• Who Else Is Wrongly Detained?

    August 8, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden

    The rule is simple: abroad, Americans are subject to the host country’s laws and legal system, whether that be Great Britain or Russia. The Bill of Rights does not follow Americans to foreign countries, nor will the U.S. government intervene with the host country on their behalf. Try and bring some weed into Japan and if you’re caught, you’re looking at years behind bars. No matter what you were carrying would clearly be seen as a small amount for personal use back home, in Japan anything over about an ounce means you intended to sell it, and the punishment is lengthy accordingly. I should know; I spent seven years in Japan visiting American prisoners as part of my State Department job there. The top three reasons for their arrest were drugs, drugs, and drugs. Just like Stephanie Griner. I was not allowed to help you get out, or advocate for a shorter sentence.

    The only exception was if you were “wrongly detained,” a new category that allows the U.S. government to actively help free those designated. It is up to the Secretary of State to make the call, as there are no set criteria. Even the total number of American so designated is murky, somewhere around 40 out of those 4,000 some Americans locked up. One of the wrongfully detained is Stephanie Griner, held in Russia after admitting she tried to smuggle in to the country a couple of vials of cannabis oil. The U.S. announced just this week it is ready to trade a real bad guy, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “merchant of death” for Griner (and another American, Paul Whelan, accused of having a USB drive that contained classified information.) In April, retired U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been sentenced to nine years in prison, was exchanged for a Russian pilot who had been in a U.S. jail since 2010.

    The problem is in looking at Griner’s case, it is very hard to see what makes her so “wrongfully” detained (as she admitted the smuggling attempt) and is being given a trial under Russian standards. Her case seems a long way from both other wrongful detentions (some we know about involve what would more readily be described as hostage situations involving terrorist elements) and other needful instances of Americans locked up abroad. Looking at just a handful of those cases it sure seems Griner benefited more from being a black, lesbian, woman athlete married to another woman in a tough midterm year than anything approaching right or wrong, never mind geopolitics that would see an arms dealer who sought harm to innocent Americans walk free.

    Consider the case in Japan of U.S. Navy lieutenant and Mormon missionary Lt. Ridge Alkonis, currently locked up on a three year sentence after two people were killed in a traffic accident doctors said may have been caused by a medical episode. The U.S. has not offered to help free him. Alkonis and his family hiked Japan’s famed Mount Fuji when on the way home Alkonis blacked out at the wheel and crashed his car, with his own family inside, in a restaurant parking lot and killed two Japanese citizens. Neurologists diagnosed Alkonis with Acute Mountain Sickness, which can cause sudden fainting up to 24 hours after rapid altitudinal change.

    Alkonis’ family offered an appropriate $1.65 million in compensation to the Japanese family for the loss of their two relatives, along with an apology. The Japanese family, however, uncharacteristically refused the settlement and instead demanded jail time for Alkonis. Senator Mike Lee of Utah claims Alkonis is being targeted as a proxy for American forces stationed in Japan, which remain unpopular among many Japanese who feel they receive special treatment under the law due to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces agreement. Alkonis, for example, will serve his term in a barracks-like prison alongside other Americans, instead of the more medieval prison conditions and isolation Japanese criminals face in their own system. On the face the case certainly looks like one unfair, with an American singled out for extraordinary punishment and wrongfully detained. Why not help Lt. Alkonis, President Biden?

    Or what about Marc Fogel? Fogel is “the other American” imprisoned in Russia on minor drug charges. Fogel previously taught history at the international Anglo-American School in Moscow, and was well-known and well-thought of by diplomats not only from the U.S. but also from Great Britain, Canada, and elsewhere. For the past 11 months, Fogel has languished in Russian detention centers following his August 2021 arrest for trying to enter the country with about half an ounce of medical marijuana he’d been prescribed in the United States for chronic pain after numerous injuries and surgeries. He is facing down a 14-year sentence. Like Griner, he has admitted his guilt, seeking to smuggle vape cartridges of marijuana into Russia. His trial included accusations of close connections to the American Embassy, was confused by a visa issue and his personal friendship with the ambassador, and false claims he aimed to sell marijuana to his students. It all lead to a tougher than usual sentence. The State Department has denied Fogel “wrongfully detained” status. Why not help Marc Fogel, President Biden?

    If neither of those cases catch your interest, President Biden, the State Department has some 4,000 more to choose from. The point is not to see Stephanie Griner suffer, the point is to ask what makes her case special enough to warrant the designation “wrongfully detained” and the offer of a lop-sided prison swap to be made. During my State Department career I visited hundreds of American prisoners abroad, from celebrities and white collar criminals dealing with multi-millions of dollars at issue to near-homeless Americans trying to make a quick drug score. Not a single one of them felt he was “rightfully detained” in every sense; most felt their sentences were too long given the minor offense they committed. But I was under strict and standing orders not to advocate for any of them, to allow the host country process to play out as it would. What makes Stephanie Griner more special than Lt. Alkonis or Marc Fogel, Mr. Biden? Will they have to wait for some future election cycle when it is their peer group a future president seeks to impress?

     

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

  • Marbury v. Madison v. Joe Biden v. Abortion

    August 6, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Joe Biden doesn’t have the the guts to do what people are suggesting he do, be the first president to stare down a Supreme Court ruling and refuse to abide by it. It wouldn’t matter anyway.

    Abortion in American should never have been allowed to turn into the judicial and moral circus that it is here and nowhere else on earth. Women even under Roe faced 50 different sets of rules and laws, abortion clinics tried to hide what they did, religious child help centers tried to pretend abortion was an option they offered, and the scene was full of protesters and clinic escorts and dozens of other things which separated a woman from her doctor and possibly her clergy in a regulated environment in which to make a very difficult decision. But that was the world we created out of professed concern for women and for the unborn. It was a system which said the fight would never really end, just change as the Supreme Court changed and saw things differently from 1972 to Roe and Doe in 1973 to Dobbs in 2022 to…

    The clarity of Dobbs is unfair to the mess which followed: the Court was very clear, abortion regulation was to be decided on the state level, not the quasi-federal level of Roe and Doe. You know how that works; New York allows third trimester abortions when necessary and Ohio prohibits any abortion past fetal heartbeat, even in cases of rape or incest, and so forth. Dobbs was not intentioned to set off a round of how can we detour around what the Court really said and give abortions in National Parks.

    The biggest change since Roe is chemical abortions. Already pre-Dobbs over 50 percent of all abortions were done chemically, with the mother taking one or two medicines to provoke a miscarriage. While typically done under professional supervision (miscarriages can result in dangerous bleeding, and incomplete miscarriages can be fatal to the mother) a single pill taken by a woman on her own will in most cases provoke a safe miscarriage. This is what will replace the horrible “coat hanger” abortions of the pre-Roe days according to many advocates.

    If America is good at anything, it is smuggling drugs across state lines, and so certainly “abortion pills” will be readily available to many woman in non-abortion states, albeit illegally the same way other drugs smuggled across borders are illegal and occasionally even prosecuted. In the crudest of practical terms, it is unclear how many women will not have access to an abortion post-Dobbs. However, Biden is being pushed to do something more. He is being pressed to refuse to abide by the Supreme Court.

    Joe Biden’s White House is considering executive action to make abortion pills accessible nationwide despite state laws restricting the drug. The administration may seek to use executive power granted under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to declare a public health emergency to allow abortion providers and pharmacists to distribute chemical abortion pills, even in states where abortion is heavily restricted.

    Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, along with 16 of their colleagues, urged Biden to take such action in a July 13 letter. “While it is impossible to immediately undo the damage inflicted by the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, the Biden-Harris Administration must use every tool within its power to fight back,” the letter said. “We urge you to declare national and public health emergencies over Americans’ access to reproductive care.” Technically, powers available under the PREP Act would shield doctors, pharmacies and others from liability for providing abortion pills to people across the country. The exact same law was just used with broad popular support to shield manufacturers of Covid drugs and treatments from legal liability in order to get vaccines deployed expeditiously. The use of such law to expand presidential power past a decision by the Supreme Court to the exact contrary, however, would be devastatingly controversial.

    If Biden were to take such a decision, it would put him in immediate legal conflict with those states that choose to regulate chemical abortions and more importantly, the Supreme Court itself, which just ruled this was a states’ right to do, not a Federal one. No president has ever previously directly denied the Supreme Court. Nixon resigned rather than follow or resist the Court’s order to hand over incriminating evidence during Watergate. While many worried Trump would refuse to obey the Court in this situation or that, in the end the Cassandras were wrong, again, and the fight never happened.

    The first draft of America circa 1789 or so did not grant the Supreme Court this power of review. Marbury v. Madison, arguably the most important case in Supreme Court history, was the first U.S. Supreme Court challenge to apply the principle of “judicial review” — the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution and declare other government actions “unconstitutional.” Written in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall, the decision played a key role in making the Supreme Court a separate branch of government on par with Congress and the executive.

    The actual facts surrounding Marbury are irrelevant to the abortion discussion. Relevant, however, is even though the instant case found Secretary of State James Madison had acted unconstitutionally, the underlying matter was resolved without a head-to-head conflict between the executive and judicial and the doctrine stood. With Marbury a new tool in governance, there exist only three ways to fight back against a Supreme Court decision: Congress can pass a new law (in this case legalizing abortion across the states), the Constitution itself can be amended or the Court can overturn itself, as it just did with Dobbs.

    That means should Biden try for option four, executive action, his quest will be Quixotic. Sitting in some Texas government official’s outbox is no doubt a completed challenge to any such action ready to file, meaning a lower court would almost immediately stay Biden as things got sorted out (that is what happened to some of Trump’s early immigration legislation, the so-called Muslim Ban, giving the false impression of early victory to progressives angrily hanging around airports in that instance.) The challenge to Biden would quickly find its way back to the Supreme Court, which would correctly uphold itself. The same result is likely should Biden try some sort of clever end-around, such as abortion clinics on Federal land. The use of PREP would also invite a legal challenge over the point of public health emergencies, and post-Covid utterly politicize what’s left of public faith in public health.

    As an aside, despite the noise, there is no likely path toward prohibiting interstate travel for abortions, say a pregnant woman driving from Texas to New Jersey and thus nothing there for Biden to worry over. Crossing a state border for abortion services is not likely to become illegal. Apart from the Constitution’s unambiguous support for interstate commerce, the House recently passed legislation affirming interstate travel for abortion, and no state has any opposing law on its books. And of course no one from Ohio is arrested for gambling coming home from Vegas, either.

    Criminalizing activities done out of state, or preventing interstate travel, is basically prevented by the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, which holds a citizen of one state is entitled to the privileges in another state, from which a right to travel to that other state is inferred. There’s also Bigelow v. Virginia which dealt directly with the issue of out-of-state abortion. The Supreme Court concluded “a state does not acquire power or supervision over the affairs of another state merely because the welfare and health of its own citizens may be affected when they travel to that state… It may not, under the guise of exercising internal police powers, bar a citizen of another state from disseminating information about an activity that is legal in that state.”

    That a gesture like declaring a PREP emergency accomplishes nothing practical does not mean it would not appear politically attractive to Democrats as they head into what promises to be a very rough midterm election. Biden, however, does not seem like the kind of guy who wants to go down in history as the only president to thumb his nose at the nation’s highest court, and all that for no actual gain. Biden knows any action he could take would simply be struck down by the very court that put him in this place. It is called “checks and balances,” Joe, look it up, and it works well in these cases.

     

     

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

  • Pelosi and China and Taiwan; Is the Domestic Political Juice Worth the Foreign Policy Squeeze?

    August 3, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden

    The Biden administration is increasingly concerned about a trip  to Taiwan next month by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They should be. The visit is pointlessly provocative for little gain. Pelosi would do well to remember the the Chinese proverb: “Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze.”

    The domestic political juice is points for Pelosi from her large, pro-Taiwan, constituency back home as she runs for reelection. A third of Pelosi’s congressional district is Asian American and taking on Big China has long been a major part of her political identity. She, for example, made a public show out of meeting with pro-democracy protestors out of Hong Kong and urging a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

    The foreign policy squeeze — the negative political fall out and possible repercussions from such a visit — is extensive. When Pelosi proposed a visit in April, the Chinese responded “If the U.S. House speaker, a political leader of the United States, deliberately visits Taiwan, it would be a malicious provocation against China’s sovereignty and gross interference in China’s internal affairs, and would send an extremely dangerous political signal to the outside world.” China often fails to understand the impact of domestic politics on U.S. actions abroad, and no doubt imagines Pelosi as some sort of messager heralding a new strategic thinking out of Washington. They would likely make much of the Pelosi visit, envisioning it as a follow-on to Mike Pompeo’s March travel to the island.

    Almost unique globally, the China-Taiwan-U.S. relationship exists in a kind of strategic stasis. Each side of the triangle (the U.S. side tends to speak for interested third parties like Australia, Japan, and Korea at present) talks the talk of reunification and independence, but officially the line is based on the 1979 U.S.-Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and follow on diplomacy which states there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it. That line, one of the cleverest phrasings in modern diplomacy, has kept the peace for 73 years through things as varied as the Vietnam War, multiple changes of power in all three entities (part of the deal is not to call Taiwan a “country”) the fall of the Soviet Union and multiple incidents and kerfuffles. It is a sturdy but not unbreakable basis for the relationship. It all speaks to the origins of the diplomatic base here, the TRA, which grew out of Mao’s threat to “liberate” Taiwan and Chiang Kai-shek’s demand for U.S. support to reclaim the Mainland by force. With the Korean War sopping up American blood in the initial phase of the three-side relationship, Washington had no desire to join what would have been a land war to rival World War II. The U.S. Cold War policy was to assure Taipei’s survival, all formalized in 1979 as the inevitable forced a change of plans and the diplomatic recognition of Beijing alongside Taiwan.

    This all came to be known colloquially as “strategic ambiguity,” a policy understood by all parties (Biden gaffes to the contrary aside) to mean the U.S. doesn’t have to defend Taiwan, but it can, and probably will. The circumstances and means of defense are left unspoken. China matched this with a policy of “strategic patience”: China will not wait forever, but China also understands the time between now and forever is long. The TRA works. The Mainland has not invaded Taiwan. Despite changes in leadership from Mao to Deng to Xi, the Mainland has not invaded. Taiwan changed from a military dictatorship to a democracy, and the Mainland has not invaded. Beijing and Taipei are more politically and economically integrated than any point in modern history.

    One part of the unspoken deal is that official visits between Taiwan authorities and U.S. officials (note the accepted nouns) should generally occur on a mid-to-lower level. The idea is the higher the rank of those involved, especially on the U.S. side, the more “legitimacy” is conferred on to Taiwan’s status. So today the standard is some diplomatic grumpiness out of Beijing over visits to Taiwan by U.S. Congress persons but a tacit agreement the U.S. will confine higher level visits, such as from Taiwan’s president, to American soil and only then under some pretense, such as the president refueling enroute to somewhere else, or visiting the American mainland as part of a UN trip. These things shift, grow, and recede over time, but Pelosi as Speaker is clearly tweaking China by her planned visit.

    Another part of the unspoken deal is the timing of visits, and here again Pelosi is coming close to the edge of understood propriety. Not by coincidence the most sensitive period marks a holiday in both entities, October 11 (celebrated in Taiwan on October 10) the 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 in Beijing and the most fervent Nationalists in Taipei 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. Pelosi’s trip would come in the lead up to this date and the follow-on 20th national Congress of the Communist Party. During these no-go periods, Beijing is likely to respond more aggressively to perceived provocations. In particular, President Xi Jinping, who is expected to achieve an unprecedented third term as leader, second only to Mao historically, is keen not to suffer any slights in the lead-up to the conference.

    In other words, the bigger the perceived political and ideological slur, the bigger the required response, and then the bigger the required counter-response and so on until someone calls it quits. Or a war starts.

    That said, Pelosi is more likely to start a war in Washington as Speaker of the House than by visiting Taiwan. An invasion of Taiwan would leave the China politically isolated, economically damaged, and reputationally crippled. And ironically, a failed attack could lead to a Taiwanese declaration of independence China would be incapable of stopping. There is no rational, risk vs. gain, no reason for hostilities with or without Nancy Pelosi visiting.

    It is likely Pelosi will be talked out of her planned visit, as she was once before using a case of Covid in April as the excuse then. President Biden himself on Wednesday told reporters “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now” Pelosi travel to Taiwan, a very weak response from the lame duck president now further removed from his own foreign policy by Covid. Nonetheless, given the seriousness of the matter, among those briefing Pelosi were General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense, military and intelligence officials have “tried to explain the risks associated with the timing of her proposed trip,” said one administration official.

    Pelosi is a smart woman; she gets nearly 100 percent of the political gain in her home constituency just by proposing the trip, and tallies an owed favor from Biden for not going. She can again “postpone” the trip, keeping the door open to placate Taiwan while keeping the door open so Beijing can feel the heat. There is no urgency, no need to be seen “standing with Taiwan” at the present moment, no chance this could be seen as “weakness” especially if U.S. diplomats explained quietly to Beijing the domestic political side they likely do not understand. In other words, Pelosi gets most of the domestic political juice for none of the foreign policy squeeze.

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

  • Negotiations Continue on Guns and Abortions

    August 1, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Uncategorized

    We don’t really negotiate much in the U.S. and so we’re bad at it. Even when we are forced to “haggle,” we employ rituals, like the salesperson at a used car dealership “checking with his manager” on our offers, or the dance between real estate agents that goes along with buying a house. Car offers come back from the mysterious manager as impossible, and offers on a house are just refused, no chance to talk because two layers of agents stand in the way. That’s why we cannot find any common ground on abortion and gun control. We do not know how to be reasonable.

    The American style of negotiating is to demand everything and settle for nothing less. So we’re taught to make our first offer the final offer (it works a little different when the issue is simply money, then we ask for an outrageous amount and “bargain down” after the other side offers an equally outrageous small amount. Starting anywhere near your actual price is considered a sign of weakness.) We don’t like gray areas and we don’t like to feel we’ve lost out on something. So being asked to support something on its face reasonable like allowing two people in love living together in a home they co-own to marry means buying into a whole LGBTQIA2+ agenda that somehow includes forcing kids to listen to drag queens read stories aloud about sexually ambitious caterpillars and their same-sex tadpole pals. Seeking restrictions on abortion ends up cruelly forcing rape and incest victims to carry to term.

    We do the same thing in broader swathes, when reporters who misuse pronouns or support the Harry Potter author are not just sidelined or argued with, but canceled, deleted, defunded, disenfranchised, literally thrown down the memory hole to just take their opinion and go away, leaving only your opinion standing. The presumption is even on the most ideological of arguments there is a clear right and wrong only. We have evolved speech to match this mindset, things like “my way or the highway,” “all or nothing,” and “in or out.”

    Back in the day when I worked for the State Department every summer embassies abroad had to ask for funding for summer hires to help us catch up on clerical work. There was only so much money around and not everyone could get all they wanted. At first I did what was standard, ask for ten people knowing I only needed five, with all sorts of silly justifications I had to eventually walk back. One year I played it different. I wrote in detail what five people would do, what would not get done with only four, and why six would be a waste of personnel. That year and the ones that followed were the easiest ever; Washington and I jumped right to the meat of the problem and nobody was forced to belittle the other on the road to negotiating a compromise.

    That’s what did not happen recently in overturning Roe v. Wade. Though Roe was poor jurisprudence and Constitutionally hilarious, it was the product of negotiation. First trimester abortions were basically allowed, second term were generally allowed, and third was more or less up to the states.  Roe produced a workable solution to a very complex problem, uniquely American as it combined religious, moral, and Red and Blue thought into what was often falsely presented as a binary decision — abortion was legal or not. The compromises in Roe were far from perfect or widely accepted, simply the output of a beleaguered Court willing to talk about something the rest of America would not.

    The problem was Roe’s supporters and opponents almost from day one set about trying to take a compromise solution and make it an absolute. States latched on to their freedom to dictate third semester rules by gleefully promoting gory end term abortions where a viable baby was aborted. There can be good medical reasons to consider this, but the issue was not presented that way, it was “a woman’s right.” Same on the other side. Clever legal tricks were deployed so that, sure, you can get a first trimester abortion, only not where clinic regulations and hospital affiliations were manipulated to make it near impossible to meet the standards. As was intended. No one was going to sit back and allow compromise to stand.

    The Court itself is not immune; in combination with the gutting of Roe (another all or nothing type decision) Judge Clarence Thomas opened the door to ending Federal law allowing for same sex marriage. If you can’t have all the rights you should have none of them he seems to be saying to the Left. Specifically, Thomas was threatening Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that declared married couples had a right to contraception; Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case invalidating sodomy laws and making same-sex sexual activity legal across the country; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case establishing the right of gay couples to marry. How again are those directly related to the hyper-complex issue of abortion?

    More importantly, has anything changed in society that requires a new look, something gone amiss? No, the only thing that has changed is a different side now holds a majority on the Court and wants to run with it. They have no more interest in compromise than the demonstrators massing around Justices’ homes in hopes of harassing them into compliance with the mob, or AOC on TV screaming people are going to die.

    Same for gun control, the other recent Supreme Court decision. In New York State Rifle v. Bruen, the Supreme Court again swung widely. The existing law, basically saying the right to bear arms in the 2A did not automatically mean a right to openly carry arms in public, had been misused by anti-gun states. In Hawaii, for example, every single open carry permit had to be approved personally by the chief of police. Multiple chiefs over a period of recent years found no reason to approve even a single permit and in the past 22 years there have been four open carry permits issued in Hawaii; all or nothing, as if somehow not one applicant in recent memory was capable of safely openly carrying a weapon. So the response from the now-conservative Supreme Court was to do away with provisions governing carrying a weapon. The counter-response from those states who are anti-gun, such as Hawaii, is to promise to jerry-rig their laws with outrageous training requirements or exorbitant fees to somehow get around the Court’s perceived free-for-all, and to cite recent mass shootings (which had nothing to do with handguns or open carry laws) as fear-inducing excuses. Nobody sees any of the middle ground of reality.

    And that is why the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion and gun carry law resolve nothing. In the extreme progressives will simply wait it out until it is 1973 again, and the Court will have turned over to a more liberal group of jurists who will reinstate black to replace white or vice-versa. The real answer on abortion, a rough and robust debate in Congress followed by a set of compromises, or an equally rough and robust debate at the state level, will never come. Americans are not very good at negotiating and so usually pay more at the car dealer than they should. The same problems plagues us on much more serious issues regarding abortion and the Second Amendment and that ends up costing us a lot more.

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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 is Full of Snot

    July 31, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Yemen

    I’m angry. I want to write that parts of American life are increasingly full of s**t, but I can’t write that word here so I’ll have to describe it. You’ll figure it out.

    Dr. Jill Biden is full of s**t because she thinks she can make Hispanic people think she cares about them, you know, diversity stuff For ‘da Votes. At a Latinx IncluXion (if she can use the X, I can use the **) luncheon in San Antonio, she began by mispronouncing bodega as “bogida” (don’t check the altered White House transcript because transcripts now are full of s**t, better to see the video) and then compared members of the Hispanic community to the breakfast tacos only white people eat at Taco Bell. She even giggled a bit when laughed at, thinking she was hitting it with an audience of dumb mules.

    Speaking of bodegas, in New York City a Hispanic bodega worker was charged with murder and spent six days on Riker’s Island for defending himself against an attack. A black guy and his girlfriend refused to pay for their purchase and the guy attacked the worker. The worker had a knife hidden because this wasn’t his first rodeo (emphasis on the “e” because that’s Spanish I guess) and he’d been robbed before. The video starts with the bodega clerk, Jose Alba, selling two patrons loosies, individual cigarettes’ from a pack because the patron cannot afford to buy a whole pack at once, a sign of a classy joint. The girlfriend at the window says she can’t pay after her EBT card is declined, and when Alba says something like “You have to pay” the boyfriend comes around the counter and shoves Alba, age 61, to the ground. The boyfriend knows about fighting; he’s an ex-con out on parole for assault on a cop. The boyfriend has a gang symbol, a white do-rag, hanging out of his back left pocket, something Alba being of the neighborhood, would recognize as bad news. A fight ensues and Alba stabs his assailant. Oh yeah, the girlfriend also had a knife of her own and joined in, two-on-one.

    The full of s**t outcome? Manhattan’s recently-installed District Attorney Alvin Bragg helped usher in more cases being continued without bail, stating that bail was unfair to people of color which usually includes Hispanic people like Alba. Instead, Alba was charged with murder for defending himself and pounded with a $250,000 bond because the DA is full of s**t. Alba couldn’t pay it, so went to Riker’s until the district attorney’s office lowered the racist bail to $50,000 amid the growing outrage.

    While NYC’s mayor vaguely stood behind his DA, one Republican gubernatorial nominee slammed Bragg’s decision to charge Alba, tweeting: “My first Day 1 action as Governor next January will be to fire Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg” because not everyone is full of s**t all the time.

    But DA Alvin Bragg is. He got his job in part as part of the Black Lives Matter aftermath, pledging to cut back on cops harming young black men like the guy who assaulted Jose Alba. The problem is violence toward blacks has not decreased. Bragg’s boss, Mayor Eric Adams, slammed Black Lives Matter and anti-police activists after a recent night of bloodshed across the city that left more than a dozen people shot. “Where are all those who stated ‘black lives matter’?” Adams asked. “The victims were all black.” Three people killed and 13 others wounded in a series of shootings. Zero were shot by police officers. “The lives of these black children that are dying every night matter,” Adams said. “We can’t be hypocrites” he intoned while hypocritically full of s**t.

    While Alba appears to be Hispanic, most of New York’s bodegas are operated by Yemeni’s, most recent immigrants and/or refugees from the Saudi-Yemen-U.S.-Iran war because American foreign policy is often full of s**t. Joe Biden, who as a candidate promised to make Saudi Arabia an “international pariah” over the murder of WaPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi, just finished begging the Saudis to produce more oil and thus perhaps lower gas prices in America, which Biden claims are high because of Vladimir Putin, a statement completely full of s**t like Bruce Springsteen in the “Dancing in the Dark” video level full of s**t.

    Biden is by no means the first American president to struggle with the fact that American Saudi policy is full of s**t. George W. Bush enlisted Saudi Arabia as an ally in the War on Terror even though 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, ground zero for the Wahhabism which also helped create the conditions for the attacks. Barack Obama gleefully supported the Saudi-led war in Yemen to avoid a rupture in the relationship, a decision no one publicly regretted even as the war devolved into a humanitarian catastrophe. Donald Trump also embraced the kingdom in ways Biden would recognize. They’re all full of s**t.

    Of course Biden’s policy of making war by proxy in Ukraine is based in large part on sanctions on Russia which are full of s**t. Sanctions were going to win the battle, forcing Russia to withdraw at the risk of her economy’s collapse, perhaps along with Putin’s own regime. The problem is that not only has that not happened, but sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume in reaction to American sanctions, surging prices driven by supply shortages have more than canceled out the sanctions’ effects. Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year, driven by simple supply and demand. The E.U. reduced its direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent, but thanks to Russian re-exporters India and the United Arab Emirates, that has led to no net change in Russia’s overall oil-export volumes.

    China, too, has helped make up for the E.U. shortfall as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for unsanctioned Russian coal imports. Even the U.S. has helped out, buying unsanctioned, highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that were at least in part made from Russia crude. Maybe it’s time to seize another mega yacht to show Putin who is boss, because that gambit isn’t full of s**t is it? And it is not a sign the policy is full of s**t when Biden bargains away any remaining American self-respect in exchange for oil from the MidEast.

    A lot of Biden’s gas problems would go away if he allowed the U.S. to extract domestically the oil it needs, but Biden is steadfastly committed to going green. Except in Alaska, where he has shown his policy statements on energy to be full of s**t. Biden signaled in early July his new support for a controversial Alaska oil drill, issuing an environmental review that represents a key step toward starting the Willow project. Opponents say drilling would violate Biden’s pledge to rein in fossil fuels but that promise was always full of s**t anyway.

    Like I said, it would be easy to explain all this if I could just write America is full of s**t but bad words are off limits. Like anyone gives a damn about the potential harm coming from using words like snot when it is seemingly OK the world is full of it. And people who give birth are known as w*men.

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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 Solution to Racism is… Separate But Equal?!?

    July 29, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Schools now have affinity groups, quasi-social/political gatherings which are separated by among other things, race. You have to be black to walk in to some of them. Seems like there’s a history to this.

    “Separate but equal” refers to the Supreme Court 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson claiming separate rail cars for whites and blacks were equal as required by the 14th Amendment. The upshot was constitutional sanction to laws known as Jim Crow (the name comes from a popular blackface stage character of the time) designed to achieve racial segregation by means of separate public facilities and services. This led to the era of the Green Book, which told blacks which hotels would allow them, as well as The Jewish Vacation Guide, which offered the same kind of advice but which we do not like to talk about much anymore. “Victims of Racism” is a pretty segregated category of its own it seems. The Court in Brown v. Board of Education ended separate but equal in that 1954 landmark civil rights case.

    But a new version of separate but equal seems to be back. The goal of many progressives now appears to be more segregated spaces and more segrated paths into academia and jobs. Progressives do not oppose segregation any more, they demand it.

    Jim Crow is being resurrected in schools, this time through euphemisms such as black spaces, affinity circles, affinity dialogue, and community building groups. One of my own kids was confronted as an undergrad with the problem of choosing which affinity group to join, as she fell into several different categories. Should she go with the Asians, or more broadly the POC group? Or female POC? Centennial Elementary School in Denver advertised a “Families of Color Playground Night.” The Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, hosted a “meet and talk” with an actress from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air  exclusively for its Students of Color affinity group. There are events that squeeze the rules tighter, such as black women feminists only. Of course February is Black History Month in America, though people of all hues are allowed to feel bad for all of February equally. We track obsessively the “First black…” to the point where the NYT felt compelled to single out such accomplishments last year as the first black to be recognized as a pro triathlete, the first black woman to win a gold medal in wrestling, and the first black to be interred at the Panthéon in Paris.

    In explaining the rationale for exclusionary events, one college newspaper wrote “Black students need events in which there are other black men and women as a means to help them feel comfortable…  a safe place for black students to be black without consequence,” which with a few words replaced would be exactly the garbage coming out of the worst cracker’s mouth in 1963 Birmingham, you know, something about how it ain’t right for the races to mix. The KKK are as in favor of more color-designated spaces as BLM.

    And famously we have been taught of all the people wrongly killed or injured by law enforcement, only one color of life matters. When Black Lives Matter as a slogan first began to populate social media, for about a week it was cool to say “All Lives Matter” to show you were an ally, that the cops could not get away with killing anyone yellow or white, either. “All lives” quickly morphed into a racist slogan, segregation mattering even in undeserved deaths.

    The return of separate but equal is most visible today in school admissions (and Supreme Court nominations.) Separate but equal has been reimagined as offering two tracks into select schools — one of merit, usually some sort of exam, and another that tests nothing but skin color, with standards rigged to matriculate the required percentage of blacks. That the latter often results in Asians (the on-again, off-again POC) being red lined out seems to be another thing we don’t like to talk about. The rules may be changing; the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether race-based admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful.

    The problems with separate but equal are many. A real danger is positioning unprepared students to fail. If you cannot show you know the subject material well enough to engage with it on a high level day one, and if you cannot show you have been willing to forego fun activities to put in the study hours, granting you a seat at some elite school via the back door will not solve anything. Imagine if the SEALS did away with their famous physical and mental tests and just picked commandos by lottery. That is what is happening through separate but equal employment programs, such as one at Morgan Stanley limited to blacks, browns, reds, and gays, or another at my own alma mater of sorts, the U.S. State Department, where I worked for 24 years

    State has had a diversity problem going back to the earliest days of the Republic, when it was said to qualify as a diplomat you needed to be Male, Pale, and Yale. To fix this two centuries later, the Department created two fellowships that have been used as vehicles to recruit people of “diverse backgrounds,” who worked out to be overwhelming black people. In place are the Thomas Pickering Fellowship (run by HBCU Howard University) and the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship. Both claim entrants take the same entrance exams as anyone else, but omit that they do so after two summer internships with the State Department, including time abroad, plus assigned mentors. Fellows are also identified as such to those administering the oral exam required of all prospective diplomats. Having administered the oral exam myself, I knew I would have to justify to my boss’ boss any move to fail a Fellow before being overruled by her anyway. The programs increased the number of unwhite diplomats, as they were intended to do as a separate but equal pathway.

    The problems came down the road, when black diplomats encountered the same promotion and evaluation system their white, green, and blue colleagues did (along with Hispanics and Asians, etc.) Diversity in the senior ranks of the State Department actually regressed over time. In 2008, black diplomats made up about 8.6 percent of the top ranks of the diplomatic corps. By 2020 only 2.8 percent of the same top ranks are black. The answer? It must be more racism (characterized diplomatically as “institutional barriers.”) Suggestions focused on offering blacks more fellowships to create a bigger pool, and creating special opportunities for blacks to snag better assignments (described as “promote diverse officers’ career development.”) That of course simply repeats the original sin of pushing less-prepared people upward to their point of failure. FYI: the State Department classifies most of its gender and race promotion results and does not generally release them to the public. However, data leaked to the NYT shows that only 80 black diplomats and specialists were promoted in the 2019 fiscal year, about one percent.

    Then there’s this: a former diplomat described her Rangel fellowship in 2010 as “more of a stigma than an honor” as white diplomats routinely assumed Fellows qualified for the real job only because of the fellowship. Some minorities at State feel compelled to share that they are not Pickering or Rangel Fellows to avoid the fall out over separate but equal. Can it be it is all just more racism all the way down?

    When I did not get into the State Department my first try, it never occurred to me the written test, which was mostly history, geography, and economics, was set up to block me because of how I looked instead of whether I knew enough about history, geography, and economics. After more education I passed essentially the same test. It never occurred to me some special channel should have been set up to advance me. It becomes kind of a mindset, almost a philosophy, that anything that doesn’t work out percentage wise must by definition be racism and can only be rectified by some kind of separate but equal track.

    Separate but equal in academia and employment, as well as in black spaces and all the rest, produces nothing more than cosmetic diversity. You want XX percent of students or diplomats to be black? Fine, we’ll gerrymander the system to produce that. But given the broader lack of societal progress from affirmative admissions and actions over some decades, it just might be easier to hire actors so the group photos look “right” and let decisions be less separate and more equal. Otherwise, what message are we sending to people of one color that their accomplishments have to be set aside so a person of another color can have their place, and what message are we sending to people of all colors the only way one group can succeed is with some special track? In the end aren’t those messages just a twisted version of what separate but equal originally meant, judgment based on race?

    At some point if we are committed to ending discrimination by race we need to end discrimination by race.

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

  • Wanna Be an American Idiot?

    July 25, 2022 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas

    American idiot and Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong said he is going to renounce his U.S. citizenship and move to England because he is so upset over the Supreme Court overturning landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade. The singer made the comments to a crowd at the band’s show in London, specifically “F*ck America, I’m f*cking renouncing my citizenship. I’m f*cking coming here.” He called the justices pr*cks and said “f*ck the Supreme Court of America.” Can he do that? Does it make any sense?

    As for making any sense, Armstrong should first check on what abortion laws look like in Great Britain. Assuming he understands the difference, Great Britain is composed of Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland. If the singer is headed toward the England, Scotland or Wales part, he’ll find most abortions limited to the second trimester, less than in seven U.S. states. In Northern Ireland, abortion is generally limited to first trimester, same as in 18 U.S. states. The case through which the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Dobbs v. Jackson, set the limit to 15 weeks, longer than Northern Ireland. So it is unclear how much moral ground Billie Joe will gain moving to the UK. He’ll need to watch out in Scotland, where clinics in Glasgow that offer reproductive health services are the focus of regular and long-running protests by anti-abortion activists, partly funded and supported by U.S. groups. You can run, Billie Joe, but you can’t hide.

    But can Billie Joe simply renounce his American citizenship and move to the U.K.? You can’t just renounce your citizenship, on stage or elsewhere. You can’t tear up your passport, burn the flag or write a manifesto. It’s done by appointment only. The American government must approve your renunciation of citizenship and can say no, no matter how loudly you say yes. Of course, there are forms to be filled out.

    To begin Billie Joe would need to make an appointment at the nearest American embassy or consulate. You can’t begin the renunciation process in America (sorry, purple haired radicals) but Billie Joe is already apparently in London. At the embassy Armstrong will fill out some forms. He can Google and complete, but not sign them, ahead of time if he wants one of his roadies to help: DS-4079, DS-4080, DS-4081, and DS-4082. Most of the requested information is pretty vanilla stuff, and is largely to make sure the singer understands what he is doing and the consequences of doing it.

    The reason for making sure of all that making sure stuff is two-fold. One, the State Department, who handles all this, has been sued by people in the past who claim they were tricked or mislead and did not know what they were doing, and want their citizenship back. The other reason is that barring certain highly-specific situations, renouncing citizenship is a one-way street. The U.S. government considers it a permanent, unrecoverable, irrevocable, decision. Billie Joe can’t come home should some future iteration of the Supremes restore Roe.

    At the embassy, one or more staff will fawn over Armstrong, then he’ll swear to and sign everything. At larger embassies, as in London, renunciations (for tax purposes) are frequent, regular parts of a day’s business, and are handled in most cases almost mechanically. The overall feeling most renunciants encounter is that of a bureaucrat more concerned with getting his paperwork in order than really caring about your life-altering decision. It is rare that the embassy official will actively try to dissuade you. There’s also a bunch of IRS stuff to do. Until it is over, you’re still an American, chappie.

    After your brief appointment at the embassy all the paperwork goes off to Washington, where your renunciation is approved or denied. The embassy can but is not required to write a memo regarding your case. Those memos, when written, usually argue against approval. In an extreme version, such a memo might say “Mr. Roberts appeared unorganized in thought, and was unable at times to focus on the documents in front of him. He referred often to a Swedish dog who was guiding his actions, and stated his goal in renunciation was to assume the Swedish throne.” It happens.

    No one at the embassy can approve or deny your application to renounce. That is done by someone you will never meet, located in Washington, DC. Without that approval, you remain an American citizen. Approval is formally made by issuing a DS-4083, called the CLN, Certificate of Loss of Nationality. Think of this document as an “un-birth certificate.” CLNs are processed slowly; it can several months or more for yours to be approved or denied. They are usually mailed to you. Oh, yes, one more thing. Billie Joe will have to pay a processing fee. As the world’s exceptional nation, the U.S. also has the highest fees in the world to renounce citizenship, a cool $2,350 per case, with no family discounts. By comparison, Canada charges it’s soon-to-be-former citizens only $76; for the Japanese and Irish it is free.

    If Billie Joe is denied his renunciation and forced to remain an American, it would typically be for his own good, to avoid him becoming stateless and thus deportable (to where?) from the U.K. Renunciation only means as of a certain moment Armstrong stops being an American citizen. It does not automatically make him a citizen of anywhere else (that’s naturalization, done country-by-country and Britain has its own complex set of laws on becoming one of them.) With his American passport gone, Armstrong has no passport. He is thus at that moment illegally in Britain and subject to deportation. Since he is not an American (or a Greek, or a Lithuanian, or a…) he has nowhere to go, a literal man without a country. In many cases the U.S. will deny renunciation to someone who does not already possess another country’s passport and citizenship. Billie Joe, sadly, could be forced to remain an American.

    This article is not legal advice for Billie Joe Armstrong or anyone else. Persons angry about Roe or otherwise considering renunciation should consult an attorney. Opinions expressed here are the author’s personal beliefs and do not represent those of any former employer.

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

  • Democracy is Doing OK

    July 25, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

    It was the July 4 holiday which brought out the worst of it, those claiming our democracy is in danger, failing, or in some cases, failed. But the holiday was just an excuse for our daily dose of doom. The blight of articles followed a familiar path, starting with some event (January 6 was the clear leader) and explaining how it was the start of fascism, comparing it one of the few historical examples allowed quotable by progressives, usually something to do with the Reichstag, and then growing that image to say, Trump standing over Lady Liberty, that kinda grin on his face.

    Actually, our democracy is doing just fine. Things are working more or less exactly as they are supposed to.

    The runner up to January 6 as the last gasp of democracy is the recent set of Supreme Court decisions. Centerpiece is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a sign of democratic failing because it fully strips women of their rights and shows the Court has no respect of precedent and could overturn anything. Usually this means the end of same-sex marriage as another Democratic emote-o-point, but in some screeds reaches as far as banning inter-racial marriages and contraception. Any day now!

    Slow down, kids. If you go too fast you’ll miss the scenery, in this case things working about normal. Perhaps it is necessary to remind our “democracy” is sort of like sharing crayons in kindergarten, sometimes you have to use the yucky brown one and let the other kids use the preferred red and orange. Progressives, with a lock hold on the Supreme Court for many decades, never mind the media, advertising, entertainment, and academia, grew too used to getting their way, too used to defining democracy as “expansion of rights that I favor and shrinking of those you favor.” So expanding the Bill of Rights automatically meant ignoring the Second Amendment and dilating the 14th to loop in abortions. It was easy to see it all as progress when for the most part it was just you always getting more of what you wanted.

    But a real democracy shares nicely, and as voting patterns (remember when Ohio used to be a well-contested purple state? Florida always up for grabs? John King zooming the CNN Magic Map practically into voters’ backyards?) and national moods change so does the makeup and decisions of the Court. Remember back in 1896 when the Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson separate rail cars for whites and blacks were equal enough as required by the 14th Amendment, that race was constitutionally a way to judge people? The upshot was constitutional sanction to laws known as Jim Crow (the name comes from a popular minstrel character of the time) designed to maintain racial segregation by means of separate public facilities and services.

    Then in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education the Court ignored a whopper of stare decisis and ended separate but equal as an unjust albeit long-held societal standard. Race was not constitutionally a way to judge people. Nobody is keeping score but it was 59 years of separate but equal, and 49 of Roe. People said a lot of things in 1954 when the Brown decision was handed down, but it is hard to find a genre of “end of democracy.” Indeed, enforcing Brown, even to the point of deploying Federal troops to do so under the Insurrection Act everyone was afraid of on January 6, is often cited as a high point of democracy. WHen tested, the system worked.

    January 6 should be a semi-holiday, like 9/11, something worth noting every year as an example of democracy working exactly as intended. Let’s look for the undemocratic element: 1) American holds an election and not everyone agrees who won (nothing new, where do you think all those complex presidential election rules came from but past instances of disagreement?) 2) Lawful protests take place at the Capitol; 3) When a minority of protestors start trespassing, law enforcement steps in and after one terrible fatality on the ground in Ashli Babbitt, the crowd disassembles. 4) Delayed a bit, the Vice President ignores any background noise and simply carries out his Constitutional duty in the ceremonial certification of electors selected earlier. With the possible exception of the cops gunning down the unarmed Babbit, everyone did their duty, and another peaceful transfer of power took place. No tanks on the White House lawn.

    To create the same climate of fear progressives more or less successful maintained during the four years of the Trump administration without blaming Joe Biden for some of the highest inflation and gas prices, and lowest stock vitality in years takes some clever word play. It exists in abundance. The Supreme Court judges (the bad ones!) become right wing extremists, not jurists. Their decision on Dobbs is based somehow on only rights that existed in 1868, and so forth. Taking away the EPA’s unilateral power to make climate change rules without full and open debate and returning that authority to Congress is somehow twisted to be both undemocratic and a sign of the apocalypse. Even Left Wing Extremist Sotomayor (exaggeration is fun!) wrote of Dobbs that the majority decision “undermines the court’s legitimacy” as if such a thing happening in a democracy — the majority carrying the day — was something extraordinary and particularly rare in its evil. But just saying things are true does not make them so.

    Of course George Soros had to weigh in since we’re talking about the threat to our democracy. “There is only one way to rein in the Supreme Court: throw the Republican Party out of office in a landslide. That would allow Congress to protect through legislation the rights that had been entrusted to the protection of the Supreme Court. It is now clear that doing so was a big mistake. Congress must act.”

    Now we’ll leave aside the part about Congress not acting on abortion, same sex marriage, inter-racial marriage, contraception, the EPA, and a lot of other supposed threats to democracy for decades, including when Democrats held majority power in both houses, the Court, and the Executive.

    But Soros still sees a problem: “When it comes to organizing a landslide victory against the radicalized Republicans, opponents face almost insuperable obstacles. Republicans have not only stacked the Supreme Court and many lower courts with extremist judges. In states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas, they have enacted a raft of laws that make voting very difficult.”

    We’ll take Texas as an example. You can register to vote there online, which does not seem too hard given anyone who can borrow a cell phone and do it from a parking lot. You do have to present one of seven forms of ID to register and to vote, including a drivers license, a handgun permit, military ID, or others. You can’t have a decent adult night out without one of those, and several are issued by the Federal government well outside the hands of racist old Texas. In certain circumstances a utility bill or a cashed check can suffice. Not clear what’s so hard; 17 million people in Texas are registered so far, which sounds like alotta democracy is working just fine. Now, showing the same photo ID (and a vax card) just to sit down and eat a burger, that has some undemocratic overtones to it…

    Soros aside, no one clings to the “democracy is dying” meme like a convert named Max Boot. Covering the gloom beat for WaPo, Boot warns “we’re in danger of losing our democracy.” He is stirred by Americans coming together to support Ukraine’s “fight for freedom” (better there then on the beaches of Santa Monica, eh Max?) “But it is dismaying,” he writes, “to see that there is no similar consensus on defending democracy at home.” The solution is simple, vote for Democratic candidates only, even if you don’t agree with them, because what could be more democratic then being told who to vote for and asked to not think about your choice. “Panic,” Max writes, “…is sometimes warranted.”

    Boot supports one of the most undemocratic things possible, to demand the end of democratic institutions when their call has not gone your way. Don’t like Dobbs? Support packing the Supreme Court (what happens when Republicans regain power and re-pack it?) Don’t care for the electoral system? Demand the Constitution be damned and the popular vote given precedence. Max Boot, again, declares with the straight face of someone who must have failed eight grade civics class “There is no justice in a political system that gives Republicans six of nine Supreme Court seats even though a Republican has won the popular vote for president only once in the past 30 years. So, too, there is something deeply amiss with a Senate that gives California (population 39.3 million) the same number of seats as Wyoming (population 581,348).” “The Founders never envisioned such an imbalance between power and population,” wrote Boot in a multi-Pulitzer-winning newspaper.

    Um, they actually did. It was the Founders who created our proportional representation system precisely to balance the power of big states and small ones.

    Keep in mind there is a reason progressives are trying to keep people in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate; you need only scare them to the point where they demand relief, and then provide them the way out as the final solution. A standard trick of any demagogue. “Democrats need to lean into the politics of fear,” says the NYT. So it is a natural extension of “Trump is Putin’s boy” to “let’s have a war against Putin.” Or from “some states ban abortion” to “next is a national abortion ban enacted by a Republican Congress.” Historically fear has driven any number of crusades and Crusades. The solution of course is not to be drawn in, to stop and ask yourself if something is true (“it’s hard to vote in Texas”) and react out of intellect and not emotion. Heck, if half of Germany would have thought through the Reichstag fire and not bought into fear mongering, George Soros, et al, would need a whole new go-to bad guy as they try and pre-defeat Trump in 2024.

     

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

  • Bidin’ His Time

    July 18, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    The New York Times and Washington Post sent up flares last weekend on behalf of the Deep State: one way or another they said, Biden is on borrowed time. The last man standing who ended up the answer to Anyone But Trump turned out so inadequate for the job Deep State parliamentarians gave him a vote of no confidence and say he should go.

    The Times wrote a scathing summary of What Everyone Knows, that Biden at 79 is a wreck; in their words the man “is testing the boundaries of age and the presidency.” He can barely walk unassisted. He has his zombie moments on stage. He is fully dependent on wife Jill to nudge him onward in public events, redirect him, get him back on the TelePrompTer and even then he will read anything there, including stage directions, Ron Burgundy-like. Not a pretty picture. It is also not a new picture, given the pass on campaigning Biden was granted by the MSM which helped hide all this during the campaign. That’s why the MSM articles are so noteworthy, they denote a change. From here on to 2024 it is OK to (finally) talk about how old and 25th Amendment-ready Biden is.

    The 25th Amendment got a bad name during the Trump years, being invoked as the handy-dandy alternative to multiple failed impeachments and prosecutions, a kind of last chance to dump a seated president when all else fails politically. In fact the amendment, written after the Kennedy assassination exposed the problems of no clear line of deep succession in the Constitution in the nuclear age, provides precisely the mechanism needed in Joe Biden’s case. Biden’s wacky gaffes have strayed over the line. His clumsy and chaotic policy killed innocents in Afghanistan and embarrassed the U.S. globally. His claim “Putin cannot remain in power” in response to the Ukraine War, and that the U.S. would absolutely defend Taiwan, threatened relations with two superpowers. Aides rushed to blurt out no policy had changed and gently correct the president. Falling off a standing bike is a problem for Joe; falling off nuclear policy is a problem for America.  On the face of it all Biden either needs to resign for “personal reasons” (the timing set so it does not appear tied to the latest Hunter revelations) or face the judgement of the 25th and reality, that he is medically no longer fit to carry out his role as Anyone But Trump.

    There’s no need for a specific trigger; the outstanding defeat expected for Democrats in the midterms could readily serve however, or the latest polls which show Joe’s approval ratings at a Nixonian 33 percent, with 64 percent of Democratic voters saying they would prefer a new presidential candidate for the 2024 presidential campaign. Only 13 percent of American voters said the nation was on the right track — the lowest point in NYT polling since the depths of the financial crisis more than a decade ago. The Deep State does not need a reason to invoke the 25th Amendment, Joe is the reason. Biden is a good egg and a loyalist, he’ll go as quietly in 2022 as he did in 2016 when he was likely told by Barack Obama he was going to have to sit out the election to pay off the party’s blood chit and allow Hillary to run unprimaried.

    Biden leaving is the easy part. What happens next?

    The obvious follow-on is not much better than Biden staying in the White House until 2024 (nobody expects him to run then under any circumstances.) If Biden resigns or is moved from office under the 25th Amendment, Kamala Harris as vice president automatically takes over. Her poll ratings are as dismal as Joe’s and after 18 months in office has nothing, literally nothing, to show for it. Despite being a black woman, Harris brings little to the table; she couldn’t even beat Biden in the Democratic primaries and the identity politics she is a living symbol of have lost some of their luster. She is far too quiet on what could be her signature issue, abortion rights, tagging along with the slow motion efforts to look busy out of the White House.

    The tricky thing about Joe leaving power is thus what to do with Kamala. She hasn’t done much to make her a strong candidate going forward, and she hasn’t made enough mistakes to justify nudging her, too, aside. It’s a real conundrum. Her approval rating is 15 points below where Biden stood at this stage in Obama’s first term and 11 below Mike Pence under Trump.

    Right behind the Kamala problem is the, um, well, somebody problem. There is no likely Biden successor. The left-overs from the 2020 campaign, guys like Beto and Buttigieg, are just that, leftovers. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary faces a conundrum of his own. Should he appear too competent in the role he risks being forever labeled the technocrat he is at heart, handy with tools around the office but uninspiring for the big stuff. Stumbling as Transportation Secretary, he’ll lose even the points he has for basic competence and appear more a glory seeker. Guy can’t win.

    Spokesmodels like Beto have no chance in a national campaign. They look good on home ground but don’t have the intellectual meat on the bone needed to campaign effectively across 50 states, especially in a primary where they really do need to answer questions on complex farm subsidies in Iowa and drooping Social Security in Wisconsin and failed solar jobs in Ohio and critical race theory in Virginia. You can only stand there and smile so long before someone (such as Democratic primary voters in 2020) notice there’s nothing more behind the smile.

    Several of the Democratic governors-in-waiting face tough re-election contests before they even think about 2024. The bottom-feeding criteria of “Anyone But Trump” is now “Anyone a bit better than Biden.”

    Somewhere there are Deep State Democrats in a room wondering how they got there, especially after winning the last election. Trump has defied them multiple times, the Dracula candidate they cannot put down and must resign themselves to facing off against in 2024 without the aid of the pandemic. Biden the caretaker president was just re-elected by the MSM as a punchline, and Harris has not risen to the challenge. Their bench is thin, the issues facing the country — it’s the economy again, stupid — mostly of their own fumbling design. There are people in that room rolling their eyes and saying they have little to gain replacing Biden, and arguing that he be allowed to serve out his term. They may be right.

     

     

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

  • Is Stephanie Griner “Wrongfully Detained” in Russia?

    July 17, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    The U.S. State Department estimates more than 3,000 Americans are imprisoned abroad, on grounds ranging from small amounts of marijuana up to murder. For all but a handful, the U.S. government explicitly states they cannot get you out of jail, tell a foreign court or government you are innocent, provide legal advice or represent you in court. The president certainly is not in the habit of making calls to the Thai government telling them to please let you go, you didn’t mean to have that baggie of Ecstasy in your underwear at Customs.

    The key to getting the full force of the U.S. government on your side working for your release is to be “wrongfully detained,” a qualification which applies to fewer than 40 out of those 3,000 some Americans locked up. The U.S. recently declared Stephanie Griner wrongly detained. What does all that mean?

    Near the start of the Ukraine war American WNBA star Stephanie Griner was arrested trying to enter Russia carrying vape oil which contained some sort of cannabis product illegal in Russia, entangling the U.S. citizen’s fate in the confrontation between Russia and the West. The Russian Federal Customs Service said its officials detained the player after finding vape cartridges in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, and it released a video of a Griner going through airport security.

    Normally Griner would be largely on her own. While the U.S. State Department visits Americans incarcerated abroad when that is possible (good luck to you if you’re popped in a country without U.S. diplomatic presence like Iran or North Korea, though the Swiss often will help out) to see to their welfare and try and maintain communications with home, the U.S. government will generally not get involved with your innocence or guilt, and will not make representations to the host government to free you. Most of us have seen Midnight Express and The Hangover. In the case of Russia, the U.S. specifically warns people like Stephanie Griner “do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, and the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia.”

    Worse yet, it looks like Griner did really have that illegal substance in her possession. She just pleaded guilty in front of a Russian court. In almost every such instance she’d be on her own, but for one exception: the recent declaration by the United States that Griner is somehow “wrongly detained.”

    The wrongfully detained category grew out of a realization that a small percentage of Americans arrested abroad were indeed political prisoners, arrested abroad under a country’s (unjust) laws, or were being held beyond the normal sentence or conditions for political reasons. In other words, hostages. If a person is declared “wrongfully detained” by the U.S., the rules do a 180 and the full powers of the U.S. government are used to free you.

    Congress passed the “Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act,” named after the American missing in Iran for over 15 years. The 2020 law establishes 11 criteria for a wrongful detention designation, any one of which can be a sufficient basis to secure the detainee’s release, including “credible information indicating innocence of the detained individual,” “credible reports the detention is a pretext for an illegitimate purpose,” “the individual is being detained solely or substantially to influence United States Government policy or to secure economic or political concessions from the United States Government,” or a conclusion that U.S. “diplomatic engagement is likely necessary.” Secretary of State Blinken must personally approve such a designation, and transfer responsibility for the case from the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (disclosure: where I worked for 22 years) to the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

    What is next for Griner now that she has been declared wrongfully detained? Depending on the political goals of the Russians, her guilty plea may suffice. A Russian court will impose a fine or jail sentence to be waived, and Griner can be on her way home. This is most common when the American has harmed a host country national and some public “justice” needs to be seen being done. A similar outcome often arises out of humanitarian needs, where Griner is declared in need of medical care not available in Russia and the country sends her home as an act of good will.

    But given the politics of Griner’s arrest, a very likely outcome will be a prisoner exchange. The Russians are interested in the release of Viktor Bout, sentenced to 25 years in an American prison for trying to sell heavy weapons to Colombian terrorists. This would track with diplomacy just this April that lead to the exchange of Trevor Reed, a former Marine who had been held for more than two years over a bar fight, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for drug smuggling. Reed’s health was cited as the motivator for the swap. One problem stands in the way of Griner’s release: it would be domestically politically difficult for the U.S. to again leave behind Paul Whelan, another former Marine, arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison, for Griner.

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  • Feeling Bad for Cassidy Hutchinson

    July 12, 2022 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    I feel bad for Cassidy Hutchinson, the young woman who testified recently in front of the January 6 Committee. She seems unaware she violated the six basic rules of being a staff aide. She doesn’t even know her career is over at a time when she thinks her efforts will be kickstarting her into fame. Someone should put her in touch with Monica Lewinski.

    To understand Cassie’s failure requires one understands the Washington DC ecology. There are the top-level predators, like Trump, and Meadows, his chief of staff, and there are those funny little birds that live off the big guys’ droppings. That would be the staff aides like Cassie. Now there is honor in all work, even if it consists of picking seeds out of droppings — somebody has to do it for the system as a whole to thrive. So Rule 1 of being a staff aide is knowing your place, followed quickly by Rule 2, never forget you will not be staff aide forever.

    The little bird that sits above the rhino’s tail seems important and in a way, is. She keeps the rhino happy and in good humor. Often times other animals find it easier to approach the bird before the rhino, to check he’s in a good mood, has been eating well, stuff the bird knows not because she is important per se but because she sits near the rhino’s butt. Cultivating a good relationship with the bird means better access. Staff aides are like that; they sit in the front office and respond to important people asking things like “Boss in a good mood today?” or “What did he think of my memo?” The aide is a proxy for the big guy. But the aide is not the big guy. She should not forget that.

    A healthy does of “only when spoken to” helps a lot, too. Cassie never “spent time with President Trump.” She attended events as background filler, endless signing ceremonies, celebrations, and presidential announcements, and “frequently watched Marine One depart the South Lawn from my office window.” Just being places is a key staff aide task.

    When they are not serving as a benign, approachable proxy for the big guy, staff aides do a lot of “coordinating.” Spend an hour in any office in DC and you’ll hear that word a half dozen times. Big guys are too important for details, and staff aides are too young to know them. So, for example, Mark Meadows as chief of staff talks to the president, who says “I wanna go to Chili’s for lunch.” Meadows knows that means Secret Service and a motorcade, press, maybe rearranging the afternoon’s Boy Scout meet and greet (all together, a movement, we’re back to those birds) but has no interest in making lots of phone calls as the more calls he personally makes the less powerful he seems. So he asks his staff aide to “coordinate” the movement and she, invoking his name like a hacking cough in a four-pack a day smoker, calls the movement people and says the president wants to go to Chili’s. Actually, she says “Our office needs the president at Chili’s pronto.”

    If the aide is good at her job, she is composed when the boss is stressed, smooth when he is rough, sugar-coated when he is cursing. This is because of Rules 1 and 2: she is not the boss and soon enough won’t be the staff aide anymore and everyone below her (for now) on the food chain will remember whether she was rude, pushy, and power hungry.

    It can be hard to do; I was an ambassador’s staff aide for a year. Many times in a raised voice the ambassador would say “Why hasn’t Jones finished that memo [you told him to write on the ambassador’s behalf]?” followed by me after a deep breath phoning Jones to casually ask how it was going. If I said something like “You know, the ambassador is anxious about that memo” I better have said it nicely because Jones outranked me by three steps and in a few months I might be a wage slave in his shop and he Would Remember. Rule 2.

    Poor Cassie’s career to staff aide-date consisted of a couple of government internships out of her small Virginia public college, where she no doubt got ground down by someone’s staff aide. That aide forgot Rule 3, low levels you chew on when you’re staff aide can get promoted past you and they Will Remember you.

    I got fooled twice as staff aide. Once was to drop a contrarian memo on the ambassador’s desk without the writer’s boss having seen it, and the second to serve as a conduit of what I thought was staff intel but instead was just backstabbing gossip. In both instances I was on the wrong side of Rule 4, don’t get used by senior people. Always remember (Rules 1 and 2) you are disposable. That brings us to Cassie and January 6.

    Trump’s movement away from his January 6 speech venue went bad; Trump wanted to go to the Capitol but this Secret Service detail felt it was unsafe and in a rare gesture, overruled him. Trump was upset and took it out on the two guys in charge, Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel. Back at the office the guys dutifully recounted what happened, with Cassie all ears (Rule 5: as staff aide you’re not well-briefed enough to overhear things and make sense of them.) She heard what may in fact been a bit of macho exaggeration by the guys, Trump grabbing the steering wheel and all, perhaps a bit of bravado as everyone was cooling down. Cassie misunderstood what she heard (Rule 6, it happens), setting the story in The Beast, the massive armored stretch Cadillac limo that is the official presidential ride when whatever happened happened in a Secret Service SUV per video records. A Secret Service agent would never misremember an SUV for The Beast but a former intern would.

    When the January 6 Committee came ’round, Cassie thought she had a tale to tell, Trump out of control in the vehicle and later, throwing his lunch during a tantrum, his ketchup dripping down the wallpaper. The thing is Cassie did not see either happen. She was repeating a Secret Service war story in the first instance and imaging the details in the second (she actually saw the ketchup dripping but not the throw.) Any first year law student will know those are examples of hearsay, second hand information, and immediately dismissible as evidence. It makes sense; why rely on someone’s second-hand remembrance when you can get the actual first-hand witness to testify? In this case, the Secret Service is apparently ready to call Cassie a liar; Trump already did.

    Cassie thought this was her big break, the intern made staff aide who was going to change history. Never mind that she must have come across the definition of hearsay somewhere in her education, never mind that steering wheel grabbing and plate throwing are neither criminal nor impeachable offenses. She was like the bird claiming from her perch on the rhino’s backside he ate too many berries for lunch, or at least she’d heard that from the insect who lives in the rhino’s mouth. She broke all the rules for her few minutes on TV, allowing herself to be used by a Committee who knew damn well she had not witnessed anything  and swearing “under oath” to the truth of something you don’t know first-hand is impossible.

    And that leaves Cassie in violation of another rule, one most people learn on the playground: nobody likes a snitch. Nobody likes one who thinks she is ratting out her boss’ boss, nobody like one who disgraces the Office of the President. Anyone check in on how Monica Lewinski’s career in Washington went? After a quick round on Late Night, Cassie will disappear from DC-land. You don’t violate the rules of being a staff aide without consequence, after all.

     

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  • Abortion, Propaganda, and Cynicism

    July 11, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    A doctor in Ohio decided to become an abortion propagandist, assisted by journalists who decided to become abortion propagandists.

    You must have seen the horrific story, reported out of Ohio. A ten-year-old child became pregnant through sexual abuse. Under the new post-Roe abortion laws she is ineligible for a termination because she was found to be six weeks and three days pregnant. The unnamed doctor called a named abortionist in next-door Indiana where abortions can currently be performed past six weeks and began the process of arranging the abortion. Someone took the story to the press, where it quickly became a front-page Handmaidens Tale-level news item, the near-perfect example of everything wrong with overturning Roe v. Wade. Almost too good (too evil?) to be true.

    The victim was very young, below the average age of menses. She was pregnant via child abuse, the act itself horrific, with suggestions in the press the attacker was a relative. Ohio had just revised its laws following Dobbs (a month earlier and none of this would have been national news) and the kicker, the girl was six weeks and three days pregnant via abuse, just that 72 hours past Ohio’s deadline, all at obviously no fault of her own. Her only hope was an out-of-state abortion in next-door Indiana before it changed its own laws.

    No current technology can calculate pregnancy to the day. Instead a standard estimate is used, calculated from the first day of the person‘s last period. The key term here is estimate; only a tiny percentage of babies (about four percent) are born on the exact due date calculated off that last period, assuming a ten-year-old abuse victim would know the first day of her last period precisely. The articles about the child don’t mention it, but the period date is usually adjusted by an ultrasound scan, where another estimate is made, based on the size of the fetus, with practice being if the two “due dates” differ by a week or more, the scan is taken as the more accurate measure.

    The critical point is no one in the world could say that child was exactly three days past Ohio’s six week abortion deadline. The original doctor, sympathetic, could have easily consulted an ultrasound and come to the conclusion that she was instead five weeks and four days pregnant, for example, and eligible for an abortion. Ohio allows a complex exception for abortions even now when the mother’s life is in danger, clearly an option given the unlikelihood that a ten-year-old body would be able to successfully mature and birth a baby without injuring severely the child-mother.

    The broader point is none of this was discussed in the articles pointing out the horror Ohio was visiting on an abuse victim. None of the media asked the original doctor why he did not see the fetus as less than six weeks old, or why he did not seek to invoke the exception for a mother’s life at stake. Instead, he and the abortionist in Indiana worked hand-in-hand with the media to shape the narrative as ammunition pro-choice advocates would be able to use. It was all too perfect.

    Newly-restored to Twitter, I voiced some of these ideas. The story was obvious propaganda, albeit apparently true on its basic facts if not fudged on its presentation and omissions. As propaganda it seemed worth talking about. But in America we can’t talk about abortion it seems.

    The first wave of comments from anonymous women (I am unsure enough of  the mechanics of Twitter to not know how non-followers ended up seeing my Tweets) included some personal insults but were more in line with claiming I wanted to make the story about me (for having a questioning opinion as a man) and not about the “woman.” These were followed by many more anonymous women criticizing me as a male for not knowing much about women’s bodies because I asked some pointed questions about how much faith the doctor in question put in judging the pregnancy at six weeks and three days. Could someone really make a life-or-death decision for one of his patients based when a period had occurred? Someone whose bio says she is a doctor and activist seemed to lead the charges against me, calling me a whiner for wondering why this anger was directed at me and not maybe at some people in Ohio. And why was it impossible to find out anything about the attacker, such as if he was in jail?

    In the end I was told to “Just tweet, ‘I’m a twatwaffle who doesn’t know anything about women’ and save us all some time” and that seemingly ended the discussion.

    The Ohio case has become a test for politicians forced to show they are sensitive to the needs of women and girls in the face of growing restrictions on abortion. Republican governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, mentioned as a potential running mate for Donald Trump, was pressed on the Ohio case on CNN, though no mention was made that South Dakota, like Ohio, allows abortions when a mother’s life is in danger. Instead the situation was visioned as “child rapist gets away with horror because abortion laws are too restrictive.” Noem replied: “I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy. There’s more that we have got to do to make sure that we really are living a life that says every life is precious, especially innocent lives that have been shattered, like that 10-year-old girl,” she said.

    It is a gross coincidence this playbook has been run before. In May 2019 as Ohio was considering its fetal heartbeat law, the press came up with an 11-year-old girl has been raped and impregnated by a 26-year-old man who had sex with her on multiple occasions as someone who might be forced to carry to term by the new law. The heartbeat law passed anyway.

    And by no small accident the Indiana General Assembly will convene in special session later in July to discuss what restrictions to abortion policy it will implement post-Roe as Indiana law did not immediately change when the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision. The state currently allows for abortions in the case of rape or incest. One wonder on the effect propaganda will have on all that, with the insertion of an already victimized 10-year-old into that process. Was the timing of the Ohio-referred-to-Indiana case really that cynical?

    Thinking to go on Twitter and call me cynical? Remember I’m not the one exploiting an already abused child for political purposes of getting my state to include a rape and incest exception, just writing about 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.

  • What If Biden Gave a War and Nobody Came?

    July 11, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    What if Joe Biden gave a war and no one came? Such is the case in Ukraine where slogging Russian progress is unmatched by Biden’s and Biden’s alone belief a struggle for global hegemony is at stake, and that he is fighting his war at little cost. Here’s the war at about four months in, as Joe announces a new aid package of $1.2 billion atop his previous $40 billion “lend-lease.”

    Given that core NATO raises a quiet glass every night that it does not have to be militarily involved in the fight for the Donbas and Crimea (the latter invoking 19th century memories of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, as the area was last seriously contested between east and west when the British fought the Russians there, the Charge over the disposal of abandoned Turkish cannon) Joe Biden stands nearly alone thinking he is leading the west in some sort of epic struggle. In that the west does not have troops in the field, the western war is being fought with arms supplies and sanctions, both of which are failing and leave Biden exposed, one day to awake to find himself the Emperor of Donbas without any clothes.

    Rumors of the death of the Russian military have been greatly exaggerated, literally: Ukraine has claimed kill rates for men and machines in weeks what are produced over months and years (two decades in the case of U.S.-Afghanistan) elsewhere. Despite the sexy time women snipers and Ghost of the Ukraine, it has been massive arms shipments primarily from the U.S. which have limited Russian gains largely to the eastern part of the country.

    The biggest problem with trying to win simply via outspending the other guy is artillery and anti-tank missiles do not hold ground, infantry does. A brave Ukrainian taking on a T-72 may stop the tank (until another comes along) but he cannot retake a village or hold ground against a combined arms offensive. In short the flow of U.S. defensive-style weapons has done its job, doing exactly what it was intended to, blunt an offensive. The problem is there seems little plan for after that and so in areas like Donbas where Russia enjoys local support, or areas like around Mariupol where is it willing to employ a scorched earth policy, the Ukrainians are predictably losing and will continue to do so.

    There are other problems with trying to win simply with arms sales. One is finding a way to train Ukrainians not familiar with modern weaponry in a way that is fast and effective enough to make a difference on the battlefield while not escalating the fighting overall. The usual method, either bringing foreign personnel to the U.S. or using American Special Forces trainers on the ground, both would dramatically escalate the war and give Russia the excuse to begin killing Americans. The American “volunteers” on the ground now are only going to fool some people for some time before it is obvious the U.S. has had to become deeply involved in the actual fight.

    A secondary problem with dropping so many arms higgledy-piggledy into a fluid situation like Ukraine is blowback, always a great fear during the CIA-Russian war in Afghanistan. What would terrorists in the Middle East pay for a shoulder fired anti-anticraft missile? How many sophisticated anti-tank weapons (the pop-up capability that allows the missiles to strike down on a tank’s weaker top armor is highly classified) are the Chinese interested in? “While the response to provide more weapons to Ukraine is understandable, it would be prudent to consider the immediate and long-term security implications,” said one think tank. “We’ve seen time and time again how arms aimed at aiding an ally in one conflict have found their way to the frontlines of unforeseen battlefields, often in the hands of groups at odds with U.S. interests or those of civilians.” Ukraine has a very poor record in this regards; in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union the country lost track of $32 billion in weapons and sold China its first aircraft carrier.

    Supply is also an issue. America has currently sent about one third of its entire Javelin anti-tank missile inventory to Ukraine along with 50 million rounds of conventional ammunition, extraordinary quantities which strain production capability. Lastly, there remains concern over Russian reaction should American-made artillery rounds begin falling inside the Russian border. The recently shipped 155mm howitzers are seen by many as the first truly offensive weapon the U.S. introduced into the conflict. For Joe Biden what seems like a risk-free no brainer — send more weapons — actually carries with it considerable risk no one seems to be thinking about.

    But it was sanctions which were to have won the battle, forcing Russia to withdraw at the risk of her economy collapsing, perhaps along with Putin’s own regime. The problem is that not only has that not happened, U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume in reaction to American sanctions, surging prices driven by supply shortages have more than canceled out the effects. Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. Simple supply and demand.

    Demand remains the thing thwarting Biden’s charge into the guns. France and Germany in particular have evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced natural gas imports from Russia 23 percent in the first  days of the invasion. Meanwhile Russia’s Gazprom has seen its income levels double year-over-year, thanks to higher prices. The EU also reduced its direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and the United Arab Emirates, that has lead to no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, albeit more for domestic use and not re-export into the global market, as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude.

    Russia has shown it can also play offense, cutting natural gas flow to western Europe by 60 percent blaming technical difficulties. Germany correctly understood the latest curtailment in its gas supply as a political move. “Russia’s reason for reducing gas supplies is just a pretext,” the German Vice-Chancellor said. “Their strategy is obviously to drive up prices.” Poor Joe can’t catch a break it seems. May be it is time to seize another megayacht to show Putin who is boss?

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU and Japan talk a great game but are hamstrung by their own energy needs. Next month Joe Biden travels to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN, such as it is, saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution.  The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. India re-exports Russian oil. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. China won’t step in. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. Or could it be those other nations have seen so little benefit from that order they are not sorry if they see it pass?

    Bottom line: Russian energy exports, which make up some 45 percent of the country’s budget, are stronger than ever. Russia has more money than ever to finance its war in Ukraine, and Putin is as secure in his post as ever before. The irony is with gas hitting $5.00 a gallon across the U.S., the sanctions driving that may indeed bring about regime change, albeit in Biden’s next Congress.

     

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

  • Five Important Things About the Abortion Decision

    July 6, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    — Abortion rights are guaranteed by the Constitution.

    In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down a judicially creative interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in the case Roe v. Wade to claim abortion was like other privacy-based rights (such as the right to contraception, right to same-sex marriage, right to adult sexual acts with consenting partner, and right to interracial marriage); that is, unenumerated rights, rights inherent in the Constitution but not listed by name like the right to free speech and the right to bear arms.

    — So that’s it. The current decision is illegitimate. Abortion is constitutional!

    The Supreme Court in its decisions creates precedents, meaning judgement they’re supposed to follow in the future. That’s the doctrine of stare decisis. But the Court is also allowed to revisit itself and overturn what it felt was a bad decision. Some of these are famous, for example, Plessy v. Ferguson, which said separate but equal was the law of the land, leading to black kids going to one school and white kids going to another supposedly equal school. Plessy held stare decisis for nearly 60 years, until the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1953 overturned it. Like Roe, society was structured around Plessy and decisions were made keeping with it, until it was no longer the law of the land. Today almost everyone sees Plessy as something that discriminated against blacks, but that does not change the principle, just how we feel. Bottom line: respect for precedent does not preclude the Supreme Court from overturning its past rulings, even if that means big changes like societal desegregation.

    — I’m still stuck on how the 14th Amendment could say something to one group of justices, but not to another group of justices.

    Because the Constitution was written mostly in the 18th century, a lot could not be anticipated by the Founders. So the Supreme Court exists to interpret the meaning as one of its jobs. The 14A was ratified in 1868 and extended civil and legal rights to everyone, specifically formerly enslaved blacks, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, ensured rights to those in states where discriminatory laws were in place, and said the right to due process of law and equal protection of the law applied at both the federal and state levels of government. The 14A says “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    The Court found in 1965 in that text the right to privacy, specifically the right of married couples to get contraceptive advice from their doctor. The Court said that even though the Constitution did not explicitly lay out a right to privacy, “We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights, older than our political parties, older than our school system,” so it there without needing to be written out like with free speech or bearing arms. This is where the 2022 Dobbs decision draws its line “the inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions.”

    Then in 1973 amid a national debate over abortion, the Court found a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy. At the same time it also acknowledged the state’s interest in protecting the “potential of human life” and so Roe’s trimester-based system for abortion restriction was created. As with same-sex marriage, since the right was in the Constitution, America needed a Federal-level decision on how that would be broadly carried out, with a compromise of leaving room for states’ interpretation.

    In 1992, the trimester system was reviewed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The justices reaffirmed a woman’s right to abortion but gave states more leeway in regulating it as long as the states did not create an “undue burden.” For example, some states legally implemented a 72-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling

    In 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson the Court changed its mind. It said abortion was not a Constitutional right, and thus the Constitution does not prevent state legislatures from banning abortion. Since abortion is not a Constitutional issue, they concluded, and because the issue is contentious, it requires states’ debate and create their own laws.

    — So can’t the Court now go back and do away with our rights to contraception, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, deciding variously that those are not unenumerated rights?

    Technically yes, in reality hardly likely. While Justice Thomas wrote separately that other “substantive precedents” decided by the Court should be re-examined, no other justice agreed. More importantly, Justice Alito, who wrote the 2022 opinion, specifically cited those rights and said the instant decision had nothing to do with them. Among other reasons, abortion stands alone in that the government has an interest in protecting the “potential of human life.” And even Justice Thomas did not place interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia) on the chopping block, even though it has many of the same judicial roots as the other unenumerated rights. Justice Alito wrote plainly “None of the other decisions cited by Roe and Casey involved the critical moral question posed by abortion. They are therefore inapposite. They do not support the right to obtain an abortion, and by the same token, our conclusion that the Constitution does not confer such a right does not undermine them in any way.” That would make citing Dobbs as precedent to overturn say same-sex marriage nearly impossible.

    — So blah-blah, bottom line is the Supreme Court says women cannot have abortions.

    The Court did not make abortion illegal. Instead, the Court said abortion (already regulated by Roe’s trimester system) would instead be regulated by each state individually. This is to acknowledge the lack of consensus in America on what is morally right. Seven states, for example, have no plans to change their laws and allow for up to third trimester abortions, among the most liberal globally. These include populous states like California and New York with huge metro areas, so that a majority of women will live in states where surgical abortion is accessible (the majority of abortions even pre-Dobbs took place in Blue states.) Other states, such as Mississippi, which pre-Dobbs had only one abortion clinic, have made the procedure illegal though at little overall change. Some 13 states will make abortion illegal, and the change to women in those areas who cannot travel may be more significant. The point is for each state to consider what is right for itself.

    Potential harm to women will be mitigated by “abortion pills,” which did not exist in 1973 and will help eliminate so-called coat hanger abortions (there is no case in America of a woman being prosecuted for seeking an abortion since 1922.) Even before the recent decision, over 42 percent of abortions were “medical abortions,” by pill. While there is no way to downplay the significance of Dobbs, it does not create a black or white landscape for reproductive rights its critics try and paint.

     

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

  • Mercs on the Run, or, the GWOT Chickens Come Home to Roost

    July 5, 2022 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh are two former American military members now in Russian custody, captured by the Russians in Ukraine, where they were fighting for the Ukrainian government. What is going to happen to them?

    The most likely thing is that both men will eventually be released, traded to the U.S. in return for captured Russians. Prisoners are very valuable, and rarely wasted in executions unless those carry much more value than the prisoners held by the other side. The deal may be public or secret, and the U.S. will expect to pay a premium. Israel usually releases 10 or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one of its captured troops. The problem for Drueke and Huynh is that the Russians will be in no hurry to make the exchange, knowing under the glare of American media the longer the “crisis” goes on the more desperate Biden will be to make a deal (much of the same can be said for Brittney Griner, the WNBA All-Star who clearly was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong vape.)

    A caveat: all bets are off if either Drueke and Huynh have any connection to the U.S. government other than former military, say as members of a CIA paramilitary group. You can assume most of their interrogation is aimed at that question.

    Beyond that simple reality, what happens with Drueke and Huynh is extremely complicated. Much will be said about their status, whether they were volunteers (legal combatants) or mercenaries. A lot will be said about the rules of war, international law, the Geneva Conventions (treaties on the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war) and the like, without saying the obvious: there is no such thing as international law per se, a body of agreed upon rules subject to fair enforcement. Instead, much of what passes as “justice” in wartime is very much a victor’s justice, meted out for political purposes after one side wins enough to dictate what is a crime and what is a valid example of warfare.

    The wanton murder of civilians is generally a violation of rules of war, yet civilians are killed in every conflict. For example, in Ukraine at present of a 21-year-old Russian soldier Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin was recently sentenced to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old unarmed civilian four days into the invasion. Yet the issue scales poorly. The United States killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Hiroshima in a most horrible way, yet the action was seen as a brilliant strategy not a crime. What in fact constitutes a “crime against humanity” or “attempted genocide” very much depends on who won the war and what they have to say about things. Even when the victor is clear, as in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, there are no host country trials if that victor lacks the ability to enforce his will. Fearful its soldiers might be convicted of “political” war crimes during the War on Terror, in 2002 the U.S. withdrew from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.

    In the case of Drueke and Huynh it may be useful politically for the Russians to hold trials, as a counter to those underway or planned in Ukraine (Attorney General Merrick Garland visited Ukraine on Tuesday to meet with the country’s prosecutor general to discuss ways to “identify, apprehend and prosecute those individuals involved in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.”) Labeling Drueke and Huynh as mercenaries — soldiers of fortune who went into combat on behalf of a third party for the money — is as simple as Russia doing so. The men appear to have been paid something by Ukraine, and they were in fact in the country specifically to kill Russians. The U.S. will argue but is in no position to enforce the idea they are lawful combatants, soldiers, as the rules of war kind of expect soldiers to be there for killing and it is seen as less a crime than a job duty.

    We’ve already seen a likely preview of what’s ahead for Drueke and Huynh. Two British men were recently sentenced to death in a Russian proxy court for fighting for Ukraine. Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin were charged with “terrorism” in a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The British case suggests the likelihood of some sort of show trial for the two Americans is high. Putin maintains the Ukraine war is really about Russia being threatened by NATO. Western prisoners, especially American former military prisoners, plays into that narrative; Drueke and Huynh in his view are living examples Ukraine is a proxy war against Russia.

    But as with the tussle over nomenclature, soldier or merc, the real problem for Drueke and Huynh is essentially there is no law or even established practice governing mercenaries, guns for hire or “volunteers” and recent examples are all unfavorable to their speedy and safe release.

    There are few rules when dealing with mercs’ war crimes, as learned during the Nisour Square incident in Baghdad. On September 16, 2007, employees of the Blackwater Security Consulting private security firm opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad under unclear conditions. The Iraqi government eventually found Blackwater killed 17 civilians. At the time, Blackwater had a $1 billion contract with the United States government to provide security services; there were 1,000 Blackwater security guards in Iraq on the day of the massacre. Four Blackwater staff were eventually charged and brought to a civilian trial inside the U.S. seven years after the killings and found guilty of offenses from first degree murder to firearms violations. No matter; in December of 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned the four Blackwater guards in a similar fashion to President Richard Nixon’s pardoning of Lieutenant William Calley, known for his role in the My Lai massacre.

    The other thing which bodes ill for Drueke and Huynh is America’s own example set during the years of the War on Terrorism. In one case, a western man caught fighting for the enemy in Afghanistan (John Walker Lindh, “The American Taliban”) was mistreated from his moment of capture, denied basic rights, taken off the battlefield, and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.

    The other example is America’s willingness to classify captured al Qaeda members as “noncombatants,” i.e., not soldiers in the War but terrorists, and use that made up category to allow everything from kidnappings and unlawful detentions (known then as extraordinary renditions) to the creation of an off-shore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where said noncombatants were to either given show trials or simply tortured into insanity and indefinite detention. It would be bitter, bitter fruit for the Russians to cite either example in their treatment of Drueke and Huynh.

     

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  • Biden at 500 Days

    July 1, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    The Joe Biden administration at about 500 days in office tests the limits of those who claimed 501 days ago “anybody” would be better than Trump. With the threat of nuclear war now well alive, Biden presides over the highest gas prices, the worst inflation, and the saddest stock market in lifetimes. It is not morning in American as much as late Sunday afternoon and raining.

    Start with the record breaking vacation time. It became a meme during the Trump years to criticize him for weekends at Mar-a-Lago, and to point out how much the Secret Service paid him for their accommodations. Yet as he marks Day 500, Biden is preparing for another weekend scram, on track to take more vacation than any other of his predecessors. So far since taking office Biden spent 191 days away from the White House vacationing in either of his two Delaware properties, at Camp David or on Nantucket. Trump spent 381 days on vacay but over four years. Go Joe!

    And as for those Secret Service room bills, they pay them for every president, as the Service is prohibited from accepting “gifts,” even the free accommodations necessary to protect the president. At Biden’s home in Delaware he charges the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property. He made $66,000 in total off the Service in 2013; contemporary figures are not available but they tally up, just like Trump and the others. Hillary bought a second house in upstate New York just for the Secret Service anticipating her victory in 2016.

    But what of the time Joe Biden has spent in the office, how have the 500 days gone so far? Biden succeeded primarily in engineering a new form of war in Ukraine, not quite Cold and not quite Hot. Not Cold as in 1945-1989, because American Special Forces may soon be on the ground in Kiev and American ships in the Black Sea, and Ukrainians have boasted how American intelligence and targeting information have killed Russian ships, tanks, and generals. With no regard to what leakage into the global black arms market might mean, Biden is sending billions of top-notch weapons into the nation with the avowed aim of bleeding out Russia. When something like this was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S. had the common courtesy to do it through the CIA and keep at least some of it secret. No more. Vladimir Putin, in return, has reminded the world several times he has nuclear weapons he is not all that opposed to using. Joe Biden has succeeded where presidents since 1989 have failed — he sends Americans to bed at night worrying about nuclear holocaust. And that is his greatest foreign policy accomplishment absent the clusterfutz evacuation from Afghanistan and a soon-to-really-happen trip to forgive the Saudis for their sins and become the first president since the 1970s to overtly beg for more oil.

    (For the record Trump was the only president in some 20 years who did not start a new war during his term, and the only one in that same rough time period who made an effort to seek peace with North Korea, a country Joe Biden continues to ignore as official policy. When asked in Seoul if he had a message for Kim Jong Un, Diplomat-in-Chief Biden said “Hello. Period.”)

    In other Leader of the Free World accomplishments, Biden’s actual leadership was shown when Mexico snubbed him, refusing to attend the Summit of the Americas because Biden would not also invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, all Cold War hissy fits Joe is keeping alive for a new millennium. “There cannot be a summit if all countries are not invited,” Mexico’s president said at a press conference. “Or there can be one but that is to continue with all politics of interventionism.” It really is 1980 again! Additional leadership has been shown in Europe, where Germany and France agreed to U.S. demands to stop buying Russian energy but just not for a couple more months, okay? To make it look like something is being leadered around they have stopped buying energy delivered by ship as a face saving gesture, just as they keep lapping up the massive pipeline delivered materials. But Biden did travel twice to Europe and declared “America is back,” so there’s that.

    As for domestic achievements, everyone in America knows about Joe’s gas pains, which he disingenuously claims like a hubby caught with lipstick on his collar are not his fault. Biden apparently sees no connection between his sanctions against Russian energy (which seek to remove significant amounts of oil from the world markets) cutting supply at a time when demand is rising, and inflationary prices. The good news is the sanctions on Russia, well, no, it is not good news, Russia is still fighting away in the Ukraine which means the sanctions have so far failed in their primary function. Biden will give them more time apparently, as the U.S. is not seeking negotiations to otherwise curtail or end the fight.

    Biden further sees no connection between his failure to anticipate a baby formula crisis and hungry children. A smarter Biden would have one of his interns sit down with The Google today and make a list of everything that is affected by supply and demand, and of those things, jot down which are only made in a single factory. That accomplishment alone would eclipse the rest of Biden’s domestic agenda, which consists today entirely of pretending historic inflation is Putin’s fault.

    Of course that last line is not fair, as Joe did finally pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill which in no way could have helped contribute to inflation by dumping all that money into an economy still chasing goods scarce from those naughty supply chain issues. Then there was that $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill (less than half of American approve of Biden’s Covid handling) now that everyone feels better which in no way could have helped contribute to inflation by dumping all that money into an economy still chasing goods scarce from those naughty supply chain issues. Plus wages are up, pouring more money into an already inflationary economy.

    The media actually listed Joe’s Biggest Achievements for us in case they were hard to pick out, to include appointing a boatload of judges, 80 percent of whom are women and 53 percent are people of color (“judges that reflect our nation”) which in no way reflect our nation and in no way is racist because you obviously fight back against racism and gender inequality by promoting people based on race and gender. Biden also strategically secured America by overturning the Trump ban on transgender people in the military. In fact, the White House brags it has the first majority non-white Cabinet in history, with most women in the Cabinet, including first woman Treasury Secretary, first LGBTQ and Native American Cabinet officials, and first woman Director of National Intelligence as if someone was giving out prizes for those things.

    But it is always best to go to the source, the White House itself with its own list of “record firsts” in Joe’s presidency. You can read them yourself, but you’ll run into the same problem everyone else does — it is all boasting with no links, sources or details attached. So we hear Joe was “most significant by economic impact of any first-year president” but with nothing more. Um, okay. A lot of the rest of the stuff, unemployment and child poverty, got better by the numbers but there is not a word about how anything Joe did caused those things. It is kinda like taking credit for a comet on your watch, especially given how much “not our fault” garbage is being tossed around when someone brings up inflation or fuel prices.

    As for Democratic issues of importance like gun control, abortion rights, and climate change, the home town stuff, Biden rates a zero. The EPA continues to recommend Flint, Michigan residents use filters in their homes to remove lead. Joe has driven home the idea that unless a president has a super majority in both houses and now, the Supreme Court, you better not expect much from him. Indeed in Biden’s case he can’t even wrangle his own party, with two key Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, stymieing Joe. Biden for his part predicted Republicans would have an “epiphany” after Trump left office, but that has not yet materialized. The expected Democratic midterm loss currently scheduled for November 2022 will not help. And we haven’t even talked about Biden’s Dead Man Walking lifestyle and walk-it-back gaffes.

    So it has only been 500 days, plenty of time left. But to date the Biden administration has strained those statements about how anyone but Trump would be a better president.

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  • Alienation, Masculinity, and Mass Shootings

    June 29, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    There’s a well-done, nasty piece of filmmaking available on Hulu right now called Pistol, ostensibly a Sex Pistols biopic but so much more. The series is only partially about the Pistols themselves and more about the world of post-war Britain which formed them. It seems to suggest all that anger and despair was going to have to come out somewhere, either repressed and hidden, crunched deep down inside like the faceless masses of people, or allowed to lance out as “music,” more screaming than lyrical. I wonder if America is not somewhere similar in evolution itself.

    Post-war Britain was a terrible place to grow up it seems for a boy, his role models limited to the broken men who survived World War II (sharply portrayed in Pink Floyd’s The Wall) or the feminized male left overs from the immediate after war years, near-satirized if it wasn’t true by The Who in large portions of their work, including the step-dad in Tommy and most pointedly, Quadrophenia. No wonder the most masculine role model of the era was a woman named Margaret Thatcher with her hen-pecked, besweatered hubby in tow.

    Pistol on Hulu does the time period justice, showing one Pistol as the victim of a sexually abusive step father (his “real” dad having run off) and a groupie, herself the forced plaything of a broken hospital orderly who drives her to insanity. Self-hate is expressed with torn clothing and garish hair styles. It is a bleak world so when Johnny Rotten sings of no future and anarchy in the UK you have no choice but to agree with him. Of course the songs only have three chords, that’s about the limit you can finger out without lessons and anything more would be making music not screaming for help. Screaming feels better.

    Far from “rainbow friendly” and coming as it does during Pride Month, Pistol is an odd thing. My thoughts on Pride Month were shaped by a gay boss, now deceased. He joined the Federal workforce in an era when being found out meant instead termination. Even as standards began to relax he was forced to officially list his common-law spouse on visa paperwork as “domestic helper,” most foreign countries having a visa category for toilet cleaners and cooks but not for someone you have been in love with for ten years. On our regular security clearance updates my boss was forced to pretend to be straight, as while day-to-day standards had moved forward the bureaucracy clung on and standing up as a gay man still meant loss of the required security clearance.

    I wondered why he put up with it all; the job just was not worth it it seemed. But my boss explained there was no other way. He did not grow up in a world where men would march with men and every business from Disney to Doritos had something special to for Pride Month. His role models were either deeply closeted men, or actors like Liberace so self-parodying that society let them be at least a version of themselves. He was inside an angry man, my boss.

    So I approach Salvador Ramos with complex thoughts, not all of them harsh. His real dad had run off, and he was raised by a mother and grandmother leaving him with those same unclear role models for masculinity in that tiny Texas town. It’s ironic most don’t know Ramos by name, as infamous as he is. He was the Uvalde mass shooter. You know, mass shooter, ’bout a month ago? We don’t recognize his name because he never mattered; even now the details of his life are unimportant absent a near-generic statement was a “loner.” And just the way he wanted it, the only thing he is known for is shooting up that elementary school. He even bought himself the murder weapon as a self-birthday present on his 18th. Bet his mom got him a Kohl’s gift card if anything at all.

    When asking why we have so many male (nobody can name even one female mass shooter in a nation that experiences hundreds of mass shooting incidents each year) mass shooters the issue of masculinity and role models rarely comes up. But as punk emerged as angry, angry music from the lack of post-war role models in Britain, and my boss’ anger was suppressed alongside his sexuality, I wonder about modern America. Are we creating these shooters by the anti-masculine society we have created to raise boys? Does a lack of role models for proper masculinity drive disgruntled boys to create their own twisted visions of hyper-masculinity, complete with the clothes and guns not for sale at Kohl’s?

    Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology, and James Densley, a professor of criminal justice, profile mass shooters. They find early childhood trauma seems to be a foundation element. Then they see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, and self-loathing. They start asking themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. For some, that takes the form of a shooting, often followed by suicide in the ultimate act of self-hatred. Peterson concisely explains the predominance of male mass shooters: they have male mass shooter role models.

    There is little doubt our society devalues masculinity. Tabs are kept on the number of women elected and appointed, while white men are left off the carousel of lived experience that brings school board meetings and presidential debates to a screeching halt with the phrase “As a ____…” The handful of masculine role models (usually wrapped in race) are caricatures, hip hop artists hung with babes and sports stars similarly bejeweled. For every unshaven Pitt there is a soft-edged Clooney, for every Springsteen there are a dozen Harry Styles. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Replaced by Paul Lynde in center square.

    Society does not create mass shooters and punk bands as much as it creates the conditions of anxiety and defiance that can create mass shooters and punk bands. That’s why in our anti-masculine society we thank God only one shooter pops up among tens or hundreds of thousands of boys seeking a masculine role model and finding only another boy clad in black tactical gear. It seems the “solution” for our epidemic of mass shootings has to lie beyond the weapons. If Salvador Ramos had had only a hand gun, would we call it a victory if he’d only killed six people instead of 21? What you can do with a knife versus what you can do with a semi-automatic weapon is clear, but is our best solution just to challenge future mass shooters to be more creative in their use of fire, poison, and the like to achieve high kill rates as they search for identity amid anti-masculine idols?

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  • Was There a Coup Attempt on January 6?

    June 25, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Was there a coup attempt on January 6? To answer yes, there had to have been some realistic path by which some action on that day could have resulted in Donald Trump remaining president of the United States.

    Watching the show trial on television and the saturation coverage of the same across all media, you could just believe it might have been possible. The TV show is dedicated to convincing a lay audience they came “that close” to tossing away their democracy as some mechanism almost clicked into place to leave Trump in power. It would be easier to take the Dems much more seriously if they would just coolly and in detail outline just how Trump could have stayed in office without the military, who were clearly not taking a partisan stance on January 6. Absent that, you had political theatre and a riot, not a coup attempt. Think back to the 1960s and imagine how occupying the administration building on campus was going to stop the Vietnam War in its tracks. This is politically much ado about not much except Democratic Party 2024 election engineering.

    So here it is in a sentence: Democrats, take two minutes from your hate telethon and tell us how it would have worked. How was Trump going to stay in power?

    The answer is there is no answer, and that should end the matter. Anything that has zero pathway to success is not a coup attempt. To stage a coup you need tanks on the White House lawn, and America again instead transitioned peacefully from one administration to another. That, that hard reality, is what is wholly missing from the Democratic January 6 Committee hearings and all the frou-frou that accompanies them.

    Could Trump have used the Capitol riot to declare martial law and stayed in power? No. The president cannot use the military domestically in a way Congress does not agree with. The “web of laws” Congress enacted to govern the domestic activ­it­ies of the armed forces — includ­ing the Posse Comit­atus Act, which prohib­its the use of federal troops to execute the law without express congres­sional author­iz­a­tion — would stop Trump cold. Accord­ing to well-settled prin­ciples of consti­tu­tional practice, the pres­id­ent cannot act in a way Congress has forbid­den unless the Consti­tu­tion gives the pres­id­ent “conclus­ive and preclus­ive” power over the disputed issue. Martial law has been declared nine times since World War II and, in five instances, was designed to counter resistance to Federal desegregation decrees in the South. Although an uneasy climate of mutual aid has always existed between the military and civilian law enforcement, Department of Defense personnel are limited in what they can do to enforce civil law. They can’t extend a presidential term. So that business about putting tanks on the White House lawn? Somebody has already thought it through.

    The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the one stat­utory excep­tion to the Posse Comit­atus Act that does allow the pres­id­ent to deploy the milit­ary domest­ic­ally, but by precedent they can be used to suppress armed insur­rec­tions or to execute the laws when local or state author­it­ies are unable or unwill­ing to do so. Their role is limited and in no way puts the milit­ary “in charge” or suspends the normal func­tions and author­it­ies of Congress, state legis­latures, or the courts. More importantly, troops in the streets have nothing to do with what votes are already in the ballot boxes. Same for seizing voting machines or ballots; they were already counted by January 6. The president has no authority to simply “suspend” the Constitution.

    Anything Trump might have tried to do required the military to play along, something there is no evidence to support. Just the opposite. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley took a number of steps in the final days to ensure any dramatic orders out of the White House would be confirmed, checked, and likely delayed indefinitely.  While some of Milley’s concerns raise Constitutional issues of their own, particularly his right-to-the-edge-of-the-line actions to interfere with the nuclear chain of command, clearly Milley was in no way priming his forces to participate in any sort of coup.

    Lastly, it is critical to point out how deeply the idea of legal civilian control of the military, and the separation of powers, is drummed into America’s officer corps. Unlike many developing world situations, America has a professional officer corps well-removed from politics, and which sits atop an organization built from the ground up to respond to legal, civilian orders. Like a religion. If Trump had ordered the 82nd Airborne into the streets of Pittsburgh their officers would have most likely said no.

    With martial options well off the board, Trump’s coup would have needed to rely on some sort of legalistic maneuver exploiting America’s complex electoral system. The biggest issue is the 20th Amend­ment, which states unambiguously the pres­id­ent’s term ends after four years. If Trump some­how succeeded in prevent­ing Joe Biden from being inaug­ur­ated, he would still have ceased to be pres­id­ent at noon on Janu­ary 20, and Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, would have become pres­id­ent. There is no mechanism to stop that succession, ironic as it would have been.

    That said, the most quoted Trump plan ran something like this: “Somehow” even though the Electoral College had met on December 14 and decided Biden was to be president, Republican-friendly legislatures in places such as Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would “ignore” the popular vote in their states and appoint their own pro-Trump electors. The law (the 19th century “Electoral Count Act“) does allow legislatures to do this in some never-used extreme situation if states have failed to make a choice by the day the electoral college meets (no matter that date had passed by January 6.) Never mind the details; the idea was to introduce enough chaos into the system to force everyone in the whole of the United States to believe the only solution was to force the election two months after voting into the House where Vice President Pence himself would vote the tie and choose Trump for another term.

    In addition to every other problem with that scenario, Pence had no intention of doing any such thing. Trump maintained “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors” when in fact Pence’s January 6 role was entirely ceremonial, presiding over the House and Senate as they receive and certify the electoral votes conveyed by the states, and then announcing the outcome. Location did not matter; although the riots delayed the final announcement, which still occurred at the Capitol, there is nothing in the Constitution which requires the receipt and certification to take place there. Pence could have met with Congress at a Starbucks in Philadelphia and wrapped up business. Pence, in a 2022 speech, said “I had no right to overturn the election. Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

    To imagine a dystopian fiction where one state legislature blows past the vote to chose pro-Trump electors is difficult. To imagine several doing so simultaneously to gin up enough Trump electors, and then to imagine the Electoral College changing its mind, is beyond possibility. There was no indication Republicans in these important states considered going along with this anyway. Pennsylvania’s top state Repub indicated his party would follow the law and award electors to the winner of the popular vote. He stated the state legislature “does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.” Besides, the borderline states all had Democratic governors who would have refused to approve after-the-fact Trump electors.

    To be fair, such goofy schemes were also in the wind in 2016, when Trump was elected and many progressives were looking to little-known Electoral law for some sort of fail-safe. They failed, too. Despite the many claims about how close we came to democracy failing, in reality the complex system proved at least twice in recent years to be made of stiffer stuff.

    There were a few left-overs that were far-removed from January 6, specifically a very unclear plan to weaponize the Department of Justice to declare something, nearly anything, about the election invalid enough to provoke a Supreme Court fight. The details matter and did not really exist, plus the Constitution is very clear the election of the president is primarily a state matter and absent a good reason (as in 2000 where  the problem was one state and urgency begged) needs to be decided at that level. There was also the matter of Attorney General Bill Barr refusing to cooperate with Trump and resigning, followed by his successor refusing to cooperate, followed by threats by a whole raft of senior Justice Department officials threatening to resign. And for the record, there was no incitement by Trump. For all the talk of sedition and coup no charges will ever be filed.

    What is missing most of all from the Great January 6 Democratic Telethon is a statement the system worked. The Constitution held. Officials from Vice President Pence on down did their jobs and stood up for the democratic system. All the fear mongering, all the what-ifs Dems now hope will distract Americans from their own party’s failings at governing — war, inflation, gas prices, gun and crime violence, a growing despair — miss the most important point of all. In the end, no legal mech­an­ism was ever going to allow Trump to continue being pres­id­ent. There was no attempted coup.

    The real problem is the Dems can’t win in 2024 on what they have to offer. Most of their domestic agenda is shot. They have no clear plan for the economy. With all the efforts to prosecute Donald Trump for something (including January 6) having failed, their sole strategy is to make people believe Trump tried to overturn the last election, and having not succeeded, chose the odd path of re-embracing the electoral process. There is room to judge Trump’s actions. But that judgment must not come from a kangaroo court, if you want to talk about preserving the rule of law. We were never even close to losing our democracy. The system worked is the real message echoing from January 6.

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

  • Justice, Albeit Late, at Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery

    June 19, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    An African-American college student was arrested for shoplifting and a culture war erupted at Oberlin College, Ohio. He’s black now, the term African-American itself becoming offensive to some in the interim, and the war is mostly over. Ultra-liberal Oberlin lost after six years of legal wrangling. Oh, and the college owes $33 million in defamation damages to the surviving white people (two of the plaintiffs died of old age while the trial dragged on) who own a bakery it defamed over racial issues.

    It was 2016 and Donald Trump had just been elected president, defeating candidate Clinton. Everyone was certain Trump’s victory was the End of Democracy and was anxious to claim their victimhood in the New Order.

    Enter Oberlin College, arguably the most socially liberal school in America. Students protested the inauthenticity of food at the school’s Afrikan (sic) Heritage House and complained the cafeteria sushi and bánh mì were prepared with the wrong ingredients, making a mockery of cultures. There was scrutiny of the curriculum, and a student wanted trigger warnings on Antigone. African-American students wrote a letter to the school’s president with 50 non-negotiable demands for change in Oberlin’s admissions and personnel policies. And all that was seen — in 2016 — as a good thing. Such were the times.

    Then on November 9, 2016 (just the day after Donald Trump was elected), three black students from Oberlin College were arrested for attempting to steal wine from nearby Gibson’s Bakery. The shop was as much a part of the traditional Oberlin scene as the statues and college green. The white owner confronted one student, who ran from the store. Outside, the owner detained him, and while waiting for the police was attacked by two other black students. The students eventually entered guilty pleas, and were convicted. They read statements recanting allegations of racism against Gibson’s. Nothing connected the theft with Trump or racism except… racism.

    Upon hearing of the arrest Oberlin’s Student Senate immediately declared the incident a case of racial profiling, and without investigating passed a resolution calling for a boycott of the bakery. The college’s administration sent an email to students implying Gibson’s discriminated on the basis of race. Then-Oberlin Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo (she’s now vice president for student affairs at Oglethorpe University) handed out flyers supporting the boycott. As protests kicked into higher gear, Oberlin College provided a break room stocked with coffee and pizza in a nearby school building. Dean Raimondo also agreed to reimburse a student for money spent on gloves given to protesters to combat the cold weather. Raimondo had the college’s food distributer cut off food from the bakery. Gibson’s business suffered.

    The problem was the bakery did not racially profile anyone. The students had been shoplifting. The college acted against the bakery (“tortious interference with the business relationship” said the court) based on nothing but its underlying anger at Trump’s election. After some weak efforts to claim protection under the First Amendment (the legality of the protests was not in question), demand a mistrial, and blame everything on the students alone, the College dragged the case out for so long two of the Gibson’s owners died while waiting for the verdict.

    The case eventually ended up at the Ohio Court of Appeals, who knew a textbook defamation case when it saw one, and quickly fined Oberlin College $33 million in damages. Oberlin can but has not yet appealed the decision further. It was left to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to tweet the ruling represented “The cost of woke.” He was mocked on Twitter, of course.

    As knee-jerk reactions driven by an anti-Trump political agenda were a mark of the Trump Administration years themselves, so will defamation lawsuits, like the one with Oberlin, be a symbol of the post-Trump era. Defamation is a statement that injures a third party’s reputation, either as libel (written statements) or slander (spoken statements). Proving defamation requires showing four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact (Gibson Bakery is racist); 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person (the flyers and protests); 3) fault (e.g., intent) amounting to at least negligence (Oberlin ignored the shoplifters’ guilty pleas and other facts regarding the underlying crime); and 4) damages (Gibson lost business.)

    The Gibson case aside, the most likely source of defamation today is the media, given their reach via “publication.” So why aren’t there more defamation suits? First, the courts in the U.S. traditionally set the bar high to preserve the 1A’s duty to constitutionally-protected opinion. Historically the courts have also granted leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to defame public figures. The idea is that if you put yourself out there, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about celebrities as their mission statement. But defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what bottom feeders did, not regular practice for the media of record and college deans.

    Things may be changing given the free-for-all media environment which relies on defamation to generate clicks. In addition to the big money Oberlin case, two years ago Covington Kid Nick Sandmann successfully sued CNN for defamation to the alleged tune of $25 million. The media falsely accused Sandmann of racism on the National Mall when he and some fellow high school students were confronted by actual racists. Sandmann’s suit charged CNN journalists “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” They asserted CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, they should have committed journalism, the finding of facts, in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece that fit an existing agenda.

    In another example, John Paul Mac Isaac came to own Biden’s laptop after the president’s son abandoned it in his repair shop, the Mac Shop, in April 2019. The repair shop owner recently filed a defamation suit against the Daily Beast, CNN, and Politico seeking at least one million dollars in compensatory and an unspecified amount in punitive damages. Those media outlets claimed that Isaac was a liar who stole Biden’s laptop.

    The mind set of 2016 seems so long ago. People like AOC and her Squad, Michael Avenatti, and Andrew Cuomo were thought of as likely presidential candidates. Yet justice grinds on. Just check with the people who have to pay for it at Oberlin College.

     

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  • Five Unanswered Questions for the January 6 Hearings

    June 18, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    Imagine a BLM member’s trial in which the prosecution simply played videos of acts of violence over and over, even acts not related to the defendant in question. Sound fair, a quest for truth, a process to establish facts? No? Well, welcome to the Third Trump Impeachment, aka the January 6 televised hearings.

    Having watched a lot of PBS back in the day, I kept waiting for hearing chair Bennie Thompson to appear on my screen asking for a donation to “stop the violence” and promising me a Democratic tote bag if I phoned in my pledge of $50 or more. That was the tone from, as they say, gavel to gavel. But there are so many important things being left out in the Dems desire to showcase violence. Here are just five of the hearings’ unanswered issues.

    1) Dems and groupie Liz Cheney constantly use words like coup, insurrection, incitement, sedition, and treason. Most of them are lawyers and are well aware those words have specific legal definitions. They’re real fighting words, not to be thrown around like casual slurs against a man who once was president and has a very good chance of being president again. So let’s add one more: indict. It is easy to be the bully, ganging up unopposed on TV to say nasty words. But they only count if the Department of Justice indicts Trump for one of them and seeks to bring him to trial. That’s why we have a judicial system, to prevent organs of government from simply making accusations against citizens without due process. Indict him or drop it. If there are not grounds to indict, drop it. Democrats, put up or shut up.

    Like the members of the Warren Commission before them, the people claiming the accepted narrative about January 6 is beyond reproach are the same ones blocking any court challenge that might challenge it. Potential game-changers are wish-washed away as conspiracy theories, not to be spoken of. You will not hear the word indictment raised this week in the hearings.

    2) Are we finally going to hear who Ray Epps is and what the role of the FBI was on January 6? It would take a simple series of questions from the committee: Mr. Attorney General, how many undercover people did you have on the ground on January 6? How many of them traveled to D.C. with groups they had elsewhere previously infiltrated? What was their purpose on January 6? What were their rules of engagement—in other words, what were they allowed to say or do? Could they scream, “Yeah, let’s go!” and lead people forward? Could they give statements to the media misrepresenting the aims and mood of the crowd without revealing their identity? Did any of the agents stray from being after-the-fact accessories and instead become provocateurs?

    You would think, at least, that the raw number of undercover officers on the ground on January 6 would be an easy question to answer. Yet when Representative Thomas Massie asked Attorney General Merrick Garland at an earlier hearing in October 2021 if any federal agents or assets entered the Capitol or incited others to riot, Garland refused to answer. Massie played a video of a man on January 5 saying “we have to go into the Capitol,” and asked Garland if that man was a fed. No comment, said Garland. That man was Ray Epps, president of the Arizona Oath Keepers, who is also seen on video organizing the first group to breach the Capitol. That is just one minute after a pipe bomb had been found, as if the acts were themselves a conspiracy. This all appears to have happened even before Trump finished his “incitement” speech.

    Epps refuses to answer journalists’ questions about whether or not he is a federal agent and is still a free man. Why? Under oath and before the January 6 committee, someone should ask FBI Director Wray, Attorney General Garland, and Ray Epps to give a yes or no answer to this question: Did Ray Epps work for or with the federal government? Why won’t they ask that question? You will not hear Epps’ name on the televised hearings this week.

    3) While the Justice Department has called the inquiry into January 6 one of the largest in its history, why has no information come to light on the pipe bomber? Two bombs were planted near the Capitol. Official Washington is one of the most heavily surveilled spots on earth. Why haven’t the Capitol Police allowed the release of more than a few minutes of the 14,000 hours of the pre-riot security-camera footage? Social media only shows the riot in process. The surveillance video would show what happened before. Who planted the pipe bombs?

    4) Why, and on whose order, did Capitol police allow 300 people to simply walk into the building without resistance on the afternoon of January 6? And who was the man in a bicycle helmet whom video shows initiating the window-smashing that ended in the shooting of Ashli Babbitt? Why was he welcomed behind police lines once things got out of hand?

    5) We’ve heard over and over people died on January 6, and indeed they did. At what point will Ashli Babbit’s killer, who was never punished and never faced a trial (simply an inquiry; because Congress exempts the Capitol Police from the Freedom of Information Act, the family is forced to sue “for notes and summaries of what the officer said regarding the shooting and the reasons he discharged his weapon.”) testify? When will the Committee start showing the video of her being shot by Capitol Police? Babbitt, wearing a Trump flag like a cape, was one of the rioters who smashed 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. Babbitt was unarmed and was not resisting arrest because the cop never got that far. He just shot her.

    Though these issues will be missing from the hearings, what is missing most of all from the Great January 6 Democratic Telethon is a statement the system worked. The Constitution held. Officials from Vice President Pence on down did their jobs and stood up for the democratic system. Trump was never going to retain office. The whole thing is flim-flam, the truth another victim to Democratic desperateness to frame Trump for something, anything, ahead of 2024.

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  • Viewpoint Discrimination May Bring 1A to Social Media

    June 17, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

    Later this year it is possible — not likely, but just possible — the Supreme Court might vote to take away social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook’s right to censor content. This would have the effect of granting some level of First Amendment protection, now unavailable, to conservative users of those platforms.

    The potential for change hinges on a law struck down by lower courts, Netchoice v. Paxton, which challenges Texas law HB 20. That law addresses social media companies with more than 50 million active users in the U.S., like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. It prohibits these companies from engaging in content moderation by declaring that they may not censor posts on the basis of viewpoint. If a platform does remove any content, it must notify the user and let them appeal the decision. These users can sue the company for imposing “viewpoint discrimination.” HB 20 also bars platforms from placing warning labels on users’ posts to inform viewers that they contain objectionable content. It imposes disclosure requirements, including a biannual transparency report.

    The law was shut down by lower courts, reinstated, then handed off to the Supreme Court as a shadow docket case (an informal term for the use of summary decisions by the Supreme Court without full oral argument) to decide. The Court refused to reinstate the law at this time, but with significant dissent. The case will likely be heard in full by the Court in the fall. The conservatives will get another try.

    Twitter, et al, acting collectively through trade associations, chose an interesting defense, claiming not simply that the 1A applies only to government censors (the standard defense to prevent 1A rights from applying to social media) but claiming their content moderation constitutes First Amendment–protected speech in and of itself. In other words, censoring stuff that passes through their platforms constitutes a 1A protected act by Twitter, and thus HB 20 violates Twitter’s 1A rights. The platforms argued laws like HB 20 constitute the government blocking Twitter’s free speech right to prevent its users from exercising their free speech rights, as censorship is an act of free speech.

    Twitter and its allies went on to argue to the Supreme Court “Social media platforms are internet websites that exercise editorial discretion over what content they disseminate and how such content is displayed to users.” That seems to rub right against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protected social media platforms from the 1A by claiming they aren’t really “publishers” after all, just something akin to a conduit through which stuff (your tweets) flows.

    As such, the Communications Decency Act argues, they are closer to common carriers, like the phone company, who could care less what you talk about in your call to Aunt Josie. But with the common carrier argument coming closer and closer to implying social media has no right to censor (in other words, they can’t have it both ways. They can’t not be responsible for defamatory material on their sites and they can’t claim immunity from the First Amendment stopping them more censoring certain viewpoints. Imagine the phone company saying they are not responsible for you calling Aunt Josie a hag but they also want to censor your conversation for using the “hate speech” term “hag.” In other other words, Twitter is either a publisher and like the New York Times and can exercise editorial discretion/censor but is responsible for what it publishes or it is not and like the phone company it cannot censor but it is not responsible for its own content.

    In his dissent to the Court’s decision to stay HB 20, Justice Alito (joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch; Justice Kagan also dissented but did not join Alito’s opinion or write her own), notes the indecision by Twitter, et al, on whether they are publishers, but says their desire to censor (i.e., to have 1A rights of their own) means they must be publishers. But if they want to insist they are not publishers, they are common carriers and do not have a right to censor. Pick one.

    Alito is well aware of the recent history of social media censorship, which has egregiously sought to block and cancel nearly-exclusively right-of-center persons. Facebook and others like it have become the censors the Founding Fathers especially feared, as one political party benefits disproportionately. Donald Trump was driven off social media as a sitting president. What should have been one of the biggest stories of the 2020 election, the Hunter Biden laptop tale, was disappeared to favor Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Social commentators like Alex Jones and Scott Horton were banned. Marjorie Taylor Greene was suspended. Of all the Members of the House banned from social media, every single one is a Republican. Size matters; banning the head of the Republican party, Donald Trump, and banning a local Democratic councilman in Iowa are not 1:1. What is being censored is not content per se (a photo, a news story) but whole points of view, in this case conservative thought itself.

    Viewpoint discrimination is particularly disfavored by the courts. When a censor engages in content discrimination, he is restricting speech on a given subject matter. When he engages in viewpoint discrimination, he is singling out a particular opinion or perspective on that subject matter for treatment unlike that given to other viewpoints. For example, if the government banned all speech on abortion, it would be a content-based regulation. But if the the government banned only speech that criticized abortion, it would be a viewpoint-based. Because the government is essentially taking sides in a debate when it engages in viewpoint discrimination and shutting down the marketplace of ideas which is the whole dang point of free speech, the Supreme Court has held viewpoint-based restrictions to be especially offensive to the First Amendment. Such restrictions are treated as presumptively unconstitutional.

    So when HB 20 comes before the Court as a full case with oral arguments in the fall, the lines are drawn. Twitter, must et al, appear ready to admit they are “publishers” (and likely shed the protections of Section 230) to retain a publisher’s right under the First Amendment to decide what to publish (and conversely what to censor.) Alito seems to be suggesting if that is the argument, then yes, let the First Amendment apply but it must apply to Twitter, et al, in its entirety. Social media cannot claim a constitutional right to censor as a publisher and then abuse that right by engaging in viewpoint discrimination. Social media may have boxed themselves into a corner where they are constitutionally required to present both sides of an issue to preserve their right to censor one side more than the other.

    So what are you, Twitter? You can no longer operate behind the illusion of democracy. Careful what you choose… are you a dumb pipe down which information flows and therefore cannot censor? Or are you a publisher with 1A rights which you use to stomp out one particular viewpoint?

    If the latter, Texas HB 20 may be the needed relief to protect the modern town square and the Supreme Court may approve its constitutionality this autumn.

     

     

     

     

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  • What Will It Take to Come Home to the Democratic Party?

    June 17, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    Raised in 1970s Ohio meant I was raised Democrat. In my area of industrial northern Ohio, Republicans were old people, or those younger, good natured guys from the Jaycees who always joked about “next year” at the get-out-the-vote rallies. It’s true. I used to write for The Nation, even a couple of articles for The New York Times. I didn’t change much, but my party did and one day a few years ago I woke up being yelled at by women in pink hats clamoring I was a racist if not an outright Nazi for supporting free expression they ignorantly called “hate speech.”

    I didn’t leave the Democratic party as much as I was abandoned. With the midterm crushing of the party coming as sure as the good guy wins in professional wrestling (big in Ohio) I can’t say I’m ready to go home. But if the Dems want to lure people like me back, here are some things they’ll need to do.

    Abortion. I am a practical person, and one in favor of people making decisions not government, and support some level of access to abortion. It is obvious in cases of the horrors of rape and incest. What beast wants a woman already victimized to be forced to give birth to her attacker’s child — hey, look, he has his father’s glowing red eyes! I understand religious objections, but remember the 1A protects all religion, even that which isn’t really religion. I understand Roe as an imperfect mess of judicial creative writing, but representing a distasteful flavor of compromise I could live alongside. But Dems, third trimester abortions? And because I support limited abortion rights you say I also have to buy into a whole full-meal deal of unrelated-to-everyone-but-you LGBETC rights and trans stuff? Didn’t you get the memo that trying to bundle all these things with the Equal Rights Amendment and with various abortion measures cost you support, not earned it? Stick with the basics post-Roe.

    Jettisoning the Blue-Anon rhetoric is a natural follow-on. I barely made it through four years under Trump hearing daily the sky was falling, the walls were closing in, and that damn clock would not stop tick-tocking. Every tweet by Trump was not the end of democracy, fall of the Republic, wrap party for the rule of law, etc. When the Supreme Court moves against your wishes, I don’t need to wake up to a headline like “The Supreme Court is a Tool of Tyrants” or worse, “Time for Canada to Offer Gender Asylum to American Women.” Same for when the Electoral College or the Senate does not bounce your way. These institutions were crafted by the Founders to achieve a balance of power, and they do it fairly well. Accept that “balance” means occasionally things will go the other way. The same court that rewrote society implementing Roe can do it again taking down Roe without you losing our mind.

    I just can’t support a party where people like Elizabeth Warren go on national TV and act like they just mainlined a warm syringe full of Tourette’s every time something goes wrong. So no more Op-Eds demanding a packed Court, or a change to equal representation in the Senate, or the end of the EC, or more weight on the popular vote, or any of all that. Instead shut down MSDNC and its hemophilia of fake news. I’m tired of the media taping a transcript the chosen candidate’s debate performance on the national refrigerator door.

    The Founders, speaking of them, still matter as examples of the more perfect Americans despite their flaws. As a group they were only in the 20s, kids, who for the first time in history created a nation based on a synthesis of ideas; they wrote the code running underneath the United States matrix. They risked “Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor” to do that, a dandy example for pols today not willing to stand up and offer an opinion without polling advice. Yes, yes, most of them participated in the ugly slave trade of their day. They weren’t perfect but they are deserving of those school names. Find something more important to fritter away political capital on. What we see in modern wokeness is the difference between a small mind and a great mind, between people who ignore their own flaws to pick at others’ out of time and out of context. Men like Jefferson were prime movers, the thing that lead to the next thing. That is worthy of a statue.

    The party should be a Big Tent, but that does not mean we all have to give up our seats for the meme-o-the-day. The Democratic party’s pandering to one racial group (black lives do not matter any more than any other lives, such as my own) or gay folks until they got boring and the party switched to the All Trans Network. Don’t leave more people out, leave more in. Stop elevating shallow clowns like AOC and her Squad. They are hypocrites, demanding we not judge by color or gender while demanding white men to the back of the bus. Look back to the 1950s and 60s Civil Rights movements, which stressed the inclusivity of human rights, not special treatment for every high school kid wanting to annoy his parents by wearing dresses junior year.

    Many of us currently outside the tent care as much about the First Amendment as any of the above issues. The 1a — speech in all its forms — is the fundamental right, the one that supports and drives forward all the others. That beautiful haiku of the 1A embraces everything from Jefferson’s eloquence to rotten pornography. It certainly protects what you call hate speech, something that if it started with good intentions has gone on to suck dirt in hell and mean anything that offends anyone anytime. The Supreme Court has found over and again nasty stuff is protected by the 1A, rightfully so, as in the past simply using words like “gay” has been prohibited. Let them sing, the rude and radical, and get back to fighting bad speech with better speech. And leave Elon alone. Twitter before him sold censorship, the promise your pretty little flower people would never encounter challenging ideas in that social media stream, an anathema to a democracy that must thrive on the marketplace of ideas. Right now social media isn’t a barometer, it’s a mirror.

    No more wars, okay? Nobody, after two decades of failures and lies and body bags in the Middle East, voted for Joe Biden to restart the Cold War. The United States, I thought, had learned some sort of lesson in the pathetic finale in Kabul, until Old Joe reminded us it was 1980 again by his watch. How in the hell did I end up worrying about nuclear war again? Trump (say what you will, I’ll wait) did not restart the Cold War. He did not go to war as you said he would with China, Venezuela, or Iran. He even tried to make peace with North Korea. I want more of that, not this.

    And please, Dems, if you want some of us back, really retire Hillary. She represents little beyond corruption, from the sleazy Arab “contributions” to the Clinton Foundation (which dried up alongside her political chances, funny thing) to a near-endless appetite that lead her to make terrible decisions on things as mundane as running her own email server to avoid FOIA requests. In 2016 we asked for change and we instead watched the party drive Bernie out to the marshes (leave the gun, take the lox.) In 2020 we asked for change and we got the sad skeleton of Joe Biden. So no more rigged primaries. No more Hillary and her “debates” with Martin O’Malley playing the role of the Washington Generals. Learn the lesson before 2024. Take a second look at some of the bright minds on your back bench to see if they might be part of the party’s future if you would like people like me to be part of the party’s future. Otherwise we’re going to vote Trump, or sit it out.

    That’s a lot of ask. And spare us “but the other party does…” because that line of argument sounds like “did to, did not” and that failed even fourth grade logic. People understand nobody is perfect, as is no party. Give it all some thought as you’re licking your wounds over the loss of Roe, and the very likely thumping of the midterms. You still have two years to find a real candidate and avoid the easy outs of clones like Harris, Beto or Buttigieg. It’s a hint when someone does not have what it takes when they’re available to run for the White House because they lost locally and were given a patronage job for four years.

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  • New York Notes

    June 11, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Economy, Other Ideas

     

    Coming home to New York City after over a year away is like performing cunnilingus on an electrical socket. You’re shocked, and the socket doesn’t feel a thing.

    I was driven by that same curiosity that makes you slow down passing a wreck on the highway. I’d read the stories of zombie homeless armies in Midtown, the subway system gone feral, the deserted office blocks, and crime stepping in for Darwin to take care of what was left. Like a last visit to a hospital Covid bedside, I didn’t want to but I needed to see it.

    Inevitably someone will say this is all an exaggeration, that they live in NYC and it’s great, or the 1970s were way worse, or they just saw Lion King at Times Square with their grandma. Good for you.

    The overall of feeling one gets is a place used up, a failed place that somehow is still around. It’s the ultimate irony; it was Wall Street dealers who manipulated the economy of the 1970s and 80s to create the Rust Belt out of the once prosperous Midwest and now the brokers are gone, too. Pieces of them all left on the ground, too unimportant to sell off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, left scattered like clues from a lost civilization. Might as well been the bones of the men who worked there. Now the same way in Weirton or Gary you drive past the empty mills and factories left to eventually be reclaimed by the earth they stand on, so to Wall Street. There are no trading houses left, just one last international bank and it will soon be leasing new space uptown.

    The whole “financial district” is empty. On a weekend morning I found myself alone on the old streets off Wall, the ones that went all the way back, Marketfield, Beaver, Pine, Stone, to near-primitive times. There just were no people, nothing open. Most of the old gilded era banks and trading houses are in the process of being converted into condos, though who would want to live there is an unanswered question.

    You do see a fair number of homeless in the shadows; the city commandeered empty hotels in the area for them during the worst of the three Covid winters. Left out of the place it created is the famous Stock Exchange. The building is still there and there are people inside, but near-zero trades are done there anymore, nearly everything is remote/online, a trend started after 9/11 and completed by Covid’s arrival. On my next visit it wouldn’t surprise me to see the space has been converted into a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Across the street there’s already a TJ Maxx.

    Like some elaborate joke about canaries in the coal mine, the condition of New York’s subway system often points the way the rest of the place is headed. With parts of the system still in use that were built 118 years ago, the thing is a testament to just how far the least amount of maintenance will go. Meh, NY grit. You expect it to be too cold in winter, too hot in summer, with no public toilets, and layers of filth which may be what is actually holding it all together.

    But the purpose of the subway has changed. With fewer people working out of offices, and more and more of those that do now driving private cars in the city (parking is a new thing to complain about, car theft is up double-digit percent from pre-Covid times) it is no longer common ground for New Yorkers. Most of the real passengers are blue collar t-shirted, and most everyone else is homeless. Vast numbers of visibly mentally ill people inhabit the subway system. It is their home, their kitchen, and their toilet.  The person in Union Square Station pushing a shopping cart and yelling racial slurs may not physically hurt anybody but is a symbol of a city that just gave up caring while lying to itself about being compassionate. There is no compassion to allowing thousands of sick people to live like rats inside public infrastructure.

    Not surprisingly, the subway is an angry place. Last year there were more assaults in the subway system than anytime for the last 25 years, including a Covid-era trend of randomly pushing people into the path of an incoming train just to watch them die. I didn’t see that, but I saw the secondary effects: passengers bunched up like herbivores on the African savanna, most with their backs against a wall or post for protection. Fewer people looking down at their phones so as to stay more alert.

    If you need to use the subway, you need to acknowledge that you must share it with the predators, under their rules. Like everywhere in this city, navigating around the mentally ill, the homeless, and the criminal is just another part of life. People treat each other as threats, and just accept that, but to an outsider it seems a helluva way to live. The new mayor says he’s gonna clean it all up. so far, four months in office, not so much.

    My old Upper East Side neighborhood hadn’t changed as much as mid- and downtown. The doorman at my old building said there were many more renters than owners resident now, and the masking and fear of catching Covid had done away with the lobby chatter that served as a palliative when heading in from the street.

    Across the street at the projects the drug dealers were in their usual places; seller, runner, overseer. I knew generally where to look for them so it was an easy spot, but they may have been just a little more obvious than last year. I don’t know where they were during the old “stop and frisk” days but I didn’t see them then. Nearby a good number of the mom and pop restaurants are closed, along with about every other chain drug store outlet (ask a New York friend how many Duane and Reade’s there used to be.)

    A couple of those “only in New York places” are holding on, but the effect is grim not scrappy given the gray around them. Passing the United Nations compound, you’re left with the memory that in the 1950s this was once the most powerful city on the globe. My favorite pizzeria, the original Patsy’s at First and 117th in Harlem, is still open and somehow still staffed by old Italian men in an otherwise all-black neighborhood. Nearby Rao’s, an old-school red sauce joint and still one of the hardest-to-get reservations in Manhattan for those of a certain age, is in much the same state, both places in some sort of time-vortex, the old DNA someone will someday use to genetically re-engineer New York for a museum.

    The good news is that the NYPD seems to have reoccupied Times Square, as the city is betting big tourism will someday save it. The problem is Times Square shares a border with the rest of New York, and a block or two away places like the Port Authority bus terminal are decaying back into their primordial state. No obvious hookers like in the 1970s, but their space in the ecosystem is taken by the homeless and those who provide them services, usually quick, sharp, young black kids selling what the cops told me was fentanyl, NY’s current favorite synthetic opioid.

    Some of the least changed areas were on the Lower East Side. These have always been mean streets, and post-Covidland is far from the first challenge they have faced. It’s not nice but it’s stable, it is what it is and it doesn’t ask for much more. Go tread lightly on the area’s terms and you stay safe.

    Covid did its share to the City but every measure of Covid was made worse by bad decision-making on the part of the city. Lockdowns decimated whole industries while leaving New York still one of the red zones of America. Defunding and defanging the police, coupled with no-bail policies drove crime deeper into the fabric of neighborhoods and decent people out to the suburbs. The tax base crumbled. Pre-Covid the top one percent of NYC taxpayers paid nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes collected in New York, accounting for 59 percent of all revenues. Property taxes add in more than a billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that generated by office space. Those folks are bailing out and the tourists are largely staying home.

    Left is the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, to include 114,000 children. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in public housing. Another 235,000 receive rent assistance. They live in the Third World, like a theme park torn out of the Florida swamps unlike its surroundings. You look at it and you cannot believe this is the same country as where you live. New York does that, puts it all right in your face.

    New York, at least in the guise of its elected leaders, chose this, participated in its own end game decision by decision. Former mayor and once Democratic presidential candidate Bill De Blasio, who presided over the NY apocalypse, still had the moxie to claim not diversifying the city’s elite public schools was one of his only real mistakes. No one seems to know what to do, how to unwind what was created.

    Don’t let anyone tell you New York died. It was murdered. The last time I was this happy to get on a plane and leave somewhere I was in Baghdad.

     

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

  • Canceled by Medium

    June 7, 2022 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    I’ve been canceled by the web site Medium. I’ve been posting reprints of my articles there after they had been printed elsewhere as a kind of repository, a handy one-stop place for my work.

    Well it turns out Medium does not support free speech. They write “Due to elevated risk of potential harm to persons or public health, Medium’s Trust & Safety team has removed the following content under its rules https://wemeantwell.medium.com/covid-lies-claimed-lives-d7c442c5008d” The article was about zero excess Covid deaths in Sweden.

    Medium also did not like something I wrote about Black Lives Matter. They said “We do not allow content that constitutes or promotes violence, harassment, or hatred against people based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, caste, disability, disease, age, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity” and dumped https://medium.com/p/what-lives-matter-on-george-floyd-day-239c68712fff

    Please take a moment to read the articles (if you still can) and let Medium, and me, know what you think of them in the comments. I doubt that will change any woke-sick minds over there, but it is always good to get these things on the record.

    Until free speech is acknowledged by Medium, I will not be posting there. Follow me at www.wemeantwell.com instead.

     

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

  • Top Gun II Review

    June 7, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Quick Top Gun II: Maverick movie synopsis (and spoiler alert) by the Bad Guys: Let’s build a secret base using the Star Wars Death Star plans. We’ll leave an air vent that looks like a giant bullseye where one bomb will take down the whole place.

    Good Guys: To make it a fair fight, instead of one Navy Seal throwing a grenade down that ventilation shaft, we’ll come up with a near impossible plan involving multiple airplanes flown by irascible characters. Should kill the whole two hours.
    It is some sort of anti-union move to credit people with screen writing for this movie; a good 80 percent of the script is Top Gun I with one character’s name crossed out (arrogant Iceman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) and someone else’s hand-written into the script (arrogant Hangman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) as if this movie was a tribute band version of the first. Oh sure, it is 2022 so the Top Gun cadre has more people of color and the black guys don’t have to endure “just one of the boys” call signs like Sundown, but otherwise 2022 shows its age by being less homoerotic than 1986’s. There is far less sexual tension between Maverick and his flame this time. It’s handled more like he reunites with his old Labrador who remembers him and licks his face. And by old flame I mean Goose. The new movie throws away all the buddy stuff of 1986 by having everyone switch their, um, rears, around each flight. People, in 1986 we could handle subthemes with “don’t ask, don’t tell” adding some tension.
    Even the planes are not center screen anymore somehow, the great way the machines were fetishistic characters themselves in the original Top Gun. But remember in 1986 most of us did not know yet the military could put a missile through an Iraqi window on command. So while the featured F-18 in Top Gun II is steroids on Red Bull on little bro’s Adderall to the F-14, somehow it is nostalgia that wins. The aging Tomcat Cruise gets airborne at the end is held together with duct tape the way Cruise is held together with Botox.
    What happened? Since 1986 America lost its need for speed, its desire to go ballistic with some Admiral’s daughter (Val Kilmer is one of three ex-high school principal-like Admirals in Top Gun II whose daughters we definitely are not interested in flying with at Mach 4 because they’ve gotta be like 57 years old.) America has lost its Top Gun spirit and no well-intentioned but ultimately flaccid sequel is gonna pretend otherwise.
    In 1986 when Top Gun first came out Ronald Reagan was president and it was morning in America. Today we have Joe Biden and it’s always late Sunday afternoon. In 1986 we saw the end of the Cold War coming with perestroika and glasnost, and we were winning. When the Libyans messed with us, we launched an air raid and almost caught Qaddafi in his underwear out in his Bedouin tent. Just a couple of years earlier two Libyan Su-22 Fitters fired on U.S. F-14 Tomcats and were subsequently shot down over the Gulf of Sidra even as Qaddafi still proclaimed the existence of his “The Line of Death.”  Maverick sent carrier battle groups in again to the Gulf in 1986, un-freaking-challenged with him and studs like Ice running the show. There were some dark days during Iran-Contra, but from a Top Gun point of view it sure looked like Marine Ollie North was doing the wrong thing to do the right thing. And inflation was only 1.91 percent.
    Libya became the poster child for the last two decades of Middle East policy failure. The Gipper part is now played by Joe Biden, sounding more like a globalist Karen then Reaganesque leader of the free world. Qaddafi is dead, sure, but instead of some hi-tech vengeance at supersonic speed he was sodomized on TV by a thug on the U.S. payroll. Instead of the glory days turning the Gulf of Sidra into our playground, we are shushed into not asking too many questions about another Libyan night spot, Benghazi. America spent 20 years drooling on itself with failed policy after policy in Iraq, the lost opportunities for peace with Iran, the wars in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and of course, Afghanistan. That was where Rambo III in 1988 whooped the Sovs, now in 2021 the Gotterdammerung for failed dreams of empire across five administrations. Never mind if the pattern is full, nobody in their right mind would want a flyby for that final day on the runway in Kabul.
    The bad guys in both Top Gun I and II are faceless (literally; they wear opaque black face masks) and the set up for the all the flyin’ and divin’ and going below the hard deck makes less sense than a typical Road Runner cartoon. OK, this isn’t Platoon or Private Ryan, we get it, it’s hardly even a war movie. But all that unambiguity, the we’re the good guys stuff, was a lot easier sell in 1986 than in 2022. Good news is Mav still gets ‘er done by breaking all sorts of rules though we all hope in real life security is just a tad bit tighter out at Area 51. At least the filmmakers showed a tiny bit of bravado in 2022, allowing Maverick to keep a Taiwan flag patch on the back of his leather cruise jacket, the China market be damned for now.
    Top Gun II’s America is too much like Top Gun II to stir the blood like in 1986. Today in America we worry about double-digit inflation draining our mojo. Whereas in 1986 the bet involved carnal knowledge on the premises, in 2022’s Top Gun II Mav buys a round when he accidentally leaves his cell phone on the bar top. All that macho talk about who will be who’s wingman likely took place in the Top Gun II Human Resources department, not across the locker room. The filmmaker’s even left out “You’re Lost that Loving Feeling” when any film student could have found a place to wedge it in. If Tom Cruise at nearly age 60 can still look cool with aviator glasses on a motorcycle, he can darn well sing the song to someone. But nobody took anyone’s breath away in the end. We get it, it’s all symbolic, is there really any place left in romantic-lead Hollywood for a guy like Tom Cruise?
    America in 1986 was still a place where guys slapped her others’ backsides, where the president was a roll model and political avatar. We won fights, not depended on wordplay from MSNBC to make it seem like we sorta didn’t lose again. There was no need in Top Gun I for Mav to literally throw the rule book into the trash as he does in Top Gun II. We didn’t need no stinking metaphors then.
    You get the Top Gun you deserve, America. In 1986 you were along for a real ride. In 2022 you just want to eject early.

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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 Specific “Why” Behind Russiagate

    June 4, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Show of hands? How many still believe Trump and Russia colluded? That Trump is somehow beholden to Russia? That Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with “Russiagate?” Anyone? In the back, Bueller? And we’ll get to the large group chanting “it doesn’t matter” and “but Trump did, too…” in a moment, so stick around.

    Hillary Clinton lied about Russiagate. The latest information shows Hillary paid experts to create two data sets, one purportedly showing Russian cellphones accessing Trump WiFi networks, and another allegedly showing a Trump computer pinging an Alfa Bank server in Russia. The latter was supposedly how Trump communicated incognito with his handlers in Moscow Center. We’ve seen the lipstick on the collar before but how do we know for certain this time?

    Because former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias on May 18, 2022 during the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussman, swore to it under oath. Special Counsel John Durham brought Sussman to trial for allegedly lying to the FBI, perjury, claiming he was not working for a client when he was actually surreptiously representing the Clinton campaign. Elias admitted he briefed Clinton campaign officials about the fake information, including Hillary herself, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and policy director Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security adviser. Elias also personally briefed campaign manager Robby Mook.

    In a bombshell during the Sussman trial, Mook testified Hillary Clinton signed off on the plan to push out the information about the link between Trump and Alfa Bank despite concerns the connection was dubious at best. Mook’s testimony is the first confirmation Clinton was directly involved in the decision to feed the Trump-Alfa story to journalists. It explains some of her later actions.

     

    Here’s the timeline which reveals the specific “why” behind Russiagate:

    — On July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey issues a statement clearing Hillary Clinton of any wrong doing in connection with her private email server. This removes what was thought to be her last major hurdle to nomination.

    — Wikileaks releases information taken from the DNC servers which showed, inter alia, the Clinton campaign’s efforts to disparage Bernie Sanders. The leaks break during the Democratic Convention (July 25-28) and threaten to split the party, with the Sanders wing considering walking away from Hillary. This development means crisis time for the Democrats.

    — Clinton’s sign off to begin the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign (as Mook testified to, Smoking Gun One) had to have been in late-July (likely concurrent with the Wikileaks disclosure and the Democratic National Convention 2016, which would have created a sense of panic inside the campaign) because on or about July 28, 2016 CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s plan to tie Candidate Trump to Russia as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server. A highly-redacted document states “We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. Cite alleged approved by Hillary Clinton on July 26 a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”

    — The FBI then opened its omnibus investigation into all things Trump-Russia, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016, a Sunday, coincidentally only four days after Clinton initially approved the dirty tricks campaign and as the DNC ended with Clinton’s nomination. Crossfire was ostensibly opened based on information on Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos relayed by an Australian diplomat. Many believe the timing of the investigation suggests it was based on disclosures to the FBI of the Steele Dossier from inside the Clinton campaign, not diplo gossip about Papadopoulos. Many believe a cut out like Sussman, or Steele himself, ran the dossier data to the FBI the same way Sussman ran the Alfa Bank data to the FBI.

    — Brennan may have been personally tipped off by Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security advisor and then the most likely “foreign policy adviser” inside the Clinton Campaign running the Russiagate caper, as Brennan as CIA Director briefed Obama on Clinton’s July 26 sign-off (Smoking Gun Two) on the dirty tricks campaign while his own agency would not come to the same conclusions until September 2016, when it forwarded to the FBI an investigative referral about Hillary Clinton approving “a plan concerning U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections in order to distract the public from her email scandal.” If not a tip off, then how did Brennan, always a public Hillary supporter, know before his agency did?

    — Aiming for an October Surprise (i.e., a major, game-changing political event breaking in late October, early enough to influence the election but too late for the opposition to effectively rebut), Sussman then meets with the FBI to lay out the Alfa-Bank and smartphone story on September 18, 2016.

    — The FBI (via fraud) on October 21 obtains the first FISA warrant against a Trump team member.

    — Following a press release by Jake Sullivan, Hillary tweeted on October 31, 2016 Trump had a secret server and it was communicating with Russia (Smoking Gun Three.) She knew her campaign paid to create that information and push it into the public eye via Sussman (to the FBI) and a woman named Laura Seago.

    Seago was an analyst at Fusion GPS, the people who commissioned the infamous Steele dossier on behalf of Clinton. Seago testified at the Sussman trial she, Fusion co-founder Peter Fritsch and another Fusion staffer went to journalist Franklin Foer’s house to pitch the story, telling him it had been vetted by “highly credible computer scientists” who “seemed to think these allegations were credible.” Foer ran the story on October 31, 2016 strongly suggesting the server connecting Trump with Alfa Bank was used as a clandestine communications tool, a smoking gun in the world of espionage. The story stated “the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.”

    Need it even clearer? Comey cleared Clinton of legal trouble over her emails. The last barrier to nomination was breached. Then Wikileaks disclosures threatened to derail the convention. A distraction was needed. Mid-convention Hillary signed off on the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign per Mook and Brennan and then just days later the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane based on either flimsy foreign gossip and/or the Clinton paid-for Steele Dossier.

     

    “The trial is the vehicle that Durham is using to help bring out the truth, to tell a story of a political campaign that in two instances pursued information that was totally fabricated or at least misinterpreted with the Alfa Bank connection to Trump and use that disinformation to mislead the American voter,” Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former assistant director for intelligence, said. The Sussman trial shows if nothing else Hillary Clinton herself was personally the start and the end of Russiagate’s false story. As dirty tricks go, this was a helluva tale she sold to a gullible public and ready media.

    But so what? Politicians approve dirt being spread on their opponents all the time. But not outright, fabricated lies, which is fraud/defamation, that’s the short answer. And Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, played a still-hidden role in all of it. And what kind of president would Hillary have made if she was willing to lie like this to get elected? She is all appetite, still active in her party, still a dangerous animal. The spiteful Clinton still maintains Trump has ties to Russia and through surrogates like Brennan kept Russigate alive to defang the Trump administration even after she lost, the real insurrection.

    Twitter has still not removed the Clinton/Sullivan Russiagate tweets from 2016 as “disinformation.” That silence allows the lie a second life, important because of course Trump is running again for president and polls show almost half of Americans still think he colluded with Russia.

    It is easy enough to still say “so what?” at this point. Most people who did not support her concluded long ago Hillary Clinton was a liar and untrustworthy. Her supporters know she’ll never run for public office again, hence the claims that none of this matters, right?

    Wrong. What matters in the end is less the details of Hillary’s lie than that as someone close to being elected as her would lie about such a thing, claiming her opponent was working for Russia against the interests of the United States he would soon swear an oath to. This week’s revelations and the way they fill in “motive” in the timeline are bombshells if you blow the smoke away.

    No doubt in many minds Clinton and the intel community’s manipulations are being measured alongside whatever transgressions are attributable to Trump himself. Those who think that way may have missed the day in kindergarten when everyone else was taught how two wrongs don’t make a right, and in high school where good and bad were shown not to be a zero sum game. Trump did not win to absolve Hillary of her sins. And those who worry about the 2024 election being stolen over simple vote miscounts are thinking way too small.

     

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

  • School Shootings: It’s Not the Guns, It’s Kids Killing Kids

    June 3, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Americans ages 18 to 20 account for only four percent of the population but 17 percent of murders. School shootings and their equivalent at Walmarts get the most attention. The problem is not just the guns. It is the young men who wield them. That means any possible solution rests with the shooter, not the firearm.

    There’s a pattern inside those sordid statistics, with some 70% of school shootings since 1999 have been carried out by people under 18. The median age of school shooters is 16. It’s kids shooting kids, whether because they are left out, bullied, teased, or angry at some slight or teacher’s offense, it is kids killing kids. Since these killings tend to be “local,” typically shooter and the dead share a racial and/or social-economic background, leaving “white supremacy” as a cause in the dustbin alongside the 1990s blaming “heavy metal” and Satanism. There have been at least 554 school shooting victims, with at least 311,000 children exposed to gun violence at school in the U.S. since the Y-in-the-road game changing Columbine High School massacre, spread across 331 schools. The frequency of shootings has increased, with a surge of 34 incidents in 2021, the highest in any year since 1999.

    Since it’s not the guns per se but young men who are to blame, more traditional gun control is unlikely to make much of a difference. Already under the Federal Gun Control Act (GCA), shotguns and rifles, and ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 18 years of age or older. All other firearms can be sold only to individuals 21 years of age or older. Licensed sellers are bound by the minimum age requirements established by the GCA regardless of state or local law. However, if state law or local ordinances establish a higher minimum age, the licensee must observe the higher age requirement.

    Background checks vary in quality from state to state but generally seek to prohibit sales for reasons such as a history of domestic abuse or violent felony convictions, crimes unlikely to snare the shooters just out of high school. No background check is going to catch someone seething with rage over race or his grandmother. Checks also are at the time of purchase and gun ownership can be forever. There is the private transfer loophole that bypasses most background checks, but no evidence that young mass killers seek out this method of gun purchase.
    There is also the Columbine divide that somehow factors in to kids killing kids. Pre-Columbine America saw school shootings number only approximately 300 instances in 150 years. Post-Columbine shootings number 331 in only 23 years. Something big is very wrong in America and our kids are not alright. Add in drug use and overdose deaths, and teen suicides (many involving guns; suicide is the third greatest cause of teen death, with homicide in the number two position), and you have more than a crisis, you have a nightmare.
    Though the Columbine killers had few friends, it is doubtful no one (including parents and siblings) had no idea about the thoughts running through their heads. Later this would all be blamed on the then-new shooting games like DOOM (a “murder” simulator) and heavy metal music. But it seems much less a surface problem and more something deeper and thus ironically more visible. In other words, in Columbine and likely in many of the other 331 modern-era school shooting, somebody should have seen it coming.
    Therein lies several potential solutions. Lessening gun access in specific, targeted ways may help, such as raising the Federal age for long guns to age 21 or older. Provide tougher penalties for anyone who illegally sells guns to those under age, and for adults/parents who do not secure their guns. Such measures are statistically supported, do not affect most current gun owners, and simply require the sacrifice by legitimate young hunters of safely using dad’s old rifle another year.
    But real change will require enhanced red flag laws, laws which enlist parents, gun sales people, teachers, and peers in spotting students who should not have ready access to firearms. A red flag law allows people to petition a state court for the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger themselves or others. A judge makes the final determination. Such laws exist in 19 states and D.C. at present (14 states of those states adopted red flag gun laws after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida) with considerable variation. One of the most significant variations is who may petition a court to take someone’s guns away. Every state currently allows law enforcement to do so, but California is the only one which includes family members. None of the laws in place allow teachers, clergy, doctors, coworkers, or school peers, people who may well know a young man’s intent best, to petition. A Federal law which standardizes such criteria is badly needed.
    Opposition to red flag laws tends to fall on standard grounds, specifically that not all states allow the gun holder full due process at his hearing (easily remedied by a Federal law that does) and the generic concern about the government having the ability to take a gun anyway from anyone. Yet gun confiscation via a hearing, though likely needing a Supreme Court decision of its own for clarity, appears to be an example of presumptively lawful regulatory measures (such as regulating concealed weapons, prohibiting possession of firearms by felons, etc.) already permissible under Heller v. District of Columbia. Basic red flag laws are judicially sound, and have, for example, been used in Florida nearly 6,000 times since 2018 and survived a state Supreme Court challenge there. And Florida has had no school shootings since the law went into effect. New York’s current red flag law, had it been properly implemented, could have stopped the grocery store shooter.
    School shootings almost always involve a delineable type of shooter: 16-18, male, loner. Red flag laws are designed to take guns away from people before they commit crimes, and have been legally tested. As a potential national-level solution they do not restrict gun ownership among most adults, and barely open the Pandora’s Box of the Second Amendment. They are as apolitical as anything to do with guns in America can be (and are supported by 72 percent of Americans. Donald Trump has backed red flag laws.) In the search for answers following the latest school shooting, a Federal red flag law is worth a… shot.

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  • Moments of Russiagate Truth

    May 30, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    It’s sometime a very sad moment when truth is all that’s left. Suspicions of infidelity become credit card receipts from the no-tell motel. A Facebook post tells of a meal shared when a business trip was scheduled. It is ugly, especially the now certainty that you were lied to by someone you once trusted. Two such instances passed through the MSM this week with barely a notice that deserve notice.

    The first is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, through the MSM, lied Russiagate. Hillary, et al, paid experts to create two data sets, one showing Russian cellphones accessing Trump WiFi networks, and another showing a Trump computer in contact with a mystery Alfa Bank server in Russia. The latter was supposedly how Trump communicated incognito with his handlers in Moscow Center. Neither happened, both were lies, and both were made up for and paid for by Hillary. How do we know this with certainty?

    Former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias on the stand May 18, 2022 in the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussmann swore to it under oath. Special Counsel John Durham brought Sussmann to trial for allegedly lying to the FBI, denying he was working for a client when he was representing the Clinton campaign. Elias testified he and Sussmann worked for the Clinton campaign, and had engaged Fusion GPS to acquire dirt on candidate Donald Trump. He also admitted that he had briefed Clinton campaign officials about the fake information, including contacts with Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, campaign chair John Podesta, spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and policy director Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security adviser and who aggressively pushed the Alfa Bank server story in the media. Elias said he also spoke with Hillary Clinton and was involved in meetings where she was present.

    Does this have to really be so ugly? Do we have to hear it in her own words? Somethings it takes that harsh splash of cold water. Yes. Hillary tweeted on October 31, 2016 Trump had a secret server and it was communicating with Russia. She knew it was false at that moment because her campaign paid to create that information. The only thing left for the trial to prove or disprove is whether Sussmann lied about working for the campaign when he met with the FBI. He pleaded innocent but is a very bad liar; Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for his meeting with the FBI. The material facts otherwise have been demonstrated — she lied. Cold and simple. No one colluded with Russia (as the Mueller Report later concluded.)

    The next splash of water require you to wallow so deep in hypocrisy and lies if it was all water you’d drown. After refusing to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story except to label it Russian disinformation in autumn 2020, the same NBC news headlined a story May 18, 2022, almost two years after the laptop story first broke, reporting “analysis of Hunter Biden’s hard drive shows he took in about $11 million from 2013 to 2018” from Ukrainian and Chinese companies for dubious consulting work. NBC reports this as breaking news, and made no mention whatsoever that they sat on the story.

    To understand why NBC spiked the story for almost two years, one needs to go back to 2020 as the laptop tale was breaking elsewhere. Almost in real time more than 50 former senior intelligence officials signed a letter claiming the emails “have all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” With absolutely no evidence, the signers said their national security experience made them “deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.” “If we are right,” they added, “this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

    The letter was evil brilliance in that it played off earlier prejudices created by Hillary Clinton in 2016, that the Russians sought to manipulate American elections. In fact, most of the key signatories — James Clapper and John Brennan among them — had misdirected public opinion around the whole of Russiagate. In the hands of the MSM the meme quickly morphed into “the laptop is fake,” a parallel to “but her emails!!!”

    NBC News wrote in 2020 U.S. intelligence agencies suspected Trump associate Rudy Giuliani, who had been shopping the laptop contents to various media organizations, had been in contact with alleged Russian intelligence agents. The FBI was “looking into whether the Russians played any role, and no official has ruled that out,” said NBC. Twitter also blocked the Hunter laptop story after intelligence officials shared Russian hack rumors.

    NBC also claimed in 2020 the laptop was not “newsworthy” as it contained no smoking gun, and because despite any ethical lapses by Hunter “Trump… is ethically challenged when it comes to appearing to use the power of his office to enrich himself and his family.” NBC in 2022 offers no explanation why the same laptop contents which it deemed not newsworthy days before Joe Biden’s election to the presidency are suddenly newsworthy in the middle of his second year in office.

    The takeaway is NBC News did not pursue the Hunter laptop story in 2020, when it mattered most, because it acted in collusion with the U.S. intelligence community to make the story go away during the election. As Hunter has publicly paid millions in back taxes and the New York Times among others validated the laptop contents, there’s no need to pretend the story is not newsworthy or Russian trickery.

    It is easy enough to say “so what?” at this point. Most people who did not support her long ago concluded Hillary Clinton was a liar and untrustworthy. Her supporters know she’ll never run for public office again, hence the claims that none of this matters. As for NBC, the last days before the election were confusing times, and the Hunter laptop story after all was out there for anyone who wanted to read it at the NY Post or Fox. So that doesn’t really matter either, right?

    Wrong. What matters is less the details of Hillary’s lie but that as someone very close to being elected she would lie about such a thing, claiming her opponent was working for Russia against the interests of the United States he would soon swear an oath to. As for NBC (and Twitter) its journalistic slovenliness laid bare news organizations work with the intelligence community to manipulate elections. Both of this week’s revelations are bombshells if you blow the smoke away, and both threaten to make a second run at our democracy in 2024.

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

  • Inflight Masking Fight Club

    May 29, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Fulfilling family obligations in 2022 means long haul flights of dozens of hours. By hours, I mean because everything already has been on Netflix each in-air hour is longer than others, say those that pass during on-beach massage sessions. The only thing that makes in-air time tolerable is Inflight Fight Club.

    The first rule of Inflight Fight Club is you can talk about it; what else is there to do for seven hours? Yet as much fun as it is to watch someone combat it out with a flight attendant, all this is unnecessary. And for the lawyers, this article in no way condones violence in the air, whether it is the 800th passive aggressive reference to seats being in the upright position or something criminal.

    America faces a crossroads for air travel, a reckoning as inevitable but necessary as changing planes in Atlanta. On April 18 the current TSA masking mandate expires, and the Agency will either renew it or allow it to expire. Airline executives, fearful of their bottom lines, have asked Joe Biden to let it fade away. Airline flight attendants, just fearful, want it extended indefinitely, the take off your shoes mandate of this generation. Leaving aside the actual logic, which says it makes no sense to be unmasked literally everywhere else, including places that have none of the protective air filtration system aircraft do, ending the mask mandate will be a positive step toward ending Inflight Fight Club.

    Flight attendants, deep into Fight Club culture, may in advance want to chat with their bosses about the full range of Gitmo-ization available to ensure “passengers” (we’ll employ the traditional nomenclature here but the correct term is “tolerants in need of transportation”) are pre-angered long before taking their undersized seats. Drip pricing means everyone has paid something more than the old-timey cost of a ticket that will carry their lard from Cleveland to Tampa (with a stopover in Atlanta.)

    Want a normal sized seat? Pay for Economy Plus. Want to sit with your spouse instead of an airsick stranger? Pay for pre-reserved seats. Pay for a suitcase, or pay to get aboard first to join the scrum for carry-on space. And if you really want to travel “in style,” such as having access to a toilet that is not marked with “Biohazard” tape, you can pay double for business class where a child kicks the back of your larger seat instead of a smaller seat.

    Inflight Fight Club is made much worse by the infantilization of passengers. We can’t be trusted to enjoy a drink. We can’t be trusted to buckle up. We can’t be trusted to “stow” (cynicism aside, points to the airlines for steadfastly maintaining a handful of nautical terms. Inflight Fight Club would shrivel away if the pilot said “Avast ye!” on taking off and everyone cheered) our tray table. Our laptop, if we press CRTL+SHIFT+C+X will crash the plane unless a flight attendant stands over us to ensure that one last email check is postponed until Denver. Like kindergarten, we plead “Just two more minutes, please!” In the end only adults are allowed to stand and I swear this plane is not going anywhere, especially not recess, unless everyone takes their seats NOW!

    Was it a surprise when airlines started charging crazy amounts to check luggage/and or mishandling crazy amounts of luggage that people would bring more on board, to the point where a flight without livestock in Economy is noteworthy? For all the bullying by flight attendants, why is someone’s choice to drag aboard a full-on IBM desktop with CRT monitor never questioned if they call it a personal item? Why aren’t flight attendants deputized to throw cardboard boxes leaking chicken fat and bound with wire overboard instead of spending time cramming them into the overhead bins?

    Instead it is some sort of game — whatever someone can MacGyver past the boarding agent the flight attendant must find room for. New rules are needed; passengers who follow the new rules would instead cheer for attendants instead of greasing up to take them mano-a-mano when the Sprite runs out and all that’s left is Diet 7-Up.

    That said, flight attendants, a quiet word or two for you: chill the freak out. Statistically, none of us on board are terrorists. Realistically, none of us are going to kill you with disease (so last year!) Almost all of us just want to get home as peacefully as possible. So try “Would you please…” instead of “Sir, SIR, I need you to squat and cough, now, sir.” Be like the savvy beat cop and maybe, just maybe “accidentally” skip some enforceable thing like an old man deep asleep who you startle awake because his seatbelt is unbuckled.

    I bet we all are willing to take the chance absolutely nothing will happen until we land safely. Same for the tired mom standing and swaying to keep her baby quiet; let her “congregate” near the restrooms, we all promise to take out the baby if she is a terrorist. Your boss is in the cockpit so you won’t get caught. By the way, speaking of the pilot, nobody is impressed when you say “The captain asks that you…” See, we know it’s you, that the captain did not really pull you aside and say “Say, Betty, let’s have them read the safety card this flight, ‘kay sweetheart?”

    Straight up: flight attendants, you’re not caught in the middle, you’re part of the problem. It takes two to fight, unless it is Spring Break and then maybe it takes 10 or 12.

    We can all make this easier on all of us. Look at the room for improvement: TSA reported over 3,800 incidents in the last year involving masks alone, with 2,700 warning notices issued and over 900 civil penalties levied against passengers. Let’s end masking on planes on April 18 as a start.

     

     

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

  • Doomsday Clock Tells Us Maybe It’s Time

    May 28, 2022 // 0 Comments

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

    Looking back just a handful of years the world seemed, to many Democrats and the MSM at least, a powder keg. Trump’s ignoramous remarks about Taiwan coupled with aggressive sanctions threatened war with China. The only question seemed to be whether it would erupt in the Taiwan Strait first or over some lousy lump of rock in the South China Sea, the WWI Archduke’s assassination for the modern age.

    Elsewhere in Asia, Trump’s clumsy mano-a-mano with North Korea set the world on edge as rumors had it he was ready to evacuate American dependents from South Korea ahead of imminent hostilities. Then there were the Tweet Wars, with insults such as “Little Rocket Man” and Kim’s “dotard” retort hurled across the Pacific presaging a nuclear exchange, followed by those clumsy diplo efforts that looked like the worst Grindr first date ever. There would be no war; Trump would simply give it all away, canceling vital military exercises in South Korea and considering withdrawing U.S. forces from the peninsula.

    War in the Middle East was one tick from inevitable, with Trump having dumped the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran, done something or not enough in Syria, no one was sure, and fanned the flames of Islamic butt aching by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. No one remembers why anymore, but the U.S. was supposedly also at the brink of war in Venezuela, and with Trump failing to Lead the Free World and NATO weakening, the dogs of war sat on the front stoop begging Scooby Treats in Europe. At the end things got really hairy, with both Pelosi and members of the Joint Chiefs terrified what a desperate Trump might do with nuclear weapons.

    So it is no surprise the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists described things as “a global race toward catastrophe” and set its famous Doomsday Clock in 2019 at 100 seconds to midnight and kept it there, the closest it had ever been to apocalypse, what they called “the new abnormal.” Something was literally going to blow if the pressure were not let off, and the Bulletin offered along with about half of America that the 2020 “leadership change in the United States provided hope that what seemed like a global race toward catastrophe might be halted and — with renewed U.S. engagement — even reversed.” Biden would lead the way.

    The Bulletin is no small potatoes. Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey the threat to humanity. The Doomsday Clock is reset every year by the Bulletin’s Board in consultation with 11 Nobel laureates.

    So with the warmongering Trump safely stowed away in his villain’s lair of Mar-a-Lago, what of the peacemaker, Joseph Biden? Biden took office with no immediate crisis at hand. Yet all he has done is blunder poorly through a growing threat board of nuclear-tinged incidents.

    Holy malarkey have things gotten more tense with China. 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 an ultimately nuclear death match with China.

    Biden puts his diplomatic gaffes where his oral ones are. Joe recently broke code and blurted out the U.S. will indeed defend Taiwan, which, if true, ultimately would involve for nukes. Some saber rattling? Sure. Even as Chinese president Xi spoke of peaceful reunification during the October political holidays, the U.S., U.K., and Japan conducted joint operations in the China Sea. Meanwhile, on Biden’s watch Australia ditched a $66 billion contract for French diesel-electric submarines to instead buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines, a move which enraged China and NATO-ally France. Calling Biden’s actions Trumpian (aïe-aïe-aïe!) 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. So never mind the likelihood that Biden will ever recruit France into any coalition against Chinese power, or China vis-à-vis North Korea. And la-di-da to Candidate Biden’s promises to repair U.S. alliances post-Trump.

    That alongside a new Pacific parley which will 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 budgets for decades. A side deal with Britain to station its two 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 as if an arms salesman wrote Biden’s policy. In the background looms research by all sides into hypersonic weapons capable of delivering nuclear bombs under existing missile shields.

    In the greater MidEast, the less said about the signal sent by America’s crude cut-and-run exit after 20 years in Afghanistan, many of those alongside NATO allies like Germany and Canada cajoled into participation, the better. The U.S. Embassy, which remains in Jerusalem, remains a sore thumb to many Islamic nations. Unwilling to cut a new Iran deal alongside the Russians and unable to do so without them, Biden changed nothing in the nuclear calculus among the U.S., Israel, and Iran. Two of the three remain nuclear powers and the other sits on the threshold either to suffer another nuclear-trigger happy Israeli brush back pitch or slide into the abyss with a mushroom cloud heralding a new club member.

    As Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden had several options. A) Biden could have taken the Obama route, declaring Ukraine unimportant strategically to the U.S. and lumping it alongside Donbas, Georgia, and Crimea. Kick in some new sanctions, maybe some arms sales, a lot of “standing with” proclamations. Or B) Biden could have demanded NATO take its role as defender of a free Europe seriously, and support militarily a NATO-led effort of sanctions and military assistance to Ukraine. Or C) Waive NATO aside as the generally useless organization it is and implement largely U.S.-led sanctions and military assistance to Ukraine. Or chose D) Tie some sort of ambiguous victory in Ukraine to U.S. prestige, pretend NATO was standing tough, and devote U.S. military resources to everything short of direct combat with Russia. Any one of these would have left Biden in good stead domestically as a strong leader and avoided further entanglement and distraction.

    Instead, Biden went for E) All of the above plus a stated policy of watering the fields of Ukraine with the blood of Russian martyrs as if this was Afghanistan 1980 all over again. The goal is not just to have Russia leave, it is to attrite them to the last possible man.

    Among the so-many problems of this bleed ’em dry strategy is that it set the U.S. and Russia on a direct course to collision (the U.S. providing targeting data to sink flagships and kill generals in the field is only short of war because a Ukrainian finger was presumably on the trigger not an American one) and provoked the first serious mention of the use of nuclear weapons of the 21st century. Suddenly what could have faded off as a semi-failed land incursion into Ukraine became the first struggle of the New Cold War (Nancy Pelosi said the struggle is about defending “democracy writ large for the world”) Eagle versus the Bear, Top Gun III, with everything from Russian pride to Putin’s own regime survival now on the line. And when everything is on the line, you invoke the “everything” weapon, nukes. Putin is a cautious man, but accidents happen and miscalculations with nukes (chemicals, biologicals, heavy cyber, etc…) sting.

    While Joe is talking up the bleeding strategy as a common-sense response to Russian aggression (while we’re there with all these U.S. weapons for the Ukrainians we might as well get a piece of the Bear for ourselves, seems only fair), the shift amounts to a significant escalation. By canning diplomatic efforts in favor of a more violent war, the United States greatly increased the danger of an even larger conflict — the atomic threats out of Moscow. This is risk way out of line with any realistic gain. Earlier U.S. rattling, about the Russian blitzkrieg threatening Poland and beyond, seems near-comical as the Russian offensive bogs down in the mud of eastern Ukraine. What kind of nuclear gamesmanship is it when Biden risks all for nothing much? What kind of nuclear gamesmanship is it to tell your opponent humiliation is his only way out?

    As for the Doomsday Clock, the hopes the Bulletin showed on Biden’s election in 2020 were stomped on by Russia, with a major assist from Biden himself. The clock stays set at 100 seconds to midnight, same place Trump left 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.