• Archive of "Post-Constitution America" Category

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

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

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

    Posted in 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 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 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 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 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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    How Much Do Black LIves Matter?

    July 18, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
    James Powell was 15-years-old when one hard summer the NYPD killed him.
     
    He’d been sitting on a apartment building stoop with some other black teenagers when the building superintendent grew frustrated and sprayed them with a garden hose after the kids refused to leave. A cop arrived, claimed Powell had a knife, and shot him twice. No one saw a knife but the cop. A quick ambulance response might have saved Powell’s life but ambulances don’t arrive quickly in that part of town. The cop was cleared by a grand jury. He’d previously shot two other people in the line of duty.

    If you don’t recognize the name James Powell it might be because he was killed in 1964, just two weeks after the Civil Rights Act passed . His death lead to Project Uplift, which you also are unlikely to have heard of, a War on Poverty program to create jobs in Harlem. A few years later the streets not far from where Powell was killed were renamed for Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King. In 2020 “Black Lives Matter” was painted in bold letters on one of the streets nearby. You can now even ask Alexa and she will respond, “Black lives matter. I believe in racial equality.”

    That black people’s lives matter isn’t debatable, but how much do they really matter is a real question. It would be beyond cynical to make a Groundhog Day remark out of James Powell’s life and aftermath but not beyond the truth.

     

    The rioting and protests across New York City has in a way succeeded in one of its specific goals, to defund the police. On June 15 the city closed down the NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime unit, 600 cops tasked with preventing violent street crime. Once described as elite by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the unit responsible for the choke hold that killed Eric Garner was seen by the black community as a left-over from the stop-and-frisk era. They were the successor to the Street Crimes Unit closed down in 2002 following the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo. A federal probe found they profiled people of color along the road to ending the destruction of the city during the 1980s.

    Two days after the latest unit fell victim to BLM, party DJ Jomo Glasgow was gunned down at a house party in Brooklyn. His shooting was part of a 205 percent increase in shootings in NYC so far in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996.

    Adding to the current day carnage are two other fulfilled BLM demands, the mass release of prisoners due to COVID risks in city jails and the ending of bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes. The shootings in NYC are in predominantly black neighborhoods. And there lies the failure of BLM successes: they take black lives that matter.

     

    Other BLM demands center on money for food, housing, and justice. Over the last 50 years (federal, state and local) governments spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty. In 2012 that amounted to $20,610 for every poor person in America. Here in NYC, one out of every 14 people already lives in public housing, with the average resident staying 18 years. In a city where the overall population is 26 percent black, 45 percent of those in public housing are black. Food aid? Predominantly in black areas. More than 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers (the average for all other groups is 41 percent.) Children in a single parent family are five times more likely to be poor than children growing up in married‐​couple families. Black lives matter of course but maybe not to many black fathers. Poverty levels among blacks are largely unchanged over decades. The money didn’t help because it was supposed to be a helping hand, not create a victim’s lifestyle, and no one wants to admit the cash outlays from the Great Society and War on Poverty are the only reparations which will ever be paid.

    The modern case for more reparations is made by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a hero of BLM after her work in the NYT’s alt-history 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones, where those before her stumbled, has found the specific thing reparations is going to fix: economic inequality for blacks. In What Is Owed she writes “While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunting opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To fix that means to her reparations.

    Hannah-Jones is going to need a helluva lot of money. There are some 37 million blacks in America. Offer each $20,000 in reparations. That’s $740,000,000,000, about a thousand times the current defense budget. And it won’t pay much rent in NYC, where the median household income is $63,000, never mind close any gap in economic inequality. There is no case for reparations resolving any real-world problem except maybe white guilt.

     

    The basic ideology of BLM is flawed. Blacks killing blacks is called a distraction. Single families are irrelevant. Mountains of money spent just seem to mean more money is needed. But the biggest flaw is BLM removes responsibility from the black community. Nikole Hannah-Jones inadvertently sums it up best: “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap.”

    The BLM narrative is following the Civil War systemic racism was willfully instituted across the nation to keep blacks oppressed. The splay of problems, especially multi-generational poverty and crime, is not the fault of black people. It is something created (and thus the “fault”) of white people and it must be resolved by white people. BLM is a “to do” list of things white people must do. Protests are designed to get whytepiople working on that.

    Coupled with the lack of personal responsibility is the BLM emphasis on pranks and symbols.  Streets are renamed, BLM painted on murals, Gone With the Wind sent down the memory hole, and every TV show, movie, and ad seeded by boycott threats with an ever-growing palette of POC. Go ahead, keep going: show us videos of Karens calling 911, teach history from Broadway musicals, cancel all celebrities, tear down all the statues, rename Columbus, Ohio to Wakanda, rename everything. History shows it all means nothing because it has changed little. James Powell was killed in 1964.

    The BLM narrative is a sweeping view of 400 years of history where the parts fit together like Legos from that first slave wading ashore in 1619 to killing in Minneapolis in 2020, some sort of Protocols of the Elders of White Bread. It ignores how an alleged white supremacist society has over time made its peace to accommodate and promote other minorities, Asians, people from the Indian subcontinent, Cubans and Hispanics among them, albeit unequally, and overcome waves of hate and racism against, in no particular order, the Irish, the Jews, the Catholics, the Italians, women, gays, and streams of refugees, never mind comfortably elect a black president twice and give him two black attorneys general. If we are white supremacists with systemic armor, we have done a really bad job of it.

    One would think a fundamentally racist society worried about losing majority control would not be so generous. The argument that none of those groups grandfathered into the American Dream were ever slaves — the supposed one thing which sets blacks apart — depends on all of us believing a society of immigrants recreates racism anew with each generation, holding a grudge for 400 years over something none of their relatives had anything to do with.

    In NYC, Spanish Harlem is full of warm mom and pop cuchifritos restaurants while black Harlem is infected with corporate fast food. The corner store bodegas which straddle neighborhood borders were once owned by Eastern European Jews who gave way to the Italians, then Indians, Koreans, and now Yemenis. Whole Dominican families run dry goods shops in black neighborhoods. Are they all racist? Is everyone in on it? The whole BLM narrative rejects Dr. King’s dream of insistence on content of character. Skin color is everything and race goes from being one important issue to something that matters more than anything else. Being black becomes so controlling of destiny it can only be fixed by whites.

     

    The horrors of slavery are endless, made worse because no matter how many times retold, history frustratingly cannot be changed. Discrimination is part of American society as it is in every society and must be fought. But a narrative that says black people have little personal responsibility when a random white guy with no historical or family connection to slavery does, one which demands someone else fix things (mostly with free money), one which is so childishly and regularly diverted by ultimately empty symbolic gestures, cannot succeed.

    James Powell was killed in 1964 and everyone is still saying and doing the same thing expecting different results. That’s what matters.

      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Will Trump EVER Leave?

    July 3, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    I’ve got a list of bookmarks as long as my fave drug store receipts declaring threats to the republic, end of democracy, and the arrival of dictatorship. When I turn on cable news, the end of America as we know it — the literal end, as in North Korean-style lives for us — is nearly a regular feature alongside weather and sports when we had sports. I’ve tried to make a little career out of debunking that fear mongering. But now I’m scared.

    Joe Biden announced his plans: Biden (who despite appearances is the Democratic candidate for president) said he is “absolutely convinced” the military may have to remove President Trump from the White House if he refuses to leave after losing November’s election. Joe warned “This president is going to try to steal this election… It’s my greatest concern.” Asked whether he’s thought about what would happen if he wins but Trump decides not to leave the White House, Biden responded: “Yes I have.” After mentioning the high-ranking former military officers who spoke out about Trump’s response to BLM protests, he went on: “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House.” Biden has been saying this now for months.

    It’s one thing when for clicks goofy Michael Moore, Donny Deutsch or Bill Maher muse Trump will not leave if he loses, or an Op-Ed worries Trump will unleash nuclear apocalypse in some Strangelovian bid to stay in office. Nearly everyone on Autonomous Free Twitter knows the voting will be rigged. Some knucklehead wrote a book about it based on a fan fiction reading of the 12th Amendment. TDS poster child Lawrence Tribe even said it about the midterm elections two years ago. Democrats have voiced “concerns” Trump would use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the election.

    But this is Joe Biden saying it: Trump will attempt some sort of unconstitutional coup. Joe Biden who was vice president twice. Joe Biden, Lion of the Senate, and for several centuries the gray representative of the credit card industry. Joe Biden who is not stupid, naive or dramatic.

     

    Biden is, however, just a pawn in the game. They’re setting it up, aren’t they?

    The NYT, as is its role, already fired several signal flares. They characterize Trump as a cornered despot, capable of anything to avoid losing. In another one article the Times announced “Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night,” quoting a Georgetown University law professor “reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen.’” The professor even convened a group to brainstorm how Trump could disrupt the election and to think about ways to prevent it. They speculate Trump could declare a state of emergency, maybe COVID-related, in battleground states, banning polling places from opening. Or Attorney General Barr could Comey-like announce a criminal investigation into Biden.

    The online comment responses to the NYT articles were amazing. People are ready for this. They are convinced Trump is defunding the post office so no one can mail-in absentee ballots (which the left somehow imagines will all be for Biden), and that Trump is sending out coded signals to his militias to take to the streets if it looks like he is losing. One reader is more confident: “We have a National Guard to deal with Trump’s 2nd amendment people” though more than a few claim what happens in November “will depend on where the military’s loyalty lies.” Many think the Supreme Court is a tool in all this, with Kavanaugh a grateful lickspittle linchpin to enable a November coup through some sort of judicial invalidation of the election. Many seem certain Trump will face jail if he leaves office and thus will illegally stay in office to stay out of jail; one says “DJT knows that once voted out he will still have to answer to Putin.”

    That Americans think this way is scary enough. But here’s my nightmare.

    After a long October of rumors from sources about some Surprise (war with Iran, martial law in Seattle) fails to produce a surge in Never Trump voters, the media pivots to the cheating narrative. Trump is doing something with mail in ballots, black people can’t get to the polls in Georgia, the Attorney General in Kentucky will undercount urban areas. The media will explode like a ripe zit, splattering fake news, exaggerations, and experts, all with a single point to make: the results on election day will not be valid if Trump wins. Academics will fan the flames, bleating on about the importance of the popular vote and rehashing old arguments from 2016 about the invalidity of the Electoral College.

    All will be forgotten faster than Robert-What’s-His-Name-Mueller if Biden wins. But if by pre-2016 standards Trump is the winner, boom! The media will refuse to concede. The Dems will put a little lipstick on it with strident local court challenges, demands for recounts, emergency hearings in the House, but keep it out of the Supreme Court. Democrats don’t want a conclusion, they want a crisis. Trump will fulfill his standard role as his own worst enemy and hold rallies to re-declare victory over and over. But the story everywhere else will be Trump is not the president-elect, the election was not legitimate, and that orange bastard’s presence in the White House after January 20 will be a Konstitutional Krisis. Privately the Democratic power brokers will whisper something remarkably undemocratic other than accepting the results of the election has to be done to save our democracy.

    What happens after that is beyond guessing. A best case scenario is some party graybeards get through to an exhausted and befuddled Biden and talk him out of it. A bad scenario has Obama emerge under the guise of being a neutral party to negotiate a (Democratic Party) conclusion. A very bad scenario has the same third party actors who whipped Black Lives Matter protesters into a looting mob repeat the performance. By that point nearly everyone will demand the military step in for different reasons. A very, very bad scenario will have a real-world event intervene, like an enemy abroad taking advantage of the chaos. The need to act expeditiously will slip a “temporary” military government into place faster than CNN can play the Breaking News music.

     

    You believed Trump was a Russian sleeper agent but you’re calling me paranoid? In 2016 learned scholars tested legal theories the Electoral College was invalid, and created a Constitutional Frankenstein where the electors voted for Hillary based on the popular vote. The idea the election was invalid due to foreign influence sullies discussion still today, and one political writer continues to place an asterisk next to the term “President Trump*” to denote questionable claim to the title.

    For nearly four years the same forces that may declare 2020 invalid tried very hard to convince us 2016 already was. There are plenty of Hillary people (including Hillary) who have not accepted 2016. Has Stacey Adams really accepted her defeat yet? Think back to everything that happened during the last election, the gaming done by Comey and the FBI to influence results. Remember how the intelligence community manipulated Russiagate. Why wait for November 2020 to have a coup? We’re been in what Matt Taibbi calls a permanent coup for years. They’ve been practicing to declare 2020 illegitimate, trying out the arguments, teeing them up, trial balloons.

    Any of the those things would have been considered crazy talk only a few years ago. None would have ever passed into the mainstream. Compare Russiagate to the Great Obama Birth Certificate kerfuffle. The idea Obama was ineligible for office festered in right wing talk radio. It was dismissed as factless by just about everyone else. Fast forward to 2016+ and America’s paper of record is happy to front a story the president is subject to blackmail over a pee tape based on nothing but desperate hope it might be true.

     

    The critical tool for a potential end of democracy is peoples’ new conditioned readiness to believe almost anything. The media tells the world what’s important using a very narrow range of truth if available, or just makes things up if truth is not around to be manipulated. When outed, the MSM switches to something else, and though the specific previous topic no longer exists as fact, it devolves into as one part of a broad idea — Trump is bad. Like summing up a range of experiences to say “Yeah, good vacation to Italy.” The people remain on call to be upset about whatever the news says to be upset about next, such as “Trump stole the election.” It’s really very easy. Remember literally overnight the media had people convinced  protesting during lockdown was deadly and then (whoosh, silence=violence) not protesting during lockdown was deadly.

    We end up living exhausted, on knife’s edge, neck deep in cynicism, decline, and distrust. And scared. There are no facts anymore, only what people can be made to believe. That power was not well understood in 2016 and clumsily applied. Today it is ripe for exploitation far beyond generating clicks and ad revenue. I don’t think Trump will try to stay in office if he loses. But there are people who will tell us that to try and play on our fears to steal this election. That’s why I am finally scared.

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 9 Comments »

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Letter from New York

    June 1, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    New York City remains locked down while America seeks the bloom of spring.

    No wrinkles then around my eyes the first time I saw her, and she wasn’t just a bubble tea shop then. When people could roam the streets of New York City without harassment for failing to tie a talisman of a mask across their face, I used to walk regularly, often without specific purpose, past the old San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village.

    In the 1950s and 60s the regulars included giants like James Agee, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, William Styron, Dylan Thomas, Gore Vidal, and Judith Malina. Imagine the conversations, the dirty jokes, the warm beer.

    If you don’t recognize all the names, Google a couple. James Baldwin. A black, gay man, he wrote about victims without victimizing. Because he was a black gay man he understood the failings of humanity not just towards black gay men, but towards men. Modern writers in his genre always seem to start off their work with “AS a ____” demanding your sympathy on line one. Baldwin was better than that. He saw hope, not profit, in anger.

    Woody Guthrie played in the neighborhood around the San Remo and certainly must have stopped in, as did Bob Dylan.

     

    The cafe closed long ago. The property was most recently a bubble tea shop and its clientele about 99 percent Asian tourists who I do doubt ever read James Agee. Irony is a character in this story. Do history a favor and skip the abomination of the tea; just down Bleecker Street is Fiore’s Pizza, named after a New York firefighter killed on 9/11. It’s hard not to remember those sharp blue September days when we took care of each other, briefly, before we became so afraid. Heat can forge, or it can melt. Men who ran into a fire were NY’s heroes instead of people who, however necessary, stock shelves.

    Bob Dylan lived nearby on West 4th Street, having come to the neighborhood in large part because he wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. Neither man would be newly successful today. Both were in their primes imperfect men, perfect for #MeToo entrapment by those who have likely since graduated into masked tattletales (irony again; they hide themselves with facemasks while judging you.) The poets made you pay attention to the words because they wrote prayers, not songs. The words mattered because words once mattered as more than sounds that just rhymed well to a beat. Dylan wrote “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” in this neighborhood about some NYC-type who often kept him awake at odd hours wandering around like we once could do. The sleepless Dylan never imagined what we see now when he wrote the lyric “the empty street’s too dead for dreaming.”

    The last war had been fought up the street, at the White Horse Tavern in the 1930s with the reds, and the place would make a comeback in the later gasps of the 1960s. At San Remo were the children of World War II too young to have experienced the bloodshed but damn aware of the price war took on their fathers, awake in the affluence of the 1950s and 60s alienated by the Cold War. Americans never really made peace with all that. It’s quite a neighborhood.

     

    The cafe can’t be there anymore, nor the Asian tourists, and neither can I because a good idea to implement social measures to slow the virus in line with our capacity to deal with it morphed into a fear driven shelter in place mania until we achieve zero-death plan. New York City has a dirty little secret it isn’t talking about. Arbitrary standards have been set for the whole of the place (available hospital beds to reopen the city must be 30 percent; it’s now at 29 percent. Number of hospitalizations misses the market by two-thirds of a person) , some eight million people. But there is little of the virus in Manhattan, including near the cafe. Most of the deaths are clustered in in the Bronx and distant Brooklyn, separated by class and money. The rich areas are held hostage in lockdown now to the poor areas. Yet to go out for milk now I have to look like Billy the Kid about to knock off the 10:15 train.

    I miss New York, the idea of New York, because the real place barely ever existed. The city always goes too far — too many handouts, too much poverty displaced by too much wealth, too much real art pushed aside by garbage, too much multi-generational public housing. Everybody knows the city always goes too far, and periodically it has to be culled back like weeds out of control.

    The 1970s and early 80s saw it turn into Beruit, with hard lines those stuck here learned to navigate. There is OK during the day, up there never, over near the park only if you had a good reason and some street smarts. The Bronx burned, the cops windshield wipered between giving up and turning vigilante. We did it again not too long later, with stop and frisk and broken window policing. Then back down to where a year ago or so the mayor ordered the police to stop arresting people of color for what he defined as minor crimes in the subway and then declared the subways safe (again) while minor crimes enmassed into just crime. Again. Each of those cuts through life here and the city walks around with the scars.

    The deal with New York was that you put up with stuff like that, grad school liberal poli-sci think pieces actually acted out (free methadone to replace cheap heroin, what could go wrong when a “clinic” replaces a grocery store in a neighborhood) in return for the old San Remo Cafe you could not get in South Bend or Allentown in return for putting up with what you did not have to navigate in South Bend or Allentown. The city is like a sunset, you don’t expect it to admire you back.

     

    Then it all went to hell in 2020. Those same political think pieces said they needed to put the city into a medically-induced economic coma to top the virus. The solution hit hardest on the poor. They need to become poorer to save them, that irony thing again.

    The public school system, which in another social experiment gone too far had been largely turned into a massive outbox for free meals, free daycare, free menstrual products, free birth control, and free medical care, just gave up education as a function completely and closed. The one single only solitary thing that has any chance of helping someone do better than their parents, education, was shut down. The city’s “public advocate” even wants penalties waived for skipping online school. So that’s OK. One imagines the immigrants on the Lower East Side a hundred years ago working extra hours on top of a 60 hour regular week to send one of their four kids to school to give the whole family a chance. Thanks, Grandpa.

    A good friend taught public high school in the deranged and ravaged South Bronx for several years under “Teach for America,” another grad school project which theorized anybody in front of a classroom was basically better than nobody, and hoped if you rolled the dice enough and stuck enough privileged kids in front of enough poor kids something decent might come of it. My friend eventually quit, realizing how much time he spent in his classroom on things not related to teaching science. His conclusion — you can’t fix the schools in the South Bronx until you fix the South Bronx — isn’t anyone’s current project. One imagines the minimum wage Amazon frontline worker thinking about the flyover honoring him about the same way he thought about people thanking him for his service after Afghanistan.

    Somehow Bill Gates is now deeply involved. What does he know, but he means well and he is a rich tech prince, about what in New York passes today as civic virtue. It reminds me of my nation-building days in Iraq, when any dumb idea could find a sponsor only the people in NY care even less about the results.

    New York is generally content with the system it has, a bizarre mashup of pseudo-socialism inside the greatest concentration of capitalism ever known enforced by near-fascist decree to enact the social experiments while the cops keep the rich and poor safely apart. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns, but only in real life. The virus saw New York in the name of a liberal experiment to save New York from the virus shut down the jobs and the schools. Projections are more comfortable. Charter schools, no grades, more computers, more African history and art, free college for all, lockdowns, quarantines, masks, let’s try it. A virus will crush an already broken society faster and more efficiently than a working one. What’s happening now is a culmination not an event.

     

    We are most certainly not all in this together. Across the rest of the city, people are here without being here, with the richest areas about 40 percent empty. They have other homes to retreat to, suburban panic rooms from which to see how long this time it will take NYC to surface again. You can track their flight by the drop off in garbage collected in certain neighborhoods. Less people, less trash. The real rich toughing it out with the proles have private speakeasies to ease the pain.

    One thing the rich will be watching is where this time the economic (and thus safety) fault lines will settle in. On my side of town, the bad streets had receded above 96th. They’re working their way back to 93rd now. Google up real estate values and statistics for burglaries of old people and street assaults and you’ll know. The rich abandoned the public school system long ago. They also had the comfort of closing their public schools earlier to protect themselves from the early days of the virus (their schools being used primarily for education not as charity distribution centers; a mega-irony was that the schools still being part of the last social experiment meant they had to stay open longer until alternate food distribution could be worked out) and will exercise the option of reopening their private schools sooner, as the virus statistically is far away from them.

    Heat can forge, or it can melt. New York’s mayor is a goofball, a knucklehead, a jaboni who imagines himself a Caucasian blend of Cesar Chavez, Obama, and Dr. King. He wanted to be president even. Nobody really likes him, but the people who vote (by mail, from their second homes) generally endorse his policies even as they wish for someone a bit more elegant. They like the idea of feeling good, and so love the idea of a handful of “lower income” apartments mandated into billion dollar residencial towers. They tolerate a population of several thousand human trolls living homeless in the subway system because it adds “grit” to their city while they take Uber. Quaint shops and bars needed for Instagram are kept alive via GoFundMe and tax breaks, not customers. They mandated a city without public toilets, customers only!, and then seem surprised everything smells like urine. Can’t they eat cake? They act like they discovered the vaccine against irony long ago.

     

    Of course no one talks much about how the good ideas never seem to improve the lives of those they are aimed at. Despite the lockdown, plenty of people keep getting sick and dying in New York. The South Bronx is still poor. Despite the economic coma NYC still has a higher death toll per million in population than any other state in America. New York City also has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country yet we tolerate the death toll which persists. Most of those who die by gunfire are in the same category as the virus deaths, poor and of color and from another part of town walled off by street signs as plain and easy to understand as that wall across the Mexican border.

    The virus takes its victims, but much more of the harm is self-inflicted. It will take researchers years to sort out where the Venn diagram circles overlap among social distancing, natural processes like herd immunity, and just plain exaggeration, but it is clear today the virus is not the most dangerous thing here anymore. This is a dismal city to be in today, ravaged by a virus of bad ideas and self-delusional political experiments that laid in wait for a trigger event, COVID for now, to land some body blows. New York is a place now that misses its younger, happier self. Hard to imagine the poets at the old San Remo Cafe like I am now, wishing away a lovely spring and summer to hurry it up until November.

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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

    Posted in Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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

    Posted in Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Looking for Jim Jones Amid COVID-19

    March 30, 2020 // 12 Comments »


     
    I’m not worried about the guy coughing next to me. I’m worried about the ones who seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
     
    Jim Jones was the charismatic founder of the cult-like People’s Temple. Through fear-based control, Jones took his followers’ money and ran their lives. He isolated them in Guyana, where Jones convinced over 900 followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape Kool Aid. Frightened people can be made to do literally anything. They just need a Jim Jones.
     
    So it is more than a little scary Never Trumper and MSM zampolit Rick Wilson wrote Twitter to his 753k Twitter followers “People who sank into their fear of Trump, who defended every outrage, who put him before what they knew was right, and pretended this chaos and corruption was a glorious new age will pay a terrible price. They deserve it.” The Tweet was liked over 82,000 times.

    The NYT claims “the specter of death speeds across the globe, ‘Appointment in Samarra’-style, ever faster, culling the most vulnerable.” Others are claiming Trump will cancel the election to rule as a Jim Jones. “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity or Regan could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public,” opined the Washington Post, which suggested they should be placed on hiatus. And the rest of you, drink the damn Kool Aid and join in the panic enroute to Guyana.

    In the grocery store in Manhattan just after the announcement of the national state of emergency was pure panic buying. I saw a fight broke out in one aisle after an employee brought out a carton of paper towels to restock the shelf and someone grabbed the whole carton for themselves. The police were called. One cop had to stay behind to oversee the lines at the registers and maintain order. To their credit the NYPD were cool about it. I heard them talk down one of the fighters  saying “You wanna go to jail over Fruit Loops? Get a hold of yourself.” Outside New York, sales of weapons and ammunition spiked.

    Panic seems to be something we turn on and off, or moderate in different ways. Understanding that helps reveal what is really going on.

    No need for history. Right now, in real time, behind the backs of the coronavirus, is the every-year plain old influenza. Some 12,000 people have died, with over 13 million infected from influenza just between October 2019 and February 2020. The death toll is screamingly higher (as this is printed corona has killed just 69 Americans.) One does not hear much about that. Why?
     
    Bluntly: more people have already died of influenza in the U.S. than from coronavirus in China, Iran, and Italy combined. Double in fact. To be even more blunt, no one really cares even though a large number of people are already dead. Why?
     
    The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency seven months later, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months Obama had no HHS secretary or appointees in the department’s 19 key posts. No commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no surgeon general, no CDC director. The vacancy at the CDC was especially important because in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t allowed until later (sound familiar?) The politically-appointed DHS secretary, not a medical doctor, led the federal effort. Some 66 percent of Americans thought the president was protecting them. There was no panic. Why?

    Of course Trump isn’t Obama. But if you really think it is that black and white, that one man makes that much difference in the multi-leveled response of the vast federal government to a health crises you don’t know much about the federal bureaucracy. In fact, most of the people who handled the swine flu are now working the coronavirus, from rank and file at CDC, HHS, and DHS to headliners like Drs. Andrew Fauci (in government since 1968, worked Obama-ebola) and Deborah Brix (in government since 1985, prior to her current role with Trump-corona was an Obama-AIDS appointee.)

    Maybe the most salient example is the aftermath of 9/11. Those who lived through it remember it well, the color threat alerts, the sneaky Muslims lurking everywhere, the sense of learned/taught helplessness. The enemy could be anywhere, everywhere, and we had no way to fight back. We panicked like never before. But because the Dems and Repubs were saying basically the same thing, there was a camaraderie to it (lead by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, where are they now?), not discord. But the panic was still very real. Why?
     
    Why? We panicked when people took steps to ensure we would. We were kept calm when there was nothing to gain by spurring us to panic (the swine flu struck in the midst of the housing crisis, there was enough to worry about and it could all be blamed on the previous administration.) The aftermath of 9/11 is especially clarifying. A fearful populus not only supported everything the government wanted to do, they demanded it. Nearly everyone cheered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not believing the government meant you were on their side, either with “us” or against us. The Patriot Act, which did away with whole swaths of the Bill of Rights, was overwhelmingly supported. There was no debate over torture, offshore penal colonies, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and all the other little horrors. The American people counted that as competent leadership and re-elected George W, Bush in the midst. Fear and panic were political currency.

    Jump to 2020. Need an example of how to manipulate panic? Following fears of a liquid bomb, for years after 9/11 TSA limited carry-on liquids to four ounce bottles. Can’t be too careful! Yet because of corona they just changed the limit for hand sanitizer only (which with its alcohol content is actually flammable, as opposed to say shampoo) to 12 ounces. Security theatre closed down alongside Broadway tonight.

    False metrics are also manipulative because they make fear seem scientific. We ignore the low death rate and focus on the number of tests done. But whatever we do will never be enough, never can be enough, the same way any post-disaster aid is never delivered quick enough because the testing is not (just) about discovering the extent of the virus. For those with naughty motives, it is about creating a race we can’t win, so testing becomes proof of failure. Think about the reality of “everyone who wants one should get a test.” The U.S. has 331 million people. Testing 10 percent of them in seven days means 4,714,285 individuals a day for seven consecutive days while the other 90 percent of the population holds their breath. Testing on demand is not realistic at this scale. Selective decision-based testing is what will work.

    South Korea, held up as the master of mass testing, conducted at its peak about 20,000 a day. Only four percent were positive, a lot of effort for a little reassurance. Tests are valuable to pinpoint the need for social distancing but blunt tools like mass social distancing (see China) also work. Tests do not cure the virus. You can hide the number of infections by not testing (or claim so to spur fear), but very sick people make themselves known at hospitals and actual dead bodies are hard to ignore. Tests get the press, but actual morbidity is the clearest data point.
     
    There will be time for after-action reviews and arguments over responsibility. That time is never in the midst of things, and one should question the motives of journalists who use rare access to the president to ask questions meant largely to undermine confidence. If they succeed, we will soon turn on each other. You voted for him, that’s why we’re here now. Vote for Bernie and Trump wins and we all literally die. You bought the last toilet paper. You can afford treatment I can’t. You’re safe working from home while I have to go out. Just wait until the long-standing concept of medical triage is repackaged by the media as “privilege” and hell breaks loose in the ERs. We could end up killing each other long even as the virus fades.

    At the very least we will have been conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lock-downs, education, public information, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. More control by authorities over our lives? Yes, please! Gee, it’s almost as if someone is taking advantage of our fears for their own profits and self-interest. Teachers who just digitized their classes at no cost to their employers and created the online infrastructure to eliminate classrooms, don’t be surprised if less of you, and fewer actual classrooms, are needed in the virus-free future.
     
    There are many reasons to take prudent action and not downplay the virus. There are no good reasons for fear and panic. The fear being promoted has no rational basis compared to regular influenza and the swine flu of 2009. We have a terrifying example in 9/11 of how easily manipulated fearful people are. Remaining calm and helping others do so is a big part of what your contribution to the disaster relief is going to be. As John Kennedy said, “We cannot expect that everyone will talk sense to the American people. But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.”
     
    That’s one way to see this. Too many right now however seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Who’s Got the Rocks to Stand Up to Government?

    February 6, 2020 // 17 Comments »

     

    “I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened w punishment or death. We must not allow the US to become a country where standing up to our gov is a dangerous act.”
       
     — says Marie Yovanovitch from her well-funded State Dept retirement.
     

     

    “What does that bitch know about standing up to government?”
     

    — might say Chelsea Manning from her jail cell.

         

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    Posted in Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 12 Comments »

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    15 Questions for Robert Mueller

    July 24, 2019 // 14 Comments »


     

    You know that movie with Bruce Willis and the kid who says “I see dead people?” In the end it turns out everyone is already dead. Now imagine there are people who don’t believe that. They insist the story ends some other way. Maybe there’s missing footage! Spoiler Alert: the Mueller Report ends with no collusion. No one is going to prosecute anyone for obstruction. That stuff is all dead. We all saw the same movie.

    Yet there seem to remain questions to be answered. And while it is doubtful the stoic Robert Mueller will ever write a tell-all book, or sit next to Seth and Trevor dishing, he may be called in front of Congress. Here’s some of what he should be asked.
     
    1) You charged no “collusion,” obstruction, or any other new crime. In simple words tell us why. If the answer is “The evidence did not support it,” please say “That one.”
     

    2) Your Report did not refer any of the crimes in the first question to Congress, the SDNY, or anywhere else. Again, tell us why. If the answer is “The evidence did not support it,” please say “That one again.”
     

    3) Despite you making no specific referrals to others for action, the Report states “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.” Why did you include such restating of a known fact instead of either a direct referral or nothing? Many people have read that line to mean you could not indict a sitting president and so you wanted to leave a clue to others, in Congress, to exercise some role. You could have spelled it all out — “this all is beyond my and the AG’s Constitutional roles and must/can only be resolved by Congress” would have worked. Why not?
     

    4) Many readers of the Report believe they see clues (one footnote looms as the grassy knoll of your work) the specific reason you did not indict Trump was because of DOJ/OLC guidance against indicting a sitting president. In other words, absent that specific guidance, would you have indicted the president? If so, why didn’t you say so unambiguously and trigger what would be the obvious next steps.
     

    5) When did you conclude there was no collusion/conspiracy/coordination between Trump and the Russians such that you would make no charges or indictments? You must have closed at least some of the subplots — Trump Tower meeting, Moscow Hotel project — months ago. Did you give any consideration to announcing key findings as they occurred? You were clearly aware inaccurate reporting continued, damaging to the public trust. You allowed that to happen. Why?
     

    6) But before you answer that question, please answer this one. You did make a rare pre-Report public statement saying Buzzfeed’s story claiming Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress was false. You restated that in the Report, where you also mentioned (Vol I, p 198) you privately told Jeff Sessions’ lawyer in March 2018 Sessions would not be charged. Since your work confirmed nearly all bombshell reporting on Russiagate was wrong (Cohen was not in Prague, nothing criminal happened in the Seychelles, etc), why was it only that single instance that caused you to speak out publicly? And as with Sessions, did you privately inform any others prior to the release of the Report they would not be charged? If only some but not all were informed, why was that? What standard did you apply to these decisions?
     

    7) A cardinal rule for prosecutors is not to publicize negative information that does not lead them to indict someone — “the decision does the talking.” James Comey was strongly criticized for doing this to Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Yet most of Volume II is just that, descriptions of actions by Trump which contain elements of obstruction but which you ultimately did not judge to rise to the level of criminal chargeability. Why did you include all that so prominently? Some say it was because you wanted to draw a “road map” for impeachment. Did you? Why didn’t you say that? You had no reason to speak in riddles.
     

    8) There is a lot of lying documented in the Report. But you seemed to only charge people early in this investigation with perjury (traps.) Was that aimed more at pressuring them to “flip” than justice per se? Is one of the reasons several of the people in the Report who lied did not get charged with perjury later in the investigation because by then you knew they had nothing to flip on?
     

    9) In regards to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where derogatory information on Clinton was offered (but never given) you declined prosecution, citing in part questions (Vol I, p 186) over whether such information constituted the necessary “thing of value” that would have to exist, inter alia, to make its proffer a campaign finance violation. You don’t answer the question in the Report, but you do believe information could be a “thing of value” (the thing of value must exceed $2,000 for a misdemeanor, $25,000 for a felony.) What about the withholding of information? Could someone saying they would not offer information publicly be a “thing of value” and thus potentially part of a campaign law violation? Of course I’m talking about Stormy Daniels, who received money not to offer information. Would you make the claim silence itself, non-information, is a “thing” of value?
     

    10) You spend the entire first half of your report, Volume I, explaining it was some combination of “the Russians” who sought to manipulate our 2016 election via social media and the DNC email hacks. Though there is a lot of redacted material, at no point in the clear text is there information on whether the Russians actually did influence the election. Even trying was a crime, but given the importance of all this (some still claim the president is illegitimate) and for future elections, did you look into the actual effects of Russian meddling? If not, why not?
     

    11) Everything the Russians did, in Volume I, they did during the Obama administration. Did you investigate anyone in the Obama administration in regards to Russian meddling, what was done, what was missed, could it have been stopped, and how the response was formed? Given Trump’s actions toward Russia would follow on steps Obama took this seems relevant. Did you look? If not, why not?
     

    12) Some of the information you gathered against Michael Flynn was initially picked up inadvertently under existing surveillance of the Russian ambassador. As an American person, Flynn’s name would have been routinely masked in the reporting on those intercepts to protect his privacy. The number of people with access to those intercepts is small and list-controlled, and the number inside the Obama White House with the authority to unmask names, i.e., reveal it was Michael Flynn, not AmPerson1, is even smaller. Yet details were leaked to the press and ended Flynn’s career. Given the leak may have exposed U.S. intelligence methods, and given that it had to have been done at a very high level inside the Obama White House, and given that the leak directly violated Flynn’s Constitutional rights, did you investigate If not, why not?
     

    13) The NYT wrote “some of the most sensational claims in the [Steele] dossier appeared to be false, and others were impossible to prove. Mr. Mueller’s report contained over a dozen passing references to the document’s claims but no overall assessment of why so much did not check out.” Given the central role the Steele Dossier played in parts of your work, and certainly in the portion of the investigation which commenced as Crossfire Hurricane in summer 2016, why did you not include any overall assessment of why so much did not check out inside such a key document?
     

    14) Prosecutors do not issue certificates of exoneration, and have no obligation to “exonerate” people they consider for charges. The job is to charge or drop a case. That’s what constitutes exoneration in any practical sense. Yet you have as the final line in a report that does not charge anyone “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Can you explain why that line was included, and so prominently?
     

    15) Near the end of the Report you wrote “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” You argue elsewhere in the Report because Trump is a sitting president he cannot be indicted, so therefore it would be unjust to accuse him of something he could not go to court and defend himself over. But didn’t you do just that? Why did you leave the taint of guilt without giving Trump the means of defending himself in court? You must have understood such wording would be raw meat to Democrats, and would force Trump to defend himself not in a court with legal protections, but in a often hostile media. Was that your intention?
      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Deplatforming: Break Up the Teach Giants and Save Free Speech

    June 21, 2019 // 4 Comments »


     

    In an age of deplatforming and amid howls for censorship, the viability of free speech is at stake. Antitrust laws to break up the tech giants may be the last, best hope in this ideological war.

     

    The First Amendment doesn’t restrain censorship by private social media companies. Progressives today revel in their new-found power to enforce their own opinions through deplatforming. That only works because the platforms matter as near-monopolies; no one cares who gets kicked off MySpace. If you end the monopolies, you defang deplatforming. Trump is preparing to unleash the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as antitrust warriors against the tech giants. That just might save the ability to hear ideas outside of echo chambers of bullied consensus.

    For much of American history media published things (on paper, then on radio, movies, TV, art shows, the Internet, etc.) and the First Amendment as law and as a cultural touchstone protected political thought. Nice thoughts you and your grandma agreed with and vile thoughts from ideologies your grandpa fought against. As in “I disagree with what you say, but will fight for your right to defend it.”

    Then social media hit some kind of cultural saturation point around the 2016 election. People couldn’t produce and consume enough opinion, and even traditional media dumped old-timey reporting in favor of doing stories based on what others posted online. It was a mighty climax for the Great Experiment in Free Speech, no filters, no barriers, a global audience up for grabs. Say something interesting and you went viral, your thoughts forever alongside Edward R. Murrow’s, Rachael Maddow’s, and the candidate herself.

    Donald Trump then did away with near-universal agreement over the right to speak, driven by a false belief too much free speech helped him get unjustly elected. Americans began not just to tolerate, but to demand, censorship to protect them. First they came for Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, and few shed a tear. When Twitter initially dragged its feet banning Alex Jones, a “journalist” from CNN helpfully dug through Jones’ tweets to find examples of where he broke the rules. Free speech had been weaponized, using platforms like YouTube to put Alex Jones’ thoughts alongside Edward R. Murrow’s, Rachael Maddow’s, and the candidate herself.

    Jones (and soon Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Ann Coulter on campus, et al) had few friends outside his own supporters, so it was easy to condone his deplatforming. But that was only round one. Progressives discovered those first deplatformed voices were just the tip of a white supremacist iceberg, a legion of hate that sought to stomp out immigrants, people of color, the 50% of the population who were women, all shades of LGBT, and perhaps democracy itself. And what was fueling this dirty fire, allowing these men to organize (what the Bill of Rights calls “freedom of assembly” the deplatforming community calls “coordinative power”), raise money, and spread their bile (deplatformers call it red pilling)? Social media. Someone needed to do something about all this free speech before it was too late and America (re-)elected the wrong president again.

     

    Somewhere along the way progressives realized people who largely thought like them controlled key platforms in America. Offline that included college campuses. Jeff Bezos could simply buy the Washington Post to silence some voices and amplify others. Advertisers could shift corporate funds to put political thought they disliked out of business. Authors could have books pulled and lose long-standing contracts. And none were bound by the 1A. But social media was where the real action was. Twitter, with a tweet, could silence what once were inalienable rights. The sparse haiku clarity of the First Amendment was replaced with groaning Terms of Service that meant whatever the mob wanted them to mean. The freedom to speak on social media no longer existed independent of the content of speech. And thus the once loathed Heckler’s Veto, the shout-down, was reimagined as the righteousness of deplatforming, the online equivalent of actually punching Nazis to silence them. And the 1A bullies were thirsty.

    So there was nothing to prevent deplatforming journalist Steven Crowder for calling Vox writer Carlos Maza a “lispy queer Latin” on YouTube. In fact, Maza successfully campaigned across social media to get YouTube to demonetize the other journalist when the site initially hesitated. YouTube then announced an update to its hate speech policy broadly prohibiting “videos alleging a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion” and deleted the classic documentary studied in every film school, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will. YouTube also deplatformed history teachers for uploading archive material related to Adolf Hitler, saying they breached the new guidelines banning hate speech.

    The site previously sent entire genres down the Memory Hole, banning “videos promoting or glorifying racism and discrimination.” That purge deplatformed News2Share, a site which covered everything from pro-Assange protests to 2A supporters rumbling with Antifa. YouTube proudly asserts since 2017 it has reduced views of “supremacist” videos by 80%.

    Gab was threatened by Microsoft with the cancellation of its web domain because of two “offensive” posts made by a minor Republican candidate. Facebook/Instagram banned “white nationalist and separatist” content, including at one point documentaries from Prager University. It also deleted posts from veteran journalist Tim Shorrock criticizing the New York Times’ coverup of American support for previous South Korean dictatorships. Facebook allegedly now has an office dedicated to watching what its users do outside of Facebook, looking at their work as journalists, what they say off-line, what tattoos they have, to determine whether they should be allowed to participate on Facebook. Pintrest deplatformed groups and messed with searches involving anti-abortion content. Twitter in turn suspended the accounts of those who blew the whistle on Pinterest in retaliation.

    Google refused ads for a gala featuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, something they claimed was in violation of their policy on “race and ethnicity in personalized advertising.” Google company sees itself at the nexus of ideological war, declaring, “Although people have long been racist, sexist, and hateful in many other ways, they weren’t empowered by the Internet to recklessly express their views with abandon.”

    Google might soon add its terms of service to the First Amendment. A leaked document from the tech giant argues that because of a variety of factors, including the election of Donald Trump, what we call the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The report lays out how Google can serve as the world’s “Good Censor,” a stern hall monitor figure protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, dangerous behavior, like electing the wrong president again. And all this comes not a moment too soon — the Southern Poverty Law Center claims it has taken “blood in the streets for tech companies to take action.” More simply put, the group just says “tech supports hate.” There are many more examples of those deplatformed.

    But why wait for someone to commit hate speech when technology allows deletion when hate is largely still a thought crime? Google developed a tool called Perspective which aims to root out “hate speech” before it spreads. The software uses machine learning to spot “toxic” content in online conversations to preemptively redirect their trajectory. The tool, designed to monitor comments section, could also be deployed against content creation in real time. As you type.

    Websites too right of center have serially lost their web hosts and gone dark. Website security company Cloudflare “woke up … in a bad mood and decided to kick [a hate site] off the Internet.” On another site, parents who started a petition questioning their local school’s transgender policy were deplatformed. I was deplatformed by Twitter. There are many more examples. Mashable claimed overall 2018 was the year “we cleaned up the Internet,” while Vice announced deplatforming “works” and celebrated censorship of fellow journalists.

    A version of deplatforming has moved off-line as well. The ACLU — the ACLU which once stood by actual Nazis because the beautiful concept of free speech was so much more important than whatever dumb stuff those Nazis said in Skokie which no one remembers anyway– started applying an ideological/political litmus test to which free speech cases it would support following Charlottesville. Some people are now deplatformed out of the justice system.

    Though the bulk of deplatforming is aimed at right of center voices, there are examples from the left, often cited as “good news” that “see, this isn’t a progressive jeramaid.” But in fact more censorship is not a good thing for free speech, however equally distributed. And this is not as much a slippery slope question as it is ideological warfare. Progressives want to eliminate the opposing ideas. They have no problem with free speech that, for example, criticizes religion, or sends drag queens to read to children in public libraries. Flag burners are welcome! Conservatives, not so much.

     

    Two visions of free speech have overtaken America. One is now widely dismissed as dangerous because it fought for a marketplace of ideas that could include hate speech, while another danced a jig because America’s new censors are ideologically sympathetic corporations currently supporting the progressive agenda. The latter group is comprised of people (some 69% of American college students believe intentionally offensive language should be banned) seemingly unable to project a future where those corporate censors’ might support a different set of views. Instead, as a mob today they gleefully point to a viewpoint as “hate speech” and let @jack purify it away.

    It is very important to underline there is no law against hate speech. Hate speech is an umbrella term used by censorship advocates to describe anything they don’t want others to be able to listen to or watch. It is very flexible and thus very dangerous. As during the McCarthy-era in the 1950s when one needed only to label something “communist” to have it banned, so it is today with the new mark of “hate speech.” The upshot is that apart from some very narrow definitions of violence-inducing words, the obligation exists to the concept of free speech independent of the content of that speech. This is also one of the most fundamental precepts of free speech in a democracy. There need be no protections for saying things that people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive; free speech is not really needed for the weather and sports parts of the news. Instead, free speech is there to allow for the most rude, offensive, hateful, challenging stuff you (or your neighbor, your political party, your government) can imagine.

    The Founding Fathers, themselves now seen as misogynist slave owners except the scrubbed version of Hamilton, had left a ticking time bomb inside the Bill of Rights. You in fact could not punch nazis to silence them without going to jail. The 1A protected hate speech! 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. Yet today Google (and Facebook, Twitter, and their successors) seem to perceive these old ideas as more outmoded than the powdered wigs the Founders wore when they wrote them.

     

    What to do? Efforts to extend the First Amendment to entities like Facebook, arguing they are the new public squares (seven of 10 American adults use a social media site), have been unsuccessful.

    Trying to classify social media companies as “publishers” has also been unsuccessful. They insist they are “platforms.” They say they are like the phone company, which lets you talk to a friend but exercises zero control over what you say.

    Being a platform is desirable for Facebook and the others as they have no responsibility for the content they print, no need to create transparent rules or appeals processes for deplatforming, and users have no legal recourse. Publishers,on the other hand, are responsible for what they print, and can be taken to court if they print something libelous or maliciously false.

    Social media’s claim to be a platform and not a publisher is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That section however was predicated on social media companies being neutral public forums in return for offering them legal protections against being sued over content they present. Companies like Twitter now want it both ways – they want the protection being a platform like the phone company offers but after the 2016 election they also want to ideologically manipulate their content as publishers do.

    Breaking through the platform-publisher question will require years of court battles. The growth of much of the web is driven by the lack of responsibility for the content third parties chuck online. It is a complex situation when applied to everything from knitting site hosts to Nazi forums, and across international borders.

    Yet social media entities’ control over speech is so significant a more immediate solution is demanded. Google owns 90% of the search market, three quarters of mobile and 70% of desktop browsing, and along with Facebook, 50% of online ads. YouTube dominates video. Facebook makes up two-thirds of all social media, with Twitter holding down most of the rest. Large enough on their own, the platforms also work in concert. One bans say Alex Jones, most of the others follow and then whomever is last to act is chided into action by the mob and threatened with advertiser boycotts. Eventually (as with Jones) Venmo and Paypal also cut them off.

    With legal and legislative solutions ineffectual for preserving free speech online, enter the major antitrust enforcement agencies of the executive branch. The Department of Justice is preparing to investigate Google’s parent company Alphabet, while the Federal Trade Commission is doing the same for Facebook. The goal may be to break the tech giants into multiple smaller companies, as was done at the dawn of mass electronic communication in America.

    Monopolies on speech first appeared as national media appeared, in the form of radio stations linked into networks. For the first time, an opinion expressed on air in New York was broadcast everywhere. The once-mighty Mutual Broadcasting System successfully filed a complaint which led to a Supreme Court battle claiming NBC and CBS controlled the national market. NBC was ultimately forced to split into two networks, Red and Blue. Regulation followed. The 1934 Communications Act required broadcast licensees to operate in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” This translated into things like the Fairness Doctrine, which requires broadcasters to cover politically important issues, ensuring various points of views are given equal time. The public-interest obligation also protects against one company controlling all the stations in a market.

    The end of social media mega-companies, with none big enough to silence effectively any significant amount of free speech, would be a clumsy fix for a problem the Founders never imagined – citizens demanding corporate censorship because they didn’t like the results of the last election. It is nowhere near the comprehensive solution of an expanded First Amendment a democracy should grant itself, but in a world where progressives fail to understand the value of free speech it may provide enough of a dike against censorship to hold the waters back until reason again takes hold.

     
     

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Julian Assange Will Die Alongside Your 1st Amendment Rights

    April 11, 2019 // 26 Comments »

    (Reprinted from December 2018 following Assange’s arrest in London April 11, 2019)

    Accidentally disclosed information confirms the U.S. is actively planning to prosecute Julian Assange. What happens to Assange will almost certainly change what can be lawfully published in our democracy. This threat to our freedoms is being largely ignored because the Assange, once a progressive journalist, is now regarded as a hero-turned-zero. At stake? The ability of all journalists to inform the public of things the government specifically wants to withhold.

    A clerical error revealed the Justice Department secretly has filed criminal charges against Assange. Court papers in what appears to be an unrelated case used cut-and-pasted language from documents prepared previously against Assange.

    Though the new information makes clear prosecution is planned if Assange can be delivered to American custody, no further details are available. Assange is under scrutiny at a minimum for unauthorized possession of classified material going back to at least 2010, when Wikileaks burst on to the international stage with evidence of American war crimes in Iraq, and exposed years worth of classified State Department diplomatic cables. More recently, Assange has been accused of trying to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election with his release of emails from the Democratic National Committee server. The emails, some believe, came to Wikileaks via hackers working for the Russian government (Assange denies this) and are deeply tied to the claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow otherwise known as “Russiagate.” Less publicized in the media but of critical concern inside the U.S. government is Wikileaks’ publication of the so-called Vault 7 materials, CIA hacking and malware tools, which revealed American technical intelligence skills and methods. Assange has hinted on at least one occasion he may have “Vault 8” materials as yet unreleased.

    When Assange is prosecuted, on trial with him will be a key question concerning the First Amendment: do journalists actually enjoy special protection against national security charges? Can they publish classified documents because the national interest creates a 1A shield to do so? Or only when the government allows it?

    Under the current “rules,” you get caught handing me a SECRET document, you go to jail. Meanwhile, I publish to millions, including any Russian intelligence officers with Internet access, and end up on Kimmel next to Taylor Swift. I whisper “I’m a freedom fighter, you know” into Taylor’s moist ear and she sighs.

    Ask Edward Snowden, in dark exile in Moscow. Talk to Chelsea Manning, who spent years in Leavenworth while journalists for the New York Times and the Washington Post won accolades for the stories they wrote based on the documents she leaked. See how many stories today cite sources and reports, almost all of which are based on leaked classified information, stuff the government doesn’t want published yet accepts as part of the way journalism and the 1A work.

    Yet despite widespread practice, there is no law rendering journalists immune from the same national security charges their sources go to jail for violating. There is no explicit protection against espionage charges written between the lines of the First Amendment. It is all based on at best an unspoken agreement to not prosecute journalists for revealing classified data, and it appears it is about to be thrown away to nail Julian Assange.

    In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the Vietnam War, to the New York Times. Reporters at the Times feared they would go to jail under the Espionage Act but published anyway, even as the Washington Post wimped out. The Nixon administration quickly found a court to order the Times to cease publication after initial excerpts were printed, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge censored a newspaper.

    The Supreme Court then handed down New York Times Company v. United States, a victory for the First Amendment which allowed the Papers to be published, but an opinion which sidestepped the larger question about whether the 1A protects journalists publishing classified in favor of simply affirming the government couldn’t censor the news in advance. The Court left the door open for the government to prosecute both the leakers (by dismissing Ellsberg’s leaker case on technical grounds and ignoring his public interest defense) and the journalists who publish them (by focusing narrowly on prior restraint.) The Justices avoided saying the 1A offered a specific shield to journalists in matters of national security.

    The Pentagon Papers case has governed everything about national security journalism from that day until the moment the U.S. government finally gets Julian Assange into an American courtroom.

    On the source side, the Obama administration was especially virulent in prosecuting leakers. Trump continued the policy by throwing the book at Reality Winner. Both administrations made clear there was nothing to distinguish between taking classified documents to inform the public and taking them say with the intent to hand over secrets to the Chinese. On the other side of the equation, the journalists, the government (including, to date, Trump despite all the noise about attacking the press) has chosen not to prosecute journalists for publishing what leakers hand over to them.

    The closest step toward throwing a journalist in jail over classified information came in 2014, when Obama Attorney General Eric Holder permitted subpoenaing New York Times reporter James Risen regarding a former CIA employee. After much legal muscle tussle, the Supreme Court turned down Risen’s appeal, siding with the government in a confrontation between a national security prosecution and infringement of press freedom. The Supreme Court refused to consider whether the First Amendment includes an unwritten “reporter’s privilege” in the free press clause. The Court instead upheld existing decisions finding the Constitution does not give journalists special protections. The door was w-a-y open to throwing Risen in jail.

    But instead of becoming the first president to jail a journalist for what he published, Obama punted. Happy with the decision affirming they could have prosecuted Risen, with no explanation prosecutors asked the U.S. District Court to simply leave Risen alone. Risen’s alleged source went to jail instead for leaking classified. The unspoken rules stayed intact.

    Unspoken rules are useful — they can be read to mean one thing when dealing with the chummy MSM who understands where the unspoken lines are even if they need the occasional brush back pitch like with Risen, and another when the desire is to deep-six a trouble-maker like Assange. Julian Assange poked the Deep State — he exposed the military as war criminals in Iraq (ironically in part for gunning down two Reuters journalists), the State Department as hypocrites, laid bare the CIA’s global hacking games in the Vault 7 disclosures, and showed everyone the Democratic primaries were rigged. None of those stories would have come to light under the MSM alone. And if Assange does know something about Russiagate (did he meet with Manafort?!?), what better place to silence him than a SuperMax.

    The government is likely to cite the clear precedent from the Obama years it damn well can prosecute journalists for revealing classified information, and keep the established media happy by offering enough thin exceptions (natsec journalism groupies have already started making lists) to appear to isolate Assange’s crucifixion from setting broad precedent. Say, start with the fact that he wasn’t covered by the 1A outside the U.S., that his sources were Russian hackers seeking to harm the U.S. instead of misguided chaps like Ellsberg and Manning. Assange had no national interest in mind, no sincere desire to inform the public. He, a foreigner no less, wanted to influence the 2016 election, maybe in collusion!

    Shamefully, those stuck in journalism’s cheap seats are unlikely to side with Assange, even though they wrote stories off what he published on Wikileaks. They’ll drift along with the government’s nod and wink this is all a one-off against Julian, and those who play by the government’s unspoken rules are still safe.

    They’ll self-righteously proclaim Assange going to jail a sad but unfortunately necessary thing, claiming he just took things too far dealing with the Russkies, ignoring while the door to prosecute a journalist for national security has always been carefully left open by administrations dating back to Nixon, it is only under their watch that it may be slammed on the hands of one of their own whom they refuse to see, now, for their own misguided self-preservation, as a journalist. The Daily Beast’s take on all this, for example, is headlined a TMZ-esque “Unkempt, Heavily Bearded Julian Assange No Longer Has Embassy Cat For Company.”

    They will miss where previous cases avoided delineating the precise balancing point between the government’s need to protect information, the right to expose information, and the media’s right to publish it, an Assange prosecution will indeed create a new precedents, weapons for the future for clever prosecutors. It will be one of those turning points journalists someday working under new press restrictions will cite when remembering the good old days.

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Mueller: End Game, Das Reckoning Gotterdammerung Fin Apocalypse

    March 25, 2019 // 3 Comments »


     

    The short version? Mueller is done. His report unambiguously states there was no collusion or obstruction. He was allowed to follow every lead unfettered in an investigation of breathtaking depth.
     
    It cannot be clearer. The report summary states “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.”

    Robert Mueller did not charge any Americans with collusion, coordination or criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated,” a much lower standard defined as an “agreement, tacit or express,” with Russian election interference activities. They did not.

    Everything – everything – else we have been told since the summer of 2016 falls, depending on your conscience and view of humanity, into the realm of lies, falsehoods, propaganda, exaggerations, political manipulation, stupid reporting, fake news, bad judgment, simple bull or in the best light, hasty conclusions.

    As with Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the proof of no collusion has always been with us. There was a guilty plea from Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, on one count of perjury unrelated to Russiagate. Flynn lied about a legal meeting with the Russian ambassador. Rick Gates, deputy campaign manager, plead guilty to conspiracy and false statements unrelated to Russiagate. George Papadopoulos, a ZZZ-level adviser, plead guilty to making false statements about legal contact with Russians. Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, plead guilty to lying to Congress about a legal Moscow real estate project. Paul Manafort, very briefly Trump’s campaign chair, plead guilty to conspiracy charges unrelated to Russiagate and which for the most part occurred before he even joined the campaign. Roger Stone, who never officially worked for Trump, awaits a trial that will happen long after Mueller turns the last lights off in his office.

    Mueller did indict some Russia citizens for hacking, indictments which in no way tied them to anything Trump, and which will never see trial. Joseph Mifsud, the Russian professor who supposedly told Papadopoulos Moscow had “thousands of Hillary’s emails” was never charged. Carter Page, subject of FISA surveillance and a key actor in the Steele dossier, was also never charged with anything. After hours of testimony about that infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting to discuss Hillary’s email, and other meeting around the Moscow hotel, no one was indicted for perjury.
     
    The short version of Russiagate? There was no Russiagate.
     
    What Will Happen Next is already happening. Democrats are throwing up smoke demanding the full Mueller report be made public “rushing to judgment” on Mueller’s black and white conclusions. Speaker Pelosi announced whatever AG Barr would release as a summary of the Mueller report would not be enough even before he released the summary. One Dem on CNN warned they would need the FBI agents’ actual handwritten field notes.

    Adam Schiff said “Congress is going to need the underlying evidence because some of that evidence may go to the compromise of the president or people around him that poses a real threat to our national security.” Schiff believes his committee is likely to discover things missed by Mueller, whose report indicates his team interviewed about 500 witnesses, obtained more than 2,800 subpoenas and warrants, executed 500 search warrants, obtained 230 orders for communications records, and made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence.

    Mueller may still be called to testify in front of Congress, as nothing will ever be enough for #TheResistance cosplayers now in charge. Overnight, Mueller’s findings, made by Mueller the folk hero, the dogged Javert, the Marine on his last patrol suddenly aren’t worth puppy poo unless we can all look over his shoulder and line-by-line second guess him. Joy Reid for her part has already accused Mueller of covering up the crime of the century.

    The New York Times headline “As Mueller Report Lands, Prosecutorial Focus Moves to New York” says the rest — we’re movin’ on! Whatever impeachment/indictment fantasies diehard Dem have left are being transferred from Mueller to the Southern District of New York. The SDNY’s powers, we are reminded with the tenacity of a bored child in the back seat, are outside of Trump’s control, the Wakanda of justice.
     
    The new holy land is called Obstruction of Justice, though pressing a case Trump obstructed justice in a process that ultimately exonerated him will be a tough sell. In a sentence likely to fuel discussion for months, the Attorney General quotes Mueller “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

    It sounds dramatic, but in fact means while taking no position on whether obstruction took place, Mueller concluded he did not find enough evidence to prosecute. Mueller in the report specifically turns any decision to pursue obstruction further over to the Attorney General; Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein meanwhile have already determined the evidence does not support prosecution of the president for obstruction of justice.

    Mueller also specifically noted obstruction of justice requires proof of intent, and wrote since he found Trump, et al, did not conspire with Russia, there can be no intent to obstruct an investigation Trump knew could not lead to anything. The case is thus closed judicially (Mueller essentially telegraphed the defense strategy), though Democrats will likely Quixotically poke at pursuing it.
     

    This is developing as a major talking point among those seeking to dilute how clear this is. So, in simple language:

    — Mueller had to see if he had enough evidence to prosecute obstruction. He did not find sufficient evidence. The choices are sufficient to prosecute, sufficient to exonerate, or neither. He chose neither. That’s where his job ends. Insufficient to exonerate does not equal “guilty.”

    — At that point any future decisions go to the AG and DAG. They have already said there is not enough evidence to prosecute, the exact same decision Mueller made. They confirmed Mueller saying there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute.

    — Mueller then telegraphs the real point: Mueller found no collusion. Trump of course knew he did nothing wrong with Russia (dammit, that is proven now). So how can anyone show Trump intended to block an investigation he knew would find nothing wrong? You’re going to try and impeach him for supposedly trying to block an investigation he knew would find him innocent?

    –Since no intent, there can be no prosecution. The rest does not matter.

    — Ok, ok, even s l o w e r. Mueller makes clear the Trump campaign did not conspired, collude or coordinate with the Russians. It is impossible to show a corrupt motive to obstruct an investigation into a crime that did not occur.

    — Also, grownups charged, appointed and/or elected are doing their jobs. The Constitution does not require concurrence from Twitter, or for you to shout “Release the report!” that those people have already read so you can look over their shoulder and come to a conclusion based on your undergraduate degree in Spanish. The report should of course be released for historians and scholars, but not simply to second guess its conclusions on social media like dumbasses.

     

    That leaves corruption. Politico has already published a list of 25 “new” things to investigate about Trump, trying to restock the warehouse of broken impeachment dreams (secret: it’s filled with sealed indictments no one will ever see.) The pivot will be from treason to corruption; see the Cohen hearings as Exhibit One. Campaign finance minutia, real estate assessment questions, tax cheating from the 1980s, a failed Buffalo Bills purchase years ago… how much credibility will any of that now have with a public realizing it has been bamboozled on Russia?

    Will Dems really try to make the case maybe sorta fudging a loan application to a German bank years ago based on differing interpretations of “goodwill and brand value” before running for office is an impeachable offense in 2019? That is what the Founders had in mind when they wrote the rules for driving an elected president out of office?

    Then there’s the argument (which Mueller did not make) the investigation had to spare Trump because dang it, some nancyboy spoiled everything by saying a sitting president can’t be indicted. But one can’t conspire alone; even if Trump got a Get Out of Jail Free card, Mueller didn’t take down anyone around him. Same with all the perjury charges which weren’t filed over the Moscow Hotel or Stormy or any meeting(s) with Russians. If Mueller couldn’t indict Trump for the conspiracy so many insist still exists, why didn’t Mueller at least indict someone besides Trump for lying to cover it up?

    At some point even the Congresswoman with the most Twitter followers is going to have to admit there is no there, there. By digging the hole they are standing in even deeper Dems will only make it more obvious to everyone but Sam Bee’s interns they have nothing. Expect to hear “this is not the end, it is only the end of the beginning” more often most people check their phones, even as it sounds more needy than encouraging, like an ex- who doesn’t get it is over checking in to see if you want to meet for coffee.

    Someone at the DNC might also ask how this unabashed desire to see blood drawn from someone surnamed Trump will play out with potential 2020 purple voters. It is entirely possible voters are weary and would like to see somebody actually address immigration, healthcare, and economic inequality now that we’ve settled the Russian question.
     
    That is what is and likely will happen. What should happen is a reckoning.

    Even as the story fell apart over time like a cardboard box in the rain, a large number of Americans, and nearly all of the MSM, still believed the president of the United States was a Russia intelligence asset, in Clinton’s own words, “Putin’s puppet.” How did that happen?

    A mass media which bought the lies over non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then promised “never again!” did it again. The New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC, et al, reported falsehoods to drive a partisan narrative. They gleefully created a serial killer’s emptywheel-like bulletin board covered blurry photos of everyone in Russiagate connected by strands of yarn.

    Another generation of journalists soiled themselves. They elevated mongerers like Seth Abramson, Malcolm Nance, and Lawrence Tribe, who vomited nonsense all over Twitter each afternoon before appearing before millions on CNN. They institutionalized unsourced gossip as their ledes — how often were we told the walls were closing in? That it was Mueller time? How many times was the public put on red alert Trump/Sessions/Rosenstein/Whitaker/Barr was going to fire the special prosecutor? The mass media featured only stories which furthered the collusion tall tale and silenced those skeptical of the prevailing narrative, the core failure from the Iraq War.

    The short version: There were no WMDs in Iraq. That was a lie, the media promoted it shamelessly while silencing skeptical voices. Mueller indicted zero Americans for working with Russia to influence the election. Russiagate was a lie, the media promoted it shamelessly while silencing skeptical voices.

    Same for the politicians, alongside Hayden, Brennan, Clapper, and Comey, who told Americans the president they elected was a spy working against the United States. None of that was accidental or by mistake. It was a narrative they desperately wanted to be true so they could politically profit regardless of what it did to the nation. And today the whitewashing is already ongoing. Keep an eye out for Tweets containing the word “regardless” to trend.
     
    And someone should contact the ghost of Consortium News’ Robert Parry, one of the earliest and most consistent skeptics of Russiagate, and tell him he was right all along. That might be the most justice we see out of all this.

      

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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 Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America