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Press Response to ‘Tax the Rich’ Dress Proves AOC’s Point

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

It’s like Lenin said: There are decades when nothing happens, and there are dresses where decades happen.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress at the Met Gala (Vogue, 9/16/21) might have passed through the media as a mere photo opportunity or act of class-conscious performance art, but given that it happened near the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the event may be an indicator of how much Occupy has moved the public toward policies of aggressively taxing the wealthy to pay for needed social programs, education, public employment and infrastructure.

And corporate media’s response indicates that they are worried that history might be on Ocasio-Cortez and her dress’s side.

‘Wrong message’

David Harsanyi (New York Post, 9/17/21) argues that the rich shouldn’t pay more because our tax system is already progressive–which is neither logically nor empirically true.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post (9/17/21) led the charge against her protest, with David Harsanyi complaining, “Despite perceptions, the highest-income strata of taxpayers are the only ones who pay a larger share of taxes than their share of income.” This message was echoed by television shock jock Bill Maher (Daily Mail, 9/18/21), even though a ProPublica investigation (6/8/21) found that the super-rich—like Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos—pay next to nothing in taxes, demolishing “the cornerstone myth…that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most.”

The New York Post (9/21/21), on its front page, highlighted a response to AOC from Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, whom the paper (5/10/21) had enthusiastically endorsed. Adams said that Ocasio-Cortez sent the “wrong message for New York City,” offering austerity logic as an alternative: “Instead of impulsively advocating for raising taxes on rich Big Apple residents…the city should first find ways to trim fat in the city budget.” In addition to endorsing Adams, the Post (7/27/21) eagerly broke the news that Adams told supporters that he has declared “war on AOC’s socialists.”

Matthew Yglesias (Bloomberg, 9/19/21), himself the product of Manhattan patrician society, chastised the second-term congressmember representing the Bronx and Queens for casting a broad net over the upper class, rather than focusing her message specifically on tax loopholes. The Washington Post‘s Megan McArdle (9/14/21) echoed Yglesias’ criticism, adding that wearing such a dress to the Met Gala is “a bit like wearing a ‘tax the rich’ T-shirt to your job as a bespoke tax attorney,” because taxing the rich just creates more tax attorneys, “so the walking billboard is less a case of ‘speaking truth to power’ than an endorsement of the whole enterprise.”

The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker (9/14/21) denounced the gala’s fall from its elegant past—“today’s Met Gala is not the playground of Diana Vreeland, Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis”—and said she was at a loss for words to describe the party’s “parade of political demonstrators whose eccentric garb sometimes garbled the message,” as the theme of the event was to explore the “lexicon” of fashion itself.

Numerous outlets (Forbes, 9/13/21; Daily News, 9/14/21; Fox News, 9/14/21; USA Today, 9/14/21) played up the criticism that Ocasio-Cortez was acting hypocritically by attending the gala, because it is a pricey event attended by the rich, a point that runs aground on the fact that bringing the message of taxing the rich to rich people was, in fact, the idea. As one Washington Post writer (9/14/21) correctly perceived, the gala’s audience were now discussing “the embarrassment of undertaxed riches in a social season marred by disease and destitution.”

Tax-allergic media

The idea of a wealth tax was unsurprisingly derided by “Wealth Matters” (2/1/19), a New York Times column offering “insights from Paul Sullivan on the mindset and strategies of the affluent.”

While Ocasio-Cortez is hardly the first left-of-center politician calling for more taxes to fund social programs, as leader of the “Squad”—a group of House Democrats largely aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders—she has become the punching bag for the establishment media in a campaign to dampen pro-taxation rhetoric.

Since her ascendance in Congress, the New York Times (1/28/19, 2/1/19, 2/7/19) has responded to Ocasio-Cortez’s tax rhetoric with a sort of “yes, but it’s more complicated than that,” embracing a watered-down version of progressive taxation, while Barron’s (1/23/19) and the Wall Street Journal (1/21/19, 1/23/19) have gone further to suggest that her proposed 70% marginal tax rate would destroy the American economy. Factcheck: The US economy flourished with a 91% top marginal tax rate under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (AP, 1/31/19).

McArdle, part of the recent AOC bashing, has scorned the idea of taxing the rich more generally in a piece (Washington Post, 6/9/21) that carried a photo of the paper’s owner and world’s richest human, Jeff Bezos.

This skittishness about new taxes in the media reflects a general anxiety about progressive taxation in the political class. Anti-tax ideology is perhaps the glue that unites the Republican Party’s various factions, which passed sweeping tax cuts under the Trump administration (NBC, 12/22/17). Unlike Republicans, who can unite around keeping taxes low, though, Democrats have difficulty coming together when it comes to tax hikes for the rich (Bloomberg, 9/14/21).

Some Democrats besides Ocasio-Cortez are also onboard with new federal taxation (CBS, 9/13/21), and polling shows “taxing the wealthy” is a popular idea (Gallup, 6/4/21; Reuters, 1/10/20). But there has been resistance within her party to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a new wealth tax (The Hill, 8/9/19). The Wall Street Journal (4/7/21) blasted then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for giving into state lawmakers who pushed for more state taxes, a move he had successfully resisted until his various scandals eroded his political capital.

FAIR has noted that the Washington Post (FAIR.org, 5/11/16, 12/11/17, 7/29/19) and the New York Times (FAIR.org, 2/25/20, 4/15/21)—newspapers owned wholly or in part by billionaires—have consistently taken the side of those politicians who resist aggressive taxation of the wealthy.

Occupy’s powerful arguments

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CNBC, 9/15/21): “We’ve just simply allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse, when we are clearly not fully recovered from the consequences of the pandemic.” 

It isn’t solely “taxing the rich” that has become more popular with voters. Other social democratic ideas like single-payer healthcare (Pew Research, 9/29/20) and a $15/hour minimum wage (Reuters, 2/25/21) enjoy broad support, and “Americans view unions more favorably now than they have since 2003” (Reuters, 7/12/21).

Yet it’s still hard for the political class and media to take notice that this is becoming the mainstream. That’s why someone like Ocasio-Cortez, in addition doing things like introducing legislation to extend unemployment insurance (CNBC, 9/15/21), feels the need to call attention to the issue of taxing the rich in a very public way, to get corporate media talking about it. (Proposed tax increases for the rich have become a key stumbling block to passing the Biden administration’s proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill—New York Times, 9/7/21.)

When then–NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Guardian, 11/15/11) defended using brutal police force to evict OWS protesters from Zuccotti Park in the city’s Financial District, he challenged the movement by saying “Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.” That AOC’s publicity stunt around the slogan “tax the rich” near the tenth anniversary of OWS caused such an uproar is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the life and success of the power of Occupy’s ideas. The ascendance of democratic socialist candidates around the country, and Bernie Sanders’ impressive presidential primary performance in 2016 and 2020, are examples of how those arguments may be more powerful than Bloomberg—the media mogul who appeared in the aforementioned ProPublica report on billionaires who skirt paying taxes—might have realized.

 

The post Press Response to ‘Tax the Rich’ Dress Proves AOC’s Point appeared first on FAIR.

Kyrsten Sinema Is Threatening to Derail Democrats’ Agenda. Again.

Mother Jones Magazine -

It’s happening again. On Sunday, Politico reported that Arizona senator is opposed to her colleagues’ plan to regulate the price of prescription drugs—and voiced her disagreement at a recent meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden. 

Democrats have little margin for error on virtually anything that passes through the Senate, which makes Sinema’s stance a difficult one for the party. The plan to reduce drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies was supposed to be a key part of the major Biden-backed spending bill—essentially an omnibus of the president’s major domestic policy priorities, from climate action to immigration—currently making its way through Congress. The drug plan would save the government a ton of money—helping to cover the costs of the rests of the bill—but more significantly, it’s an enormously popular idea that would make a lot of people’s lives better.

For all of those reasons, lowering the cost of prescription drugs has been a core Democratic priority (at least on paper) for years. Even Donald Trump recognized the value of at least saying he supported lowering drug prices, though he did not particularly care whether it actually happened. Democratic opponents of the plan have tried to cast themselves as moderates—problem-solvers just searching for a pragmatic middle ground. But in drawing the line on drug-pricing, they’re revealing themselves to be the caucus’ true radicals.

Sinema is not alone in opposing her party’s prescription-drug push. Last week, a small group of House Democrats—all of whom had previously voted for the exact same proposal—announced their opposition, stating variously that reducing pharmaceutical company profits would curb innovation, and that, In These Uncertain Times, Congress should strive to pass measures that are bipartisan. Those members proposed an alternative measure, which would only curb the prices of certain drugs that have already been on the market for a while. It was the sort of token plan you offer so that no one can accuse you of not having one. Sinema, as Politico notes, doesn’t support that plan either.

Lowering drug costs is such a popular idea, though, that opposing it actually puts these members far out on the political fringe. According to a recent Kaiser poll, 88 percent of Americans support it. It is pretty hard to find an idea that’s as popular in American politics. (Apple pie clocks in at just 81 percent.) Lowering drug costs should be a “moderate” sweet-spot—a reform that delivers tangible benefits to an engaged political constituency (old people, mostly) without blowing up existing systems, all while bolstering your talking points about thriftiness. Lots of Democrats in tough districts are dying to put this issue in their mailers next year; lots of Democrats in tough districts won those races while campaigning on exactly this. 

But there is one constituency that very much backs these holdouts—the pharmaceutical industry, which is already running ads in Sinema’s defense and has given her nearly $400,000 since 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rep. Scott Peters, a California Democrat who has come out against the measure, has received more money from pharma this cycle than any other member of the House. For another holdout, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Pfizer is not just one of his largest contributors, it is also the source of his family’s fortune. Rep. Kathleen Rice, the other holdout, has received far less money from Big Pharma, yet still seems more than happy undercutting her old campaign ads: 

In Congress, I've always put the health and safety of Long Island first. Whether it meant securing billions of dollars in aid for New York during the pandemic, taking on drug and insurance companies to lower the cost of health care, or protecting a woman's right to choose. #NY04 pic.twitter.com/bAUpdDGJW4

— Kathleen Rice (@KathleenRice) October 17, 2020

Sinema is also engaged in a sort of a staring contest with other members of her party over the infrastructure bill she helped broker an agreement on, which is supposed to come up for a vote in the House next week. She has threatened to block a vote on the big reconciliation package (of which drug-negotiation is a part) if that infrastructure bill doesn’t pass the House, while House progressives are threatening to block the infrastructure bill if she won’t back the larger domestic priorities bill. So any stray commentary on what she will or won’t support has to be read through the lens of this weird and ongoing Capitol Hill power play.

In this case, Sinema’s office has said it won’t comment on individual pieces of the budget bill. But the clash over drug prices is clarifying. There’s a traditional tendency by people like her to present their opposition as some sort of savvy and practical number-crunching—a sober rejoinder to those progressives always asking for more money. A recent Axios story reported that Sinema had started making her own spreadsheets to help her find flaws in the multi-trillion-dollar budget bill the drug-pricing scheme was supposed to be a part of. Someone looking for savings wouldn’t take the hatchet to the item that’s going to produce lots of savings, and someone thinking of the political middle wouldn’t chop away at the thing that the political middle loves.

Sinema understands the appeal of the bill as well as anyone. Just take a look at her campaign messaging:

We need to make health care more affordable, lower prescription drug prices, and fix the problems in the system – not go back to letting insurance companies call all the shots. #AZSen pic.twitter.com/rlGiOGyeBf

— Kyrsten Sinema (@kyrstensinema) March 9, 2018

Health care is on the ballot this election. Protections for Arizonans with pre-existing conditions, Medicare improvements and prescription drug costs for seniors, and coronavirus relief all hang in the balance.

Visit https://t.co/fh2oSbQ0BY and make sure your voice is heard. pic.twitter.com/BysXRpdCSh

— Kyrsten Sinema (@kyrstensinema) October 25, 2020

The Founders of Stop AAPI Hate’s Anti-Violence App Make Time’s 100 Most Influential List

Mother Jones Magazine -

A few days ago, Time released its annual list of the 100 “most influential people.” As lists go, Time’s has always been a contingent one—as coveted as it is debated and criticized. But this year’s has some absolute powerhouses. Many deserve amplifying on all channels. Among them are the trailblazing founders of Stop AAPI Hate’s reporting tool that tracks surging violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

No coalition has done more to drive community-based tech solutions during the pandemic to combat assaults and advance restorative justice, the list says. Stop AAPI Hate is “an invaluable resource” not just for reporting and reducing harm but, in some cases, remedying it. The founders—Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Russell Jeung, and Cynthia Choi—launched the portal to cast light on a constant of American life that goes underreported by government agencies and major media. The nonprofit has logged more than 9,000 entries.

Also on Time’s list are anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny, written about by Garry Kasparov; artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, written about by Ai Weiwei; Olympian Simone Biles, written about by Serena Williams; and, because “influential” is the only bar, Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. You’ll want to sit down for the rest. And it bears mentioning that Time’s prism, for all its transparency in methodology, is just one. Let us know about people in your life whose influence improves your day at recharge@motherjones.com.

The Durham Indictment Fuels the Real Russia Hoax

Mother Jones Magazine -

Following special counsel John Durham’s indictment last week of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to an FBI official, a host of Trump cultists and Trump-Russia scandal denialists have hyperbolically suggested that this single charge proves Donald Trump’s false claim that Russiagate was a hoax whipped up by his political foes, the media, and (of course) the Deep State. Trump himself proclaimed that the indictment “revealed” the “years of Fake Russia, Russia, Russia stories.” Fox News shouting-head Dan Bongino exclaimed the indictment showed the Russia “collusion hoax” was “larger than we thought.” Glenn Greenwald, a longtime pitchman for the witch-hunt conspiracy theory, huffed that the Sussmann charge amounted to an “allegation of criminal impropriety regarding Russiagate’s origins.” Writing in the Daily Caller, J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign aide in 2016, noted that this indictment bolstered the case for Congress impeaching “federal officials over Russiagate.” (He didn’t specify which federal officials.)

No soap.

As I pointed out in my new This Land newsletter, with the Sussmann indictment, Durham failed to deliver what the Trumpers most craved: evidence that the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation was fraudulently orchestrated by a nefarious cabal. The indictment accuses Sussmann of one instance of lying to James Baker, then the top FBI lawyer, during a September 2016 meeting in which Sussmann shared with Baker technical data assembled by cyber experts that suggested to them there might have been a secret communication channel between Trump’s business and a Russian bank. The indictment alleges Sussmann told Baker he was not representing any client in regard to this issue, though at the time he was representing a tech executive involved in this research effort and had billed his time related to this to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Sussmann’s lawyers assert that he never told Baker he wasn’t representing a client and that the billing records are wrong. 

Let’s put aside the question of guilt and do the math. It’s a confirmed fact that the FBI initiated its Russia investigation on July 31, 2016. The Sussmann-Baker meeting happened months later. It had nothing to do with the start of the probe. Moreover, the issue at hand—this unusual internet communication between servers at a Russian bank and a business related to Trump—was never a key part of the Russia investigation. The FBI found no evidence of a covert link between Trump and this Russian bank. Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t mention it in his final report. This ended up being an irrelevant piece of the Russian investigation.

As I noted in the newsletter:

The Trumpers and anti-Russiagate propagandists keep grasping for straws. They are like QAnoners waiting for Trump’s reinstatement as commander in chief… But even if Durham were to find evidence of inappropriate actions related to the FBI’s decision to investigate Trump associates in connection with Putin’s attack, that would not change the fundamentals: Putin mounted a covert assault on American democracy to assist Trump, and the Trump camp, which falsely denied this attack was happening while it was secretly interacting with Russian operatives, was complicit.

The indictment itself is also problematic. In a long Twitter thread, laywer Ken White said that if Sussmann did lie to conceal his ties to Democratic interests to encourage the FBI to kickstart an investigation related to Trump, that would be a serious violation of the law. But in an interview with congressional investigators, Baker said he had no recollection of Sussmann saying he had no clients regarding this matter. (The main piece of evidence in this case seems to be a memo written by another FBI official following a conversation he had with Baker.) Baker also told Congress it would not have mattered to him if Sussmann had said he was there on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign; he would have taken the same action. 

White noted there are “distinctly odd things about this indictment that take it outside the norm.” He explained, “It’s based on a face-to-face oral statement with one government witness, Baker. I don’t recall seeing another [lying to the feds] case like that.” He added, “the 27-page indictment is, to my reading, performative and seemingly focused on delivering a narrative of Trump-as-victim rather than a necessary exposition about Sussmann’s alleged crime. It’s a one-count [indictment]; that usually doesn’t require so much verbiage.” This raises the question of whether it’s a political prosecution.

Former US attorney Barbara McQuade took a sharper swing at the indictment. She contended the case is rather weak and is indeed a political move:

Another clue about why this case is being filed is the amount of detail contained in the 27-page indictment. It discusses the Clinton campaign’s efforts to engage in opposition research on former President Donald Trump, much of it beyond the scope of the very narrow offense with which Sussmann is charged. It may be that Durham is using this indictment as a vehicle to disseminate what he has found to the public so that Trump and his allies can paint a false equivalence between the conduct of the Trump and Clinton campaigns… With this indictment, Trump can now say that it was Clinton who brought information to the FBI about links to Russia in the first place and yet again claim the Mueller investigation was a hoax.

Which is exactly what Trump and his handmaids have done. It’s a false accusation. But for years, Trump and his cultists have deployed disinformation, deception, and distraction to undermine an investigation that clearly showed his betrayal of American democracy. This latest episode is just another round in the Trumpers’ ceaseless war on the truth. They will do whatever they can to deny the ugly realities of the Russia scandal and to cover up Trump’s treachery. 

McQuade writes, “Instead of a quest for justice, the [Sussmann] indictment appears to be one more shot fired in the information war… The Mueller Report spells out all the ways in which the Russia investigation was not a hoax. The only hoax is the charge contained in this indictment.” Actually, the big hoax is Trump and his henchmen’s claim that the Trump-Russia scandal was a Deep State-Democratic con game. That in itself has been one of the biggest Trump cons. And there’s no end in sight.

Eric Schmidt Cashes in on Artificial Intelligence Arms Race

Mint Press News -



MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA — The United States is leading a new artificial intelligence arms race that could spell the end of humanity.

Back in 2014, a few years before he died, Stephen Hawking warned us about artificial intelligence:

The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

Today, artificial intelligence, or AI, is the centerpiece of the U.S. empire’s plan to maintain global dominance.

AI is essentially computer super-intelligence that does what human brains can not. Exponential technological advances have rendered our human brains, constrained by the slow process of biological evolution, inferior to modern supercomputers.

Applied in the service of humanity, artificial intelligence has incredible promise. But applied in the service of empire and the permanent war state, it spells disaster.

 

The Third Offset

The focus on artificial intelligence is part of what is known as the Third Offset, a strategy that seeks to offset advances in military technology by Russia and China in order to maintain U.S. global military superiority, thus ensuring no country can challenge U.S. imperialism.

The Third Offset is the latest iteration of the strategy the U.S. used to dominate the globe throughout the Cold War. A few years after World War II, Washington implemented The First Offset strategy and developed a massive nuclear arsenal. This sparked an arms race with the Soviet Union that nearly led to all-out nuclear war.

The Second Offset began in the 1970s when the Soviet Union had achieved parity in nuclear weapons. The U.S. began developing an arsenal of long-range, precision-guided bombs and stealth technology.

Now Russia and China have caught up to the U.S. in conventional military might. So in 2014,  soon after the Obama Administration’s Pivot To Asia began, the U.S. announced the formation of the Third Offset strategy.

“Today I’m announcing a new Defense Innovation Initiative – an initiative that we expect to develop into a game-changing third ‘offset’ strategy,” then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel remarked. “This new initiative is an ambitious department-wide effort to identify and invest in innovative ways to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century.” Hagel’s speech included the announcement of a Pentagon office in Silicon Valley, called the Defense Innovation Unit. This has since expanded to have offices in military technology hubs in Austin, Texas and Boston, and at the Pentagon itself.

In April 2015, Hagel’s replacement, Ash Carter, gave a landmark speech to Silicon Valley CEOs at Stanford University, urging them to enlist in the new arms race. “This is a serious matter,” Carter explained. “And it requires our collaboration. But in addition to dangers, there are also really great opportunities to be seized through a new level of partnership between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – opportunities that we can only realize together.” Carter gently reminded his audience that the Silicon Valley giants owe their existence to the Pentagon and CIA:

Consider the historic role that DoD and government investments have played in helping spur ground-up technology innovation – both in this Valley, and on this campus… [M]ost technologies used throughout Silicon Valley – including many that Apple brilliantly integrated into the iPhone – can be traced back to government or DoD research and expenditures. The developers of multi-touch worked together through a fellowship funded by the National Science Foundation and the CIA…

The government helped ignite the spark, but this was the place that nurtured the flame that created incredible applications. I mention this because it speaks to a partnership that has long existed between America’s technology sector and its government and defense institutions,… a relationship that can continue in a way that benefits us both.”

 

Enter Eric

The key Silicon Valley figure merging the Pentagon and the Valley is former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. As soon as the Pivot to Asia began, Schmidt was meeting with Pentagon officials.

In 2016, he was named head of the newly formed Defense Innovation Board to advise the Pentagon. Schmidt toured some hundred U.S. military bases and installations, advising them on how to use technology to increase their lethality. He went to a U.S. base in Qatar to advise the military on how to more efficiently run tankers that refuel warplanes for bombing runs in Iraq and Yemen.

The Third Offset Strategy and AI arms race continued through the Trump era, its principles delineated in the 2018 National Defense Strategy that officially announced the end of the so-called “war on terror” and return to Cold-War politics, euphemistically termed “inter-state strategic competition.”

Trump’s Pentagon chief, Mark Esper, touted AI developments in September 2020:

In today’s era of great-power competition, as new technologies alter the character of warfare, we must stay ahead of our near peer rivals, namely Russia and China… [A]rtificial intelligence is in a league of its own, with the potential to transform nearly every aspect of the battlefield, from the back office to the front lines.

Schmidt was then appointed to head the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence  (NSCAI) — a body created to advise the government on AI development.

He preaches the orientalist trope that the U.S. is the torchbearer of democracy and that the rise of China is ushering in an alien form of technocratic authoritarianism contrary to American values. His answer is for the government to pour huge amounts of funding into technology.

 

Pentagon, Inc.

Schmidt’s deputy at the NSCAI is Robert Work, a former top Pentagon official and author of the Third Offset Strategy’s foundational documents. In a rare and candid moment, Work once told a group of Air Force cadets that “The Department of Defense is one of the biggest corporations on the planet.”

The Pentagon is a corporation, therefore it’s goal is to generate profit — in its particular case, through war. And what better way to make money than ramping up fear of a foreign threat. Eric Schmidt has made common cause with Congresswoman Liz Cheney to do exactly that.

“Why don’t you lay out why the China threat is important,” Schmidt told Cheney during an August 2021 appearance at the Aspen Institute.

“They’ve been engaged in my view in a very methodical, very effective, very aggressive campaign effort against us for many years across every domain,” Cheney commented. “They need to recognize that our capabilities, our will are there to prevent them from using their military to take action against us.”

“We agree,” Schmidt replied.

The NSCAI’s February 2021 Report states:

In the future, warfare will pit algorithm against algorithm. The sources of battlefield advantage will shift from traditional factors like force size and levels of armaments to factors like superior data collection and assimilation, connectivity, computing power, algorithms, and system security.

In other words, Schmidt and the Pentagon are seeking to create hyper-advanced connected systems of autonomous weapons that will make battlefield decisions at speeds exponentially faster than the human brain can understand. Hence, “victory” in war will be determined by which computer system dominates, regardless of the cost to human life.

The report also calls for AI to be used against “foreign and domestic terrorists operating within our borders.” This raises major concerns about further encroachment of the U.S. surveillance state.

Meanwhile, Schmidt is positioning himself to make hefty sums off of his ties.

According to a report in The Prospect, “[A]s a venture capitalist, Schmidt has invested millions of dollars in more than a half-dozen national-security startups that sell those very technologies back to the government.”

 

A video game with millions of real corpses?

Even though the U.S. military budget is already around three times greater than China’s, the AI arms race has been used to justify the largest Pentagon research and development budget in history. Biden’s DoD budget request for the year 2022 includes $112 billion for R&D -– up $5.5 billion from 2021.

It is a bipartisan effort that has spanned three administrations. But how dangerous is it really?

A candid U.S. Army report remarks:

By distancing the human from conflict, the technology lowers not only the costs and risks associated with war, but the political bar to initiating hostilities as well. As a result, the deterrent quality desired in the Third Offset could actually increase the likelihood that the United States would use force and ultimately decrease global stability.

It adds:

Third Offset capabilities increasingly remove the soldier from the conflict — introducing a video game-like effect into ethical decision-making that often leads to moral disengagement.

…The United States must pursue Third Offset capabilities with the understanding that our actions will drive and incentivize continued proliferation of nuclear weapons.

At least one person in the Obama State Department had some concern. At a 2017 panel with Eric Schmidt, an official in the audience asked him if he was concerned about igniting an artificial intelligence arms race:

Schmidt: Do you think there’s going to be an AI arms race?

State Department official: Yes.

Schmidt: You do?

State Department official: Well, you just said China is going to be ahead of us by 2020. Doesn’t that concern you?

Schmidt: It does. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an arms race. Depends on how it’s done.

State Department official: Well you said China is interested in using AI for weapons… for military purposes.

Schmidt: I said for commercial as well as defense purposes, which is what they’ve said publicly. 

State Department official: So it doesn’t concern you at all?

Schmidt: It actually does but the reason I’m provoking you is that it’s so easy to go to the movie. You know the movie of the robot. 

State Department official: Yeah, I’m not talking about the Terminator but, you know as you mentioned the example of nuclear weapons in the Forties. We might be at that stage in the next few years when it comes to AI.

Even more alarming, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology ran a simulation in which the U.S. missile detection system’s reliance on AI leads to hot war, potentially with nuclear weapons. They created a scenario in which the detection system interprets unusual atmospheric conditions “as a series of missile launches, and the system fires interceptors in response.” Then: “As the interceptors reach the stratosphere, China’s early-warning radar picks them up. Believing they are under attack, Chinese commanders order a retaliatory strike.”

A technological glitch could spell disaster for humanity.

This is a remarkably similar scenario to the infamous 1983 incident when a Soviet warning system detected an incoming missile strike from the U.S. Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov believed the warning to be a false alarm and rejected firing nuclear weapons at the U.S. Thus, human intervention prevented nuclear war and saved millions of lives. In a system run by AI, the bombs would have launched. 

With Eric Schmidt as a central figure of the Pentagon’s new AI arms race, the U.S. is preparing for a devastating war with China. While a hot war between the two superpowers seems unlikely for now, the creation of this technology in itself creates the possibility — a danger that must be stopped before it evolves to threaten humanity.

Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000.

The post Eric Schmidt Cashes in on Artificial Intelligence Arms Race appeared first on MintPress News.

Texas Republicans Just Passed a Slew of Extreme Laws. Now They’ll Gerrymander to Stay in Power.

Mother Jones Magazine -

In recent weeks, the GOP-controlled Texas legislature has passed some of the country’s most unpopular and divisive policies: a six-week ban on abortion enforced by citizen bounty hunters; a prohibition on teaching students about “critical race theory” and the 1619 Project; and a sweeping voter suppression law targeting communities of color. Despite the national outcry, Texas Republicans seem unconcerned about a backlash in their home state. Here’s why: They know they can choose their own electorate rather than the electorate choosing them.

As Texas becomes more diverse, urban, and Democratic, lawmakers reconvened in Austin on Monday for another special legislative session to draw new redistricting maps for the next decade that will concentrate power in the hands of politicians who represent constituencies that are far whiter, more rural, and more Republican than the state as a whole.

Texas has an appalling history when it comes to redistricting. Since the state was covered by the Voting Rights Act in 1975, federal courts have objected to its redistricting maps every decade for discriminating against Black and Latino voters. During the last redistricting cycle, Republicans went to spectacular lengths to gerrymander the state: Though 90 percent of its booming growth from 2000 to 2010 came from communities of color, three of the four congressional seats gained because of this demographic change were drawn to elect white Republicans. Although Latinos constituted two-thirds of the state’s growth, the number of majority-Latino congressional and legislative districts actually declined, an example of what the League of Women Voters called in 2011 “by far the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.”

“What happens in redistricting remains to be seen, but if the past is any indication, Texas will try to use redistricting to thwart the political power of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.”

There’s every reason to believe history will repeat itself in 2021, especially since this is the first redistricting cycle in five decades where Texas will not have to get federal approval for its redistricting maps after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. “I’m concerned Texas will repeat the errors of the past,” says Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Indeed, lawmakers who were found guilty by the courts of intentional racial gerrymandering in the last redistricting cycle will now play a central role in drawing the new maps. One of them is GOP state Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, known as the “the man in black” for his all-black attire, who is now chair of the House Redistricting Committee.

Before 2010, Corpus Christi’s Nueces County had three state House seats, two where Latino voters could elect their preferred candidates and one where white voters had a majority. Because it grew more slowly than the rest of the state, the county lost a state House seat during the last round of redistricting. Civil rights groups, including MALDEF and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, submitted testimony that two majority-Latino districts could be drawn in the county. Instead, Republicans moved the seat they lost—which was previously a Latino district—to a white Republican area outside Dallas, packed most Latino voters into one district in Nueces County, and kept Hunter’s district whiter than the county as a whole to preserve his seat and the GOP’s advantage in the state House. “There is evidence that the mapdrawers (including specifically Rep. Hunter) racially gerrymandered the districts that remained in Nueces County to further undermine Latino voting strength,” a federal district court ruled in 2017.

According to the court record, Hunter drew rival Latino candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, out of his district, added in Latino communities with lower turnout rates so they wouldn’t vote him out of office, and underpopulated his district compared to the adjoining one so there would be fewer Latino voters overall. (In 2018, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, overruled the lower court and upheld the maps with one exception, writing that the legislature was entitled to a “presumption of good faith.”) Hunter’s elevation to chair of the redistricting committee “sends a clear signal that Republicans will attempt to draw maps that silence the voices of Black and Brown voters,” the Texas Democratic Party said earlier this year.

The state House and congressional maps have yet to be released, but proposed state Senate maps released over the weekend illustrate the extreme gerrymandering the GOP has planned. Though 95 percent of Texas’ population growth came from communities of color over the past decade and whites are now a minority in the state, 20 of 31 Senate districts still have white majorities. Despite gaining nearly 2 million Hispanic residents and more than 500,000 Black residents, Republicans didn’t draw a single new majority-Latino or majority-Black district. The number of pro-Trump districts actually increases under the plan, from 16 to 19.

In fact, Republicans are planning to dismantle the diverse areas that are the future of the state. Democratic state Senator Beverly Powell currently represents a swing district in Tarrant County, west of Dallas, where fast-growing communities of color make up a near-majority of the population. But under the new Senate map, Republicans extended the district to include two adjoining predominantly white exurban and rural counties, undermining the influence of voters of color and boosting Trump’s vote share in the district by 10 points. Powell called it “a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination.”

What Texas Rs are attempting to do to State Senate District 10 says a lot about where Rs find themselves now. Current district on left; proposed district on right. #txlege 1/ pic.twitter.com/np0G2vo5m3

— Michael Li 李之樸 (@mcpli) September 18, 2021

The state’s recently enacted voter suppression law and the gerrymandered maps go hand in hand, sharing the goal of preventing the state’s changing demographics from leading to a shift in political power for as long as possible. “The voter suppression law is an attempt to slow down the inevitable change in the Texas electorate,” says Perales. “Texas is becoming more racially diverse and that racially diverse population is younger and predominantly Latino and this voter suppression law is a reaction to and attempt to thwart the diversification of the Texas electorate. What happens in redistricting remains to be seen, but if the past is any indication, Texas will try to use redistricting to thwart the political power of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.”

But gerrymandering is even more effective than voter suppression efforts, and the prime way the GOP intends to keep the legislature under the control of white Republicans for the next decade, even as the state’s population shifts away from the party. “If voter suppression is like death by a thousand cuts, gerrymandering is like a nuclear bomb going off,” says Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Freedom to Vote Act introduced by Senate Democrats last week would ban the kind of racial and partisan gerrymandering pushed by Texas Republicans. Yet Democrats have mere weeks to pass it before Republicans enact new maps (some states, including Ohio, already have) and do not yet have a plan to overcome unified GOP opposition.

“My big concern right now—for both the anti-voter law and redistricting—is that we need national standards from the Freedom to Vote Act,” says Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchía, a member of the redistricting committee. “We have to be willing to either reform the filibuster or get rid of the filibuster in order to protect democracy.”

"We Are Troy Davis": 10 Years After Georgia Execution That Galvanized Anti-Death Penalty Movement

Democracy Now! -

Tuesday marks 10 years since the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis for a crime many believe he did not commit. He was put to death despite major doubts about evidence used to convict him of killing Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, including the recantation of seven of the nine non-police witnesses at his trial. As the world watched to see whether Davis’s final appeal for a stay of execution would be granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Democracy Now! was the only news outlet to continuously broadcast live from the prison grounds in Jackson, Georgia. We revisit parts of our six-hour special report, featuring interviews with Davis’s supporters and family members who held an all-day vigil and those who witnessed his death by lethal injection, and speak with two people who were there when Davis was executed: Kimberly Davis, Troy Davis’s sister and an anti-death penalty activist, and Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP. “We know that Troy Davis did make a mark on the world,” says Kimberly Davis. “We want to continue to fight until we demolish the death penalty, one state at a time.”

"We Need to Deliver": Anger Grows at Sens. Manchin, Sinema over Obstruction of Democratic Priorities

Democracy Now! -

Democrats are still divided over President Biden’s sweeping $3.5 trillion spending plan to expand the social safety net, increase taxes on the rich and corporations, improve worker rights and combat the climate crisis. Senate Democrats are hoping to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, but this will only work if the entire Democratic caucus backs the deal, and conservative Democrats have balked at the price tag. Progressive Democrats in the House, meanwhile, say they won’t vote for a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate unless the reconciliation bill is part of the package. “We want to pass the full agenda that President Biden has set forth,” says Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressmember from California. “This is what President Biden campaigned on, and we need to deliver.” Khanna also discusses U.S. immigration policy, raising the refugee cap, investigating the full 20 years of the War in Afghanistan and bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Headlines for September 21, 2021

Democracy Now! -

Wolf-Killing Campaigns in Idaho and Montana May Just Have Backfired

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Huffpost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

New laws liberalizing the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies might warrant putting the animals back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this past Wednesday.

Backed by the ranching industry, which views wolves as a growing liability in states with extensive cattle and sheep grazing, both Idaho and Montana enacted laws earlier this year making it easier to hunt and trap wolves, legalizing tactics previously reserved for far more numerous animals, such as wild pigs, raccoons and coyotes.

But that strategy now looks like it might backfire. Conservation and wildlife advocacy groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a pair of petitions requesting that the agency re-list gray wolves as threatened or endangered in light of new laws passed in Idaho and Montana to drastically reduce wolf populations. FWS announced Wednesday that its initial review found petitioners presented “substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.”

“Wolves are more than recovered in our state…and are now thriving in our ecosystems.”

“The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat,” the agency said in its release. The review is expected to take a year to complete.

The pending decision promises to reignite longstanding tensions among the federal government, Western states and outside groups over who gets to manage gray wolves and how many the region should support.

The gray wolf was largely eradicated from the mainland United States, largely due to government extermination campaigns waged on behalf of ranchers trying to reduce livestock losses. The federal government reintroduced them to the Northern Rockies in 1995. For years, they remained federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, and their resurgence is one of the landmark conservation law’s biggest success stories.

But their recovery also set off years of legal wrangling as state governments sought the ability to manage them as any other non-protected species―including controlling their numbers through hunting and trapping.

Ultimately, states won that control. But hunting and trapping have not contained wolf numbers as efficiently as either state officials hoped or advocates feared. Instead, wildlife officials offered hunters and trappers more tags and extended seasons while wolf populations steadily grew.

The state management plans enacted when Idaho and Montana took control over their wolves call for populations of 150 in each state. Idaho’s wolf population tops 1,500 in Idaho and 1,100 in Montana today.

“Wolves are more than recovered in our state, reaching a population 10 times larger than what was required in the state recovery plan, and are now thriving in our ecosystems,” Chyla Wilson, a spokesperson for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Due to the high success of wolf populations, Idaho is now able to manage them utilizing tools we already have in place in the state for other species, such as coyotes.”

“Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery.”

Exasperated Republican legislators, facing complaints from both ranchers and hunting outfitters worried about wolves’ toll on big game animals, tried to overstep the authority of state agencies by creating laws specifically to manage wolves. Idaho went furthest, letting hunters kill wolves at night or from motor vehicles, allowing contract killing for wolves and getting rid of the limit on wolf tags that an individual can buy.

A group of 30 former wildlife officials wrote a letter in April criticizing the proposal for snatching wildlife management authority away from trained biologists and putting it the hands of politicians in the state legislature. Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever opposed the bill.

Montana passed several more conservative laws with the same intent: squelching wolf numbers faster than state agencies seemed capable of without legislative prodding.

Environmental groups celebrated Wednesday’s news, though it fell short of their hope to halt this year’s wolf hunts.

“Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery,” Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “We’re glad that federal officials have started a review, but wolves are under the gun now, so they need protection right away.”

When It Comes to Letting Down Allies, Trumpism and Bidenism Have Much in Common

Counterpunch Articles -

Trumpism was never quite what it seemed to the rest of the world when it came to America’s actions as opposed to his words. The tone was always belligerent, but Trump went out of his way not to start any wars. As for the slogan “America First”, this was not so much about an isolationist US More

The post When It Comes to Letting Down Allies, Trumpism and Bidenism Have Much in Common appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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