• Archive of "Post-Constitution America" Category

    China vs. U.S.: Privacy for Whom?

    September 13, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    The New York Times ran an article on the use of surveillance tech in China. One wishes they would do the same for the U.S.

    The NYT article came to some scary conclusions about autocratic China. Chinese authorities implement facial recognition tech everywhere they can, the police seek to connect electronic activity (making a call) to physical location, biometric information such as fingerprint and DNA is collected on a mass scale, and the government wants to tie together all of this data to build comprehensive profiles on troublesome citizens. The latter is the Holy Grail of surveillance, a single source to know all there is known about a person.

    Should the Times (or China) wish to expand its review of invasive government surveillance technology, particularly those technologies which integrate multiple systems, it need look no further than its hometown police force, the NYPD, and data aggregated into the little-known Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) by the U.S. State Department.

    Prior to 2021, when the New York City Council passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, citizens were left to piece together the various technologies used to surveil them based on scattered media reports. We know now the NYPD deploys facial recognition surveillance (and can retroactively employ facial recognition against video saved from one of 20,000 cameras), x-ray vansStingraysShotSpotters, and drones, among others, equipment all originally deployed in the Iraq and Afghan wars. But we still don’t know how many of these technologies are used in coordination with each other, and, as in China, that is the key to understanding their real effectiveness.

    POST reporting and other sources offer some clues. The NYPD uses the smartphone-based Domain Awareness System (DAS), “one of the world’s largest networks of cameras, license plate readers, and radiological censors,” all created by Microsoft with video analytics by IBM. DAS also utilizes auto­mated license plate read­er (ALPRs) devices attached to police cars or fixed on poles to capture the license plates of all cars passing by. ALPRs can also capture photo­graphs of cars, along with photos of the driver and passen­gers. This inform­a­tion is uploaded to a data­base where it can be analyzed to study move­ments, asso­ci­ations, and rela­tion­ships. Facial Iden­ti­fic­a­tion can then run photos, includ­ing from data­bases of arrest photos, juven­ile arrest photos of chil­dren as young as 11, and photos connec­ted to handgun permits. The system analyzes an image against those data­bases and gener­ates poten­tial matches in real-time.

    Included in DAS is a translator application which helps officers communicate with community members who do not speak English, while of course also recording and storing their remarks. DAS ties in to ShotSpotter, a technology developed for the Iraq War which pinpoints the sound of gunfire with real-time locations, even when no one calls 911. This technology triangulates where a shooting occurred and alerts police officers to the scene, letting them know relevant information, including the number of shots fired, if the shooter was moving at the time of the incident (e.g., in a vehicle), and the direction of the shooter’s movement. DNA data can also be accessed, so wide-spread collection is a must. One area of activity outlined in Chief of Detect­ives Memo #17 instruc­ts on how to collect “aban­doned” DNA samples from objects such as water bottles, gum, and apple cores. For example, police officers are taught to wait for the suspect to take a drink or smoke, and collect the sample once a suspect throws the cup or butt away.

    What is deployed in New York to aggregate sensor and bio data (including social media monitoring and cell phone locator services, which when tied to facial recognition can identify individuals, say who attend a protest, visit an AIDs clinic, etc.) will no doubt be coming soon to your town as the weapons of war all come home. The next step would be to tie together cities into regional and then state-wide networks. The extent to which inform­a­tion obtained from DAS is shared with federal agen­cies, such as immig­ra­tion author­it­ies, remains unknown. What we do know is the phrase “reasonable expectation of privacy” needs some updating.

    Perhaps the largest known data aggregator within the Federal government is the innocent-sounding Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) administered by the U.S. Department of State. Originally a simple database created in the 1990s to track visa and passport issuances, the CCD is now one of the largest global databases of personal information, growing at a rate of some 35,000 records a day. The system collects data from both foreign visa applicants and American citizens to include but not limited to imagery for use with facial recognition, biometric data such as ten-fingerprint samples, home/business addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial information, race, gender, social security and alien registration numbers, passport information, certain Federal benefits, medical information, legal information, education information, family information, travel history, arrests and convictions, and social media indicators.

    The CCD is especially valuable in that it is a database of databases, pulling together information collected elsewhere including abroad, as well as from some commercial databases and public records, and making the aggregate available both for individual search by identifiers like name, social security number or facial recognition, but also for very large scale analytic searches to identify patterns and trends. This massive pool of data is then made accessible to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Office of Personnel Management, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and “other interagency partners” to include potentially intelligence services. In addition to the State Department, information is regularly input into the CCD by the FBI, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, DEA, ICE, IRS, DOD, Treasury, Health and Human Services (HHS), DHS, Interpol, and U.S. Marshal Service (USMS.)

    Numbers of records held by CCD are not available, with the last public tallies documented in 2016 showing 290 million passport records on American citizens, 25 million records pertaining to American citizens living abroad, 184 million visa records of foreigners, and over 75 million photographs. Some 35,000 records are added to the CCD daily, so do the math given the existing tallies are up to 13 years old. As a point of comparison, Google’s database of landmark photos holds only five million records. The Library of Congress database lists 29 million books.

    The New York Times article about surveillance in China is scary, showing what a vast, interconnected system is capable of doing in exposing a person’s life to scrutiny. The Chinese authorities are, however, realistic about their technological limitations. According to one bidding document, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s top police agency, believed one of their biggest problems was data had not been centralized. That Chinese problem appears well on its way to resolution inside the United States, and that is also quite scary.

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    The Mueller Report, January 6, Mar-a-Lago, and the Abyss

    August 26, 2022 // 12 Comments »

    Dear Merrick Garland:

    One of the problems with the Abyss is you often don’t realize how close you are to falling in until too late in the game. Watching the seemingly endless January 6 hearings and Mar-a-Lago search throw mud against the political wall in hopes something sticks, it is easy to forget how close we came to impeaching or prosecuting a president based on false information, and in that process wrecking our system of rule of law. Remember what was at stake — the President of the United States was accused of being a Russian agent. Then there was a backup plan to get Trump, an indictment for obstruction of justice based on obstructing a case which could only have exonerated him, based on false info as it was. It is all worth revisiting as the January 6 Committee and the FBI contemplate empty but politically juicy criminal referrals.

    As we look at gaps in the January 6 story, older questions remain: why didn’t the Mueller Report say the obvious, that the Steele Dossier and all that flowed from it via Crossfire Hurricane, was based on bogus information created by a politicized FBI, that there was no Russiagate? And why didn’t Trump say the same thing, explicitly (he did deny the allegations) and call the Democrats’ bluff, exposing Russiagate in real time for what it was, a Hillary Clinton paid-for smear exercise that was allowed to get out of control? Imagine the Constitutional issues of an impeachment based on false information, especially if it had been upheld by the Senate or Trump otherwise driven from office?

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller, portrayed as the dogged Javert, presented his report on Trump-Russia ties to the public in April 2019. The report tackled two broad questions: did Trump work with Russia to get elected in 2016, and did Trump obstruct justice as the FBI, the Special Counsel, and Congress sought to investigate the first question? Mueller answered questions upon presenting his report to Congress, and then disappeared from public eye. No Late Night, no memoirs, no high brow interviews.

    As to the first question, Mueller was very clear “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election… the report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.”

    But the second question, obstruction, was left open for many of the hopeful. Mueller wrote in Footnote 1091, “A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an official’s conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment… Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment.” Mueller also mentioned “the conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Heard that again recently?

    Just about everyone sitting left of political center read that clearly as saying even if Congress could/would not impeach and convict Trump (as the Senate was Republican controlled) they could open a case against him with DOJ that would pend during his term while he had immunity and then whack! come down on Citizen Trump the day he left office. A cardinal rule for prosecutors is to not publicize negative information that does not lead them to indict someone — “the decision does the talking.” James Comey was criticized for doing this with Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Yet most of the Report’s Volume II is just that, descriptions of actions by Trump that allegedly contain elements of obstruction. Some say Mueller wanted to draw a “road map” for a prosecution that would have to take place years separate from his Report.

    Following Mueller was an amazing amount of smoke and noise regarding obstruction, but ultimately Trump was not impeached nor after he left office did anyone (SDNY, DOJ) seek to prosecute him as a private citizen for connections to Russia or obstruction. It all just faded away as impeachment over something-something Ukraine was ginned up in a hurry based on a bogus whistleblower and a non-issue quickly forgotten when the Senate righteously failed to convict Trump. We will never know how close the U.S. got to impeaching Trump for obstruction or a prosecution for the same. We do know the temptation was there.

    What we know now that we did not know then is that there was no Russiagate. All the stuff of the Steele Dossier, the pee tape, the Moscow meetings, Michael Cohen in Prague, was simply made up. Everything investigated by Steele, Mueller, and the FBI never happened. It was all paid for by Clinton operatives for the purpose of smearing Trump during the campaign and after he won, in an attempt to destroy his administration and possibly drive him to resign or be ridded by the 25th Amendment.

    We know know Christopher Steele, paid by the Clinton campaign (after Clinton’s denial, it took a year for congressional investigators to uncover that the dossier was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, working for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, paid through the Perkins Coie law firm), seems to have done no investigative work. Instead, his reputation as a former British intelligence officer was purchased to validate a dossier of lies and then traffic them to the FBI and journalists. One of Steele’s key “sources” is the now-arrested Igor Danchenko, a Russian émigré living in the United States whose trial for perjury is scheduled for this autumn (Steele was introduced to the Russian by Fiona Hill, then of the Brookings Institution. Hill would go on to play a key role in the Ukraine impeachment scam.) Danchenko completely made up most of what he told Steele about Trump-Russian collusion.

    When he did not make up stuff himself, Danchenko was spoon-fed lies by Charles Dolan, a Clinton campaign regular (Fiona Hill introduced Dolan to Danchenko). Ironically, Dolan had close ties not only to the Clintons but to the Russians as well; he and the public relations firm where he worked represented the Russian government and were registered as foreign agents for Russia. Dolan is credited with, among other things, making up the pee tape. Dolan also fed bogus info to Olga Galkina, another Russian who passed information to Danchenko for inclusion in the Dossier. Galkina noted in e-mails that she was expecting Dolan to get her a job in the Hillary administration.

    Mueller mentioned the Steele Dossier in his own Report numerous times, and was well aware the Dossier played a major role in the FBI investigation of Trump. Did Mueller also come to know it was bogus, fake, a fraud, campaign fodder paid for by Clinton? If so, Mueller remained silent and so much for the rule of law. Why? The FBI, internally we now know dubious of many of the Dossier and other claims handed to it by various Clintonites working undercover, stood by its justification for the full investigation. And so much for the rule of law.

    “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign,” said Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief. “And yet they knowingly ran with its false information to obtain legal process against an American citizen. They defrauded not just a federal court, they defrauded the FBI and the American people.” The 2019 Horowitz Report, a look into the FBI’s conduct by the Justice Department Inspector General, also made clear the FBI knew the dossier was bunk and purposefully lied to the FISA court.

    What would have happened had some entity brought charges against Trump for obstructing an investigation itself based entirely on false information and false pretenses? At the very least all hell would have broken loose in Washington. For example, would an FBI whistleblower have emerged, concerned his beloved Bureau was about to throw its reputation away on a political assassination while the Bureau et large remained mum co-conspirators?

    Would Trump have revealed the mountain of information he for some reason still holds close today? For example, Trump, knowing exactly what he ever did or did not do vis-a-vis Russia, knew the Dossier to be bogus but stuck simply with short-form denials. At what point in a Trump trial would it have come out that nearly 100 percent of the information against him came from the Clinton camp as campaign smear material? Is it even legally possible to be found guilty of obstructing an investigation that could have only found you guilty by employing fraud against you? Obstruction requires a showing of intent and how could Trump intend to obstruct an investigation he knew could not lead to anything because all the basic facts are false?

    A prosecutor need also look deeply to ensure he can prove intent as necessary, that an act — perjury, for example, was done with the intent to mislead and was not simply a mistake. That’s the difference between a mistake, error, misstatement and a true lie, what it was intended to accomplish, a crime. The act is easy to prove, the thought pattern, what was in someone’s head, the mental objective behind an action, much less so. Imagine those issues being debated in a divided America during say a presidential election campaign? Rare is the challenge to peoples’ belief in the rule of law. Was the Deep State ready to go that far?

    That’s the Abyss. Perhaps future historians of January 6 and Mar-a-Lago will tell us how close we really got to it.

    Respectfully,

    Peter

     

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Hiroshima and Ukraine

    August 9, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    If you think the lies spilling out of Ukraine about casualties and atrocities are shocking, on the August 6, 77th anniversary, of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and death of some 140,000 non-combatants, meet the greatest lie of modern history. The only nation in history to employ a weapon of mass destruction on an epic scale, against an undefended civilian population, shrugs off the significance of an act of immorality.

    Beyond the destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen. This myth has become the underpinning of American policy ever since, and carries forward the horrors of Hiroshima as generations of August 6’s pass.

    The myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were dropped out of grudging military necessity, to hasten the end of the war, to avoid a land invasion of Japan, maybe to give the Soviets a good pre-Cold War scare. Nasty work, but such is war. As a result, the attacks need not provoke anything akin to introspection or national reflection. The possibility, however remote, that the bombs were tools of revenge or malice, immoral acts, was defined away. They were merely necessary and because we won in the end, justified. That is the evolved myth, but it was not the way the atomic bombings were first presented to the American people.

    Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new power to destroy at a button push – “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city,” said Truman. The plan put into play on August 6 — to force the Japanese government to surrender by making it watch mass casualties of innocents — speaks to a scale of cruelty previously unseen. It was fair; they’d started it after all, and they deserved the pain. Imagine that idea cut loose in Ukraine.

    The need to replace that justification to one of grudging military necessity, a tool for saving lives, grew out of John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker. Owing to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required a formal response. Americans’ imagined belief that they’re a decent people needed to be reconciled with the indecency of what had been done. With the Cold War getting underway, and with American leadership fully expecting to obliterate a few Russian cities in the near future, some nuclear philosophical groundwork needed to be laid.

    And so the idea the bombing of Hiroshima was a “necessity” appeared in a 1947 article, signed by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Dr. Conant described the article’s purpose as countering Hersey’s account at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”

    The Stimson article was the moment of formal creation of the Hiroshima myth. A historically challengeable argument was recast as unquestionable — drop the bombs or kill off tens of thousands, or maybe it would be millions (the U.S. regularly revised casualty estimates upwards), of American boys in a land invasion of Japan. It became gospel that the Japanese would never have surrendered, though of course surrender was in fact exactly what happened. Nonetheless, such lies were created to buttress a national belief that no moral wrong was committed, and thus there was no need for introspection by the United States.

    No later opportunity to bypass reflection was missed. American presidents from Truman to Bush chose not to visit Hiroshima. The 50th anniversary of the bombing saw a moderately reflective planned exhibit at the Smithsonian turned into a patriotic orgy that only reinforced the “we had no choice” narrative. When Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in 2016, his spokespeople went out of their way to make it clear he would be looking only forward with ally Japan, the mushroom cloud safely out of sight.

    American foreign policy thus proceeded under a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who pulls the trigger, with much of the history of the next 77 years a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition, and indefinite detention could be explained in character as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.

    We are, in fact, able to think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia… a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands had Hiroshima not be killed for their prospective sins. There is little discussion because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says expediency wipes away concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to righteously strike next. Donbas perhaps?

    America’s deliberate targeting of civilians, and its post-facto justifications, are clearly not unique, either in World War II, or in the wars before or since. Other nations, including Japan itself, added their own horror to the books, without remorse. But history’s only use of nuclear weapons holds a significant place in infamy, especially on this August 6. America’s lack of introspection over one of the single most destructive days in the history of human warfare continues, with 21st century consequences.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Negotiations Continue on Guns and Abortions

    August 1, 2022 // 1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Was There a Coup Attempt on January 6?

    June 25, 2022 // 10 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    The Specific “Why” Behind Russiagate

    June 4, 2022 // 5 Comments »

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    What I Missed on Twitter

    May 17, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    After almost a four-year lifetime suspension, Elon Musk let me back on Twitter, with a new account @PeterMVanBuren, and the promise of once again being privy to the world’s opinion. I could again read the “takes” of people smart enough to have a Blue Check (I do not) including those whose points of view I usually don’t share. Here is what I learned.

    Progressives are insane. They have lost their minds. They are certain every event which they do not personally support is the End of Times.

    I started back on Twitter the week after Justice Alito’s draft opinion overthrowing Roe was leaked, and right away was blasted by Blue Anon stuff like “The Supreme Court is a Tool of Tyrants” or “Time for Canada to Offer Gender Asylum to American Women.” But at least those tweets started life in the actual media, where editors wiped some of the spittle away. Tip to Elon: never mind banning people on Twitter, shut down MSDNC, et al. We’ll be fine without their hemophilia of journalism.

    But when I write the collective “we” I must exclude the once-sentient Lawrence Tribe (@tribelaw) who could not be more sure of himself if he saw the code behind the Matrix. He tweeted: “Three-fifths of the Supreme Court justices who joined that Alito abomination were nominated by a serial abuser of women, Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.9 million votes and were confirmed by Senators representing a minority of the U.S. population.” The Founders must have been drunk when they wrote Article I!

    Tribe speaks for his generation, which at least on Twitter has a longing for Hillary that would border further on the creepy only if they started posting Photoshopped images of her in a Princess Leia bikini. Many Twitter celebrities re-cycle memes along the lines of “What if she’d won?” with some clever image of Mrs. Clinton smirking that “I told you so” look that so endeared her to non-deplorable people. She is the behind-the-scenes smiter of Trump in one wrinkled body.

    There was no actual Tweet saying President Hillary would have raised Ruth Bader Ginsberg from the dead and reappointed her to the court, but it was implied. David Weissman (@davidmweissman) felt the need to write “Since the Clintons are trending, I will say that after learning the truth about Hillary Clinton and seeing how right she was about everything, I stood with her. Even a few years later, I continue standing with the Clinton family.” Mollie Katzen (@MollieKatzen) “Imagine where we’d be now had more people listened to Anita Hill, Hillary Clinton, and Christine Blasey Ford.”

    To be honest, I had to look up that last name. Ford was the woman who testified a clothed Brett Kavanaugh laid on top of her in 1982 and would then go all Handmaiden’s Tale on the Supreme Court because she could just tell. As you read these Tweets, patterns like that emerge. If a handy glossary existed for conservatives, it would include sketch bios of Ford, RGB, and that one woman artist with the unibrow, and entries for popular vote, electoral college (why sucks) and fan fiction about a 45 member Supreme Court to help understand what all the Tweets are about. some topics, like Michael Cohen, need their own glossary for terms like fixer, Fredo, and consigliere.

    But things only got worse, much worse, when I got deeper into the personal Twitter accounts of the Blue Checks (the term sounds like a Dr. Who villainous force,) the places where they usually slither about without an editor and say what they really think. What they really think is that America is almost cooked and done. They imagine we just barely survived the Trump years without putting Beelzebub on our coins, and face the likely prospect of Candidate Trump returning to the White House with the anticipation of a colonoscopy done by a doctor nicknamed “knuckles.” Look:

    Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) “Are we up to democracy? …I worry we are entering the darkest period.”

    Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) “WARNING: 62 days before 1/6 I warned that Trump would start a political/paramilitary insurgency to seize American democracy. It has begun.”

    Rob Reiner (@robreiner) “The reason Republican lawmakers are refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 Committee couldn’t be more obvious. They were part of the Seditious Conspiracy to violently overthrow the Government. Period.”

    Progressives seem to have their own vocabulary, things like ending an emphatic Tweet with Period.  End of Matter. Full stop. They like to say they are standing with someone or something a lot. The only historical events they know are Munich, the Reichstag fire, and Weimer.

    Tweetmaster Reiner later managed to get three issues into one Tweet (economy of prose is prized on Twitter and when shouting on a street corner wearing only a shower curtain) saying “There is only one way to save a woman’s right to choose, our Democracy, and our Planet. Vote for Democrats.” He also wrote “You cannot reason with a Trump supporter. They believe a Lying Criminal who doesn’t give a flying f*** about them was sent to them by God. Don’t try to reason. Just Vote. Vote like our Democracy depends on it. Because it does. It couldn’t be more simple. A vote for Republicans is a vote to destroy Democracy.”

    But how will Trump pull this off? His last coup resulted in exactly nothing happening except him breaking up with Mike Pence right before prom. Twitter knows:

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) “I’ve been warning Americans for months that the GOP is replenishing its political ranks with criminals who have the skill set and character to support autocratic rule. Fascists in Italy and Germany brought thugs and murderers into party and state bureaucracy.” Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) has the nuts and bolts figured out “Republicans in Michigan have replaced election officials who certified Joe Biden’s win.” Anyway, you heard it here first, says Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) “If (when?) Trump steals or tries to steal the 2024 election, don’t say we weren’t given plenty of advance warning that it was coming.”

    Spending time on Twitter convinces you journalism today is basically cramped somewhere between bad opinion making and simple propaganda. It mostly fails the most basic test of being interesting. That should finish it off as a profession in a couple of years, and we can all watch it slide into the sea on Twitter.

    And then out of nowhere came a moment of clarity from none other than CNN’s master journo Jim Acosta (@Acosta) who for no reason whatsoever felt the need to write “Ran into an Afghan refugee in the elevator today. He was delivering groceries. Didn’t know which buttons to push so I helped. Must have been new. As he got off the elevator, he thanked me and said ‘I am Afghan.’ I said good luck and welcome to America. He smiled. He’s on his way.” So there’s that. Bill Kristol tweeting for blood in what he hopes is the Google dialect of Ukrainian was a close second.

    Four years for me without Twitter was a long time. I am glad I am back, and feel smarter already because all of the Tweets above came in only one afternoon. Twitter is once again my guide, and I look forward to sniffing some old airplane glue and joining in.

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Dear Elon Musk:

    May 7, 2022 // Comments Off on Dear Elon Musk:

    Dear Elon:

    Big fan. I cheered to finally see an African-American like yourself rising to the top, owning one of America’s largest media companies, Twitter. I’m also a big fan of free speech, which is why I am writing to you to ask that my lifetime ban on Twitter be rescinded.

    See in August 2018, Twitter banned me for life for a tweet which “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.” I was on Twitter telling some journalists they had allowed the government to lie to them about the Iraq war. I said I once worked for the U.S. State Department, and I was one of the ones who lied to them. It was actually part of my job to lie to them, to give them the false impression our reconstruction programs in Iraq were coming along just nicely. I could name several journalists I lied to directly but what’s the point in that? They all still have jobs and Twitter accounts and it’s not exactly a secret what they wrote about the reconstruction programs was false and wrong. I told the truth on Twitter and lost my account.

    The truth is one night on Twitter I was explaining about my lies, a kind of atonement, and several journalists ganged up on me to begin criticizing my writing and the work that I have done as a journalist since leaving the government. It was all kind of rude (one said I was a “garbage human being” and another claimed I was a Russian stooge) but within the schoolyard boundaries of the scrappier side of Twitter.

    It never occurred to me to report them for harassment or bullying. I happened to have the television on with the Walking Dead playing in the background and I cranked off a tweet, as many of us do, that I’m not particularly proud of. I said to one of the pack “I hope a MAGA zombie eats your face.” You can read all my offending tweets hereWithin about five minutes of posting I was given a lifetime ban on Twitter. It says on my Wikipedia page by someone who continually hacks it, that I was removed from Twitter for threatening someone or something along those lines.

    Anyway I can’t help but thinking my real lifetime ban had something to do with the fact that I had previously promoted free-speech without boundaries on Twitter and other social media. Yes, yes, I’m aware the First Amendment does not cover social media, that these are private companies, but like you I believe they play such an enormous role in the tapestry of our speech that they deserve the protections of the 1A. I understand Jefferson and Madison wrote the Bill of Rights long before the Internet, and think they would be on board with expanding the 1A to companies that have grown to be more powerful censors than the government ever could be. BTW, that’s U now, LOL.

    I hasten to add that there is no such thing as MAGA zombies and so my tweeted threat to have one of them eat someone’s face was actually a bit of a jest. You see since there are no zombies the threat was not real, sarcasm at worst, and so I’m hoping that you can forgive me where are your predecessor @jack was unable to do so. He never even answered my inquiries.

    To be fully honest, what bothers me is not the scolding per se, or (most of the time) the inability to tweet. Yeah, I know, it can be a big time sink. I think the thing that bugs me is I feel I was rounded up and sent off because I wrote true things, albeit critical things, about the media on what they consider their turf, your new acquisition, Twitter. I obviously meant no one harm with the silly zombie remark, but it was used as a very thin excuse to send me down the Memory Hole (you remember, from Orwell’s 1984, a place where facts and ideas could be disappeared in service to the powers that be.)

    My cancellation took place late on a Friday night, which leads me to wonder how the journalist I was engaging got through to Twitter’s censoring staff so quickly. I certainly don’t have that access. It felt kind of more like a set up than a gatekeeper protecting someone against whatever hate speech is (and you know there is no such crime as hate speech, and whatever people insist on calling “hate speech,” including things like the N-word, is fully protected by the First Amendment.) So what’s up with the lifetime ban for one tweet? It seems pretty heavy. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind when I say it did not feel fair.

    I don’t think anyone needs protecting from my ideas, but I guess I can figure out why they’d be frightening to charlatans, pols, and grifters. That’s why I guess a journalist whose livelihood depends on the 1A wrote to you “for democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”  Robert Reich, veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, argued you’re putting us on a fast track to fascism. He thinks an uncontrolled Internet is “​​the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.” On of your other critics nearly exceeded Twitter’s character limit writing “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”  While I am not fully comfortable with billionaires deciding the fate of free speech, they’re downright terrified of you, Elon. If you want to scare them more, reinstating me (and yeah, Trump, too) would be excellent for that purpose.

    It’s funny/not funny because I have experienced their version of the Internet. When I was in Iran, the government there blocked Twitter and many other sites, effectively deciding for an entire nation what they cannot read. In America, Twitter decides for an entire nation what they cannot read. It matters little whose hand is on the switch: government or corporate, the end result is the same. This is the America I always feared I’d see, where Americans not just tolerate, but demand censorship.

    Now if you really want to shake things up (you’re that kinda guy, right?) just flat-out acknowledge the interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like your Twitter is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their, er, your rules, and so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Then there was that game-changing ban on news about Hunter Biden just ahead of the election. Let someone take Twitter to the Supreme Court and see if they’ll extend the 1A in some form to the new public square. The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power.

    Speech in America is an inalienable right, and runs as deep into our free society as any idea can. Thomas Jefferson wrote it flowed directly from his idea of a Creator, which we understand today as less that free speech is heaven-sent so much as it is something that exists above government. And so the argument the First Amendment applies only to the government and not to private platforms like Twitter is both true and irrelevant—and the latter is more important.

    So Elon, thank you very much for your consideration. I realize as a billionaire super villain you have many things on your mind but I hope you find time to at least delegate this to someone in hopes that they could reinstate me to Twitter to prove a point. The old Twitter sold censorship as a product, a dissent-free zone for libs. You can do something important freeing ideas, and I’d like to be a part of that.

    Love, Peter

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    New Durham Finding Reveals CIA Info on Michael Sussman, Alfa Bank/Yota Phone

    April 23, 2022 // 5 Comments »

     

    If you still dismiss “Russiagate,” the Dossier, Alfa Bank, and the Yota Russian smartphone events surrounding Donald Trump, the 2016 campaign, and the Mueller investigation, you may want a second cup of coffee. The latest filing by Special Consul Robert Durham suggests the rabbit hole goes a bit deeper. I hate to sound like Rachel Maddow, but it is just that much more likely the walls are closing in.

    Durham filed a new, 34-page motion on April 15, 2022, in answer to defendant Michael Sussman’s request to dismiss the case against him. Durham accused Sussmann of lying to the FBI about his working for the Clinton Campaign while he was trying to sell the Bureau on opening an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, focusing on alleged Internet pings between a Trump server and the Russian Alfa Bank. Sussmann’s claims included a number of pings against Trump Tower WiFi and later White House WiFi by a Russian-made Yota cellphone. Sussmann’s motion basically called Durham case garbage, which pressed Durham to explain to the court why the case needed to proceed, hence the new motion (the court subsequently ruled against Sussmann and the trial will commence soon.)

    But as he has done in the past, Durham used the required motion filing as a chance to tip over a few of the cards he is holding. It looks like aces.

    Durham previously established CIA knew about what we’ll call “Russiagate” as of at least July 2016 and briefed President Obama on the same only five days before the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane full-spectrum investigation into Trump/Russia began. The new filing adds the next chapter. Sussmann met with unknown persons at CIA to tell them a Russian Yota cellphone seemed to be following Trump around, attempting to log into the WiFi network wherever he was. This included Trump Tower and later the White House. At January and February 2017 CIA meetings Sussmann claimed the phone “appeared” in April 2016 (coincidentally right around the time the DNC hack supposedly took place) and even “appeared with Trump in Michigan” when he was interviewing a future Cabinet secretary. Sussmann went on to disingenuously claim to CIA the Yota smartphone model used is often gifted to Russian officials. He also claimed his client was a Republican.

    The problem was the information Sussmann passed to the FBI was fake. Phony. Made -up. Fabricated, much like the Dossier. CIA “concluded in early 2017 Russian Bank-1 data [Alfa] and Russian Phone Provider-1 [Yota] data was not “‘technically plausible,’ did not ‘withstand technical scrutiny,’ ‘contained gaps,’ ‘conflicted with [itself]’ and was ‘user created and not machine/tool generated.’” Reuters‘ own tech people also said they could not authenticate the data and passed on the story. While CIA declined to open an investigation based on such data, the FBI did, leaving open additional questions on whether or not the FBI was technically unschooled, or in on the greater conspiracy.

    This new information also begs the question of why Robert Mueller or DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not ask why the FBI was so easily fooled when their cousins across the river (and some journalists) saw through the grift. The FBI were warned — on September 7, 2016 the CIA sent FBI Director James Comey and Peter Strzok a warning Hillary Clinton approved a plan to tie Trump to Russia to distract from her email scandal. Then only 12 days later Sussmann approached the FBI, who despite the heads-up, took the hook. About a month later the courts issued the first FISA warrant. Hillary Clinton tweeted “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”

    This would also raise questions about Michael Sussmann and his role representing the Democratic National Committee and the DNC server hack. Careful research by retired NSA persons suggested the server was accessed from inside the U.S., not hacked from Russia as widely alleged. If there is truth to that, would the same people who fabricated complex DNS and WiFi log data (i.e., good enough to fool the FBI) have been capable of making a local hack look international? One hates to go down the conspiracy road, but is Julian Assange, whose Wikileaks released some of the DNC emails, imprisoned in part because he could prove his source for the hacked emails was not Russian, as he has claimed?

    Who knows, right? Maybe Researcher-2 (identified elsewhere as David Dagon of Georgia Tech, whose research focus is Botnets.) Dagon previously bragged of using a “bag of tricks” to prove Trump-Russia collusion.) Durham granted Researcher-2 immunity to “uncover otherwise-unavailable facts underlying the opposition research project.” Durham also granted immunity to someone at Fusion GPS, the front organization that moved money from the DNC/Clinton Campaign to both Dossier author Christopher Steele and Alfa/Yota pitchman Michael Sussmann. The Fusion person is likely Laura Seago. Seago helped sell the fake Alfa data to Slate.

    Earlier articles established the Alfa/Yota conspiracy mirrored the Dossier conspiracy in style, funding, and execution. This new information from Durham adds now as with the Dossier, the Alfa/Yota data was faked. The commonalities between the two as yet legally unlinked conspiracies strongly suggests a common backstage element. We spoke with a former U.S. intelligence officer about what would be involved in managing an operation this size, Alfa, Yota, Dossier, etc., liaison with the FBI, all the media planted bells and whistles, but just the admin side, not the actual spy work. She said it would be a very large job, likely bigger than many overseas stations would take on, something that would need its own working group in Washington. She said keeping the finances clean but covert alone would be a near full-time job.

    So what does it all mean? Special Counsel Durham is revealing a relentless effort by Democrats to sell the Russia collusion narrative across the U.S. government from CIA to the FBI, to the point where in the absence of derogatory information they created it. The Democrats then enlisted (to date…) Christopher Steele and Michael Sussman to peddle the false information across Washington in hopes of stirring someone in the intelligence community to turn their vast resources on Trump to find actual dirt. The whole venture failed in the initial sense — Trump was elected and completed his term — but large numbers of Americans still believe in whole or in part Trump is somehow allied with the Russians, a hangover likely to last into the next election.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Tradecraft: Why Spies Knew the Hunter Biden Emails Were Not Russia Disinfo

    April 12, 2022 // Comments Off on Tradecraft: Why Spies Knew the Hunter Biden Emails Were Not Russia Disinfo

    Hunter Biden just paid over a million dollars in back taxes for income he never claimed, but which was found in his emails, the ones from his laptop that had been dismissed by the MSM as Russian disinformation.

    The FBI is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation into Hunter’s business activities based on the contents of the laptop. It was only the FBI’s use of the laptop as evidence which finally forced the New York Times this month to admit what it said was bull last year.

    See, as the NY Post broke the story that a laptop full of Hunter Biden’s files indicated a potential pay-for-play scenario involving then-candidate Joe Biden just ahead of the 2020 presidential election, almost in real time more than 50 former senior intelligence officials signed a letter claiming the emails “have all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” The signers said their national security experience made them “deeply suspicious the Russian government played a significant role in this case. If we are right this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

    The letter played off prejudices from 2016 that the Russians manipulated an American election. In fact, most of the letter’s signatories — James Clapper and John Brennan among them — had played key roles in misdirecting public opinion around the DNC server hack and later the whole of Russiagate. In the hands of the MSM the meme quickly morphed into “the laptop is fake, ignore it.” Twitter and Facebook quickly banned all mentions of the laptop, and the story disappeared in the MSM. Until now.

    In my 24-year State Department career I was exposed to foreign disinformation and as a journalist today I read the Hunter Biden emails. There is no way experienced intelligence officers could have mistaken the contents of the Biden laptop for fake, produced, material.

    The most glaring reason is most of the important emails could be verified by simply contacting the recipient and asking him if the message was real. Disinfo at this level of sophistication would never be so simple to disprove.

    In addition, the laptop contents were about 80 percent garbage and maybe 20 percent useful (dirty) information, a huge waste of time if you are trying to move your adversary to act in a certain way. Such an overbearing amount of non-actionable material also risks burying the good stuff, and if this is disinfo you want your adversary to find the good stuff. It is also expensive to produce information that has no take attached to it, and fake info of any kind is at risk of discovery, blowing the whole operation. Lastly, nothing on the laptop was a smoking gun. You need the disinfo to lead fairly directly to some sort of actionable conclusion, a smoking gun, or your cleverness will be wasted.

    Compare the alleged Russian disinfo of the Biden laptop to the real disinfo of the Christopher Steele “Russiagate” Dossier. To begin, Steele pastes fake classified markings on his document. That signals amateur work to the pros but causes the media to salivate, Steele’s goal (always remember who your target is, who you are trying to fool.) Steele never names his sources to prevent verification by the media (a major tell.) Steele also finds a way to push the important info up front, in his case a Summary. If Biden’s laptop was disinfo, the makers could have included an Index, or Note to Self where “Hunter” called out the good stuff. Or maybe even a fake email doing the same. Steele’s dossier is also concise, 35 typed pages. Hunter’s laptop is a pack rat’s nightmare of jumbled stuff, thousands of pages, receipts, info on cam girls, and the like.

    But the real give away is who was out there peddling the info/disinfo. Ideally you want the stuff to come from the most reliable source you can find to give it credibility. Steele, as a professional intelligence officer, used multiple, overlapping sources, including himself. The list included leaks to a selected patsy journalists, the State Department, John McCain, and even the Department of Justice (FBI and DOJ officials.) Steele not only planted the disinfo, he figured out a way to create “buzz” around it. Textbook work.

    For the Biden laptop, it is understood the whole messy thing was shopped all across the MSM by Rudy Giuliani, about the most mistrusted man available for the purpose. The source must be reputable for the gag to work and there is no way a full-spectrum Russian disinformation operation would use Rudy. That alone should have ended the discussion among those 50 letter signing intelligence officials.

    Lastly, everything on the laptop was verifiable in an hour or two by an organization like the NSA. They could have had an intern verify the emails, bank statements, wire transfers, etc. using about half of the capabilities Edward Snowden revealed they have. James Clapper and John Brennan knew this, and knew equally well the media, if they picked up the story at all, would not ask any such questions, and the NSA, et al, would never weigh in. It would be our little secret.

    So we’ll call that letter claiming the Biden emails were potential Russian disinfo a lie, a fabrication, made-up, fake stuff designed to influence an election. That’s disinformation by any definition, and evidence the only disinformation op run in 2020 was run against the American voters by their own intelligence community working with the media and on behalf of the Democrats. Almost half of Americans now believe Trump would have won a second term if the media had fully reported on the laptop’s revelations, so it worked. You know some of its hallmarks now, so keep a sharp eye out in 2024.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Russiagate: The Smoking Gun, Part II

    April 1, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    Part I of this article showed a conspiracy to smear Donald Trump with false allegations of collusion with Russia took place, with Hillary Clinton at its head. Part II today will show the FBI was an active participant in the conspiracy to destroy Trump. The facts are not in dispute. We are left only to decide if the FBI acted incompetently and unprofessionally, or as part of a conspiracy.

    The first part of the smoking gun may have been hiding in plain sight for some time now. In June 2018 Inspector General for the Department of Justice Michael Horowitz released his report on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, including FBI Director Comey’s drafting of a press release announcing no prosecution for Clinton, written before the full investigation was even complete. In a damning passage, Horowitz found it was “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same.”

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey’s boss, is criticized for meeting privately with Bill Clinton as the FBI investigation into Hillary unfolded. “Lynch’s failure to recognize the appearance problem… and to take action to cut the visit short was an error in judgment.” Lynch then doubled-down, refusing to recuse herself from the Clinton case, creating “public confusion.”

    The report also criticizes FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump before moving from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigation. Those texts sowed public doubt about the investigation, including one exchange that read, “Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Another Strzok document stated “we know foreign actors obtained access to some Clinton emails, including at least one secret message,” thought that was never prosecuted.

    Page and Strzok also discussed cutting back the number of investigators present for Clinton’s in-person interview in light of the fact she might soon be president, and thus their new boss. Someone identified only as Agent One went on to refer to Clinton as “the President” and in a message told a friend “I’m with her.” The FBI also allowed Clinton’s lawyers to attend her interview, even though they were also witnesses to  possible crimes committed by Clinton.

    If that does not add up to a smoking gun that the FBI conspired pre-dossier to help Hillary Clinton, how about this?

    Following Hillary’s exoneration over her emails and mishandling of classified information, the FBI launched its Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Trump-Russia, based in whole or large part on the infamous Christopher Steele dossier. The public now knows the dossier was paid for and stocked with falsehoods by the Clinton campaign. The unanswered questions from that investigation themselves comprise a second smoking gun of FBI conspiracy. For example:

    — Why did the FBI not inquire into Steele’s sources and methods, which would have quickly revealed the information was wholly false? Why was the FBI unable to discover Steele (and later, Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann, who gave false info to the FBI about Trump and Alfa Bank) were double agents working for and paid by the Clinton campaign?

    — When the FBI found the target of its first FISA warrant out of the dossier, Carter Page, was actually a paid CIA asset, why did they hide this information from the FISA court instead of dropping Page? Why did this not cause them to question the credibility of Steele, a master spy who couldn’t even identify his source was actually a CIA asset? Steele claimed the Russians offered Page an insanely huge bribe, billions of dollars, to end U.S. sanctions if Trump became president. Page clearly could never have played a significant role in ending sanctions. Why did the FBI find those statements credible enough to pursue the warrant?

    — Why did the FBI cite an open-source press article by Michael Isikoff claiming Trump had Russian ties as part of its FISA warrant application against Page without finding out who Isikoff’s source was? The source of course was Christopher Steele, who was interviewed in a hotel room booked by Fusion GPS who was paid by Clinton. The FBI nonetheless claimed an article from Yahoo! corroborated the dossier, a cite unlikely to pass muster on an undergrad term paper. Were they really fooled?

    — Why did the FBI not discover the dossier’s false claim Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague to meet with Russians? Robert Mueller was able to conclusively dismiss the report. Confirming Cohen in Prague would have been a cornerstone of the FBI’s larger case, but the matter was left open until Mueller.

    — Why did the FBI not question Sussmann about the source of his DNS data, some of which came directly from inside the White House? Why would a private citizen have such information?

    — When Sussmann, claiming to be a concerned citizen with White House DNS data, first approached the FBI, why was he assigned to meet with the FBI’s General Counsel, its lawyer, and not a case agent? Was something other than his information, such possibly FBI collusion with fraud, being validated?

    — Why was the CIA investigation referral saying Hillary was behind Russiagate ignored by the FBI? The memo was addressed to Director James Comey, who claims he has no knowledge of it, and Peter Strzok, who should have been the action officer but did nothing?

    — Why did Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief, say “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one, that the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign. And yet they knowingly ran with its false information.”

    — Despite the investigation being run by the FBI, why was it CIA Director John Brennan who briefed (LINK) Obama on the Hillary connection in July 2016 and not Comey?

    If any of those questions seem kind of obvious, that is the point. The cover stories only had to hold for a short time, enough to infect the media, enough to make things seem plausible for the FBI. Team Clinton and its co-conspirators were so certain they would win the election they felt none of their tricks needed to stay hidden much past victory. The story is waist-deep rotten.

    At this point you can believe the multiple ops paid for and run by Clinton people were uncoordinated events, or that they were part of the broad campaign Hillary was an active participant in, and about which John Brennan warned Barack Obama, and which the CIA warned the FBI, not knowing they were in on it. You can believe the FBI acted incompetently and unprofessionally (yet consistently, no breaks went Trump’s way), or as part of a conspiracy.

    What you cannot do any more is pretend this did not happen, and that the person most involved came close to being elected president because of it. If you worry about democracy, worry about that.


    In preparing this article, it was fascinating to review the many shameful articles written in 2016 and 2017, the crazy days when every hinted rumor was worth a Breaking! designator. But one piece stood out, from Forbes in 2017. Hillary denied paying for the dossier, and the truth — the campaign paid the law firm Perkins and Coie who paid Fusion GPS who paid Orbis who paid Steele — was not known. The Forbes journalist wrote “If ordered and paid for by Hillary Clinton associates, Russia Gate is turned on its head as collusion between Clinton operatives (not Trump’s) and Russian intelligence. Russia Gate becomes Hillary Gate.” The article went on to say how James Comey refused to comment on Fusion GPS and the dossier in May 2017. Comey by then knew the real story and remained silent, even as the press was still running with the idea the dossier had been paid for by anonymous Democratic donors. If only we’d known.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Liz Cheney and Her 14th Amendment Comedy Show

    February 5, 2022 // 9 Comments »

     

    The Democrats’ newest champion (Michael Avenatti did not return calls) Rep. Liz Cheney just about said the quiet part out loud: her January 6 Committee has the singular goal of pre-defeating Trump ahead of any voting in 2024. As it becomes clearer the Committee is failing in its propaganda campaign to get Republican Party powerbrokers to dump Trump, and as it is near crystalline the Committee will not find evidence leading to formal prosecution of Trump for sedition, treason, or insurrection, they are getting desperate. The latest? Purposefully misinterpreting an obscure phrase from a post-Civil War Constitutional amendment.

    Cheney said “I think one of the really important things that our committee has to do is lay these facts out for the American people, so that they inform us in terms of our legislative activity going forward.” Cheney is talking about one phrase from the 14th Amendment, no doubt presented to her by an intern applying a Control + F search for “insurrection” to an online text of the Constitution. This is a familiar strategy for the Democrats, having purposefully taken phrases out of context from the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments Clause trying to force Trump from office for four years.

    While the 14th Amendment was written primarily to grant citizenship and rights to freed slaves, it also created the “equal protection clause” which cornerstoned landmark cases including Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Bush v. Gore. But tucked away in Section 3 was a bit of post-civil war housekeeping, the phrase “No person shall hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” The 14th also provides for Congress to enforce the provisions via legislation, and Cheney thinks that’s the key to Democratic success. Seriously.

    The intent in 1868 was to prevent Confederate leaders from returning to power. But the January 6 Committee is in 2022 so lacking in substantive content that they are considering some sort of legislation labeling Trump an insurrectionist, and thus prohibiting him from taking office again, even if he were to win the election. Cheney is not alone; Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin has also called the use of the 14th a “live proposition.”

    Section 3 does not have a particularly glorious history. Reconstruction Era prosecutors brought civil actions in court to oust officials linked to the confederacy, and Congress in some cases took action to refuse to seat Members. Section 3 was last used in 1919 against a socialist congressman accused of having given aid and comfort to Germany during WWI. The congressman was eventually seated after the Supreme Court threw out his espionage conviction. Currently the only criminal punishment left on the books dates to 1870 and makes it a misdemeanor to run for office when ineligible to do so under Section 3. So while the Constitution does specifically refer to legislative action by Congress as a way to enforce Section 3, precedent clearly shows due process and litigation would step in. Imagine Cheney or anyone trying to label someone who controls the loyalty of roughly 50 percent of Americans an insurrectionist through a show of hands.

    Such legislation would also have to pass both houses and be signed by the president, something beyond a non-starter. The question of whether Section 3 is actually an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder is also not fully resolved. A Bill of Attainder in simple terms is a piece of law designed solely to punish one person, an argument the Democrats of 1868 themselves used to try and prevent Section 3 from even becoming part of the Constitution. The question was left largely unsettled as old Confederates died off and the use of Section 3 effectively ended in 1919 except in the fevered brains of people like Cheney.

    There is also the open question of whether use of Section 3 against Trump would represent an unconstitutional ex post facto law. The drafters of Section 3 were clear their intent was precautionary, looking not to punish Confederates for the past but to prevent them from taking power again in the future. It was not a measure of punishment, but a measure of self-defense, and the bar was set very high: participating in actual warfare against the United States that took the lives of millions in pursuit of breaking up the Union. In Trump’s case, given that his offense would be being voted an insurrectionist over a year after making a speech to keep him from the White House, it would be very hard not to see it as punishment.

    More problems? Section 3 prohibits someone from taking office, not from running for election. Imagine Trump conducting a three year campaign, winning the race, and then being prohibited from taking office over a clever interpretation of some words from 1868 clearly meant for a wholly different purpose.

    The use of the 14th Amendment to end Trump is the kind of thing non-experts with too much Google time can convince themselves is true. Given that there is no realistic possibility of preventing Trump from taking office in 2024 under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, what is this all about? Most superficially it is a chance for a trog like Liz Cheney to get on TV spouting some quasi-legalistic garbage. It will be diluted through CNN as “Trump’s election is barred by the Constitution” and “Trump is in violation of democracy” and repurposed into Lincoln Project Facebook memes.

    But more substantively, silliness like Cheney’s is a sign of increasing desperation by the Democrats, three full years before the election. Increasingly sure they will lose at the ballot box, the Dems strategy is to prevent Trump from ever reaching the ballot box. Failing to be able to prosecute him, they have only left to persecute him, across tax courts in New York, the January 6 Committee, endless manhunts for Capitol trespassers, and the like. For a party that cries continuously that democracy is in danger, the Democrats act increasingly like thugs in a banana republic trying to bring down their opponents extra-electorally.

    Political prosecutions are not new in America. Political pogroms are. It is sad to watch the Democratic Party embrace such third-world practices as policy.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Seeing the Future: The 2024 Presidential Campaign

    December 13, 2021 // 3 Comments »


     
    I punched Elon Musk in the nose. I figured, why not, he’s a jerk. Little did I know my punch would dislodge a chunk of artisanal tofu he was in the process of choking on and save his life. To say thanks, he offered to pay for a private Spice Girls reunion (minus Posh) for me on the next Space X flight. I hesitated, and he smiled wickedly and said “Or you could be the first man to test my time machine…”

    I landed right in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign.

    It had been a hard run for the Democrats. After a harrowing primary season with several hundred candidates confused voters, the Party simply started listing them on the ballots as the black one, the gender-ambiguous one, Beto, the guy who looked like Beto but was from Ohio, and no-chance Governors I, II, and III. Even this proved too much, and in the end Democrats nominated a visibly intubated Joe Biden for a second term. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Joe might be technically dead, with various medical devices animating him. Dr. Jill would always be at his side and catching her lips moving while Joe “talked” was a popular Tik-Tok meme. Kamala was listed for legal purposes as the VP but made no public appearances. It was unclear she still lived in North America.

    Biden’s problems had accumulated over the last three years like a bad Sunday night snowfall. The Biden infrastructure plan, once called Build Back Better and priced at $3.5 trillion, had been ground down after years of debate to just offering free parking at some sporting events. A Dem plan to turn chanting of “F**k Joe Biden” into a joke fake Tindr profile proved embarrassing, as did suggesting America’s next aircraft carrier be named the USS George Floyd. Finally, after the Great 2022 Midterm Massacre, the Democrats gave up on actual legislation and stuck entirely to renaming Civil War memorials after modern day trans heroes. The final blow to Democratic power came when the Republican majority beat up the last Democratic senators in the cafeteria and stole their lunch money (“an attempted coup,” reported Maddow.) Colbert is still talking about it, threatening to tell a teacher on them all.

    Foreign policy-wise, Biden was further embarrassed when the Taliban legalized casino gambling and turned Afghanistan into a global celebrity mecca. The last Americans were finally evacuated on George Clooney’s private jet. Desperate, the Biden administration tried to pick a fight with China. Things got hot after a Chinese warship supposedly rammed an American one in the Gulf of Tonkin, but the nascent war was stopped by Jeff Bezos. Bezos, through quiet acquisitions, had secretly become the world’s largest arms dealer, and ended the fight before it really began by cutting off supplies to both countries. By summer 2024, the only thing left for Democrats to run on was the slogan “Red, White, Blue, Not Orange” and rumors Trump had plans for a new hotel-casino in Kabul.

    Candidate Trump had not yet chosen his running mate. Instead of the usual nominating convention setting, Trump planned an Apprentice: VP Edition live TV special. After vetting multiple candidates by blood type (“The 25th Amendment may require him to donate organs to me,” Trump tweeted. Yeah, that’s back, too) the candidate planned what the MSM dubbed “political-style Squid Games” to make the final decision. Behind his new signature slogan, I Won’t Tell Your Wife You Voted for Me, Trump filled stadiums. By the end of summer he had mostly abandoned actual speeches in favor of simply scowling from the podium and spitting. MSNBC claimed Trump was secretly messaging voters that his saliva contained magic powers, while CNN focused increasingly on videos of its reporters punching random Trump voters in the stomach under its new ownership by the Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, and Jeffrey Epstein Foundation.

    The real news from 2024 is that the actual voting process had changed so much no one was sure how a winner would be chosen. Championed by California, actual “mail-in” voting began a year before election day and allowed anyone to vote via Twitter RT for Democrats, while requiring Republican voters to solve a series of increasingly complex puzzles to reveal the one polling place open to them in-state. Texas on the other hand passed new legislation stating all voters would be assumed to vote Republican unless otherwise noted, and allowing citizens to sue anyone who voted Democrat outside of Austin. As the country approached November 2024, there were 51 distinct and radically different systems. Afghanistan, which had applied for U.S. statehood, was being allowed to vote in 2024 after Jeff Bezos’ personal intervention following his acquisition of 98 percent of its arable land. Bezos’ earlier suggestion, that all voting be done via Prime Points, was pushed forward to 2028.

    The future is grim. The once robust rumble-tumble political system had reached the point where the only viable candidates were two geriatric lab experiments. For the first time in history the sum of both candidates’ disapproval rating was over 100 percent. The voting process itself had devolved into something so crooked and complex the only thing left for the final fall from democracy would be to replace it with actual gladiatorial combat among Red and Blue voters. The absolute only thing American agreed on other than making AOC the permanent host of SNL was a bad idea was that no one believed any election results. The other thing generally understood was in the end who was elected president did not really matter much. No matter who was being kept alive in the Oval Office-ICU, nothing substantive was going to change. The real decisions were being made for sport and profit by the hyper-wealthy. Or it may be that we are just ungovernable. Seeing the future made the future looks hazier than ever before.

    As for the rest, I need to be careful about what I disclose but the new iPhone costs more than the last one. Mick Jagger’s pact with Satan for eternal life seems intact. The most popular movie of 2024 is Casablanca II with Lady Gaga playing the Bogart role, and the most popular job for recent grads is borrowing money from the patriarchy (your dad.) And don’t throw away those Covid masks, you’ll still be wearing them in 2024.

       

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

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

    November 6, 2021 // Comments Off on Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)


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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Bad Times for the First Amendment

    October 23, 2021 // 8 Comments »

     

    These are bad times for the First Amendment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

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

    October 12, 2021 // 4 Comments »


    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.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    COVID and the Minimum Wage: It Hurts

    September 20, 2021 // 11 Comments »

     

    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.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    QAnon Militia Embed

    July 31, 2021 // 14 Comments »


    See if you think this is funny.

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    A Tale of Two Murders: George Floyd and Ashli Babbit

    July 24, 2021 // 16 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ———

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

     

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

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

    July 10, 2021 // 5 Comments »


     
    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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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    What the Pentagon Papers 50th Anniversary Means

    June 26, 2021 // 5 Comments »

     

    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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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

    May 22, 2021 // Comments Off on COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

     

    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.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Fascism Americano

    May 8, 2021 // 1 Comment »

     

    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.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

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

    April 10, 2021 // 1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    I Violated “Community Standards”!

    March 21, 2021 // 5 Comments »

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

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

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

     

     
     
     

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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Incitement is the New Terrorism

    February 15, 2021 // 2 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Social Media’s Threat to Free Speech is Real

    January 30, 2021 // 2 Comments »

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

    January 14, 2021 // 1 Comment »


     
    Some Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    The First Amendment Only Applies to Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    What’s Said May Provoke Violence (Public Safety)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Free Speech May Be Challenged by the Heckler’s Veto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Economic Disparity and COVID in New York City

    August 23, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    The separateness in this city, New York, and by extension much of the nation curled around it from America’s eastern edge, stands out. There are the hyper-wealthy and there are the multi-generational permanent poor. New York has more of each than any other city in America. In writing about them it has been easy to stress how far apart they live, even though the mansions of the Upper West Side are less than a mile from the crack dealers uptown. The rich don’t ride public transportation, they don’t send their kids to public schools, they shop and dine in very different places with private security to ensure everything stays just far enough apart to keep it all together.

    But that misses the dependencies that until now have simply been a given in the ecosystem. The traditional view of this applied to New York has been the rich need the poor to exploit as cheap labor, textbook economic inequality. But with COVID as the spark, the bomb of economic inequality may soon Beruit America’s greatest city. Things are changing and New York needs to ask itself what it wants to be when it grows up.

    It’s simple. New York is populated by the incredibly wealthy and the incredibly poor. The wealthy and the companies they work for pay most of the taxes. The poor do not work, or are underemployed, and consume most of the taxes through social programs. COVID is driving the wealthy and their offices out of the city. No one will be left to pay for the poor, who are stuck here, and the city will collapse in the transition. A classic failed state scenario. The new social contract.

    New York City is home to 118 billionaires, more than any other American city. New York City is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world. Among those millionaires some 8,865 are classified as “high net worth,” with more than $30 million each.

    They pay the taxes. The top one percent of NYC taxpayers pay nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes collected in New York. Personal income tax in the New York Metro-Region accounts for 59 percent of all revenues. Property taxes property taxes amount to more than billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that from office space.

    Now for how the other half lives. Below those wealthy people in every sense of the word city has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, to include 114,000 children. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in public housing. Another 235,000 receive rent assistance. The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City is North America’s largest housing project with 3,142 apartments.

    That all costs a lot of money. The New York City Housing Authority says it needs $24 billion over the next decade just for vital repairs. That’s on top of a standing cost approaching $4 billion a year just to keep current housing operating. A lot of the money used to come from the Federal government before a multibillion-dollar decline in federal Section 9 funds. Today there is a shortfall and repairs, including lead removal, are being put off.

    NYC also has a $34 billion budget for public schools, many of which function as distribution points for child food aid, medical care, day care, and a range of social services. Costs for unemployment payouts are up dramatically because of COVID. The budget for a city as complex as New York is huge, a mess of federal, state, and local funding sources, multi-year grants. It can be sliced and diced many ways, but the one that matters is the simplest: the people and companies who pay for New York’s poor are leaving. The city is already facing a $7.4 billion tax revenue hit from the initial effects of the coronavirus. The money is there; New York’s wealthiest individuals have increased their net worth by $44.9 billion during the pandemic. It’s just not here.

    New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen a bit of the iceberg in the distance. He recently took to MSNBC to beg the city’s wealthy, who fled the coronavirus outbreak, to return. Cuomo said he was extremely worried about New York City weathering COVID if too many of the well-heeled taxpayers who fled decide there is no need to move back. “They are in their Hamptons homes, or Hudson Valley or Connecticut. I talk to them literally every day. I say. ‘When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook. But they’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking, if I stay there, they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge. So, that would be a bad place if we had to go there.”

    Included in the surcharge are not only NYC’s notoriously high taxes. The recent repeal of the federal allowance for state and local tax deductions (SALT) costs New York’s high earner tax filers some $15 billion in additional federal taxes annually.

    “They don’t want to come back to the city,” Partnership for NYC President Kathryn Wylde warned. “It’s hard to move a company… but it’s much easier for individuals to move,” she said, noting that most offices plan to allow remote work indefinitely. “It’s a big concern that we’re going to lose more of our tax base then we’ve already lost.”

    While overall only 5 percent of residents left the city as of May, in the city’s very wealthiest blocks residential population decreased by 40 percent or more. Across the city the higher-earning a neighborhood is, the more likely it is to have emptied out. Even the amount of trash collected in wealthy neighborhoods has dropped, a tell-tale sign no one is home. A real estate agent told me she estimates about a third of the apartments in my mid-range 300 unit building are empty. The ones for sale or rent attract few customers. She says it’s worse than post-9/11 because at least then the mood was “How do we get NYC back?” instead of now, when we just stand over the body and tsk tsk through our masks.

    Enough New Yorkers are running toward the exits that it has shaken up the area’s housing market. Another real estate agent describes the frantic, hypercompetitive bidding in the nearby New Jersey suburbs as a “blood sport.” “We are seeing 20 offers on houses. We are seeing things going 30 percent over the asking price. It’s kind of insane.”

    Fewer than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers have returned to the workplace a month after New York gave businesses the green light to return to the buildings they ran from in March. Having had several months to notice what not paying Manhattan office rents might do for their bottom line, large companies are virtually leaving. Despite the folky image of New York as a paradise of Mom and Pop restaurants and quaint shops, about 50 percent of those who pay most of the taxes work for large firms. More Fortune 500 companies, 71, have their headquarters in NYC, than any other city in America. They are keeping their employees working from home. Conde Nast, the publishing company and majority client in the signature new World Trade Center, is moving out. Since the coronavirus hit the office has largely been vacant anyway and the publisher has given no indication when workers will return.

    It is no better in other sectors. A third of NYC’s small businesses are closing. On Madison Avenue in the ultra-rich 60s and 70s blocks most lux stores are closed. Retail foot traffic is down 85 percent from a year ago. The former customers are in Connecticut and the Hamptons, and so major art galleries have shuttered their city locations to open branches where the rich have relocated. Neiman Marcus is closing its flagship store in Hudson Yards. Tourism, once worth $70 billion a year, has fallen to near zero.

    Meanwhile, progressive Mayor De Blasio has lost touch with his city. After years of failing to address economic inequality by simply throwing free money to the poor and limiting the ability of the police to protect them, and us, from rising crime, his COVID focus has been on shutting down schools and converting 139 luxury hotels to filthy homeless shelters. Alongside AOC, he has called for higher taxes and more federal funds, neither of which is coming. As for the wealthy who have paid for his social justice experiments to date, he says “We don’t make decisions based on a wealthy few. Some may be fair-weathered friends, but they will be replaced by others.”

    What others? The concentration of major corporations once pulled talent to the city from across the globe; if you wanted to work for JP Morgan on Wall Street, you had to live here. That’s why NYC has skyscrapers; a lot of people once needed to live and especially work in the same place. Not any more. Technology and work-at-home changes have eliminated geography.

    For the super wealthy, New York once topped the global list of desirable places to live based on four factors: wealth, investment, lifestyle and future. The first meant a desire to live among other wealthy people (we know where that’s headed), investment returns on real estate (not looking great, if you can even find a buyer), lifestyle (now destroyed with bars, restaurants, shopping, museums, and theatres closed indefinitely, coupled with rising crime) and…

    The future. New York pre-COVID had the highest projected GDP growth of any city. Now we’re left with the question if COVID continues to hollow out the city, who will be left to pay for New York? As one commentator said, NYC risks leading America into becoming “Brazil with Nukes,” a future of constant political and social chaos, with a ruling class content to wall itself off from the greater society’s problems.

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Did You Notice the Trump Doctrine?

    August 15, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff recently issued a report titled “Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department.” Oh, it’s horrid! Under Trump 11 Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary posts are vacant or filled by acting officials. And career public servants, many of whom were actively involved in trying to impeach and “resist” the president, report “leadership exhibits a sense of disrespect and disdain for their work.”
     
    Leaving aside the question of what an “Under Secretary” does and why previous administrations needed so dang many of them, one is tempted to say if this is what the real-world effect of American diplomacy in crisis is, please don’t fix anything: for the first time in almost two decades America has not started a new war. Cut back on some existing ones, too.

    U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s body count to date is only 123. Damn uncomfortable truth. You can make yourself feel better by giving Trump (and State) no credit. You can calm yourself by believing there’s no Trump Doctrine of winding back the dumbness of constant war, no thought out process that maybe America’s power is enhanced by not throwing a match into every bucket of gasoline in the Middle East, just Trump bumbling in the foreign policy darkness randomly added up to something. He’s the diplomatic equivalent of all those monkeys pecking away at a million typewriters and accidentally reproducing Hamlet. Whatever helps you sleep at night. But the tally, in trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives saved, is unambiguous and good.

     

    With Elderly Caucasian Joe Biden heading up the alumni association seeking the White House like the last founding member of Blue Oyster Cult taking the “band” out on the road one more time, it might be fun to indulge in some Obama-Biden foreign policy nostalgia as a vision of things to come.

    It’s easy to forget in the foreign policy debate between Trump and Hillary way back in 2016 one of the catch phrases was “boots on the ground” in reference to how (not if) Clinton was going to flat-out war in Syria. Trump wanted no part of it, but Obama-Biden had already intervened in Syria in multiple ways, teeing it up for the next POTUS.

    Clinton was being egged on to expand the war in Syria by the State Department. In June 2016 an internal State Department “dissent” memo leaked to major news outlets sharply criticizing the Obama-Biden policy of relative restraint, and demanding military strikes. The memo, signed by 51 diplomats whose identities somehow were not leaked, was almost certainly shepherded by former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Ford had earlier helped promote the destruction of Iraq as Obama’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, and went on to want open war in Syria. He was pulled out of the job in Syria for his own safety after undiplomatically promoting the overthrow of the government there.

    Obama’s expansion in Syria was minor compared to Iraq. After withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 in time to get re-elected the next year, in 2014 Obama partnered with Iran to let start putting boots back on that same old ground. It didn’t take long for the United States to morph that conflict from a rescue mission (Save the Yazidis!) to a training mission to bombing to special forces and then regular forces in ongoing contact with the enemy for what became Iraq War 3.0. American ground forces grew to some 6,000 on regular deployment, with an additional, unknown, number of Marines on “temporary duty” and not counted against the total.

    Obama surged into Afghanistan, the same year he received the Nobel Peace Prize, sending 17,000  troops to raise the total in-country by 50 percent. Obama also had U.S. forces at war in Yemen, Pakistan, Mali, and Somalia. Goaded by Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice he attacked Libya, turning the country into a failed state and promoting one of the most tragic outflows of refugees into Europe in modern times, forever changing the demographics of the continent (Germany did not say thank you.) There was Benghazi. Luckily, time ran out before Obama-Biden could militarily intervene in Ukraine. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland, in a tapped call discussing manipulating political succession in Ukraine, said “F*ck the EU” showing how the administration valued its allies.

    And of course the Putin love shown by Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry who invited Russia back into Syria. Kerry who floundered as Russia made its incursions into Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry who sang Happy Birthday to Putin at an APEC conference.

     

    But in weighing Obama the Committed Warlord against Trump the Accidental Peacemaker, one cannot focus on policy alone. One needs to know the man.

    Obama killed four American citizens by drone. Trump zero. After Obama ordered the killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki and later his teenage American son, Obama’s White House press secretary Robert Gibbs commented the kill shot on the kid was justified as he “should have had a more responsible father.” Obama personally lead the Tuesday Oval Office reviews to choose who would die the coming week, telling senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” Under Obama America wasn’t the world’s policeman. We were the world’s George Zimmerman.

    At a time when militarization and Trump’s use of Federal force in America cities is being questioned, remember Obama set the bar. Following the drone killings of Americans abroad Senator Rand Paul asked whether the president could authorize lethal force against an American citizen in the U.S. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder answered yes. Holder said he could imagine “an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” Note to DJT: the legal justification is still on the books if you need it in Portland.

     

    That was the world in 2016. Donald Trump as president has started no new wars. Troop levels in Syria are down. Same for Iraq. Afghanistan remains about the same, with no surges. In 2017, the Department of Defense stopped providing specific military deployment figures for those areas. However, DOD’s annual budget requests fill in some of the blanks. The budget request from March 2019 showed the number of troops in Afghanistan at 12,000, with Iraq and Syria together at 5,800. In a recent move, Trump announced 12,000 American troops will be leaving Germany.

    The Global War on Terror, Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and regime change in Syria played important roles in the 2016 election. They’re no longer in the lexicon, artifacts now of another era. What happened? Did we win? Are they postponed because of COVID? Or was it mostly a pile of bullsh*t from the beginning and Trump called the bluff?

    It is a good thing a lot of nothing happened. John Bolton was the Bad Boy who was supposed to start wars with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, maybe even China. He didn’t. The ending of the Iran nuclear agreement and the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem caused not much to happen. In the end Bolton had no home in an administration which didn’t want to go to war. Mad Dog Jim Mattis as defense secretary, along with State Department special envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS Brett McGurk, resigned over Trump’s decision to draw down in Syria and Afghanistan. Mattis and McGurk too had no place in an administration which didn’t want more war.

    Whereas Obama had given up on diplomacy with North Korea in 2012, content to see them grow their nuclear arsenal, Trump understood you make peace by talking to your worst adversaries. His efforts were mocked, with the MSM declaring anything short of improbable full denuclearization meant Trump failed. But the door was left open, tensions cooled on the Korean Peninsula, and both sides got a peek at how they can move forward in the future. It’s easy to forget that before Trump’s diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, the Council on Foreign Relations assessed the chances of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula at 50 percent.

     

    Of course Biden isn’t Obama. But neither is Trump, who spent the last four years disengaging from the policies Biden helped champion for eight. Biden’s foreign policy will be shaped by Obama alums. Only Satan knows the details of Susan Rice’s and Samantha Power’s pact with him, but they will both certainly have a role in a Biden administration promoting war as they did under Barack. We might even see the return of Hillary in some sort of elder statesman/special envoy role.

    There are many domestic Trump policies people don’t like, and this article isn’t meant to defend them. But it is worth noting how central warmaking has been to mucking up America, whether it is savaging our economy with debt, diverting funds from some social program to war, fueling terrorism either directly through CIA funding, or indirectly by blowing up wedding parties and creating new enemies. America’s warmaking has turned allies against us, burned too many times by American adventurism. And for those concerned about America’s image abroad, the most offensive Trump tweets have little to compare to the serial “accidental” bombings of schools and hospitals. So while the easy out is to rebut this with “But Trump…,” that ignores the centrality of war to American foreign policy and benefits in walking that back.

     

    Democrats and the MSM have spent four years declaring Trump is about to start some war or another, when in fact he has done quite the opposite. Meanwhile their candidate carries forward a bloody history of intervention and self-proclaimed Just War killing millions. While the Left will insist it won’t believe it’s eyes, it is possible the people know. Trump’s 2016 win was influenced by his outspoken denouncement of the waste of America’s wars. Evidence suggests pro-Trump sentiment in rural areas especially was driven in part by people who agreed with his anti-war critique, voters who’d either served in Obama’s wars or whose sons/daughters had served. We’ll see who notices in November.

     

     

    BONUS Content: Ah, Susan Rice. Only Satan knows the details of her pact with him, but she would certainly have a role in the Biden administration. Rice who supported bloodshed in Africa, created the policy of overlooking genocide in Rwanda, persuaded President Clinton against killing bin Laden, supported the invasion of Iraq as did Biden, who lied about what happened in Benghazi, and who wanted war in Libya. Rice combines the steamy crap foreign policy failures of Bill and Hillary with Obama to ensure it’ll all work out about the same for Biden. She is also all appetite, having spent a career promoting Susan Rice, so also expect her to go after the Oval Office if she can.

      

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

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America