…too many things [DOT 3/8/21]

not enough time...

…it’s not unusual for me to start these wondering where to begin…it might be hard to tell given the somewhat prolific quantity of links/quotes that tend to get scattered around in these…& all too often it feels like the good news is running late

At least 70% of adults in the US have now received at least one Covid-19 vaccination shot, the White House announced on Monday, reaching a target Joe Biden originally said he had hoped to achieve by 4 July.
On Monday, a state-by-state study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that less than 1% of fully vaccinated people experienced a breakthrough infection, ranging from 0.01% in Connecticut to 0.9% in Oklahoma.

Additionally, more than 90% of all cases, and more than 95% that resulted in hospitalizations or deaths, were among unvaccinated people, the study found.


…but generally I can normally persuade myself that there’s some method to the madness…or at least some logic as to which bits wind up going in & which bits don’t fit between the title & the tunes…but I’m not sure I’m seeing it today…so apologies if this is kind of all over the place?

If these ancient trees could talk, they might wail a warning – a message about the coalescing threats to their continued survival. What we can learn from a 2,624-year-old bald cypress may help piece together how humanity can best mitigate and adapt to the unprecedented impacts of the climate crisis.

The oldest tree in eastern US survived millennia – but rising seas could kill it [Guardian]

Scientists have long been worried about what many call “the methane bomb” — the potentially catastrophic release of methane from thawing wetlands in Siberia’s permafrost.

But now a study by three geologists says that a heat wave in 2020 has revealed a surge in methane emissions “potentially in much higher amounts” from a different source: thawing rock formations in the Arctic permafrost.

The difference is that thawing wetlands releases “microbial” methane from the decay of soil and organic matter, while thawing limestone — or carbonate rock — releases hydrocarbons and gas hydrates from reservoirs both below and within the permafrost, making it “much more dangerous” than past studies have suggested.
The carbonates in the outcroppings date back 541 million years to the Paleozoic era, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“It’s intriguing. It’s not good news if it’s right,” said Robert Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “Nobody wants to see more potentially nasty feedbacks and this is potentially one.”

“What we do know with quite a lot of confidence is how much carbon is locked up in the permafrost. It’s a big number and as the Earth warms and permafrost thaws, that ancient organic matter is available to microbes for microbial processes and that releases CO2 and methane,” Holmes said. “If something in the Arctic is going to keep me up at night that’s still what it is.” But he said the paper warranted further study.
Normally the frozen permafrost acts as a cap, sealing methane below. It also can lock up gas hydrates, which are crystalline solids of frozen water that contain huge amounts of methane. Unstable at normal sea-level pressure and temperatures, gas hydrates can be dangerously explosive as temperatures rise.
The Arctic has also delivered other sobering news. Polar Portal, a website where Danish Arctic research institutions present updated information about ice, said last week that a “massive melting event” had been big enough to cover Florida with two inches of water.


As the environment continues to warm due to human-caused global heating, spiking temperatures will become more frequent, more intense, and last longer. Because heat and drought are inextricably linked, the compounding catastrophes that have plagued the west this summer will persist into the future, continuing to wreak havoc on ecosystems, infrastructure, and agriculture.

Scientists are still working to document and understand the impact of the recent heatwaves. But the research has been clear that this anomalous event could become the norm over the next 30 years as the planet continues to warm.


…it’s been said that you can’t fight a war on too many fronts…& although it’s easy to say that a threat that will impact the entire world is a battle it’s in everyone’s interest to fight…somehow for my whole life the people winning it have contrived to be the ones who would rather we bury our heads in the sand & not go rocking the very lucrative boats of theirs that they’re only too happy to see going up in the world as the sea levels rise beneath them…& things continue to heat up in ways that don’t bode well…so I could go on…but…well

The United States, Britain and Israel on Sunday all accused Iran of carrying out a drone attack last week on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea that killed two people on board, raising fears of an escalating maritime war in the Middle East, as Tehran denied responsibility for the strike.
Hostilities over the past two years between Israel and Iran have frequently played out at sea, in tit-for-tat attacks by both countries on oil tankers, private commercial vessels or warships — a conflict often referred to as part of a “shadow war” that feels increasingly overt. The strike on the Mercer, off the coast of Oman, marked a significant escalation and was the first time fatalities had resulted from one of the recent attacks.

U.S., Britain, Israel blame Iran for fatal drone strike on oil tanker; Tehran denies responsibility [WaPo]

…then there are other literal battles some choose not to fight…while others don’t have the same luxury

The Taliban is ramping up pressure on some of Afghanistan’s largest cities, striking busy transit hubs and pushing front lines deep into urban areas for the first time since the militants were overthrown nearly two decades ago.
The attacks mark a potential turning point in the Afghan conflict. Previously, clashes were largely confined to the country’s rural areas or smaller cities contested by the militants. Large-scale conventional attacks on Kandahar and Herat, the second- and fourth-largest cities in the country, have the potential to endanger millions more civilians.
The Taliban push on major cities comes as the group continues to squeeze much smaller provincial capitals in areas long contested by militants. In Helmand, a province that has been one of the least stable in Afghanistan for years, fighting intensified last week, heightening fears that the province’s capital, Lashkar Gah, would fall. Taliban fighters have pushed into the city and are steadily closing in on the central government compound.


The Taliban have been advancing in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from the country and in recent weeks the fundamentalist Islamist group said they have captured over half of all Afghanistan’s territory, including border crossings with Iran and Pakistan.


As Taliban militants close in on Afghanistan’s provincial capitals, they are inching closer to central prisons that house around 5,000 of their fellow fighters, leaving the government scrambling to secure the detention facilities. If just a fraction of the detainees were to escape, Afghan security officials warn, it would hand the militants a significant advantage on the battlefield, where they are already making steady gains.


The past few months in Afghanistan, even by the standards set by two decades of war, have been especially calamitous.
It doesn’t have to be this way: Peace is still a possibility. For too long, there was a belief that the conflict could be resolved militarily. Throughout that time, the United Nations was too hesitant to step in. We should know: Between 2008 and 2020, across six years, we served as U.N. envoys to Afghanistan. In those years, the U.N. endeavored to create openings for the peace process but could not get one underway. Though last year’s agreement between the United States and the Taliban made possible the withdrawal of international forces, it sadly did not create conditions conducive to peace.

The U.N. must now step up and guide Afghanistan away from catastrophe. The alternative, as all-out civil war beckons, is too grim to contemplate.
Yet no single country involved in Afghanistan is well placed to help. For its part in the conflict, the United States is now viewed with suspicion. Russia and China, which have different allies among Afghanistan’s neighbors, aren’t seen as neutral, either. Pakistan, regarded with hostility by the Afghan government for its ties to the Taliban, doesn’t want the involvement of India, which has opened its own channels of communication with the Taliban. Turkey, Iran and the Central Asian states are all important but cannot act alone.

The U.N. must step into this vacuum. In the first instance, the secretary general must immediately convene the Security Council and seek a clear mandate to empower the U.N., both in the country and at the negotiating table. That would mean the United States, Russia, China and other members of the council coming together to authorize a special representative to act as a mediator. With the pivotal support of member states, this would put pressure on both sides to halt the fighting and reach a settlement.

We Cannot Stand By and Watch Afghanistan Collapse [NYT]

…& though it’s often been noted that violence is seldom the solution…when it comes to hawking the instruments thereof the threat of it is depressingly lucrative…arguably more so than it is genuine or realistic

The coronavirus pandemic in the US has been accompanied by soaring gun sales attributed to fears around social unrest and crime and, in some cases, people having more time for hunting.
Manufacturers say they are producing as much as they can but in many gun stores shelves are sparse and prices are concurrently rising.


…meanwhile the business of government continues at (frustratingly slow) pace

Senate Democrats and Republicans unveiled on Sunday a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections, setting in motion a long-awaited debate in the chamber to enact one of President Biden’s economic policy priorities.

The package arrives after weeks of haggling among a bipartisan bloc of lawmakers, who muscled through late-night fights and near-collapses to transform their initial blueprint into a roughly 2,700-page piece of legislation. The fate of their labors now rests in the Senate, where proponents of infrastructure reform have little margin for error as they race to adopt the sort of bill that has eluded them for years.

Virtually no part of the U.S. economy is untouched by the plan chiefly put together by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Roughly half of its $1 trillion overall price tag constitutes new federal spending, with the rest coming from existing, planned investments in the country’s roads, highways and bridges, according to details released in recent days by lawmakers and the White House, which supports the proposal.
With a proposal in hand, that debate began Sunday night under the fast-track timeline laid out by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). From here, though, Senate leaders hope to finish their work by the end of the week. The chamber then plans to begin work on a second, roughly $3.5 trillion economic package sought by Democrats, underscoring the significant lift awaiting lawmakers in the days before they are set to depart for their planned summer recess.
From here, the bipartisan group of 10 senators faces a delicate task. The lawmakers must keep together their fragile coalition, avoiding the sort of policy disputes that nearly doomed their efforts multiple times since they first announced their ambitions for new public-works spending in June. And they must remain open to changes while not allowing any that could undermine support for the legislation, since any bill ultimately must garner 60 votes in the Senate, where Democrats possess only a razor-thin majority, with Vice President Harris holding the tiebreaking vote.

Senate finishing crafting $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal, setting delicate debate in motion [WaPo]

…so on the one hand…that’s not a done deal…even after working through a weekend…whereas elsewhere there’s a deal that looks to have been done away with too soon for some…while others would sooner be elsewhere

Two days after blowing past the deadline, little effort appeared underway in Washington to reinstate a moratorium that had spared perhaps millions of renters from eviction. Congress continued to call on the Biden administration to act, while the White House on Monday insisted that it lacked the legal authority to do so on its own.
House lawmakers adjourned for their summer recess last week without resolving the looming renter crisis, as Democrats admitted they lacked enough votes to extend renter protections into either the summer or the end of September. In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans on Monday remained focused on advancing a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal — and lawmakers acknowledged they had no immediate solution at hand for the emerging crisis.


Democrats who control the House of Representatives cannot blame Republicans for a looming crisis over evictions, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, after a federal moratorium lapsed on Saturday night.

The expiration of the pandemic-related protection has left about 11 million Americans at risk of losing their homes in the coming weeks, and the prominent progressive is angry her party allowed the clock to run out on renewing the measure.

“The House and House leadership had the opportunity to vote to extend the moratorium and there was, frankly, a handful of conservative Democrats in the House that threatened to get on planes rather than hold this vote,” the New York representative told CNN’s State of the Union, referring to the start of the summer congressional break.
The Biden administration did not seek to prolong the moratorium, meant to protect renters hit by economic contraction under Covid, after the supreme court indicated it would oppose any attempted extension.

Congress then failed on Friday to find a way to extend it through legislation, with Democratic leadership insisting a request from the White House came too late.
On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez was unforgiving.

“There is something to be said for the fact that this court order came down on the White House a month ago and the White House waited until the day before the House adjourned to release a statement asking Congress to extend the moratorium,” she said.

“The House was put into a needlessly difficult situation. And it’s not just me saying that. Financial services chairwoman Maxine Waters has made that very clear as well.”

The congresswoman also lamented that federal funding had not reached those who needed it.

“In some states, governors and state administrations might be slow-walking this process to get it out, in other states [it’s] the administrative burden of setting it up. Those state governments need to get it together. We cannot kick people out of their homes when our end of the bargain has not been fulfilled. Out of the $46bn that has been allocated, only $3bn has gone out to help renters and small mom-and-pop landlords.”

Ocasio-Cortez noted that although Congress has adjourned for a seven-week summer break, members were on notice that they could be called back to vote on an infrastructure deal.

“Having 11 million Americans, one out of every six renters, at risk of being kicked out of their homes is worth coming back [for] and triggering that 24-hour notice,” she said. “We cannot leave town without doing our job.”


…which is a fair point…not least coming from a lady who represents a district from a city that is…not hospitable to the un-housed

As the country’s most populous city strives to lure back tourists and office workers, it has undertaken an aggressive campaign to push homeless people off the streets of Manhattan.

City workers used to tear down one or two encampments a day. Now, they sometimes clear dozens. Since late May, teams that include sanitation workers in garbage trucks, police officers and outreach workers have cruised Manhattan around the clock, hitting the same spots over and over.
The debate over how to tackle homelessness in New York City, where over 2,000 people live on the streets and the subway, comes as cities across the country grapple with growing encampments. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council outlawed camping near parks, libraries and schools. On Saturday, a national eviction moratorium expired, sparking fears of a new surge in homelessness, though in New York the moratorium continues through Aug. 31.

New York Is Pushing Homeless People Off the Streets. Where Will They Go? [NYT]

…but also a tough needle to thread when fighting amongst themselves risks letting the opposition off the hook

“It’s 99 and nine-tenths finished,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” referring to the bipartisan infrastructure deal that he and nine other senators negotiated. But finished doesn’t mean passed — and that’s the tricky part.

The rest of the president’s priorities — and those of the progressive wing of his party — are in a still-to-be-fleshed-out plan to be passed, they hope, by a simple majority vote. But the Hill reports that “Democrats … will have a hard time wrapping up work on a reconciliation package by October.”

That’s not good enough.
But Manchin and Sinema don’t hold all the cards here. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said repeatedly the House won’t pass the bipartisan deal without passing a reconciliation bill. And even Manchin knows who has the power. “I would never, ever, ever try to advise Speaker Pelosi,” he told CBS, a sentiment he repeated on CNN. With the backing of House progressives, some of whom have threatened to scuttle the bipartisan deal if the reconciliation bill doesn’t go through, Pelosi has leverage to limit how long Manchin and others can spend whittling down the $3.5 trillion.

There are also positive knock-on effects from getting both houses of Congress back into session now. First, it means that lawmakers can reinstate the eviction moratorium that lapsed Saturday. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s action in late June, the executive branch can no longer unilaterally extend the moratorium; unfortunately, the White House didn’t ask Congress to do so until almost the last minute. The result: potential disaster for more than 6 million renters struggling with their payments thanks to the pandemic. Worse, billions in rental relief that was passed months ago specifically to address this crisis still hasn’t gone out.
The end of the eviction moratorium wasn’t the only depressing deadline that passed this weekend. Two years ago, in a bipartisan vote, Congress suspended the debt ceiling until this July 31. But as my colleague Catherine Rampell wrote, “A Democrat is back in the White House. Which means, right on schedule, Republicans are again trying to take the economy hostage.” The Treasury Department can deploy some accounting tricks to push back the debt limit, but sooner rather than later, Congress has to raise it, or risk Social Security payments, military salaries or even a worldwide financial crisis. The faster the twin infrastructure bills pass, the more room Democrats have to deal with Republicans’ shenanigans around the debt.


…& to say there’s a lot to play for would be…well…positively british in terms of understatement

Two primary contests on Tuesday for open House seats in Ohio will act as a stress test for both Democrats and Republicans, offering early hints about whether party leaders are aligned with their voters ahead of the midterm elections next year.

In the Cleveland area, two Democrats are locked in an increasingly embittered and expensive clash that has become a flash point in the larger struggle between the party’s activist left flank and its leadership in Washington. The early favorite to win, Nina Turner, is now trying to hold back Shontel Brown, the preferred candidate of more establishment-friendly politicians and allied outside groups.
In the other race, near Columbus, a dense field of Republicans is vying to upset the preferred candidate of former President Donald J. Trump, an energy lobbyist named Mike Carey who was largely unknown until Mr. Trump endorsed him in early June and all but ensured that he would be the front-runner.
Both primaries on Tuesday will test the limits of outside influence and money, which have flooded the state all summer.

The presence of national groups and political boldface names is inescapable in the Democratic race in Cleveland and Akron, where Mr. Sanders paid a visit over the weekend, and television ads impugning the character of both women in the race are running on a continuous loop. They are competing to replace Marcia Fudge, who held the seat in the 11th Congressional District until she was confirmed as President Biden’s secretary of housing and urban development.

“You can’t turn on your social media, you can’t turn on your TV, you can’t turn on anything without having to deal with this,” said Blaine A. Griffin, a member of the Cleveland City Council who is supporting Ms. Turner. “It’s that bad,” he added. “And I can tell you that a lot of people are getting turned off.”


While small dollars tend to be romanticized — Democrats’ voting rights bill includes provision to encourage such giving by matching $6 in public funds for every $1 in small donations — some see a big downside to empowering small donors, who tend to be the most ideological and online.

“The same dynamics that fuel virality on social media in general also apply to small-donor fundraising,” said a leading scholar of democracy. Rick Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University.

“The more extreme appeals, the more extreme candidates, the candidates who have the highest profiles because they’re dominant presences on social media or on cable news tend to attract and rely most heavily on small donors,” he said. “There’s a real risk that the rise in small-donor fundraising will throw further fuel on the fires of polarization that are burning so strongly.”

Research has shown that people who give online are more ideological than the general public and that more ideologically extreme lawmakers raise larger proportions of their campaign coffers from individual donors.

In the first quarter of this year, for instance, the member of Congress who raised the most money from small donors was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., according to the transparency group Open Secrets, thanks to a flood of donations around the time she was kicked off her congressional committees for inflammatory and conspiratorial rhetoric, notably about fictional Jewish space lasers.

The second-best-performing House candidate among small donors was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a lightning rod for progressive supporters. Also on the top-10 list were Republicans Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Dan Crenshaw of Texas, some of Trump’s most flamboyant allies on Capitol Hill, who excel at courting controversy.

“This is the rise of politics as performance instead of governance or legislation,” Pildes said. “Candidates know that if they can successfully stoke this culture of outrage, that is likely to open the spigot of small donations.”


…which begs of the question of where in the möbius loop of causality one might decide to declare which is the cart & which the horse

On Friday, John Bennett, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, made a striking comparison on the group’s Facebook page: Private companies requiring employees to get the coronavirus vaccine, he said, are just as bad as the Nazis forcing Jews to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes.

“Those who don’t KNOW history, are DOOMED to repeat it,” read the caption, below an image of a Star of David patch with “Unvaccinated” written across the top.

The post triggered swift condemnations from top state Republicans and Jewish organizations in Oklahoma. But on Sunday, Bennett doubled down on his comments in a nearly seven-minute video he shared to the party’s Facebook page.

The Nazis “gave [Jews] a star to put on, and they couldn’t go to the grocery store, they couldn’t go out in public, they couldn’t do anything without having that star on their shirt,” Bennett said. “Take away the star and add a vaccine passport.”


…bigotry obviously predates the likes of facebook…& they aren’t the only vector for this particular brand of contagion

Facebook and other social platforms have in recent weeks attracted attention for vaccine misinformation, as Covid cases surge from the infectious Delta variant and vaccination rates slow. But The Freedom’s Phoenix and The Atlanta Business Journal are two small publications — along with dozens of radio and television stations, and podcasts aimed at local audiences — that have also become powerful conduits for anti-vaccine messaging, researchers said.
Dr. Mercola and other superspreaders of anti-vaccine content, who have been listed by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate as the “Disinformation Dozen,” have appeared in articles in local publications or as guests on local radio shows and podcasts, according to a review by The New York Times. Some of their articles are regularly published by small-town newspapers or they are quoted as experts, The Times found.
Their appearances on local media can have an impact since Americans are more likely to believe what they read and hear from local news outlets. A 2019 Knight-Gallup study found that 45 percent of Americans trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared with 31 percent for national news organizations.
“People think they are trusting their local news, something reliable and familiar, when in fact they are trusting misinformation,” said Rachel Moran, a fellow at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. “It is a huge problem and growing.”
In total, local media remains a significant force. There were 1,762 local television stations and 3,379 radio stations operating in the United States last year, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association and Syracuse University. While print publications have been decimated, there are still about 1,300 daily papers and 5,800 weekly publications, with roughly half located in small rural communities, according to research from the University of North Carolina.

Jo Lukito, an assistant journalism professor who studies disinformation at the University of Texas at Austin, said local media is often a starting point that creates a “trading up the chain” effect.

It starts when a rumor is covered or published in local media, she said, where it can gain a sheen of credibility. Then “when you pitch it to a Fox News or a larger news platform, you can say that this other outlet covered it, so it must be real,” she said.
Vaccine misinformation has also been published on sites that purport to be local news, but which are pay-for-play content websites. These sites, where articles are ordered up and paid for by conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals, have sprung up to fill the vacuum left by the loss of local publications.

Recent articles on some of those sites, such as Last Frontier News in Alaska and Bowling Green Today in Kentucky, highlighted people who died after receiving the Covid vaccines without saying that it was unclear if the vaccines were responsible, according to a review by The Times. The stories followed a pattern established on anti-vaccine blogs of pulling data from a national database of post-vaccine deaths without explaining the limitations of the data.



On Wednesday, when Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan testified on Capitol Hill for the first time since being sworn in, confidence was running high in the room that Washington’s push to rein in the tech giants was about to turn the page.

“The era of self-regulation is over. Self-regulation has threatened our democracy,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), chair of the House subcommittee hosting the hearing.
But early hurdles and setbacks are highlighting the challenge of bringing those ambitions to life, as policymakers struggle to keep pace with the fast-moving tech sector.

[…]After a federal judge dismissed the FTC’s lawsuit to break up Facebook in June, the agency pushed for an extension to decide if and how to refile the complaint in a way that satisfies the court’s concerns.

The judge said the FTC failed to land its argument that Facebook monopolizes the social media market, and the agency now has until Aug. 19 to significantly refashion its suit.
Regulators will not only need to convince judges that their complaints have merit, but they’ll also need to do so over likely expensive and protracted legal battles that will test their limits.


…I’m not so sure that’s an excuse for letting this kind of shit slide

Big tech provided the world with some startling numbers this week. In the last three months Amazon’s sales have averaged over $1.2bn a day. It took the company less than four seconds to earn the $52,000 the average American makes in a year. Apple is now sitting on nearly $200bn in cash, more than this year’s expected sales of Covid 19 vaccines.

The coronavirus shook the world economy to its core but for the US tech giants it has proven a bonanza of historic proportions.
In back-to-back corporate earnings releases Google, Apple and Microsoft all reported record-breaking quarterly sales and profits. Facebook doubled its profits and reported its fastest growth in five years. In the last three months alone the US’s five largest tech companies made combined profits of over $68bn.
This week the combined fortune of the richest seven billionaires, all big tech titans, passed $1tn for the first time, according to the Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS) Inequality tracking project.

“We are looking at a Blade Runner future, a world where a handful of companies will dominate all economic activity,” said Chuck Collins, senior scholar at IPS. “This is not just bad for the economy, it’s bad for consumers, for communities, for competition. There is real harm here,” he said.

When a company is as dominant as Amazon is in online retail, Google in search or Facebook in social media, competition gets ever harder, he said. Their huge cash piles mean they can buy out – a favorite Facebook tactic – or copy new entrants, investors will shy away from putting cash into potential rivals, and entrepreneurs will aim to sell out to their giant rivals rather than take them on.

And alongside all that cash comes political power and the means to fight any official or government that challenges them. “We are creating a political and corporate oligarchy that is fundamentally against a healthy democracy and competition,” said Collins.


…& arguably that’s just the tip of the digital iceberg

Researchers from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a UK/US non-profit organisation, flagged hundreds of antisemitic posts over a six-week period earlier this year. The posts, including Nazi, neo-Nazi and white supremacist content, received up to 7.3 million impressions.

Although each of the 714 posts clearly violated the platforms’ policies, fewer than one in six were removed or had the associated accounts deleted after being pointed out to moderators.

The report found that the platforms are particularly poor at acting on antisemitic conspiracy theories, including tropes about “Jewish puppeteers”, the Rothschild family and George Soros, as well as misinformation connecting Jewish people to the pandemic. Holocaust denial was also often left unchecked, with 80% of posts denying or downplaying the murder of 6 million Jews receiving no enforcement action whatsoever.

Facebook was the worst offender, acting on just 10.9% of posts, despite introducing tougher guidelines on antisemitic content last year. In November 2020, the company updated its hate speech policy to ban content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.

However, a post promoting a viral article that claimed the Holocaust was a hoax accompanied by a falsified image of the gates of Auschwitz with a white supremacist meme was not removed after researchers reported it to moderators. Instead, it was labelled as false information, which CCHD say contributed to it reaching hundreds of thousands of users. Statistics from Facebook’s own analytics tool show the article received nearly a quarter of a million likes, shares and comments across the platform.

Twitter also showed a poor rate of enforcement action, removing just 11% of posts or accounts and failing to act on hashtags such as #holohoax (often used by Holocaust deniers) or #JewWorldOrder (used to promote anti-Jewish global conspiracies). Instagram also failed to act on antisemitic hashtags, as well as videos inciting violence towards Jewish people.
Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH, said the research showed that online abuse was not about algorithms or automation, as the tech companies allowed “bigots to keep their accounts open and their hate to remain online”, even after alerting human moderators.

He said that media, which he described as “how we connect as a society”, has become a “safe space for racists” to normalise “hateful rhetoric without fear of consequences”. “This is why social media is increasingly unsafe for Jewish people, just as it is becoming for women, Black people, Muslims, LGBT people and many other groups,” he added.

Ahmed said the test of the government’s online safety bill, first drafted in 2019 and introduced to parliament in May, is whether platforms can be made to enforce their own rules or face consequences themselves.


…the truth is that technology is something of a minefield…& there’s no doubt that some are very much interested in making it one

Hackers have attacked the vaccination registration system in one of Italy’s largest regions, temporarily blocking residents from booking new vaccination appointments, officials said.

Residents of Lazio, which includes Rome, won’t be able to book new appointments for several days, the region’s president, Nicola Zingaretti, posted Monday on Facebook.

While the hackers’ identity and motivations weren’t immediately clear, the incident appeared to be a ransomware attack, said Allan Liska, an analyst who analyzes such attacks for the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.



The gangs – criminal enterprises that hack into internet-connected computer systems, lock access to them, and then sell a decryption key in exchange for payment in bitcoin – have targeted schools, hospitals, councils, airports, government bodies, oil pipelines, universities, nuclear contractors, insurance companies, chemical distributors and arms manufacturers. Hackers haven’t targeted air traffic controllers yet, but some believe that it’s only a matter of time.

All organisations are vulnerable, although a sweet spot is mid-size businesses that have enough revenue to make them a lucrative target, but aren’t large enough to have dedicated cybersecurity teams. “Everybody who uses internet-connected computer systems has vulnerabilities,” says Dr Herb Lin, a cybersecurity expert at Stanford University.

Russia is a major hotspot for ransomware attackers to headquarter themselves, as is Iran. Cyrillic – the Russian alphabet – is commonly used in ransomware forums or source codes. “It’s not that the Russian government is conducting these ransomware attacks,” Lin says, “but they have an arrangement in which the Russian-based cyber-mobs can do their activities outside Russia, and the country turns a blind eye to it. The tacit agreement is, if you hack a Russian system, you’re in trouble.” I ask Lin why the Russian authorities are so lenient. “My guess is that Putin gets a cut,” he says.

These hackers operate as organised gangs: some members specialise in identifying compromised systems and gaining access, while others handle the ransom negotiations. (Investigators tracing ransom payments will often see cryptocurrency transferred into many different cyberwallets after a transaction has been made, for this reason.)

And they are not shy of publicity – some have even given media interviews. “I know at the very least several affiliates have access to a ballistic missile launch system… It’s quite feasible to start a war,” said an unnamed REvil spokesperson airily in one interview. “But it’s not worth it – the consequences are not profitable.” Each group has a distinct character. “REvil has some flair, as does Pysa, who are quite snarky,” says Brett Callow of the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. “At the other end of the spectrum, Ryuk are robotic in their approach.”

More recently, these gangs have pivoted into extorting individuals. If victims don’t pay, their stolen data is dumped online, or sold on the dark web to the highest bidder. (There is no way to know if the data is sold anyway, even if the victim does pay.) Some of these extortion demands take a vicious tenor: REvil recently threatened to publish damaging information about Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky after he refused to pay a ransom. “We know his secrets… we will share with you some disgusting photos, and many interesting facts from his life,” wrote the hackers on their dark web blog. And the pandemic has proved especially fecund for ransomware gangs. According to a report from cybersecurity software firm Bitdefender, attacks increased by 485% in 2020 alone. “It’s taken off since Covid because we have more people working from home,” says Sophia, a crisis communications expert who specialises in advising companies who have been targeted by ransomware hackers. Poorly secured remote access logins are a common route in. “More of a digital environment leads to more points of entry for the attackers,” she says. “The last year and a half has been a whole new ballgame.”
Governments are finally waking up to the terrible threat posed by ransomware hackers. In the UK, GCHQ’s cybersecurity lead recently warned that ransomware poses a bigger threat to online security than hostile states. In the US, President Biden has established a multi-agency anti-ransomware government taskforce. The FBI recently succeeded in recovering £1.6m of the Colonial Pipeline ransom, suggesting that bitcoin is either not as untraceable as previously thought, or that investigators had intelligence on the group behind the attack. This month, REvil – the most high-profile of all the ransomware groups – went offline. No one is sure why, but the crackdown may have played a role.


The F.B.I. internet Crime Report for 2020 listed 2,474 attacks in the United States, with losses totaling more than $29.1 million. The reality is probably of a different magnitude. The German data-crunching firm Statista has estimated that there were 304 million attacks worldwide in 2020, a 62 percent increase over 2019. Most of them, Statista said, were in the professional sector — lawyers, accountants, consultants and the like.

Whatever the true scope, the problem will not be solved with patches, antivirus software or two-factor authentication, though security experts stress that every bit of protection helps. “We’re not going to defend ourselves out of this problem,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, the chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator and a leading authority on ransomware. “We have too many vulnerabilities. Companies that are small, libraries, fire departments will never afford the required security technology and talent.”

The battle must be joined elsewhere, and the place to start is Russia. That, according to the experts, is where the majority of attacks originate. Three other countries — China, Iran and North Korea — are also serious players, and the obvious commonality is that all are autocracies whose security apparatuses doubtlessly know full well who the hackers are and could shut them down in a minute. So the presumption is that the criminals are protected, either through bribes — which, given their apparent profits, they can distribute lavishly — or by doing pro bono work for the government or both.
Finding the criminals is not the problem. The U.S. government has the wherewithal to identify and arrest would-be cyberblackmailers on its own soil and to help allies find them on theirs. In fact, Washington has identified and indicted many Russian cybercriminals — the F.B.I., for example, has offered a reward of $3 million for information leading to the arrest of one Evgeniy Bogachev, a.k.a. “lucky12345,” a master hacker in southern Russia whose malware has led to financial losses of more than $100 million.
So long as the hackers focus on commercial blackmail abroad, Mr. Putin probably sees no reason to shut them down. They do not harm him or his friends, and they can be used by his spooks when necessary. Unlike the “official” hackers working for military intelligence who have drawn sanctions from Washington and Europe for meddling in elections or mucking around in government systems, Mr. Putin can deny any responsibility for what the criminal gangs do. “It’s just nonsense. It’s funny,” he said in June when asked about Russia’s role in ransomware attacks. “It’s absurd to accuse Russia of this.”

The Russians apparently also believe they can parlay their control over the ransomware gangs into negotiating leverage with the West. Sergei Rybakov, the deputy foreign minister who leads the Russian side in strategic stability talks launched at the Biden-Putin summit, indicated as much when he complained recently that the United States was focusing on ransomware separately from other security issues. Ransomware, he implied, was part of a bigger pile of bargaining chips.

[…]For reasons still unclear, Donald Trump as president was prepared to give Mr. Putin carte blanche for any cybermischief.


…”finding the criminals is not the problem”…again with the understatements…but…as long as we’re on the subject

Former President Donald J. Trump plans to fight the release of his tax returns to Congress, a lawyer for Mr. Trump said on Monday.
The opinion, which the Treasury said that it would comply with, opened the possibility that the returns, which Mr. Trump has fought for years to keep secret, could be released to Congress. But even if the returns are handed over to Congress, Mr. Trump’s tax information may not become public immediately or at all.
Judge Trevor McFadden, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who is overseeing the dispute, asked lawyers for the House committee and for Mr. Trump to appear before him on Wednesday, when he is expected to lay out a timeline for written arguments.

Trump plans to fight the release of his tax returns to Congress. [NYT]

…in the face of this sort of thing

When legal gurus and former prosecutors discuss a potential criminal investigation and indictment of former president Donald Trump concerning efforts to stage an insurrection, the biggest hurdle they cite is “intent.”
Hmmm. Imagine we had evidence that Trump knew there was no fraud and knew he could not get officials to change the result, but wanted to lay the predicate for an insurrection, even a violent one. Sounds impossible to find such incriminating, airtight evidence, right?

Well, consider what The New York Times reported last week, regarding a phone call Trump made on Dec. 27
Justice Department officials told him there is no widespread fraud. “You guys may not be following the Internet the way I do,” Trump insisted. Still, the department’s lawyers, according to Donoghue’s notes, “Told him flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence — we look at allegations but they do not pan out.”

Former House Intelligence Committee counsel Dan Goldman tells me, “Trump’s statements to Rosen, Donoghue — and likely others — demonstrate that he knew he did not have true concerns about the legitimacy of the election but he simply wanted to corruptly overturn it without any factual basis.” Goldman explains, “By asking DOJ to lie so he and the Republican congressmen can use the lie to reverse the outcome of the election, Trump plainly intended to corruptly overturn the election. Any state or federal prosecutor can use these statements against him.”
Trump knew there was zero evidence of fraud, both when he pressured Raffensperger and when he incited the crowd. Just as he did when he demanded the Ukrainian president announce an investigation into then-candidate Joe Biden or his son, he was asking the Justice Department not for evidence, but a pretext. He did not even expect the department to change the results; he just wanted it to promulgate his lie so he could finagle a way to reverse the results. He was looking for a pretense to force the reversal of the election.
Remarkably, the Justice Department notes are not the only instance showing Trump’s desperation to hold onto the presidency despite a lack of evidence of fraud. Norm Eisen, former co-counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment, explains: “These notes are part of a pattern of behavior by Trump that proves he knew he had not really won the election and was trying to seize an outcome unsupported by the facts. That in turn goes to the bad intent prosecutors investigating Trump for election interference will have to prove.” That pattern includes his 2019 call to the Ukrainian president and his call to Raffensperger, which Eisen says “are expressions of a person who doesn’t care about the underlying evidence or truths and who wants false public declarations by officials that he can corruptly use to drive a Big Lie.”


…&…of course…this kind of thing

Donald Trump’s penchant for turning his political and legal troubles into fundraising schemes has long been recognized, but the former US president’s money hustling tricks seem to have expanded since his defeat by Joe Biden, prompting new scrutiny and criticism from campaign finance watchdogs and legal analysts.

Critics note Trump has built an arsenal of political committees and nonprofit groups, staffed with dozens of ex-administration officials and loyalists, which seem aimed at sustaining his political hopes for a comeback, and exacting revenge on Republican congressional critics. These groups have been aggressive in raising money through at times misleading appeals to the party base, which polls show share Trump’s false views he lost the White House due to fraud.
“Donald Trump is a one-man scam Pac,” said Paul S Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation with Common Cause. “Bait-and-switch is among his favorite fundraising tactics,” Ryan stressed, noting that Trump’s Save America Pac told “supporters he needed money to challenge the result of an election he clearly lost, and then wound up not spending nothing any on litigation last year.

“Now he’s at it again, with frivolous lawsuits filed [in July] against Facebook, Twitter and Google, accompanied by fundraising appeals,” Ryan added. “This time he’s got the unlimited dark money group America First Policy Institute in on the racket.”
[Trump] deceived his donors. He asked them to give money so he could contest the election results, but then he spent their contributions to pay off unrelated debts,” said Adav Noti, a former associate general counsel at the Federal Election Commission and now chief of staff at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

Noti added: “That’s dangerously close to fraud. If a regular charity – or an individual who didn’t happen to be president of the United States – had raised tens of millions of dollars through that sort of deception, they would face a serious risk of prosecution.”
“Trump’s aggressive fundraising, using a variety of committees and surrogates, raises questions about whether his continual hints at running in 2024 is primarily a ploy for donations,” said Sheila Krumholz, who leads the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. “Trump may be more interested in fundraising than actually running, especially given how unprecedented his post-loss fundraising is.”



…or…if you can navigate the paywall…this side of that equation



The Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Monday rejected a new subpoena from Arizona state Senate Republicans, calling their partisan ballot review an “adventure in never-never land.”

“It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over,” Jack Sellers, who leads the board that oversees elections in the county, wrote in a scathing letter. “If you haven’t figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I’m not sure you ever will.”

He added: “The reason you haven’t finished your ‘audit’ is because you hired people who have no experience and little understanding of how professional elections are run.”
“Please finish whatever it is that you are doing and release whatever it is you are going to release,” he said. “I am confident that our staff and volunteers ran the election as prescribed by federal and state law. There was no fraud, there wasn’t an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment.”

He added: “It’s time for all elected officials to tell the truth and stop encouraging conspiracies. Please release your report and be prepared to defend any accusations of misdeeds in court. It’s time to move on.”


…it seems like some lines need to be drawn in the proverbial sand

A May Quinnipiac poll found that 85 percent of Republicans want candidates running for office to mostly agree with Donald Trump, and two out of three want Trump to run again for president in 2024.
What do you call members of a party who, from top to bottom, from elected officials to voters, largely believe a lie and a liar determined to undermine, corrupt and even destroy our democracy? What do you call a party whose leaders use that lie as a pretext to suppress the votes and voices of Americans with whom they disagree? What do you call a party slavishly devoted to a cult over the stability and prosperity of a country?

What do you call a party where many of its members have worked against a lifesaving, society-freeing vaccine in the middle of a pandemic, exposing many of their own followers to the deadly virus, all for the sake of being contrarian, anti-establishment and anti-science?

I call that party a national security threat and a cancer on our democracy.
I don’t see how we continue to pretend that this is politics as usual, that it’s normal squabbling between ideological opposites. No, something is deeply, dangerously wrong here. This is not the same as it has always been.

This Republican Party is a menace to society. That must be said. That is the truth.
We have to stop making people who call this Republican Party out for what it is feel like extremists, reactionaries and alarmists, rather than truth tellers. It is not extreme to tell the truth, but it is delusional to twist yourself into a knot to not tell the unvarnished truth because you believe your tone of conciliation will lead to rehabilitation.

The G.O.P. Menace to Society [NYT]

…not to put too fine a point on it


…the line between capitol crime & capital crime is looking thinner by the day

A third police officer who defended the US Capitol during the 6 January insurrection by extremist supporters of Donald Trump has taken his own life, Washington DC’s Metropolitan police department confirmed on Monday.
The death of Hashida is the third known instance of a suicide by law enforcement officers related to the 6 January insurrection, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a violent attempt to stop the certification of Biden’s election win.

Officer who responded to US Capitol attack is third to die by suicide [Guardian]



  1. The website Conservative Brief is a depressing compilation of what it calls “Real, fearless journalism”. It recently has been touting this Laura Bush interview from Fox:

    Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, says there are “no plans” for him to return to the White House — at least, as far as she’s aware. During an interview Thursday morning on Fox News, Trump responded to a report from The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman that Trump is “privately” telling people that he will be reinstated as president by August. “As far as I know, there are no plans for Donald Trump to be in the White House in August,” Lara Trump told Fox News. “Maybe there’s something I don’t know, Bryan, but no.”

    Maybe there is something I don’t know, (nudge nudge wink wink).

  2. Biden needs to revoke his passport before he returns!
    We were doing okay with the smoke from the wildfires but looks like that has ended.  Last night we had that glowing sun through the smoke sunset.  Here’s some interesting thoughts on the fires…
    and this shit needs to be pointed out…

  3. We have to stop making people who call this Republican Party out for what it is feel like extremists, reactionaries and alarmists, rather than truth tellers. It is not extreme to tell the truth, but it is delusional to twist yourself into a knot to not tell the unvarnished truth because you believe your tone of conciliation will lead to rehabilitation.

    The problem is the people who don’t agree with this are the ones in power in the Democratic Party and continually push down anyone who doesn’t agree with their obviously incorrect take.

  4. How is it still morning??? We’re staying isolated because of the family cold (I’m fine). Today we’ve played with a water sensory bin, a dry sensory bin, the kiddy pool, went for a walk to a small grassy park, had a picnic, rolled down a grass hill, played hide and seek in the bushes…and it isn’t even fucking noon yet.
    No need for sympathies. I’m just venting so that I can better survive the rest of the day and week without our Pod.

    • @HammerZeitgeist, as my child is 34 what you are speaking of is a distant memory; no sympathies, but vent as needed! On my end of things, I signed off on vacation this week for 3 members of team; how bad can it be, I thought? Answer: pretty darn bad.

      • somehow management granted pretty much all team leads time off at the same time at my work…
        heres a decent impression of my current work situation


  5. There are 4 capitol police suicides now, I believe. Imagine risking your life and then having cheeto saying the insurrectionist who died is a martyr. That’s right I don’t think enough of her to google her name.
    John Oliver reported that the Taliban is making death threats to interpreters that worked for the US. The ones we vowed had a place in this country but somehow left behind.
    Innocent until proven guilty sounds nice but people think if you didn’t do it you wouldn’t be accused. Republicans know that all they have to do is keep investigating election fraud for people to believe there must be something to it. [Hello Hillary]

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