• Biden’s China Policy is Dangerous

    October 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Embassy/State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

    October 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

  • Covid State of Things

    October 9, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

    October 2, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

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

     

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

  • In Search of Biden’s Foreign Policy

    September 29, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


     

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

    (Sound of tumbleweeds.)

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

      

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

  • COVID and the Minimum Wage: It Hurts

    September 20, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

  • The Last Question About 9/11

    September 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

     

     

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

  • The Worst Day of the Afghan War

    September 11, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

    September 4, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

  • Who’s to Blame for Losing Afghanistan?

    August 28, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In the end the only people punished were the whistleblowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

  • An Olympics Without Joy

    August 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

  • It Was Never Just About Masks

    August 14, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Biden

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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  • FYI: There was No Coup, No Reichstag Fire

    August 7, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

    While Milley was rewriting 230 years of military prudence in late 2020, Paul Krugman of the NYT wrote there were “substantial odds America as we know it will be damaged or even destroyed” by the election (Update: it was not.) He told us to “expect violence from Trump supporters, maybe lots of it, both to disrupt voting on Election Day and in the days that follow” until Trump “stops counting of absentee ballots, claims massive fraud, and probably tries to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result” (Update: that did not happen.)  Elsewhere in the Times’ bunker, Thomas Friedman said America today reminded him of the Beirut at war with itself he covered as a cub reporter (Update: Beruit was way worse.)

    Over at The Nation they simply assumed Trump would illegally remain in power. The writer’s real concern was “we have the moral high ground. But we don’t have, frankly, the military leadership in place to direct a guerrilla campaign against an illegitimate regime. We don’t have a government-in-exile waiting to take power. We don’t have international allies. We don’t have an underground network of spies and saboteurs. . . but we can lay our bodies down in front of the tanks.” Any hope for the rule of law? Nope. “The Supreme Court too is, fundamentally, an anti-democratic institution run by people who are not subject to the popular will of our diverse society.”

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

     

     

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

  • QAnon Militia Embed

    July 31, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


    See if you think this is funny.

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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  • A Tale of Two Murders: George Floyd and Ashli Babbit

    July 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ———

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

     

     

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  • Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Hawaii Held Hostage

    July 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Economy

    We are being held hostage to a number. Hawaii is the last and only state with COVID entry requirements. Hawaii is the last and only state with broad COVID rules for fully vaccinated people. Hawaii is the last state and only state with emergency powers still granted its governor. Our economy is dependent on a series of one-time Federal handouts and our unemployment is among the nation’s highest. Our freedom is being held hostage by Governor Ige to an arbitrary number.

    Ige is holding to vaccinating 70% of Hawaii residents before dropping the majority of the state’s COVID-related restrictions. That number is wholly arbitrary and backed by no science. There is nothing to say 70 matters more than 65 or 89. In addition, the number employs a sleight-of-hand; since the governor insists it must be 70% of the total population, not the population eligible for the vaccine, the actual count is going to have to be much higher. With young children ineligible for the vaccine, we are actually talking about 70% of a subset of the population.

    Left entirely out of the clown car calculus is that 5% of the community already has COVID immunity because they contracted and survived the virus.

    The other sleight-of-hand is most people who want to be vaccinated already are, around 58%. Supply of the vaccine is plentiful. Anyone who wants it can walk in to clinics, Longs, pop-up sites, and the like. All the corny incentives — free food, airplane miles, admission to the zoo — have run their course. The pace of vaccinations has fallen 75% since early May, according to Hawaii Department of Health figures. The CDC predicts the rest of America, now open for business and a full life, won’t reach 70% until sometime next year. We may be stuck below 70% indefinitely.

    That in turn lead Ige to extend his emergency powers, which were set to expire August 6. He also said he will maintain the state’s indoor mask mandate, despite guidance issued a month ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in the vast majority of settings.

    It seems of little interest that in the midst of all this Honolulu dropped 42 spots on a popular “Best Places to Live” ranking. US News & World Report tallied the city’s ranking crashing to 113 out of 150 of the most populous metro areas in the country. The biggest factors are our COVID-battered economy and high unemployment rate. Honolulu also ranked poorly in value, quality of life, and net migration, i.e., people are leaving.

    When I brought up this fall to a highly unscientifically gathered group of local people who would listen to me at a coffee shop, their response was universal. Great, they said, tell outsiders to stay away. Tell tourists they’re not wanted. Maybe some of the rich mainlanders driving up home prices will move out, too. “Aloha” now seems better translated as insular and frightened of the outside world than anything welcoming.

    Outside of the business community people in Hawaii seem just fine with COVID-excuse restrictions extending deep into the future. They shortsightedly like the idea people may not want to visit here, live here, or stay here. People have become rescue dogs.

    COVID tapped into something deep and dark inside of many islanders, a fear of outsiders dating back to Captain Cook, and has turned too many of us into a nation of Momos. Momo is my rescue dog. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She invents new fears all the time — out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle; last week it was the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal. She is terrified of strangers and does not even enjoy her walks. Best for her to get the business over with within sight of our front door to get back inside that much faster.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash, she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything, she has no fear of being run over. So you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living more than those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate the real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough, the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it’s better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of Hawaii.

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. It seemed as though we needed to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. And don’t forget how overprotected we want to be, wiping down the gym like we’re prepping for surgery, reading the daily COVID count each morning before coffee, dressing like bad cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks. This fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality so much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Our leaders seem content to hold us hostage to our fears for their own purposes. For many of us, however, it is time for a change. What are you afraid of?

     

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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 Taxman as Progressive Hero: The Latest Trump Prosecution

    July 17, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Political prosecutions are not new in America but political pograms are. It is sad to watch the Democratic party embrace such third world practices as policy. It is sadder to note there has never in history been a more sustained yet unsuccessful effort to oust or destroy one man.

    Even before Donald Trump took office Democrats claimed Russia elected him, the Manchurian Candidate. The intelligence community-Democratic Party-media tripartite axis then swung for the fences, using wiretaps obtained through FISA fraud, honeytraps, Australian and Israeli cutouts, intel scrubbed by GHQ, and every other trick in the spy biz.

    They came up so empty-handed even a Deep State O.G. like Robert Mueller could not find anything indictable. Mueller is a forgotten hero, knowing he had nothing and willing to let his legacy be just that, a fade to black, rather than be remembered as the guy who took a dump on the rule of law. You won’t see such courage in failure again; keep reading.

    Despite their beat down over Russiagate’s failed putsch, post-Mueller the Democrats almost immediately set out to impeach Trump on much of nothing. An anonymous whistleblower was planted and then dug up among the intel community, and impeachment hearings kicked off with the speed of a pre-fabbed garage erection. A long string of State Department clones and one sad-sack warrior-bureaucrat basically said they didn’t care for Trump’s Ukraine policy, so let’s impeach him. The whole thing collapsed because a) there was no impeachable offense and b) the more Democrats rooted in the sty for evidence against Trump the more they kept ending up with the Joe and Hunter Biden Ukraine scandal in front of them.

    Not content with one failed impeachment, the Democrats impeached Trump a second time, as a private citizen after he had left office. The set up was to exaggerate unorganized vandalism at the Capitol on January 6 into a full-on coup attempt. Left out was that the vandals had no path whatsoever to overturning the election, were quickly chased out of the building, and just went home. The faux Reichstag moment was then pasted onto Trump’s back like a Kick Me sign in full defiance of the speech-as-incitement rules set by the Supreme Court. A silly show trial failed again.

    In the background were political prosecution attempts so pathetic they never made it to full-failure: the Emolument Clause cases, Stormy Daniels, all things Michael’s Avannati and Cohen, E. Jean Carroll’s rape-cum-defamation case, that one so egregiously lousy even the Biden DOJ took Trump’s side, 25th Amendment shenanigans, plus all the sideshow accusations against Trump family members, including incest. The Southern District of New York leading the current case already failed in 2012 to indict Trump’s children and failed to prosecute Paul Manafort. All the smoking guns fired blanks.

     

    But why quit now? The state and city of New York just filed criminal fraud charges against Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization for failing to pay taxes on fringe benefits such as lodging and transportation offered to Weisselberg. Most of the alleged acts took place years ago, before Trump was even president.

    Feel bad for the poor CNN intern whose weekend was ruined after being told to read through New York tax code and “look for dirt.” What he’ll find is a complex mess of taxable and non-taxable fringe benefits. For example, a company car is not taxable when used for business trips but is taxable, on a per mile basis, when used to commute.  You’re supposed to keep records. That of course is unless you elect to use the ALV rule, or if the fair market value exceeds set amounts in the year the vehicle was assigned. Imagine the jury spending days sorting this out only then to also be asked to assess intent; did the Trump Organization intend to commit criminal fraud by mistakenly applying the cents-per-mile standard instead of the ALV? No proven intent means no criminal conviction. And when you’re done with that, members of the jury, move on to the equally dense text covering fringe benefits such as lodging, tuition, and parking.

    The sad thing is all of this is usually dealt with via a tax bill and perhaps an administrative penalty — the point in every previous (non-Trump) case was simply for the state to collect the tax revenue owed. Even NYT admitted it is “highly unusual to indict a company for failing to pay payroll taxes on fringe benefits alone.” But in this case and this case alone prosecutors went further, criminalizing the affair claiming it was intentional fraud. That raised the specter of jail time, and sent the case into the headlines where it was supposed to be for maximum political impact.

    As for the jail time, that is designed specifically to pressure the only person actually accused of anything here, Trump accountant Allen Weisselberg, age 73, to trade dirt on Donald Trump for leniency in his golden years. Amid all the tiresome Godfather cliches is the certainty there has to be more, and that Weisselberg knows everything. For those tracking third world touch points, ask yourself how that all looks, the full power of the government being screwed against the aged Weisselberg for the sole purpose of coercing him to testify against his will. If they’d used wooden clubs to beat him instead of law books we would call it torture, Gitmo-style: You must know something and I’m gonna beat you until you tell me.

    That one of the key prosecution witnesses is Weisselberg’s son’s now-divorced acrimonious wife is only where questions raised will begin. The defense, in explaining the blatant political nature of the case, will no doubt ask why here and why now. Some of the alleged infractions go back 15 years. Why didn’t the state, or the IRS, uncover any of this during all that time? The IRS has had the Trump Organization under audit since 2010 yet somehow never noticed a thing? Why is this prosecution only happening at the state level in Democratic New York, safe from the federal level where it could more clearly backfire on Biden? And by the way, did multi-millionaire Trump CFO Weisselberg himself sit down each year with a copy of TurboTax to do his own taxes? If not, why isn’t his accountant on trial? The uber question of course is since these tax cases have to everyone’s knowledge solely been handled as administrative matters in recent memory, why in this case alone are criminal charges stacked on?

    Of course since this indictment is the result of over a year of investigation by both state and city attorneys general and involved two trips to the Supreme Court, the amount of money in question must be H-U-G-E. Except it is not. The government says the total amount of undeclared benefits over a 15 year period is $1.7 million. Assuming it is all truly taxable, at a 20 percent tax rate that’s $22k a year. To rubes like you and me it sounds like a lot but seriously friends, it is not. Democrats are also counting on voters to agree there is no crime in New York otherwise deserving of the resources used in this case.

     

    Of course the MSM is a twitter claiming this is just the tip of the iceberg, that Weisselberg with flip, the walls are closing in, etc.  Don’t believe it. You heard all that before with Russiagate and two impeachments and it amounted to zilch. And as with Russiagate, if the prosecutors actually had something real to work with (i.e., Trump was a Russian spy, here’s the evidence) they would have led with that, not some piddle of a complex tax case. But Al Capone! Yes, mobster Al Capone went to jail on tax evasion, but that was based on his failing to file any Federal taxes at all for eleven consecutive years on income fully illegally obtained to include murder for hire. Not quite the same thing here.

    In the end the “jury” which really matters here is not the one who’ll like assign some sort of tax penalty against Weisselberg. The real jury will be the voters, because even if Trump does not run he will be a kingmaker. There are of course those True Blues who live to see Trump disemboweled on TV by progressives wearing George Floyd masks and celebrate any misfortune. But if purple voters come to see this prosecution as petty and vengeful, realizing the offenses occurred long before Trump was president and were overlooked until they could be used as political cudgels, the risk is in making Trump a martyr.  Wait for him saying at his next rally “I told you they were unfair and now look at this.” Meanwhile Dems are trying to make a people’s hero out of… the taxman? Coupled with Biden’s crumbling agenda, it is a bad spin heading into midterms. Trump is not going to jail and anything less than that makes him stronger.

    This level of paranoid vengefulness is scary, a sign a portion of the electorate’s critical thinking skills have been eaten by political syphilis. The Democrats should carefully consider the secondary effects of their actions, and ask (as voters will) if the goal is law enforcement or a political kill shot. If it is the latter, they better not miss again. This trial is potentially one of the most divisive acts of modern American politics.

     

     

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

  • Comic Book Toy Soldiers

    July 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


    I had some great toys as a kid.

    Favorites included various sets of blocks, a huge collection of wooden ones, Legos, blocks that looked like Legos but were made by someone else, and all sorts of other variations. As a kid I won some sort of contest for building things out of Tinker Toys, wooden rods that interconnected with special hubs. Near the end of my childhood run there was an all-metal Erector Set assembled with nuts and bolts, Lincoln Logs, and some sort of electrical set.

    Alongside these were toy soldiers. Every kid has them, often in the hundreds. They came in clear plastic bags from the grocery store for 59 cents up to massive “playsets” that included vehicles and clearly were of the major Christmas present or birthday gift from grandpa variety.

    Whenever some new patch of dirt was discovered in the neighborhood all the boys would haul out their toy soldiers and hours would be spent digging holes and making forts for them. Actual “war” rarely happened, as the extensive preparations and setting up hundreds of soldiers always seemed to take until peace was declared because it was lunch or dinner time.

     

    There was always one bridge ahead too far. The comic book toy soldier sets.

    These sets have acquired an almost mythical quality among men of a certain age. In the 1960s nearly every boy wanted them due to the never ending advertising in comic books. Every comic included at least one full page color ad for these things. There were army, navy, and air force sets. Cowboy and Indian sets. Knights, Civil War, and Revolutionary War sets, the exact same sets advertised as “games,” and every possible variation.

    Each set contained “good guys” and “bad guys,” even if they were just the same figures molded in green or grey. Some also included sections of a fort or wall.

    The key was that the cartoon-like ads depicted the toy soldiers in epic battles, with them standing like mushrooms to the painted horizon. The ads were often drawn in exaggerated perspective, so the soldier in the foreground was 20 times the size of those in the distance. He usually was shouting. Holding the ad in your hand pre-puberty, you could feel the earth vibrate beneath you.

    I later learned the best of the ads were drawn by a renowned comic book artist, Russ Heath, of DC Comics. He certainly created the two most well known, the 100 Piece Toy Soldier Set ad, and the 132 Piece Roman Soldiers Set ad, for which he was paid $50 eachIt is unclear if all the others were drawn by Heath, or by others who just mimicked his style. 

    The reason the figures in the ads had no relation to the flat two-dimensional atrocities that came in the mail is because Heath never saw the actual product, and created the ads out of his imagination. He claims man-children of many ages would stop him at comic conventions in his later years to complain about how they still felt cheated. Nonetheless, the bright colors and flash and bangs in the illustrations matched exactly the images we had in our heads when we set up our own pathetic armies in the dirt patch in front of the O’Conner house.

    (Aside: that dirt patch was a gift to us from a benevolent god. Sometime in the mystic past a sewer repair had been done, requiring a decent-sized hole. Years later, despite the efforts of Mr. O’Conner, grass simply would not grow there. It was like a bald spot on his tree lawn and the site of most of our battles. I wish to believe it is still there, defying the laws of biology to not allow anything to grow. An archaeological excavation would likely produce hundreds of buried toy soldiers left outside during a hard rain only t be swallowed by the earth.)

     

    Back to those toy soldier sets from the comic books. They were not expensive, ranging from maybe 99 cents to $1.59. The problem was we kids, even if we had the allowance money saved up, could not order them on our own. We could carefully clip out the tiny coupon, squeeze our primary school block printing into the spaces for our address, maybe even find an envelope in the kitchen drawer and address it. The problem was the financial media: the coupon clearly said “No Cash, check or money order only.”

    That meant convincing an adult to write you a check in return for your handful of coins. This was very difficult somehow to accomplish. Pleas of “But mom, it’s my own money!” were met with stone cold refusals to send a check to some unknown address. Mail order in general in those days was considered a sleazy business, best left to “martial aids” and “health magazines” advertised in places other than comic books.

    For the rare kid who overcame all obstacles (usually with the help of a sympathetic uncle) it always seemed to end in disappointment. There are even online/Facebook groups today devoted to this, a kind of group therapy several decades removed. For all of what must have been tens of thousands of orders placed, few were ever delivered. Mom was right; the checks for $1.59 were cashed in what was clearly one of the least efficient scams in history and the soldiers were usually never delivered.

    I finally got my mom to write a check for me one time when I was home from school sick. My whining took on some sort of special urgency I guess, and she broke down. I was to receive the Modern Army set.

    I checked the mailbox daily for months. One day a small box, ironically about the size of the boxes paper checks used to come in from the bank, arrived, tired and battered. Inside was a handful of loose cowboys, each about an inch high. They were bright yellow, not a cowboy color, and flat. Unlike even the cheapest toy soldiers from the drug store, which were round and sort of 3D, they were flat as playing cards to I guess allow more of them to be crammed into a box. They barely would stand even on a stable, flat, table top, and certainly were of no use on the O’Conner battlefield.

    This was the actual moment of the end of my Childhood Innocence.

     

    Where did all this joy and angst come from? At first glance it looked like these flat soldiers were the work of Lucky Products Inc., which had its headquarters on Long Island. The sets themselves were made in Hong Kong. The problem is that the ads as I find them online now all list different addresses – Long Island, upstate and various other places in New York, and even Atlanta. The ads ran over a 20 year span. Was it all the work of one company?

    Maybe not. The fuller story begins with Milton Levine, who, just out of the military after WWII, decided his future lay in plastics. Levine formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, E. Joseph “Joe” Cossman and the pair formed a mail-order toy company. They connected with NOSCO Plastic of Erie, Pennsylvania, a supplier of plastic toys to Cracker Jack, and that’s where the first flats soldiers were made before the process migrated to Hong Kong. 

    It would take a year before the first flats were ready to ship, even though Levine was running ads in comic books the whole time. He hired a staff of women to open the huge amounts of mail and process the checks that arrived each day, al of which finally explain the delays which plagued many a childhood.

    Soon ads from other companies began appearing. Mastercraft, a Boston company, sold “100 Toy Soldiers for $1.00,” but did not include the important pasteboard “footlocker.” Levine and his brother-in-law it turns out themselves set up a number of separate companies (all with East Coast P.O. Boxes) as well as selling the flats wholesale to other, competing, mail-order companies. So everything sort of did come from one place all those years.

    Today even the original ads themselves are considered collectibles and sell on eBay. Never mind the ads, depending on condition, you can pick up an actual set of flat toy soldiers for $30-$50, which of course originally cost $1.59. Actually the highest recorded original price was for the 132 Roman Soldiers set at $2.98, plus postage and handling of course.

    But looking through the ads for sets for sale today I left smiling. Given all that are for sale today, that means a lot more got delivered than I ever believed as a kid. My friends and I may never have seen our soldiers arrive in the mail, but apparently lots of others did. Those kids treasured their flats, and kept them through many spring cleanings, moves to college dorms, and the like. They are moments never to be seen again frozen in cheap plastic.

    I thought about buying one. Whereas once upon a time $1.59 represented real money, today I can afford $50 if I want to spend it. But it would not be right. The set I’d buy would be heavy with someone else’s memories. It would be sent to me by FedEx,with minute-by-minute tracking. There would be no waiting by the mailbox every afternoon for months. It wouldn’t be right, would not be true to the myth. Some things are better left alone.

     

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

  • Renaming the Past to Cancel Thomas Jefferson, Rapist and Slave Owner

    July 10, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America


     
    Falls Church City in Northern Virginia decided in the midst of last year’s George Floyd open season to rename two of its public schools. On the block were George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

    George Mason was a Founding Father, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the basis for the full Bill of Rights. Nearby George Mason University is still named after him, but the city of Falls Church is stripping his name from its schools because in addition to all he did to create the United States, he was a slaveholder. Same for Thomas Jefferson, Founder, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President of the United States, and famously, rapist and slaveholder, Joker without the makeup.

    The people of Falls Church who made these changes probably mean well in a 2021-ish kind of way. The city is 72 percent white (and only 4.5 percent black.) An amazing 78 percent of adults in Falls Church have a Bachelors degree or higher, and most work for the Federal government in nearby Washington, DC (George Washington and six other presidents held slaves.) The city has a energetic farmer’s market with a proposal pending to add an “informational booth about how communities of color have less access to healthy foods” and votes solidly Democrat.

    The process of canceling the Founders was deliberate, with 13 meetings stretching over a year to come up with final school name candidates. For the high school, only one related to history at all, a name related to a local site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was located. The other choices were could-be-anywhere Metropolitan High School, Meridian (the eventual winner), Metro View, and West End. Same for deleting Mr. Jefferson’s name: the same local historical site came up, as did the name of a local white historical figure who started a school for special needs kids, along with a lot of geographical references  — the winner, Oak Street Elementary, “recognizes how trees are important natural elements.” No argument there, trees are good.

    What stands out is a devotion to keeping the point out of the renaming. As political the motivation was, it seems no one wanted an MLK high school, or a Rosa Parks elementary. Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s rape victim and slave, did not make the cut. Truth and Justice Elementary School was seen as a “nod” to Jefferson and thus rejected.

    Left undiscussed is how the renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary School still abuts George Mason Road. The renamed George Mason High School itself is located on Leesburg Pike, near Custis Parkway, named for the slave owning daughter of George Washington’s adopted son and the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is hard to get away from history.

    At this point it is tempting to drive over to Whole Foods, park among the herd of Prius’ and mock the earnest people of Fall Church with their PBS tote bags. A wealthy, nearly all white community making a splash about renaming two schools to cancel a couple of Founding Fathers while carefully avoiding any teachable moment by replacing the slaveholders with the blandest of non-political names. Everyone’s white liberal guilt is assuaged with few feathers ruffled. And did you see the new artisanal cheeses in aisle eleven? Carol sent another $50 to the ACLU for us after George Floyd, you know.

     

    The thing is that as hard as it is to take these people seriously, it is equally hard to not take them seriously. They really believe themselves. And that poses 2021’s question.

    America did not invent slavery, racism, or discrimination. We can point to a moral struggle hundreds of years in process including a civil war that remains the most costly conflict to Americans in body count and brutality. The Founders struggled over how to deal with a system most knew was unsustainable, Jefferson among them. We tried.

    Yet alone in history we haven’t figured this out. South Africa, with an apartheid system designed to be as plainly racist as possible, found a way to untangle itself. The ancient world was built on slave labor and made the transition. The Germans found a way to deal with their relatively recent attempt not just at enslavement but industrial scale genocide.

    We fail because we refuse to admit crying racism, and making faux-fixes as in Falls Church, is as profitable politically as doing racist things is. Getting yourself elected calling out racism with righteous rage is not far away from using racist voting laws to get yourself elected. There is too much to gain by maintaining and then exploiting a racist system. If you heal the patient, what’s left for all the doctors to do?

    There is also what we’ll now call the Falls Church myth, this near-idiotic belief that insignificant changes add up to something significant. Changing the name of a school, or tearing down a statue, does not change history. That is why everyone is still “raising awareness” about the same problems after decades. It feels good, though.

    Same for the “first…” people, the ones who celebrate the first black this or the first woman that. That we chased that idea all the way into the Oval Office and two consecutive black attorneys general to see nothing much come of it answers the question of what it is worth as a change tool.

    We thrive on polarization, thinking somehow calling someone a white supremacist based on little more than his skin color or political party is going to… help? The critical catechism of MLK and the civil rights movement — that race should not matter — is turned on itself to humiliate those who struggled. Sorry folks, it turns out it is all about the color of your skin after all, except that we mean black people should get stuff for being black.

    Alongside are the everything-is-racist scorekeepers. These people point out since about 13 percent of us are black, anything that has less than that (colleges, certain jobs, SAT scores) or more than that (prisons, poverty, police shooting rates) is racist. The simplicity is attractive but the reality of ignoring the complexity of every other factor and explanation is where the argument fails hard. At the risk of offense, it is not just black and white out there.

     

    I used to walk past the statue of Marion Sims in Central Park. When I first looked him up in 2012, he was the father of modern gynecology, the founder of New York’s first women’s hospital, the 19th century surgeon who perfected a technique that still today saves the lives of tens of thousands of third-world women. When I checked his biography again in 2018 he had become a racist misogynist who conducted medical experiments without anesthesia on enslaved women. His statue was removed from Central Park while protesters chanted their “ancestors can rest” and “believe black women.” I’m glad they just got rid of the statue instead of putting up a modern plaque “explaining” it in woke-talk.

    The thing is Sims did all that he was said to have done. He developed surgical tools and techniques still used today. He did surgeries on both free white women and enslaved black women, mostly without anesthesia in part because anesthesia was not in wide use at the time and in part because he subscribed to the racist theory of his time that blacks did not suffer pain the same way whites did. His often life-saving surgeries (on blacks) have been memed into “medical experiments” to connect them to Nazi horrors, purposefully ignoring the difference between non‐therapeutic and therapeutic procedure and leaving his white patients out of the story altogether. Easier that way.

    Left out of the ranting is primary documentation suggesting Sims’ original patients — black and white — were willing participants in his surgical attempts to cure vesicovaginal fistula, a condition for which no other viable therapy existed until Sims invented it. That meant they would have died without his surgery.

     

    I’ll confess there are times I, too, struggle with Jefferson. No one is anyone but a beginner on the road to Galilee, but Jefferson’s gifts make him among the hardest to understand. With such an extraordinary mind, he could turn on a pinpoint towards the cruelty of owning fellow human beings. Yet Jefferson the slave owner did not pass that portion of his ideas to our future. He, Mason, and the other Founders created a system which would eventually eliminate slavery and correct itself. The evil of slavery was defeated at great cost but we seem unable to let it die.

    We crave simplicity in our history when there is only complexity. It is ridiculous to ignore world-changing accomplishments thinking that will somehow fix our racial problems. We just don’t want to grapple with the questions of personal responsibility and the problem of intergenerational victimhood as a lifestyle. We want the simplicity of reparations, imagining we can buy our way out of racial troubles. We do not question the value of changing a school’s name or knocking down a statue because that promises a simplistic fix that protects us from hard questions. We like it that way and it is unlikely anything that needs fixing will get fixed until that changes.

      

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

  • Tale of Three Travel Destinations (Florida, NYC, Hawaii)

    July 4, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas


    As a fairly new resident of Hawaii, I bring an outsider’s perspective, and maybe a bit of uninvited advice. If Hawaii wants to regain its place as a popular tourist destination, it needs to think more like someone from Ohio than Oahu.

    Asian travel is at a standstill, and will be for some time. Should someone from Japan decide to visit our beautiful islands, in addition to our COVID requirements, upon returning home he would face a 14 day quarantine, a two-week ban on using public transportation, and location tracking via cell phone from his own government. If he breaks quarantine, among other penalties his name would be made public as someone “contributing to the spread of infection.” You would have to really, really love poi to build all that into a vacation.

    That brings us back to our potential Ohio traveler as he weighs his vacation options. He did the right thing and got double-vaccinated right away, and has been happily living and working without a mask for months. The pandemic as we still practice it here ended for most Americans months ago.

    Florida looks good to our traveler. Florida dropped all of its COVID restrictions about a year ago, and appears to have survived two Spring Breaks and beyond. Visitors can enter the state without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. Disney, et al, are welcoming guests. Cruises look like they are about to restart. Instead of fretting, the governor is hosting a conference in September to bring together tourism professionals, advertising agencies, and state leaders to build on opportunities. They’re looking at $95 billion in revenues from tourism, the good stuff: people drive or fly in, use few governmental resources, and leave behind money. It is a sweet investment, as every $1 put into their tourism promotion agency, Visit Florida, yields a $3.27 return to taxpayers. Visitors save every Florida household more than $1,500 a year on state and local taxes. Florida gets it.

    New York City was ground zero once again, the hardest hit COVID site. The city faced some of the nation’s worst COVID management, slamming the door shut on what was a tourism industry that created  400,000 jobs and $70 billion in economic activity pre-pandemic. But slowly the place awoke to discover it was not Judgment Day 2020, but summer 2021. Visitors can enter without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. As of mid-June, almost all COVID restrictions were dropped, and the Governor announced the state of emergency was over. Broadway is reopening with Bruce Springsteen, the Garden with the Foo Fighters, and the city is running a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign funded by stimulus money. After a year of some very bad decision making, the pols seem now to get it. Even the neo-socialist mayor says “building a recovery for all of us means welcoming tourists back.”

     

    Hawaii stands alone among the 50 states simply refusing to admit the pandemic is over. Hawaii alone requires not only COVID testing for unvaccinated visitors, but a complex regime of “trusted partners” who in the end administer the same tests through the same national labs as the untrusted partners. Let’s hope some of them are within a day’s drive of would-be tourists. Until a snap decision changed the rules as of July 8, Hawaii stood alone in treating those vaccinated in Hawaii differently from those vaccinated outside of Hawaii. It was always easier for dogs; as of today you can import a dog into Hawaii with an out-of-state rabies vaccine but not a tourist with an out-of-state COVID vaccine.

    The funny things is the only thing Hawaii worries about in human travelers is COVID. It neither tests for nor asks for proof of vaccination for yellow fever, malaria, ebola, AIDS, polio, Hepatitis A, B or C, leprosy, dengue fever, or hundreds of other diseases more problematic to the general population than COVID. And of course there is no science saying something magical happens at 70% local vaccination levels that does not happen at 69% or 59%. They’re just arbitrary numbers to create the illusion of control to provincial voters.

    Hawaii also seems unaware tourists need to plan vacations well ahead of time. The ever-changing guidance out of the Governor’s office drove people away. Imagine our Ohio tourist approaching his boss a month ago for time off: “Hey boss, can I have my two weeks when Hawaii hits 70%? It might be August, might be December, or they may alter the rules again, so we can stay chill on the dates, right?” That’s one traveler; if you are booking group tours, forget about it and go to Disney. The Governor’s waiting until late June to acknowledge vaccinated people don’t get COVID just wrote off a second summer season.

    If our Ohio visitor dips into the local news he sees the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor arguing publically over what the new rules should be. He sees Hawaii is looking to defund its own tourism promotion authority and still can’t get its light rail running.

    He reads unwelcoming, almost contemptuous Op-Eds wondering if too many tourists are spoiling things for the locals. He is unlikely to feel welcome with the Third World-like two-tiered pricing regime at popular sites. He sees articles about people sent home from the airport over an innocent Safe Travels mistake, stories suggesting he’ll need to rent a U-Haul as no cars are available, $120 Uber rides in from the airport, taxes going up on accomodations alongside already usurious “resort fees,” and bars and restaurants capped at limited capacity so it could be Zippy’s again for dinner. Hope word reached Ohio reservations are required for Hanauma Bay, and good luck scoring them.

    All this accompanied by the Jugend mask patrols, scolding anyone from ABC to CVS who is not wearing a mask, vaccinated or not. Sound like a vacation to you? The July 8 changes are welcome, but are in the end too little too late.

     

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

  • Rape and the Modern Belief Template

    July 3, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

    A New York Times article  details an alleged rape from some 18 years ago, and multiple incidents of sexual harassment since experienced by the author over her long career covering professional baseball in Texas.

    It follows a now near-template structure: something terrible may have taken place many years ago, long past any statute of limitations. No physical evidence remains, and there never were any witnesses. The writer kept this to herself all this time (variant: once told her close friends but no one else) but now wants to “help bring about systemic change” by making a media event of it. She never explains how her article will contribute to systemic change, or what that change is beside perhaps “less sex crimes,” something pretty much everyone already agrees on. She demands you “believe her” in lieu of proof of both the incident and evidence of the connection to something systemic (did we use this term in this way before 2021?) and condemns you if you don’t.

    Since these stories follow a template, there are some boilerplate things I need to attend to. I’m aware this is not a subject we’re allowed to talk about in a critical way. It is politically taboo, so more of your woke friends will praise you for knee-jerk reactions to this than thoughtful consideration. I am of course in no way condoning rape. Of course people unfairly use their power.

    And even though I am a non-woman I understand violence. I’ve been the victim of (non-sexual) violent crime. I know what it is like to feel unsafe. Pain is universal. As a victim I want vengeance, mean and horrible. If I could see my assailants run over by a bus I would prefer that to a judicial process that might fail. But as a citizen I have higher goals. That’s the difference between what I am writing here and the genre of victim stories which infuse progressive media.

     

    The NYT author follows the progressive victim template to a T in dropping enough hints as to her assailant that an inside baseball audience can likely make a good guess, but chooses not to name him, just as she chose not to report any of this to law enforcement or the team he played for years before. She wants change, she wants justice, but she wants it 2021-style, imploring the reader to “believe” her, scolding the men (of course) in her life who don’t believe her, and wanting to fully deny her alleged rapist any chance to defend himself. She wants no chance someone will file a defamation suit against her. She wants a one-sided argument, supported only by the new-found righteousness of 2021 that her word because she is a woman negates the rule of law and is enough to condemn someone. She won’t name him because that would trigger a fully accounting and she only wants her side printed in the New York Times. Like her assailant, no fair fight.

    Are you now knee jerking in large part agreement? Try it in a different context, a thought experiment. I implore you to believe my boss of 20 years ago stole money out of my wallet. I choose not to name her and thus disallow her the chance to explain, defend herself, or add to a narrative I’m telling you is true or else. No he said/she said if there is no he named. But I’ll drop enough hints that my old office mates know who I’m talking about now that she is in a senior position, and I’ll cite examples of not believing victims as my full justification. If you don’t buy this, you’re dismissed as a misogynist, racist, victim shamer, whatever, no further discussion allowed. The response to denying victim rights in the past is to deny the accused rights today.

    Back in the template, the author explains why she did not report her alleged rape. “I choose not to name him because it would only open me up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.” She follows up with “I knew that if I told anyone what happened that it would ruin my career. I was 22 with no track record, and at that time — nearly two decades ago — most people in baseball would have rallied to protect the athlete.” She wraps herself in “believe me” to avoid the much harder path an actual rule-based society demands; that accusations are insufficient, all people have rights, including the right to due process and a fair hearing in court or inside Human Resources. She goes on to cite her view of the unfairness of due process as justification for bypassing the process for what one imagines she thinks is street justice journalism-style. She demands everything based on “believe me” and mocks those who would “believe him.”

    (Bonus Belief Rules: We will never talk about Tara Reade, who credibly accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. We will refer to any accusations against Biden in a jocular fashion, Old  “Touchy Feely” Joe, can’t help himself, same way we sigh and giggle when grandpa passes gas at the dinner table.)

    Let’s go back to our thought experiment and my old boss, the one I claim stole money out of my wallet years ago. Would you shake your head in sad agreement that I was justified in not revealing anything, calling the cops, or going to HR because in a self-serving way I wanted to further my own career more than getting justice and avoid the problems of her defending herself against my accusation? That I buried the crime to get ahead, indeed did get ahead, and now 20 years want it both ways, victimhood points in the New York Times, perhaps a book deal or a Tina Fey mini-series, maybe a chance to smear without consequences someone I just don’t like, and still benefit from the career success I enjoyed for shutting up?

    What if I told you my boss went on to steal (I’m told…) money from other subordinates’ wallets, that I wasn’t the first or only victim? Would you agree I really had no choice and made a righteous decision to let her slide? That by benefiting from my decision to remain silent I may have harmed others who fell victim over the years but I’m still your hero in 2021? See how your emotions change when you’re convinced the crime is less personal and the victim (white, male) less deserving? Even as I implore you to believe me in my self-serving confession after explaining to you my self-serving silence?

    If any of this sounds familiar it is, because this playbook has been run against non-progressive men again and again these last few years. Accusations, made by the right kind of victim, are as useful as verdicts to a partisan press wanting voters to believe the president is a spy, violated arcane election funding laws, or out and out is simply an actual criminal rapist. The technique reached its nadir with a picture perfect accuser (a woman reanimated out of a horcrux from Hillary herself) demanding to be believed no matter that exculpatory evidence overwhelmed her testimony, weaponized to try to keep Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court.

    And if any of that sounds familiar it is, because in 2021 “belief” in something you already want to agree with has replaced critical thinking. A series of events is presented which are more or less true but incompletely rendered — blacks have been enslaved in America since 1619, kids learn more about Gettysburg than Tulsa — and then they are presented as causation for a modern problem. So it was because of Dutch explorers owning slaves in 1619 in what would not be America for another 150 years cops today shoot black perps. The link isn’t proven, it likely does not even exist, but believe it. Arguments, ranging from Twitter-class nutholes to considered academic thinking are dismissed with memes and insults. And you can always count on the New York Times to help out!

     

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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 the Pentagon Papers 50th Anniversary Means

    June 26, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

     

    It was a humid June on the east coast 50 years ago when the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers. The anniversary is worth marking, for reasons sweeping and grand, and for reasons deeply personal.

    In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret U.S. government history of the Vietnam War, to the Times. No one had ever published such classified documents before, and reporters feared prosecution under the Espionage Act. A federal court ordered the Times to cease publication after an initial flurry of excerpts were printed, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge had invoked prior restraint and shattered the 1A.

    In a legal battle too important to have been written first as a novel, the NYT fought back. The Supreme Court on June 30, 1971 handed down a victory for the First Amendment in New York Times Company v. United Statesand the Times won the Pulitzer Prize. The Papers helped convince Americans the Vietnam War was wrong, their government could not be trusted, and The People informed by a free press could still have a say in things. This 20 year anniversary rightfully marks all that.

    Today, journalists expect a Pulitzer for a snarky tweet that mocks Trump. In our current shameful state where the MSM serves as an organ of the Deep State, the anniversary of the Papers also serves as a reminder to millennials OnlyFansing as journalists that there were once people in their jobs who valued truth and righteousness. Perhaps this may inspire some MSM propagandist to realize he might still run with lions instead of slinking home to feed his cats.

    The 50th anniversary of the Papers is also a chance to remember how fragile the victory in 1971 was. The Supreme Court left the door open for prosecution of journalists who publish classified documents by focusing narrowly on prohibiting the government from prior restraint. Politics and public opinion, not law, have kept the feds exercising discretion in not prosecuting the press, a delicate dance around an 800-pound gorilla loose in the halls of democracy. The government, particularly under Obama, has meanwhile aggressively used the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who leak to those same journalists.

    There is also a very personal side to this anniversary. When my book, We Meant Well, turned me into a State Department whistleblower and set off a wall of the bad brown falling on me, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg sent me two of his books, unannounced, in the mail.

    He wrote a personal message inside each one, explaining to me what I was doing was hard, scary, and above all, a duty. It changed me and my understanding of what was happening to me. I wasn’t arguing procedure with the State Department and grubbing for my pension, I was defending the First Amendment itself. I wrote Dan a thank you note. Here’s some of it.

    Thank you for sending me copies of your books, and thank you even more for writing “with admiration for your truth telling” inside the cover flap of one. I am humbled, because I waited my whole life to realize today I had already met you.

    In 1971 I was 10 years old, living in Ohio. The Vietnam War was a part of our town’s life, same as the Fruehauf tractor-trailer plant with its 100 percent union workforce, the A&P and the Pledge of Allegiance. Nobody in my house went to war, but neighbors had gold stars in their windows and I remember one teacher at school, the one with the longer hair and the mustache, talking about Vietnam.

    It meant little to me, involved with oncoming puberty, but I remember my mom bringing home from the supermarket a newsprint quickie paperback edition of the Pentagon Papers. There of course was no Internet and you could not buy the Times where I lived. Mom knew of politics and Vietnam maybe even less than I did, but the Papers were all over the news and it seemed the thing to do to spend the $1.95. When I tried to make sense of the names and foreign places it made no impact on me.

    I didn’t understand then what you had done. While I was trying to learn multiplication, you were making photocopies of classified documents. As you read them, you understood the government had knowledge early on the war could not be won, and that continuing would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly.

    A lot of people inside the government had read those same Papers and understood their content, but only you decided that instead of simply going along with the lies, or privately using your new knowledge to fuel self-eating cynicism, you would try to persuade U.S. Senators Fulbright and McGovern to release the papers on the Senate floor.

    When they did not have the courage, even as they knew the lies continued to kill Americans they represented, you brought the Papers to the New York Times. The Times then echoed the courage of great journalists and published the Papers, fought off the Nixon administration by calling to the First Amendment, and brought the truth about lies to America. That’s when my mom bought a copy of the Papers at the A&P.

    You were considered an enemy of the United States because when you encountered something inside of government so egregious, so fundamentally wrong, you risked your own fortune, freedom, and honor to make it public. You almost went to jail, fighting off charges under the same draconian Espionage Act the government still uses today to silence others who stand in your shadow.

    In 2009 I volunteered to serve in Iraq for my employer of some 23 years, the Department of State. While I was there I saw such waste in our reconstruction program, such lies put out by two administrations about what we were (not) doing in Iraq, that it seemed to me that the only thing I could do — had to do — was tell people about what I saw. In my years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled only with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid hid their flaws.

    What I saw in Iraq was different. There, the space between what we were doing (the waste), and what we were saying (the chant of success) was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not nerveless bureaucrats. It wasn’t Vietnam in scale or impact, but it was again young Americans risking their lives, believing for something greater than themselves, when instead it was just another lie. Another war started and run on lies, while again our government worked to keep the truth from the people.

    I am unsure what I accomplished with my own book, absent getting retired-by-force from the State Department for telling a truth that embarrassed them. So be it; most people at State will never understand the choice of conscience over career, the root of most of State’s problems.

    But Dan, what you accomplished was this. When I faced a crisis of conscience, to tell what I knew because it needed to be told, coming to realize I was risking at the least my job if not jail, I remembered that newsprint copy of the Papers from 1971 which you risked the same and more to release. I took my decision in the face of the Obama administration having already charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined, but more importantly, I took my decision in the face of your example.

    Later, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden would do the same. I know you have encouraged them, too, through your example and with personal messages.

    So thank you for the books you sent Dan. Thank you for your courage so that when I needed it, I had an example to assess myself against other than the limp men and women working now for a Department of State too scared of the truth to rise to claim even a whisper of the word courage for themselves.

    Fast-forward to 2021. In these last few years the term “whistleblower” has been co-opted such that a Deep State operative was able to abuse the term to backdoor impeachment against a sitting president. The use of anonymous sources has devolved from brave individuals speaking out against a government gone wrong into a way for journalists to manufacture “proof” of anything they want, from claims the president was a Russian spy to the use of the military to create a photo op in Lafayette Park.

    On this anniversary we look at individuals like Ellsberg and reporters like those at the Times and know it is possible for individuals with courage to make a difference. That is something worth remembering, and celebrating.

      

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

  • Democrats and the Economy: The New Slaves of Hawaii

    June 19, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

     

    We don’t have to ask what happens when Democrats mess with the economy. We have Hawaii, frozen in COVID fear, a wonderful laboratory with the “what” as clear as a petri dish full of bacteria. It stinks. A case study in Democrats and the Economy.

     

    Hawaii exists in distinct state-lets, enclaves, socio-economic islets, maybe microbiomes. The Hawaii most people know is of course beautiful Waikiki, a place that if the darn Russians had not coined the term Potemkin Village would have taken the name for itself. Waikiki is fake, joyously fake, a kind of mellow version of the Vegas swindle, as if Ikea was the designer instead of 1950s mobsters. It exists only to separate tourists from their money. The beach is indeed gorgeous (but man-made, even that is fake) the ocean delightful, and prices are kept reasonable enough that it is accessible to a large number of people, as opposed to say Tahiti or Aruba. And for the most part the only locals a visitor will encounter are there to serve them. Back to Waikiki in a moment.

     

    A small but very important sector behind the facade of Waikiki are the wealthy, people whose two bedroom apartments near Honolulu are in the millions and whose stand alone homes on the Windward shore are in the multimillions. They live on the beaches tourists don’t visit, just barely maintaining the illusion of government-mandated public access to that soft white sand via thong-wide hidden paths between their walled compounds. The Obamas bought such a place, though many of the other super wealthy are from Asia. A careful look at names on tax records allows one to map the various Asian bubbles and recessions, with clusters of Japanese there, Chinese here, Koreans nearby, etc.
    These people have nothing to do with the rest of the Hawaiian ecology except one crucial role: they are the apex taxpayers who fund the extensive social welfare system semi-taking care of much of the rest of Hawaii. Benefits packages in Democrat-ruled Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175, and untaxed. For the last nine years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out 10 people in Hawaii get food stamps, plus free lunches at school and for the elderly. Hawaii already vies with California for the nation’s highest state income tax.

    The other sources of revenue are Federal defense spending (not part of this safari) and tourism. I told you we’d get back to Waikiki soon. Visitors to the paradise of Oahu may or may not notice all those decaying apartments outside their Uber’s window between the airport and Waikiki, the tent villages on the remote beaches or along the surface roads. Few tourists get off the highway and explore, and few diverge from the round-the-island one day rental car pilgrimage to poke deep inland. It’s OK, tourists are not supposed to, and in fact are really not too welcome in many spots. This is where the bulk of Hawaiians live in a cross between what resembles rural West Virginia in per capita rusted cars and one of the nicer third world countries like Jamaica, deep in poverty but gaily painted.

    Hawaii is nearly always one of the top states in terms of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, and diabetes. The people behind those statistics live in a relationship with the ultra-rich that is mostly like those little fish that swim inside a shark’s gills. Unseen and unminded, somewhere between symbiotic and parasitic, depending on your politics. It is precisely such relationships which define the Third World.

     

    The thing is in many ways this eco-econosystem sort of worked pre-COVID. Because it lacks the racial tensions that burden places like New York (whites are a minority in Hawaii at 25 percent, blacks only two percent) crime is almost all intramural, people victimizing each other inside their own neighborhoods. Think of Hawaii’s poor more as herbivores who occasionally fuss over territory when really necessary and New York’s as carnivores always looking for a fresh killing grounds just because. Drugs are a horrible problem off the beaten path, but in the eyes of the rich, not really a problem as the drugs stay “over there.” Until recently when Mexican imports began arriving like invasive junk fish in a cargo hold, even Hawaii’s favorite drugs — weed and meth — were even a local product.
    COVID upset the finely-balanced system. Suddenly fear gave government the chance to run fully amuck, with nothing to limit even the stupidest ideas. Everything was done by emergency decree, no debates, no votes, no process.
    Step One was a decision to slam the door hard on Hawaii’s second largest industry, tourism, once accounting for 24 percent of the economy, and throw tens of thousands of people out of work, crippling the businesses down the food chain from them where they spent their money at the same time. Did those workers come from the Gold Coast, the multi-million dollar homes of Kahala or the always voted one of the world’s best beaches areas near Kailua? Of course not. The working poor lost their jobs. But Hawaii already had in place a robust unemployment insurance system, whose benefits were made fatter by Federal supplement money. None of these workers missed the benefits from their old job as they never had any benefits in the first place.
    Fast forward 16 months of COVID and now the Hawaiian government would like some tourists to please come back and leave money. The government would also like workers to return to their Waikiki jobs to dance hula, serve drinks, and rub suntan lotion on all those white fish-bellied visitors. The old workers are mostly saying no, and the media is awash with articles about how the jobs are unfillable and woe is us if the tourists cannot be served. Lacking capitalism’s favorite cheap labor solution, massive numbers of usable illegal aliens, the jobs are so soulless and pay so little the only way to fill them is to force people by cutting unemployment benefits and no politician in Democratic-controlled Hawaii seems ready for that.

    Those “unfillable” jobs pay about $10-12 an hour, and so the employer can stay exempt from paying into Obamacare, limit workers to under 20 hours a week. That’s $240 a week, before it being fully taxed and with social security deducted, plus the costs of going to work, such as transportation, chipping away at the edges.

    Because the Hawaiian government still restrains trade by holding bars and restaurants to limited capacity and opening hours, any job working for tips is artificially capped. As the Hawaiian government is the only U.S. state left which still requires COVID tests for entry (that program alone has cost the state over $60 million in direct costs, even as travelers are saddled with paying $120 or more per test) and is among the dwindling few that still requires full masking, many tourists stay home. Arrivals are down some 50-75 percent overall, with the once-lucrative Asian trade hovering at zero. Everytime a plane lands some media flunky headlines “Tourism is back!” but they’ll be saying it for a long time. Think cargo cult.
    The way 25 other state governments found to force people to work for low wages is to do away with the Federal supplement portion of unemployment, so people can choose between about $130 a week unemployment or $240 a week working. Hawaii, as committed to its social welfare state as any college political science sophomore is committed to his vision of socialist utopia, has no plans to drop the Federal unemployment money. While everyone thinks on what’s next, the economy is dependent on unsustainable Federal  funding, such as a bailout of $196 million in “Biden Bucks” via the American Rescue Plan Act. Another “solution” to the lack of willing workers is for the government to restrict tourism, and/or charge tourists higher fees to visit popular sites because no one can imagine that would send holidaymakers to Disneyland instead.
    Meanwhile, Hawaii has long had a brain and brawn drain problem, with both tradespeople and college graduates moving out to the mainland U.S. COVID restrictions have only made this worse as the state clings to its masks like it is still 2020. Running underneath it all like a bass line are some of the highest gas prices in a long time and accelerating inflation, the latter another example of what happens when Democrats muddle in the economy.
    At some point the Hawaiian government is going to have to decide if it will loosen COVID restrictions to flood in more tourists, and/or give out less unemployment money (because ain’t nobody got time to raise wages) if it want to return to a running economy. Or maybe Biden will do it for them, as he plans to end the Federal supplement everywhere in September to mark our second lost summer. If not, thanks to government intervention all along the system, the media will be running labor shortage articles until someone on the Ron Burgundy Action News team figures out $400 in unemployment money is a bigger number than $240 cleaning toilets.

     

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

  • Aloha New York (or, Escape from New York)

    June 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas


    It’s always the little things that tell the story. For me and New York, it is the dog poop.

    I keep wanting to love this city but it keeps fighting back. I finally realized it became an abusive relationship and it was time to leave. I no longer live there. My adult kids and quite a few of my neighbors bailed out months ago.

    The final straw was everywhere underfoot. I lived in a “nice” neighborhood. The fact that we so easily accept that we have nice and bad neighborhoods butted up against each other is part of the problem, too. But my neighborhood was nice, mostly residential, with a lot of pets. There was dog poop everywhere such that you learned to look down as you walked and developed a kind of skip and slide move to quickly reroute. You saw the brown skid marks where someone did not nail their landing.

    We had human excrement, too. A nice neighborhood means “good” edible garbage for the leagues of Third World homeless who live off our trash. A lot of people tend to throw out their recyclable cans instead of taking them to the recycle point for coins. The spud boy variety homeless who graze these streets can often scrounge up a few bucks in cans each night. Then they have to poop and there are no public toilets. After corporate Starbucks ordered all its stores to make restrooms available to customers and others, many in sketchy areas just locked up their toilets and stuck on a sign saying “Out of Order.”

    But I can’t blame the dogs for us leveling down. The issue is with the people walking those dogs who decision by decision choose not to pick up the crap. Every day so many neighbors decide not to pick up, leaving it for the people they live near to deal with. “I only care about me,” there is no better summation of why I left New York.

     

    But alongside the little things are of course the big ones. New York is a failed experiment. Massive public housing estates were built up the east side and northern end of Manhattan, as well as in the outer boroughs, starting in the 1950s. What was once seen as an expedient to get people back on their feet (alongside food stamps and the other A-Z of social welfare) morphed into inter-generational poverty, generations of people who have never really worked and exist on the taxes of those who do. Knowledge of how to best exploit these systems is passed on the way a father might once have passed on his skills as a carpenter to a son.

    Though the causes are complex, the reality is very simple. Poverty lines, like most of the city geographically, are sharply racial in division. People proudly claim New Yorkers speak 70 some languages, but in truth not often with each other. Broadly NYC is one of the most racially diverse places in America, but people live close but not together. Everyone knows where the white-black-brown lines are, usually by street (96th Street near me is a marker) but sometimes by housing complex.

    Even the magnificent Central Park is racially divided. Check real estate prices at the southern end of the Park, the so-called Billionaires Row, versus the northern end where the Park is capped by liquor stores with bars on the windows and walkup tenements poor people have been swapping out since 1900. Chinatown and Greektown sound fun for tourists, but nobody is comfortable admitting we also have Hebrew Village, Caucasianland, and Blacktown.

    The underlying financial system is unsustainable, far too few people (less now with COVID flight) paying too many taxes to support indefinitely too many others. The wealthy still enjoy NYC as long as they stay in their own layer, living hundreds of feet above the city, taking advantage of cheap labor for their needs, and scuttling to cultural events in towncars like cockroaches when the kitchen light flips on. They don’t live in NY, they float above it. Many play at liberalism, supporting the cause of the day espoused by the Daily Show and donating to PBS, but they really have no way to care. They literally do not even see what is happening around them.

    New York had great pizza, enough to have America’s only professional pizza tour guide (though the city has fallen to a disgraceful third place nationally for pizza.) Amazing bagels. Shopping to die for, the museums, the energy. Broadway. But the list of what one has to put up with on a usual and customary basis to access all that grows worryingly longer, even without factoring in COVID. Street crime. Homelessness. A deteriorating public transportation system that gets more expensive to use proportionally as it gets less pleasant to use.

    Take a non-rush hour bus ride and you will almost certainly be forced to navigate someone with mental illness. A police force that has either pretty much given up doing anything more than keeping the combatants apart or is a racist invading army, depending on where you think. I love a great slice of pizza, but I also got beat up on my own block in what the cops said was some sort of gang initiation and I was damn lucky not to get seriously hurt.

    Add in the black slush lagoons that form on every street corner after a heavy snow as the plowed snow accumulates in vast heaps. The co-op apartment system where each building is like a mini-Vatican with its own rules and eccentricities. Some of the highest taxes in the country. Creaky infrastructure that leaks water, steam, gas, and electricity, sometimes all at once, to blend with the street gravy of the homeless.

    And what is the city government focused on? Doing away with the rigorous entrance exams at its elite high schools in hopes of balancing them racially. And of course defunding the police and realigning pronouns. The inmates are literally in charge; NYC did away with bail in favor of catch-and-release in most cases.

    That NYC’s problems exist in some form in other cities across America is nothing to be proud of. Rather, the prevalence is symbolic of America’s stubborn and globally unique insistence on not providing universal healthcare, of maintaining a tax-stock-economic system which brews economic inequality,  not controlling its immigration, and of not creating infrastructure jobs to bust poverty. The focus remains on NYC in part because of the city’s constant bleating that it is the greatest in the world.

     

    New York has never in its history pretended to be a warm and fuzzy place. It has always challenged its residents to accept a certain amount of guff in return for the shoulder tab “New Yorker.” But the line between that and watching people suffer in the streets is one now for me too far. I’m not alone; people are neither moving in to the city nor staying. A realtor friend in Florida says every phone call these days is from someone in Boston, Chicago, New York or the like. “They ask about schools,” he said. In the last year over 33,000 New Yorkers moved to Florida, a 32 percent increase from the same period the prior year. A drop in the bucket some may say until they realize about that same number of high earners pay 40 percent of the taxes in the city. Florida has no income tax.

    If I sound frustrated, like I should be doing a Jeep commercial for next year’s Super Bowl, it’s because I am. I was born here in New York, and have seen these up and down cycles before. This one seems like it will stick for a awhile. That’s enough right there. But this round, driven by a near completely terrible series of COVID decisions, is so clearly man-made. Most of it did not need to happen but it did. Living through it, I can’t say it made me a better man, a happier man, a more caring man. I don’t like what it did to me. Us.

    New York, like other large cities in the U.S. fails to understand what was done to it via COVID is no temporary change, even if some of the tourists dribble back in. No one will blow a whistle or yell “cut” and everything resets to March 2020. A profound change occurred in America. For the first time in history, where one lives and where one works have been decoupled. New York City no longer holds the record for most billionaires resident. That’s in Beijing now.

    I’ll miss some of the hustle, as well as the symphony of overheard interactions which end with “And f*ck you, too!” And I know New York will be back in some form post-COVID, but it will need in the interim to have a hard conversation with itself along the way. Playground for the rich? Island prison for the poor? Stumbling social experiment while the towers literally deteriorate around us all? As that famous song goes, “it’s up to you New York, Neeeeew Yoooork!” Just do it without me.

     

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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 Case that U.S. Paid for the Work in Wuhan Which Created COVID

    June 5, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    It reads like science fiction but it is very real. The work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which could create a bioweapon — genetically engineering the highest possible infectivity for human cells — was subcontracted to the Chinese government. And thanks to a series of cover-ups, we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. The people who lost loved ones, lost their jobs, who fell into despair under societal restrictions, deserve better.

    There are two origin stories for COVID-19. One is that it emerged naturally, evolving from a bat virus to infect humans. The other is COVID-19 was genetically created by China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology via gain of function research funded by the U.S. The virus then escaped into the world. That year you spent at home, those loved ones who died, might have been our own fault. The point is more than assigning guilt; understanding the true origin of the pandemic is critical to preventing it from happening again, as well as as a guide to future gain of function research. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; our lives depend on it.

     

    The first bioscientist to take a serious look at the origins of the virus raised the possibility it had been manipulated by humans, not nature. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists went on to ask directly “Did people or nature open Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” and goes on to make a strong case it was us.

    It starts with EcoHealth Alliance of New York. For 20 years they have routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. In favor of what common sense would immediately see as a bioweapon capable of destroying the human race, some scientists argue by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent “spillovers” of viruses from animal hosts to humans. Like something out of Jurassic Park, this is known as gain of function research, genetic manipulation to “improve” nature. Such work already allowed scientists to recreate the 1918 flu virus, to show how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduce a smallpox gene into a related virus.

    Some of that work was done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, teamed with researchers at the University of North Carolina. Specifically, they focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015 they together created a manufactured virus that was once dangerous only to bats now able to infect the cells of the human airway.

    The key Chinese researcher in this work at Wuhan Institute of Virology, known as the “Bat Lady,” specialized further, engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. Her research was funded by the Obama administration’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH initially assigned those grants to an American company, EcoHealth, who subcontracted the work to Wuhan. To be clear: the work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which along with its medical potential could create a bioweapon was subcontracted to the Chinese government by an American company.

    The Wuhan lab was already a nexus of attention pre-pandemic. The Bat Lady had previously traveled to Mozambique in September 2019 to give a controversial presentation on bat coronaviruses. Outcry quickly led Wuhan to pull their virus database offline following the trip. The Chinese government still refuses to provide any of its raw data, safety logs or lab records. Another Wuhan scientist was forced to leave a Canadian university for shipping deadly viruses, including ebola, back to China. The lab also allegedly tried to steal intellectual property regarding remdesivir, a class of antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19 prior to the vaccine. No small connection, the editorial board of the Bat Lady’s virology journal includes members of the Chinese military.

    There is also the question of safety at the Wuhan lab. As early as 2018 Wuhan alarmed U.S. State Department inspectors who visited it. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote. They warned the lab’s work on “bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Though they had higher security facilities, the Chinese were working in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus like COVID-19.

     

    The other origin theory, natural emergence, never has had any evidence to support it. The Bulletin states “This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses [related to COVID-19] had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.”

    Yet some 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which COVID-19 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to late 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year. In just one example of that lack of evidence, the search in China for the natural origin of the virus included testing more than 80,000 different animals from across dozens of Chinese provinces. Not a single case of COVID-19 in nature was found. Chinese researchers did primordial cases in people from Wuhan with no link to that infamous wet market China claims sold an infected bat eaten by Patient One.

    So why has the natural origin theory persisted in the face of no evidence? One of the strongest shows of support for the natural theory was a letter from dozens of scientists published in early 2020 in the British medical journal Lancet. The letter had actually been organized and written not by the scientists, but by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth the grantee who subcontracted with Wuhan, though his involvement was not disclosed at the time. If the virus had indeed escaped from research they funded, EcoHealth would be potentially liable, as of course would the American government. Ecohealth went on to plant never-challenged stories in the MSM labeling anyone who thought Wuhan was to blame as a conspiracy crank.

    Meanwhile, a Chinese-affiliated scientific journal at the University of Massachusetts Medical School commissioned commentary to refute that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, the same position held by the Chinese government. Mirroring the American media, the journal called anything to the contrary “speculations, rumors, and conspiracy theories.” Chinese officials also objected elsewhere to any name, such as the Wuhan Flu, linking the virus to China.

    In addition to these cover-up efforts, there were those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. In answer to Senator Rand Paul, Fauci stated “you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He appears to have committed perjury, as Fauci now admits “there’s no way of guaranteeing” American taxpayer money routed to Wuhan virology didn’t fund gain-of-function research. Fauci has also reversed himself completely in saying he is not convinced COVID developed naturally. The Senate passed a Rand Paul-sponsored amendment banning funding of gain of function research in China.

     

    The cover-up was aided in every possible way by the media. Though in 2021 The Wall Street Journal reported three researchers the Wuhan Institute of Virology became “sick enough in November 2019 [a month before the first “public” cases] with COVID-19-like symptoms that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report,” they along with their peers showed little curiosity a year earlier.

    One important word in the Journal’s sentence is undisclosed. What they mean is the media did not know about the report, but the U.S. government did. When the president tried to talk to the American people about his now-prescient decision to shut down travel from China in early 2020, he knew about the intel report. As in most cases involving intelligence, the president had to act on the information, and inform the public, without without giving away sources and methods. No thinking person today can claim the move to shut down travel was a mistake.

    The media, however, had other priorities, especially the task of defeating Donald Trump. They immediately slammed the decision as racist, and promoted the Chinese government’s evidence-free explanation the Wuhan lab had no connection with the pandemic.

    A WaPo headline read “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research” and a separate story said believing the Chinese had anything to do with creating COVID was as credible as the Soviet Union in 1985 accusing the CIA of manufacturing AIDS. “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins,” said the New York Times in February 2020, adding “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak.” The Times’ article, however, did not quote or name any of the supposed scientists. Then there was a hagiographic bio piece on the Bat Lady. Later, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, claiming her “scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses.”

    It is only now, months into the safety of the Biden administration, that the media is willing to take a peek inside Pandora’s Box. Politifact walked back its slam dunk “fact check” China had nothing to do with it, and Facebook announced it would no longer censor posts claiming the virus was man-made. Yet despite the deaths of millions of people, Washington still has little interest into the origin story. The Biden administration shut down a State Department investigation in March of this year, claiming the work was politically motivated. Under pressure Biden later asked for his own investigation from the intelligence community, which will by definition produce a paper of ambiguous findings, concluding happily none of the scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out.

     

    There will be no smoking gun. The people who know the truth, the Chinese government and Ecohealth, have already been caught lying. Gain of function research does not leave a physical marker to prove origin. To date, there is no evidence COVID-19 was of a natural origin. There is much to show it was not. To argue any other way requires an expert understanding of terms like furin site, RBM, RaTG13, and spike protein, not Google.

    We do know Wuhan conducted gain of function research aimed at doing what COVID-19 does, making a virus originally not dangerous to humans into a super-infector designed to spread quickly while resisting then-existing cures and vaccines. We know the Patient One cases of the virus were in Wuhan. We know researchers at the lab were infected in November 2019. We know safety standards at the lab were insufficient to contain the virus. In a murder case this would be enough to show means, motive, and method beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We know the basic gain of function research at the lab was funded by the United States. We know we were lied to about this.

    We also know despite the global importance of the story, investigations never mind curiosity were non-existent in the media. They instead promoted the cover-up stories produced by Ecohealth, the WHO, and the Chinese government. The media shut out dissenting opinions by labeling them as conspiracy fodder, even mocking the co-discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner for suggesting non-natural origins.

    We are unlikely to definitively ever know the origin of COVID-19, and politicians and pundits will make the most of the ambiguity.  But as the wise man said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you.

     

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

  • CIA (Dis)Information Operations Come Home to the US

    May 29, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, NSA

     

    Reporters joke the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions and say “No comment’ before heading to Happy Hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information about itself. They meanwhile choose to profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.

    Leon Panetta, the Director CIA from 2009 to 2011 explained bluntly his CIA did influence foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method, Panetta said, was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.”

    The CIA has been running such information ops to influence foreign elections since the end of WWII. Richard Bissell, who ran the agency’s operations during the Cold War, wrote of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A report on the CIA in Chile boasts the Agency portrayed its favored candidate in one election as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.” At one point in the 1980s foreign media insertions ran 80 a day.

    The goal is to control information as a tool of influence. Sometimes the control is very direct, simply paying a reporter to run a story, or, as was done in Iraq, simply operating the media outlet yourself (known as the Orwellian Indigenous Media Project.) The problem is such direct action is easily exposed, destroying credibility.

    A more effective strategy is to become a source for legitimate media such that your (dis)information inherits their credibility. The most effective is an operation so complex one CIA plant is the initial information source while a second CIA plant acts seemingly independently as a confirming source. At that point you can push information to the mainstream media, who can then “independently” confirm it, sometimes unknowingly, through your secondary agents. You can basically write tomorrow’s headlines.

    Other techniques include exclusive true information mixed with disinformation to establish credibility, using official sources like Embassy spokesmen to appear to inadvertently confirm sub details, and covert funding of research and side gigs to promote academics and experts who discredit counter-narratives. The academics may never know where their money comes from, adding to their credibility.

    From the end of WWII to the Church Committee in 1976, this was all just a conspiracy theory. Of course the US would not use the CIA to influence elections, especially in fellow democracies. Except it did. By its nature reporting on intelligence always requires one to work with limited information. Always give time a chance to explain.

    Through Operation Mockingbird the CIA ran over 400 American journalists as direct assets. Almost none have ever discussed their work publically. CIA documents show journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations. The New York Times alone willingly provided cover for about ten CIA officers over decades and kept quiet about it. Such long term relationships are a powerful tool, so feeding a true big story to a young reporter to get him promoted is part of the game. Don’t forget the anonymous source who drove the Watergate story was an FBI official who through his actions made the careers of  cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein went on to champion the Russiagate story. Woodward became a Washington hagiographer. Ken Dilanian, formerly with the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and now working for NBC, maintains a “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.

     

    That’s the tradecraft and the history. The problem for America is once again the tools of war abroad have come home. The intelligence community is currently operating against the American people using established media.

    Some of it can’t be more obvious. The CIA always planted stories in foreign media for American outlets to pick up. The Agency works directly with Hollywood to control movies about itself. Turn on any of the advocacy media outlets and you see panels of former CIA officials. Journalist Matt Taibbi even created a list (and since ex-‘s need agency clearance to speak, all are of the officially approved class.) None is more egregious than John Brennan, former Director CIA, who for years touted Russiagate when he knew from information gathered while he was still in office it was all a lie.  The uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia was leaked to the press most likely by Brennan in January 2017 as the kick off event to the info op still running today.

    Brennan’s role is more than speculation. John Durham, the US attorney leading the ongoing “how it happened” Russiagate investigation into the intelligence community, has requested Brennan’s emails and call logs from CIA. Durham is also examining whether Brennan changed his story between his public comments (not under oath, say anything) and his May 2017 testimony to Congress (under oath, watch out for perjury) about the dossier. Reporter Aaron Mate is less delicate, laying out the evidence Brennan was “a central architect and promoter of the conspiracy theory from its inception.” Even blunter is Senator Rand Paul, who directly accuses Brennan of trying “to bring down a sitting president.”

     

    It was all based on nothing but disinformation and the American press swallowed every bit of it, turning the op into a three year tantrum falsely convincing a vast number of citizens their nation was run by a Russian asset. Robert Mueller, whose investigation was supposed to propel all this nothing into impeachment hearings, ended up exercising one of the last bits of political courage Americans will ever see in walking right to the edge of essentially a coup and refusing to step off into the abyss.

     

    The CIA is a learning institution, and recovered well from Russiagate. Details can be investigated. That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. But the a-ha discovery was since you’ll never formally prosecute anyone, why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. The new paradigm included let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts. Go overt and use the new, unexpected prestige of the CIA as progressive heros to substantiate things.

    So in December 2017 CNN reported Donald Trump, Jr. had advance access to the WikiLeaks archive. Within an hour, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and CBS both claimed independent confirmation. It was a complete lie, based on fabricated documents. How do you confirm a lie? Ask another liar.

    In February 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee the Russians were election meddling again to favor Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed Bernie Sanders the Russians were also meddling in the Democratic primaries in his favor. Both briefings were leaked, the former to the New York Times to smear Trump for replacing his DNI, the latter to the Washington Post ahead of the Nevada caucuses to damage Sanders.

    In June 2020 The New York Times stated CIA officials concluded the Russians “secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops.”  The story ran near another claiming Trump had spoken disrespectfully about fallen soldiers. Neither story was true. But they broke around the same time Trump announced his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, aimed at discouraging pro-military voters.

    Earlier this month The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, claimed the FBI gave a defensive briefing to Rudy Giuliani in 2019, before he traveled to Ukraine. Giuliani supposedly ignored the warning. The story was “independently confirmed” by both NBC and The New York Times. It was totally false.

     

    The American system always envisioned an adversarial role for the media. One of the earliest challenges to freedom of the press was the Colonial-era Peter Zenger case, which established the right of the press to criticize politicians free from libel charges. At times when things really mattered and even as other journalists hid under their beds, men like Edward R. Murrow worked their craft to preserve democracy. Same for Walter Cronkite finally reaching his opposition to the Vietnam War, and the New York Times reporters weighing imprisonment to publish the Pentagon Papers.

    In each of those instances the handful of reporters who risked everything to tell the truth were held up as heroes. Seeing the Times fighting for its life, the Washington Post co-published the Pentagon Papers to force the government to make its case not just against a rival newspaper, but the 1A itself.

    Not today. Journalism is today devoted to eliminating practitioners unwilling to play the game. Few have been targeted more than Glenn Greenwald (with Matt Taibbi as runner up.) Greenwald exploded into a journalistic superhero for his reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA archive, founding The Intercept to serve as a platform for that work (Greenwald’s downfall parallels Julian Assange, who went from liberal hero for exposing the foundational lies of the Iraq War to zero when his Wikileaks was demonized for supposedly helping Donald Trump.)

    Greenwald’s criticism of the media for accepting Deep State lies as truth, particularly concerning Russiagate, turned him into a villian for progressives. MSNBC banned him, and other media outlets ran stories critical of him. Then something very, very odd happened to make it appear The Intercept outed one of its own whistleblower sources. Evidence suggests the source was a patsy, set up by the intel community, and exposed via Matt Cole, one of The Intercept journalists on this story. Cole was also involved in the outing of source CIA officer John Kiriakou in connection with torture claims. Either way new whistleblowers will think twice before turning to The Intercept. Greenwald recently quit the site after it refused to publish his article on Hunter Biden’s ties to China unless he deleted portions critical of Joe Biden.

    Greenwald seems to have figured out the intel community’s game, writing “the most significant Trump-era alliance is between corporate outlets and security state agencies, whose evidence-free claims they unquestioningly disseminate… Every journalist, even the most honest and careful, will get things wrong sometimes, and trustworthy journalists issue prompt corrections when they do. That behavior should be trust-building. But when media outlets continue to use the same reckless and deceitful tactics — such as claiming to have ‘independently confirmed‘ one another’s false stories when they have merely served as stenographers for the same anonymous security state agents while ‘confirming’ nothing — that strongly suggests a complete indifference to the truth and, even more so, a willingness to serve as disinformation agents.”

    Democracy has no meaning if people simply vote uninformed, as they are propagandized. It will be sport for future historians to mark the thing that most pushed America into decline. Seeing decades of success abroad in using info ops, the CIA and others turned those weapons inward. So seeing her Deep State meddle in presidential politics, simultaneously destroying (albeit mostly with their cooperation) the adversarial media, while crushing faith in both our leaders and in the process of electing them, will certainly be a top qualifier.

     

     

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

  • COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

    May 22, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

     

    In the post-vaccination era, why don’t people remove their masks? Learned helplessness, employed as a control tool.

    Learned helplessness is well-documented. It takes place when an individual believes he continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to improve his circumstances, even when he has the ability to do so. Discovering the loss of control elicits a passive reaction to a harmful situation. Psychologists call this a maladaptive response, characterized by avoidance of challenges and the collapse of problem-solving when obstacles arise. You give up trying to fight back.

    An example may help: you must keep up with ever-changing mask and other hygiene theatre rules, many of which make no sense (mask in the gym, but not the pool; mask when going to the restaurant toilet but not at your table, NYC hotels are closed while Vegas casinos are open, Disney California closed while Disney Florida was open) and comply. You could push back, but you have been made afraid at a core level (forget about yourself rascal, you’re going to kill grandma if you don’t do what we say) and so you just give in. Once upon a time we were told a vaccine would end it all, yet the restrictions remain largely in place. You’re left believing nothing will fix this. Helpless to resist, you comply “out of an abundance of caution.”

    American psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier created the term “learned helplessness” in 1967. They were studying animal behavior by delivering electric shocks to dogs (it was a simpler time.) Dogs who learned they couldn’t escape the shock simply stopped trying, even after the scientists removed a barrier and the dog could have jumped away.

    Learned helplessness has three main features: a passive response to trauma, not believing that trauma can be controlled, and stress.

    Example: you are being stalked by a killer disease which often has no outward symptoms. There is nothing you can do but hide inside and buy things from Amazon. The government failed to stop the virus initially, failed to warn you, failed to supply ventilators and PPE gear, and failed to produce a vaccine quick enough. You may die. You may kill your family members along the way. You have lost your job by government decree and are forced to survive on unemployment and odd stimulus check, manufactured dependence. It is all very real: WebMD saw a 251 percent increase in searches for anxiety this April.

    Americans, with their cult-like devotion to victimhood, are primed for learned helplessness. Your problems are because you’re a POC, or fat, or on some spectrum. You are not responsible, can’t fix something so systemic, and best do what you are told.

    The way out is to allow people to make decisions and choices on their own. This therapy is used with victims of learned helplessness such as hostages. During their confinement all the important decisions of their life, and most of the minor ones, were made by their captors. Upon release, many hostages fear things as simple as a meal choice and need to be coaxed out of helplessness one micro-choice at a time.

    Example: you cannot choose where to stand, so follow the marks on the floor. Ignore the research saying three feet apart is as useful/useless as six feet apart. Don’t think about why the rules are the same inside a narrow hallway and outside in the fresh air but don’t apply at all on airplanes.

    Kin to learned helplessness are enforcers. Suddenly your waitress transitions from someone serving you into someone ordering you to wear a mask, sit alone, eat outside, etc. Flight attendants morph from delivering drinks to holding the power to have security haul you to jail for unmasking when not actively eating. Companies once run by entrepreneurs are today controlled by the harassment stalking undead from HR. We’ve become a republic of hall monitors. And there it is. The wrong people are in charge.

    One of the better examples of learned helplessness is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a great book made into an impressive movie starring a lean Jack Nicholson. Nurse Ratched cows a group of mentally ill men into complete learned helplessness, encouraging them to rat each other out for small offenses, and to follow her every order no matter how absurd. The kicker comes near the end when we learn all of the men (except Nicholson) are free to leave the hospital at any time. They just… can’t.

    It is amazing how fast people stepped into the Nurse Ratched roll. Within moments of COVID’s arrival in the national conscience, officials like California’s Gavin Newsom, and New York’s power bottom twins Andrew Cuomo and Bill De Blasio raced to assume dictatorial emergency powers. They spent not one moment assessing the impact of their decisions to lock down against the effects of the lockdown. They ignored information questioning the value of lockdown. They turned topsy-turvy the idea in a free society the burden of proof is on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

    They were aided in manufacturing learned helplessness by the most sophisticated propaganda operation ever created. Already engorged with the coin of three years of fake news, the legacy media saw the value of a new crisis toward their two real goals: make as much money as possible garnering clicks, and defeating Donald Trump. Previous shows, Russiagate with a hat tip to 9/11 when Americans demanded fewer freedoms to feel safer, illustrated the way. On a 24/7 basis America were injected: you are helpless and Donald “COVID” Trump will kill you. Your only hope is to comply fully with the people at CNN who are administering the electric shocks.

    Truth is useless to propagandists, actually a threat. Look at what turned out to be false (in addition to Russiagate): we never ran out of ventilators or PPE or nurses or ICU beds or morgues. Masks were not really needed outdoors. We did in fact develop a vaccine, several in fact, in less than a year. Almost everyone who died was elderly or had serious comorbidities but we salivated over “new case numbers” as the primary metric anyway because they went up so much faster. When people questioned the real world view against the media portrayal, they were told about “asymptomatic COVID” or shunned as hoaxers. Everyone makes mistakes. But just as with Russiagate, all the media mistakes swung one way.

    It worked. Condo boards boarded up their gyms. Restaurants forced diners to eat outside in the rain. Entire industries, such as tourism and hospitality, disappeared overnight. New groups were shoved into poverty and unemployment. Children were denied education, criminals released from jails. People were told not to hug their loved ones. Saving Grandma meant she died untouched in a hospital room. The government denied you the chance to say one final goodbye to the person who raised you and you didn’t fight back? Now that’s control.

    Every time a bit of dissenting information popped up — Florida opening its beaches for Spring Break, for example — the media rushed in to declare everyone was gonna die. Texas was declared dead, South Dakota was declared dead, and Americans believed it all even when reports of survivors started drifting out of Disney World. Learned helplessness is hard to unlearn. One Harvard professor explains our brains evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

    Americans are not comfortable accepting their lives being manipulated at this level, the way for example many Russians assume it to be so. We tend to dismiss such things as conspiracy theories and make an Oliver Stone joke. But ask yourself how many of the temporary security and surveillance measures enacted after 9/11 are still controlling our lives almost 20 years later. Is the terror threat still so real the FBI needs to monitor our social media in bulk? Was it ever?

    Nothing here is to say vaccines don’t work, or are themselves dangerous. That’s another debate. This is about the politics of mass control. Add up the “doesn’t really make sense but we do it anyway” COVID rules and try to make sense of them. Why would otherwise smart leaders implement such rules, for example in New York’s case, purposely impoverishing a city or seeking to defund the police in the midst of triple digit rises in crime? Every time your answer is “it just doesn’t make sense” consider a scenario beyond coincidence where it would make sense however out there that might be. It might be the most important thing you can do.

    Then look out the window. Remember “10 days to flatten the curve?” With no voting or debate, a system based on a medical procedure capable of controlling our travel, which businesses we can visit, which hotels we can stay in, what jobs we can hold, what education we can access, at which point it is no more “voluntary” than breathing, was put into place. We no longer need to ask what is happening. The real question is always why.

     

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

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

    May 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

  • Fascism Americano

    May 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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