Politics

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Race, Class and Identity Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 11:25am in

by Kaveh Yazdani* Of late, numerous liberal, right-wing and even some leftist journalists, academics and politicians have readily embraced the prism of “leftist identity politics”. More often than not, they have done so under the cloak of liberal universalism by freely exhibiting their ignorance or indifference on matters of institutional discrimination and forms of oppression […]

Why George W. Bush Was a Horrible President

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 7:55am in

The White House Iraq Group, Abu Ghraib, and warrantless surveillance

“Technology not taxes” is a slogan not a policy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 4:58am in

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True to form, Scotty from marketing has given us a slogan trumpeting “technology not taxes” and not a real policy for dealing with climate change.

It is generally agreed that action to limit climate change requires a switch from carbon-based sources of energy to energy derived from renewable sources, such as sun and wind, that do not have any carbon emissions.

But this transition does not require any further innovation in the development of new technologies. In fact, low-cost technologies based on renewables already exist. Equally, the development of lower-cost batteries and stored hydrogen means that the potential unreliability of energy supply based on renewables is no longer a major problem.

Consequently, the market knows that it is not economic to invest in new coal-fired power stations and left to itself there will be no more investment in new coal-fired power stations.

But what matters right now is the rate of take-up of renewable energy and its use. This take-up rate needs to be accelerated and the government has done almost nothing to encourage that.

If the government was fair dinkum, there are three ways to accelerate the shift to lower carbon emissions:

·       Subsidies

·       Taxes

·        Targets, possibly backed by regulations.

Last week in a desperate attempt to prove its climate credentials before the Biden summit, the government announced that it would spend more than a million dollars subsidising the development of technology. While some of this spending may be useful, spread over as much as ten years, it looks like the proverbial drop in the ocean. It is unlikely to make much difference to future carbon emissions, and neither will it impress our international partners.

But now that the government has been prepared to embrace subsidies to reduce carbon emissions, the hollowness of its opposition to taxes is also exposed.

Fundamentally, there is no way of paying for subsidies, other than by taxes. Thus, the government is asking us to pay taxes to help reduce carbon emissions, but in a very cost-ineffective way. A much more cost-effective way of encouraging people to adapt and change to low-carbon sources of energy would be to put a tax on carbon, rather than raise other taxes to pay subsidies to achieve the same outcome.

Finally, irrespective of whether carbon-reduction is subsidised, or carbon-use is taxed, there is a strong argument that targets can accelerate the take-up of the new technologies to achieve this objective. As argued above, we have the necessary technology, but governments have found that setting an ambitious target helps provide the certainty required to elicit the investment involved in adopting the new technology.

Indeed, as others have pointed out, we would not have got to the moon as soon as we did, if no target had been set, and policy only focused on how to get there. And anyway, in this case we basically know how and already have the technology to get there.

The hollowness of Morrison’s posturing is exposed by the fact that Australia actually does have an intermediate target for emissions reduction. Some years ago, we committed to reducing our carbon emissions by 26-28% by 2030, compared to their level in 2005. And Morrison keeps telling the world that we will maintain that target.

This emissions target is however totally inadequate by today’s standards. It is only about half as ambitious as the American target announced by President Biden at his climate summit last Friday, and all other advanced economies have adopted intermediate targets that are broadly similar to America’s.

Morrison’s (inadequate) defence is that Australia has so far been ahead of the pack in its take-up of renewable energy. But this is mainly because of the efforts by State governments – not the Commonwealth – and investments by households and business who recognise that Australia has a long-term advantage as a producer of the cheapest renewable energy.

Unfortunately, so far Morrison’s Government has been distinguished as “missing in action” when it comes to action to combat climate change. He is just claiming credit for the actions by other people.

In sum, it is difficult to see that the Morrison Government is fair dinkum in trying to reduce carbon emissions and the consequent climate change. If the Government was serious, it would drop the marketing slogans and adopt policies to both tax carbon emissions and set ambitious targets for their reduction.

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Shouting from the political podium seldom makes for good diplomacy. Respectful language is critical.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 4:55am in

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Australian domestic political discourse is infected with “distract-ables” and announce-ables”. It is riddled with confected indignation, posed victimhood, and dog-whistling duplicity. Sometimes these strategies undermine a political competitor by consolidating tenuous narratives or creating insidious innuendo. Yet others are presented with great fanfare to hide a looming scandal.

We have a veritable pandemic of political spin. It is serving Australians poorly and degrades the quality of our political discussion. These harmful speech styles have become endemic and are now the dominant register of domestic politics.

What happens, then, when our leaders deploy the same speech register with international counterparts? Or when they use relationships with foreign nations as fodder for domestic distraction and dog-whistling? Not much of any benefit to Australia’s national interest in a rapidly globalising world, that is to be sure.

Australians have come to recognise the tactics—Friday evenings before a public holiday is ‘bring out the trash’ time; interviews with politicians in hi-vis on jet fighters and tanks alert us to another “rort coverup”. In domestic politics the damage of this impoverished communication style is partly contained by regarding these antics through the lens of sports-team rivalry— “winning at all costs” is now almost acceptable and “fair play” a mug’s game. Our to-date robust electoral democracy means that no matter how many lies are peddled or insults hurled, the other team will play again at the next election. They won’t bomb you. And they won’t boycott you.

But in an international relationship, the acceptance of “rough and tumble” political discourse is rare. Diplomats spend countless hours negotiating subtleties in wording. And they hope, oftentimes in vain, that they’ll be consulted before politicians make statements with foreign policy impact. Precision in word choice, tone, and grammar matters in all government-level international communication. Oftentimes this precision must be achieved in multiple languages. Using the appropriate register is crucial to achieving foreign policy goals.

A good communicator is also sensitive to their interlocutor’s constraints and concerns. All governments juggle these, including governments of the one-party authoritarian type that might appear monolithic to an outsider. When a foreign politician shouts insults across the airwaves, even mortal domestic enemies unite across parties or factions. The possibility of resolving any international problem is jettisoned once the linguistic aggression commences. Instead, actions become coarse replacements for discussion—scholars and journalists are expelled, and tariffs hiked—nuance and subtly are sacrificed. Nothing is solved in the chest-beating.

Abuse hurled across international borders is particularly dangerous because national pride is at stake, sometimes also racial pride. Experiences of colonialism, war, and exploitative economic practices make relations between nations more sensitive to speech registers than between competing Australian political parties. For many countries, aggressive language preceded military invasion. And, a back-channel phone call saying “you know, we don’t really mean it”, amount to zip when the brutality of European, Japanese or American colonialism is a personal experience for millions of your citizens and an actively cultivated memory for the rest.

The current careless use of the “international” in Australia’s leaders’ public political discourse shows remarkable ignorance of the very real risks. Australia will be lucky to only lose market access for lobster and wine. Let’s hope we are only the tethered goat in economic wars between the US and China. Australian political parties might tear down each other’s posters, but every national government has a military force—and our daily global news reports show they are not just deployed to parade. Governments cannot afford to be misunderstood by other governments. Using aggressive speech on international matters for domestic political distraction, or to win favour with another more powerful government, can have devastating consequences. When did we forget this? Has our complacency made us think wars only happen somewhere else?

Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, pointed to the importance of linguistic tone earlier this year when he said of the communication failures with China from Foreign Minister Payne and Prime Minister Morrison, that: “language should always be respectful. You can be firm but respectful. There is no point getting into gratuitous sledging or belligerent rhetoric.” Turnbull knew the protocol even if he didn’t always achieve it—vis. his 2017 “The Australian people have stood up” comment which, while delivered at a doorstop presser, was taken as a threat to China because he was the PM and not just some rowdy backbencher. International relationships need special attention to precise wording when the speaker holds a prominent position. The refusal of Chinese ministers to take phone calls from their Australian counterparts is a clear message—their silence speaks volumes as evidence of our leadership’s failure in register.

But, even within the domestic political scene, the previously relatively safe ploy of race-baiting (unless you were in the racial group being attacked), now has consequential spill-over to the foreign policy realm. Verbal attacks on “Chinese” by our political leaders, through Yellow Peril or Communist Peril threat narratives, have historically been vote winners. More recently fears of non-white immigration were fuelled by talk of “swamping, unassimilable Asians”. As they stroked the racist underbelly for a few more votes in marginal seats, Australian politicians rarely had to confront the foreign policy consequences of their impoverished register. This is no longer the case. China’s political leaders, and the Chinese population both here and abroad, no longer have to silently stomach “China” or “Chinese” being used adjectivally as generic grab-bags of “bad stuff” in Australian public discourse.

A central stumbling block is that our leaders often don’t actually want to solve the problems they have shouted from their podiums. The barbaric register is used to distract domestic audiences from another scandal, rort, uncovered lie or policy failure. “Watch out for the Chinese!” “Beware of the Commies!” and ignore the bungling of aged care or vaccine rollout. The impact of the aggressive language on the receivers is disregarded—and we must assume that the targets are picked strategically. Our leaders clearly regard abusing “China” or defaming an individual Chinese person as low collateral damage. One assumes this wrongheaded appraisal is because, to many of our leaders, Chinese people don’t really count. Their feelings, their opinions, and their dignity don’t factor much in the cost-benefit analysis of aggressive speech registers. Chinese are deemed expendable.

Australian inability to take China seriously as an economic, military, and political superpower is also reflected in this sloppy speech register. “Chinese” and “China” are terms that are treated as empty (but negative) signifiers. This racialized phatic communication has damaging domestic consequences in a globally integrated, multicultural context where voters are “Chinese”—even if they’ve never been to China. The verbal gymnastics that our leaders undertake after each racist dog whistle shows they are aware of the quick-sand of the empty signifier. So, they try to contain the damage and, echoing US Mike Pompeo, pronounce that the Chinese Communist Party is not the same as the Chinese people or Chinese Australians. This clarification does not reassure—for a government to use insulting or aggressive language to any of these three categories of Chinese is disturbing.

The misuse of the “international” for domestic political gains is apparent in the 2019 “Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector”. Australia’s cash-strapped universities now have staff dedicated to managing the paperwork cascading from these Guidelines. They follow the 2018 “Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act” and its Register of economic, research, and political activities involving foreigners. Corrupting “foreign” influences are apparently more dangerous than corrupting domestic ones. But as we are on alert for Chinese IP raiders, donors and spies, the local swine are so deep in the trough they need snorkels to breath—think the mammoth Leppington Triangle transfer of taxpayers’ money to private Australian hands. And, as Australian academics and researchers complete their Foreign Affiliation Disclosure Registers, they are acutely aware of the differential connotations of the nouns “China” and “UK”.

It is not just the university sector suffering neo-McCarthyism. The dearth of Chinese Australians in the Australian Public Sector has just been exposed in Yun Jiang’s Lowy report. A security clearance is a major problem for those who make it into government employment. I guess they are now busy populating a Register of Foreign Influence with the names of second cousins twice removed, just to be on the safe side. You wouldn’t want to be Holgated in a “willing” Parliamentary QT two years down the track for omitting your connections to a distant relative in Shanghai who strikes it rich or joins the Party, now would you?

The persistent defunding of our universities will render these registers irrelevant since there will soon be minimal IP worth “stealing”. And for those Australian ideas, inventions, and breakthroughs that do emerge, are they to be bordered up as national achievements rather than human achievements? Just think, the black box could have been solely reserved for Australian-made planes, and we could have kept wi-fi all for ourselves! How good is Australian sovereign research, eh?

As foreign language programs continue to be closed around the land, any good ideas that emerge in languages other than English will simply pass us by. As Kate McGregor, President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia explained in April 2021, “Entire states will lack tertiary-level Indonesian language programs thereby denying graduates an opportunity to better understand a country of 270 million people, with growing international importance and critical strategic value to Australia”. Our limited capacity to appreciate the power of linguistic register in English leaves little hope for improvement in our capacity to appreciate the nuance of languages other than English. Those comforting tales we told ourselves about Asians “just copying” are no longer credible as the quantity and quality of innovation emerging from Asia is clear for all to see.

Registers of foreign influence are another result of our failure to understand how to use an effective register for our international communication. We manifest the closed and fearful minds of last century’s Anxious Nation, rather than the confident, internationally-engaged thinkers and policy-makers we have actually become. Only as recently as 2017 Universities explored ways to enhance their international collaboration and measure the benefits accruing from internationally-shared research and data. An Australian Academy of Humanities study concluded “International research collaboration is a key feature of the Australian research landscape and is integral to Australia’s future.” Such engagement underpins national competitiveness and “drives economic and social advancement.” Yet all of this once-valued international collaboration is now likely to fall foul of the registers of foreign mistrust.

The harm to Australian research is already apparent because filling in yet another form and attending another meeting takes time away from productive work. More damaging are the costs of our political leaders’ “loose lips” to our trade with China. If we hoped for solidarity from Five Eyes allies as we “stood up” “refusing to be bullied”, the latest trade statistics analysed by James Laurenceson, tells us we are being played for mugs—our mates are filling the product gaps we’ve left in China’s factories and stores. Meanwhile, we are tethered, chewing increasingly unpalatable grass and growing billy-goat gruffer by the day.

We need leaders skilled in public speaking for international contexts, those with knowledge of the nuances of culture and the ways this is manifest in language. At the moment our leaders display a level of oratory sophistication that falls short of a university debating club. But in the real world of international politics, the stakes of losing are not “a round of drinks at the after-match function”. The propositions are not hypothetical. Our very nation’s economic, political and cultural future is at stake with sloppy speech and careless word choice.

Ultimately, effective international communication requires some basic comprehension of how linguistic registers work and not just the compilation of registers of foreign influence.

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Maturity Is Discovering How Everything You Believe Is A Lie

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 11:26pm in

Listen to this article:

https://medium.com/media/3b1e53034ec17cdbfa958a4aba98c7e6/href

You get your first taste of it when you’re little. You find your Christmas presents in your parents’ closet in early December, or maybe some older kid just tells you that Santa Claus isn’t real.

What the hell? What the hell is this? Some freaky psyop run by your parents, just for kicks? And all the other parents are in on it too? And Hollywood? All those movies and TV specials about Santa were just lies? How far does this go?

What is this strange reality?

Ah well. We’ve all got to grow up sometime. From now on you only believe in real stuff, like the Tooth Fairy.

Thus begins a maturing process of discovering the various ways you’ve been deceived about what’s real which, hopefully, continues for the rest of your life.

When you get a bit older you might start gathering information which causes you to realize that some of the people in your life might not have been telling you the truth about some things. Soda and Pop Rocks can’t really cause a dangerous explosion. Your eleven year-old friend probably hasn’t “boned” every girl in class. You actually haven’t been seeing Dad much since the divorce.

And that’s usually about as exciting as it gets for a while, because you’re a young person trying to learn how to function in the world and you can’t learn if you believe everything you’re being taught is a lie. But that period of credulity doesn’t last long. Not if you’re lucky.

Maybe you start questioning this religion thing. It sure seems weird how they tell you you’ll be rewarded with eternal bliss if you espouse a belief system around which entire empires have been wrapped, which still to this day influences political thought and makes a whole lot of money for some people, but you’ll be tortured forever if you don’t. That sounds made up. Like the sort of thing you’d make up if you were trying to manipulate a large number of people into believing something that benefits you.

And maybe that opens up a bunch of other areas of exploration. Maybe it’s no big deal if someone loves somebody who’s the same gender as them. Maybe the hard labels and roles we assign to gender aren’t necessarily as solid and real as we’ve been told. And maybe relationships don’t need to look a certain way at all. Maybe relationship structures are completely made up, and people can write their own rules with consenting adults in whatever way they like, even if it’s unusual and doesn’t seem like something you’d enjoy.

Maybe it’s okay for everyone to find their own way in this life, since there don’t appear to be any trustworthy roadmaps of authority on the matter. Maybe it’s okay for people to take up any philosophy or approach to living they find useful, for however long they find it useful, and then take up new ones when the old ones aren’t useful anymore. Maybe it’s okay if they want to smoke a joint or have sex with many different people, or do anything they like as it doesn’t harm others.

Maybe you start to wonder if the political ideology of your parents is stupid. Hey, who knows? Maybe what they’ve told you about the world and how it works is no more true than what they used to tell you about Santa Claus.

If you continue to mature, at some point you’ll start to notice that the news isn’t being entirely honest about things. Is every single war of the US and its allies really good and just? Are the nations which aren’t aligned with the US really nefarious monsters who constantly plot our downfall and commit atrocities? That sounds made up. Like something you’d make up if you were trying to manipulate a large number of people into believing something that benefits you.

As you discover more and more things you’ve been given false or misleading information about by the “reputable sources” in the mass media, at some point you’ll notice that the picture you are now seeing of the world is completely irreconcilable with what you were taught in school about your nation, your political system, your government, and your world.

You were lied to. You do not live in an imperfect but well intentioned democracy in which the people determine the best course of action for their government using votes, you live in an oligarchy with no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, whose fate is determined not by votes but by a loose transnational alliance of plutocrats and sociopathic government agencies. You do not live in a separate nation in a world full of other separate nations, you live in a globe-spanning power alliance which functions as a single empire controlled by unaccountable elites who use governments as tools to advance agendas of control and domination.

The economy is a collective delusion. Money is a conceptual construct that’s only as real as we all agree to pretend it is. All the written and unwritten rules which govern our society are made up, and if enough of us wanted to we could simply make new ones. All the stories about what our world is and what it should be are constructs of the human imagination, and we are free to collectively re-imagine or simply dispense with them if we collectively choose to do so.

As you uncover more and more lies and mature even further, you start getting curious about what other beliefs in your head are false. Beliefs about life itself. Beliefs about society. Beliefs about your loved ones and your relationships. Beliefs about yourself.

Maybe you begin unearthing beliefs you didn’t even know you’d had that had been lurking in your subconscious mind, pulling the strings of your life from behind the scenes. Beliefs like, “The world is a dark, scary place.” Or, “Life is supposed to be hard.” Or, “I have to stay in this marriage because I promised I would.” Or, “I have to maintain a relationship with my mother even though she’s horrible to me.” Or, “I don’t deserve to be happy.” “I am disgusting.” “I am ugly.” “I am unworthy.” “I am unlovable.”

And maybe you start changing your life so that it aligns with what you know to be true instead of with your old false beliefs. Maybe you find love. Maybe you quit your awful job to take a chance on something you enjoy. Maybe you leave your unfulfilling marriage. Maybe you begin creating a whole new life based on truth and consciousness.

And maybe, just maybe, at some point you discover that even the thing you take to be “you” isn’t real. That there is no solid separate self to be found anywhere outside the realm of mental narrative, and that all of your psychological suffering has been caused by the fact that most of your thoughts revolve around a “me” character who has never ever existed. Maybe you discover that separation itself is a lie that is only given the illusion of reality by belief in mental labels, and that beneath the false narratives of the labeling, dividing mind, it’s all one.

And maybe you keep right on maturing, remaining curious about what’s really true for the rest of your life. And the more clearly and truthfully you perceive what’s going on in yourself, your life, your society and your world, the more efficaciously you are able to move through it all. And maybe you discover that this brings an amount of happiness, love and beauty to your life that you never would have previously dreamed possible.

Or maybe you don’t. It’s your adventure, and I could be lying as much as your parents were as they set out the milk and cookies for Santa. I just wish you a fulfilling journey into your own relationship with truth, for as far as you want to take it.

___________________

I’m celebrating the hardback release of Woke: A Field Guide For Utopia Preppers by making a pay-as-you-feel PDF available.

The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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Featured image “Santa’s Tombstone” via Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons 2.0 license.

A ‘vacuum of integrity’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 9:03pm in

These were the words used to ex Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve, on yesterday’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme . He also added for good measure that the government itself was a ‘cronyistic cabal’. The lawyer Peter Stefanovic has been tweeting short film clips of the most egregious of Johnson’s lies – indeed his films have... Read more

Some Right-Wing Troops Find Themselves Targeted by Their Own War Machine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 9:00pm in

In the wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol in January, a former CIA official named Robert Grenier published an article in the New York Times titled “How to Defeat America’s Homegrown Insurgency.” His recommendations were mild when it came down to the specifics: finding and prosecuting those who carry out violence, engaging in a national dialogue, and holding Donald Trump accountable politically. Grenier, though, had once run the CIA’s counterterrorism center and played key roles in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. His article invoked those conflicts. Before the riot, he wrote, “it would have been unthinkable that the United States might be a candidate for a comprehensive counterinsurgency program. But this is where we are.”

After the article was published, I received a message from a longtime U.S. soldier. He had once belonged to one of the right-wing militant groups that Grenier’s proposed counterinsurgency program would target and remained well-connected among them. “Mike, this is making the rounds,” the message read. “It’s stories like this that set folks on edge.”

The soldier — whom I’ll refer to as Hawkeye, an echo of the nickname he uses in militant circles — served in the same conflicts Grenier was referencing and has scars from injuries sustained along the way. When I called, he was at a military base, training troops ahead of their deployments. Grenier wasn’t alone in comparing right-wing Americans to foreign adversaries; an onrush of commentary has applied the familiar terms of the global war on terror to the types of people who stormed the Capitol. Sometimes, the discussion ties violent extremists together with a broader segment of society. Former CIA Director John Brennan, in one of his frequent TV appearances, warned of “an unholy alliance” of undesirables, including racists and fascists as well as “religious extremists” and “even libertarians,” that “looks very similar to insurgency movements that we’ve seen overseas.” Domestic terrorism is a newly popular term.

To Hawkeye, the implications were apparent: Calling someone an insurgent or terrorist implied permission to marginalize him, strip him of his rights, detain him, hunt him, and kill him. He’d done this himself to people tagged with those labels overseas. “When I think terrorist,” he told me, “I think, take your ass to Gitmo, and that’s where you belong.”

Now he was finding himself on the other end of it. “America has always had a boogeyman,” he said. “At one point it was Germany, then it became Korea, then it became Russia, and then all of a sudden it’s Middle Easterners.” As he sensed the government’s sights turning his way, he was stripping his social media accounts of political references and being careful about what he said. “I’m posting nothing but cat videos and family reunions. I’m trying to mitigate as much as possible.” More than three dozen active and retired members of the military allegedly took part in the Capitol riot; the following month, Lloyd Austin, the new defense secretary, ordered a military-wide “stand down” to address extremism in the ranks, pledging zero tolerance for “actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” and he later urged service members to report encounters with extremists. Military officials also circulated a list of symbols that ranged from the Nazi swastika to the logos of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, two militant groups that were implicated in the riot.

Hawkeye wasn’t the only soldier wondering how far the definition of extremist might extend, he said. One of the men he was training had a Three Percenter tattoo and was talking about getting it removed. (He has since had it overlaid with a different design, Hawkeye told me recently, though “you can still see it if you know what you’re looking for.”) Others wondered whether T-shirt slogans like “Trump Is Still My President” could get them flagged. “It’s scary, because that’s my entire life I have invested,” Hawkeye said. “That’s kind of my version of a 401k, making sure I can retire and live my life happily.” All of that could be at risk, he worried, “just because the current administration says you’re a violent extremist.”

Yet he still believed the aggressive measures America had deployed in the name of combating violent extremism overseas — and in many cases, against Muslims at home — were justified. He was no advocate for closing Guantánamo Bay. “It’s very hypocritical,” he acknowledged. “But if we knew they were an extremist and fit the profile, or knew these people were being turned into extremists — if all the target indicators were there — I don’t have a problem with it. If you want to keep America safe, you have to find out who the bad guys are.”

“We’ve always needed an enemy, and that’s the good part and the bad part about us.”

I remarked that, by his own standard, he was someone who should be investigated. He had watched the Capitol riot on TV, was against the violence, and was unconvinced by claims that the election had been stolen. He wasn’t a white supremacist, or even white. But he’d been an active member of the Oath Keepers, a group known for recruiting in the police and military and at the center of FBI investigations into January 6. “Would I consider myself fair game? I guess the honest answer would be yeah, I guess I would. That’s a harsh fact to admit, but yeah,” he said. “How do you square the hypocrisy? I honestly wish I knew. In today’s society, where everything seems to be upside down and backwards, is there even a right answer anymore?”

“Like I was saying before,” he continued, “we’ve always needed an enemy, and that’s the good part and the bad part about us. It pushes us to be better and come up with new ways to defeat a potential enemy. But at the same time, this hysteria and paranoia kind of fucks us over.”

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (March 1, 2021) Capt. Michael Witherspoon watches a video of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin address extremism within the U.S. military during a mandated stand-down, March 1. The SECDEF directed commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to conduct a stand-down with their personnel to address extremism by April 6, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Travis J. Kuykendall/Released)

Capt. Michael Witherspoon watches a video of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin address extremism within the U.S. military during a mandated stand-down at Virginia Beach, Va. on March 1, 2021.

Photo: Travis J. Kuykendall/ U.S. Navy

It’s not so much that a new national security complex is building up around right-wing extremism. It’s more that the one that already exists around Islamist extremism is adaptable. The country has legions of analysts, experts, journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, and current and former government officials who know how to rally around an extremist threat. Regular citizens, too, are used to being swept up in their fears of it. This is not the first time, of course, that such fears have turned inward. Muslim Americans have been caught in this trap for two decades. They’ve had their mosques infiltrated by federal agents; their political and charitable donations closely tracked; their social media posts monitored; their allegiances questioned. They’ve seen what it means when violent extremists are grouped with a wider swath of society. The difference, in this polarized moment, is that so many Americans on either half of the political divide seem so willing to turn this machine against the other side.

I spent the year leading up to the Capitol attack listening to people on the militant right discuss their opponents on the left in the language of counterinsurgency. They called antifa and Black Lives Matter activists domestic terrorists. They cheered when federal agents in Portland, Oregon, pulled left-wing protesters into unmarked vans and called on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act. In the months since January 6, many liberals have seized on the opportunity to return the favor. For those on the right who’ve served in the military since 9/11, and whose militant leanings predispose them to see elements of the left as dangerously extreme, this experience has been especially disorienting.

“You don’t think I have stuff on my Facebook account that they could consider insurrectionist because I’m very conservative, and just because I work for the government, doesn’t mean I trust it?”

I spoke to a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve who asked not to be named, like others in this story, because, as he put it, “We’re literally talking about the military doing a loyalty test.” He’d never been in a militant group but sympathized with the ideology of the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers and was lamenting that “there’s no separation between an opinion and a human being anymore” as he worried about all the Trumpy posts and memes he’d put online. “You don’t think I have stuff on my Facebook account that they could consider insurrectionist because I’m very conservative, and just because I work for the government, doesn’t mean I trust it?” he asked. “There’s my question. I don’t know.”

One fear for the forever wars has always been that the systems America deploys overseas, in places where its laws and Constitution don’t apply, will eventually come home, in the name of fighting not only foreign threats on U.S. soil, but also domestic ones. More Americans seem to be getting a small sense of what this might feel like. “The government is not tyrannical yet. It’s just a pain in the dick,” the reservist said. But he sympathized with an argument, common on the militant right, that the path is paved with incremental steps: “the idea,” he said, “that you can get to a bad place very slowly.” This is the space where complaints about social media censorship and cancel culture can accelerate into talk of Soviet gulags and Nazi Germany; with the hunt supposedly on for extremists in the military, some service members are feeling the anxiety more acutely. “Look at it like this,” he said. “Let’s say you are a guy [in the military] who’s involved with the Oath Keepers in your time off, and you’re on their rolls, and you have no plans of overthrowing the government … and then one day, your commander shows up and you’re being forced out because you’re with this group. You’re out of a job. What did the government just do? They created the thing that they’re afraid of, because now that guy is pissed, and if he didn’t already think the government was coming after people, he sure does now. And he’s been at war for 20 years. You think he knows something [about how to fight]?”

Soldiers with the 1st Theater Sustainment Command participate in an extremism stand-down at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 16, 2021. The stand-down follows the guidance given by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that directs commanding officers and supervisors at every level conduct extremism training with their personnel. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Zoran Raduka 1st TSC Public Affairs)

Soldiers with the 1st Theater Sustainment Command participate in an extremism stand-down at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 16, 2021.

Photo: Spc. Zoran Raduka 1st TSC Public Affairs/U.S. Army

As much as I’ve heard such talk from people in and around right-wing militant groups since January 6, though, I’ve also heard resignation. I got a call last month from a Marine veteran and former private military contractor who was in a mood to vent. He’d waited to get involved with the Oath Keepers and similar groups until he was done working overseas. Then, eventually, he’d stepped away from them, deciding that their threats of political violence were both dangerous and dumb. He mocked those who talked about insurrection and then stormed the Capitol without guns. “If you look at what a real insurgency looks like, that wasn’t it. Granted, that doesn’t justify what they did,” he told me. “If your words are one thing and your actions are another, then you have a consistency crisis. If the course of action is not legitimate, why even talk about it? You’re just a blowhard, because people in the end — and the right is no exception to this — are not willing to make sacrifices.”

“I think the right is probably just going to walk away with a whimper,” he continued, and he really didn’t see a better choice. If they’d been serious about what he called “preserving” the country, he said, they should have spent more time engaging in the political process instead of threatening to overthrow it if it didn’t go their way. “We’re stuck in this position now where we can’t really do much,” he said, “because no sane person wants revolution.”

The former contractor, the reservist, and Hawkeye are the sorts of people who might get involved in civil violence if there were ever a serious and sustained outbreak of it, but are also sensible enough to see that this path is highly undesirable. If they caught wind of someone planning an attack, they’d likely inform the authorities. (“I would try first to dissuade them of it,” Hawkeye told me, adding that if he couldn’t, he’d call the FBI.) The fever dream of the most radical-minded militants, and of so-called accelerationists, meanwhile, is to provoke either a massive government overreaction or a general societal breakdown that could push these more serious-minded people, along with a larger segment of the country, to get involved in a civil conflict. It’s part of their obsession with America’s founding generation, the ultimate provocateurs. You could call trying to understand and manage the various currents within right-wing militancy a counterinsurgency strategy, or you could call it law enforcement. “It’s a form of community policing,” Tom O’Connor, who was an expert on militant groups in the FBI and the head of its agents’ association before retiring in 2019, told me. “It’s getting out and getting to know people and sitting down with them. Because when things start going to the extreme, not everyone who signs up is actually down with that. There are going to be those who are stepping out [and alerting authorities]. And that’s what you need.”

The forever wars have helped make Americans more militant and infused their terms and zero-sum mindset into our politics.

He worried that conflating the problem with America’s overseas conflicts would confuse the response to it. “There are a lot of international terrorism experts who aren’t getting the same attention they got years ago and are going to be [moving over to] this,” he said. “It’s going to become a cottage industry.”

A more useful discussion of America’s post-9/11 expeditionary wars might revolve around their failings. In a recent article for War on the Rocks, Nate Rosenblatt, a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, and Jason Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, cautioned that taking a “reductionist approach” to the kind of political violence that erupted on January 6 and the people who took part in it “risks creating more enemies rather than fewer, and threatens to make the same mistakes at home as the country has made in twenty years of combatting terrorism abroad.” These include failing to understand the true nature of the threat; driving people into the arms of extremist groups with overly broad and aggressive policies; and alienating potential allies. The authors urge the Biden administration to “overcome the national crisis in political violence by separating moderates from those ideologically extreme enough to commit political violence.”

In the end, the authors are still embracing a counterinsurgency framework: The recommendation above is in line with doctrine developed by U.S. military strategists such as David Petraeus. But talking about U.S. efforts at counterinsurgency overseas in a domestic context can be misleading. Even when these efforts have had some success, as in the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, they’ve revolved around arming indigenous forces to kill the enemy and airstrikes. The entire discussion is also centered on a fallacy. It assumes a U.S. government endowed with hegemonic power seeking to enforce its will in weaker countries. What we’re really talking about with domestic political violence, however, is an America beginning to turn on itself at home. To me, the most relevant way to consider the forever wars here is to grapple with the ways they’ve helped to make Americans more militant and infused the terms and zero-sum mindset of those conflicts into our politics.

 Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A demonstrator wears an Oath Keepers badge on a protective vest during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, 2021.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The problem of right-wing militancy, meanwhile, is especially fraught because of the degree to which militant groups have incorporated themselves into mainstream conservatism. Oath Keepers, for example, recruited at tea party rallies in the group’s early days and gave speeches at local Republican events. The party has since embraced the charged rhetoric about socialism, tyranny, and international conspiracies that militant groups espoused long before it became politically fashionable under Trump. At the same time, militant groups have worked to co-opt the ethos of the police and military. The black-and-gold Oath Keepers logo is modeled on the Army Rangers seal. The group defines itself on the oaths members of the police and military swear to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic — which it often portrays as antifa, Black Lives Matter, and Democrats. Even members of self-styled militias who never served will talk with pride about the similar oaths they swear when they join their outfits. The founding myth of the Three Percenters, that only this small percentage of the population took part in the Revolutionary War, can appeal to soldiers who sign up to fight in the long-running conflicts most Americans ignore. Militant groups portray themselves as champions of small government and gun rights. They’ve blended into the back-the-blue, kneel-for-the-cross-and-stand-for-the-flag brand of patriotism that has come to define the Republican Party.

I received an email recently from a woman named Joneen Flemings in North Carolina. She has no affiliation with militant groups and wasn’t defending them, but worried that my focus on the subject plays into a larger effort to demonize all conservatives. “I am acquainted with some in the military who are currently under investigation after outrageous allegations in the press for attending the Jan 6 rally in DC, possible poster children or fall guys for the [military’s stand-down],” she wrote. She saw the response to January 6 as a potential bridge to an attack on her own identity and politics. “I am a conservative, voted for Donald Trump, and a devout Roman Catholic. All those ‘extremes’ that I now understand make me such a potential public enemy number one.”

People on the militant right often paint elements of the left as violent extremists and terrorists even as they decry being targeted with these same terms themselves.

She was so troubled by the national dialogue that she couldn’t sleep, she wrote, and was composing her message at 2 a.m. “‘Civil war,’ ‘treason,’ ‘insurrection,’ ‘coup,’ ‘sedition’ and ‘execution’ are all terms thrown around in social media parlance, not in the least propagated by the media without any attempt at moderation or de-escalation. This is totally out of bounds on all sides, no doubt — and yeah, conservatives are as bad as liberals and probably always have been,” she wrote. “But the current course set by what you choose to emphasize in the press, instead of providing or proposing a solution or even just shining something of an objective light on the whole of the problem, is blanket characterizing conservatives as extremist, irrational, and volatile.”

Her message was both a plea for empathy and a call for the other side to be targeted too. “I am wondering why you did not write about Antifa at all, or the Black Lives Matter movement,” she wrote, adding that she could find nothing in my work about alleged violence by left-wing protesters.

This is a common theme among conservatives that also runs through my conversations with people on the militant right, who often paint elements of the left as violent extremists and terrorists even as they decry being targeted with these same terms themselves. “The whole antifa movement, personally, I see that as literally about as domestic terrorism as you can get,” Hawkeye told me. I remarked that people on both the left and right seemed to be growing more comfortable applying that label to the other side. “I think a lot of it is the escalation of force from both sides,” he replied. “At what point does that escalation stop, you know? Is it all-out war on the streets? Or is someone going to actually have the good idea to say let’s work it out somehow?”

But can you work it out with people you’ve written off as terrorists? “It’s not good,” he conceded. “And then you have to ask yourself, once we start rolling down that slope, where do we stop?”

The post Some Right-Wing Troops Find Themselves Targeted by Their Own War Machine appeared first on The Intercept.

I am sickened by the politics of the indifference to others

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 6:11pm in

Tags 

Ethics, Politics

I met with three friends yesterday to share the pleasure of their company, to talk about at issues in the way never possible over Zoom, and to enjoy the sunshine in Alexandra Palace. It was great to be able to do that, and so life affirming to see them.

But we all recognised the issues. We wore masks when appropriate. We socially distanced from other groups. The hugs that were so much part of our past lives did not happen. We know that this pandemic is not over yet.

Then I saw this:

And of course I agree with Rachel Clarke. She is right. What is on display here is the politics of selfishness. We are used to it. It is rampant in Downing Street. It permeates from there. And it is a killer. Modi has shown that. The politics of populism is all about mass spreader events that puts the lives of others at risk. This was one.

I am sickened by the politics of the indifference to others.

Behind every algorithm, there be politics.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/04/2021 - 3:07am in

In my first class in computer science, I was taught that an algorithm is simply a way of expressing formal rules given to a computer. Computers like rules. They follow them. Turns out that bureaucracy and legal systems like rules too. The big difference is that, in the world of computing, we call those who are trying to find ways to circumvent the rules “hackers” but in the world of government, this is simply the mundane work of politicking and lawyering. 

When Dan Bouk (and I, as an earnest student of his) embarked on a journey to understand the history of the 1920 census, we both expected to encounter all sorts of politicking and lawyering. As scholars fascinated by the census, we’d heard the basics of the story: Congress failed to reapportion itself after receiving data from the Census Bureau because of racist and xenophobic attitudes mixed with political self-interest. In other words, politics. 

As we dove into this history, the first thing we realized was that one justification for non-apportionment centered on a fight about math. Politicians seemed to be arguing with each other over which algorithm was the right algorithm with which to apportion the House. In the end, they basically said that apportionment should wait until mathematicians could figure out what the “right” algorithm was. (Ha!) The House didn’t manage to pass an apportionment bill until 1929 when political negotiations had made this possible. (This story anchors our essay on “Democracy’s Data Infrastructure.”)

Dan kept going, starting what seemed like a simple question: what makes Congress need an algorithm in the first place? I bet you can’t guess what the answer is! Wait for it… wait for it… Politics! Yes, that’s right, Congress wanted to cement an algorithm into its processes in a feint attempt to de-politicize the reapportionment process. With a century of extra experience with algorithms, this is patently hysterical. Algorithms as a tool to de-politicize something!?!? Hahahah. But, that’s where they had gotten to. And now the real question was: why? 

In Dan’s newest piece – “House Arrest: How an Automated Algorithm Constrained Congress for a Century” – Dan peels back the layers of history with beautiful storytelling and skilled analysis to reveal why our contemporary debates about algorithmic systems aren’t so very new. Turns out that there were a variety of political actors deeply invested in ensuring that the People’s House stopped growing. Some of their logics were rooted in ideas about efficiency, but some were rooted in much older ideas of power and control. (Don’t forget that the electoral college is tethered to the size of the House too!) I like to imagine power-players sitting around playing with their hands and saying mwah-ha-ha-ha as they strategize over constraining the growth of the size of the House. They wanted to do this long before 1920, but it didn’t get locked in then because they couldn’t agree, which is why they fought over the algorithm. By 1929, everyone was fed up and just wanted Congress to properly apportion and so they passed a law, a law that did two things: it stabilized the size of the House at 435 and it automated the apportionment process. Those two things – the size of the House and the algorithm – were totally entangled. After all, an automated apportionment couldn’t happen without the key variables being defined. 

Of course, that’s not the whole story. That 1929 bill was just a law. Up until then, Congress had passed a new law every decade to determine how apportionment would work for that decade. But when the 1940 census came around, they were focused on other things. And then, in effect, Congress forgot. They forgot that they have the power to determine the size of the House. They forgot that they have control over that one critical variable. The algorithm became infrastructure and the variable was summarily ignored.

Every decade, when the Census data are delivered, there are people who speak out about the need to increase the size of the House. After all, George Washington only spoke once during the Constitutional Convention. He spoke up to say that we couldn’t possibly have Congresspeople represent 40,000 people because then they wouldn’t trust government! The constitutional writers listened to him and set the minimum at 30,000; today, our representatives each represent more than 720,000 of us. 

After the 1790 census, there were 105 representatives in Congress. Every decade, that would increase. Even though it wasn’t exact, there was an implicit algorithm in that size increase. In short, increase the size of the House so that no sitting member would lose his seat. After all, Congress had to pass that bill and this was the best way to get everyone to vote on it. The House didn’t increase at the same ratio as the size of the population, but it did increase every decade until 1910. And then it stopped (with extra seats given to new states before being brought back to the zero-sum game at the next census). 

One of the recommendations of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship (for which I was a commissioner) was to increase the size of the House. When we were discussing this as a commission, everyone spoke of how radical this proposition was, how completely impossible it would be politically. This wasn’t one of my proposals – I wasn’t even on that subcommittee – so I listened with rapt curiosity. Why was it so radical? Dan taught me the answer to that. The key to political power is to turn politicking into infrastructure. After all, those who try to break a technical system, to work around an algorithm, they’re called hackers. And hackers are radical. 

Want more like this?

  1. Read “House Arrest: How an Automated Algorithm Constrained Congress for a Century” by Dan Bouk. There’s drama! And intrigue! And algorithms!
  2. Read “Democracy’s Data Infrastructure” by Dan Bouk and me. It might shape your view about public fights over math.
  3. Sign up for my newsletter. More will be coming, I promise!

Somebody’s Paying Attention

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 5:51am in

Tags 

Politics, TV


The writing of fiction premises a shared mooring in certain social facts. What happens when such consensus is dissolved—through fractionalization, the willful spread of lies, or the achievement of the former by means of the latter? Though it will take some time for them to become the subject of literature, the events of January 6 […]

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