Livestream Tonight: The Investigation — Mueller Report in 10 Acts [UPDATE]

[NB: As always, check the byline. Thanks! /~Rayne]

Tonight only at 9:00 p.m. EDT (sorry, Rachel Maddow) the (nonprofit-?) organization Law Works will stream a live play based on the Mueller Report.

Read about the program at Variety, which calls this a “star-studded” “live reading” of the report.

This is one way to educate a portion of the public who can’t or won’t read the Special Counsel’s report. One might wonder if members of Congress might give this a shot or if they will continue to avoid the truth about the Trump campaign and administration.

If you happen to stream this Law Works’ production, share your thoughts here.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 9:15 p.m. EDT —

Running into 500-502 errors at Law Works’ site. Streams a little jerky through their Twitter account.

Ishmael, the All-American Boy

Well, it’s Summertime, and I’ve been on the road, and as usual, it seems like more fun to write about something completely different. Recently I saw a production of the opera Moby Dick, composed by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer, which inspired me to re-read the book. I say re-read, although it’s been so long that I barely remember it

About ten years ago I started re-reading books that meant a lot to me as a young person, including Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson, Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, One, Two, Three … Infinity by George Gamow, The Myth of Sisyphus and other books by Albert Camus, and a whole bunch of science fiction, my first serious love, to name a few. I have vivid memories of these books, and was not often disappointed; they held the same intensity that I remembered. I also reread several books every two or three years, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Possession by A.S. Byatt, and chapters of Philosophy and Social Hope by Richard Rorty,

There is a lot to be said for re-reading. For one thing, I read more carefully when I’m not desperate to find out how it all comes out. For another, as I grow older I see different things in old favorites. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, for example, my earliest readings were focused on the courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy. In later readings, I began to appreciate the way Austen contrasts existing family relationships and those formed throughout the novel. I also began to see the ways other characters saw these relationships, especially the sharp-witted Charlotte. In Capital In The Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty talks about the basis of Darcy’s wealth, which I had not understood. Then my colleague Rayne pointed out that each of the women in the novel negotiates their economic situation differently, and how much Elizabeth risked by turning down Mr. Collins, something I hadn’t noticed on multiple readings over decades. She also posted insightful comments on the book in response to this post.

I’m about 2/3 of the way through Moby Dick. I’ve learned a lot about whales and something about the work of the crew on whalers, and read several fascinating stories about other ships and crews. Two larger themes have emerged for me: religious and civic tolerance.

Religion enters in the first sentence: “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael is identified in the Bible as the son of Abraham by Hagar. Sarah suggested that Abraham sleep with her slave to conceive a child when it becomes clear that Sarah is too old to bear children. When Sarah produces a son in accordance with the promise of the Almighty, Sarah insists that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. in the desert as she weeps in desolation, an angel appears and tells her that Ishmael is a son of Abraham, and therefore the Almighty will make a great nation of him and his children.

Ishmael is claimed by Muslims as an ancestor of the Prophet. It is said that Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, and that Abraham returned to construct the Kaaba. That Ishmael is included in both Jewish/Christian texts and Islamic texts is a duality that seems relevant to the personality Melville’s Ishmael reveals to us.

Ahab too is a Biblically freighted name. Ahab was a king of Israel, and Ishmael knows this:

And a very vile one. When that wicked King was slain, the dogs, did they no lick his blood?

Compare 2 Kings 21:19 with 2 Kings 22:38.

In the beginning, Ishmael is on his way to Nantucket, planning to ship out on a whaler. He stops in New Bedford at the Spouter Inn for a couple of nights. The bar is made to resemble a whale’s head, including the entire jaw bone of a sperm whale. Standing under this arch is the bartender, called Jonah. The story of Jonah and the Whale is one religious thread.

Ishmael goes to a whaler’s church for Sunday services. The church is built on the model of a ship. There are plaques on the walls commemorating men who died at sea. The preacher, an ex-whaler, climbs into the tall pulpit on a ship’s ladder, and gives a sermon on Jonah. He paints the story from the perspective of a sailor, with vivid descriptions of the ship’s crew and captain, and the storm. He draws two lessons. For the sinner, Jonah is a tale of proper repentance:

.., Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will sill look towards His holy Temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance: not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.

Compare this to the words of Abraham Lincoln in the Second Inaugural Address.

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

Christianity isn’t the only religion. Ishmael meets the harpooner Queequeg at the Spouter Inn. He is the son of royalty on the island of Rokovoko, “an island far away to the west and South”. He’s Black, and a cannibal, and a head hunter; he’s bald, has sharply filed teeth and is a large and imposing man and a highly skilled harpooner. He also practices his religion, seemingly centered on a small ebony figure he calls Yojo. Queequeg explains to Ishmael that Yojo wants Ishmael to select a ship for them. While Ishmael somewhat unwillingly sets out on this errand, Queequeg begins a ritual with Yojo: he sits cross-legged with Yojo perched on his head and stays that way for 24 hours, unmoving. Ishmael calls this a “sort of Lent or Ramadan or day of fasting, humiliation and prayer”, the best explanation he can envision because Queequeg doesn’t explain and Ishmael doesn’t aask.

A strange scene of religious import takes place after the Pequod kills its first whale, flenses it, and beheads it, preparatory to extracting the valuable sperm oil. Ahab leans over rail staring at “…that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith”, and gives this elegy:

“Speak, thou vast and venerable head … which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

Chapter 70. Later the crew is drawing out buckets of sperm oil from a hole drilled in the whale’s head guided by the harpooner Tashtego. Suddenly the hooks holding the head slip out, and Tashtego is thrown into the hole in the whale’s head. The head breaks away from the tackle holding it to the ship and falls into the sea, carrying Tashtego down into the deeps. Queequeg somehow manages a rescue. The godless parallel to the Jonah story suggests Ishmael’s secular religion.

That brings us to the second point: civic tolerance. Recall that Ishmael met Queequeg at an inn, forced to share a bunk. Ishmael is in bed when Queequeg arrives and scares the daylights out of Ishmael. But shortly, Ishmael reconsiders. Queequeg agrees to the joint sleeping arrangement, and the tomahawk in this passage is both a pipe and an ax:

“You gettee in,” he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself — the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

Chapter 3. It doesn’t take long for the two men to become actual friends as well as co-workers, and the respect each has for the other becomes relevant in several episodes in the book.

Ishmael’s attitude is genuine. He’s interested in people, and observant without judging his crewmates by class or nationality or cannibalism. There are several chapters discussing the members of the crew, and there is not a word of judgment, just statements of fact.

It’s also a parallel to the treatment of religion. He is most familiar with the Christian Bible, but has a basic knowledge of other religions, again without judgment, and without making much of his own views, at least directly.

This kind of tolerance, religious and civic, cheerfully informed by wide experience of various people and an open mind, seems to me to be a perfect demonstration of an important virtue of idealized America. It turns out it’s a sad reminder of what we no longer care about in this country, of what we have abandoned as civic virtue. Maybe I just can’t read anything without recognizing our own times, with our depleted national identity.

A Fine Crop of Golf

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’m fried. I’m mentally and emotionally burnt right out, which is probably the aim of Agent Orange Chaos — to grind us all down until we roll over and allow this country to be a haven of corruption.

Imagine everything you need becoming even more transactional than it is now — systematically corrupt. Need a new cable TV line installed? Pay a bribe for access. Need to move to a different apartment? Pay a bribe to access a better list of buildings. Need a specialty item for your health, something that can’t be obtained through Amazon? Pay a bribe.

Sure, we’re used to paying fees for access in many different ways. But Americans are not used to the kind of petty and persistent corruption which is endemic in other parts of the world. Instead we pay taxes to support a legal system which is supposed to ensure fair dealing. Imagine paying these taxes and not having any expectation of justice AND paying bribes or extortion all along the way.

We’re so unused to and under-educated about the idea of corruption touching everything we do that I think we suffer from cognitive dissonance. It’s right there in front of us and yet we fail to recognize for what it is and for the slide in our ethical standards it represents.

One example niggling at me is Trump and his goddamned golf. You’ve probably read some of my posts about golf before in which I spell out the possibilities for corruption if one owned a golf course and how normative the golf life is to a class of people.

Our country is drowning right now, staring at multiple crop failures across a huge expanse of farm land, and our fearless leader is surely off golfing on our dime instead of looking into how to help farmers weather both the affects of the deepening climate emergency and the fallout from fearless leader’s hacktastic tariffs.

Corruption. Skimming money off us while farms and farm land drowns.

And too many farmers who will receive federal aid are not universally single family owned farms but mega corporate oligarchs — like the crooked Brazilian meat packing billionaires who will receive $62 million in aid for distribution to the farms supplying them meat.

But you know in your gut this won’t happen. And it’s corruption.

Journalists have covered the Brazilians raking in cash from our tax dollars, fortunately. They saw the problem and reported on it. But the public hasn’t mustered adequate outrage because this hasn’t yet hurt them in the wallet.

Wait until winter when holiday baking begins.

I don’t need to wait that long to feel it. I’m plenty pissed off because it’s another Saturday, another day at the golf course, and we’ve completely lost count of that orange mooch’s sponging. Which of his courses is he at, with our Secret Service personnel renting more golf carts to follow him around while he plays another round cheating both at the game and at life?

Ah, and there it is, he’s leeching us dry yet again with each crappy swing of his club:

As of the end of the day he’s been in office 876 days — which means he has spent 29.7% of his total time at one of his properties, 22.2% of his time in office play golf at one of his clubs.

Corruption. Just makes me want to puke.

We’re just supposed roll over and let them grab our taxpaying pussy while they tee off on our dime. They’ll argue our legitimately-elected representatives don’t have the right to oversight when he’s manipulating our tax system for his own personal gain to our collective detriment.

Like the New York park land he donated after he was refused permits to develop a couple million dollars of property into golf courses — Trump org declared them worth $26 million to write off the capital loss and reduce the taxes paid.

What really pisses me off is the story no reporter has yet covered as far as I can tell: if Trump’s Bedminster NJ golf course is classified as farm land for tax purposes so he can avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes, is Trump org going to claim federal relief for this farm, too?

It’s right there under our noses. So corrupt and he and his oligarchic sponsors want this to become the norm.

Fuck that. If this guy was your direct employee you’d have fired his ass  already.

This is an open thread.

Memorialize This

[NB: Byline check. /~Rayne]

Today’s All-American holiday didn’t come about in one fell swoop. Its origins have been a bone of contention — did it begin in the South? did it start in the North? Was it an African American celebration?

Depending on who you ask you may find yourself in a discussion not unlike those surrounding Confederate statuary — fraught with past and present politics.

And good old-fashioned racism.

The first large formal observation of this holiday was marked by African Americans of Charleston, South Carolina in 1865 when their Civil War dead were reburied.

Read more about it at Zinn Education Project.

Most Americans aren’t aware of this history, not even lifelong residents of Charleston. The reason is racism manifest through cultural erasure.

I live in the first state to declare Memorial Day a statewide holiday. In 1871 Michigan set aside what was then called Decoration Day to pay tribute to its war dead. We lost more than 14,000 of the 90,000 men sent to fight in the south — about 3.5% of the state’s population lost to the Civil War.

A Union soldier from Michigan wrote to his wife,

The more I learn of the cursed institution of slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction … After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better … Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact of itself will revolutionize everything … Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.

He was killed not long after by a Confederate sniper.

We sent this man and others, our flesh and blood, to fight for what is right, to defend a more perfect union, to defeat the denigration of fellow Americans then enslaved. We’ve allowed the lingering toxins of the Confederacy to obscure why it was this nation went to war — not because of states’ rights but because of an economic system dependent upon the reduction of humans to mere chattel.

We’ve sent our family members to defeat oppression in other wars, too many paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Now we’ve strayed from fighting for the ideals our country was founded upon. What was once defense against oppression has become offense for corporations, serving the US ill over the long run. It has become an excuse to create profits for the military industrial complex while ignoring the exercise of soft power through diplomacy. Our friends and loved ones who’ve died or have been injured or sickened for life are merely collateral damage along the way.

The latest threats against Iran are a perfect example in a string of poor leadership. Who benefits from military action against Iran? Or against beleaguered Venezuela? How would military action against either nation support our values?

One could see a case for highly-limited, tightly-focused action if North Korea pointedly prepares to attack the U.S. or its allies. But if North Korea simply develops weapons for its own defense given its proximity to both China and Russia, what then? Should we place our family members in harm’s way over North Korea’s right to self-defense?

Why is our diplomacy so weak that we don’t really know what Kim Jong-un’s aims are? Why are we tolerating the crazed tweets of a malignant narcissist as diplomacy when we have blood and treasure on the line?

It’s beyond time we really look at the price our nation has paid in flesh and blood and honor the ultimate sacrifices made by reassessing our values and recommitting to them — and not just on a day set aside for observation.

A rational and effective reassessment will also look at the fitness of the president to realize our values in the execution of their duties.

This is an open thread. (Featured image on front page: Korean War Memorial, National Mall, by Brian Kraus via Unsplash.)

Here for Misogyny’s Ratio

[NB: Not Marcy, check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

This tweet is a flaming POS and the ratio of Comments to Likes reflects a similar collective sentiment (currently running 7-to-1 Comments to Likes:

Wipe the shocked look off your face, Andrew. Believe it or not, secondary education instructors often have day jobs, and professionals often have instruction gigs.

Those day jobs ensure they are more qualified to speak about their field than instructors who teach on the subject directly out of school.

Best classes I ever took were taught by adjunct professors because they had real life experience to use as examples. (My favorite was my business ethics class taught by a local judge.)

This isn’t restricted to the law, either; pick a field from humanities to STEM and you’ll find instructors who are working in their profession while teaching.

But Andrew Kaczynski isn’t the only problem. The article he retweeted has a problem smack in the middle of it which gives me pause — it’s so bad I have to wonder how much of the rest of this report by Washington Post journalists Elise Viebeck and Annie Linskey may need vetting.

This bit:

One of her most controversial clients was Dow Chemical, which she advised in the mid-1990s. A subsidiary that manufactured silicone gel breast implants faced hundreds of thousands of claims from women who said their implants caused health problems. Dow Chemical denied that it played a role in designing or making the implants and sought to avoid liability as its subsidiary, Dow Corning, declared bankruptcy.

“In this case, Elizabeth served as a consultant to ensure adequate compensation for women who claimed injury from silicone breast implants who otherwise might not have received anything when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy,” Warren’s list of cases read. “Thanks in part to Elizabeth’s efforts, Dow Corning created a $2.35 billion fund to compensate women claiming injury from Dow Corning’s silicone breast implants.”

The Post could not immediately verify this figure.

Emphasis mine. It took me less than 30 seconds to Google “dow corning $2.35 billion fund” and come up with In re Dow Corning Corp., 280 F.3d 648 (6th Cir. 2002):

And I didn’t have access to resources like the Washington Post’s team — cripes, WaPo probably reported on this case. It’s probably in their archives. What else in this article picking through Elizabeth Warren’s work history is just as thinly researched?

We have a malignant narcissistic lifelong scofflaw in office because the media was unwilling to do adequate research into his background before 2016. They focused to excess on the leading female candidate who had already been heavily researched during her tenure as First Lady, junior senator from New York, and Secretary of State.

Now we see slapdash research pushed misogynistically, to the detriment of a candidate who has also served in public office and proven her work history has informed her work as a senator and her policy proposals.

Imagine it: a corporate lawyer who, after working as a lawyer for corporate clients, decides they need more oversight like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and corporations’ owners need to pay more taxes.

But the media wants you to take away from their coverage that she’s been paid by corporations you may not like while teaching at the same time.

Wait until they figure out she’s a mother, too. OMFG!!1! What kind of being can possibly do all that — parent two kids, teach, and bill out at $675 an hour?

Give me a fucking break.

Reporters: Stop this goddamned double standard immediately. Do a better job of reporting, stay focused on what’s relevant and quit making sensation out of nothing.

Readers: Be more skeptical of everything you read, and when you read, do so carefully. Don’t rely on stupid white men’s tweets to tell you the truth. Demand better quality reporting.

This is an open thread.

A Growing Problem: Agriculture, Climate, and Trump

[NB: Check the byline, please, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’ve been thinking about the Green New Deal and how policy will meet the turf when it comes to agriculture.

Fortunately I have a farmer in the family I could ask about one issue in particular — that of tillage.

Average Americans munching away on their toasted bagel at breakfast, their grilled cheese sandwich at lunch, and their crispy nachos at dinner don’t think about the amount of soil preparation — tillage — which goes into the crops they consume over the course of three square meals. They not only don’t think about all the fuel and oil soil prep requires, they don’t think about the additional passes over a field for seeding, weed control, and harvest to follow, all of which require more fuel and oil, and chemicals derived from or with oil in the case of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer.

There’s been an increasing amount of interest in low-till and no-till farming as part of conservation farming because of the amount of oil required along with concerns that tilling may do more harm than not when turned-up top soil is washed or blown away.

An equally important benefit is carbon sequestration. In the simplest terms, plants are carbon capture mechanisms. They take in carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O), and nutrients to build tissues. The produce we harvest is carbohydrate — carbon, hydrogen, and water stitched together in a compound we consume. What’s left in the field after our harvest, all that plant waste matter, is mostly carbon compounds lying on the surface of the soil.

When left undisturbed, plant waste matter left to decay releases nutrients, provides mulch to reduce moisture evaporation, stabilizes top soil against erosion by wind and water, while acting as a carbon sink. The more carbon we can sequester in organic material, the less carbon there is in the air in the form of CO2. No-till farming allows the carbon sink to accumulate rather than disturbing it with cultivation which prevents its accumulation.

Not to mention the soil develops a more complex microbiome freeing additional nutrients from the earth and the compost mixture above, potentially increasing nutrient value in crops.

No-till sounds like the method we should already be using as widely as possible, yes? Sadly, we aren’t.

The rate of no-till’s adoption has been problematic. It’s used more frequently in the U.S. than in Europe, but studies in Europe have been used to shape the approach to no-till’s adoption.

One issue affecting farmers attitudes is weed control. They end up using more herbicides on no-till which may offset any environmental gains made by reducing oil consumption. It’s not clear from the studies I’ve read whether the problem is weeds reducing crop yields — in the case of wheat, no-till results in a 5% reduction and in corn, 7.6% reduction — or if it is in part a long-held bias against weeds and for action to eliminate them.

The bias has been documented in research and appears to be based in education. Farmers with a higher level of education are less reluctant to adopt no-till, but these same farmers may be more efficient and not experience the same level of output reductions as less educated farmers.

There remain concerns about crop yields which could be mitigated with use of methods like allelopathic cover crops — like planting rye to winter over before planting another crop over it in the spring. Rye inhibits the growth of broadleaf weeds. Unfortunately, rye also interferes with corn productivity depending on when the corn is planted. A season like 2019 makes it very difficult to manage when planting will happen due to the amount of moisture from snow melt and rain.

There aren’t many identified alternative allelopathic crops either, for use as cover or not. It’s an area ripe for research but we all know how the Trump administration is toward any science which may affect corporate donors like Big Ag and Big Pharma (the latter has strong overlap with the former).

All this brings me to that conversation I had with the farmer in the family.

They grow one fairly simple crop: hay. That’s it. That’s their specialty, that’s all they’ve done on their small farm for decades. The entire family pitches in some way and they earn enough to pay the property taxes on the small farm and the family home along with covering home heating, electricity, and maintenance. Not big money but subsistence level.

I asked about no-till and if they could use it on their farm. They explained the type of soil they had — gave me a name for it which I won’t share because it can too easily be used to identify a part of the country. This type of soil didn’t do well with no-till, they explained, while looking at me skeptically because I’m a suburbanite.

This set me off researching soil types. I didn’t know there were more than 20 in my own county and they were all different from the soil types in the subject farmer’s county

Look for a soil survey of your own home county; it’s highly educational and may even explain somethings you might never have noticed or attributed to something else. Like the layout of towns and cities and their relative organization compared to soil types; I had NO idea that the location of my town wasn’t dictated solely by a couple rivers’ paths but by the adjacent soil. Some areas that remain heavily wooded also happen to be near soil which is difficult to farm and/or in flood plains; other areas which have great soil remain wide open, undeveloped, and under cultivation. Still other areas which have crappy soil according to old maps were built up with businesses and residential developments.

But in the course of researching soil I learned something unfortunate: the farmer in my family was wrong about the type of soil on which they farm, or they were misled/misinformed about the type of soil on which they farmed, or they didn’t want to answer truthfully about the soil because I was some lefty suburbanite nosing around about no-till farming.

I don’t think I want to ask any more questions of them for fear of stirring up a rat’s nest in the family. But I do want to stir the pot a bit here, because this has proven to be a far more complex topic than the average American realizes yet depends on every day and agriculture policy will be critical to the Green New Deal.

Just looking into soil preparation to grow crops opened up a huge can of worms, touching on so many different issues.

Like culture — is some of the bias against no-till based in cultural identity which may prove resistant to change whether about farming techniques, agricultural policy, or the Green New Deal?

Like education — how will we ever develop more and better approaches to efficient, fossil fuel-free crop production without more and better education?

Like economics — can we provide enough incentives to pay farmers an offset for their reduced yields until they become practiced at no-till and other conservation farming techniques? Can we do it with carbon offsets?

Like politics — can we push back against Big Ag and Big Pharma so that farmers can migrate toward more aggressive conservation farming without corporate-captured policy working against them?

The worst part of this dive — which is by no means comprehensive and probably shot through with errors of my own understanding — is that the clock is ticking. We don’t have much time, like a handful of years. We don’t have enough research and we’re fighting the highly toxic combination of ignorance, bias, corporatism, and corruption to overcome this insufficiency.

The worst case could already be upon us if we look at the mid-section of this country. 51% percent of corn is late for planting, and with the rain expected from Texas through Iowa this week, the percentage may not shift much. This past week only saw 5% of the corn crop planted, while only 19% of the country’s soybeans have been sown.

Imagine a couple years of this, combined with the additional pressure Trump has placed on farmers by fomenting a trade war with China. What crops they’ve grown, especially soybeans, earmarked for export have gone unpurchased. In some cases they spoiled in this spring’s floods. Farmers who might have been on the bubble before and during the tariffs might not be able to swing the cost of late planting if it cuts into yields. How do farmers budget when the season is so out of whack that forecasting pricing let alone yields seems impossible?

Not to mention the cost of capital equipment like tractors. Farmers must already have slowed or halted their orders because tractor manufacturer John Deere is cutting production by 20%.

At what point do we begin to worry about global food shortages due to crop failures here in the U.S.? The U.S. is the largest producer of maize, which may take a particular beating this year due to the wet planting season.

What really gets my goat after reading about all the challenges farmers face trying to make a living using traditional or conservation farming techniques in the face of now-unavoidable climate emergency and unnecessary political hassles: that Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf course draws $80,000 in tax credits for farmers because his course keeps a handful of goats and a small hay patch within the course’s property. His “farm” may even receive more credits post-tariffs since it’s small scale and I’m not certain anyone is looking to see if Bedminster qualifies or not.

Enjoy those nachos while you can, folks.

This is an open thread. Bring all your non-Trump-Russia issues to this thread.

The Strongbad Bite, Ack!: Kagan’s Neocon Hypocrisy

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Neoconservative Robert Kagan’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post — The Strongmen Strike Back — made me think of a classic episode of MST3K:

Pick one of Dave Ryder’s many names — Big McLargeHuge is my personal favorite — and then imagine Kagan’s op-ed as a cheesy, sweeping space opera. A production which the screenwriter and director took far too seriously, expecting the audience to treat it as if it were Oscar worthy.

Yes, authoritarians abound around the world. The U.S. has unfortunately called some of them allies though it shouldn’t cater to authoritarian leaders given its values based upon liberal democracy.

While fretting about the emergence of autocrats, Kagan is blind to his own role in the promulgation of authoritarianism. Has he forgotten neoconservatives’ insistence the U.S. launch the Iraq War, relying on increased nationalism and authoritarianism in response to 9/11? What blindness; what hypocrisy.

Far worse though, is Kagan’s difficulty facing mounting autocracy here at home. To say the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are responses to problems here while ignoring the white nationalist impulse behind them is shallow and uninformed.

— Sanders had the benefit of 20-plus years of anti-Clinton propaganda and eight years of anti-Obama racism greasing the way for him to carpetbag into the Democratic Party.
— Trump had more than 13 years of glitzy production effort by former General Electric property NBC to construct his BigBlond McStrongboss persona on top of his appeal to the racist element pervasive in white American culture.

Ignoring these factors combined with a feckless GOP field of also-rans is just plain stupid.

Not to mention the role of the GOP-majority Congress’ strategy of stifling all rational legislation after they took the reins in 2010.

What’s particularly galling in Kagan’s overlong and droning piece whining about the rise of authoritarian strongmen is that he doesn’t mention Putin by name at all with regard to free and open elections and voting whether in Russia or in the U.S. Not once. Zero. Nada.

Not as a killer of Russian journalists. Not as an assassin of Russian dissidents and political opponents. Not even as the propagandistic image created we might call Punch BigSixPack.

He makes rather thin observations about Putin’s autocratic regime, but makes no mention of how this particular strongman interfered with the very thing Kagan wants us to be believe he is defending — our liberal democracy.

No acknowledgment at all that this particular strongman made a concerted effort not only to interfere with our democratic processes but to seat a kleptoautocrat as our nation’s leader.

Further, Kagan fails to mention the steady attack by the Republican Party at state and national level on our voting rights and infrastructure. The GOP has systematically attacked the foundation of the United States’ liberal democracy in which every citizen possesses the right to vote, by way of suppressive voter identification laws to implementation of hackable and inauditable electronic voting machines, to failure to renew the Voting Rights Act and denying voters at the polls by way of fake software check systems.

Yes, fake — when a system does exactly the opposite of what it is allegedly designed to do as in the case of Crosscheck, it’s fake. And the GOP pushed its use across the country, especially where minority citizens lived in greater concentrations.

And none of this was Robert Kagan’s concern when bemoaning the alleged decline of liberal democracy.

But he’s a historian and he wrote looking at world history, one might say. As if history hasn’t also informed us about blind spots in ideology or the possibility historians have their own hidden agendas.

This bit is egregious:

…The world’s autocracies, even the “friendly” ones, are acquiring the new methods and technologies pioneered by Russia and China. And, as they do, they become part of the global surveillance-state network. They are also enhancing the power and reach of China and Russia, who by providing the technology and expertise to operate the mechanisms of social control are gaining access to this ever-expanding pool of data on everyone on the planet. …

The only attribution he makes to the origin of the digital panopticon is a link in that paragraph to a January 17 article in WaPo, How U.S. surveillance technology is propping up authoritarian regimes. Yes, us, the U.S., we are the progenitor of the ubiquitous surveillance state — but not only because of intelligence and defense technology. Our internet platforms offering search tools and social media provide the base on which surveillance thrives.

Kagan never calls out these privately-owned companies, from Facebook to Google, though these companies also played a role in Russia’s interference with our elections. Their role is purely incidental, accidental, while Kagan holds China up as an example of social surveillance ubiquity:

Developments in China offer the clearest glimpse of the future. Through the domination of cyberspace, the control of social media, the collection and use of Big Data and artificial intelligence, the government in Beijing has created a more sophisticated, all-encompassing and efficient means of control over its people than Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler or even George Orwell could have imagined. What can be done through social media and through the employment of artificial intelligence transcends even the effective propaganda methods of the Nazis and the Soviet communists. At least with old-fashioned propaganda, you knew where the message was coming from and who was delivering it. Today, people’s minds are shaped by political forces harnessing information technologies and algorithms of which they are not aware and delivering messages through their Facebook pages, their Twitter accounts and their Google searches.

What a lack of insight and imagination. Kagan wants us to look abroad to condemn authoritarianism, gear up our foreign policy with defense against ‘strongmen’ in mind, while failing to live our values here at home on an individual, collective, society-wide basis. The U.S. can’t be a legitimate democratic leader when it not only blindly spawns surveillance-as-an-incidental-product, but when creating new forms of old suppressions.

For example:

— North Dakota’s GOP-led state legislature demanded the Sioux acquire physical street addresses before they could vote during the midterm election year;
— Florida’s Republican legislators submitted a proposal to deny voting rights to former convicts if they have not paid all their fines and fees, constituting a poll tax on former felons after voters chose to restore rights after imprisonment;
— Georgia’s secretary of state (now governor) refused to recuse himself while running for governor after having conducted racially-biased voter roll purges;
— Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take up bill H.R. 1 after it passed the House. The bill bolstered voting rights and improved accountability by candidates and incumbents to voters.

If we truly wanted to promote liberal democracy abroad, we need to practice it here at home — put on our own oxygen mask before helping others.

One person who advocated for an improved democracy here was John Dingell. In one of his last op-eds he called for

— the abolishment of the Senate, which dilutes the votes of individuals in populous states;
— automatic and comprehensive voter registration at age 18, to encourage full participation of citizens in voting;
— protection of the press because an electorate can’t make informed decisions without free and open access to information;
— elimination of money from campaigns as it has a corrupt influence on candidates and unduly shapes opinions of the electorate.

Do read Dingell’s op-ed because he expanded upon each of these points I have only summarized. He did far more to encourage liberal democracy here in the U.S. in that one instructive essay as BigJohn TwitterDean than Kagan did in his space opera-ish piece hyping the Autocrat McStrongbads abroad.

This is an open thread.

The Rwandan Genocide’s 25th Anniversary

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. / ~Rayne]

25 years ago today — within hours after the assassination of Rwanda’s and Burundi’s presidents — Rwanda’s Hutus began systematic killing of minority member Tutsi and Pygmy Batwa.

By mid-July 1994, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan citizens had been brutally killed — 70% of the Tutsi and 30% of the Pygmy population wiped out by xenophobic rage. It’s not clear exactly how many Rwandans had been slain during the roughly 15-week period because the deaths weren’t documented as they occurred.

The U.S. knew about the threat of violence having intelligence about Hutus seeking “a final solution” but chose to do nothing because the Clinton administration worried they might face another ‘Blackhawk Down’ scenario as they did in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu the previous October.

The UN pulled out and did nothing after 10 Belgians serving the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been killed during the first week of the genocide. They had been protecting Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was slain 25 years ago today; she was the country’s first and so far only female prime minister.

In an interview with Radio France later in the evening on April 6, 1994, she said,

There is shooting, people are being terrorized, people are inside their homes lying on the floor. We are suffering the consequences of the death of the head of state, I believe. We, the civilians, are in no way responsible for the death of our head of state.

Her children survived the attempts on their lives by hiding behind furniture as she and her husband went outside to meet Rwandan soldiers seeking her. They were later smuggled out by a UNAMIR volunteer to safety.

The violence had been fomented for years, its roots likely in the manner by which colonialist Belgium and Germany distinguished for arbitrary reasons the Tutsi over the Hutu, inculcating an idea of separation and otherness with the Rwandan people.

The mounting xenophobia was further fed by hate speech over broadcast radio programming, via Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. Tutsi were depicted as alien, intent on subjugating the majority Hutu, and as non-Christian.

They were killed in horrible ways; in weeks ahead of the genocide, machetes had been imported in much greater quantities than in previous years. Tutsis were also subject to a broad campaign of torture by rape, resulting in maiming, unwanted pregnancies, and death in many cases, as well as a surge in HIV infections which remain with the survivors and those born after to this day.

~ ~ ~
Some may say that what the U.S. is currently experiencing is just politics, matters of opinion in which some like our president may get carried away with their rhetoric. But we’ve seen politics become deadly after systematic use and normalization of hate speech and eliminationist talk, often exemplified in Nazi, Germany of the 1930s.

We don’t need to look back a lifetime for an example of the deadly effects institutionalized hate speech can have on populations. People responsible for decisions that led to many deaths 25 years ago still walk among us. Survivors still bear witness to the genocide and the events that led to it.

We’ve already seen marked a marked uptick in hate crimes since the 2016 election because hate speech by American leaders gives implicit permission to escalate hate. Trouble is brewing here now, and media whether broadcast or social plays a role in its spread. It’s on us to call it out and reject it.

Hate speech and eliminationist talk is not acceptable. It is toxic and corrosive to a democratic society in which every human is equal under the law. Do not look away or ignore xenophobic talk; it is already excusing the loss of lives both American and Central American alike and it can get worse without intervention.

We owe it to the Rwandans who died 25 years ago to learn something from the hateful madness which took them.

This is an open thread.

The Future of Regulation in the Perma-Cyber-Infowar

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Looks like we could use an open thread to discuss all the stuff not directly related to the Trump-Russia investigation.

I do want to toss out a topic we should visit given the transition of power in the House from one political party to another and the sea change over the last several years in public awareness about information security.

Most regular readers here have been aware of the dynamic tension between civil liberties and national security, individuals’ rights to privacy and autonomy too frequently falling victim to the state’s efforts to surveil and control.

This site has wrestled with the threats to privacy and security posed by hardware (like cell phones and servers) and software (like vulnerabilities, ransomware, cyberweapons).

But how do we address the threats social media and other information platforms pose? Can we really ignore that Facebook has been weaponized against its country of origin let alone other host nations from the U.K. to Myanmar? Does Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up the largest social media platforms and label them ‘platform utilities’ under a new regulatory structure adequately address users’ privacy rights, information security, and national security?

How far should we push for disclosure of proprietary intellectual property like the platforms’ algorithms? How do we regulate the operation of these without jeopardizing their viability?

Do we need a mandatory ethical standard to which startups must build and existing platforms must comply? Facebook’s iffy interpretation of user consent to use in academic research, for example, was key to its weaponization. What regulatory standard would have prevented the abuse of users’ trust and their data?

Does the likely permanence of cyber warfare as well as information warfare require more or less than Warren has proposed?

Hash it out here in comments. Bring all the stray dog-and-cat issues as well.

Back to School: Planning for Climate Change Activism Success

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

Remember this? It’s still a pretty snappy little tune which handily teaches the barest essentials of the legislative process. My kids watched frequently when they were in K-2 grades so they could understand discussions at home about bills and legislation.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to know that an idea begins the legislative process and it ends (some of the time) as a law. The stuff that happens in between these points is more complex than depicted in this cute little animated film. But young kids can understand far more.

I hope that whomever is coaching kids to lobby members of Congress explains more than what’s in this School House Rock video; the children who met with Senator Feinstein didn’t appear prepared. As a parent I think those kids had been manipulated as weapons against an ally.

I don’t care what your position is on Feinstein’s reaction or the kids’ presentation. Both sides were set up for failure.

I care that the effort ended up dividing the party most likely to take action on the Green New Deal.

I care that the effort was wasted and should have been directed at the true bottlenecks to dealing with climate change and the environment.

The truth — which most of you know already if you’re a regular reader or politically awake — is that the GOP majority in the Senate is the obstruction.

The truth is that the GOP as a whole has an abominable track record on environmental protection, from green energy to toxic waste and now on climate change.

Republican president Richard Nixon may be responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s inception, but for the last couple decades the GOP abandoned any claim to conserving the environment, preferring instead to suck up to fossil fuel producers. They’ve actively undermined the EPA, going so far as to submit a bill to end it, albeit unsuccessfully (and for this act, Matt Gaetz FL-1 should already have been removed by voters – what the heck is wrong with you Floridians?).

Could Democratic Senators improve their efforts? Certainly; there are a few whose record is below 70% on the League of Conservation Voters’ scoreboard for all environmental legislation, like Joe Manchin (WV) at 45%. With her 90% overall score, Dianne Feinstein is not among them.

But the Republicans clearly have plenty of room for improvement; only one GOP senator scores above 21% on all environmental issues including climate change. The worst GOP senators are:

Strange, Luther (AL)
Perdue, David (GA)
Ernst, Joni (IA)
Kennedy, John (LA)
Sasse, Ben (NE)

All five of these senators had lifetime scores of a staggering 0% according to the League of Conservation Voters. Chances are slim they will change their voting habits much since they appear firmly against any and all pro-environment legislation.

However the following Class II GOP senators are vulnerable on the environment and climate change issues because they are up for re-election in 2020:

Senator

State

2017 Score

Lifetime Score

Ernst Joni

IA

0.00%

0.00%

Perdue David

GA

0.00%

0.00%

Sasse Ben

NE

0.00%

0.00%

Cotton Tom

AR

0.00%

2.00%

Daines Steve

MT

0.00%

2.00%

Rounds Mike

SD

0.00%

2.00%

Cornyn John

TX

0.00%

5.00%

Enzi Mike

WY

0.00%

5.00%

Inhofe James

OK

0.00%

5.00%

Cassidy Bill

LA

0.00%

7.00%

McConnell Mitch

KY

0.00%

7.00%

Risch Jim

ID

0.00%

7.00%

Sullivan Dan

AK

0.00%

7.00%

Tillis Thom

NC

0.00%

7.00%

Gardner Cory

CO

0.00%

10.00%

Graham Lindsey

SC

5.00%

12.00%

Capito Shelley Moore

WV

0.00%

17.00%

Collins Susan

ME

32.00%

63.00%

Hyde-Smith Cindy

MS

McSally Martha

AZ

Roberts Pat

KS

0.00%

9.00%

Alexander Lamar

TN

5.00%

21.00%

Note three of the absolute worst GOP senators on the environment and climate change are up for re-election. All of these Class II senators should be hammered for their performance to date, primary candidates who promise to vote with an eye to the environment should be encouraged to run against them, and their Democratic opponents aided (assuming they will promise to vote along party lines on the environment).

And yes, children should absolutely show up at their door steps and demand to know why these senators are selling out their futures, condemning children like them. Kids can easily understand that elected officials’ jobs are on the line in less than two years; they can tell these senators what they think of the job they’ve done so far and demand better.

The last four senators in the table above are special cases. Two are retiring, both Roberts (KS) and Alexander (TN); they have an opportunity to vote between now and the end of their term to favor the environment and to deter climate change. They should be pressed to do so. Their seats are open for the 2020 race and only candidates promising to vote for the environment should be supported.

McSally and Hyde-Smith don’t have scores at LCV yet. If they vote in line with their party, they need to go. Their Democratic opponents should be supported.

One last point: any entity filing paperwork to avoid paying taxes on revenues should be accountable to the public. That goes for environmental and climate change activism organizations filing as 501c3, 501c4, and PACs. They should have privacy policies and terms of service clearly posted on their websites if they are collecting email addresses and taking donations.

And if these activist groups are shepherding children anywhere, they had better have their organizational structure and team members listed on their site.

I certainly wouldn’t let any group I couldn’t identify fully use my children for their aims — especially if they aren’t doing a good job educating children on effective activism. I’d rather my family contacted its members of Congress directly and bypass any nonprofit organization which isn’t more transparent.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 12:15 P.M. ET —

Because apparently there are adults who need a goddamn picture to understand the problem:

The blue and pink parts of the Senate pie are willing to vote for climate change legislation. They have been friendly to the environment.

The red part of the Senate pie isn’t willing to vote for climate change, but it controls whether any legislation passes.

If you have a goddamn emergency needing legislation passed, there is NO WAY TO PASS IT unless you win over some of the red part of the Senate pie. By win over I mean persuade them now to vote on legislation, or vote them out and replace them with a climate-friendly candidate in 2020.

Further more, passing climate change legislation means not losing any of the blue or pink part of the pie.

A five-year old can understand this. So can a 16-year-old who will be 18 and eligible to vote in November 2020.

(Image source: Teen Vogue which is a damned fine media outlet.)

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