May 15, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Former federal judge who brought down the 'Teflon Don' steps into Flynn case (Erica Orden, Kara Scannell and David Shortell,  May 15, 2020, CNN)

An esteemed former federal judge himself, Gleeson, 66, entered the discourse around the Flynn case on Monday, when he and two other former Justice Department officials wrote in The Washington Post that among the steps US District Judge Emmet Sullivan could take would be to "appoint an independent attorney to act as a 'friend of the court,' ensuring a full, adversarial inquiry."

Saying the case "reeks of improper political influence," they wrote that "if prosecutors attempt to dismiss a well-founded prosecution for impermissible or corrupt reasons, the people would be ill-served if a court blindly approved their dismissal request. The independence of the court protects us all when executive-branch decisions smack of impropriety; it also protects the judiciary itself from becoming a party to corruption."

Now, according to Sullivan's order, Gleeson will articulate an argument against the Department of Justice's effort to end the prosecution and will weigh whether Flynn should face a perjury charge for contradictory statements he has given the court.

Former colleagues, contemporaries and friends of Gleeson's -- even some who have expressed sympathy for Flynn's position -- said they expect Gleeson's rigor, intellect and experience to be a welcome counterweight to the tumult of the case so far.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Jazz history lost: How a string of deaths from Covid-19 has left the jazz community in a state of shock (Kevin Le Gendre, 5/15/20, TLS)

It is hard, therefore, to convey the state of shock in which the jazz community now exists. The past month has seen a dramatic toppling of icons set off by the spread of Covid-19. The pianist Ellis Marsalis, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonists Manu Dibango and Lee Konitz, bassist Henry Grimes and trumpeter Wallace Roney all died in quick succession. This grim toll follows the passing of the pianist McCoy Tyner in March. That was an ominous start to the year but few could have imagined that by spring so many tall trees on the landscape of improvised music would have been so tragically felled.

Between them, these musicians were involved in landmark chapters in the epic story of jazz, with its deep roots in black America and growth the world over. Tyner was the last surviving member of the John Coltrane quartet, a mesmerizing group that brought a profoundly spiritual dimension to the sub-genre of "modal jazz" in the 1950s and 60s, while Konitz helped to usher in the urbane "cool school" with the likes of Miles Davis, Coltrane's one-time boss. Grimes played a notable role in the transition from "bebop" to "avant-garde", backing such legends as Thelonious Monk and Albert Ayler. Dibango was a pioneer of "Afro-jazz", fusing the rhythms and vocals of his native Cameroon with a love of American soloists in the 70s. As for Roney, he was one of the great virtuoso players of the 80s, 90s and twenty-first century, who performed brilliantly in both acoustic and electric settings.

Each time a death was announced, an important piece of living history disappeared.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The Moral Order of the World Points to God: The so-called "moral argument" gives evidence of God's existence. But it also points to his goodness and grace. (INTERVIEW BY CHRISTOPHER REESE, MARCH 17, 2020, Christianity Today)

As far back as the Apostle Paul's famous speech on Mars Hill, Christian thinkers have been contending for the credibility of the faith. Among contemporary evangelicals, the so-called "moral argument" for God's existence is one of the most popular. Although the argument comes in a variety of forms, it draws on one central idea: If you're a moral realist (rather than a moral relativist) who believes in objective good and evil, then philosophically speaking, those ethical standards have to be anchored in a divine source. In other words, moral order doesn't make sense without God.

In their new book, The Moral Argument: A History (Oxford University Press), David Baggett, professor of philosophy at Liberty University, and Jerry L. Walls, professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, trace the history of these arguments from their ancient roots to contemporary proponents like CS Lewis, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, and many others.

"The world has moral features to it that are best accounted for by theism," says Baggett. "What gives moral duties their authority? What gives human beings their essential dignity and inherent worth?" We can only answer these questions, argues Baggett, with direct reference to God's morally perfect nature and commands.

Christopher Reese spoke with Baggett about the influence of the moral argument and its relevance for both believers and nonbelievers today. [...]

As a scholar and teacher, how do you see students and others engage with the moral argument?

It's probably been most gratifying to see my doctoral students learn to think about the moral argument in both academically rigorous and eminently practical ways. Many of them are pastors, so they bring a practitioner's heart to their academic pursuits, and many of them have come to see the power of the moral argument in a number of fresh directions.

We often discuss the story of blogger Leah Libresco, who was an atheist until she eventually underwent a radical change of mind and became convinced that God exists. In her case, she came to think that it was her naturalistic assumptions that simply didn't cohere with the rest of her beliefs, including her strong convictions about virtue ethics. In other words, it was the moral argument that persuaded her.

In your opinion, how persuasive is the moral argument relative to other arguments for God's existence?

William Lane Craig has said that when he goes to colleges for debates, the moral argument is the one that tends to be the most persuasive among the audience. Similarly, when asked which argument from natural theology is the strongest, Alvin Plantinga says the moral argument.

Nothing much rides on which theistic argument is the most persuasive. The important thing is to see that the moral argument is an important apologetic resource and one that works best, I think, in tandem with other pieces of natural theology and special revelation. A number of factors likely contribute to the persuasive power of the moral argument. It has a disarming simplicity that appeals to the young, potential rigor that can appeal to the seasoned philosopher, and the resources to speak to everyone in between. Of course, no single argument in this arena reasonably can or should be expected to persuade everyone.

...while trying to arrive at the identical morality but absent any authority.  Authority being necessary or else each is entitled to his own.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


'Manipulative, deceitful, user': Tara Reade left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances: A number of those who crossed paths with Biden's accuser say they remember two things: She spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped. (NATASHA KORECKI, 05/15/2020, Politico)

Harriet Wrye did a double take the first time she saw Tara Reade on television lodging sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden.

"Jim, that's Tara," the 79-year-old author and psychologist called out to her husband, "but she has a different name."

Wrye and her husband knew Reade as Tara McCabe, the woman who had rented a yurt on their 12-acre California property and tended to the couple's horses -- and her own -- for about 10 months beginning in 2017. They were well-acquainted with their former tenant, who frequently knocked on the door of their home seeking emotional support, asking for financial help or forgiveness for late rent payments, which they granted.

"I would sit down and talk to her and try to be encouraging and supportive," said Wrye, who noted Reade "had heart and some good qualities."

"This lack of money was hugely problematic for her, she was always on the ropes in that way."

Reade had spoken highly of Biden, the former boss who employed her as a staff assistant from late 1992 to August 1993, and never mentioned assault or harassment, Wrye recalls. But what Wrye remembers most is that by the time Reade left their property and moved on, Wrye felt burned.

After her husband suffered a brain injury that forced the couple to sell the property, Wrye said, Reade turned on them.

"She became really difficult," Wrye said. "She said, 'You're going to have to pay me to get me to leave.'"

"She was manipulative," said Wrye, a self-described feminist and social activist. "She was always saying she was going to get it together, but she couldn't. And 'could you help her'?"

Wrye's distressing experience with Reade wasn't an isolated case. Over the past decade, Reade has left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances in California's Central Coast region who say they remember two things about her -- she spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped.

Welcome to Trumpdom...
Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Ahmaud Arberry Holds Us Accountable: Nobody belonged to the salt marshes of coastal Georgia more than Ahmaud Arbery. His family's roots there run more than 200 years deep. A native of those same marshes writes about who Ahmaud was, how well he was loved, and what his community must reckon with in the wake of his murder. (Jim Barger, Jr., May 2020, Bitter Southerner)

On Sunday morning February 23, 2020, I walked into darkness to the creek behind my home to watch the daybreak, new in all its glory. It's a habit of mine. The sun rose in streaks of color over the vast spartina marshes somewhere beyond the distant waves, lapping the shores of this barrier island deep in the recess of the Georgia bight where I was raised, where my wife was raised, where her people have been raised for generations as far back as folks can remember -- where together we are raising our two young sons. The tide was coming in at that golden hour, creeping across the fecund mud flats, sending fiddler crabs scurrying for cover. By the time Ahmaud Arbery had been murdered on a mainland street that afternoon at the southern end of our county, the tide had fallen again. Our dramatic tidal changes are shocking to those who aren't accustomed to them. The murky saline water ebbs and flows, rising and falling, pulsing with the ancient rhythms of the moon.

Ahmaud Arbery was from here. He descended from one of the oldest families in coastal Georgia, one of the oldest families in America for that matter. I know his relatives, personally, and I know their history. As we say in the South, "I know his people."  

As a young graduate student, before attending law school, I studied and documented African American folkways, specifically the 20th century folkways of the Georgia Sea Islands. For almost two years, I walked freely in all-black neighborhoods, knocking on doors, peeking into backyards and empty buildings, introducing myself, generally making a nuisance of myself -- and yet, I was always welcomed with a hospitality the likes of which I have not known since. For months at a time, I lived in an electric blue, single-wide trailer on an isolated island in the front yard of one of the families who supported my research and treated me like a son. Together we fished, hunted, and combed the beaches for conchs. We foraged for clams, saltwort, bay leaf, sassafras, wild grapes, wild herbs, and traditional medicines. They taught me sweetgrass basket-making and how to knit cast nets -- skills I never quite perfected. 

We worshipped and prayed together, ate smoked mullet and deviled crab together, drank cold beer and moonshine together, danced, laughed, and cried together. Mine was a strange white face intruding into their intensely private community, and yet not once did anyone demand me to explain what I was doing there or threaten my life because I was different or because they thought I didn't belong there. They treated me like a neighbor. Because of the friendship, love, and nurture they gave to me, I know exactly who Ahmaud Arbery's people are.

We can accurately trace Ahmaud's roots in the United States directly to the late 1700s when plantation owner Thomas Spalding, purchased captive Africans for forced labor on his rice and cotton plantation on Sapelo Island, the northernmost of the now loosely defined "Golden Isles" of the Georgia Sea Islands, which variously include St. Simons, Sea Island, Jekyll, Cumberland, and the mainland towns of Brunswick and Darien. The community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo is one of the few places left where direct descendants of enslaved people fastidiously preserve many of their West African words, syntax, roots, music, crafts, mythology, and traditions in a distinct Creole culture known as Geechee -- a word etymologists believe derives from the Kissi (pronounced Geezee) ethnic group of what today is known as coastal Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. 

During the War of 1812, Ahmaud's Geechee ancestors from Sapelo fought for the United States, even as we alienated all of the unalienable rights endowed upon them by their Creator and so extolled in our country's founding documents. After the Civil War, Ahmaud's ancestors bought their lands here as freedmen and paddled from the islands to the mainland in hand-hewn bateaus once every year to dutifully pay their taxes. Despite relentless attempts to steal their land, beat them down, and drive them out, Geechees like Ahmaud's ancestors thrived and settled throughout the Golden Isles and the mainland, living in harmony with this delicate estuarine ecosystem -- fishing, hunting, clamming, crabbing, oystering, and farming -- for more than a century before the first industrialists showed up to poison our waters with chemical plants and long before the first snowbirds arrived to convert our community into a sun-soaked playground for the rich and the retired. 

Ahmaud's birthright to this particular place is strong. His people's fight to maintain their ownership of this particular place is resolute. The dignity and kindness and richness of culture that they have imprinted on this place is indelible. And while that doesn't give him any greater right to life and justice than any other human anywhere, it does highlight the depravity of any argument that white men had a right to confront him with guns and end his life simply because he was a black man who stood his ground in their neighborhood, because he didn't explain and supplicate himself to them. 

But nobody belonged to this particular place more than Ahmaud Arbery. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM



Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa posits that to the contrary of the Trumpian line, the volume of unmasking requests related to Flynn's behavior, is a bad look for him--not the Obama administration. "This does not help Flynn," she told me. "This is a long list of names of people across disparate areas of government who independently felt that the intelligence reports they were reading were so alarming that they needed to know--without knowing, by the way, who it was beforehand--[who] the person was that was engaging in that communication or activity." Driving this point home, Rangappa asked of Grenell, "Why not go ahead and disclose the underlying intelligence report?" In other words, if the Trumpian line of attack is that these Obama officials were acting inappropriately and without cause, make that case. Of course, conspiracy theories don't thrive in context. And transparency has never been the currency of Trumpworld; details be damned.

The guilt is why the Trump DOJ refused a court order to release the transcripts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM



The number of coronavirus cases in Michigan increased by over 1,000 on the day of an armed anti-lockdown protest that demanded an immediate reopening of the state.

According to Michigan's Department of Health, at least 1,191 newly confirmed cases were reported on Thursday, as well as at least 73 deaths. It was a significant increase from the past few days, with at least 370 cases reported on Wednesday, 469 on Tuesday and 370 on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


US Senate approves bill calling for tougher response to China's crackdown on Uighur Muslims (New Arab, 15 May, 2020)

The United States Senate unanimously approved legislation on Thursday calling on the White House to increase its pressure on China over its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority.

The bipartisan bill urges President Donald Trump to toughen his response to China's crackdown and calls for sanctions against those responsible, Reuters reported.

Every regime that denies Muslims their right to self-determination should be treated similarly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Sweden's per capita coronavirus death toll is among the highest in the world -- a sign its decision to avoid a lockdown may not be working (Holly Secon and Ruobing Su, 5/14/20, BI)
At least 45 countries issued lockdowns to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in March and April. Sweden was not one of them.

Instead, the "Swedish model" encourages residents to voluntarily maintain social distance and allows businesses, restaurants, bars, and schools to remain open.

Data suggests the country may be paying a worrisome price, though: Sweden has a higher number of deaths per capita than many other countries with large outbreaks.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


'I wouldn't vote for me if I believed Tara Reade': Biden says about sexual harassment allegations (Mike Memoli, 5/15/20, NBC News)

Former Vice President Joe Biden, after again emphatically denying the claim of a former staffer that he sexually assaulted her nearly three decades ago, acknowledged for the first time Thursday the dilemma now facing some potential supporters in November, saying: "They should vote with their heart."

"If they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn't vote for me. I wouldn't vote for me if I believed Tara Reade," Biden told Lawrence O'Donnell during an extended interview Thursday on MSNBC.

...and the Trumpbots say it's specifically why they support him.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


What 74 former Biden staffers think about Tara Reade's allegations (Daniel Bush & Lisa Dejardins, May 15, 2020, PBS News Hour)

Over his decades-long career in the Senate, former Vice President Joe Biden was known as a demanding but fair and family-oriented boss, devoted to his home life in Delaware and committed to gender equality in his office.

He was not on a list of "creepy" male senators that female staffers told each other to avoid in the elevators on Capitol Hill.

Yet Biden, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was also a toucher, seemingly oblivious to whether physical contact made some women uncomfortable. That behavior has persisted in recent years. Biden is now facing fresh scrutiny after a former aide in March charged that he sexually assaulted her when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s, an allegation Biden has categorically denied.

The PBS NewsHour spoke with 74 former Biden staffers, of whom 62 were women, in order to get a broader picture of his behavior toward women over the course of his career, how they see the new allegation, and whether there was evidence of a larger pattern.

None of the people interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade. Former staffers said they believed Reade should be heard, and acknowledged that their experiences do not disprove her accusation. [...]

The interviews revealed previously unreported details about the Biden office when Reade worked there, such as an account that she lost her job because of her poor performance, not as retaliation for lodging complaints about sexual harassment, as Reade has said.

Other recollections from former staffers corroborated things she has described publicly, such as Biden's use of the Senate gym and a supervisor admonishing her for dressing inappropriately.

Overall, the people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.

"The one thing about Joe Biden is, he is a man of the highest character and that's why these accusations are so surreal and just can't comport with the man I worked with," said Marcia Lee Taylor, a senior policy advisor on the Judiciary Committee, where women held leading roles when Biden served as chairman.

But he had blindspots, which Biden himself has publicly acknowledged, when it came to how his interactions with women in public could make them uncomfortable.

One of the more delicious bits of gossip on the Hill these days is how oddly hot Brett Kavanaugh's clerks tend to be.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Study: Medieval arrows were as damaging as gunshots (PAUL RATNER, 15 May, 2020, Big Think)

A recent study found that one of the most powerful medieval weapons, the English longbow, was so forceful it could create wounds as bad as from modern gunshots. The bows, revealed a team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter in the U.K., could break long bones and were key to military victories like the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

This news looks to settle the long-standing debate about the impact of these weapons. 

David always beats Goliath.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Trump Now Rewriting History to Deny Russia Wanted Him to Win (Jonathan Chait, 5/14/20, New York)

Three years ago, American intelligence unanimously concluded that Russia's interference in the 2016 election had been designed, in part, to damage Hillary Clinton. But Trump has never accepted this finding, as it is woven into the narrative of his corrupt (if not provably criminal) relationship with Moscow. In 2018, a report by Devin Nunes's House Intelligence Committee ludicrously disputed the conclusion Russia even intervened on Trump's side at all.

Trump is not clever enough to realize that "I'm the toughest president on Russia, just ask Putin" is an obviously self-refuting defense.

In any case, you don't need to rely on the conclusions of intelligence officials to see that Russia developed a strong anti-Clinton, pro-Trump preference in the 2016 election. You don't even need to consider any of the surrounding facts that make this preference obvious, like Trump's financial ties with Moscow, or the icy hostility that grew out of Clinton's tenure as secretary of State. A handful of very well-known data points include:

1. Both Russia's domestic and international-facing propaganda organs openly touted Trump and attacked Clinton throughout the campaign.

2. Russian hackers stole Democratic Party emails and attempted to steal Clinton's immediately after Trump asked them to do so on national television.

3. A Russian agent held a meeting with top Trump campaign officials in 2016 to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton that was advertised in an email to Donald Trump Jr. as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


If Not 10,000, How Many Steps Should We Be Walking Each Day? (TANNER GARRITY,  MAY 15, 2020, Inside Hook)

Some 40 years later, an epidemiologist named I-Min Lee was in a friendly contest with her colleagues at the Harvard University School of Public Health to see which team could score the most overall steps per day. As the competition wore on and participants struggled to meet the daily goal of 10,000 steps, Lee did a little digging on the number and discovered the Yamasa backstory. And then, because this is Harvard we're talking about, she used her background in exercise study to launch a full research study, relating step volume with all-cause mortality in older women.

The number 10,000 didn't come up in her research, but the numbers 2,700 and 4,400 did. Over several years, she followed 17,000 women with a mean age of 72, and ultimately deduced that women who averaged 4,400 steps a day had lower mortality rates than those who averaged 2,700 steps a day. Her team's research suggested that a blanket "10,000 steps or bust" approach is counterproductive; based on age, gender and lifestyle, a far smaller number can still have positive impacts on longevity. This was reinforced in another study published in March of this year, which found lower all-cause mortality for a sample size including a range of middle-aged men and women, 36% of whom were obese. Those who walked closer to 8,000 steps a day (as opposed to 4,000) were considered healthier. [...]

Interestingly, that system also puts brisk walkers at a disadvantage in the daily race to 10,000. Which is a bit of a shame -- fast walking is one of the healthiest daily habits available to us. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in June 2019 found that people who routinely walk at least 100 steps a minute can expect to live 15-20 years longer. Not too shabby. The head researcher on the project, Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, reported that longer life expectancies were evident across a massive variance of participating body mass indexes, from 20 all the way up to 40 (which is characterized as obese).

That's because motoring down the sidewalk isn't just a gimmicky advertisement for suburban living. Brisk walking is a legitimate form of low-intensity cardio. Performed every single day, quicker strides serve to strengthen the heart, and are likely to lessen risk of a cardiovascular disease later in life (which everyone is at risk for -- CVDs, remember, account for over 30% of global deaths each year). This isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff; there were studies on the importance of "stride rate" back in 2014. In one study, participants who reached at least 5,000 steps a day while mixing in aerobic steps (periods of walking 60 steps per minute) scored more desirable readings for body fat percentage, waist circumference and systolic blood pressure than those who reached 5,000 steps a day without any aerobic steps.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


I was a conspiracy theorist, too: I know why people turn to conspiracy theories in uncertain times. I did the same when my husband had a brain tumor. (Dannagal G. Young,  May 15, 2020, Vox)

I started searching for information to account for the causes of his brain tumor, which eventually led me down a dark internet rabbit hole. Perhaps there were chemicals at his job that caused the tumor, I thought. One of his 30-year-old coworkers had died of cancer several years prior. That seemed weird, didn't it? And now Mike with this brain tumor? When I mentioned this to his doctors, they pointed out that for a company of more than 300 employees, these numbers were far below average.

What about environmental carcinogens, then? I thought. We had recently moved to a new neighborhood near the site of an old diaper company that was in need of environmental remediation for spilled "chlorinated solvents and heating oil" from the 1970s and '80s. That seemed bad and probably had adverse effects, I thought. But Mike had started showing symptoms of the tumor just three weeks after we moved in, and the doctors explained that craniopharyngiomas don't appear that fast. It had likely been present in Mike's brain for years, maybe decades.

Each time I landed on a possible culprit, my anger reenergized me. Instead of making me feel hopeless, it gave me a target and suggested there might be some action I could take. If it were from his work or from an old factory site, maybe I could file a lawsuit. Maybe I could launch an investigation or trigger some media exposé. If I could just find the right person or thing to blame, I could get some justice. Or vengeance. Or ... maybe just a sense of control.

In 2001, social psychologists Jennifer Lerner and Dacher Keltner studied how anger and fear have very different effects on how we think about ourselves and our world. Their research found that feelings of anger (compared to fear) are associated with increased feelings of certainty, control, and optimism. Especially when people contemplate "ambiguous events" -- such as having a heart attack at a young age or being unable to find a job -- anger translates into higher perceptions of control. Once anger triggers feelings of control, feelings of optimism follow.

This is why identifying someone to blame for Mike's tumor gave me the focus and will to stop crying and get out of bed. Instead of wallowing in grief, I became a warrior furiously charging in a precise direction. My anger invigorated me; it lifted me up out of the sea of muck we were stuck in.

Under conditions of uncertainty, information that helps direct our negative emotions toward a target is psychologically comforting. When we feel powerless in a situation that is both complex and overwhelming, the identification of people and institutions to "blame" feels good to us.

This explains not only families lashing out when their loved ones are ill, but also the appeal of conspiracy theories more broadly. Especially in the context of ambiguous and terrible events like 9/11 or the Sandy Hook shooting, conspiracy theories increase perceptions of control. Such narratives typically point to the existence of secret plots by powerful actors working behind the scenes, either to cause the horrible chaos or to fabricate it. The anger we then feel toward these "powerful actors" is accompanied by a feeling of efficacy (confidence in one's ability to effectively navigate the world), hence increasing the likelihood that we will take action -- by engaging in political participation, protest, or, in the case of a loved one's medical situation, maybe filing a lawsuit.

For Hoffer's hero is 'the autonomous man,' the content man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.  In Hoffer's book, this hero, nourished by free societies, is set off against 'the true believer,' who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal.
            -Editor's Preface to the Time-Life Books edition of The True Believer

How Conspiracies Became Trump's Governing Ideology (Alex Henderson, May 15 | 2020. National Memo)

On the far right, the racist conspiracy theory known as birtherism has faded into the background. The reactionary movement has moved on to new nefarious myths, including the QAnon miasma and claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci is using the coronavirus pandemic to undermine Donald Trump's presidency.

But journalist Adam Serwer, in a piece for The Atlantic this week, stresses that the importance of birtherism to the right wing goes way beyond their disdain for Obama -- it is part of a broader ideology of white nationalism and white supremacy. And the prominence of conspiracy theories features in other articles published this week by the Atlantic, including one by Jefferey Goldberg and another by Adrienne LaFrance.

"Birtherism is the baseless conjecture that the 44th president of the United States not only was born abroad and was therefore, ineligible for the presidency, but also, was a secret Muslim planning to undermine America from within," Serwer explains. "It is the combination of these two elements that transformed birtherism from mere false speculation about Obama's birth to a statement of values about who belongs in America and who does not."

According to Serwer, it is a mistake to think that birtherism was strictly about Obama. It was a celebration of white supremacist and white nationalist ideology in general, and Trump continued to embrace birtherism even when he quit questioning the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate.

"Birtherism was a statement of values, a way to express allegiance to a particular notion of American identity -- one that became the central theme of the Trump campaign itself: to Make America Great Again, to turn back the clock to an era where white political and cultural hegemony was unthreatened by black people, by immigrants, by people of a different faith," Serwer writes. "By people like Barack Obama. The calls to disavow birtherism missed the point: Trump's entire campaign was birtherism."

Trump, according to Serwer, doesn't have to talk about Obama's birth certificate in order to promote birtherism in 2020 -- his whole presidency has been one big assertion of birtherism.

What could more clrearly represent a loss of control for older white men than the election of a black president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Musings on Neoliberalism (David Azerrad, May 14, 2020, American Compass)

Neoliberalism also seems too elastic a concept to be meaningful. [...]

In spite of these reservations, I have since come around, in part because I could not find a better alternative, but also because everyone else uses it and language is about common usage (English, in particular, is quite Hayekian in its embrace of a decentralized marketplace of words, unlike, say, the French with their Académie Française).

What exactly, then, is neoliberalism? This new liberalism, as Friedman explains, is an attempt to correct the "basic error" of nineteenth-century classical liberalism by its twentieth-century sympathizers. Classical liberalism failed to recognize that the state would need to do more than merely maintain order and enforce contracts. According to Friedman, it would also have to preserve competitive markets, ensure a stable monetary supply and alleviate misery.

For our purposes, the particulars of Friedman's account matter less than the fact that neoliberalism came to mean private property and free markets--i.e. no centrally planned economy in which the state owns the means of production--plus some additional state functions. Friedman limited himself to three, but the neoliberal framework could readily accommodate others, like environmental, health, and safety regulations, or entitlements.

In the broadest sense then, anyone who advocates neither pure laissez-faire nor full-blown collectivism could be described as a neoliberal. Thus understood, the term is essentially useless as it applies to anyone to the right of Marx and to the left of von Mises (who, in 1947, famously stormed out of the first meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society, which had been convened by Hayek, shouting "You're all a bunch of socialists!").

If neoliberalism is to have any meaning, we should instead identify its characteristic features, including the most capacious ones that account for the term's elasticity. Neoliberalism, as the term is used today (and it should be noted that it is almost always used pejoratively), appears to have four salient characteristics:

It is friendly to markets and business
It tends towards open borders on trade and immigration
It generally favors lower taxes and lighter regulation
It accepts the need for a welfare state and redistribution

This is, not coincidentally, the American consensus that the Right and Left rage against.  Their decompensation is perfectly understandable because this bargain represents a rejection of each of their projects. The Right imagined itself able to defend a capitalism without any wealth redistribution; the Left a system of wealth redistribution without any capitalism. Instead, experience taught us that redistribution only made capitalism more productive and only capitalism produced ever greater wealth for us to redistribute.  Globalization, being the universal spread of this reality--along with the other two planks of the End of History; democracy and capitalism--the resistance is as natural as it is futile.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism? (Jodi Dean, 5/12/20, LA Review of Books)

Over the past decade, "neofeudalism" has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen's emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible -- construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek's attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating "a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure -- with its often unassailable barriers to mobility -- than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism." In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology's role in contemporary feudalization even as they don't embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a "hyper-modern form of feudalism."

You can see the problem with this analysis pretty easily: (1) those companies provide their services for free; (2) the current crisis demonstrates our willingness, even eagerness, to transfer wealth to folks who aren't doing any jobs at all.  The "lords" effectively provide for the "peasants" now.  It's why folks feel so guilty about enjoying the lockdown.  It's fun.

Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being (Donna Lu,  6 May 2020, New Scientist)

The world's most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients' mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment.

Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached.

The payments of €560 per month weren't means tested and were unconditional, so they weren't reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren't able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation.

Minna Ylikännö at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland announced the findings in Helsinki today via livestream.

The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.

Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits.

There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children, as well as those whose first language wasn't Finnish or Swedish - but the researchers aren't yet sure why.

When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.

Money for nothing?: A universal basic income is not as costly as it sounds - and Scotland should be allowed to try it (Tom Miers, 14 May, 2020, The Critic)

In fact it's something of a mystery why it has never been tried properly, despite being suggested by everyone from Thomas More to Milton Friedman. For while the headline cost is astronomical, the net cost is zero. That's because those who are out of work at the moment are already receiving benefits, and those in work would, on aggregate, get back the extra that they paid in tax. If I'm paying £5,000 more in tax I'm not going to mind if I'm getting £5,000 back in UBI (perhaps even on the same payslip).

So in the age of the welfare state, where state support for the poorest is a given, the main attraction of UBI should be for the right, not the left. A universal payment eradicates the poverty traps created when people move off benefits and into work. If benefits are 'targeted' at the unemployed, as they are now, you sometimes barely gain when you get a job, so a lot of people prefer to stay on benefits. Paying everyone a minimum, whether in work or not, provides a powerful incentive to work.

All things considered, then, UBI should actually cost less than the current welfare state because you'd get more people in employment, allowing lower rates of tax/benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Working from home during coronavirus is going so well that this Fortune 100 company is going to keep doing it--permanently (LEE CLIFFORD, May 11, 2020, Fortune)

Most CEOs are anxiously counting the days until the coronavirus pandemic recedes, and employees can get back to the office. But Nationwide's CEO Kirt Walker has a slightly different take on working from home: It's working.

The company's pandemic experiment has gone so well that they've decided to make the arrangement permanent for many of the company's employees.

The shift took place fast--in early March, the privately held insurer (#75 on the 2019 Fortune 500) moved 98%+ of its 27,000 employees to working from home over five business days. "The first thing we wanted to do was keep our associates safe, stay connected to our members, and do our part for America to flatten the curve," says Walker.

But overall, once the tech issues were ironed out, there was a surprising finding: "We've tracked all of our key performance indicators, and there has been no change," says Walker, who joined as CEO in 2019. "We keep hearing from members, 'if you hadn't announced you were all working from home, we never would have known.'"

Just ending commuter culture will transform our lives.