US Approves Google Plan To Let Political Emails Bypass Gmail Spam Filter

“The US Federal Election Commission approved a Google plan on Thursday to let campaign emails bypass Gmail spam filters. The FEC’s advisory opinion adopted in a 4-1 vote said Gmail’s pilot program is permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations “and would not result in the making of a prohibited in-kind contribution.”

The FEC said Google’s approved plan is for “a pilot program to test new Gmail design features at no cost on a nonpartisan basis to authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership PACs.” On July 1, Google asked the FEC for the green light to implement the pilot after Republicans accused the company of giving Democrats an advantage in its algorithms.

-Jon Brodkin, “US approves Google plan to let political emails bypass Gmail spam filter.” ArsTechnica. August 12, 2022

Who does this serve? Does it serve the person using Gmail or does it serve someone else?

My suggestion: Don’t use Gmail. Protonmail is probably the easiest alternative to set-up and use.

America’s Modern Character: Paranoid Loser

“[Columbia professor Adam Tooze, writer of the definitive forensic analysis of the 2008 financial crisis in Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World,] does not buy the line that America is roaring back at the head of a resurgent West, even if the autocracies have suffered a crushing reverse over recent months. ‘I see America as the huge weak link,’ he said.

He broadly subscribes to the Fukuyama thesis that the American body politic is by now so rotten within, so riddled with the cancer of identity politics that it is developing a paranoid loser’s view of the world. The storming of Congress was not so much an aberration under this schema, but rather the character of modern America.”

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “The world’s financial system is entering dangerous waters again, warns guru of the Lehman crisis.” The Telegraph. May 23, 2022.

Open question: Is the current populism and “paranoid style” of the American character an sign of decline or a trait that becomes more prevalent with populist resurgence?

The paranoid character of U.S. politics is not a new claim, see the Richard J. Hofstadter essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” The online version is Harper’s Magazine is currently behind a paywall. But, I’d imagine most city public libraries have a copy of it.

The paranoid style is a recurring feature of populist movements, right and left, evident from so-called militia/patriot movements to the “woke” left of our time. Nothing is really new about either. But, is there something new in this wave? Is it significantly different than movements that led to prohibition of alcohol and marijuana?

I’m inclined to see the current environment as a variation on a consistent pattern, like the Great Awakenings. Ultimately, these kinds of heated discussions are the strength of democracies, even when they lead to things like the U.S. Civil War. You get your say. If you feel strongly enough, you fight about it. But, in the end, a decision is made and you see how it goes. It’s not dictated by some clown at the top. It’s messy. But, it’s better than the alternative.

Woke or Witch-Hunt?

“At the protest, I met Tulsi Patel, a postdoc at Columbia. Patel tells me about a new bullying policy at Columbia, which she helped to write, to deal with “power-based harassment” that doesn’t fall into the already illegal categories like sex and race-based harassment. “We recommended calling it the Office of Conflict Resolution, just to make it sound like a chill thing, like it’s about resolving conflicts,” Patel said. The provost is reviewing the proposal. 

Grossman, the dean of NYU’s medical school, talks a lot about, “listening to our community” and “believing in the process,” but the protestors don’t really care about any of that. They’re playing a different game. They know that if they make enough noise, if they claim enough “harm,” NYU— or any other school that brands itself as inclusive or progressive—will give in. And even if Sabatini were hired, no one would have worked with him. It would have been social suicide to.  

Many of the researchers and postdocs I spoke to pointed out that, as scientists, it’s essential to look carefully at all the evidence and to leave no stone unturned. The way the Whitehead and MIT conducted their investigation into David Sabatini runs counter, they say, to the scientific method itself. It also sends a clear message: That ground-breaking research takes a backseat to an ideal of social purity, and that subjective truth is the only truth that matters.

“In my lab, there were two criteria we always strived toward; that the discovery is fundamentally true, which means proving it in many different ways, and that it’s new,” Sabatini said. “Everyone talks about your truth, and my truth. Physically, chemically, there’s only one truth.”

-Suze Weiss, “He Was a World-Renowned Cancer Researcher. Now He’s Collecting Unemployment.” bariweiss.substack.com. May 19, 2022.

Obviously a one-sided story. But, it does raise questions about what the appropriate response to these kinds of allegations should be. In this version, it would appear that Sabatini is on the receiving end of someone using sexual harassment as a tool for punishment for a relationship that did not work out.

Then, there are claims like those against Warren Ellis, who had many women have come forward has a pattern of “sexual manipulation.” Or women like Chrissy Hynde, who blame themselves for sexual assault.

Further, much of this discussion falls into black and white notions of someone being at fault. Relationships are complex. People make mistakes. But, there are also people acting badly and unaccountably. What to do about it?

Conflict resolution seems like a reasonable way to think about it. But, what does “resolution” consist of? If it is truly about creating environments where people feel safe, then the main focus of the process cannot be about passing judgment and destroying people.

Where’s the line between woke and witch hunt? How can we move to create safer, more inclusive spaces, but at the same time, recognize that people make mistakes? With all the discussion about these issues, you rarely see any nuance beyond passing judgment and attacking people. That’s not creating a safe environment for anyone.

Insiders & Outsiders

“There are two kinds of political actors in this world: insiders and outsiders.

Outsiders are free to speak their truth, Summers explains. But the price of such freedom is irrelevance in the halls of power. Insiders, by contrast, have a seat at the table where history is made. But to keep those seats, they must take care not to criticize other insiders. So, Summers asks his dining companion, which are you?

-Eric Levitz, “Was Larry Summers Right All Along?New York: Intelligencer. January 24, 2022.

Outsider. Irrelevant, and prefer it that way.

The New York Times Problem, Exhibit: Abortion

“The Supreme Court seems all but certain to rewrite the country’s abortion laws when it rules in coming months on a case from Mississippi. But the real-world effects of that ruling will differ enormously depending on how far the justices go.

In one scenario, only a small share of abortions now being conducted in the U.S. — less than 2 percent, perhaps — would become illegal. In another scenario, the ruling could lead to sweeping changes in abortion access and a large decline in abortions.

-David Leonhardt, “A Portrait of Abortion.” The New York Times: The Morning Newsletter. December 14, 2021https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/12/the-fda-just-made-medication-abortions-a-whole-lot-easier-to-get/

Every weekday morning and Sunday, I read David Leonhardt’s The Morning Newsletter to my wife. Her politics are Democratic Party liberal politics, and The New York Times is the paper of record for liberals in the United States. So, this newsletter explains the thinking of that demographic.

While I enjoy talking to my wife about the issues of the day, I find the framing of these issues by the The Morning Newsletter bordering on incompetence. As you can see from the quote above, the framing of the issue is a false dichotomy, between less or more restriction, with an understanding that abortion is some surgical procedure done by a doctor, or by some illegal clinic harkening back to Prohibition. But, I’d say there’s a key element missing in The New York Times discussion. There are modern medical abortifacients, i.e., mifepristone and misoprostol, that can end a pregnancy. Together, they are an “abortion pill”. Here’s Planned Parenthood providing an overview:

“Abortion pill” is the common name for using two different medicines to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol.

First, you take a pill called mifepristone. Pregnancy needs a hormone called progesterone to grow normally. Mifepristone blocks your body’s own progesterone, stopping the pregnancy from growing.

Then you take the second medicine, misoprostol, either right away or up to 48 hours later. This medicine causes cramping and bleeding to empty your uterus. It’s kind of like having a really heavy, crampy period, and the process is very similar to an early miscarriage. If you don’t have any bleeding within 24 hours after taking the second medicine, call your nurse or doctor.

-“The Abortion Pill.” Planned Parenthood.

So, you no longer have to have a surgical procedure to have an abortion. You simply have to take two medications, within 48 hours of one another.

Now, the implications of that fact are profound. This means that stopping abortions is as practical as stopping people from taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Decades of a U.S. “Drug War” and the experiment of Prohibition illustrates a simple fact. The minute you prohibit a legal means of getting something done, you create an illegal market for it.

The implications are obvious. The level of restrictions that the Supreme Court allows and individual states implement will create illegal markets in mifepristone and misoprostol. As with other drugs, it will be impossible to prevent these drugs from reaching the people that want them.

So,, prohibiting surgical abortion might have the counter-intuitive effect of creating a illegal market for abortion drugs that will make abortion more accessible, not less. And, when the Pro-Life movement understands this fact, they will then try to go after women using these medications, except instead of draconian drug laws, they’ll create abortion specific laws or try to make using these medications an action that can be charged as murder.

Action, reaction. All very predictable, and all not even hinted at in the The New York Times dichotomy of more restrictive and less restrictive options.

Perhaps, we should give David and the other writers at The Times the benefit of the doubt. It is a daily, and they are limited in the amount of detail they can put in. However, this doesn’t change the fact that their efforts are more likely to misinform people than provide them with a useful framework for understanding the world.

Fake news is everywhere because most of the thinking presented in mass media is bad, top to bottom. It’s not a problem of a particular political point of view. It’s a problem across the board. The real question one should be asking is: who benefits from viewing the abortion issue as a dichotomy hinged on the decisions on The Supreme Court? A question left as an exercise for the reader.

Update: Not even two days after writing this Mother Jones reports:

“The Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will loosen restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone, allowing people to receive the pill via mail or pharmacy instead of having to appear in person at a clinic or hospital.” 

-Lil Kalish, “The FDA Just Made Medication Abortions a Whole Lot Easier to Get.” Mother Jones. December 16, 2021.

Action, reaction.

The Attack: Before, During and After

“President Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy began in the spring of 2020, when he issued a flurry of preemptive attacks on the integrity of the country’s voting systems. The doubts he cultivated ultimately led to a rampage inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob came within seconds of encountering Vice President Mike Pence, trapped lawmakers and vandalized the home of Congress in the worst desecration of the complex since British forces burned it in 1814. Five people died in the Jan. 6 attack or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted…

…This project is based on interviews with more than 230 people and thousands of pages of court documents and internal law enforcement reports, as well as hundreds of videos, photographs and audio clips.”

-Jacqueline Alemany, Hannah Allam, et al.” The Attack: Before, During and After.” The Washington Post. October 31, 2021.

Read this The Washington Post series along with this fact from a recent Marist poll:

“Looking ahead to 2024, 36% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents say their party will have a better chance winning the White House with Biden at the top of the ticket. 44% want someone else, and 20% are unsure.

In contrast, asked the same question about Trump, 50% of Republicans and GOP leaning independents say a Trump ticket has the best chance of recapturing the presidency. 35% want someone else, and 14% say they are unsure.”

NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll: Trust in Elections, Threat to Democracy, Biden Approval, November 2021.” Marist Poll. November 1, 2021.

If you are one of 50% of Republicans on Team Trump, fuck you.

Mass Movements & Affinity Groups

“You don’t have to have a deep and intimate knowledge of the left or any of its manifestations to be part of its future. If you disagree with my values, if you think the left should change from what it has been, the path is simple: do the work. Convince people. Convince me. Organize. Get off of social media and into real-world spaces, otherwise known as your actual community. Do the shitty grunt work that real activism entails, the boring, dispiriting, exhausting trudge to slowly winning over one convert at a time. Lose and actually experience losing, by which I mean experience the pain and humiliation without dulling it with the numbing poison of irony. Organize with people who are not like you, people who you have fundamental disagreements with, passionate disagreements with, but who you recognize as sharing a significant degree of self-interest with you. Articulate your values and why they’re superior. But don’t show up online, sneering at everyone else as a way to hide your lack of confidence, and snidely make assertions about a history you know nothing about. And stop fucking asking “what happened to you?” like you know or care how people used to be. That’s just bullshit internet social control and I have no patience for it.

I love newcomers to socialism and organizing. I always have. But I also know my history, and ours, and will not let myself or my movement be defined by anyone else. Sorry. Not here, not about this. I am a leftist, a socialist, a Marxist, and will remain so. I was born here, and I’ll die here.”

-Freddie deBoer, “I’m Still Here.” freddiedeboer.substack.com. November 1, 2021.

I enjoy Freddie deBoer’s writing, and I’ve been thinking about this piece for a bit since I read it. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s not my job to convince you. I’m not interested in a mass movement, where we all collectively convince each other on some course of action and take it. Ultimately, I think that’s what’s wrong with leftist politics.

If you want to change the world, you start on the ground you are on and find fellow travelers. You find people that, in the main, agree with your political point of view. In anarchist circles, these are called affinity groups:

“An affinity group is a small group of 5 to 20 people who work together autonomously on direct actions or other projects. You can form an affinity group with your friends, people from your community, workplace, or organization.

Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organizing, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to “be” the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups by nature are decentralized and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organizing and action. The affinity group model was first used by anarchists in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was re-introduced to radical direct action by anti-nuclear activists during the 1970s, who used decentralized non-violent direct action to blockade roads, occupy spaces and disrupt “business as usual” for the nuclear and war makers of the US. Affinity groups have a long and interesting past, owing much to the anarchists and workers of Spain and the anarchists and radicals today who use affinity groups, non-hierarchical structures, and consensus decision making in direct action and organizing.”

-Shawn Ewald, “Affinity Groups.” The Anarchist Library. 2008.

Affinity Groups are a completely different model from major party, first past the post politics of liberal “democracies” that impose various forms of tyranny of the majority on the world they inhabit or the communism with its vanguards, opening the path for the hoi polloi.

I don’t have any illusions that there is anyone on this planet that is going to agree with my politics. But, there are enough people that might get close, who believe in decentralized organization, home rule, direct action and who have views that large governments, on balance and looked at over the course of their entire histories, are probably more a force for harm than for help for the vast majority of people. Say this to any person that identifies as Democrat / Liberal / Labour or what have you, and you’ll immediately get labeled as some variety of conservative. Maybe, but not the kind you are thinking of.

If you are busy, like Freddie, trying to convince Trump supporters and people like me to join your political cause, whether that cause is socialism, party politics, abortion or your political action of choice, then it’s unlikely you’ll spend a lot of time developing an affinity group because you are looking to be part of something larger.

This is why affinity groups aren’t more common. The politics of the day are designed to suck out the energy that would go into creating small groups and forming the bonds where the politics we wish to see in the world manifest and can be used to create real change for the people in those affinity groups. It’s not dependent on the will of Congress or your local politician, who are beholden to moneyed interests that fund their campaigns and get them elected.

When’s the last time you’ve seen a political argument that you should focus on the 5 to 20 people nearest and dearest to you and try to remake the world in some small way with them? We don’t because our lives have been atomized to the point that most of us probably don’t have five people in our lives we would want to form an affinity group with. That’s not an accident.

Too Far Left, or What Does It Mean to Be “Radical”

“On Tuesday, a Florida judge sentenced Daniel Baker, an anti-fascist activist, to 44 months in federal prison for social media posts that called for armed defense against possible far-right attacks on the state’s Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riots. Baker, a 34-year-old yoga teacher and emergency medical technician trainee, had no previous criminal convictions and has already been held for 10 months of harsh pretrial detention, including seven months in solitary confinement. He never brought a weapon near a government building; he amassed no armed anti-fascist forces; he made no threats on a single individual.

Baker will, nonetheless, face considerably more prison time than most January 6 defendants, including those who crossed state lines, small arsenals in tow, with the aim of overturning a presidential election…

…Baker was convicted at trial earlier this year on two counts of “transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure another person.” The threat of kidnapping charge stemmed from a feverish public Facebook post in which Baker put out a general call for anti-racists and anti-fascists to encircle the state Capitol, should far-right groups attack it “on or around inauguration day,” and “trap” right-wingers inside with cops. In the very next sentence, though, he wrote, “we will drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available!” The right wing militiae were thus to be trapped in and driven out at once, on an unspecified day, by an unnamed collaboration of counterprotesters.”

-Natasha Lennard, “A Florida Anarchist Will Spend Years in Prison for Online Posts Prompted by Jan. 6 Riot.The Intercept. October 16, 2021.

I find this interesting on two levels.

One, there’s a saying: “The e in email is for evidence.” Same is true of Facebook and other social media. Using Facebook to advocate for any kind of radical societal change is an exercise in trying to use a tool of totalitarianism against itself. It’s unlikely to work, and very likely to land you in prison.

Two, the advantage that the right have is that they, on the surface, support the institutions of the state. Many are police officers, served in the military and so forth. However, the January 6th riots show that if any of those institutions get in the way, they are more than happy to push them aside. Radical leftists are more obviously against the state and its institutions. So, the state is also more obviously against them.

In fact, this brings us to a helpful definition to determine who is and is not a radical. Ask yourself: does this person think that the state is the solution to many of the problems of society or the cause of many of the problems? If they believe it is the cause of the problems of society, do they believe the state can be reformed to address those problems? If the state is the solution, then you are dealing with a traditional leftist, liberal or conservative in their political opinions.

If a “leftist” supports state solutions, whether Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Dennis Kucinch, George McGovern, or whomever, then there is nothing radical about their position. They are only “radical” in so far as they are leftists in a fundamentally and moderately conservative society, where radical is defined as anyone to the left (or occasionally, the right) of the majority or more often, the person making the judgment.

Leftists are advocating to use the government outside of the limited government fiction and the great lie of conservativism that you can have a global war-fighting capability and still maintain a small government with low taxes. The true goal of the limited government lie is to prevent the government from being repurposed to leftist goals, i.e., serving the citizenry rather than elite interests (or at least different elites). From the perspective of someone that believes the lie of limited government, this position is radical.

However, it’s also not radical because much of the justification for modern government is that it protects the citizenry, from providing clean water, consumer protections, national security and so forth. So, it’s clear that limited government, Originalism, and some of the modern tenets of conservativism are actually a reframing of the debate. Calling traditional liberals “radical leftists” is just another way to put them on the defensive and of closing the Overton window around these new conservative ideas.

But, the framing that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and so forth are radical leftists, “socialists”, and so forth are relativistic arguments. Better to have a clear definition of what makes someone radical that works across both right and left perspectives than define radical relativistically. Being against the state serves that function rather well.

Federal Vacancies & Senate Dysfunction

“Biden is hardly the first incoming president to struggle with filling key positions. Any new administration faces hundreds of openings at the same time it’s grappling with other urgent challenges. Biden’s pace of nominations is faster than Donald Trump’s, slower than Barack Obama’s and about the same as George W. Bush’s — though unlike any of those three, Biden has decades of Washington contacts to draw on.”

-Tyler Pager, Ann E. Marimow and Laurie McGinley. “Vacancies remain in key Biden administration positions.” The Washington Post. July 10, 2021.
 

It’s interesting that the story The Washington Post ran with is that Biden is not filling positions. But, if you look at this graphic, it’s clear that he’s on track with previous administrations. The real story is why are the numbers of Senate confirmations so low? For Trump, I’d assume they were low because he nominated patently unqualified people more than any other reason. But, for Biden? It points to Senate dysfunction, which The Washington Post mentions as a Democratic talking point, but it doesn’t want to make the point itself.

Also, only one of these guys took office in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t have to like Biden to think this narrative is ridiculous.