten the curve” has metastasized into 18 months of lockdowns, masks mandates, and vax passports. Most of what has already happened was dismissed as conspiracy theories less than a year ago. Our society — work, education, shopping, entertainment, socialization — has been fundamentally changed by decree, emergency powers taken by government not given by the people. Each of the 50 states is its own world now, with its own rules.

    We are still somewhat free to move from one to another, though flight may soon be only for the vaccinated. Hawaii has previously closed its borders, then opened them only to people who vaxxed or tested. It became the first state to prohibit Americans from visiting a part of America. The state is looking at publishing the names of those who should be in quarantine so that their neighbors can inform on them. Hawaii also became the first state to arrest American citizens for traveling inside America. Two men are currently locked up for trying to enter the state unvaxxed and untested. Their sentence was 10 days in jail, literal quarantine at gunpoint. The understood right of Americans to travel freely among the states has stood the tests of time, war, and economic crisis, only to stumble on a virus. Such horizontal federalism threatens to stop the Constitution at certain state borders.

    Hawaii is just one state. However, the new Biden travel regulations will soon require American citizens returning from abroad to undergo some sort of vax and testing regime. For the first time, Americans will need to demonstrate something other than citizenship to exercise the right to return to their own country. Biden’s plan tasks the airlines with determining overseas who can get on a plane to America, citizen or not. That move is a critical departure. The right to travel has been long understood to be a part of the 5A liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process. Existing quarantine laws (some of which date, ironically, to leprosy scares from when Hawaii was a U.S. territory) required the decision to admit a (sick) American to be made at a U.S. port of entry by a U.S. government official, assuring some modicum of due process. By out sourcing enforcement to an airline clerk in Paris, as with outsourcing censorship to Twitter, Biden disposes of Constitutional protections.

    Those who ask to see the science behind decrees (why 50 percent capacity at bars and not 63 percent or 41?) are canceled, shunned, and mocked. How was it determined six feet of social distancing, not four or 12, is best? No one seems to know. And why doesn’t the size of the room and its airflow matter? Can’t talk about that. Oppose some new rule however absurd and be labeled a child killer by your neighbors. The acts of violence connected with masks and duct taping passengers on airplanes are considered ends that justify the means and are growing. One progressive voice advocates treating the unvaccinated last at the hospital (the writer, a gay man, isn’t old enough to remember when people demanded gays not get AIDS treatment because they chose sodomy.) Are masks effective? It doesn’t matter, because it was never just about how effective masks are against the virus. What matters are masks are very effective as a entry-level test of compliance, then later as a symbol, you know, like armbands.

    The sad thing is how quickly thinking ended. Our society leaves no space for people who choose to get vaccinated while at the same time worry about the increasing government control. Many people opposed to masks are not anti-science, they are opposed to politically-charged public policy. There is no chance to look into additional virus care without it ending up as a Maddow piece about slack jawed yokels eating horse suppositories. Something can by itself be a life-saving medicine and an instrument of social control depending on how it is used. When rational thinking is frowned upon and everything becomes fodder for frightened zealots the pitchforks are not far away.
    If you’ve ever been conned, you know the feeling. That tickle in your stomach when you realize the guy who took your money is not coming back from just around the corner with your knock-off Rolex. You wait around a while, but at some point you get it. You’ve been taken. That’s where we are. There is no ambiguity. This is all happened. It took only months without a shot being fired. The Nazis were amateurs.

     

    Given how what were dismissed as conspiracy theories only months ago are now policy, it is tempting to take a self-righteous victory lap. We were right. But all that has been finally made clear is the what. The most important question is always why. Cui bono, who benefits?

    The Democrats clearly surfed Covid fear to beat Trump. But Biden shows no real interest in following through, assuming the role of tyrant, squeezing Covid for every grand plan he has on his list, as Bush did with playing 9/11 into invading everywhere. Joe’s crimes against liberty add up to something significant, but they have been implemented haphazardly. He never created, for example, a massive overgrinding Covid Security Agency like TSA. Biden and the Dems just wanted to ride a successful vax summer into the upcoming midterms. Other small thinkers like Andrew Cuomo, who wanted to use his new public image as the Trump Covid Slayer into a White House bid were taken care of as needed, much like Bernie was disappeared.

    The flow has all been one direction, more control and less liberty. If the threat is so obvious, why has this needed to be so coercive? So here comes the theory we’ll look back on to judge in full: there are powerful forces at work, by design or by luck when a door opened. Covid has not been about small political moves, it has always been about massive societal change.

    Education, the absolute only route for advancement out of the 99 percent (albeit not guaranteed) ceased to exist for many, who either stopped attending or merely suffered through thrown together online “classes.” The average IQ of American children fell 22 points during the pandemic and suicide rates exploded. As the pandemic took hold, more than a million children did not enroll in school. Many of them were the most vulnerable: five-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods. Think lack of diversity is a problem? Try ignorance.

    Many more were among those tricked into joining Darwin’s club by refusing vaccinations for the dumbest reasons. Large numbers of blacks were convinced the Covid vaccine was a massive medical experiment with them as the guinea pigs (70 percent of black New Yorkers and over half of Latinos aren’t vaxxed; BLM plans an “uprising” against vax mandates) Rural whites were convinced the vaccines contain tracking microchips or were otherwise toxic. Liberals were blunted by Kamala Harris’ claim she would never trust a vaccine developed under Trump. Large swatches of the less useful in society (“deplorables”) are either dead, dying, or effectively mandated off the playing field forever. Someone else now controls who works, who gets educated, who lives.

    Economic disparity and homelessness increased. If you are allowed to work (from home) you assume more of the costs of hiring you, like providing office space. More and more people are dependent on debt, with their noses held just above water (i.e., they can make minimum payments) by government money: stimulus checks, unemployment, the whole A-Z of benefits. What little the wealthy pay in taxes is recycled through the poor back upward. Pathetically in the world’s last superpower, the majority of young people now say YouTuber or influencer are their top job choices (true.) Start a GoFundMe and make one frozen burrito last two meals are their budget strategies (kidding, sort of.) The police don’t create safety as much as they manages the results of the inequality by force.

    Can’t travel. Can’t work. Can’t go to school. Can’t make medical decisions. Can’t interact with neighbors (they’re dangerous.) Can’t walk into places without government permission (you’re dangerous.) Can’t depend on Constitutional protections in an emergency. Meanwhile the very wealthiest own spaceships. Naw, can’t be.

     

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

  • Requiem: Is This the Last 9/11 Article?

    October 2, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Wait, stop. I know it’s almost October, but I’m not done with 9/11. I know we just had the 20th anniversary, promised for a day to never forget whatever, and then an old-looking Bruce Springsteen rose to sing about everyone dying around him (read the room, Bruce.) Missing was a hard look at what happened over the last 20 years. Before we move on, can we address that? Because after the symbolic Big 2-0, and with Afghanistan sputtering out of our consciousness, this might be the last 9/11 article.
    Part of the reason for the lack of introspection is the MSM went back to the same people who screwed everything up for “takes” two decades later. It’s kind of like inviting students to grade themselves. It was familiar, like the parade of generals following the Vietnam war who blamed the politicians and vice-versa. I’d like a browser widget that blocks 9/11 commentary from any of the people who were wrong about WMDs, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the like. The last thing anyone’s life needs right now is to hear David Petraeus’ or Condi Rice’s take on anything.
    Yet as if to create the anti-widget of my dreams, the Washington Post created a review of the sprawling literature to emerge from 9/11 over the past two decades — what they generously called works of investigation, memoir, and narrative by journalists and former officials. The books included were written by people taking post-mortem credit for issuing warnings they themselves never acted on, agencies blaming other agencies as if all that happened was the FBI lost a pickup softball game to the CIA, and of course journalists who helped sell the whole WMD line profiting off their mini-embeds to write a new “classic” war book about What It’s Really Like Out There, Man.
    WaPo left my Iraq book off the list, an accidental omission I’m sure. I joke but I don’t. I wrote ten years ago, as it was happening, how nation building was going to fail in Iraq. It would have made good reading a decade ago for anyone headed into the same situation in Afghanistan. So while WaPo’s article does a good job with the “celebrity” books of the era, it ignores the people who saw through it all at nearly every step. I guess many of them did not write books, or at least not “Washington Post” books. So the list includes Petraeus’ U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the Bible behind the Surge which outlined how nation building was gonna work (update: he was wrong.) But nothing from the weapons inspectors who told the world quite clearly Saddam had no WMDs and the whole premise of the Iraq War was a lie. Nothing explaining how the Afghan War was reinvented to cover-up not finding bin Laden. Nothing about drone killing American citizens, bombing wedding parties, torture, collateral damage, or any of the things that actually caused us to lose multiple wars of terror. Ironically, the last official drone strike of the war killed innocent civilians the Pentagon pretended were terrorists.
    I’ve read almost all the books on WaPo’s list. They would make for a decent but obviously incomplete undergrad survey class syllabus, something like “Opportunities and Losses: America in the Middle East post-9/11,” lots of facts amassed without the necessary critical thinking applied. So here’s what’s missing, the conclusions we do not want to see in black and white 20 years later. Think of what follows as a B+ final exam submission for that imaginary survey class.
    — Nobody trusts the government about anything. Partisans support their guy but with a wry “Hey, they all lie.” Any rebuilding of trust post-Watergate died with the WMDs, etc. and is unlikely to be restored in our age of social media/manipulation.
    — They didn’t make mistakes. They lied. They lied about how 9/11 happened, they lied about WMDs, they lied about intentions, they lied about goals, they lied about Pakistan’s role, they lied about the strength of the puppet governments in Baghdad and Kabul, they lied about the vitality of ISIS, al Qaeda, and the Taliban, they lied about our progress, they lied about it all. They lied to make Pat Tilman’s death seem like Captain Miller’s. No one was ever punished.
    — On a simple material level, my God what did we waste in lives and money in all the wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the havoc of refugees let loose? And yet we demand the point of 9/11 be our victimization alone. We even appropriated the term Ground Zero, which once referred universally to Hiroshima.
    — American foreign policy credibility and our post-WWII imperialist strategy has finally been shown to be a farce. A lesson that should have been clear post-Vietnam needed to be relearned. That means we the public are stupid and gullible. We the nation are still a big, mean dog, but our ability to influence events around the world is limited to barking and biting and only works when barking and biting is the solution. When anything beyond threats is needed, say when dealing with peers, near-peers or non-allied countries with shared interests, we have few if any tools. That’s why we have no idea whatsoever how to work with Iran or China, and why our strategy with North Korea is hope fat boy slim dies before he (likely accidentally, think Chernobyl) blows up half of Asia.
    — They don’t hate our freedoms. They don’t want to be like us. We based policy on finding a handful of Afghan women who wanted to wear mini-skirts when the bulk of them simply wanted to be left alone. The lesson was always obvious; they didn’t want to be British, either.
    — Americans pretend our little journey to the dark side of torture was over years ago, our bad! but lots of others remember and Gitmo is still open. We will never unstain our reputation globally. Like that one-time little sexy business trip affair, it just becomes a thing polite people don’t talk about.
    — We emerged from 9/11 a “paranoid, xenophobic and martial society.” We’ve let the easy certainty of “you’re either with us or against us” morph into students being taught not to think but “being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues.”
    — America became a massive surveillance state. The government (and many large corporations) monitor your communications and interactions. You cannot opt out. We willingly purchase electronics to aid the government in monitoring us. Here’s one in pink!
    — We willingly gave up our privacy out of fear. That fear now exists in the body politic to be summoned like a demon and manipulated by whomever wishes it for whatever purpose, say to imagine Trump is a Russian spy, or your neighbors as Nazis because they oppose what you support, or Covid survival demands further loss of freedom.
    — The media, which served in times past as a counterpoint, instead fully adopted the role of promoting Bush’s wars and WMDs, Trump the spy, etc. They allowed Obama to wave away questions about torture, drone assassinations, and new wars because he was their chosen one. No one sees the media as anything but partisans now, albeit our partisans and their partisans depending on which channel is on. The result is we are ever more uninformed and simultaneously more opinionated. What part of a doctor’s day is spent dealing with knuckleheads who value their degree from the University of Google more than what he has learned in a lifetime of practice?
    There, that’s it. I predict the 9/11 commemorations will become lower and lower key in the years to come, much like America lost interest in the space program in the later years and rocket launches were no longer even televised. But each year the anniversary rolls around and we’re admonished to never forget, remember how much we already seem to have very purposely forgotten.

     

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

  • In Search of Biden’s Foreign Policy

    September 29, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq


     

    Since Biden was elected in part as the answer to Trump’s perceived foreign policy blunders, it seems reasonable nine months in to go searching for the Biden Doctrine, to assess his initial foreign policy moves, to see what paths he has sketched out for the next three years.

    (Sound of tumbleweeds.)

    So what of the Biden foreign policy? Biden took office with no immediate crisis at hand. Yet all he has done is blunder poorly through a handful of incidents.

    Afghanistan of course has been Biden’s only significant foreign policy action. Ending the Afghan War almost happened under Trump, the last steps derailed by false reporting the Russians were paying bounties to the Taliban for dead Americans (which made no sense; why would the Taliban do anything that might slow the inevitable American withdrawal? They had already won) and a ridiculous media tsunami claiming Trump disrespected the troops. Biden won the election in November and took office in January. There was ample time for replanning and renegotiating anything left behind by Trump, especially since most of the Biden team had muddled in Afghanistan for years previously during the Obama era and knew well the mess they’d help create. The rush for the last plane out of Kabul was a fully expected unexpected event. The Biden administration did not quietly start the evacuation in February, nor did it negotiate ahead of time the third country landing rights it knew would be needed. The lessons learned in Iraq and Vietnam evacuating locals who worked with us were clear, though Biden did not kick start processing of the SIV visas until literally the last flights were scheduled out of Afghanistan.

    Biden instead chose to place his first foreign policy act’s fate in the hands of negotiations with the Taliban, depending on them to uphold agreements, provide security, vet Americans enroute to the airport, and generally play nice with whatever America needed to do to save face as the door hit us in the ass on the way out. The National Security Council spokeswoman even called the Taliban “businesslike and professional.” If this was naïve, then a new word meaning “more than naïve” needs to be created. Even assuming good intentions (!) the Taliban are loosely organized, with plenty of local warlords, ISIS spinoffs, and rogue elements to ensure things would go wrong, for example, the terror bombing which killed 13 Americans and basically ended the evacuation. Biden’s follow-up? Lie about the success of a revenge drone strike to make sure America’s final official act in the war was to kill civilians. This all added up to the most amateurish foreign policy execution seen in a long time. Mistakes? How  about assuming your enemies share your goals, negotiating after you have lost and hold no cards, failing to plan for anticipatable events, and fibbing about it all and blaming your predecessor. For a foreign diplomat sitting in London, Tokyo, Beijing, or Paris, the question had to have been “who if anyone is in charge in Washington?”

     

    Biden’s other foreign policy gesture, the nuclear submarine agreement with Australia which alienated the French, again begs the question of who is in charge.

    Perhaps the most significant foreign policy problem America faces is no one is in charge . If one understands diplomacy as “America’s interactions with foreigners” then the extended answer is more like there are too many people in charge of parts of the whole. You get celebrity policy, like Trump with Kim, John Kerry jetting around the world solving climate change, or the endless strings of special envoys (Biden has 14, which overlay the existing diplomatic structure with a new layer of bureaucracy. Tillerson had done away with 35 special envoys, Pompeo added back 5.) It seems if the issue is important enough, it is too important for regular diplomats. Next level down are the host of other organizations playing at policy. For the large and growing swatch of the world controlled by warlords, militias, and criminals organizations, policy is made by the intelligence agencies, for example. They have people on ground too muddy for diplomats and too complicated for the White House to focus on. They make policy with payoffs and bribes, if not with targeted kills.

    But the biggest player in today’s foreign affairs is the military. Biden just learned how that works. In many parts of the world (particularly Asia and Africa) the combatant commanders are putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian, and commercial affairs. One reason is range: unlike ambassadors, whose responsibilities, budget, and influence are confined to single countries, combatant commanders’ reach is continental. Unlike the White House, whose focus is ever-shifting, the military has the interest and manpower to stick around everywhere. Generals outlast administrations. When America’s primary policy tool is so obviously the military, there is less need, use, and value to diplomats or even presidents. As a foreign leader, who would you turn to if you wanted Washington’s ear—or to pry open its purse?

    Any criticism of the deal with Australia begins with the question of what idiot could so completely screw up a deal involving a NATO-ally and a partner like Australia? On the face that’s the kind of lunk-headed stuff Trump was often accused of. You’ve left with the bad jokes about not being able to find a girlfriend in a bawdy house.

    What actually happened was Australia ditched a $66 billion contract for French diesel-electric submarines to instead buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines under a new alliance which will also see Australia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom share advanced technologies with one another. The genesis of all this of course is the U.S. military’s muscular diplomacy, ramping up for a war with China they hope will power their budgets for decades. A side deal with Britain to station its newest aircraft carriers in Asia was certainly part of the package. This brings now both the British and the Australians into the South China Sea in force, with an arms salesman in the Pentagon finding a way to sideline the French at the same time. Calling America’s (by default, Biden’s) actions Trumpian, France withdrew its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. France had never before withdrawn its ambassador to the U.S., dating back to the initial alliance in 1778, two years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence. France assumes the EU presidency next year and promises revenge, never mind the likelihood that Biden will never recruit them into any coalition against Chinese power. So much for Candidate Biden’s promises to repair the U.S.’s alliances post-Trump. He has of course been radio silent on the Aussie deal, and likely learned about it mostly from the media. Arms sales, titularly approved by State, are one of the military’s primary foreign policy carrots.

     

    Joe Biden certainly has his hands full of domestic problems — Covid the virus which has killed thousands of Americans, Covid the public policy disaster which is killing the rest of us, unemployment, inflation, immigration, abortion rights — it’s a long list. So it’s easy to forget Biden was elected in part for his foreign policy expertise. During the campaign Trump was presented as a foreign policy disaster, skirting just short of tragedy thanks to pseudo-coups by patriots like Alexander Vindman and Mark Milley. There were his homoerotic ties to Putin, fights with the French and British, near sell out to North Korea, the brink of war with Iran, and his failure to blunt the rise of China. At least that’s what we were told, because of course none of those things actually happened.

    But first the strawmen. Every president except George Washington inherited his predecessor’s wins and losses and works in progress, and has had at some point needed to take ownership. “But Trump!” worked as a campaign strategy well enough for Biden, but nine months is long enough to have worn it out as a foreign policy (and of course as a domestic excuse.) Trump did not decimate the State Department. Over the decades the most damage done to State has been by various Congresses slashing the budget for diplomacy. The answer to that is for the new president to get some more money into the game, and no signs Biden is working on that.

    One final point about all that rhetoric about Trump gutting the State Department. Decades before Trump, the State Department slide into being an agency without primary agency. Under Cold War administrations it focused on arms control. During the Bush and early Obama years, it was sent off to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton switched the organization to “soft power” programs. John Kerry started on Syria as a signature aim but ended up focused singularly on the Iran nuclear deal. Tillerson never articulated any goals at all beyond some verbiage about structural reform that never saw daylight. State played a concierge role while Trump tried personal diplomacy with North Korea. Pompeo had little to say other than to support his boss ending the Obama nuclear deal with Iran. And of course no one complained much when State was hiring below attrition during the Obama years. As Trump took office, two thirds of new hires at State came from “fellowship” programs created not to bolster core diplomatic skills sets but in response to various diversity lawsuits. Or take a longer view. In 1950, State had 7,710 diplomats. The pre-Trump total was just 8,052, as State has failed to grow alongside the modern world. So enough with the excuses.

     

    Nine months in Biden has shown no grace or skill at foreign policy. He has handed execution over to naïve and incompetent people, and watched his military sketch out America’s broader strategy toward China. Biden has otherwise done little of what he promised; there are no signs of him paying any attention to nuclear threats Iran and North Korea. No options have come forth for follow-on in Afghanistan. No significant engagement with NATO or Russia. None at all with China (Trump’s tariffs remain in place.) Not a peep on policy toward Africa or South America. Biden can’t even claim he’s providing stability by staying the course because that means overtly supporting Trump’s policies. Foreign Policy, a reliable Democratic acolyte, struggles to define Biden as a foreign policy success, resorting to listing his accomplishment as “rejoining multilateral organizations, reinvigorating alliances [and] donating vaccines.” Obama got a Noble Peace Prize for doing even less of course, but that must be little solace for poor Joe.

      

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

  • COVID and the Minimum Wage: It Hurts

    September 20, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage, Post-Constitution America

     

    Covid caused a very odd thing: the working poor got a raise.

    Via stimulus checks, federally-funded jumps in unemployment payments, and looser state-based unemployment qualifications (specifically including gig workers and independent contractors who weren’t before eligible for regular unemployment benefits) they all of a sudden had money that may still not have been much but which was closer to enough. People were not forced to work lousy jobs for lousy wages to enrich lousy people already wealthy enough to own spaceships.

    Then another odd thing. As people were allowed to return to work, many didn’t. They were making more not working, math simple enough that in 25 states the federal supplement to unemployment was dropped so that unemployment again paid less than minimum wage. State governments forced people at economic gunpoint to accept souless jobs. Meanwhile, in 21 states, the minimum wage is unchanged from ten years ago.

    There were briefly two completely different systems in America until the federal money ended in September, one which provided available funds and one which withheld them to force Americans into low-paying jobs. Forcing people to work for less money than what feeds them is akin to slavery but economists may have a more modern term today.

    Some misty years ago jobs that used to put minimum wage spending money into the hands of teenagers became a primary income source for adults. The sleight of hand was that it was impossible to actually earn a living that way, with the federal minimum wage at $7.25. Keeping Americans in a state of semi-poverty (the “working poor”) became a business model.

    In 2011 as a forcibly-retired older man I worked a number of minimum wage jobs, sweeping and stocking and silently accepting your abuse. I can assure you the famous “Karens” of 2021 demanding to speak to the manager were already well-established then in the wild. I was the victim of their economically entitled wrath nearly daily, with my Caucasianess no shield.

    I rolled those experiences under our apartheid of dollars into a book called The Ghosts of Tom Joad nobody read because Bernie had not yet told us it was okay to feel bad for the working white poor. Now, ten years later with our dual layered under-economy, it was time for me to take another look.

    In Hawaii where I live, restaurants and small businesses complained about a labor shortage even as the state, with the nation’s strictest lockdown, had the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 22 percent. Almost all of my applications were ghosted, meaning I never heard anything back. For the ones where I did learn more, here’s what I found.

    You need a hard shell against any notions of equality. One of the most expensive restaurants in town, where tabs run hundreds of dollars, offered $12 a hour for hosts to maintain their high standards for service and politeness while also maintaining the guest restrooms throughout the evening. Working there would not have been much different than looking out my window, where I can see a park that became a homeless encampment with a small harbor in the distance filled with superyachts the size of WWII destroyers.

    No one cares too much about equal opportunity. I was told tourists expect to see a “local boy” in a role, not a white guy. I fielded lots of probably illegal questions related to my age, as well as a large scoop of techno-aggressions about things like whether I had a smartphone. Some ads openly asked for a woman server, or an attractive female assistant. One offered a job called “Beach Babe.”

    Another ad said “We are looking for reliable, friendly, and customer service oriented hostesses to provide entertainment on our Adult Fun Boat . Individuals must be allowed of Fun (sic) and open minded nature. Compensation is commensurate of services provided.” Good to see, as in most third world nations, sex work is still an option. Your employer is also your pimp, just like OnlyFans!

    Some jobs were borderline criminal. One, selling timeshares, had a hyper-complex commission system such that I could actual close a sale and make no money. It was hard to tell if I’d be an employee, or just another mark. A doggy day care claimed I would get tips and so would be paid sub-minimum.

    Another required my first hour’s wages daily for parking. A customer service job required me to first buy a logoed T-shirt for $15 and a $20 battery-powered old-timey lantern to fit their theming. Having to pay to work was a new thing since 2011. I felt like I was thirsty and all that was offered was a spit cup from the dentist.

    One place said if I was a full-time student I would be paid only 85 percent of the minimum wage. A job at a tourist shooting range wanted two Asian languages, had eight hour shifts with no scheduled break, and required me to pick up lead. Another offer was minimum wage, but only half paid monthly. The other half was withheld for three months pending a manager’s decision it was deserved as a “bonus.” Unclear how much of this was legal, but what are you going to do, call 911?

    While I was asked to prove my vaccination status, not a single employer asked me to prove any claimed skills. The most common question if sometimes the only question was can you work Saturdays? And why not; the only real qualification was that I could do the job cheaper than a robot (three in 10 small businesses automated job tasks during the pandemic.)

    Some of the least attractive places to work were small owner-run restaurants. The expectation was that for low wages I would work like the entrepreneur himself, putting in the sweat equity. One owner complained about employees who whined over not being paid when closing ran late. He wanted me to subsidize his business with my free labor.

    To him hard work represented unlimited potential, without realizing he structured my job to specifically not include any chance for a raise. There was no reason to do a good job today, and less to be better tomorrow. You can’t work “harder” because your salary is capped. The goal was to work just enough not to get fired. The reward was not having to apply for a new job at the burger hut across the street.

    There were also some nice people seeking to hire, polite, with a whattya ya gonna do attitude. But the difference between the overseer who beat his charges with pleasure and the one who was just doing his job is slight.

    What Covid exposed is a terrible thing. The minimum wage allows employers of the under-economy to conspire to pay the same wage. If they fixed prices this way it would be illegal. Employers seem to have taken the bit, understanding how little choice workers have and seem determined to make their job offering more terrible than the other guy’s. They certainly showed no interest in how employees might affect their bottom line, attitude spilling over to customers. The sign on the door says “I’ll only pay for cheap labor, so deal with it, consumers. What choice do you have anyway?”

    It is hard to put into words how worthless you feel in this process. Your potential employer seems to hold you in contempt, if not see you as simply a john to be ripped off under the guise of hiring you. They understand and expect to be allowed to exploit labor, backed by the government holding down wages. Half the states embraced this a step further, cutting off supplements to assist in impoverishing their own citizens. That’s why the government controls the minimum wage, to force you back in now that the Covid fat times are over.

    Minimum wage” has become maximum wage for a whole layer of our society. Businesses have little pressure to raise salaries because they hold all the aces – the government has their back with designated wages to ensure they don’t have to get into bidding wars for talent, and the labor market is rigged so that a large number of Americans have no choice but to take these jobs.

    Want to know what happens next? The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) which takes into account all government aid, fell to 9.1 percent in 2020, the lowest it has been since record keeping of the SPM began. Without taking government pandemic aid, now history, into account, poverty would have risen 11.4 percent.

    Imagine the fun when you visit our paradise here in Hawaii knowing the person serving at your all-you-can-eat luau is hungry. And don’t forget to tip your waitress, she needs it.

     

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  • The Last Question About 9/11

    September 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Other Ideas

     

    History rarely falls between neat bookends. The Sixties didn’t end until 1975 with the fall of Saigon, for example. The New Millenium really started on September 11, 2001 and now, two decades later, is wrapping up with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the New York awkwardly bumping into the endgame in Afghanistan.

    I was working for the U.S. State Department on 9/11/01 at our embassy in Tokyo. My job was to look after the interests of private American citizens (ACS work to the informed) and the summer had been abuzz with warnings and threats of some sort of terror attack. Everyone was certain it would be aimed at us overseas, the way the 1998 Nairobi and Dar es Salaam attacks had been.

    Because of the “No Double Standards” rule, despite being a fairly low-level staffer in the embassy, I was better informed than many of my colleagues. The “No Double Standards” rule grew out of the 1988 terror bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. Because some members of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had been tipped off to possible danger to that flight, and chose to change their plans and live, and because the public was left in the dark and were destroyed in mid-air, the rules were changed.

    The new rule said if the government shares information with the official U.S. community that could also affect the safety of non-official Americans, the info has to be shared with the public. This lead to many complicated situations that summer; if the embassy wanted to tell its staff to stay off flights into the Philippines, it had to also tell the public, with all the resulting panic and media guff. A lot of the warnings and threats were therefore found not to be credible and thus not released individually even as the growing storm was hard to miss. I was a silent partner, seated in the classified space with the big boys as CYA insurance that they had considered the needs of the American public in their decisions.

    Late afternoon on September 10, 2001 Tokyo time I was called to review a highly classified document detailing an imminent attack at a specific location in Japan. The acting chief of mission had already decided to release the information to employees and thus I was required to release it to the public. The warning was sent out publicly via our-then very limited FAX system. By 2021 an archived copy has been removed from the embassy website and even the Wayback Machine-Internet archive can only find a place holder. Believe whatever you like to believe but within eight hours the first plane struck the World Trade Center in New York. The summer was over.

     

    Sometime that autumn we learned some of the widows of those among the 25 Japanese men killed at the World Trade Center were having a difficult time obtaining death certificates from New York and making insurance claims. The bureaucracy was finally catching up on the events of that terrible September Tuesday and despite all the talk about “anything we can do to help” the issue of working with the widows became a third rail inside the embassy; nobody wanted to touch it. It ended up in my office, specifically in the hands of my local Japanese staff. It was treated as a paperwork problem, same as when more mundane widows needed some help filing for their American spouse’s Social Security benefits. We were told to help where we could, be a point of contact, an office others could refer pesky phone calls to.

    I initially stayed away from it all, not as much because I had other things to do but because I had no idea what I would do. I would see them come in to our conference room, the widows, many with small kids. Then one of my local employees would disappear inside, too. Afterwards there would be a near-empty tissue box on the table, maybe some papers for me to perfunctorily sign, and a very quiet office for the rest of the day.

    One afternoon I just walked in and sat down. Then again, then again on another day. It had been by this time a couple of months since the attacks, and that awful feeling all this was normal now had set in. Not all of the eligible widows came into the embassy. Some made the journey to New York, some hired lawyers, some received more help from the husband’s employer than others. They did not need to see me, they had to choose. I could pretend to be busy at my desk with paperwork. I, too, had to choose.

    I listened to my local employee ask the questions, and then the routine answers while the elephant in the room whispered “We’re talking about a man burned into nothing, aren’t we?” Sometimes the widows would ask me why I was there. They meant I guess what was my job, me being an American and all, but I could not escape the broader question. So we talked. Many had never been to New York, they had in the Japanese way stayed home in Tokyo with the kids. So they asked about Brooklyn, where their husband had lived. Had I ever been to the World Trade Center? Yes, I have a favorite photo of some old school friends and me taken on the outdoor observation deck. Was that on the North Tower where my husband was killed? Yes.

    Only one widow grew angry. I was the first and likely only U.S. government official she had spoken to. That line in the State Department job description about representing America abroad bit hard that day. She, demurely and ever-so-politely, hated me. She hated my country. She forced herself to repeat how much she hated everything about me in limited English, then repeated it in Japanese and demanded it be translated even as I understood every word. You, knowing none of the Japanese language, would have understood every word. After that I had to somehow finish the work day and go home to hear my own kids tell me about how hard multiplication was and appear like I was still part of the human race.

     

    A problem developed in New York. Never before had the city had to issue thousands of death certificates so quickly without any remains, any actual proof that the person was indeed dead and not just missing. That bit of official paper was the key, however, to all sorts of insurance claims and death benefits and condolence money and the like, never mind being the one document which would explain bureaucratically how Mrs. Tanaka had become a widow and her children now fatherless. It seemed every bank, elementary school, and employer in Japan needed a copy to update their records.

    The NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) had begun the very long process by classifying all 9/11 deaths as homicides. No death certificates would be issued for the terrorists and they would never be included in any count of the dead. DNA and other technologies were not as advanced as today so out of close to 3,000 certificates issued, DNA at the time accounted for only 645 identifications, dental records 188, fingerprints 71, and found personal effects 19. We had been asked at one point to collect dental records and then DNA samples from the widows on behalf of their husbands but this proved of little value; some sort of human remain had to have been found at the Trade Center site to make a comparison match and some 40 percent of the victims left nothing of themselves behind. They just disappeared. The initial explosions, massive compression as the Towers imploded, and the fires destroyed most completely. Those death certificates simply stated “physical injuries (body not found.)”

    I have no memory of whose form it was, but one of the widows presented it to me. I was supposed to place her under oath and ask her why she believed her husband had died on September 11 given the absence of evidence — neither his body nor any evidence of it had ever been found. I had come to know this woman and her young children a bit; her claims somehow all were complicated and we had developed an odd workaday relationship. Easier to just get things done at this point I guess. So I asked her the question. How does she know her husband is dead?

    She said he was only to be in New York for a few months, and she and the kids stayed behind. But he missed his children and maybe her, a brave joke for her to make to me under the circumstances, and vowed to call every evening Tokyo-time to say goodnight. Tokyo-time night was New York-time in the morning, and so he’d make the calls from his office in the South Tower after he arrived at work. He called every morning/night, sometimes chatting, sometimes in a hurry. He called early the morning of September 11 (the plane hit at 9:03 am) and said goodnight. Now my phone never rings anymore, she said, so I know he is dead. But I still do not know why.

     

    I don’t think I saw the widow more than once or twice after that and I don’t know what happened to her. Her husband’s name is the one I visit when I am in New York at the Memorial. This year, 20 others having past, watching the results of our generational revenge war on Afghanistan and having experienced a year in the Iraqi desert myself for an equally pointless war, I still cannot answer her question. I still don’t know why and I’ve been thinking about it for almost 20 years.

     

     

     

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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 Worst Day of the Afghan War

    September 11, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Iraq, Military


    The Kabul airport suicide bombing was the largest single-day loss of life for Americans in the Afghan War since 2011. It was a terrible day, but begs the question: what was the worst day of the Afghan war?

    It is hard not to consider the Kabul airport suicide bombing the worst day; 13 Americans and maybe a hundred Afghans dead. How old were the Americans? How many hadn’t even gotten out of diapers when the war started 20 years ago? Did any have parents who also served in Afghanistan? Who were the Afghans?

    All of the dead were so close to safety after who knows what journey to that moment together, a hundred yards across the tarmac and into an airplane out. Good people only die at the last minute in bad movies and sometimes real life. But was it the worst day?

    Shall we count the dead? The worst day for American casualties in Afghanistan was August 6, 2011, when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down over eastern Afghanistan. Thirty Americans, including 22 SEALs, died.

    There were a lot of other worst days.  On June 28, 2005, 19 Special Operations troops were killed during Operation Red Wings. Three service members died in an ambush and 16 others lost their lives when their helicopter went down in an effort to help.

    — On July 13, 2008 nine Americans and 27 others were wounded in an attack on an American observation post in the Battle of Wanat.

    — On October 3, 2009 eight Americans and four Afghans were killed at Combat Outpost Keating when 200 Taliban fighters attacked the base in eastern Afghanistan.

    — On December 30, 2009 a Jordanian double-agent lured seven CIA operatives to their deaths in a suicide attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman.

    — On September 21, 2010 a Black Hawk helicopter went down in Qalat, killing five soldiers of the 101st Airborne, three Navy SEALs, and one support technician.

    — On April 27, 2011 eight U.S. airmen and one contractor were killed at the Kabul airport. A U.S.-trained ally Afghan Air Corps pilot became angry during an argument and began shooting.

    — The worst day might have been one out of the other hundreds of green-on-blue killings, incidents when an Afghan soldier purposely killed an American ally, the worst kind of proof we had lost and refused to believe that until belief was forced upon us.

    — Or maybe the symbolically worst day was February 8, 2020 when two American soldiers were killed fighting in eastern Afghanistan, the last “combat” deaths. In between those deaths and the deaths by the suicide bomber at Kabul airport, five other Americans died in “non-hostiles,” suicides and accidents. Those were bad days, too.

    — The worst day might have been have been the death of Pat Tilman, the NFL star/poster boy who ceremoniously joined the Army post-9/11 only to die in a volley of friendly fire and Pentagon lies.

     

    — Or maybe it was after a Taliban IED tore apart State Department officer Anne Smedinghoff while on a propaganda mission. Would either have been proud to give their lives those ways, knowing what we know now?

    Maybe the worst day was when some soldier back home, thinking his war was over, realized he had been conned, it was all a lie, that he never fought to defend America or help the Afghans, and neither did his buddy who died among the poppies outside a village without a name. Maybe it was when he realized his dad had told him the same thing about Vietnam. Or maybe it was when he heard President Biden, mentally stuck in 2006, claim those killed at the Kabul airport were actually “lives given in the service of liberty.”

    Or the worst day might be tonight, when some American veteran tells his wife after a couple too many he is going out to clean his gun in the garage. An average of 20 vets take their own lives each day. On August 16, the day after Kabul fell, the Veterans Administration Crisis Line saw a 12 percent increase in calls.

    Of course the Afghans had some worst days too, though no one really keeps track of those. The Kabul airport suicide attack must rank high. Or it could have been when the U.S. bombed an Afghan hospital. Or maybe when a U.S. drone, our national bird, attacked a wedding party. The Haska Meyna wedding party airstrike killed 47. Another airstrike against a wedding party killed 40 civilians. The Wech Baghtu wedding party attack took 37 lives. An airstrike on the village of Azizabad killed as many as 92 civilians. A U.S. drone strike that destroyed 32 pine nut farmers.

    Because the big days for Afghans were often covered up instead of mourned, no one knows which was the worst day. We hide behind an Orwellian term too macabre for Orwell, collateral damage, to mean violence sudden, sharp, complete, unnecessary, and anonymous. For most Afghans, it defined our war against them.

    Or perhaps judging the worst day for the Afghan side via a simple body count is wrong, there were just so many. But if pain is the metric, then the worst day for Afghans clearly took place inside one of the black sites, where the United States as a national policy tortured people to death.

    We only know one name out of many. Gul Rahman died almost naked, wearing only socks and a diaper, shackled to the floor, in a CIA black site, for freedom, although no one can really explain the connection anymore. He’d been subjected to 48 hours of sleep deprivation, rough treatment, and cold showers, interrogated 18 hours a day. There were 20 other cells nearby for other Afghans. A CIA board recommended disciplinary action for the man held responsible for the death but was overruled.

    Those worst days highlight, if that word is even morally permissible here, the long series of atrocities committed in Afghanistan (and Iraq, and Vietnam, and…) instances where our killing of civilians, whether accidental or purposeful or something smeared in-between, ruined any chance the U.S. could capture those hearts and minds and build a stable society in our image. We could hold ground with tanks but only achieve our broader national security goals via memory. That’s why we lost.

     

    Because it is so very hard to understand 20 years of tragedy, we focus on something small and symbolically fetishize that, turn it into a token, a symbol of the greater failure that is easier to grasp, easier to acknowledge. Few Americans know much about the horrors inflicted across the decades of war in Vietnam but if they know anything they know My Lai. As documented in Nick Turse’s diligent Kill Anything That Moves, My Lai was indeed a real horror show, but simply best-known because it was the one where lots of photos were taken, not the worst. And that’s before we zoom out to see Vietnam’s CIA assassination program, Phoenix, was just a low-tech version of today’s drone killings.

    So it may be with the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. Maybe they deserve their place in the coda of the war, a way to summarize things. The pieces are all there: tactical fumbling by Washington, Americans out of place, civilians just trying to escape taking the worst of the violence, an enemy no one saw or knows well disrupting carefully planned out global policy goals, sigh, again.

    There’s also the hero element, the Americans were innocents, killed while trying to help the Afghans (albeit help the Afghans out of a mess created earlier by other Americans.) And of course, following the bombing, a revenge airstrike against ISIS-K leaders, or a random goat farmer or an empty field (we’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter) followed by another which killed ten civilians using a “ginsu knives” bomb which shreds human flesh via six large blades. They may claim a bit of history by being the last Afghan civilians killed by the United States. Have we finally stopped holding that devil’s hand?

     

    The Kabul airport suicide bombing may be so jarring, so perfectly timed to illuminate 20 years of failure, that it will even be investigated. A blue ribbon committee might tear into what happened, the intelligence failure, some bad decision by a first lieutenant on where to deploy his men. Unlikely, but maybe even a low-level scapegoat will be named and punished. The committee certainly won’t look too far into reports the U.S. knew the attack was coming and let the troops die to appease Britain’s needs.

     

    We miss the point again. The issue is to ask: why have we not assigned blame and demanded punishment for the leaders who put those 20-year-old soldiers into the impossible situations they faced? Before we throw away the life of another kid or another dozen Afghans, why don’t we demand justice for those in the highest seats of power for creating wars that create such fertile ground for atrocity?

     

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

  • Special Immigrant Visas (SIV): A Brief, Sad History

    September 4, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Iraq, Military

    The story of Afghans fleeing their country seeking Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) is the story of the war.

    In the hubris of conquest 20 years ago, no one could conceive the U.S. would need to evacuate locals who worked with us. Instead, they would form the vanguard of a New Afghanistan. Admitting some sort of escape program was needed was admitting our war was failing, and so progress implementing the SIV program was purposefully very slow. When it became obvious even in Washington that we were losing, an existing State Department perk for local employees was hastily remade into a covert refugee program.

    Even then, with no one wanting to really acknowledge the historical scale our failures, the SIV program was never properly staffed to succeed. Instead it was just tarted up to appear to be doing something good while never having any plan in place to do good, like the war itself. Admitting we had a refugee program for countries we had liberated was a tough swallow. Now, at the end, the Afghans who trusted the SIV program — trusted us — will randomly be rushed through the pipeline to make a few happy headlines, or left behind to their fate on the ground. No one now in the government actually cares what happens to them, as long as they go away somehow. At best the SIV program will be used to create a few human interest stories help cover up some of the good we otherwise failed to do.

     

    The current SIV story starts with the end of the Vietnam war, the desperate locals who worked for us at risk as collaborators, clambering aboard the last helicopters off the roof of the Embassy, followed by thousands of boat people. A sloppy coda to an expected unexpected ending. This is what the SIV program was supposed to be about, you know, never again.

    During the first few years of the Iraq and Afghan wars (“the Wars”), the official vision in Washington was that the Wars would transform the countries into happy meals of robust prosperity and nascent democracy. Congress, imaging early local hires as our American Gurkhas, loyal brown people serving us, wanted to thank those who provided such service. They created a visa program modeled after the existing Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The State Department employed the SIV program abroad for many years. Local employees, say a Japanese passport clerk working in Embassy Tokyo, after 15 years of service could be rewarded an SIV to the Homeland. Such a prize would encourage workers to stay around for a full career, and course they wanted to be like us anyway.

    Congress had the same vision for the Wars. In 2006 they authorized 50 Special Immigrant Visas annually to Iraqi and Afghans working for the U.S. military. The cap was set at 50 because the visa was intended only for the very best, and besides, the locals would mostly want to live in their newly democratized countries anyway.

    What seemed like a good idea in the hazy early days of the Wars turned out to not make any sense given events on the ground. Military leaders saw their local helpers murdered by growing insurgencies Washington pretended did not exist. The limit of 50 a year was a joke as soldiers helped their locals apply by the hundreds. Political winds in Washington went round and round over the issue. An amendment to Section 1059 expanded the total number of visas to 500 per year in Iraq only for two years. But to help keep the pile of applications in some form of check, lower ranking soldiers could not supply the necessary Letter of Recommendation. That still had to be addressed to the Ambassador (Chief of Mission) and signed by a General, Admiral or similar big shot. The military chain of command would be used to slow down applications until we won the Wars.

    Despite a brave face, the SIV program quickly devolved into a pseudo-refugee route to save the lives of locals who helped us conquer. Section 1244 of the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 upped the number of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to 5,000 annually through FY 2012 for Iraqis (but not Afghans, we thought we were still winning there.) The changes reduced the necessary service time to only a year, but added the criteria “must have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment.”

    Importantly, the critical Letter of Recommendation no longer had to come from an inaccessible big shot per se. Officially the Letter still had to be co-signed by brass but in fact could be written by a lower level supervisor, such as the U.S. citizen who directly supervised the local. The Letter needed only to include a brief description of “faithful service” to the U.S. Government, nothing more. As conditions on the ground deteriorated, the standard of proof required to demonstrate the “ongoing serious threat” was reduced to a self-statement by the local. Visas out of the 5,000 allotted not used in one year could be rolled over into the next year. Documents could be submitted by email, ending the almost impossible task of accessing the fortress Embassies.

    Though officially absolutely not a refugee program, SIVs were made eligible for the same resettlement assistance programs as regular refugees. SIV. The State Department would even loan them, interest free, the travel cost to the U.S. “Feel good” companies like Amazon and Uber offered special hiring consideration. You can read the full details of how to apply online. It all sounded good. But by the time one war ended, despite over 100,000 Iraqis being generally eligible for SIVs, the State Department only issued around 2,000 principal visas.

     

    Like the Wars themselves, what seemed a good idea on paper was lost in the desert. In reality simple steps devolved into dead-ends, like whether the letter needed to be on DOD letterhead, a minor thing that became a game-ender if the American supervisor had left the service and was living stateside. The ever-prissy State Department also warns “all letters of recommendation should be proofread closely. Letters of recommendation with significant spelling and grammar errors may delay processing.”

    But the biggest hurdle was always the security advisory opinion, SAO, a background clearance check showing the applicant was not a bad guy. The problem, exacerbated in the Wars’ countries where names and dates of birth can be flexible, is the loyal translator hired in haste in 2010 and known to Sergeant Snuffy as “Suzy” might also have been trying to save her family in 2020 by passing information to the Taliban, if not the Chinese, Afghanistan was always the Great Game after all. The SAO was a whole-of-government file check and took time; average processing was over three years. (Aside: I had a State Department colleague whose job it was to work these. Because the CIA would not release its most secret files, once a week he had to drive over to Langley and take handwritten notes inside a vault. If his boss had a concern, he had to go back a week later to resolve it. He did not close many cases.)

    Despite over 26,000 SIV visas available for Afghans (the Iraqi program sunsetted in 2014) at no point in the two decade war were more than 4,000 principals ever issued in a year (inflated numbers from State include tag-along spouses and children for each principal applicant.) The estimate is some 20,000 active Afghan SIV applications are still somewhere in the pipeline. Congress even created a whole new application category, Priority 2, simply for those who could not quite meet the statutory requirements of the SIV program. As recently as July 30, 2021 Congress authorized 8,000 additional SIVs for Afghans, so supply is not the issue, processing is and always has been. One NGO which helps Afghans in the SIV process bemoans their efforts to speed up things have stumbled across three administrations, seven Congresses, seven Secretaries of Defense, and five Secretaries of State.

    None of this is new. State had agreed in 2018 to clear the backlog of SIV applications as part of a class action lawsuit but never did. A 2020 State Department Inspector General report found the SIV program’s understaffing made it unable to meet a congressionally mandated nine-month response time. SIV staffing levels hadn’t changed since 2016, despite a 50 percent increase in applicants. There was only one analyst dedicated to SAO security checks. The program was supposed to be overseen by a senior official but the position was left unfilled for three years. State never built a centralized database to verify applicants’ USG employment and instead relied on multiple computer systems which could not connect to each other, leading to workers manually typing in information. A little late, but in February President Biden issued an executive order demanding another review of delays. Meanwhile, in the first three months of 2021 the State Department issued only 137 SIVs.

    There is now pressure on Biden to “do something” about the SIVs in Afghanistan. What happens to the ones left behind is up to the Taliban. For those evacuated, to where and what purpose? Will they still be wading through the bureaucracy years from now, out of sight in refugee camps? Or will the SIV rules be thrown out and everyone rapidly approved to avoid another Biden disaster?

    That’s the beast of the Afghan War, SIV version, all too little, too late, all uncertain, all based on thrown together plans, stymied by hubris, failure to admit we screwed up, and a failure to coordinate a whole-of-government approach. So people suffer and people die in chaos in some far away place. Again.

     

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  • Who’s to Blame for Losing Afghanistan?

    August 28, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump


     

    Who should we blame for losing Afghanistan? Why blame anyone?

    Did anyone expect the U.S. war in Afghanistan to end cleanly? If so, you bought the lies all along and the cold water now is hitting sharp. While the actual ending is particularly harsh and clearly spliced together from old clips of Saigon 1975, those are simply details.

    Why blame Biden? He played his part as a Senator and VP keeping the war going, but his role today is just being the last guy in a long line of people to blame, a pawn in the game. That Biden is willing to be the “president who lost Afghanistan” is all the proof you need he does not intend to run again for anything. Kind of an ironic version of a young John Kerry’s take on Vietnam “how do you ask the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out, it’s easy: call Joe.

    Blame Trump for the deal? One of the saddest things about the brutal ending of the U.S.-Afghan war is we would have gotten the same deal — just leave it to the Taliban and go home — at basically any point during the last 20 years. That makes every death and every dollar a waste. Afghanistan is simply reverting, quickly, to more or less status quo 9/10/01 and everything between then and now, including lost opportunities, will have been wasted.

    Blame the NeoCons? No one in Washington who supported this war was ever called out, with the possible exception of Donald Rumsfeld who, if there is a hell, now cleans truck stop toilets there. Dick Cheney walks free. The generals and diplomats who ran the war have nice think tank or university jobs, if they are not still in government making equally bad decisions. No one has been legally, financially, or professionally disadvantaged by the blood on their hands. Some of the era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    George Bush is a cuddly grandpa today, not the man who drove the United States into building a global prison archipelago to torture people. Barack Obama, who kept much of that system in place and added the drone killing of American citizens to his resume, remains a Democratic rock god. Neither man nor any of his significant underlings has expressed any regret or remorse.

    For example, I just listened to Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, on CNN. Making myself listen to him was about as fun as sticking my tongue in a wood chipper. Same for former general David Petraeus and the usual gang of idiots. None of them, the ones who made the decisions, accept any blame. Instead. they seem settled on blaming Trump because, well, everything bad is Trump’s fault even if he came into all this in the middle of the movie.

    In the end the only people punished were the whistleblowers.

    No one in the who is to blame community seems willing to take the story back to its beginning, at least the beginning for America’s latest round in the Graveyard of Empires (talk about missing an early clue.) This is what makes Blame Trump and Blame Biden so absurd. America’s modern involvement in this war began in 1979 when Jimmy Carter, overreacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up what was already a pro-Soviet puppet government, began arming and organizing Islamic warriors we now collectively know as “The Taliban.”

    People who want to only see trees they can chop down and purposely want to miss the vastness of the forest ahead at this point try to sideline things by claiming there never was a single entity called “The Taliban” and the young Saudis who flocked to jihad to kill Russians technically weren’t funded by the U.S. (it was indirectly through Pakistan) or that the turning point was the 1991 Gulf War, etc. Quibbles and distractions.

    If Carter’s baby steps to pay for Islamic warriors to fight the Red Army was playing with matches, Ronald Reagan poured gas, then jet fuel, on the fire. Under the Reagan administration the U.S. funded the warriors (called mujaheddin if not freedom fighters back then), armed them, invited their ilk to the White House, helped lead them, worked with the Saudis to send in even more money, and fanned the flames of jihad to ensure a steady stream of new recruits.

    When we “won” it was hailed as the beginning of the real end of the Evil Empire. The U.S. defeated the mighty Red Army by sending over some covert operators to fight alongside stooge Islam warriors for whom a washing machine was high technology. Pundits saw it as a new low-cost model for executing American imperial will.

    We paid little attention to events as we broke up the band and cut off the warriors post-Soviet withdrawal (soon enough some bozo at the State Department declared “the end of history.” He teaches at Stanford now) until the blowback from this all nipped us in the largely unsuccessful World Trade Center bombing of 1993, followed by the very successful World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001. Seems like there was still some history left to go.

    How did U.S. intelligence know who the 9/11 culprits were so quickly? Several of them had been on our payroll, or received financing via proxies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or were inspired by what had happened in Afghanistan, the defeat of the infidels (again; check Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, et al.)

    If post-9/11 the U.S. had limited itself to a vengeful hissy fit in Afghanistan, ending with Bush’s 2003 declaration of “Mission Accomplished,” things would have been different. If the U.S. had used the assassination of Osama bin Laden, living “undiscovered” in the shadow of Pakistan’s military academy, as an excuse of sorts to call it a day in Afghanistan, things would have been different.

    Instead Afghanistan became a petri dish to try out the worst NeoCon wet dream, nation-building across the Middle East. Our best and brightest would not just bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, they would then phoenix-it from the rubble as a functioning democracy. There was something for everyone: a military task to displace post-Cold War budget cuts, a pork-laden reconstruction program for contractors and diplomats, even a plan to empower Afghan women to placate the left.

    Though many claim Bush pulling resources away from Afghanistan for Iraq doomed the big plans, it was never just a matter of not enough resources. Afghanistan was never a country in any modern sense to begin with, just an association of tribal entities who hated each other almost as much as they hated the west. The underpinnings of the society were a virulent strain of Islam, about as far away from any western political and social ideas as possible. Absent a few turbaned Uncle Toms, nobody in Afghanistan was asking to be freed by the United States anyway.

    Pakistan, America’s “ally” in all this, was a principal funder and friend of the Taliban, always more focused on the perceived threat from India, seeing a failed state in Afghanistan as a buffer zone. Afghanistan was a narco-state with its only real export heroin. Not only did this mean the U.S. wanted to build a modern economy on a base of crime, the U.S. in different periods actually encouraged/ignored the drug trade into American cities in favor of the cash flow.

    The Afghan puppet government and military the U.S. formed were uniformly corrupt, and encouraged by the endless inflow of American money to get more corrupt all the time. They had no support from the people and could care less. The Afghans in general and the Afghan military in particular did not fail to hold up their end of the fighting; they never signed up for the fight in the first place. No Afghan wanted to be the last man to die in service to American foreign policy.

    There was no way to win. The “turning point” was starting the war at all. Afghanistan had to fail. There was no other path for it, other than being propped up at ever-higher costs. That was American policy for two decades: prop up things and hope something might change. It was like sending more money to a Nigerian cyber-scammer hoping to recoup your original loss.

    Everything significant our government, the military, and the MSM told us about Afghanistan was a lie. They filled and refilled the bag with bullhockey and Americans bought it every time expecting candy canes. Keep that in mind when you decide who to listen to next time, because of course there will be a next time. Who has not by now realized that? We just passively watched 20 years of Vietnam all over again, including the sad ending. So really, who’s to blame?

     

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  • An Olympics Without Joy

    August 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

     

    I am glad the Olympics are over. There was little joy in them. The closing felt more like a mercy killing than a ceremony.

     

    The absurdity of holding the Games at all when in most countries people suffer under various restrictions was enough. Was this all really, really necessary, now? The silliness of Japan keeping the “2020” on all the signage and the announcers calling them the “2020 Games” was too cynical. Japan barring foreign tourists while allowing in athletes to live like hermits so they could pay off TV contracts (NBC presold over $1.25 billion in advertisements) even more cynical. When athletes celebrated a victory, they by mandate drank alone. Everyone play acting like all this was normal even as only 22 percent of Japanese wanted to games to happen at all was the most cynical thing of all. It was like everything hypocritical about Covid was rolled into one event — how can a wedding in St. Louis be a superspreading event but gathering athletes from around the world, 20 percent of them unvaccinated, not be? Quiet now, and go about your business, Citizens.

     

    The idea of holding events like the opening ceremonies in an empty stadium created new frontiers of absurdity. People waving at empty seats, fireworks shot off with no one to watch them. It would have been better to have done the whole event in a studio in front of a green screen, the way some knuckleheads think the moon landings were faked.
     
    With all the world’s problems, somehow only Team USA had so much political commentary to share. It seems racism is only a thing in America, and only black (American) lives matter much. That they backed it all up with so many dreary performances made them seem like braggarts. It is really telling when the biggest story from the Games was about someone quitting, not someone competing.
    All the self-proclaimed victims along the way, same thing. They might have dropped out with their lifelong issues a few months ago and given someone else the chance to compete instead of waiting to do it on international TV. If it’s really a personal matter don’t announce it on TV then ask to be left alone. No one needs your awareness raising anyway, we all get it by now. Funny, but being a green-haired shot putter does not give you any special insights into society. Your job is literally just to throw a heavy thing, so just do that and be quiet. And a note to all those protesting: black athletes have been protesting against the same things at the Olympics since the 1960s. According to them, not much has changed. That might be a hint to how effective the protests are. 
    It wasn’t any better in the media. ESPN’s William Rhoden said he couldn’t enjoy the opening ceremony because the American flags reminded him of the Capitol riot. “I saw a lot of, you know, U.S. flags.”
     
    Same for all the extra-virtue of winning something while gay. That is soooooo 1980s. Gay people have been winning and losing since the Greeks invented the Olympics, we just didn’t have to have it rubbed into our faces as some sort of extra special achievement that straight medalists can only envy. Same for women and trans people; each victory does not really mean something significant in the advancement of human rights. Everything does not always need to be about social engineering all the time. Same for other forms of suffering; most athlete profiles focused on how hard it was training with a single parent, or a dead aunt, or while being black, or the only ____ on your high school team. Does the U.S. Olympic Committee screen for miserable biographical details as part of the selection process? Do athletes who just work really hard at their sport hire consultants to gin up bad childhood experiences the way rich high school kids suddenly start volunteering at the end of junior year so they can write weepy college entrance essays about giving back?

     

    Media, stop telling us a kid whose family had enough money to move cross-country so he could work with a specific coach (elite training in Olympic gyms can cost $500 a month, plus about $1,000 a month for coaching), or whose parents spent the $100,000 a year needed to train as an Olympic swimmer, overcame adversity to excel. The media might however ask why a parental decision to hyper-train a child without their informed consent from age 3 into a superhuman ubermensch gymnast, messing with her growth along the road to sacrificing her childhood to Mommy and Daddy’s show pony dreams, is not a form of child abuse. And what happens to these children, bred to excel at an obscure sport? Is there some island they are sent to to live out their days because except for the tiny handful who endorse something most are never heard from again. This bizarro-world running Matrix-like just below the surface of our own is enough reason to shut down the Olympic forever.
     
    And enough with the representation thing. As a kid the athlete I looked to for representation was Jesse Owens, the black runner who called out real Nazis and their myth of racial superiority simply by running faster. He and I did not look alike, but I did not care because what mattered was his courage and heart, not his skin color.

     

    But as much as any of that, the Olympic were… boring. With the time difference the TV coverage ended up focusing on sports like kayaking that few follow. Endless heats repeat and repeat, tiny heads in kayaks moving from the right side of the screen to the left for a few seconds, repeat. Other junk sports like surfing and skateboarding simply fill time. A whole catechism of points and ratings was invented to allow judging simply to shoehorn these pastimes into the Games, presumably to attract an audience of “young people” unlikely to be watching network television anyway. To get karate into the Games, the fighters were punished for fighting too well. Pull your punches to win, kids, that’s the new Olympic spirit.
    There is little joy in any “sport” that depends as much on technology as athletic skill. The fastest (i.e., most expensive) Olympic bicycles cost $80,000, suggesting a rider can buy his way into a higher place finish. But that’s nothing compared to shooting. Professional shooters in training run through 500-1,000 specially made rounds a day. That comes to $5,000-7,000 a day for targets and ammunition in full training. A gun can cost anywhere between $6,000 to $300,000. Sailboats run $500k, a jumping horse like Springsteen’s $100k.

     

    And that’s before we get into the real money of developing performance enhancing substances that can slide under current testing. Like in bodybuilding pre-Schwarzenegger, look at some old black and white photos of the Olympics, where all the very best athletes had rounded, in-scale muscles. Where did the over-broad shoulders in women’s swimming and the blocky square heads of juiced up champions come from anyway? The idea of pure amateur athletes went out of fashion years ago, but now the Olympics is now a financial sport.
    And a note to the Olympics: the Cold War ended three decades ago. Enough with national medal counts. Our current state of the planet needs more nationalism to promote harmony and world peace?

     

    Many of us are tired of all this. At this point, waiting four years isn’t long enough. What? You say it’s actually only three more years until the next summer games, Paris 2024? Oh joy.

     

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

  • It Was Never Just About Masks

    August 14, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Biden

    It was never just a mask, it has always been a way of thinking. “Mask” is just shorthand.

    I got fired from my volunteer work at the Hawaiian Humane Society for choosing not to wear a mask outside walking their dogs. Neither science, the CDC nor the state requires a mask outdoors and I’m fully vaccinated. Some minimum-wage staffbot saw my naked face and informed me of their “policy.” I asked why they had such a nonsensical policy, and her only answer was “it is our policy.” The conversation ended like an ever-growing percentage of conversations in America now end, with her saying “Do I need to call security?” I didn’t enjoy it but I think she did.

    It made me sad because I was doing something that was just good. I liked the big dogs, the lifers, the ones some other volunteers shied away from, and having brought one abused dog back from the edge in my home, had some small connection with the damaged ones at the shelter, too.

    I was left with no good to do this week, and a simple, real COVID question. Why are fully vaccinated people treated the same as the unvaccinated? Everyone on the plane wears a mask and goes through the same mock social distancing. Everyone at a restaurant, office, concert, etc. does the same. The answer lies at the core of whether public policy in America will shift and allow us to crawl back into our lives.

     

    The first answer, how can we know if someone has been vaccinated, is a strawman. Vaccinated people have little CDC cards. If they have no security features to prevent McLovin fakes, the CDC can create new cards and mail them to us; we had to give out all that info to get the shots. Why not have a database? We have NSA databases of all our emails, an international database of no-flys, Ohio can check if a Minnesota driver’s license is valid, and so forth. But vaccine status is somehow the third rail of privacy?

    Or is COVID different? When children register for school, they prove their mandatory childhood vaccinations with little cards. My kids, born abroad, effortlessly proved their vaccination status in Virginia with cards issued in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. As an adult, you take me at my word I’m not carrying smallpox and have been vaccinated against measles, no card even needed.

     

    The biggest reason for treating vaxxed and unvaxxed people the same miserable way is the claim that vaccinated people can still get COVID enough to pass it on. Funny thing is you can actually “get” the measles even after being vaccinated. That vaccine works by basically weakening the virus to the point where it does little harm but still exists. The vax is actually only 97 percent effective, similar to the COVID ones. But nobody talks about measles or demands we wear a mask to prevent their spread. We simply accept and deal with the risk, to include vaccination.

    The next question is really, really hard to find an answer to. Exactly how many vaccinated people actually get COVID, the so-called “breakthrough” cases? That exact number is critical because it is the pivot point for the risk vs. gain decision our society needs to make. If we cannot make a wise choice we will be struggling with and fighting over the restrictions on our lives and livelihoods forever. If we assume we’ll never have full vaccination and that breakthrough cases are a non-zero number and likely always will be then we need to make an informed decision about risk. So is it a non-zero number like “smoking causes cancer” or a non-zero number like “very few people die from meteor strikes (or from the measles.)”

    The current public policy decisions on risk are haphazard. All 50 states have different rules, many large cities, too, and each and every company. There are different rules if you take a bus or want to go dancing. One grocery store demands masks, another does not. It makes no sense. It becomes not a considered decision but an example of lack of public policy leadership. Into that leadership void enters superstition, pseudo-science, politics, voodoo, and most of all, fear.

    So what are the chances of a fully vaccinated person getting a breakthrough infection? It turns out this pivotal question is not clearly answerable but we act as if it is, with consequences for our lives, our mental health, education, commerce, and more. Even for our stray dogs.

    I started with Google and “What are the chances of getting COVID after being fully vaccinated?” expecting the answer in 0.0039 seconds like when you ask what year some historical event happened. Nope. The response from AARP said “less than one percent of fully vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized with, or have died from, COVID.” That’s a small number but does not fully address the question.

    Over to NPR, which reports “On rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” What does rare occasions mean? This is supposed to be, you know, science, so we finally get some numbers from the CDC: out of 159 million fully vaccinated people, the CDC documented 5,914 cases of fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized or died from COVID, and 75 percent of them were over age 65. That means only 0.0000037 percent of vaxxed people were hospitalized or died, and most of them were elderly. That is a very small number. It is a lot less than one percent and a lot less than rare. Chances of dying in a car wreck are many tens of thousands of times higher and we drive on.

    It still however does not answer the question of how dangerous the vaxxed but unmasked are in terms of transmitting the virus. No one really knows. Recent scare headlines calling for reinstated restrictions and vax mandates are based on a single outbreak, 469 cases, in one city in Massachusetts, that appears to show (at variance with existing studies) 75 percent of those infected had been vaccinated and oddly, almost all of those people (87 percent) were male. Most of the infected were asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms. No deaths.

    What is believed is the a) delta variant of COVID makes a b) temporary home inside a vaccinated man’s nose or upper respiratory area, c) outside the immune system. It waits there to be d) blown out and then be e) received by an f) unvaccinated person. So all of these multiple things have to go “right” for it to matter. It is not simply a matter of toting up how many vaccinated people tested positive and then hitting the panic button. As one doctor put it “We really need to shift toward a goal of preventing serious disease and disability and medical consequences, and not worry about every virus detected in somebody’s nose.”

    Requiring everyone to wear masks again based on one outbreak that appears related to gender may seem as if it can’t hurt, but it does. Organizations waste time and credibility enforcing measures that have limited if any impact (and consider how many masks are old, dirty, improperly worn, etc. to be fully useless.) To simply dismiss the reality of numbers with a blithe “well you can’t be too careful” only works if you imagine COVID restrictions have no secondary or tertiary effects.

    Via layers of Keystone Kops political gestures, entire cities’ economies have been devastated, with no clear end point for those dependent on renting office space or tourism. Education has near-disappeared for large numbers of kids. Despair grows menacingly. Economic inequality got a booster shot. The power of government has grown in ways that make the post-9/11 shenanigans look like amateur efforts. The ability to shape how we live, shop, work, and eat has been handed randomly to a near-endless range of actors, from the president to governors empowered with “emergency edicts” to flight attendants who can prevent you from seeing grandma in Florida to minimum wage store clerks ever-anxious to call security not on shoplifters but on an exposed nose.

    Convincing Americans to set aside their irrational fears is no longer impossible. Those fears were created by politicians and the media, and have become a profit center. The Little Hitlers on the plane are unwilling to return to just serving drinks when they tasted power over lives. The NYT for months ran columns saying Trump’s vaccine was another government syphilis experiment. Vice President Harris refused to take the shot during the campaign. Biden took it, said it worked, then went right on masking as if it didn’t work. It was a very successful organized campaign to propagate uncertainty for a political purpose. Following the election, many right wing media outlets pivoted to pick up a version of the song. It is all their fault vaccine acceptance varies by political party, where we live, and how much education we have. No other country suffers this additional burden to a return to normal.

    So we won’t concede the reality kids are unlikely to get sick and should go to school. That the vast majority of deaths occur among the elderly with comorbidities not the general population. That ill-fitting masks and wiping down groceries with Clorox are theatre. That the debate has become a political argument instead of an evidence-based one. That the CDC has lost credibility until one side needs it for some partisan purpose. That previously healthcare decisions started with the premise of “first, do no harm” while today there is no conversation allowed about the balance of benefits and harm. That we simply tally the collateral damage while the virus remains unaffected. That if we are to heal as a society there is only one answer: at some point we must simply ask what works.

    We lack the political leadership to say what’s true so we’re going back to “let’s just argue about masks.” Meanwhile the virus continues to find unvaccinated hosts. The economy won’t snap back. Biden is facing a mini-civil war over mandates or restarting lockdowns and has no plan. Things will hit the fan in September as Hot Vax Summer sputters, when every school district does something different, and Federal unemployment supplements run out. People have grown weary of being afraid, and grown weary of being subject to the paranoid demands of safety fetishists. Many did what they were told to do — get vaxxed — only to find themselves stuck inside the same dysfunctional loop. Gonna be some angry folks looking for better answers than their leaders have given to date. So tell us how this ends, Joe.

     

     

     

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

  • FYI: There was No Coup, No Reichstag Fire

    August 7, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    We need to clear some things up before they get any further out of hand, as the Dems insist on making this stuff every day’s front page. For starters, please stop saying “Reichstag moment.”  Also there was nothing even close to a coup on January 6, and those who fan the flames claiming we were “close” to a coup, overthrow, losing our democracy, etc., have evil designs on freedom and we should not listen to them. Done.

    If the aliens flying around Navy ships were to stop long enough to listen to a couple of hours of “news,” they could easily believe Trump is still president, or at least still running against Biden. The MSM has him dominate the news, typically by recycling stories from his time in office, even recently reviving that he is a Russian asset. When Grandpa Simpson and Kamala “Silent Shadow” Harris tottered into the White House, they became president. Done.

    Some 500 protestors taking selfies inside the Capitol building is a tantrum not a coup. Among other things, a coup must have some path towards success, in this case, preventing Joe Biden from becoming president. The rioters at best might have delayed the largely ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes until the next day which would not have been a coup, or forced Congress to meet at Starbucks to do its job, also not a coup. Done.

     

    Not done. The latest addition to Coup Cannon comes from then- and somehow still- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, apparently auditioning for a retirement job as a CNN analyst. Milley was so shaken Trump might attempt a coup or take other illegal measures after the election he and other top officials planned to stop Trump. Neither Milley nor any of the others actually spells out what Trump might have realistically done in some Calvinball-like way to make said coup happen. Milley’s Strangelovian performance art is based on nothing but the spittle running down his chin. American soldiers have been required to refuse illegal orders at least since Biden wore diapers, so Milley’s histrionics are just that.

    Milley nonetheless felt “growing concern” after Trump placed “loyalists” in positions of power after the November 2020 election, replacing both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr. He feared based on his own sizable gut these moves “were the sign of something sinister to come” (Update: Nothing sinister came.) Milley failed to recognize all presidential appointees are “loyalists” and somehow Trump did not replace Milley, who clearly had not read his oath recently, especially the part about taking orders from the civilian head of government.

    In fact, if anyone is a threat to democracy it is nutjobs like Milley, who feel free to weave in and out of answering to the Commander in Chief based on their personal “concerns.” The general’s tough love for the Constitution apparently did not include the right to assemble, as he referred to a pro-Trump march protesting election results as “the modern American equivalent of brownshirts in the streets.” Dems now want to make a hero out of a man who feels his judgment is superior to the Constitution.

     

    While Milley was rewriting 230 years of military prudence in late 2020, Paul Krugman of the NYT wrote there were “substantial odds America as we know it will be damaged or even destroyed” by the election (Update: it was not.) He told 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” (Update: that did not happen.)  Elsewhere in the Times’ bunker, Thomas Friedman said America today reminded him of the Beirut at war with itself he covered as a cub reporter (Update: Beruit was way worse.)

    Over at The Nation they simply assumed Trump would illegally remain in power. The writer’s real concern was “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 anti-democratic institution run by people who are not subject to the popular will of our diverse society.”

    The Nation should not have worried about having to go Red Dawn unarmed. General Milley said “They may try [a coup] but they’re not going to f**king succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.” An interesting take on where power lies in a nation whose founding document begins with We the People…

    Milley’s real plan was to prevent Trump from using the military in a coup by using the military in a coup against civilian leadership to gun down American citizens. CNN reports after January 6 Milley feared an attack on the presidential inauguration, telling senior military leaders: “Here’s the deal, guys: These guys are Nazis, they’re Boogaloo Boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.”

    But Milley is also a liar, claiming publically at the same time “I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this election process. We will not turn our backs on the Constitution of the United States” while planning his Ring of Steel (it sounds better in the original German, Ring aus Stahl.)

    Our observer from Mars might be confused. As far as a threat to democracy, it is General Milley who was preparing to disobey the Constitution and take a patriot-sized dump on his chain of command. It is progressive porn rag The Nation telling their readers they will fight a guerrilla war against other Americans, and that the Supreme Court, the third branch of government, is an antidemocratic institution. Who again is the threat? Trump’s out of office; Milley still holds command of the entire U.S. military.

     

    And so to the Reichstag. With as little knowledge of history as they have of coups, the MSM turned the Reichstag fire into shorthand for everything they fear Trump would do but somehow never did. The 1933 Reichstag fire was a false-flag arson attack on the home of the German parliament in Berlin. The Nazi Party used this as a pretext to claim communists were ready to overthrow the elected government. Left out of the current misuse of the analogy is Hitler had already become Chancellor before the fire. More importantly, missing when trying to connect 1933 to modern America, is a full lack of context.

    Hitler had already achieved power, transparently on promises to conquer the world, implement the Final Solution, and all sorts of other Mein Kampf stuff. He had announced plans to abolish democracy via the Enabling Act, which gave him power to pass laws by decree without the involvement of parliament. That next step needed an excuse, a trigger, to crack down, not a prime mover to seize power. The Germany around him was also over ripe for change, having been humiliated in WWI and suffering near-crippling unemployment and inflation. Historically Germany had had only a few years’ taste of a wimpy democracy, and a long history of autocracy. No matter how dramatic someone wants to portray Trump’s non-actions, none of what never happened came within miles of what the real Nazis did.

     

    If there was no coup on January 6, and no possible road to a coup, why are we still talking about all this? We should be mocking those who have no basic understanding of current events, never mind history. But we are still talking about all this (with Nancy Pelosi’s deck-is-stacked “investigation” looming) because the Biden agenda is stalled. He has decreed a few things that undecreeded a few things Trump decreed, but is unlikely to make much progress on all those promises of infrastructure, immigration reform, or student loans. Inflation is at a 13 year high even as gas prices eat away at what’s left of our middle class. There is no vision to end the COVID panic. The social justice and culture war issues which dominate Democratic mindspace seem even more flaccid with Trump out of office. So what do Democrats have left to run on?

    Trump. The Democratic message for the midterms and beyond is Trump, coups, January 6, white supremacy, racism-a-go-go, militias, domestic terrorism, a veritable Nazi renaissance. Dems have little else but fear of things that never happened to work with, and hope to milk the “But at least we’re not Trump” cow one more time. So get ready to party like it is 2020. And just wait for #Reichstagification to start trending.

     

     

     

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

  • QAnon Militia Embed

    July 31, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    See if you think this is funny.

    He called himself a QAnon Tier I Ranger SEAL Operator, and had the 17 tabs down one sleeve overflowing with velcro to prove it. “In a situation like this, you, Embed, stick to me and I’ll get you home, brother. Unless the GPS gets us lost again.”

    Behind the wheel of his F-150 looking for parking near the state capitol, I knew he meant it. The eyes, always the eyes. In the backseat was his AR-15 gun with the handle on top, equipped with several dozen accessories from Bass Pro. His personal gear said he was ready, clothing half in arctic-urban-backyard camo, half blaze orange. “I can’t afford this sh*t unless I can get two seasons out of it,” he said. He asked I call him “Mike,” though I found out on Facebook his real name is Michael. His tactical hair gel caught the light as he spoke.

    “The plan goes down like this. If we find free parking we approach from the east. If we have to feed the meter, I come in from the north and the guys coming by city bus will enter east. The radio rang. “Honey, I told you it’ll be after 6pm… I don’t know, get a pizza,” he said in some sort of code.

    “The mission today is simple. Occupy the space in front of the CNN camera crew and dominate the interviews. The CNN crew will ID themselves by removing their heads from their own butts, so watch for the signal. Stay frosty in case we spot Maddow and I call an audible. And bunch up so it looks like there’re more of us.”

     

    Hah, pretty funny, yeah? I made that up. But this is true: Daily Beast published a “scoop” revealing one of the men charged in the January 6 riot had a fully assembled Lego model of the Capitol in his home, which the FBI insinuated was used as a tactical planning tool and thus seized as evidence. It formed part of the prosecution’s argument against bail. The problem is even that wasn’t true; the man merely had the unopened Lego set and the prosecutors lied. “In original detention memoranda, the undersigned stated that law enforcement found a ‘fully constructed U.S. Capitol Lego set.’ The Lego set was in a box and not fully constructed at the time of the search,” the new filing says. Meanwhile the accused rioter remains in jail. The Lego Capitol set, once sold in the Capitol gift shop, is still available on Amazon.

     

    And this is true and not so funny. Most of the 538 people arrested for the January riot did not commit acts of violence, and face accusations of little more than gussied up trespassing. Many were charged simply with violating a 6 pm curfew imposed that day. Yet almost all have been denied bail and are being held in solitary in Washington, D.C. city jails as a “safety measure.” The result is the accused find themselves in lockdown 23 hours a day before their trials even start.

    In any other context such treatment of innocent people would raise a woke storm. The ACLU claims “prolonged solitary confinement is torture and certainly should not be used as a punitive tool to intimidate or extract cooperation.” Except that it is in what has become a punitive political prosecution. The decision maker on the accused’s jail conditions? Biden’s Attorney General.

    Meanwhile, after six months, the first person was finally tried. She turned out to be a woman who plead to a misdemeanor charge of “parading in the Capitol building” and was given probation. The second prosecution ended with time served on a misdemeanor charge. Next up was a yet-unsentenced plea to “obstructing Congress.” Another trespasser had his bail revoked and was sent to solitary for leaving a voicemail referencing “the size of his genitalia.” In a Zoom hearing, the same fellow “wore sweatpants and ate breakfast on the call,” and in February sent a “vulgar” email where he called an FBI agent “fat necked.” Brownshirt stuff, amiright?

    In another pending case involving no violence or vandalism, prosecutors demanded maximum penalties, stating though “individuals convicted of such behavior may have no criminal history, their beliefs make them unique among criminals in the likelihood of recidivism.” In other words, a thought crime. The single felony conviction out of all of this led to only an 8 month sentence for “obstructing an official proceeding.” Prosecutors had demanded a much greater sentence by claiming the action was a bombastic “assault on democracy.” As a metric, Hitler was sentenced to 5 years in prison following his attempted “beer hall putsch.”

    Only 533 cases more to go to see justice. Rarely have so many resources been used to accomplish so little.

     

    This is also true but not so funny. The day after the Capitol riots, the FBI asked Americans “to step up” and identify people who participated. Not only did friends and relatives rat each other out, but armies of unrelated people jumped at the chance to roleplay Stasi. Even somewhat news organization CNN helped ID people on behalf of the FBI. The NYT published a guide to militia symbols so would-be sleuths could tell their Oathkeepers  from their QAnons. The AP called these citizens “sedition hunters” as America weaponized Kancel Kulture Kids into an e-mob.

    “I put my emotions behind me to do what I thought was right,” said Jackson Reffitt, whose GoFundMe hit $140k after he turned in his own father to the FBI. Himmler’s heart grew three times in size seeing the zeal of ordinary people to get with the pogram.

    Tech found its niche. While the mob was still in the Capitol building multiple groups, including Bellingcat, started to scrape everything posted to build evidence for the FBI. Reddit users created a 12GB tranche of videos. Intelligence X (whose customers are “companies of all sizes and governments”) has 1,300 files. The goal is to crowdsource IDing so no rioter escapes. “If you look at the history and incidents like the 1812 breach of the Capitol as well as the 1933 German Reichstag fire it highlights the need for accurate and original data in historical context,” said Intelligence X’s CEO. Wired reminds us in the context of 1/6 how “Previously, third-party groups archiving video and photo evidence has been crucial in the process of identifying war crimes happening in Syria.” The 1812 breach was by the British Army in time of war. There was no fire, Reichstag or otherwise, on January 6, and no certainly no war crimes.

    Further extending the private sector’s reach into Americans’ civil rights and privacy, the Department of Justice hired a contractor (Deloitte @ $6.1 million) to categorize all this tech-collected data, surrendering the decision of who is prosecutable to private industry. A judge has currently put the project on hold.

    Working the other side of the operation, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube deleted live streams of the Capitol riot and demonetized the accounts. Twitter went further, tagging Trump’s tweets about the riot with a warning, deactivated most engagement “due to a risk of violence,” all before removing the Trump material completely. For next time, Facebook revealed it has a tool called CrowdTangle which tracks users’ high engagement levels with whatever the hell Facebook thinks is a right-wing media source. The tool is available only to selected academics and journalists, of course.

    And this is not funny at all. The FBI published a manual for citizens to use to report on each other for “displaying a readiness to commit a
    violent act” or even “displaying a mindset oriented toward committing a violent act.” Most of it is recycled from some post-9/11 “How to Spot an Islamic Terrorist Under Your Bed” campaign, making it even more obvious white militia is to be this generation’s jihadi boogie man. Though a jaunty warning reminds many of the FBI’s “indicators” are also constitutionally protected actions, such as owning a gun and criticizing the government, the main point is when in doubt, turn them, Citizen, Your Government will sort them out from inside solitary.

     

    Lot of laffs there. Funny as it is, despite the wishes of Democrats, their FBI, and their MSM, the January 6 riot just was not an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government or change an election. The rioters had absolutely no path to doing that, no mechanism for stopping Joe Biden becoming president. They hardly even qualified as vandals: no fires set, no destruction of priceless paintings or statues, no ransacking of files. They dispersed relatively quickly and simply went home. In contrast, BLM riots took dozens of lives and did millions of dollars in damage across the nation for months.

    The Democrats also have a larger goal in mind, to get people used to working to further political law enforcement, and to become more comfortable with if not demanding of unequal law enforcement as a political tool. So no surprise the Biden administration just unveiled a national strategy to combat “domestic extremism,” calling for ideological screening of government employees for ties to “hate groups.” The plan highlights a shift in the government’s approach to counterterrorism, which for decades prioritized fighting foreign terrorists. Those same tools of war will now be turned inward, on us. And that for sure is not funny.

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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 Tale of Two Murders: George Floyd and Ashli Babbit

    July 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    Here’s a tale of two cops and two murders, Derek Chauvin and George Floyd, and John Doe* and Ashli Babbitt. Two cops, two unarmed citizens killed. One you care about, one you don’t. Even murder is politicized these days.

    It is hard to imagine anyone needs much of a recap on Chauvin-Floyd. George Floyd, a black man, tried to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill while messed up on drugs. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and other cops responded, and in the process of restraining Floyd, killed him. Everyone has seen the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and as if it was a civic duty, judged for themselves whether it was appropriate, necessary, and the cause of Floyd’s death.

    A jury judged those things, too, and the result was a 22.5 year sentence for Chauvin (in handing down the sentence the judge said it was justified in part because Chauvin “committed his crime in the presence of children,” who of course had gathered to help jeer at the cops.) The woman who shot the snuff video won a Pulitzer prize.

    Floyd’s death set off an angry summer of violence under the rubric Black Lives Matter, as progressives shut down opposing voices and several downtowns to insist Chauvin’s actions were part of something called systemic racism reaching back as far as 1619 in unbroken lineage. Celebrities, politicians, and academics jostled each other for camera time to demand the police be defunded. You might have seen something about all this on the teevee?

    There’s video of Ashli Babbitt being killed by law enforcement but it has been played by the MSM maybe 1/10,000 as often as the Floyd murder porn. Babbitt, wearing a Trump flag like a cape, was one of the rioters who smashing the glass on the door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol. A plain clothes Capitol Police officer without warning fired a shot and Babbitt fell into the crowd and died. It was the only shot fired in the riot. A SWAT team just behind Babbitt saw the situation differently and never fired on her or those with her.

    Like Floyd, Babbitt was unarmed. Like Floyd resisting, Babbitt was committing a crime when she was killed by a cop. Unlike Floyd, there is no question of whether she was resisting arrest because the cop never got that far. He just shot her.

     

    In Floyd’s case, we know everything about Derek Chauvin, and saw him convicted in open court. Not so with Babbitt’s killer. Almost all police departments nationwide are required to release an officer’s name after a fatal shooting. Not the U.S. Capitol Police, which answers only to Congress. Even as Congress demands nationwide police reforms (ironically, the new, lower standards of proof proposed by H.R.1280 — George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 — would condemn the Capitol cop) they have steadfastly refused to release the name of Babbitt’s killer. In February, the Capitol Police stated they would “share additional information once an investigation is complete.” Investigators closed the case in April, cleared the unnamed officer of wrongdoing in Babbitt’s death without addressing the fact that the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and left it at that. Stuff happens, ya know?

    No trial, no public accounting, not even a name for the Babbitt family to use in filing a wrongful death suit. Because Congress exempts the Capitol Police from Freedom of Information Act requests, the family is forced to sue “for documents that identify the officer who shot Babbitt… as well as notes and summaries of what the officer said regarding the shooting and the reasons he discharged his weapon.”

    They’d like more information on Babbitt’s death than the “investigation” provided. The Department of Justice simply wrote there was “insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.” DOJ did not hide its legal fudge, which had its investigators look narrowly on a Constitutional question, not the homicide.

    Without shame DOJ said it focused on 18 U.S.C. § 242, a federal criminal civil rights statute. This requires prosecutors prove the officer acted willfully to deprive Babbitt of a right protected by the Constitution, here the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.  Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that the officer did so “willfully” to deprive Babbitt of her 4A rights. That meant evidence an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required. In lay terms, that’s called a set-up enroute to a cover-up.

    Contrast that with the Chauvin prosecution, where prosecutors charged manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder in the one death of George Floyd, leaving the civil rights question which saved the Capitol cop as a separate matter. That allowed prosecutors to instruct the jury (there of course was no jury in Babbitt’s case) to decide on emotion, saying “Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.” Imagine a jury in Babbitt’s case, exposed to a looping video of her killing, acting on the same instructions. But that never happened.

    No one had much to say during the Babbitt investigation. In Floyd’s case, Joe Biden said he was praying the jury would reach the “right verdict,” calling the evidence “overwhelming in my view.” Maxine Waters demanded protesters become “more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted. That was so blatantly inflammatory it was almost grounds for a mistrial.

    The president cheers on one prosecution, remaining silent while another murder is made to go away. Cities erect monuments to George Floyd while the NYT runs gossipy articles on Babbitt’s marriage problems. Asking for justice in Floyd’s case is a duty, even if it means burning down stores. Those who want the same justice for Babbitt are mocked as QAnon cultists. Did she not also bleed?

    Oh, there’s more. Floyd was only on drugs passing fake money because of racism whereas Babbitt was a seditionist, a vandal, who asked for it as certain as if she wore a mini skirt down a dark alley to taunt her rapist. Floyd’s death created a movement for change. Candidate Trump’s embrace of Ashli Babbitt as a martyr anointed “January 6 a heroic uprising” for white supremacists seeking to overthrow democracy. Absolutely no one would write of Floyd, as one MSM outlet did of Babbitt, “her death, while tragic, occurred for a very good reason. The Air Force veteran, who had been fully converted into the most dangerous and fantastical pro-Trump conspiracy theories, had joined the aggressive vanguard of the January 6 insurrection.” Bitch deserved it. The article went on to compare Babbitt’s martyrdom to “Horst Wessel, a German storm trooper killed by communists in 1930, who inspired the eponymous Nazi anthem.

    Others claim Trump is liable for the death, that the answer to Who Killed Ashli Babbitt? is Trump. WaPo wrote “The death of Ashli Babbitt offers the purest distillation of Donald Trump’s view of justice,” which apparently means to them Trump supported George Floyd’s killing while mourning Babbitt’s. Daily Beast frets “If the base believes they are being prosecuted and even ‘assassinated’ [like Babbitt] they will justify anything to reject Democratic rule and future elections that deprive them of power.” Sears and Kmart apologized and pulled from sale T-shirts reading “Ashli Babbitt American Patriot” after an outcry on social media. Headlines read “Marjorie Taylor Greene provokes outrage by comparing Ashli Babbitt’s death to George Floyd’s” because Babbitt was OK-shot “while actively participating in a violent riot” and Floyd was murdered by racists.

    It is difficult in the face of so much hypocrisy to find the air to comment on the state of our country. Some murders are more equal than others. Dead bodies only matter when they can be used for your sides’ political purposes. How many white conservative deaths does it take to equal one black death? Why are some cops murderers and others protected with anonymity and a free-pass investigation?

    The absolute craven transparency of the progressive argument is what gives me hope. Hope that at some point enough Americans will set aside their blind Trump rage, look past the 24/7 propaganda directed at them, and come to realize even murder now only matters for the clicks it generates. Our media is happy to justify Babbitt’s death, seeing it almost in biblical terms for supporting Trump. Floyd, always just a victim of an unjust society.

    Ashli Babbitt was put down for our political sins, and her killer escaped justice with the government’s help. Now ain’t that the Democratic vision of America?

    ———

    *The Capitol Police and the Congress which controls them refuse to name the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt to death on January 6. RealClearInvestigations, however, has identified the shooter as Lieutenant Michael Byrd, a black man. Since then, CNN and others have “voluntarily” removed Byrd’s name from hearing transcripts, and his social media has been scrubbed.

     

     

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

  • Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Economy, Other Ideas


    Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?

    Tourism is a part of our islands same as the ocean and volcanos. It won’t go away, should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs, and properly managed creates little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let’s look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.

    -Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature has created confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.

    -Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable.

    -The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoor are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today?

    -Same for other events planners. Concert promoters looking to fill arenas once again said Tier 5 does not do much for them. Rick Bartalini, the promoter who recently brought Mariah Carey and Diana Ross to the Blaisdell said, “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”

    -The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply (finally) refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?

    -Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) super fun beach vacation, guys.

    -In their arrogance, leaders of the state House and Senate said the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.

    -COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, and car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors can’t find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. A rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.

    -Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage and make visitors happy. The state’s move? Tax the new business to death, same as AirBnB, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms who have fewer customers anyway because of the government’s COVID shenanigans. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the one which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.

    -How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi or car.

    -Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there’s a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.

    -Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels won’t change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. Then wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.

    -The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired by the state to handle Safe Travels screening and verify documents summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”

    We’re seeing now the influx of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere,  but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”

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