25 October, 2020

Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

https://www.cjr.org/analysis/breitbart-media-trump-harvard-study.php

 Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy, and the most important task confronting the press going forward. Our data strongly suggest that most Americans, including those who access news through social networks, continue to pay attention to traditional media, following professional journalistic practices, and cross-reference what they read on partisan sites with what they read on mass media sites.

To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years. Rising to this challenge could usher in a new golden age for the Fourth Estate.

21 October, 2020

Lots of Overnight Tragedies, No Overnight Miracles

https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/lots-of-overnight-tragedies-no-overnight-miracles/

 Pearl Harbor and September 11th are probably the two biggest news events of the last 100 years. Both lasted less than two hours, start to finish.

It took less than 30 days for most people to go from having never heard of Covid-19 to it upending their life.

It took less than 15 months for Lehman Brothers – a 158-year-old company – to go from an all-time high to bankrupt. Same with Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Nokia, Bernie Madoff, Muammar Gaddafi, Notre Dame, and the Soviet Union. Things that thrived for decades can be ruined in minutes. There is no equivalent in the other direction.

There’s a good reason why.

Growth always fights against competition that slows its rise. New ideas fight for attention, business models fight incumbents, constructing a building fights gravity. There’s always a headwind. But everyone gets out of the way of decline. Insiders might try to stop it, but it doesn’t attract masses of outsiders who rush in to push back in the other direction like progress does.

The irony is that growth and progress is way more powerful than setback. But setback will always get more attention because of how fast it occurs. So slow progress amid a drumbeat of bad news is the normal state of affairs. It’s not an easy thing to get used to, but it’ll always be with us.

Tony Green, on dismissing, denying, contracting and spreading the coronavirus

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/10/10/coronavirus-denier-sick-spreader/

The party was my idea. That’s what I can’t get over. Well, I mean, it wasn’t even a party — more like a get-together. There were just six of us, okay? My parents, my partner, and my partner’s parents. We’d been locked down for months at that point in Texas, and the governor had just come out and said small gatherings were probably okay. We’re a close family, and we hadn’t been together in forever. It was finally summer. I thought the worst was behind us. I was like: “Hell, let’s get on with our lives. What are we so afraid of?”

Some people in my family didn’t necessarily share all of my views, but I pushed it. I’ve always been out front with my opinions. I’m gay and I’m conservative, so either way I’m used to going against the grain. I stopped trusting the media for my information when it went hard against Trump in 2016. I got rid of my cable. It’s all opinion anyway, so I’d rather come up with my own. I find a little bit of truth here and a little there, and I pile it together to see what it makes. I have about 4,000 people in my personal network, and not one of them had gotten sick. Not one. You start to hear jokes about, you know, a skydiver jumps out of a plane without a parachute and dies of covid-19. You start to think: “Something’s really fishy here.” You start dismissing and denying. 

20 October, 2020

Why Does the U.S. Have Three Electrical Grids?

https://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/energy/renewables/why-does-the-us-have-three-electrical-grids

What about the financial benefits of tying together these three interconnects? Are they substantial? And are they enough to pay for the work that would be needed to unify them into a supergrid?

Peter Fairley The financial benefits are substantial and they would pay for themselves. And there’s really two reasons for that. One is as old as our systems, and that is, if you interconnect your power grids, then all of the generators in the amalgamated system can, in theory, they can all serve that total load. And what that means is they’re all competing against each other. And power plants that are inefficient are more likely to be driven out of the market or to operate less frequently. And so that the whole system becomes more efficient, more cost-effective, and prices tend to go down. You see that kind of savings when you look at interconnecting the big grids in North America. Consumers benefit—not necessarily all the power generators, right? There you get more winners and losers. And so that’s the old part of transmission economics.

What’s new is the increasing reliance on renewable energy and particularly variable renewable energy supplies like wind and solar. Their production tends to be more kind of bunchy, where you have days when there’s no wind and you have days when you’ve got so much wind that the local system can barely handle it. So there are a number of reasons why renewable energy really benefits economically when it’s in a larger system. You just get better utilization of the same installations.

19 October, 2020

The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion

https://www.gq.com/story/cia-investigation-and-russian-microwave-attacks

Polymeropoulos countered by warning the Russians to stop meddling in American elections. The Russians denied they would ever do such a thing. It was the way most Russian officials behave in such meetings at all levels of government—a lecture about American racism, theatrical incredulity and hurt feelings that the Americans would think the Russians had meddled in American politics. Still, Polymeropoulos was stunned by how unabashedly combative his Russian counterparts were. He had spent his career in a region where people were exceedingly polite, rolling out banquets and plying him with tea, even as he knew they were plotting to kill him. He knew the Russians didn’t like him, but “I would have expected them to be a little more polite,” Polymeropoulos told me.

The Prophet of the Revolt

 https://pullrequest.substack.com/p/the-prophet-of-the-revolt

In fact, the public, which swims comfortably in the digital sea, knows far more than elites trapped in obsolete structures.  The public knows when the elites fail to deliver their promised “solutions,” when they tell falsehoods or misspeak, when they are caught in sexual escapades, and when they indulge in astonishing levels of smugness and hypocrisy.  The public is disenchanted in the elites and their institutions, much in the way science disenchanted the world of fairies and goblins.  The natural reaction is cynicism.  The elites aren’t seen as fallible humans doing their best but as corrupt and arrogant jerks.  The public, I said, is mired in negation.

The pandemic crisis has been a striking illustration of all this.  Information about the virus moved at the speed of light, but the institutions that were supposed to protect public health moved ponderously and were always playing catch-up, while the experts contradicted each other and sometimes themselves.  In the US, the CDC kept changing its mind about surgical masks.  The FDA seemed to think its mission was to throw out regulatory obstacles to treatment and cure.  Given that lives were at stake, these were not trivial confusions.

Elites like Fauci might become more credible if they admitted that they, too, are dwellers in Plato’s cave, like everyone else, even people with multiple PhDs who are awarded long titles by federal agencies.  We are all trying to make sense of the flitting shadows.  A little humility would go a long way.

18 October, 2020

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/18/technology/timpone-local-news-metric-media.html

 A site called New York Business Daily ran the article, saying the creditor was squeezing the finances of a struggling Manhattan hotel.

What the article didn’t mention: Mr. Bennett owned the hotel and dictated the article.

His spokeswoman said in a statement that Mr. Bennett “has no relationship with the websites.” She added that he had spoken to numerous news outlets “to obtain economic aid for the hotel industry.”

After The Times presented evidence that he directly ordered articles, lawyers representing Mr. Timpone sent The Times a cease and desist letter, demanding that it not publish the information.

17 October, 2020

15 October, 2020

George on Georgia – So, apparently, I’m a racist

 

https://decaturish.com/2020/10/george-on-georgia-so-apparently-im-a-racist/
But laying the weight of this moral question on Pine Lake is a cop out that excuses the wider community of its own moral failings around racial justice and policing, because the racial composition of DeKalb County’s recorder’s court cases are more or less identical to Pine Lake’s court and no one seems ready to hold the county’s 70-percent majority Black voters accountable for that, either.

I note in passing that if you draw a circle four miles wide around the center of Pine Lake, you have roughly 4 percent of DeKalb County’s territory, 25 percent of its murders and 15 percent of its aggravated assaults. Someone emptied four full magazines of a handgun on Sunday night within earshot of my house. We regularly do the “was that fireworks” discussion as we debate calling the cops or not.

Pine Lake homeowners pay a millage rate of 21.53 — the highest municipal tax rate in Georgia — to maintain a police department that answers to the city. 

Still, I suppose a long-winded, statistically-laden defense for how Pine Lake operates relative to other police departments and court systems is both inadequate and beside the point. There is a big, structural problem in America — Black people are discriminated against in jobs and housing and, yes, the policing system and even the most optimized and ideal process in Pine Lake changes none of that.

14 October, 2020

The Jailed Activist Left a Letter Behind. The Message: Keep Fighting

 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/14/world/asia/vietnam-pham-doan-trang-arrest.html

She left the country in 2013, but she was not happy in exile.

“It’s really hard to watch from outside what happens in Vietnam,” she said at the time. “It makes me feel helpless.”

She returned to Vietnam in 2015, and lived in hiding since 2017.

Ms. Pham’s arrest may also have been prompted by a report she co-wrote last month challenging the official account of a deadly police raid near Hanoi.

In Vietnam, all land is owned by the state, and officials have the power to seize prime parcels and give them to their cronies or foreign companies, a practice that fuels corruption. Such land grabs are a sensitive issue, and some critical activists have been imprisoned.

The dispute in Dong Tam village began when officials transferred 145 acres to the country’s largest telecommunications company, the government-owned Viettel Corp., but residents refused to give up their land. During a confrontation in 2017, villagers held 19 police and security officials captive for a week.

Georgy_K_Zhukov on Holocaust Denial

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/hp5zw0/askhistorians_has_a_policy_of_zero_tolerance_for/fxo7ey0/

I wish we had a dozen genocide scholars waiting on standby who could jump on every instance and provide fantastic, thorough rebuttals and nip even the slightest hint of denialism in the bud the moment it shows up.

But we can't, and there is a very real danger in denialist stuff being left up unrebutted. That, in the end, is what deniers hope for. They know they can't win a fair debate. Their talking points have been rebutted innumerable times, and there have been little additions to them in decades anyways. They essentially rely on deceptive presentation that might sound plausible to someone who doesn't know the topic, but would crumble with even a light prodding by an expert. They aren't trying to win a debate, they are trying to win by exhaustion. They are counting that the people who can handle those questions don't have the time or energy to do it every time, or to keep replying as long as the denier is willing to keep posting, if a chain starts up.

08 October, 2020

Excess Deaths by Cause

https://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2020/10/06/excess-deaths-by-cause/

 So in these data (remember, the numbers are updated regularly, we’re looking at March 1 to September 1 only, and this is a rough-and-ready calculation), we have 1,641,133 All-Cause deaths in comparison to a baseline 2015-2019 average of 1,359,816. In this period the raw excess is 281,317 deaths. COVID-19 was listed as a cause of 179,303 of these, leaving a deficit—a remaining excess—of 102,014. Overall excess mortality from March 1st to September 1st is 17.1% above the baseline, with COVID-19 accounting for 10.9 of those percentage points, with a 6.22 percentage point excess distributed across other causes.

01 October, 2020

Tyler Childers Pushes Back On Southern Values And Our 'Long, Violent History'

https://www.npr.org/sections/we-insist-a-timeline-of-protest-music-in-2020/2020/09/18/914469882/tyler-childers-pushes-back-on-southern-values-and-our-long-violent-history

The song "Long Violent History" plays out the internal argument that led Childers to make this explicit and remarkable stand in solidarity. It's a lament grounded in bluegrass fiddle and that fundamental African import, the banjo. Presenting himself as a confused "white boy from Hickman" who once understood how the protests might feel like unnecessary trouble, Childers artfully bends perspective at the ballad's center, realizing that for all the times he'd belligerently questioned authority, he'd never felt like he might lose his life. Echoing a long line of labor and other protest songs, Childers asks how many "boys could they haul off this mountain" until their parents, their loved ones, would get out Papaw's pistol and fight back. "Would that be the start of a long, violent history?" he asks. The tune ends with a sonic invocation of the long, violent history of American white supremacy: a few lines of "My Old Kentucky Home," a minstrel ballad written by Stephen Foster, complete with racist depictions of enslaved people.

Childers has taken a chance with this song – in the video, he explains that the eight instrumental songs that precede it on his new album were well-considered as stage-setters for this final, controversial act.  

29 September, 2020

Olympian Wyomia Tyus sprinted to gold and spoke out in Mexico City. America forgot her.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/09/22/wyomia-tyus-olympic-sprinter-gold-medals/

A sharecropper’s daughter, Tyus grew up on a dairy farm in rural Georgia during the Jim Crow era. She overcame family tragedy as a teenager and went on to win four Olympic medals, including the two 100-meter golds. She also set or equaled the 100-meter world record four times.

And yet, more than 50 years later, Tyus’s place as the first back-to-back 100 champion in Olympic history is often overlooked. [...]

One of Tyus’s proudest moments was returning to Griffin in 1999 for the opening of Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park — 164 acres featuring soccer and baseball fields, a lake for fishing, picnic areas and nature trails. More than 30 years after she had made Olympic history, her hometown was finally recognizing her.

“It means a lot more from my hometown to know that, as a Black person from Griffin, Georgia, they would do something like that,” Tyus said. “I never felt that they would.”

Tyus was inducted to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985. She’s encouraged by the progress that has been made for women’s sports and athletes but believes there is still a long way to go.

26 September, 2020

On the economic impact of slavery

https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/izmsww/i_feel_sorry_for_americans_a_baffled_world/g6k2hje/

Calculating the value of an individual slave, each slave would be worth around $92,000 in today's dollars, PLUS the 20+ years of wages and room & board you would have had to pay a paid laborer.

Think about that. Each slave, worth nearly $100k as an asset, plus 20 years of free labor. Imagine the impact this had on the vast plantations of the South.

Imagine if you're a modern day business. You have ten slaves. On the books, you have $1 million in assets - collateral for bank loans at nearly 0% interest, as well as investment capital.

On top of that, you pay no wages. So, your competitors, who are out there paying 10 people $50k in salary plus benefits, have a nearly $1 million LIABILITY on their books.

A company with ten slaves is $2 million richer than the company without slaves literally just by existing, just on the books, and then get $500k in additional profits by not having to page any wages.

Extrapolate that across hundreds of years of pre-industrial economic growth. At a time when most other countries had either outlawed slavery, or were winding down their slave trade. 

23 September, 2020

Supreme Court Precedent Killed Breonna Taylor

https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/supreme-court-precedent-killed-breonna

 Breonna Taylor died in a hail of bullets while Louisville police served a no-knock warrant on her home. There were no drugs in her house. She was not even the target of the police investigation. No one has been arrested, and the fact that no officers are (yet) standing trial has been the source of ongoing public outrage. “Say her name” is the battle cry for those who seek justice for an innocent young woman, gunned down in her own house by the very police who swear to “protect and serve.” 

For the past several days I’ve been doing a deep dive into the facts and law of the case, and I’ve come to a singular and depressing conclusion: Supreme Court precedents killed Breonna Taylor. These court precedents have killed before. And while there is an outside chance that an individual officer may be held legally responsible for her death, the prime movers here are the forces the court has set into motion, and unless there are substantial legal reforms, those precedents will kill again.

Before we dive into the cases, let’s first look at the facts of this incident. In early afternoon on March 12, the Louisville Metro Police Department obtained a no-knock search warrant for Taylor’s home. The purpose of the warrant was to search for and seize drugs, drug paraphernalia, and any other objects (weapons, financial records) related to drug trafficking. 

But if you read the warrant carefully, you note something rather interesting. The vast majority of the evidence—involving drug trafficking by two individuals, Adrian Walker and Jamarcus Glover—doesn’t apply to Taylor or her apartment at all. 

22 September, 2020

The Virtue Signalers Won’t Change the World

 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/why-third-wave-anti-racism-dead-end/578764/

Social concern and activism must not cease, but proceed minus the religious aspect they have taken on. One can be fervently dedicated to improving the lot of black Americans without a purse-lipped, prosecutorial culture dedicated more to virtue signaling than to changing other people’s lives.

Progressives can battle a War on Drugs that creates a black market that tempts too many poor black men into lives of crime. They can fight for free access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives for poor women and phonics-based reading instruction for kids from bookless homes. They can stand against Republican attempts to discourage the black vote via a sham concern for all-but-nonexistent voter fraud. The struggle must, and will, continue.

But the black person essentially barred from the polls gains nothing from someone sagely attesting to their white privilege on Twitter and decrying that “no one wants to talk about race in this country” when America is nothing less than obsessed with race week in and week out. One may consider President Trump a repulsive, bigoted excrescence without morally equating anyone who didn’t prioritize his racism enough to deny him their vote in 2016 with those who cheered a lynching 100 years before.

All of the above hinges on feigning claims of injury, on magnifying indignation in a trip-wire fashion, and on fostering a Manichaean, us-versus-the-pigs perspective on humanity out of Lord of the Flies. Racial uplift in modern America does require dealing with matters more abstract than what a Douglass or a King faced. This is a challenge. Progressives shirk that challenge, however, in fashioning a new kind of activism based on performance and display. They should not do less; they should do better.

End the Poisonous Process of Picking Supreme Court Justices

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/opinion/ginsburg-supreme-court-confirmation.html

 Supreme Court justices often try to retire during the presidency of someone sympathetic to their jurisprudence. Of course, that doesn’t always work: Justice Scalia died after almost 30 years on the high court trying to wait out President Barack Obama, and Justice Ginsburg died after nearly 27 years trying to outlast President Trump.

Over all, though, strategic retirements give the justices too much power in picking their own successors, which can lead to a self-perpetuating oligarchy. The current system also creates the impression that the justices are more political actors than judges, which damages the rule of law. It may even change the way the justices view themselves.

No other major democracy in the world gives the justices on its highest court life tenure, and nor do 49 of the 50 states. The longest terms are more like the 12-year terms served by German Constitutional Court justices. Countries and states that do not have term limits have mandatory retirement ages; many jurisdictions have both.

The unpredictable American system of life tenure has led to four presidents picking six or more justices and four presidents selecting none, as happened with Jimmy Carter. This gives some presidents too much influence on the Supreme Court and others too little.

Young minister loses license over political endorsement

 https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/texas/young-minister-loses-license-over-political-endorsement/

Once Bumgardner learned Sprey decided to allow his ministry license to expire, he chose to make the issue a matter of public record.

“I love the members of the church and its pastor dearly. I am forever in their debt. I am deeply grieved that this issue could not be resolved,” he said.

“Unfortunately, my license is inextricably linked to my qualifications and credentials as a Christian minister. It affects my standing in the ministerial community. It also affects my ability to be hired by a local church.”


FOREIGN ACTORS AND CYBERCRIMINALS LIKELY TO SPREAD DISINFORMATION REGARDING 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200922.aspx

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the potential threat posed by attempts to spread disinformation regarding the results of the 2020 elections. Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.

State and local officials typically require several days to weeks to certify elections’ final results in order to ensure every legally cast vote is accurately counted. The increased use of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 protocols could leave officials with incomplete results on election night. Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.

The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials. The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cyber criminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.

21 September, 2020

The Cheating Scandal That Ripped the Poker World Apart

https://www.wired.com/story/stones-poker-cheating-scandal/

Mike Postle was on an epic winning streak at a California casino. Veronica Brill thought he had to be playing dirty. Let the chips fall where they may.

 

20 September, 2020

Three links on nationalism

 https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/03/against-the-dead-consensus

Faced with voters’ resounding “No!” to these centrifugal forces, consensus conservatives have grown only more rigid in their certainties. They have elevated prudential judgments and policies into sacred dogmas. These dogmas—free trade on every front, free movement through every boundary, small government as an end in itself, technological advancement as a cure-all—foreclose debate about the nature and purpose of our common life.

Consensus conservatism long ago ceased to inquire into the first things. But we will not.

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/open-letter-against-new-nationalism

Again we watch as demagogues demonize vulnerable minorities as infesting vermin or invading forces who weaken the nation and must be removed. Again we watch as fellow Christians weigh whether to fuse their faith with nationalist and ethno-nationalist politics in order to strengthen their cultural footing. Again ethnic majorities confuse their political bloc with Christianity itself. In this chaotic time Christian leaders of all stripes must help the church discern the boundaries of legitimate political alliances. This is especially true in the face of a rising racism in America, where non-whites are the targets of abominable acts of violence like the mass shooting in El Paso.

To be clear, nationalism is not the same as patriotism. Nationalism forges political belonging out of religious, ethnic, and racial identities, loyalties intended to precede and supersede law. Patriotism, by contrast, is love of the laws and loyalty to them over leader or party. Such nationalism is not only politically dangerous but reflects profound theological errors that threaten the integrity of Christian faith. It damages the love of neighbor and betrays Christ.

https://americanmind.org/essays/the-global-community-is-a-fantasy/

We are having this debate because the terms of solidarity in America are in flux as they have not been in fifty years. Centrifugal forces of globalization, the digital technological revolution, de-Christianization, and the collapse of the working-class family have scattered old ways and old ideas. The most fundamental political questions of attachment and belonging need to be asked and answered anew. Not least among these questions is that concerning the attachments and consequent moral obligations of political community.

Unfortunately those associated with ANN offer no positive answer to these questions. They say little on the central matter of citizenship, and what they do say is discouraging and dismissive. While the history of nations and nationalism is certainly checkered with violence, so, too, has the nation been the foundation of modern political liberty and class solidarity. Its promise animated rebellions against tyrants and the establishment of democracy. It fueled the demise of Eastern empires and Western colonialism alike. The nation is the ground of equality that makes self-government meaningful and the welfare state possible.

13 September, 2020

Frank Meeink was a top neo-Nazi who inspired Edward Norton’s character in “American History X.” He now speaks out against it—and says members of his old neo-Nazi crew became cops.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/he-was-the-neo-nazi-who-inspired-american-history-x-his-nazi-pals-are-now-cops

Meeink, 45, recalls attending a big summit in the early ‘90s with David Duke and other white nationalist leaders.

“They were telling us to cover up our swastikas, grow our hair out, and become cops,” he says. “I know of at least three of the people at that meeting who became cops.”

The main reason Duke and the other white nationalist speakers were urging their hate-filled charges to join law enforcement did not have so much to do with “alerting skinhead crews of pending investigative action against them,” as the 2006 FBI assessment concluded, but to disenfranchise people of color—particularly Black people.

“The Fourth Amendment is violated all the time by the cops, and in these meetings they would say, ‘Yeah—and when we become cops we’ll get them felonies so they can’t vote.’ That constantly went around,” Meeink remembers, sighing deeply. “We need to get all these white nationalists out of the police force. There are so many racist cops. And I know a lot of cops.”  

12 September, 2020

It Happened One Night . . . at MGM

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2003/04/mgm200304

When Patricia Douglas was raped by an MGM salesman at a 1937 studio party, the 20-year-old dancer filed charges, taking on Hollywood's most powerful institution. Today, as Douglas breaks a 65-year silence, the author exposes the perjury, bribes, and smear tactics used to destroy her.

 [...]

Back in the grand-jury room, Lester Roth called Clement Soth, the parking attendant who had discovered Douglas. Soth had originally said that he had seen David Ross flee the scene, but now he recanted that crucial detail. “The man was much thinner,” Soth said under oath. “Mr. Ross’s face is fat.” When I contacted Soth’s daughters, they confirmed that, in exchange for their father’s perjury, MGM offered him “any job he wanted.” Soth joined the studio “family” as a driver and remained there for the rest of his life.

How One Man Conned the Beltway

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/sunday/garrison-courtney-spies-contracts.html

The spy was recruiting for his secret task force. Scattered about the Beltway in grim brick and glass monoliths was a small army of gung-ho companies hoping to turn their patriotic ardor, technological inventiveness and commercial know-how into moneymaking national security contracts.

Starting in 2014 and continuing for over a year, the spy approached dozens of these companies with his recruitment pitch: the chance to join a covert government program, the knowledge of whose existence, he warned, could cost some lives, but it was also a group, he promised, that could save some lives, too. And in return for assisting the C.I.A. by providing him and his security operative — “The Twins,” people cleared for the op would call the pair — with salaries and commercial cover, the grateful agency would ensure that a trove of government contracts would come their way.

The spy called this top-secret enterprise Alpha214. It was approved, he claimed, by the president and by the director of national intelligence. Its clandestine activities were routinely discussed in surveillance-proof Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, SCIFs for short, with an all-star cast of intelligence officials.

A two-star general who commanded the 25th Air Force in worldwide intelligence and reconnaissance was briefed on the enterprise. It distributed to task force participants letters that appeared to be from the attorney general promising immunity and, on two occasions, $12 million payments. Its commercial backbone ultimately grew to include about a dozen tech companies.

There was, however, one big problem with the program: It was a gigantic construct of inventive multimillion-dollar crookery. 

Free to be Muslim and an American

https://www.ajc.com/news/opinion/free-muslim-and-american/r243jCUp87NVaT5mJPBNEI/

For me, this moment isn’t just a celebration, but an opportunity to continue to heal the false conflict between America and Islam that Osama bin Laden has tried to create. Born to an American Catholic mother and a Lebanese Muslim father, I have struggled to understand what it means to be an American Muslim. That day in 2001 changed not only the world and the U.S., but also challenged an entire population to define itself. Bin Laden not only created the plot that hijacked those four planes, but he also hijacked the message of an entire religion. No one has been as troubled these past 10 years as those moderate Muslims who have had to repeatedly hear this man try to speak for us. An Egyptian man once said it perfectly in a State Department focus group: “In the Middle East, if you don’t define yourselves, they [extremists] will.”

Each year on my birthday, now officially Patriot day, I have taken his words to heart, knowing that as an American, and as a Muslim, I must work constantly to define myself and my values. I’ve talked American politics and the Iraq war with a Tunisian cabdriver, and lead Bible-Quran comparative studies in Georgia. I am certainly not alone, and Tuesday, 40 women, all under the age of 40, all born in the United States, all Muslim, stood up to define themselves in a new book, “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.” Our book showcases the diversity within Islam, a generation of women working to connect worlds and spread compassion.

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

"To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust," she said. "I had been lying to people ... unwittingly."

Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

But when Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn't want to hear it.

How to Save Restaurants

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/opinion/restaurants-indoor-dining.html

When the pandemic hit America’s restaurants, it was as if an anvil dropped — on a bubble.

To run a restaurant, any kind of restaurant, is a constant struggle to keep that bubble aloft. Every day is a negotiation: of labor costs, food costs, rent, insurance, health inspections, and the art and craft of creating an experience special enough to keep people coming through the doors. When the pandemic lockdown forced hundreds of thousands of establishments to close, there was no backup plan. No one was prepared for the extent of the fallout.

The restaurant and fast food industry, the second-largest private employer in the United States, collapsed overnight. At least 5.5 million jobs evaporated by the end of April, and the number of people employed in food services is still 2.5 million fewer than in February. Technomic, a consulting firm for the food-service industry, estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of independently owned restaurants will never reopen. And those restaurants uphold an ecosystem that extends to farms, fishmongers, florists, ceramists, wineries and more. The damage has been so severe that the James Beard Foundation announced in August that it would cancel its restaurant awards this year because of the pandemic and a need to re-examine structural bias.

11 September, 2020

Local power in the age of digital policing

https://triangulator.org/blog/local-power-digital-policing/

 The progressive possibility of digital enforcement isn’t to expand the coverage and efficiency of policing but rather to narrow the scope of what is enforced, and ensure the design of those enforcement systems prevents abuse. Instead of “policing difference” in the name of safety we should only deploy technology that enforces, and measures progress towards a more inclusive form of urbanism that is truly safer for all.

As Reich, Weismantel, and a generation of planners, engineers, and advocates have shown us, we know how to build safer streets and cities, and none of it requires policing or new forms of surveillance. At the same time we must recognize, as Reich documented in his work on justice for public benefits recipients, that policing is about more than uniforms and guns. Reform must begin with the laws themselves, and a recognition of the many ways we "police" streets. It also requires confronting the economically regressive roots of traffic enforcement based on fees and fines, and the resulting criminalization of poverty—immoral in and of itself, but also a tool deployed as a proxy for illegal forms of explicit racial discrimination. Many cities rely on these fines a critical source of revenue, and there's evidence of increased fiscal dependence on fines as cities face dramatic revenue shortfalls due to COVID.

07 September, 2020

After a military funeral following suicide

Here’s what the media must do to fend off an election-night disaster

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/heres-what-tv-news-must-do-to-fend-off-an-election-night-disaster/2020/09/04/c94cee50-ed1c-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

This time, with the stakes of the election so high, news organizations need to get it right. They need to do two things, primarily, and do them extraordinarily well.

First, in every way possible, they must prepare the public for uncertainty, and start doing this now. Granted, the audience doesn’t really show up in force until election night itself, but news reports, pundit panels and special programming can help plow the ground for public understanding of the unpredictability — or even chaos — to come.

Second, on election night and in the days (weeks? months?) to follow, news organizations will need to do the near-impossible: reject their ingrained instincts to find a clear narrative — including the answer to the question “who won?” — and stay with the uncertainty, if that’s indeed what’s happening.

06 September, 2020

America’s coronavirus response failed because we didn’t understand the complexity of the problem.

 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/03/what-really-doomed-americas-coronavirus-response/608596/

In many complex systems, efficiency, redundancy, and resiliency pull in different directions: More efficient systems, which are cheaper, eliminate redundancies, which provide resilience but cost more. For example, commercial airplanes always have two or more engines and have a co-pilot, even though one pilot and one engine is sufficient to fly the plane safely. The redundancy adds to expenses, but increases safety and resiliency in case something happens to one pilot or engine. In fact, commercial aviation is so safe because redundancy is mandated by regulation and built into every level, but our commercial-flying experience is so miserable because airlines have made it as efficient as possible to save money. (If one plane doesn’t arrive on time, there is no backup waiting to fly instead, for example.)


Hong Kong mourns the end of its way of life as China cracks down on dissent

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/09/hong-kong-mourns-way-life-china-cracks-down-dissent/

 But what does it mean for a city to die? How do you mourn the loss of a place in which you are still living?

As the people of Hong Kong grapple with the loss of their home as they know it, I asked nine fellow locals where they feel most connected to the city and took their portraits there. I saw neighborhoods through the eyes of those who love them dearly; it was like being invited into people's hearts for a tour. Hong Kong is changing, but parts of it are immutable, safeguarded in the collective memory of those of us who call it home.

03 September, 2020

Francis Fukuyama: Restore honor in public service

 https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/08/30/francis-fukuyama-our-next-president-must-restore-the-idea-that-there-is-honor-in-public-service

The first and most important change lies less in the realm of policy than in the realm of culture. The United States has never trusted its public servants, but, since the 1980s, the denigration of bureaucrats, the Washington milieu and government in general has intensified. While this denigration is loudest on the right, the left has participated as well, raising deep suspicions about the motives of the military, the police, the CIA and other disfavored agencies. There is a general feeling that the government is incompetent and cannot be trusted to manage anything.

What is lost in this culture is the older view that public service is an honorable calling and that citizens do not simply have rights, but also responsibilities — a view perhaps most eloquently expressed by President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” We will never entirely recover from the cynicism that has crept into our consciousness in the decades since World War II. But just as President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were able to shift cultural attitudes away from public service, so too could future leaders move the needle back.

01 September, 2020

Dear Decaturish – From A CSD teacher regarding the impact of COVID-19 on critical thinking

https://decaturish.com/2020/09/dear-decaturish-from-a-csd-teacher-regarding-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-critical-thinking/

I spent my career building projects that brought my students together. Teaching this way, still and in isolation, is soul-sucking. As much as I try to get my students to interact virtually, I’m still there; the ever-present adult. So, they miss the camaraderie they would typically build with side conversations. Strangely, that’s what I keep coming back to in my mind. It’s what I miss the most, and it’s what I think they need the most.

It’s through those strange and wonderful side conversations that kids explore their world and build their flawed but functional understanding of how life works. It’s those side conversations that develop the world view that they then spend the rest of their formative years refining. They need the chance to ask each other questions they are afraid to ask adults, and they need the opportunity to work their way through questions they are unequipped to answer. Because, it’s in that playful struggle, through those leaps of the imagination, that children learn to think critically.

And adults just can’t play their game, not anymore, our minds are too chained by what we’ve decided is reality. But, that’s our reality, not theirs. They live in a better world, where anything is possible. The much-derided “child’s play” is more important than most people know, and it’s a game best played without supervision.

27 August, 2020

The GOP Tries to Make Its Case

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gop-tries-to-make-its-case-11598585946?st=hr9s53yl4g8mqxr&reflink=share_mobilewebshare

 He and his brother were sons of a single mother; they lived with relatives and slept three in the bed. He got an education, went into business, ran for Congress in an overwhelmingly white district in Charleston and beat the field, included the son of former-Sen. Strom Thurmond. How did a black man who started with nothing do that? “Because of the evolution of the Southern heart.” That is a beautiful phrase.

Mr. Scott said his grandfather would have been 99 this week. That old man had suffered indignities; no one had even bothered to teach him to read and write. But he lived to see his grandson become the first African-American elected to both the U.S. House and Senate. “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” he said, with an air of what seemed fresh wonder.

It was beautiful, and affectionate about America to the point of tenderness.

How to fact-check

26 August, 2020

Black Homeowners Face Discrimination in Appraisals

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/25/realestate/blacks-minorities-appraisals-discrimination.html

 They had expected their home to appraise for around $450,000, but the appraiser felt differently, assigning a value of $330,000. Ms. Horton, who is Black, immediately suspected discrimination.

The couple’s bank agreed that the value was off and ordered a second appraisal. But before the new appraiser could arrive, Ms. Horton, a lawyer, began an experiment: She took all family photos off the mantle. Instead, she hung up a series of oil paintings of Mr. Horton, who is white, and his grandparents that had been in storage. Books by Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison were taken off the shelves, and holiday photo cards sent by friends were edited so that only those showing white families were left on display. On the day of the appraisal, Ms. Horton took the couple’s 6-year-old son on a shopping trip to Target, and left Mr. Horton alone at home to answer the door.

The new appraiser gave their home a value of $465,000 — a more than 40 percent increase from the first appraisal.

23 August, 2020

China's Communist Party is a threat to the world, says former elite insider

https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/22/asia/chinas-communist-party-threat-world-intl-hnk/index.html

 "The relationship between China and the United States is not a conflict between the two peoples, but a contest and confrontation between two systems and two ideologies," Cai told CNN.

Cai said she had been stranded by the coronavirus pandemic after arriving in the US last year as a tourist. She declined to disclose more details about her current situation or plans for the future, citing fears over her personal safety.
Since coming to power in late 2012, Xi has consolidated his position and authority over the Party, which ranks among the world's largest political organizations with 90 million members. He has unleashed a sweeping crackdown on political dissent, civil society and the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region, and tightened control over Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Now, according to Cai, the Communist Party aims "to replace the free and democratic system of modern mankind represented by the United States, and the values and order of peace, democracy, freedom and justice," with its own model of governance.

The Prophecies of Q

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/qanon-nothing-can-stop-what-is-coming/610567/

 The Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are thriving religious movements indigenous to America. Do not be surprised if QAnon becomes another. It already has more adherents by far than either of those two denominations had in the first decades of their existence. People are expressing their faith through devoted study of Q drops as installments of a foundational text, through the development of Q-worshipping groups, and through sweeping expressions of gratitude for what Q has brought to their lives. Does it matter that we do not know who Q is? The divine is always a mystery. Does it matter that basic aspects of Q’s teachings cannot be confirmed? The basic tenets of Christianity cannot be confirmed. Among the people of QAnon, faith remains absolute. True believers describe a feeling of rebirth, an irreversible arousal to existential knowledge. They are certain that a Great Awakening is coming. They’ll wait as long as they must for deliverance.


The Amazing Disappearing Election

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/08/why-news-sounds-same/615070

 This year may be a good chance for the United States to consider whether we really need an 18-month-long presidential election. Elections in Japan are limited to 17 days of campaigning for seats in its upper legislative house and 12 days for the lower house. In many parliamentary democracies, snap elections mean that campaigns rarely run much longer than a few weeks. With the need to focus on the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to it, 2020 may demonstrate an uncomfortable truth: The months of coverage of conventions and debates is more helpful in providing advertising revenue to the news industry than it is in informing citizens about the political decisions they are asked to make.

20 August, 2020

How to talk — and ask — about QAnon

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/08/20/how-talk-ask-about-qanon/

MIT Technology Review’s Ohlheiser: QAnon has essentially become a distribution mechanism for a whole bunch of linked conspiracy theories. … During the pandemic, QAnon has become the brand name for a whole bunch of circulating conspiracy fueled misinformation.

As researchers like [Stanford Internet Observatory’s Renee] DiResta have documented, there’s been cross-pollination between QAnon/Pizzagate content and anti-vaccine Facebook groups for years. The pandemic has accelerated that connection, and now QAnon accounts and networks are also key distributors of health misinformation. More recently, they’ve also kind of laundered their secret pedophile ring content through a few more mainstream-friendly arguments: for instance, they’ve helped to propel an easily debunked conspiracy about Wayfair and child trafficking onto Twitter’s trending list, where it was then picked up on Instagram and TikTok and spread even further, and hijacked the #savethechildren hashtag across social media.

Right Wing Watch’s Holt: The movement has inspired criminal action among some of its followers, including kidnapping, violence​ and murder. The FBI considers it a threat to national security.

17 August, 2020

The Nobody Problem

https://fredrikdeboer.com/2020/08/17/the-nobody-problem/

 I wrote a piece years ago, when I was on Twitter, and called them Accelerants – people who seem to exist only to make conflict on social media nastier. And I think the really essential piece is this: no one cares enough about them individually to know how morally they act themselves, and so they can engage in moral censure of everyone and everything. If you are enough of a visible personality that people might track your history, people can respond to your moral judgments by pointing out areas where you yourself have failed to act morally, or at least, to areas where your moral beliefs appear to be inconsistent. But if no one cares about you enough to remember what you’ve said and done in the past, you’re free. And in the middle of a Twitter mobbing there’s so many low-follower accounts coming at people that no one could possibly respond to them all even if they cared enough to know something about them. They draw power from their powerlessness; they have the strength of a faceless horde. Facelessness, after all, means there can be no accountability.


‘I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/01/schools-reopening-coronavirus-arizona-superintendent/?arc404=true

A bunch of our teachers have told me they will put in for retirement if we open up this month. They’re saying: “Please don’t make us go back. This is crazy. We’re putting the whole community at risk.”

They’re right. I agree with them 100 percent. Teachers don’t feel safe. Most parents said in a survey that they’re “very concerned” about sending their kids back to school. So why are we getting bullied into opening? This district isn’t ready to open. I can’t have more people getting sick. Why are they threatening our funding? I keep waiting for someone higher up to take this decision out of my hands and come to their senses. I’m waiting for real leadership, but maybe it’s not going to happen.

It’s me. It’s the biggest decision of my career, and the one part I’m certain about is it’s going to hurt either way. 

16 August, 2020

The Enemy Within

 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/james-mattis-the-enemy-within/600781/

America is not some finished work or failed project but an ongoing experiment. And it is an experiment that, by design, will never end. If parts of the machine are broken, then the responsibility of citizens is to fix the machine—not throw it away. The Founders, with their unsentimental assessment of human nature, brought forth a constitutional system robust enough to withstand great stress and yet capable of profound correction to address injustice. (The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.) The scale of the Founders’ achievement was unprecedented. Except in small pockets here and there, a democratic system such as ours had never before been tried; the Founders applied it to a nation that would soon span a continent. I think of our own document’s durable capacity when I consider the travails of the United Kingdom, which lacks a written constitution. The lesson is not that we can sit back in relief. It is that we must continue conducting the experiment.

15 August, 2020

DO WE REALLY WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT THE POST OFFICE?

https://classic.esquire.com/article/2013/2/1/do-we-really-want-to-live-without-the-post-office

 He’s seen a lot and he’s learned a lot, he says. He’s learned to say hello to every resident he sees, his smile always open, ready to connect. And he’s learned to listen.

“Hi, brother,” shouts a man passing through, balding and wearing a loose-fitting sweatshirt.

“Take care, take care,” Mitchell shouts back, his tall frame and broad shoulders bending down to reach into his mail trolley for another bundle.

When he finishes this building, he’ll go on to the next one, then the next, as he’s done nearly every day for two decades, touching every mailbox on his route, the final link in a network that binds us all.

14 August, 2020

Mike Schur Talks Morality and Ethics in The Good Place — and Everywhere Else

https://www.vulture.com/article/mike-schur-good-place-finale-emmys-interview.html

 I’ve spent five years on this show about moral philosophy, so I learned a lot about intention. Intention does matter. There’s a difference between someone intending to hurt someone and someone intending to be funny and make a joke and it going horribly wrong and miscalculating. But we have to be better at understanding that the things we say, regardless of their intention, can be really hurtful and can contribute to this ongoing problem of people feeling disrespected and less than and everything else. Tina Fey’s statement when she asked for the blackface episodes of 30 Rock to be pulled off of streaming, I thought her statement was really good. Because what she said was, “It wasn’t our intention. Our intentions were very specifically to comment on how dumb people are when they do things like engage in this kind of behavior.” But intention isn’t the only thing that matters.

09 August, 2020

The new referees in American politics are Facebook, Google and Twitter, and they would be wise to pay attention to lessons the old media tried to learn.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/business/media/trump-facebook-google-twitter-misinformation.html

In fact, two people close to the Facebook fact-checking process told me, the vast bulk of the posts getting tagged for being fully or partly false come from the right. That’s not bias. It’s because sites like The Gateway Pundit are full of falsehoods, and because the president says false things a lot.

That’s the messy political reality — not the sort of neat systemic answer that makes engineers comfortable. The global surge in misinformation isn’t a matter of code, or an eternal political truth, or the structure of information. It’s just how the social-media-fueled, right-wing populism of 2020 works. And while Google, Facebook and Twitter dance around to refuse saying it out loud for obvious regulatory reasons, it makes them look dishonest and, at times, as Mr. Frankel now says of his boss’s accommodations, “ridiculous.”


 

Johnny 'Joey' Jones: I marked my 'Alive Day' this week, 10 years after losing my legs, and want to share this

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/johnny-joey-jones-alive-day-losing-legs

I've often looked back on that day with conflicting emotions. I’m grateful to have lived through it and angry about having to live with its permanent effects on my life.

But now, ten full years later, I realize this isn’t just some amazingly unique experience I have.

No, not many of us live through war but all of us survive life.

We live through bankruptcy, divorce, cancer and losing loved ones. But we’re all still here, not just making the best of our circumstances, but making our circumstances the best life we can live.

We get up every morning and decide the pain and frustration is worth it. That the smiles on the faces of our spouses and children make life a fight worth fighting and victories worth celebrating.

As one of a select few who is permanently attached to an “Alive Day” let me be clear -- we aren’t just the resentment of war, we are the resilience of war.

We are grateful to be alive and damn lucky to be Americans.

To each and every American struggling today to make it until tomorrow, let today be your “Alive Day” -- the day you chose to live. The day you get to look your pain and the uncertain path ahead in the eye and say, “I win.”