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kottke.org posts about politics

Eric Godal’s Anti-Fascist Illustrations Updated for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

Piascik Anti Fascist

Piascik Anti Fascist

In the 1930s and 40s, artist Eric Godal drew some anti-fascist political cartoons that urged people not to listen to right-wing authoritarians who want to destroy and pillage society for their own ends. Godal, a German Jew, had escaped the clutches of Nazi Germany in the 30s and labored to warn America and the world about the fate of the Jews in Europe.1

Illustrator Chris Piascik has updated Godal’s drawings for 2020 to feature our own corrupt crackpot wannabe dictator. Calling Donald Trump a fascist is hardly controversial these days — he clearly is. What his supporters need to reckon with is: are they?

  1. Godal’s mother was able to get out of Germany on a boat but was denied entry to the United States as a refugee by the Roosevelt administration. She was sent back and eventually murdered in a Nazi death camp.

Using Conservative Logic to Defend History’s Greatest Monsters

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2020

Greg Larsen on Twitter this morning:

Name someone who is universally agreed to be evil (genocidal dictator, serial killer etc) and I’ll defend them and their actions using conservative logic.

Here are some of his responses, starting with serial murderer John Wayne Gacy:

Great now the left is trying to besmirch a man who literally worked at CHILDREN’S HOSPITALS helping to cheer up sick kids by being a clown! Is there any low that the left won’t sink to, attacking a children’s entertainer? It’s just sad.

Wile E. Coyote:

Convenient that the footage starts on Wile E Coyote but we don’t see what Roadrunner was doing before hand. So this violent antifa roadrunner could be speeding around, looking for trouble and violence and the footage starts right when the Coyote is defending himself.

Emperor Palpatine:

When a leftist opposes law and order you have to wonder their motivations. Seems to me the Empire brought peace to the galaxy and it was radical leftist terrorists that were destroying that peace. Why? Because they were sad that the government wasn’t giving them handouts?

Jack the Ripper:

Criticize him all you want, but in a way he was good for the economy. Books, films, tourism, a whole genre of entertainment sprung up around him. Think of how many lives he has saved an enriched by helping the British economy. Facts don’t care about your feelings.

Kim Jong Un:

Show me literally one photo, one piece of footage, literally anything of Kim Jong Un killing anyone, or doing anything bad to anyone. I’ll wait.

And SARS-CoV-2:

Literally the hardest working virus in 2020. Creating healthcare work, bringing people together, and by every measurable standard a raging success in the virus world but that doesn’t fit the leftist narrative of “success = evil”

(thx, mark)

Manifest Density and American Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2020

I ran across this Facebook post by Shannon Welch the other day and while I don’t agree with some of it (more about that in a bit), I do think there’s something to her argument that the density of the place you grew up in or have spent a lot of time in has an effect on how you view the world, your neighbors, and your political situation.

So why does this matter? Because how you were raised and how you live has a huge impact on what matters to you from your politicians and your government.

Those I know that grew up in less dense areas had to be self-reliant. When calling 911 means you’re likely waiting 20 minutes or longer for police, an ambulance, or a fire truck. You have to be able to defend yourself, handle your own first aid, and rely on your neighbors to help in critical emergency situations. When I tell people in Southern California that where I grew up had volunteer firefighters and EMTs they don’t believe me.

The more rural you are, the less you rely on government entities for your day-to-day needs. The most rural have well water, septic systems, take their trash to the dump, if it snows, they have a vehicle that can plow, and the truly rural use propane for power and heat. They are not reliant on most services provided by the public utilities. They use guns as tools to protect their animals and their family from prey and from vermin. They do not really encounter homeless people, as even the poorest can usually find a shack to live out of and require a vehicle to get around. These people in less dense areas do not depend on the government to solve their problems. They’d prefer government stay out of their lives completely. Less taxes, less oversight, less being told what to do. To the rural, it seems like every time the government interferes in their life, they lose another freedom, and their quality of life diminishes.

Those I know that grew up in more dense areas are used to calling 911 to handle emergencies. Their streets are swept in the summer and plowed in the winter. Their trash is picked up on the same day weekly. They don’t have space for cars and tools, so they tend to take public transportation or walk. They call someone when something breaks that requires tools they don’t own. They are used to encountering the homeless on the streets as part of their daily life. The truly poor and homeless usually end up in cities as the services to help the sick, mentally ill and the poorest among us are more available in dense areas. So the wealthy interact with the poor in cities far more than they do in rural areas. Those in higher density areas are willing to pay for government services because they are a regular part of their daily lives and make life more manageable. Without these services, the quality of life they know would not exist.

But I don’t think the following is at all accurate though — perhaps a case of overstatement to prove a point:

I truly believe our population density experience matters more to our political views than education, income, race, gender or sexuality.

It’s Very Hard to Tear Down a Bridge Once It’s Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2020

Many people inside and outside the USPS have raised concerns over the past few weeks about changes implemented by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that could be interpreted as an attempt to sabotage the delivery of the expected surge in mail-in ballots this November. Two days ago, DeJoy issued a statement addressing these concerns:

I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election. In the meantime, there are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic. To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.

He also promised that “mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are” and “and we reassert that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed”. During a call with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi yesterday, DeJoy stated that “he has no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other infrastructure that have been removed”. Vice’s Aaron Gordon shared internal USPS emails that say sorting machines already removed or disconnected should not be reconnected:

Shortly after USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a public statement saying he wanted to “avoid even the appearance” that any of his policies would slow down election mail, USPS instructed all maintenance managers around the country not to reconnect or reinstall any mail sorting machines they had already disconnected, according to emails obtained by Motherboard.

“I will not be setting that building on fire in the future,” says the arsonist as the building burns behind him. This reminds me of a story that Robert Caro told about Robert Moses in this interview.

I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I’ve never forgotten. He said Moses didn’t want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.

Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. “Legislation can always be changed. It’s very hard to tear down a bridge once it’s up.” So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.

We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I’d sleep til 12 and then we’d go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren’t any black people at the beach.

So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column — there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.

The situation here is reversed — e.g. “it’s very hard to rebuild a bridge once it’s torn down” — but the lesson is the same. If you take mailboxes off the streets and junk sorting machines, it’s difficult to put them back, particularly when everyone’s baseline shifts over the next few months and the decreased capacity and delays are normalized (and then exploited for political advantage). Destroying the United States Post Office would be far easier and cheaper than rebuilding it.

Michelle Obama Makes the Case for Voting Trump Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2020

In her impassioned speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama made her case for Americans to come together and vote Donald Trump out of office. In her remarks, she zeroed in on his incompetence, his total lack of empathy for anyone but himself, and his desire for division.

So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a black woman speaking at the Democratic convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.

So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can, and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.

And voting this year means putting in some extra work so that our votes count:

But this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden. We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same.

We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown-bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.

You can read the entire transcript of her speech or watch it above. It’s worth your time.

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Dip of Shit

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

USPS Rain Snow Fascism

An anonymous USPS employee has written about the recent changes at the Post Office since new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (“a lifelong Republican, a Trump mega-donor/fundraiser, and a high ranking RNC official”) took over and has set about gutting it from the inside.

All of the potential angles for corruption make DeJoy’s aims pretty tough to figure out. He’s a small market conservative from the private sector running a massive government agency. He’s a Trump ally running the agency responsible for ballots during an election year. He also has a direct financial interest in seeing us fail. Take your pick. You’re probably right no matter what. And judging by the chaos he’s unleashed into USPS in just his first two months, “all of the above” might be your best bet.

See, up until just two months ago, every letter carrier, clerk, mail handler, truck driver, etc, worked under one pretty simple philosophy: every piece, every address, every day. Everyone in the chain of custody for mail made sure every piece got as far along in the system as it could, and if it made it to my hands, in my office, it was getting delivered. That’s how I’ve done it for my career, how the guys who have been doing it for forty years have always done it, and that’s literally how Ben Fucking Franklin’s guys did it. You can almost hear Aaron Sorkin’s orgasm as he punches up the Bradley Whitford speech about the majesty of it all.

But two months ago is also when that abruptly stopped. After a couple hundred years, it just…stopped. On the ground floor, there’s a lot of arguing about who is ordering what, and what’s going to be permanent, and what’s going to be a trial run, but at the end of the day, the result is obvious: I go into my job, every single morning, and don’t deliver hundreds of pieces of available mail that used to get delivered. The only reason given is some vague nonsense about “operational efficiency” and “cost savings.”

And this was written before reports of sorting machines being removed without explanation ahead of a presumed huge surge of election-related mail. I think we should actually be pretty alarmed by this. Here’s Jamelle Bouie on Trump’s election night strategy (and how to counter it: vote in person):

There’s no mystery about what President Trump intends to do if he holds a lead on election night in November. He’s practically broadcasting it.

First, he’ll claim victory. Then, having spent most of the year denouncing vote-by-mail as corrupt, fraudulent and prone to abuse, he’ll demand that authorities stop counting mail-in and absentee ballots. He’ll have teams of lawyers challenging counts and ballots across the country.

He also seems to be counting on having the advantage of mail slowdowns, engineered by the recently installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Fewer pickups and deliveries could mean more late-arriving ballots and a better shot at dismissing votes before they’re even opened, especially if the campaign has successfully sued to block states from extending deadlines. We might even see a Brooks Brothers riot or two, where well-heeled Republican operatives stage angry and voluble protests against ballot counts and recounts.

(via waxy)

Designing the Unknown: the New Biden-Harris Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that Senator Kamala Harris would be his vice-presidential running mate. The campaign was quickly updated to include a new Biden-Harris logo designed by Hoefler&Co. in collaboration with Biden campaign advisor Robyn Kanner:

Biden Harris Logo

But the designer of the logo wasn’t told who the running mate would be beforehand, so how did the campaign get it out so quickly? According to Jonathan Hoefler, the design team designed a whole collection of logos for potential candidates gleaned from reading the media tea leaves.

A consequential decision at an unpredictable time, conducted under absolute secrecy, poses an interesting dilemma to the typographer: how do you create a logo without knowing for certain what the words will say? Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an eisenhower will hardly work for a taft. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.

I would love to see some of those alternate designs (Biden-Warren!), but there’s no way in hell they’ll ever see the light of day, especially before the election.

Update: Several designers weigh in on the new logo. I love Debbie Millman’s take:

I never, ever thought I’d say this after a lifetime in professional branding, but on the spectrum of good branding versus effective branding, I’d say at this point it is irrelevant. Frankly, the Biden-Harris logo could have been scribbled on a napkin and I’d be happy. Trump’s brand is beyond repair and is now more dangerous than ever. The soul of our country is at stake.

That logos don’t matter that much (unless they are either great or horrible) is probably true more often than designers and branding folks would care to admit.

QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

Kirby Ferguson, creator of the Everything Is a Remix and This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory video series, has a new video out that attempts to explain the rise of QAnon, conspiracy theories, and magical thinking in America.

Ferguson zeros in on the divide between two different ways people make sense of a complex, chaotic, and uncertain world: evidence seeking and magical thinking. All of us employ both of these techniques to help ease our anxiety about the world, but those who tend towards magical thinking arrive at explanations that are based primarily on instinct, emotion, feelings, and gut reaction while evidence seekers mostly rely on scientific and empirical reasoning.

He also identifies six main aspects of magical thinking:

1. Obsession with symbols and codes (e.g. pizza as a “deep state” code for child trafficking)
2. Dot connecting (e.g. linking 5G with Covid-19)
3. Behind every event is a plan concocted by a person (e.g. Soros and the “deep state” conspiracy)
4. Purity (e.g. the Satanic panic and heavy metal music)
5. Apocalypse is nigh (e.g. the “deep state” again)
6. Preoccupation with good and evil (e.g. liberals are not only wrong but evil)

For me, the key quote about magical thinking is this one for late in the video: “These are not systems of knowledge, and they cannot build solutions. They can only criticize and second-guess.”

Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John Lewis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2020

At John Lewis’s funeral yesterday, Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for his friend and mentor, praising him for his achievements in the struggle for civil rights. He also took the opportunity to suggest what politicians might do to honor Lewis and to continue his struggle, beyond just words. From the text of his speech:

If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy of work of all the Congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, trying to get back to where we already were. Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better.

By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance.

By adding polling places, and expanding early voting, and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are someone who is working in a factory, or you are a single mom who has got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot.

By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C. and in Puerto Rico. They are Americans.

By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering — so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around.

And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

Only Six Weeks to Eliminate Coronavirus in the US? Sure.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

From We Can Eliminate Covid-19 if We Want To by Andy Slavitt:

We can virtually eliminate the virus any time we decide to. We can be back to a reasonably normal existence: schools, travel, job growth, safer nursing homes and other settings. And we could do it in a matter of weeks. If we want to.

Take New Zealand. With its fancy curve and life back to normal. Why can’t we? Not fair, you say. It’s an island nation. Okay. What about Germany? Not an island nation, large, growing diversity. Don’t like that comparison? What about countries that have been in big trouble? There’s Italy, France, and Spain. Those countries had it reasonably bad the same time we did. In fact, pick virtually any country you want.

But don’t tell me the United States can’t take action if we want to. And we can’t face the families of 150,000 people who didn’t have to die and tell them this had to happen. And I think it’s why our national political leaders won’t go near these families and the grieving process.

The good news — and it is good news — is we are always four to six weeks from being able to do what countries around the world have done.

I know this article is supposed to be hopeful and optimistic, but people have known what to do about Covid-19 since at least March. Instead the United States has not done it and indeed has done mostly the opposite. The “we” that are supposed to decide to lead this effort won’t because they don’t want to put in the work (it’s easier to blame the virus, Democrats, and China), they don’t want to just give money to people to stay home (a huge no-no for Republicans), and they don’t care that much about who is dying (urbanites, low-income, the elderly, Black & brown people).

As long as Republicans control the Senate and White House, the current scattershot approach of each state/county/city/person deciding what is best (or most in their self-interest) is what we’re stuck with. Treatments will improve, vaccines will be developed, many people will do the right thing and mostly stay home for many more months (sacrificing their mental health to do so), and Covid-19 will eventually come under control, but hundreds of thousands more people will die, many more will recover but carry chronic illnesses for years, vital years of the survivors’ lives will have been lost, and we will collectively grieve these losses for generations.

How to Make Our Communities Safer by Reducing Our Reliance on Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

From Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, a list of 10 Ways To Reduce Our Reliance On Policing And Make Our Communities Safer For Everyone, which includes proposals like having mental health and social workers to respond to crises, have crime labs operate independently of law enforcement, and replacing cops in schools with counselors & safety coaches.

For children growing up during the era of mass incarceration, seeing armed officers in their schools is commonplace. Federal grants have supported more and more cops in schools. Federal programs like the Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) have provided millions of dollars to hire and train local police, including police in schools.

Police officers do not have specialized training in adolescent or childhood development. They are not mental health experts, social workers with licensed degrees, psychologists, or school counselors. They are not educators. To be clear, school resource officers are career law enforcement officers, with arresting authority, and a license to carry a weapon. Police officers patrol school hallways just like they do city streets. More than one and a half million students attend schools with an SRO, but no counselor.

There are better, safer, and cheaper alternatives. In 2016, Intermediate School District 287, a school west of the Twin Cities with a high concentration of students with special needs and mental health needs that can result in behavior issues, replaced their school resource officers with Student Safety Coaches. The Student Safety Coaches specialize in mental health, restorative justice, de-escalation, and building positive relationships with their students. Arrests decreased by 80 percent in the pilot school after implementation of the program.

The common, and commonsense, thread through all of these proposals is to replace armed, untrained responders who make difficult situations less safe with people & organizations that are specifically trained to help people in distress or crisis.

See also Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police.

Daft Trump - Harder, Woman, Faster, Camera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2020

Donald Trump’s idiotic brag about how well he did on a cognitive test (“Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”) set to Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

You just have to laugh because if you actually stop to think about how much harm this man has done and will continue to do in his remaining time in office, the incandescent rage might make you pass out.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Speaks on the House Floor About Abusive Behavior Towards Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2020

Earlier this week, Republican Representative Ted Yoho accosted Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol Building and called her “disgusting”, “crazy”, “dangerous”, and, as a parting shot, a “fucking bitch”. After Yoho offered a non-apology on the House floor, Ocasio-Cortez responded to both the incident and his remarks in a short speech before the House.

The video is only 10 minutes long — I urge you to watch the whole thing if you haven’t seen it. It’s masterful. Here are some excerpts from the transcript.

This is not new, and that is the problem. Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams, and that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, and an entire structure of power that supports that. Because not only have I been spoken to disrespectfully, particularly by members of the Republican Party and elected officials in the Republican Party, not just here, but the President of the United States last year told me to go home to another country, with the implication that I don’t even belong in America. The governor of Florida, Governor DeSantis, before I even was sworn in, called me a “whatever that is”. Dehumanizing language is not new, and what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern. This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others.

I do not need Representative Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly he does not want to. Clearly when given the opportunity he will not and I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women, but what I do have issue with is using women, our wives and daughters, as shields and excuses for poor behavior. Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

As a reminder, properly apologizing to someone requires:

1. An expression of regret - this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
4. A declaration of repentance.
5. An offer of repair.
6. A request for forgiveness.

As Ocasio-Cortez correctly notes, Yoho’s attempt does not make the grade.

And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote, he apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.

Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country. It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol. It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit, admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us.

Again, I urge you to watch the whole thing — it’s full of powerful truths expertly and passionately delivered. Among many thoughts I had while watching it, one in particular kept rising in my mind: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will one day be President of the United States and we will be very lucky to have her.

Update: Ocasio-Cortez didn’t write out her speech ahead of time; she jotted down a few notes just minutes before she started speaking.

AOC Speech Notes

Many have asked me if my speech was pre-written. The answer is no. But in some ways, yes. Yes because this speech was a recounting of thoughts that so many women and femme people have carried since the time we were children. It flowed because every single one of us has lived this silent script: stay silent (why?), keep your head down (for whom?), suck it up (to whose benefit?). But my chosen words were largely extemporaneous. I got to the House floor about ten minutes before my speech and scribbled down some quick notes after reflecting on what had transpired over the last few days. Pictured here are all the notes I had, and from there I improvised my composition and spoke live.

Update: In a profile of Ocasio-Cortez in Vanity Fair, a new detail in this story:

This part hasn’t been reported: The next day Ocasio-Cortez approached Yoho and told him, “You do that to me again, I won’t be so nice next time.” She felt his actions had violated a boundary, stepping “into the zone of harassment, discrimination.” His mocking response, straight out of Veep: “Oh, boo-hoo.” Publicly, Yoho doubled down, issuing a non-apology on the House floor, citing his wife and daughters as character witnesses.

The Pandemic and the American Mountain of Dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

For his piece The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything in The Atlantic, James Fallows talked to many scientists, health experts, and government officials about the US government’s response to the pandemic. In the article, he compares the pandemic response to how the government manages air safety and imagines what it would look like if we investigated the pandemic catastrophe like the National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane crashes.

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

And he continues:

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that — when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell — will be a central part of the history of our times.

But he rightly pins much of the blame for the state we’re in on the Trump administration almost completely ignoring the plans put into place for a viral outbreak like this that were developed by past administrations, both Republican and Democratic alike.

In cases of disease outbreak, U.S. leadership and coordination of the international response was as well established and taken for granted as the role of air traffic controllers in directing flights through their sectors. Typically this would mean working with and through the World Health Organization — which, of course, Donald Trump has made a point of not doing. In the previous two decades of international public-health experience, starting with SARS and on through the rest of the acronym-heavy list, a standard procedure had emerged, and it had proved effective again and again. The U.S, with its combination of scientific and military-logistics might, would coordinate and support efforts by other countries. Subsequent stages would depend on the nature of the disease, but the fact that the U.S. would take the primary role was expected. When the new coronavirus threat suddenly materialized, American engagement was the signal all other participants were waiting for. But this time it did not come. It was as if air traffic controllers walked away from their stations and said, “The rest of you just work it out for yourselves.”

From the U.S. point of view, news of a virulent disease outbreak anywhere in the world is unwelcome. But in normal circumstances, its location in China would have been a plus. Whatever the ups and downs of political relations over the past two decades, Chinese and American scientists and public-health officials have worked together frequently, and positively, on health crises ranging from SARS during George W. Bush’s administration to the H1N1 and Ebola outbreaks during Barack Obama’s. As Peter Beinart extensively detailed in an Atlantic article, the U.S. helped build China’s public-health infrastructure, and China has cooperated in detecting and containing diseases within its borders and far afield. One U.S. official recalled the Predict program: “Getting Chinese agreement to American monitors throughout their territory — that was something.” But then the Trump administration zeroed out that program.

Americans, and indeed everyone in the world, should be absolutely furious about this, especially since the situation is actively getting worse after months (months!) of inactivity by the federal government.

Mass Covid-19 Death in Brazil

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2020

My God, this aerial photo of dozens of recent graves in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil:

Brazil Covid-19 graves

The photo is one of several from In Focus’s look at the Thousands of Burials Across Latin America. Brazil has 1.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, second most in the world (but only half the total of the US) and 55,000 confirmed deaths, though the number is likely much higher when you take excess mortality rates into account. Way back in April, when the reported death toll in Brazil was only (only!) ~3300, NPR reported on the mass graves and modified funeral procedures that were necessary due to Covid-19 and the Brazilian government’s disastrous response to it.

Yet the coronavirus has introduced a new kind of horror. The Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery has begun using backhoes to dig mass graves.

This has become “the only option” because it is “humanly impossible” to dig the required number of graves, says Viana, who runs a funeral company and is president of the Syndicate of Funeral Businesses in Amazonas.

According to Viana, the city’s daily average of deaths has risen from 30 to more than 100. The mayor’s office confirmed to NPR that there have been 340 burials just in the past three days. In most cases, the cause of death was listed as unknown, said a city hall spokeswoman.

City authorities are in little doubt that COVID-19 victims account for most of the spike. This means the virus is taking a far deadlier toll on Manaus than the official count of 172 virus-related deaths suggests. The reported death toll throughout Brazil is 3,313.

Video footage has appeared online showing the collapse of Manaus’ burial services and public hospitals. In one, corpses lie on beds in a hospital alongside live patients undergoing treatment. Another shows a line of vans waiting to deliver bodies for burial at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery.

The many layers of trauma from the pandemic are going to resonate for decades in places like Brazil and the US. Decades.

A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Since the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, the editors at McSweeney’s have been keeping track of his various “misdeeds”. With the election coming up, they’ve published the full list: Lest We Forget the Horrors: A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes: The Complete Listing (So Far).

We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten. This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.

I know we know who this guy is by now (we knew who he was before he was elected), but the categories they’re using for a sitting US President is still shocking and upsetting — including “Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Bullying” and “White Supremacy, Racism, & Xenophobia”. I read through the 739 items in the list (so far) and pulled out some of the lowlights.

June 16, 2015 — In his speech announcing his candidacy for President of the United States, Donald Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

October 7, 2016 — In the 2005 Access Hollywood tape, Donald Trump bragged to Billy Bush about grabbing women by their genitals without consent. In the video published by the Washington Post, Trump said, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy.” Trump said his statements were “locker room banter” and apologized “if anyone was offended.” He later issued a further response to the tape’s release, saying, “I’ve never said I’m a perfect person.”

October 7, 2016 — Donald Trump reiterated his false claim that the young men known as the “Central Park Five” were guilty of sexually assaulting a jogger in 1989, despite DNA evidence that exonerated them.

February 1, 2017 — In a rollback of an Obama-era protection, Donald Trump’s White House withdrew the Mercury Effluent Rule, which regulated the safe use and disposal of mercury in American dental offices. The Natural Resource Defense Council estimated the repeal would discharge five tons of the neurotoxic substance into water supplies each year. Even trace amounts of mercury can harm brain function and damage the human nervous system, particularly in pregnant women and infants.

March 10, 2017 — Donald Trump abruptly ordered 46 Obama-era prosecutors to tender their resignations. Among the dismissed prosecutors was Preet Bharara, an attorney renowned for his work uprooting government corruption. Bharara served as the U.S. attorney in New York City and, at the time of his removal, had jurisdiction over Trump Tower in New York. When he was fired, Bharara was reportedly building a case against Rupert Murdoch and Fox News executives for a variety of indiscretions related to violations of privacy.

October 23, 2017 — When asked about gay rights while in the company of Mike Pence, Donald Trump joked, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”

February 5, 2018 — During a speech at a factory in Ohio, Trump wondered aloud whether Democrats had committed treason against the United States for withholding their applause during his State of the Union Address. “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Ok, I can’t read any more of these. Look, I get that if you compile a list of anyone’s worst moments, they’re not going to come out looking good. But this list is overwhelming — even if you just consider the (many!) sexual assaults or just the stuff that he’s said, plainly and unapologetically, in public. Hell, Trump likely thinks that a lot of this is the good stuff. That a) around 40% of Americans either approve of or are comfortable ignoring his behavior, and b) that paltry 40% might be enough to get him reelected (as Republicans around the country continue to try their damnedest to take away citizens’ voting rights) should SCARE THE ABSOLUTE SHIT out of all of us.

Who Is Responsible For Climate Change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

In their newest video, Kurzgesagt explores the question of responsibility around climate change: which countries are most responsible for carbon emissions and for fixing the damage they’ve caused. As always, their source material is worth a look.

How American Racism Influenced Adolf Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In his 2018 review of several books about Nazism and Adolf Hitler, Alex Ross notes that Hitler took inspiration for the Third Reich’s anti-Semitism and the Holocaust from the United States’ genocide against indigenous peoples, treatment of African Americans (both during and after slavery), and restrictive immigration policies.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. In 1856, an Oregonian settler wrote, “Extermination, however unchristianlike it may appear, seems to be the only resort left for the protection of life and property.” General Philip Sheridan spoke of “annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction.” To be sure, others promoted more peaceful-albeit still repressive-policies. The historian Edward B. Westermann, in “Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars” (Oklahoma), concludes that, because federal policy never officially mandated the “physical annihilation of the Native populations on racial grounds or characteristics,” this was not a genocide on the order of the Shoah. The fact remains that between 1500 and 1900 the Native population of U.S. territories dropped from many millions to around two hundred thousand.

America’s knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be “our Mississippi,” he said. “Europe — and not America — will be the land of unlimited possibilities.” Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands — tens of millions of them — would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels’s less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy — an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.

John Cleese on Extremism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

In a clip from a TV advertisement for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, John Cleese entertainingly talks about the benefits of extremism.

The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good — because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.

Even if you don’t believe that moderate politics is the way forward (and I wonder if anyone does anymore), you can appreciate the truth that having external enemies can prevent you from discovering and addressing your views and practices that are harming others and that you need to work on.

Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

In recent weeks as antiracism and anti-police violence protests continue around the country, the movement to defund and abolish policing in America has rapidly gained momentum. As Black communities have asserted for decades, people have begun to wonder in earnest what purpose police serve. They’re asking when there’s a problem in our communities, do we really need a person with a gun showing up to solve it? What would a system oriented around public safety look like if it was designed from scratch rather than just piling more responsibility onto and funding into increasingly militarized and unaccountable police departments?

There are a lot of resources out there about police abolition right now, so here are some that I’ve found helpful in understanding it.

Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing, which came out in 2017, is a well-reviewed critique of modern policing.

This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice — even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives—such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction — has led to a decrease in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.

Verso, the book’s publisher, is offering the ebook version for free for a limited time. The Paris Review has an excerpt that addresses the difficulties with reforms (such as the #8cantwait initative):

This does not mean that no one should articulate or fight for reforms. However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less. Too many of the reforms under discussion today fail to do that; many further empower the police and expand their role. Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives. More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the War on Drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental health care, and creating low-income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.

The Intercept interviewed Vitale in October 2017.

We should understand policing as the most coercive form of state power … and the reason is that policing has historically and inherently been at the root of reproducing fundamental inequalities of race, class, and immigration status. Trump, the police, ICE — this is just a continuation of a history of exclusion and repression going back to the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, Texas Rangers driving out Mexican landholders and indigenous populations to make room for white settlers, the transformation of slave patrols and urban slave management systems into what became Jim Crow policing in the South and ghetto policing in the North. Police have historical origins in relation to both the formation and disciplining of the industrial working class; early 19th century forms of policing in Europe and the United States shaped rural agricultural workers into urban industrial workers, and then suppressed their movements to form labor unions and win better living conditions.

The point of all this is to fundamentally question this liberal notion that police exist primarily as a tool for public safety and therefore, we should embrace their efforts uncritically, when in fact, there are lots of different ways to produce safety that don’t come with the baggage of colonialism, slavery, and the suppression of workers’ movements.

In 2018, Amber Hughson designed a series of flyers outlining some alternatives to policing. The “Isn’t this public safety?” question at the end of each flyer is really compelling.

Police Abolition

Christy Lopez (co-director of Georgetown Law School’s Innovative Policing Program) writing in The Washington Post: Defund the police? Here’s what that really means.

To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.

Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.

MPD150, a grassroots organization working towards a police-free Minneapolis, has a bunch of resources on their website, including What are we talking about when we talk about “a police-free future?” and an 8-page FAQ zine for folks trying to get up to speed on police abolition.

Police Abolition

Many people already live in a world without police. If you grew up in a well-off, predominantly white suburb, how often did you interact with cops? Communities with lots of good jobs, strong schools, economies, and social safety nets are already, in some ways, living in a world without police.

Annie Lowrey makes a fiscal argument in Defund the Police.

A thin safety net, an expansive security state: This is the American way. At all levels of government, the country spends roughly double on police, prisons, and courts what it spends on food stamps, welfare, and income supplements. At the federal level, it spends twice as much on the Pentagon as on assistance programs, and eight times as much on defense as on education. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost something like $6 trillion and policing costs $100 billion a year. But proposals to end homelessness ($20 billion a year), create a universal prekindergarten program ($26 billion a year), reduce the racial wealth gap through baby bonds ($60 billion a year), and eliminate poverty among families with children ($70 billion a year) somehow never get financed. All told, taxpayers spend $31,286 a year on each incarcerated person, and $12,201 a year on every primary- and secondary-school student.

Critical Resistance has a police abolition resources page that many activists are recommending, including this toolkit and this chart comparing reforms vs abolition.

Police Abolition

The Marshall Project is maintaining a collection of links about police abolition.

I liked the framing of this Twitter thread by Gabrielle Blair:

This is how I, a 45-year-old white woman and mother of 6, currently at her peak Karen power, went from assuming police work was a necessary part of functional communities, to becoming a passionate advocate for #abolishthepolice #defundthepolice, over the course of one week.

She continues:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Do you know that saying? Apply it to police. If you’re always prepared to easily inflict violence, then the chances of inflicting unwarranted violence go way up.

Cat in a tree? Got locked out of your car? Kids prank called 911? Found a brutally murdered body? When called, police will arrive at all four of these scenes equally armed to the teeth. Why would we ever be okay with that? It is INSANE.

Vox’s podcast Today, Explained did an episode on What “abolish the police” means. From the transcript:

SEAN: And for the people who are worried about how this you know, how this might affect the way our society functions, like, let’s just say, you know, it’s a Friday night, 4th of July or something like that, like like the Fourth of July. That’s coming up real soon. And, you know, you’re worried about drunk drivers on the road. Who’s getting your back on drunk drivers?

BRANDON: You’re going to be able to call the police. The police are still going to be out there enforcing traffic violations, maybe not with weapons, though, maybe they have some other tools to de-escalate situations.

SEAN: And what about, like, you’re scared that this jilted ex lover of yours is going to come after you and kill you? Same situation?

BRANDON: You know, we can continue to go through these hypotheticals. I want to be very clear here. Police don’t listen to black women as it exists today. Black women are often the victims of sexual assault, sexual violence, and they are not listened to. They’re not deemed credible by police officers. So we’ve got to ask yourself, is policing working? Maybe it’s working for certain communities, white communities in particular. Now, police are going to be there when you call and say, hey, look, there’s someone harassing me. They’re going to have the better trained police officer come and diffuse the situation if the perpetrator is still there.

I have not listened to this yet, but next up in my podcast queue is a two-episode series of Intercepted with host Chenjerai Kumanyika and long-time prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice:

many people in america already exist in a world where police and prisons do not exist. go to any middle to upper class suburb in america. cops arent wandering the streets. people aren’t being arrested. neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. and generally everyone is….fine.

many people say they cannot imagine this world. what most of them cannot imagine is someone not policing black brown and poor people. THAT is what is unimaginable to them. not the absence of law enforcement. if you are lucky, you already functionally live with that absence.

Garrett Felber details the history of the police and prison abolition movements that stretch back for decades: The Struggle to Abolish the Police Is Not New.

Although abolition was not a central demand of the midcentury civil rights movement — despite informing the activism of many of its key figures — it took hold in the 1970s. This revolutionary ethos — what Chicano poet Raul Salinas called the “prison rebellion years” — was linked to mass uprisings in the streets; the state repression, jailing, and murder of black and brown radicals; and opposition to the Vietnam War and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. Quaker Fay Honey Knopp’s pivotal 1976 Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, for example, had its genesis in her visits to conscientious objectors in prison during the Vietnam War and her participation in feminist, civil rights, gay rights, and prisoners’ rights struggles.

Update: Abolition activist Mariame Kaba writes in a NY Times opinion piece: Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

On the Public Health Experts’ Support of Antiracism Protests

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

In The Atlantic, epidemiologists Julia Marcus and Gregg Gonsalves explain why public health officials are not being hypocritical in their support of the antiracism protests around the country.

At its core, the argument being leveled against public-health experts is that the reason for the protests shouldn’t matter. The coronavirus doesn’t care whether it’s attending an anti-lockdown protest or an anti-racism one. But these two kinds of protests are not equivalent from a public-health perspective. Some critics might argue that the anti-lockdown protests promoted economic activity, which can help stave off the health implications of poverty. (On this count, public-health experts were ahead of the curve: Many — including one of us — were advocating for a massive infusion of assistance to individual Americans as early as March.) But these protests were organized by pro-gun groups that believe the National Rifle Association is too compromising on gun safety. Egged on by the president to “save your great 2nd Amendment,” anti-lockdown protesters stormed government buildings with assault rifles and signs reading COVID-19 IS A LIE. The anti-lockdown demonstrations were explicitly at odds with public health, and experts had a duty to oppose them. The current protests, in contrast, are a grassroots uprising against systemic racism, a pervasive and long-standing public-health crisis that leads to more than 80,000 excess deaths among black Americans every year.

If “conservative commentators” cared at all about keeping people safe from Covid-19 infection, they would have denounced the I-Need-A-Haircut protests as reckless and they didn’t. Instead, they engage in these bad faith arguments that are just designed to stir up outrage.

Gonsalves wrote a thread on Twitter a few days ago that’s relevant here as well.

The risk to all of us was inflamed by an absolute decision at the highest levels that this epidemic was not worth an all-out, coordinated, comprehensive national mobilization. It took weeks for the President to even agree that the epidemic wouldn’t go away on its own.

The US, the richest nation in the world, then couldn’t get it together to scale-up the number of tests we needed to understand what was going on in our communities with SARS-COV-2, and in the end said it was up to the states to figure it all out.

And then this is the last word as far as I’m concerned:

We’ve all been put at far more jeopardy during this pandemic by our political leaders than by the people on the streets over the past week or so.

Nixon Started the War on Drugs to Target Black People & the Antiwar Left

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

In 1971, Richard Nixon kicked off America’s “war on drugs”, focusing not on the societal problems that lead to drug abuse but on categorizing drug users as criminals.

In Nixon’s eyes, drug use was rampant in 1971 not because of grand social pressures that society had a duty to correct, but because drug users were law-breaking hedonists who deserved only discipline and punishment.

Over the next several decades, the US government (and particularly Ronald Reagan) took Nixon’s lead and imprisoned millions of people for drug offenses, including a disproportionate number of Black men. Michelle Alexander wrote about this in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow. From the about page:

Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

In 1994, former Nixon aide and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman proudly told writer Dan Baum that racial control and discrimination was in fact the purpose of the war on drugs.

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

An astonishing thing to admit but hardly a rare tactic for the cynical Republican Party. See also how they decided to champion abortion as an issue to attract the support of white evangelical Christians and shifted from indifference to scientific denialism on climate change in order to oppose the Obama administration and advance the interests of wealthy donors.

Thanks to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist for reminding me of Ehrlichman’s admission.

Are They Police? Or an Army?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

Nick Baumann on the militarization of the American police:

“You create this world where you’re not just militarizing the police — you equip the police like soldiers, you train the police like soldiers. Why are you surprised when they act like soldiers?” Rizer, a former police officer and soldier, said. “The mission of the police is to protect and serve. But the premise of the soldier is to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them. When you blur those lines together with statements like that … It’s an absolute breakdown of civil society.”

American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But “they don’t care,” he said.

In 2015, after the militarized police response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama restricted the sales of military equipment by the Pentagon to police departments.

Mr. Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon program in late 2014 after the police responded to protests with armored vehicles, snipers and riot gear. The images of police officers with military gear squaring off against protesters around the country angered community activists who said law enforcement agencies were reacting disproportionately.

In addition to the prohibitions on certain military surplus gear, he added restrictions on transferring some weapons and devices, including explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields.

The Pentagon said 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets had been returned since Mr. Obama prohibited their transfer.

In 2017, Donald Trump fully restored the practice of transferring military goods to police, grenade launchers and all.

Update: Would just like to note that the 1033 Program was signed into law by Bill Clinton, has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, and was greatly expanded under Obama.

A recent study show that, under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops — 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to the local police at his high point year of 2008.

(thx, chuck)

Welcome to American Capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

From an April 17th Facebook post by Paul Field, a succinct summary of how the pandemic exposes American deficiencies. It’s tough to not just quote the whole thing, so here’s the beginning:

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you need to know how silly you look if you post some variation of, “Welcome to Socialism…”

You are not seeing Socialism. What you are seeing is one of the wealthiest, geographically advantaged, productive capitalist societies in the world flounder and fail at its most basic test. Taking care of its people.

This crisis is not about the virus.

This crisis is about the massive failure of our, “Booming economy,” to survive even modest challenges. It is about the market dissonance of shortages in stores, even as farmers/producers destroy unused crops and products. This crisis is about huge corporations needing an emergency bailout within days of the longest Bull Market in our history ending and despite the ability to borrow with zero percent interest rates.

The pandemic has revealed that American democracy and our economic system is extremely fragile. Ok, unless you’re wealthy, in which case you’re going to be fine, all part of the plan, etc.

The Country with the Best Covid-19 Response? Mongolia.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Mongolia Covid-19 response

Several countries have had solid responses to the Covid-19 pandemic: Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. But Indi Samarajiva thinks we should be paying much more attention to Mongolia, a country of 3.17 million people where no one has died and no locally transmitted cases have been reported.1 Let’s have that again: 3.17 million people, 0 local cases, 0 deaths. How did they do it? They saw what was happening in Wuhan, coordinated with the WHO, and acted swiftly & decisively in January.

Imagine that you could go back in time to January 23rd with the horse race results and, I dunno, the new iPhone. People believe you. China has just shut down Hubei Province, the largest cordon sanitaire in human history. What would you scream to your leaders? What would you tell them to do?

You’d tell them that this was serious and that it’s coming for sure. You’d tell them to restrict the borders now, to socially distance now, and to get medical supplies ready, also now. You’d tell them to react right now, in January itself. That’s 20/20 hindsight.

That’s exactly what Mongolia did, and they don’t have a time machine. They just saw what was happening in Hubei, they coordinated with China and the WHO, and they got their shit together fast. That’s their secret, not the elevation. They just weren’t dumb.

When you go to World In Data’s Coronavirus Data Explorer and click on “Mongolia” to add their data to the graph, nothing happens because they have zero reported cases and zero deaths. They looked at the paradox of preparation — the idea that “when the best way to save lives is to prevent a disease rather than treat it, success often looks like an overreaction” — and said “sign us up for the overreacting!”

Throughout February, Mongolia was furiously getting ready - procuring face masks, test kits, and PPE; examining hospitals, food markets, and cleaning up the city. Still no reported cases. Still no let-up in readiness. No one was like “it’s not real!” or “burn the 5G towers!”

The country also suspended their New Year celebrations, which are a big deal in Asia. They deployed hundreds of people and restricted intercity travel to make sure, though the public seemed to broadly support the move.

Again — and I’ll keep saying this until March — there were still NO CASES. If you want to know how Mongolia ended up with no local cases, it’s because they reacted when there were no local cases. And they kept acting.

For example, when they heard of a case across the border (ie, not in Mongolia) South Gobi declared an emergency and put everyone in masks. The center also shut down coal exports — a huge economic hit, which they took proactively.

As you can see, at every turn they’re reacting like other countries only did when it was too late. This looked like an over-reaction, but in fact, Mongolia was always on time.

I have to tell you true: I got really upset reading this. Like crying and furious. The United States could have done this. Italy could have done this. Brazil could have done this. Sweden could have done this. England could have done this. Spain could have done this. Mongolia listened to the experts, acted quickly, and kept their people safe. Much of the rest of the world, especially the western world — the so-called first-world countries — failed to act quickly enough and hundreds of thousands of people have needlessly died and countless others have been left with chronic health issues, grief, and economic chaos.

  1. If you look at the list of cases at the bottom of this article (translated by Google), you can see that every reported case is from people coming into the country who were tested and quarantined.

How to Think About Freedom and Liberty During a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

After 2+ months of lockdown in most areas, a small minority of Americans want our country to go back to “normal” despite evidence and expert advice to the contrary. They want to get haircuts, not wear masks in public, go to crowded beaches, and generally go about their lives. These folks couch their desires in terms of freedom & liberty: the government has no right to infringe on the individual freedoms of its citizens.

But governments routinely do just that for all kinds of good reasons — e.g. you can’t murder someone just because you feel like it — and as Johns Hopkins’ public health historian Graham Mooney points out, there’s a precedent for a different way of thinking about freedom in the context of public health.

In response to these vehement appeals to individual freedom, public-health leaders in London, Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere developed a powerful counterargument. They too framed their argument in terms of freedom — freedom from disease. To protect citizens’ right to be free from disease, in their view, governments and officials needed the authority to isolate those who were sick, vaccinate people, and take other steps to reduce the risk of infectious disease.

One of the most important reformers was George Buchanan, the chief medical officer for England from 1879 to 1892. He argued that cities and towns had the authority to take necessary steps to ensure the communal “sanitary welfare.” He and other reformers based their arguments on an idea developed by the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who is, ironically, remembered largely as a staunch defender of individual liberty. Mill articulated what he called the “harm principle,” which asserts that while individual liberty is sacrosanct, it should be limited when it will harm others: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty and action of any of their number, is self-protection,” Mill wrote in On Liberty in 1859. Public-health reformers argued that the harm principle gave them the authority to pursue their aims.

An essay published in The Lancet in 1883 sums up this view nicely: “We cannot see that there is any undue violation of personal liberty in the sanitary authority acting for the whole community, requiring to be informed of the existence of diseases dangerous to others. A man’s liberty is not to involve risk to others,” the author wrote. “A man with smallpox has the natural liberty to travel in a cab or an omnibus; but society has a right that overrides his natural liberty, and says he shall not.”

Polling Indicates Americans Overwhelmingly Agree on Covid-19 Countermeasures

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

Recent polling compiled by Randall Munroe indicates that Americans agree on what to do about the Covid-19 pandemic to a greater extent than they “feel positively about kittens” or even “enjoy apple pie”.

XKCD Coronavirus Polling

Here’s a list of his sources.

“The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2020

There are a lot of different lenses you can use to look at how the United States and its government have confronted the Covid-19 pandemic. Race is a particularly useful one. As a reminder, here’s America’s current operating racial contract (from an Atlantic piece by Adam Serwer):

The implied terms of the racial contract are visible everywhere for those willing to see them. A 12-year-old with a toy gun is a dangerous threat who must be met with lethal force; armed militias drawing beads on federal agents are heroes of liberty. Struggling white farmers in Iowa taking billions in federal assistance are hardworking Americans down on their luck; struggling single parents in cities using food stamps are welfare queens. Black Americans struggling in the cocaine epidemic are a “bio-underclass” created by a pathological culture; white Americans struggling with opioid addiction are a national tragedy. Poor European immigrants who flocked to an America with virtually no immigration restrictions came “the right way”; poor Central American immigrants evading a baroque and unforgiving system are gang members and terrorists.

Serwer goes on to argue that the recently shifting American response to the pandemic, primarily in conservative circles, is due to an increasing awareness of which groups are bearing the brunt of the crisis: black and Latino Americans.

That more and more Americans were dying was less important than who was dying.

The disease is now “infecting people who cannot afford to miss work or telecommute-grocery store employees, delivery drivers and construction workers,” The Washington Post reported. Air travel has largely shut down, and many of the new clusters are in nursing homes, jails and prisons, and factories tied to essential industries. Containing the outbreak was no longer a question of social responsibility, but of personal responsibility. From the White House podium, Surgeon General Jerome Adams told “communities of color” that “we need you to step up and help stop the spread.”

This is a response that America is quite comfortable with because it fits with our racial contract, under which Jim Crow never actually ended. The US isn’t the only place this is happening btw. Early on, Singapore was praised for its response to the pandemic, but their reliance on and mistreatment of an underclass of migrant workers caused a secondary surge in cases.

Singapore is a small city-state with a population of just under 6 million inhabitants. On a per capita basis, it’s the second-richest country in Asia.

But its economy relies heavily on young men from Bangladesh, India and other countries who work jobs in construction and manufacturing. Singapore has no minimum wage for foreign or domestic employees. The foreign workers’ salaries can be as low as US$250 per month, but a typical salary is $500 to $600 a month.

The Plan Is to Have No Plan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

This short description by Jay Rosen accurately describes the Trump administration’s plan for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

While his actions often have complex effects, Trump has never been a complicated person. This “plan” fits with what we know about Trump’s personality & behavior, plays to his strengths by relying on reactions & tactics and not strategy, is consistent with Occam’s razor, allows his administration to continue pursuing his aggressive agenda (restricting immigration, strengthening big business, weakening public institutions, enriching himself, consolidating power, getting re-elected), and whips his base into a frenzy. As Dave Eggers put it in a satirical opinion piece for the NY Times:

Having no plan is the plan! Haven’t you been listening? Plans are for commies and the Danish. Here we do it fast and loose and dumb and wrong, and occasionally we have a man who manufactures pillows come to the White House to show the president encouraging texts. It all works! Eighteen months, 800,000 deaths, no plan, states bidding against states for medicine and equipment, you’re on your own, plans are lame.

There’s no galaxy brain here, only a twitchy muscle attached to a frayed nerve.

Why Has Germany Been Effective at Limiting Covid-19 Deaths?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2020

As I’m writing this, according to Johns Hopkins’ Covid-19 tracker, Germany has recorded 100,186 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (fourth most in the world) and 1590 deaths — that’s a death rate of about 1.6%. Compare that to Italy (12.3%), China (4%), the US (2.9%), and even South Korea (1.8%) and you start to wonder how they’re doing it. This article from the NY Times details why the death rate is so low in Germany.

Another explanation for the low fatality rate is that Germany has been testing far more people than most nations. That means it catches more people with few or no symptoms, increasing the number of known cases, but not the number of fatalities.

“That automatically lowers the death rate on paper,” said Professor Kräusslich.

But there are also significant medical factors that have kept the number of deaths in Germany relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed.

This article is a real punch in the gut if you’re an American. Obviously there are bureaucracies and inefficiencies in Germany like anywhere else, but it really seems like they listened to the experts and did what a government is supposed to do for its people before a disaster struck.

“Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”

This whole crisis is really laying bare many of the worst aspects of American society — it’s increasingly obvious that the United States resembles a failed state in many ways. I can’t be the only American whose response to the pandemic is to think seriously about moving to a country with a functioning government, good healthcare for everyone, and a real social safety net.