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Monthly Archives: August 2021


Botch McConnell is criticizing Biden for the withdrawal (it is chaotic) yet said nothing when TOTUS negotiated the release of 5 thousand Taliban from jail if they wouldn’t attack American soldiers but they went on full attack on the Afghan army who we were training. Disrupting that training and creating a group of under trained and sometimes illiterate defenders. How about commenting on that! It is remarkable how the GOP has botched the opportunity to do something really important but chose to follow a reality TV star who does not live in reality or perhaps in his own fabricated reality plus using his insanity to cover their political machinations which have allowed the myriad of voting restrictions and continued influence of Covid infections. The Bible (which I am reluctant to cite) states that Jesus fed 5000 with with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, but TOTUS released 5000 criminals based on the word of criminals not to attack the U.S and set the original date for withdrawal of our troops. Now the GOP and TOTUS (who has virtually no platform) are concerned about the millions or billions of dollars in hardware we are leaving in the hands of the Taliban which he essentially insured they would get when the Afghan Army and government collapsed. When you consider his residency (he never was President except in name) it was failed from the start as long he had willing accomplices in the Congress. Biden may have made a miscalculation in this withdrawal but at least he is honest and sincere (or as far as a politician can be)

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Salon

Chauncey DeVega  21 hrs ago


I had not seen my mother for two years, for reasons we all understand too well. Several weeks ago, I was finally able to journey home.

It was wonderful to see my mother again. Blessed are those who can experience unconditional love, even if for only a few days. As I sat in that old, crooked, comfortable lounge chair in the den I noticed all the friendly “ghosts,” those memories that populate a home.

I was sure I saw the ghosts of our two dogs who passed away almost 10 years ago. I am even more sure I heard one of them bark in the middle of night. He always protected my mother. I’m sure he still is.

A home also consists of the objects that accumulate there. As I always do when I come back home, I hunted through the closets. I found a picture of my father, then 19 or 20-years-old, wearing his World War II U.S. Army service uniform.  

His Colt M1911 service pistol rests in a box nearby along with some ammunition. My father rarely talked about the war. But if prompted he would humbly brag that he was lethal with that pistol, an “A-plus” as he would explain it. Once I asked him to watch “Saving Private Ryan” with me. A few minutes into the film he said, “I saw stuff like this in person” and that there was no purpose in him watching it on TV. My father stood up and walked out of the room. I didn’t bring up the war again. 

I am not sure if we have truly forgotten those things which we “find” in our childhood homes. It seems more likely that our minds “forget” so that we can have the joy of rediscovering those objects again.

After 40 years, my father’s employer “advised” him to “retire.” I told my father that he would be dead in a year from loneliness and boredom and that he should fight to keep his job. Better to die at work while feeling useful than lying in a hospital bed. Almost 80 at the time, my father was tired and convinced himself that “retirement” was a good thing. But I was right: He did not last a year after being forced out of his job.

One day, shortly after that “retirement”, my father was in the kitchen having an enthusiastic conversation with someone on the phone. I thought it was his best friend. I watched until he acknowledged me. “Who was that?” I asked. He said it was a telemarketer and told me they are nice people who have interesting things to say. I realized my father had become one of those older folks who are so lonely they make friends with the telemarketers. I walked into the den, sat down in that old lounge chair and went to sleep.

There are many such people who instead of being “nice” are selling pain, anger, misery, rage, hate and fear to the lonely among us. These voices also promise “solutions,” offering a life of meaning through feelings of community, loyalty and “patriotism”.

I receive dozens of email newsletters and updates every day from right-wing news sources, political action committees, interest groups, think tanks and other parts of the right-wing propaganda machine. I seek out these sources and always make sure to subscribe.

In my public warnings about the Age of Trump and America’s descent into fascism, I have often been far ahead of the hope-peddlers, stenographers and professional centrists of the mainstream news media. But I am no Cassandra or otherwise possess any preternatural gifts. I simply pay close attention to what the Jim Crow Republicans, Trumpists and other neofascists say and do — and I take them at their word.

As a black working-class person in America I do not have the privilege and luxury that many white folks do — especially those with money — of pretending that everything is going to magically be fine, that “the institutions are strong,” that the “norms” of democracy will hold, or that “we are a good people.” I know for certain that the Trumpists and other neofascists are not “exaggerating” or engaging in “hyperbole” in their threats to create a new American apartheid.

To deny reality and embrace such fictions is an example of a particular type of white freedom. On this James Baldwin wrote, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”  

What have I “learned” from reading right-wing propaganda emails and other missives in recent weeks and months?

I have learned Joe Biden should be impeached because he is a traitor and perhaps mentally incompetent. Biden and Kamala Harris hate America and are responsible for every “crisis” from Afghanistan to “the border” and the overall downfall of American society. “Critical race theory” is the equivalent of the Taliban. “Liberals,” Democrats and other “America-haters” should be dealt with by “patriots.” 

Donald Trump is perfect and a great leader. America is perfect and divine and should never be criticized.

Trump had a plan to defeat the Taliban, but Biden, the Democrats and the liberal media stabbed our military in the back.

Evil socialists are everywhere. They are plotting and scheming against America and our freedom.

I have also learned, of course, that Democrats and their allies stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Black Lives Matter and antifa are terrorists working to destroy the country. Trump’s followers who attacked the Capitol were originally said not to exist at all, but are now described as noble patriots being unjustly incarcerated as political prisoners.

There are also great schools I can enroll in online that will teach me the true history and facts of America and the Constitution from a patriotic perspective.

Through these emails I now know that there are Black conservatives who are not on the Democratic Party’s “plantation.” They love America and are smart enough to know that the Republican Party represents Abraham Lincoln while the Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan and slavery.

COVID-19 is not really a danger to the country or the world — yet somehow Donald Trump also helped create vaccines to defeat the disease.

Donald Trump loves his followers and has issued membership cards that they should carry to prove their loyalty to him. Trump also needs true American patriots to give him their money to defend the country. 

In total, the right-wing echo chamber is a powerful reality-altering propaganda lying-machine for those who choose to live in it. It constitutes a lifeworld, existing in a state of epistemic closure where facts and reality are rejected in favor of lies and myths.

In this most recent iteration, the right-wing echo chamber is now TrumpWorld, revolving around its high priest and cult leader. Its doctrines include fascism, authoritarianism, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, ignorance, misogyny, a veneration of violence and other antisocial beliefs and values.

Liberals, progressives, Democrats and other rational thinkers must accept one crucial reality if they are to save America’s democracy (and themselves): Those who live in the right-wing echo chamber really do believe what they are being told. Those beliefs are now extensions of their core identities.

On the question of such society-wide collective madness, psychologist Erich Fromm warned in his 1955 book “The Sane Society”: “Just as there is a folie à deux there is a folie à millions — the fact that millions of people share the same mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

In a new essay for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum explores the extreme political polarization in America and the role played by Trump’s Republican Party and the right-wing hate media in creating it. He points first of all at Fox News:

And as anyone who’s watched Fox knows, its fundamental message is rage at what liberals are doing to our country. Over the years the specific message has changed with the times — from terrorism to open borders to Benghazi to Christian cake bakers to critical race theory — but it’s always about what liberal politicians are doing to cripple America, usually with a large dose of thinly veiled racism to give it emotional heft. …

Drum observes that the “Fox effect” is real, and that “rage toward Democrats means more votes for Republicans”:

As far back as 2007 researchers learned that the mere presence of Fox News on a cable system increased Republican vote share by nearly 1 percent. A more recent study estimates that a minuscule 150 seconds per week of watching Fox News can increase the Republican vote share. In a study of real-life impact, researchers found that this means the mere existence of Fox News on a cable system induced somewhere between 3 and 8 percent of non-Republicans to vote for the Republican Party in the 2000 presidential election.

The Fox pipeline is pretty simple. Fox News stokes a constant sense of outrage among its base of viewers, largely by highlighting narratives of white resentment and threats to Christianity. This in turn forces Republican politicians to follow suit. It’s a positive feedback loop that has no obvious braking system, and it’s already radicalized the conservative base so much that most Republicans literally believe that elections are being stolen and democracy is all but dead if they don’t take extreme action.

Drum observes that “this is not an exciting conclusion” and that it may sound “more interesting to go after something new, like social media or lunatic conspiracy theories.” But Fox News is the No. 1 perpetrator in stoking discord, division and far-right ideology. 

Tens of millions of Americans are now lost to the right-wing cult. As repeatedly shown throughout the Age of Trump and beyond many of those people are willing to kill or die for a man who in fact despises them. (That is only one of the important facts they do not understand, but a highly salient one.) In that way, Trumpism is a license for a particular type of white rage, directed toward nonwhite people in particular and the other more generally.

Trumpism and other forms of fascism are not abstractions of political theory and philosophy. In practice, they are a force that lives through, by and against actual human beings. As I navigate and document the right-wing echo chamber (and the larger political madhouse of which it is a part), I repeatedly return to the human costs.

In a 2018 interview with Salon, Jen Senko, director of the documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad” discussed this with me in a conversation that merits extensive quotation. My comment is in bold. We discussed the fact that in Fox News programming, everything is presented as “breaking news” or some kind of “alert.”

This is exciting for older people and it can actually become addictive. Young people are watching Fox News too of course, but it really is targeted at older people. Just think about it. You are an older person, you don’t have that much of a social life and you’re at home. Fox News provides excitement. It provides a purpose. Fox News viewers are on a team. They feel special. There’s like an in-group. Fox News is also like a cult because it’s exclusive and the other side isn’t just wrong, they’re evil. That’s what they have going for them.

After making the documentary you have likely had many people reach out to you. They see their relatives acting like your father.

Every day I get emails from people who want to help their parents or grandparents and other relatives. It is really heartbreaking. People reach out to me after watching my documentary, because for them it was like watching their own family. Most people are relieved that they’re not alone. They tell me, “Now I understand why they’re so angry.” Now these people who have relatives addicted to Fox News know that they don’t have the problem, they are not crazy. It’s like when you’re sick and you have a diagnosis and it makes you feel better. The same applies here.

An acquaintance told me about how when Obama first got in office she went to her uncle and aunt’s house on Thanksgiving. She thought she could talk about the economy, because obviously Obama had just gotten in and he couldn’t have had anything to do with the state of the economy at that point. Her uncle got so mad. He said, “Don’t you talk about that man in my house. Get out!” She said, “No. I’m not leaving.” He goes upstairs, gets a pistol, comes down, points it at her. She’s scared to death. He lowers the gun and then shoots the floor.

Donald Trump’s followers are no longer content with shooting the floor. 

Law enforcement and other experts have warned that the United States is likely to experience a violent right-wing insurgency that could last for years. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have warned that white supremacists are now a greater threat to the U.S. than Islamic terrorists.

There will be blood. There has already been much blood spilled.

American democracy is facing an existential threat, as seen on Jan. 6, in Trump’s extended coup attempt and in the nationwide campaign by Republicans and the larger white right to restrict the voting rights of Black and brown people. Almost none of this is happening in secret. It is announced and loudly promoted almost every second of every day across the right-wing propaganda echo chamber. You can look away, but you do so at your own peril.

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Unfortunately we have 535 plus serving legislators (save a few) whose sole objective is to stay in office until retirement while feathering their nest for post legislative life. There is some good (not great) work being done but not enough since it takes so much time to overcome objections and rewrites rather than coalesce and do what is correct for the voters and the country. It seems that doing the job is more trouble since the deep
pockets hold more sway than millions of voters who are affected by good and bad decisions. The real patriots?- not these 535!

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It is interesting that the GOP unites no matter the issue. It’s all about power, their unity can be likened to a portion of the marriage vow “for better or worse”. Looking at the past 4 years, most GOP members voted for or supported  most if not all of TOTUS’s policies while installing their own. They also installed GOP leaning conservative judges to Federal courts (we have seen the results of those appointments). Many of those actions have not been good for the voters but the voters have been distracted by “shiny objects” that belie the real substance of those actions whose real purpose and realities may not emerge immediately but will last a long time and not for the good of the country. Now that the DEMS have moderate control, they can’t seem to do the same. This may not good or bad but effective for the GOP as they have fodder for the upcoming elections. The DEMS subsects  appear to have the goals in mind but can’t seem to unite long enough to get the job done. At some point it becomes “s**t of get off the pot”. With the pandemic potentially in the rear view mirror, the DEMS are still twisting themselves in the wind. They are essentially setting themselves up for failure. It is well to remember that the GOP is still attempting to hang the failures of the former guy and by extension their failures on the current administration all to gather support for the next election cycle. No matter what liars still lie as stated before the two middle letters in the word POLITICIAN spell “lie”!

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  1. Military News
African-American soldiers of the Harlem Hellfighters
African-American soldiers of the 369th Infantry, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, practice for the upcoming fight in the trenches of the Western Front. (U.S. Army)

24 Aug 2021Military.com | By Patricia Kime

It took Pvt. Henry Johnson 97 years to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his tenacity and grit in defending his fellow soldiers from German troops in a dugout in France’s Argonne Forest, killing four at close range and in hand-to-hand combat, while suffering a head wound.

Now, 103 years after Johnson’s regiment served in World War I — for 191 days, the longest of any unit, according to historians — the storied 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, will receive Congress’ highest award, the Congressional Gold Medal.

On Aug. 10, the Senate passed legislation to award the medal to the Hellfighters, the third Gold Medal to go to an African American unit, after the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 and the Montford Point, North Carolina, Marines in 2011.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken so long for this country to recognize their bravery because so many of our soldiers of color were not recognized for their service,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a press release following the vote. “The Harlem Hellfighters are an example of bravery and courage under fire. And even though this regiment was consigned to racial segregation, they still loved America, and fought hard for America, and died for America.”

The Hellfighters, enlistees from New York, mainly Harlemformed initially as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment in 1916, to prepare for possible U.S. involvement in WWI.

They trained in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1917, where they endured racism, insults and violence, according to the jazz great and unit member Noble Sissle, as noted in a 2018 article in Smithsonian Magazine.

“Our boys had some pretty bitter pills to swallow,” Sissle wrote.

Renamed as the 369th for its trip to Europe, the regiment of 2,000 soldiers arrived in Brest, France, on Jan. 1, 1918, and were assigned to supply, where they unloaded ships, cleaned and provided logistics support in the region.

As the French and British pressed American Expeditionary Forces commander Gen. John Pershing for reinforcements to support their exhausted troops, Pershing, who wanted American units to fight as a stand-alone force, offered up the 369th and assigned the regiment to the French as a combat unit.

By April 15, 1918, well before the American Expeditionary Forces engaged in their first major battle, the Hellfighters were on the front lines, fighting in skirmishes and enduring the onslaught of German forces, including the attack on Johnson that earned him the French Croix de Guerre and, nearly a century later, the Medal of Honor.

The Hellfighters took part in the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, where the unit experienced high casualties — some of the worst of the war, with 144 dead and roughly 1,000 wounded.

They returned home to a heroes’ welcome, according to Smithsonian Magazine, with a victory parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City in February 1919. Johnson, according to President Barack Obama, was “one of our most famous soldiers of the war.”

“His picture was printed on recruitment posters and ads for Victory War Stamps. Former President Teddy Roosevelt wrote that he was one of the bravest men in the war,” Obama said during the Medal of Honor ceremony for Johnson at the White House in June 2015. “But his own nation didn’t award him anything — not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times.”

Johnson advocated for veterans, but he suffered as one himself, struggling both in his marriage and keeping a job, according to the White House. He died of tuberculosis and heart inflammation a decade after returning from the war.

“America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson,” Obama said. “We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. But we can do our best to make it right.”

Sgt. Leander Willett, of Glen Cove, N.Y., was stabbed with a bayonet and bombarded by mustard gas while fighting the Germans as a Hellfighter, his granddaughter said.

In 2019, Willett was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds. The Congressional Gold Medal, Deb Willett said, is an honor that is “long overdue, but just the start.”

“These brave men fought for America and the values we all cherish,” she said in a statement on the legislation. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

The bill to honor the Hellfighters overwhelmingly passed the House and unanimously passed in the Senate. It now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature; the medal will be awarded in a future ceremony. The date has yet to be set.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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A well known Faux news Commentator or more a provocateur and consummate liar visited Hungary to meet with Viktor Orban, the President of Hungary who has stolen several if not all of the last “free elections. The last one he lost with 67% of the voters voting against him. He packed the legislature with loyalists who called the election for him. His actions against Muslims, LBGT plus and immigrants (which are similar to the actions what the former guy wanted to do and did in some cases). Carlson being a big booster of the Former guy and as great a liar reported that the President of Hungary was wonderful and not the monster everyone thinks he is in spite of what the world and his countrymen have seen and experienced. This type of reporting ( it is not journalism) is like a fungus, difficult to eliminate or mitigate. We have gone through a 4 year period of of deception and misdirection. This type of information dissemination is “entertainment” not useful facts or information which makes it dangerous. The owner of Faux corporation has admitted that his goal is purely financial and has no concerns over content (a refreshing if callous opinion). This leaves the onus of what is true, false or proper to the public. We (the public) have expand our viewing and listening to other media outlets to get a full and possible correct assessment of world and local events that affect us. That is the way!

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August 22, 2021Heather Cox Richardson

Aug 23A week after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, as the U.S. was withdrawing the forces that have been in the country since 2001, the initial chaos created by the Taliban’s rapid sweep across the country has simmered down into what is at least a temporary pattern. We knew there was a good chance that the Taliban would regain control of the country when we left, although that was not a foregone conclusion. The former president, Donald Trump, recognized that the American people were tired of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which was approaching its 20th year, and in February 2020, his administration negotiated with the Taliban to enable the U.S. to withdraw. In exchange for the release of 5000 Taliban fighters and the promise that the U.S. would withdraw within the next 14 months, the Taliban agreed not to attack U.S. soldiers. Trump’s dislike of the war in Afghanistan reflected the unpopularity of the long engagement, which by 2020 was ill defined. The war had begun in 2001, after terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11 of that year. Taliban leaders in control of Afghanistan sheltered al-Qaeda, and after the attacks, the U.S. president, George W. Bush, demanded that Afghanistan hand over the terrorist leader believed to be behind the terrorist attack on the U.S: Osama bin Laden. In October, after Taliban leaders refused, the U.S. launched a bombing campaign.That campaign was successful enough that in December 2001 the Taliban offered to surrender. But the U.S. rejected that surrender, determined by then to eradicate the extremist group and fill the vacuum of its collapse with a new, pro-American government. Al-Qaeda leader bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the U.S. project in Afghanistan turned from an anti-terrorism mission into an effort to rebuild the Afghan government into a modern democracy.By 2002 the Bush administration was articulating a new doctrine in foreign policy, arguing that the U.S. had a right to strike preemptively against countries that harbor terrorists. In 2003, under this doctrine, the U.S. launched a war on Iraq, which diverted money, troops, and attention from Afghanistan. The Taliban regrouped and began to regain the territory it had lost after the U.S. first began its bombing campaign in 2001.By 2005, Bush administration officials privately worried the war in Afghanistan could not be won on its current terms, especially with the U.S. focused on Iraq. Then, when he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama turned his attention back to Afghanistan. He threw more troops into that country, bringing their numbers close to 100,000. In 2011, the U.S. military located bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and launched a raid on the compound where he was hiding, killing him. By 2014, Obama had drawn troops in Afghanistan down to about 11,000, and in December of that year, he announced that the mission of the war—weakening the Taliban and capturing bin Laden—had been accomplished, and thus the war was over. The troops would come home. But, of course, they didn’t, leaving Trump to develop his own policy. But his administration’s approach to the chaos in that country was different than his predecessor’s. By negotiating with the Taliban and excluding the Afghan government the U.S. had been supporting, the Trump team essentially accepted that the Taliban were the most important party in Afghanistan. The agreement itself reflected the oddity of the negotiations. Each clause referring to the Taliban began: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will….”It was immediately clear that the Taliban was not living up to its side of the bargain. Although it did stop attacking U.S. troops, It began to escalate violence in Afghanistan itself, assassinated political opponents, and maintained ties to al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, the Trump administration put pressure on the leaders of the Afghan government to release the 5000 Taliban prisoners, and they eventually did. Before Biden took office, Trump dropped the U.S. troop engagement in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to about 2500.When he took office, Biden had to decide whether to follow Trump’s path or to push back on the Taliban on the grounds they were not honoring the agreement Trump’s people had hammered out. Biden himself wanted to get out of the war. At the same time, he recognized that fighting the Taliban again would mean throwing more troops back into Afghanistan, and that the U.S. would again begin to take casualties. He opted to get the troops out, but extended the deadline to September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the initial attack. (Former president Trump complained that the troops should come out faster.)What Biden did not foresee was the speed with which the Taliban would retake control of the country. It swept over the regional capitals and then Kabul in about nine days in mid-August with barely a shot fired, and the head of the Afghan government fled the country, leaving it in chaos. That speed left the U.S. flatfooted. Afghans who had been part of the government or who had helped the U.S. and its allies rushed to the airport to try to escape. In the pandemonium of that first day, up to seven people were killed; two people appear to have clung to a U.S. military plane as it took off, falling to their deaths. And yet, the Taliban, so far, has promised amnesty for its former opponents and limited rights for women. It has its own problems, as the Afghan government has been supported for the previous 20 years by foreign money, including a large percentage from the U.S. Not only has that money dried up as foreign countries refuse to back the Taliban, but also Biden has put sanctions on Afghanistan and also on some Pakistanis suspected of funding the Taliban. At the same time it appears that no other major sponsor, like Russia or China, has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by U.S. money, leaving the Taliban fishing for whatever goodwill it can find. Yesterday, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo flagged tweets showing that members of the Afghan government, including the brother of the president who fled, are in what appear from the photos posted on Twitter to be relaxed talks about forming a new government. Other factions in Afghanistan would like to stop this from happening, and today Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that ISIS-K, another extremist group, is threatening to attack the airport to destabilize the Taliban.Meanwhile, there are 10,000 people crowded into that airport, and U.S. evacuations continue. The Kabul airport is secure—for now—and the U.S. military has created a larger perimeter around it for protection. The U.S. government has asked Americans in Afghanistan to shelter in place until they can be moved out safely; the Qatari ambassador to Afghanistan has been escorting groups of them to the airport. Evacuations have been slower than hoped because of backlogs at the next stage of the journey, but the government has enlisted the help of 18 commercial airlines to move those passengers forward, leaving room for new evacuees. Yesterday, about 7800 evacuees left the Kabul airport. About 28,000 have been evacuated since August 14.Interestingly, much of the U.S. media is describing this scenario as a disaster for President Biden. Yet, on CNN this morning, Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, noted that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan without a single loss of an American life, while in the same period of time, 5000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 500 have died from gunshots.—-
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AUGUST 16, 2021

An essential read from David Corn’s This Land newsletter.

DAVID CORN

Washington, DC, Bureau Chief Bio | Follow

Editor’s note: This must-read essay from David Corn appears in his new newsletter, This Land. We’re still piloting the project, but given the gravity of what’s happening in Afghanistan and David’s spot-on analysis, we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to read it. This Land is a new paid newsletter written by David three times a week to get behind-the-scenes updates and his unvarnished take on the stories of the day, and more, and subscribing costs just $5 a month—but we’re giving everyone a sneak peek today for this important story. (You can sign up for a free 30-day trial of This Land to get more from David here.)

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the calamitous collapse of Kabul are the result of years of American failure to understand that nation and that war—an immense failure that was covered up by the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

It was Bush and Dick Cheney who led the United States into what would be the longest-running quagmire in American history. And they did so with little strategic thought about what to do after chasing Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan and running the al-Qaeda-friendly Taliban out of power. Most notoriously, before figuring out how to proceed in Afghanistan after the initial attack, they launched the even more misguided war in Iraq on the basis of lies and, in similar fashion, without a clear plan for what would come after the fall of Saddam Hussein. As a result, over 4,400 American soldiers would perish there, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in the years of post-invasion fighting. Meanwhile, nearly 6,300 American GIs and contractors would lose their lives in Afghanistan. The arrogance and ineptitude of Bush, Cheney, and their henchmen have led to the horrible images and tales we have seen reported from Afghanistan in the past few days—which themselves are the continuation of many years of horrible images and tales from the double-debacle of these two wars.

But the Obama and Trump administrations were complicit in the Afghanistan catastrophe, particularly for perpetuating the national security establishment’s delusions—and lies—about the war. In 2019, the Washington Post obtained access to a trove of confidential US government documents about the Afghanistan war that were produced as part of an inspector general’s project that investigated the root failures of the war by conducting interviews with 400 insiders involved with the effort, including generals, White House officials, diplomats, and Afghan officials. The findings were damning. As the Post put it, “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

That was a helluva secret to keep from the public. A sharp indictment came from Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who was the White House Afghan war czar for Bush and Obama. In 2015, he told the project’s interviewers, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan­—we didn’t know what we were doing.” The guy in charge of Afghanistan remarkably added, “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” Lute also observed, “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.” Yes, imagine if we did—though the vast corruption that undermined the massive US rebuilding endeavor was well reported repeatedly over the years. As were the continuous failures within the war itself. Yet Congress, the media, and the citizenry paid insufficient attention to this never-ending, going-nowhere conflict.

Several officials interviewed noted the US government—military HQ in Kabul and the White House—consistently hoodwinked the public to make it seem the US was winning in Afghanistan when it was not. Remember the steady stream of assurances the Afghan military was becoming more capable of beating back the Taliban? That was BS. A senior National Security Council official said there was pressure from the Obama White House and the Pentagon to concoct stats showing the American troop surge was succeeding: “It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory, and none of it painted an accurate picture. The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

John Sopko, who headed the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which ran the project, bottom-lined this for the Post: “The American people have constantly been lied to.”

Think about that. Americans have paid about $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Thousands have given their lives; many more have suffered tremendous injuries. And the public was not told the truth about this venture. It was bamboozled by successive administrations. The Post had to twice sue SIGAR to force the release of these papers under the Freedom of Information Act. The Trump administration preferred to keep this material under wraps.

These documents were somewhat akin to the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page long history of the Vietnam War that was leaked to the media by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 and showed that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had routinely deceived the public about supposed progress in that war. (The Afghanistan papers, unlike the Vietnam study, were not classified.) Yet the Post’s big get did not detonate a major controversy, as the Pentagon Papers did. This holy-shit scoop was duly noted, and then, as is often the case, we all moved on. The Afghanistan war had long since become a non-story, relegated to p. A15, if covered at all.

Now we are worried, perhaps angered, by the fall of Kabul, and we fear for the Afghans—especially the women and girls, the human rights activists, and those who aided US forces and Western journalists—who are about to become inhabitants of the Taliban’s fundamentalist hellscape. But however we reached this point—and whether or not President Joe Biden committed a grave error with the US troop withdrawal and its management—one thing is clear: US presidents, military officials, and policymakers were not straight with the American public about Afghanistan. We never had an honest debate about what was being done there and what could—and couldn’t—be accomplished. (For a snapshot of the absurdity of the Afghanistan war, see this recent thread from Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.)

As Afghans in Kabul, including President Ashraf Ghani, fled the incoming Taliban this past weekend, the blame game kicked in. Who lost Afghanistan? Well, it wasn’t ours to lose in the first place. But everyone is to blame, for everyone lied or got it wrong: Bush and Cheney, Obama and Biden, Trump and Pence, and now Biden and Harris. When Trump in February 2020 signed a “peace deal” with the Taliban obligating the US troop withdrawal that has just occurred, he told Americans that he expected the Taliban would act responsibly. He claimed the Taliban was “tired of war.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called it a “hopeful moment.” Months later, there was intensified fighting. In July, President Joe Biden, who had the choice of abiding by this deal or confronting an anticipated expansion in Taliban attacks, presented a false impression of what to expect with the troop pullout Trump had negotiated: “The jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Ending the US military involvement in Afghanistan is a noble goal. But while it was too easy for the United States, in the wake of 9/11, to launch a forever war in the land that previously defied the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and other outsiders, extrication was never going to be smooth and cost-free. History doesn’t lie. And with no honest dialogue about the war, this brutal finish is even more shocking.

The American public has been conned about Afghanistan for two decades by successive administrations. Did any of those lies do the Afghan people any good? That’s a tough question to answer this week. The 20 years of fighting did keep the Taliban at bay, and for many Afghans that was a true benefit. But the lies certainly were an offense against the American public and the Constitution. The war in Afghanistan—prosecuted in ignorance and sold with hubris and falsehoods—has been a scandal of the highest order, a fundamental violation of the national trust. An awful aspect of this fiasco is that the perpetrators and protectors of the Afghanistan fraud have not been held accountable, while the Afghans now suffer. This is their tragedy. But it was built upon the profound and bipartisan malfeasance of our government.

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Reed Albergotti  6 hrs ago

Prophets are never believed until the truth slaps us in the face-Remember climate change warnings? MA


In 1994 — before most Americans had an email address or Internet access or even a personal computer — Philip Agre foresaw that computers would one day facilitate the mass collection of data on everything in society.

That process would change and simplify human behavior, wrote the then UCLA humanities professor. And because that data would be collected not by a single, powerful “big brother” government but by lots of entities for lots of different purposes, he predicted that people would willingly part with massive amounts of information about their most personal fears and desires.

“Genuinely worrisome developments can seem ‘not so bad‘ simply for lacking the overt horrors of Orwell’s dystopia,” wrote Agre, who has a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an academic paper.

Nearly 30 years later, Agre’s paper seems eerily prescient, a startling vision of a future that has come to pass in the form of a data industrial complex that knows no borders and few laws. Data collected by disparate ad networks and mobile apps for myriad purposes is being used to sway elections or, in at least one case, to out a gay priest. But Agre didn’t stop there. He foresaw the authoritarian misuse of facial recognition technology, he predicted our inability to resist well-crafted disinformation and he foretold that artificial intelligence would be put to dark uses if not subjected to moral and philosophical inquiry.

Then, no one listened. Now, many of Agre’s former colleagues and friends say they’ve been thinking about him more in recent years, and rereading his work, as pitfalls of the Internet’s explosive and unchecked growth have come into relief, eroding democracy and helping to facilitate a violent uprising on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in January.

“We’re living in the aftermath of ignoring people like Phil,” said Marc Rotenberg, who edited a book with Agre in 1998 on technology and privacy, and is now founder and executive director for the Center for AI and Digital Policy.

Charlotte Lee, who studied under Agre as a graduate student at UCLA, and is now a professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, said she is still studying his work and learning from it today. She said she wishes he were around to help her understand it even better.

But Agre isn’t available. In 2009, he simply dropped off the face of the earth, abandoning his position at UCLA. When friends reported Agre missing, police located him and confirmed that he was OK, but Agre never returned to the public debate. His closest friends declined to further discuss details of his disappearance, citing respect for Agre’s privacy.

Instead, many of the ideas and conclusions that Agre explored in his academic research and his writing are only recently cropping up at think tanks and nonprofits focused on holding technology companies accountable.

“I’m seeing things Phil wrote about in the 90s being said today as though they’re new ideas,” said Christine Borgman, a professor of information studies at UCLA who helped recruit Agre for his professorship at the school.

The Washington Post sent a message to Agre’s last known email address. It bounced back. Attempts to contact his sister and other family members were unsuccessful. A dozen former colleagues and friends had no idea where Agre is living today. Some said that, as of a few years ago, he was living somewhere around Los Angeles.

Agre was a child math prodigy who became a popular blogger and contributor to Wired. Now he has been all but forgotten in mainstream technology circles. But his work is still regularly cited by technology researchers in academia and is considered foundational reading in the field of social informatics, or the study of the effects of computers on society.

Agre earned his doctorate at MIT in 1989, the same year the World Wide Web was invented. At that time, even among Silicon Valley venture capitalists betting on the rise of computers, few people foresaw just how deeply and quickly the computerization of everything would change life, economics or even politics.

A small group of academics, Agre included, observed that computer scientists viewed their work in a vacuum largely disconnected from the world around it. At the same time, people outside that world lacked a deep enough understanding of technology or how it was about to change their lives.

By the early 1990s, Agre came to believe the field of artificial intelligence had gone astray, and that a lack of criticism of the profession was one of the main reasons. In those early days of artificial intelligence, most people in AI were focused on complex math problems aimed at automating human tasks, with limited success. Yet the industry described the code they were writing as “intelligent,” giving it human attributes that didn’t actually exist.

His landmark 1997 paper called “Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI” is still largely considered a classic, said Geoffrey Bowker, professor emeritus of informatics at University of California, Irvine. Agre noticed that those building artificial intelligence ignored critiques of the technology from outsiders. But Agre argued criticism should be part of the process of building AI. “The conclusion is quite brilliant and has taken us as a field many years to understand. One foot planted in the craftwork in design and the other foot planted in a critique,” Bowker said.

Nevertheless, AI has barreled ahead unencumbered, weaving itself into even “low tech” industries and affecting the lives of most people who use the Internet. It guides people on what to watch and read on YouTube and Facebook, it determines sentences for convicted criminals, allows companies to automate and eliminate jobs, and allows authoritarian regimes to monitor citizens with greater efficiency and thwart attempts at democracy.

Today’s AI, which has largely abandoned the type of work Agre and others were doing in the ’80s and ’90s, is focused on ingesting massive sums of data and analyzing it with the world’s most powerful computers. But as the new form of AI has progressed, it has created problems — ranging from discrimination to filter bubbles to the spread of disinformation — and some academics say that is in part because it suffers from the same lack of self-criticism that Agre identified 30 years ago.

In December, Google’s firing of AI research scientist Timnit Gebru after she wrote a paper on the ethical issues facing Google’s AI efforts, highlighted the continued tension over the ethics of artificial intelligence and the industry’s aversion to criticism.

“It’s such a homogenous field and people in that field don’t see that maybe what they’re doing could be criticized,” said Sofian Audrey, a professor of computational media at University of Quebec who began as an artificial intelligence researcher. “What Agre says is that it is worthwhile and necessary that the people who develop these technologies are critical,” Audrey said.

Agre grew up in Maryland, where he said he was “constructed to be a math prodigy” by a psychologist in the region. He said in his 1997 paper that school integration led to a search for gifted and talented students. Agre later became angry at his parents for sending him off to college early and his relationship with them suffered as a result, according to a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Agre did not give him permission to speak about his personal life.

Agre wrote that when he entered college, he wasn’t required to learn about much else other than math and “arrived in graduate school at MIT with little genuine knowledge beyond math and computers.” He took a year off graduate school to travel and read, “Trying in an indiscriminate way, and on my own resources, to become an educated person,” he wrote.

Agre began to rebel, in a sense, from his profession, seeking out critics of artificial intelligence, studying philosophy and other academic disciplines. At first, he found the texts “impenetrable,” he wrote, because he had trained his mind to dissect everything he read as he would a technical paper on math or computer science. “It finally occurred to me to stop translating these strange disciplinary languages into technical schemata, and instead simply to learn them on their own terms,” he wrote.

Agre’s blossoming intellectual interest took him away from computer science and transformed him into something unusual at that time: A brilliant mathematician with a deep understanding of the most advanced theories in artificial intelligence, who could also step outside of that realm and look at it critically from the perspective of an outsider.

or this reason, Agre became a sought-after academic. Several former colleagues told stories about Agre’s insatiable appetite on books from across the academic and popular landscape, piled high in his office or in the library. He became known for his original thinking that was buoyed by his widespread curiosity.

“He was a very enlightening person to think with — someone you would want to have a meal with at every opportunity,” Borgman said.

Agre combined his understanding of the humanities and technology to dissect the impact technology would have on society as it progressed. Today, many of his analyses read like predictions come true.

In a 1994 paper, published a year before the launches of Yahoo, Amazon and eBay, Agre foresaw that computers could facilitate the mass collection of data on everything in society, and that people would overlook the privacy concerns because, rather than “big brother” collecting data to surveil citizens, it would be many different entities collecting the data for lots of purposes, some good and some problematic.

More profoundly, though, Agre wrote in the paper that the mass collection of data would change and simplify human behavior to make it easier to quantify. That has happened on a scale few people could have imagined, as social media and other online networks have corralled human interactions into easily quantifiable metrics, such as being friends or not, liking or not, a follower or someone who is followed. And the data generated by those interactions has been used to further shape behavior, by targeting messages meant to manipulate people psychologically.

In 2001, he wrote that “your face is not a bar code,” arguing against the use of facial recognition in public places. In the article, he predicted that, if the technology continues to develop in the West, it would eventually be adopted elsewhere, allowing, for instance, the Chinese government to track everyone inside its country within 20 years.

Twenty years later, a debate is raging in the U.S. over the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and immigration officials and some states have begun to ban the technology in public places. Despite outcry, it may be too late to curtail the proliferation of the technology. China, as Agre predicted, has already begun employing it on a mass scale, allowing an unprecedented level of surveillance by the Communist Party.

Agre brought his work into the mainstream with an Internet mailing list called the Red Rock Eater News Service, named after a joke in Bennett Cerf’s Book of Riddles. It’s considered an early example of what would eventually become blogs.

Agre was also, at times, deeply frustrated with the limitations of his work, which was so far ahead of its time that it went unheeded until 25 years later. “He felt that people didn’t get what he was saying. He was writing for an audience of the benighted and the benighted were unable to understand what he was saying,” Bowker said.

“He was certainly frustrated that there wasn’t more uptake. But people who are a generation ahead of themselves, they’re always a generation ahead of themselves,” Borgman said.

Agre’s final project was what friends and colleagues colloquially called “The Bible of the Internet,” a definitive book that would dissect the foundations of the Internet from the ground up. But he never finished it.

From time to time, Agre resurfaces, according to a former colleague, but has not been seen in years.

“Why do certain kinds of insightful scholars or even people with such an insightful understanding of some field essentially throw their arms in the air and go I’m done with this?” asked Simon Penny, a professor of fine arts at University of California, Irvine who has studied Agre’s work extensively. “Psychologically people have these breaks. It’s a big question. Who goes on and why? Who continues to be engaged in some sort of battle, some sort of intellectual project and at what point do they go I’m done? Or, say ‘this is not relevant to me anymore and I’ve see the error of my ways.’”

Several years ago, former colleagues at UCLA attempted to put together a collection of his work, but Agre resurfaced, telling them to stop.

Agre’s life’s work was left uncompleted, questions posed but unanswered. John Seberger, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Informatics at Indiana University who has studied Agre’s work extensively, said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Seberger said Agre’s work offers a way of thinking about the problems that face an increasingly digital society. But today, more than a decade after Agre’s disappearance, the problems are more clearly understood and there are more people studying them.

“Especially right now when we are dealing with profound social unrest, the possibility to involve more diverse groups of scholars in answering these questions that he left unanswered can only benefit us,” he said.

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It appears that the information or misinformation about tax cuts have finally shown how “tax” reforms have failed the public in general while benefitting the high earners including many of our current and former legislators. MA


August 10, 2021Heather Cox Richardson Aug 11

The shocking revelations from former acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen about former president Trump’s direct efforts to use the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election, along with the horrors of spiking Covid among the unvaccinated, drove out of the news cycle a revelatory piece of news. Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor released the jobs report for August 2021. It was stronger than economists had predicted, and even stronger than the administration had hoped. In July, employers added 943,000 jobs, and unemployment fell to 5.4%. Average hourly wages increased, as well. They are 4% higher than they were a year ago. Harvard Professor Jason Furman, former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, tweeted: “I have yet to find a blemish in this jobs report. I’ve never before seen such a wonderful set of economic data.” He noted the report showed “Job gains in most sectors… Big decline in unemployment rate, even bigger for Black & Hispanic/Latino… Reduction in long-term unemployment]… Solid (nominal) wage gains. ”Still a long way to go,” he wrote. “We’re about 7.5 million jobs short of where we should have been right now absent the pandemic. But we’ve made a lot of progress. “Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, told New York Times reporter Nelson D. Schwartz: “It’s an unambiguously positive report…. Labor market conditions are strong. Unemployment benefits, infection risks and child care constraints are not preventing robust hiring. “The jobs report is an important political marker because it appears to validate the Democrats’ approach to the economy, the system the president calls the “Biden Plan.” That plan started in January, as soon as Biden took office, using the federal government to combat the coronavirus pandemic as aggressively as the administration could and, at the same time, using federal support to restart the economy. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. In addition to strengthening healthcare systems to combat the coronavirus, it provides economic relief primarily to low- and middle-income Americans by extending unemployment benefits and the child tax credit; funding schools, housing, and local governments; providing help for small businesses; and so on. Polls indicated that the measure was enormously popular. A Morning Consult poll from February showed that 3 out of 4 voters liked it, and local governments and state governors, including a number of Republicans, backed the bill.But every single Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives voted against the measure, saying it was too expensive and that it was unnecessary. Since 1980, Republican lawmakers have opposed government intervention to stimulate the economy, insisting that private investment is more efficient. Rather than use the government as presidents of both parties from Franklin Delano Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter did to keep the playing field level and promote growth, modern-day Republicans have argued that the government should simply cut taxes in order to free up capital for wealthier Americans to invest. This, they said, would create enough growth to make up for lost tax revenues. President Ronald Reagan began this trend with major tax cuts in 1981 and 1986. President George H.W. Bush promised not to raise taxes—remember “Read my lips: No new taxes”—but found he had to increase revenues to address the skyrocketing deficits the Reagan cuts created. When he did agree to higher taxes, his own party leaders turned against him. Then President George W. Bush cut taxes again in 2001 and 2003, despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in 2017, Republicans under President Donald Trump cut taxes still further. In 2017, Trump claimed the cut would be “rocket fuel for the economy.” Then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed almost 40 years of Republican ideology when he said: “The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.” And then–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “After eight straight years of slow growth and underperformance, America is ready to take off.” (In fact, while Trump’s tax cuts meant tax revenues dropped 31%, they yielded only 2.9% growth, the exact same as the economy enjoyed in 2015, before the cuts.)Laws like the American Rescue Plan should, in the Republicans’ view, destroy the economy. But Friday’s booming jobs report, along with the reality that the Biden administration has created an average of 832,000 new jobs per month, knocks a serious hole in that argument. It may be that the pendulum is swinging away from the Republican conviction that tax cuts and private investment are the only key to economic growth. Today, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill by a vote of 69 to 30. The bill repairs roads and bridges, invests in transit and railroads, replaces lead pipes, and provides broadband across the country, among other things. In the next ten years, it is expected to create nearly 3 million jobs. Nineteen Republicans voted in favor of the bill. There were many reasons to do so. The measure is popular with voters, and Republicans were embarrassed by their unanimous opposition to the American Rescue Plan. Indicating a willingness to work with Democrats might also undercut the Republicans’ image as obstructionists and help to protect the filibuster (a factor I’m guessing was behind McConnell’s yes vote).But that Republicans felt they needed to abandon their position and vote yes for any reason is a big deal. “For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage,” Biden told them. “And I want to personally thank you for that. “The bill now goes to the House, which will take it up after the Senate passes a $3.5 trillion infrastructure measure through the reconciliation process, which Democrats can do with a simple majority and without Republican support. The larger package addresses climate change, child care, elder care, housing, and so on. Moody Analytics, which provides economic research and modeling, says that, if it is combined with the bipartisan bill, it will add close to 2 million jobs a year over the next ten years. Yet, Republicans say it is a “reckless tax and spending spree. In contrast, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: “My largest concern is not: What are the risks if we make these big investments? It is: What is the cost if we don’t?”—-
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