Sunday, March 31, 2019

A food fail

There are times it’s a good idea to ignore a special food product, something a company offers for a limited time. Such things are almost always built on mere hype, with the “limited time” offering being a way to generate sales based on the declared scarcity of the product. Sometimes it really is a good idea to look away. I wish I had done that.

Recently, I was ordering in our groceries, and the front page of the grocery store’s website had a promotion for a Cadbury special chocolate bar, a “Dairy Milk Packed With Creme Egg Yum”. It sounded intriguing, so I ordered one. My sincerely held opinion: The hype greatly exceeded the reality.

It probably helps if one is a huge fan—and I mean a fanatical fan—of Cadbury Creme Eggs, and I’m not one. I’ve thought they were okay, but nothing I’d go out of my way to have again. However, to me, this bar was nothing like a Creme Egg. Instead, it was mostly nothing but sweet, far more so than it needed to be, and tasting vaguely of chocolate. It was pretty bad. It was so awful, in fact, that a week and a half later the bar's still not finished—and there are plenty of similarly sized chocolate bars (from other companies…) that wouldn’t last a day and a half in our household.

Cadbury, has been sliding in popularity in New Zealand for years, having frequently shot itself in the foot. In 2007, the company closed its Auckland factory, costing 200 jobs. In 2009, the company got complaints and harsh criticism for switching from cocoa butter to cheaper palm oil, which is a problem for many reasons. They switched some products back after the firestorm.

2009 was also the year that Cadbury was acquired by Kraft Foods, and things have gone downhill since then. That company is now known by it’s totally made-up name, Mondelēz International, and maybe that phoney name should have been an indicator?

In 2017, the company announced it was closing its Dunedin factory, costing 350 people their jobs so, the company could move production to Australia (the Dunedin factory wasn't making enough profit). Some iconic Kiwi brands were to be shifted to Australia, too, but since they’re Kiwi, not Aussie, no one expects that production to continue long term. This year, they announced that—yet again—they’re reducing the size of their “family size” chocolate blocks. That announcement came only a month after it was revealed that Cadbury had “butchered" their marshmallow Easter Eggs by cutting them in half—resulting in “New Zealand’s top five non-Cadbury marshmallow Easter eggs of 2019”. Good advice. As it happens, “This Easter no Cadbury chocolates will be Kiwi-made” for the first time in 89 years. Why do we still buy their stuff?

Oh, that’s right, marketing. And alluring packaging. I won’t make that mistake with their products again.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and the product was purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear. The chocolate bar I purchased was made in Australia.

Political Notebook: International edition

These days it seems like there are too many political events happening too fast for anyone to keep up with. One thing is no sooner reported before another pops up. When one is following political events in several countries, things get even more complicated. This post is the start of one solution for me.

When I began these Political Notebook posts, I saw them as a way to talk about subjects that would never get a post of their own. But these days there’s too much to keep up with, things that ordinarily would get posts of their own, so these Notebook posts have taken on new duties—and more frequency.

Jacinda superstar

The world has learned something over the past couple weeks that many of us here already knew: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pretty awesome. Sure, she’d been feted before, like last September. Which I mentioned in “New Zealand’s very good week (https://amerinz.blogspot.com/2018/09/new-zealands-very-good-week.html).

Now, of course, the world has taken note of the calm, rational, compassionate, strong, caring, and stunningly admirable leadership shown by the Prime Minister after the terrorist attacks in Christchurch. Bryce Edwards, a politics lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington, does a Political Roundup column in the NZ Herald. I frequently disagree with his conclusions, but this time he seemed genuinely taken with the “International fascination with Jacinda Ardern”.

There’s been some grassroots reaction to her, too. I heard there was a petition for Jacinda to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which actually seems a pretty reasonable thing to happen. I don’t know how serious that is. However, there’s definitely a petition on Change.org: “Speaker Pelosi: invite New Zealand’s Prime Minister here to America to address Congress”. I have no idea whether anything like that could or would happen, but I’d love to see it happen, not only because Congresscritters need to hear what she has to say, and also for the entertainment value that would come from the inevitable Twitter Tantrum that a certain someone would be sure to descend into.

Meanwhile, this past Friday the Prime Minister spoke at the National Remembrance Service. Newshub reported: “'The nation that discovers the cure': Jacinda Ardern's anti-racism speech sparks standing ovation”, and it was pretty awesome (the transcript of the speech is at the link). But, then, by now we pretty much expect her to say just the right thing, don’t we?

Random notes

A couple other pieces caught my attention this week, too:

“Trump Warned Us He Would Be a Terrible President” because he did, really, didn’t he?

“Associated Press offers new guidance to media on 'racially charged' vs 'racist'". This is motivated, at least in part, by the racist motivations of the Christchurch terrorist and some newsmedia’s reluctance to call it that. Meanwhile, a debate has broken out over whether the newsmedia should mention the Christchurch terrorist by name (he should not be referred to by name). Radio New Zealand’s CEO and Editor in Chief published a shallow defence of their plan to sometimes name the terrorist in their news coverage: “Explaining RNZ’s mosque shootings coverage – and why we’re naming the accused”. I couldn’t possibly disagree with him more, and I found his excuses self-serving and a bit arrogant. Your mileage may vary.

Time to start next week's page in the Notebook.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Is there a future for Facebook?

Facebook gets in the news all the time, which isn’t surprising considering it has 2.2 billion active monthly users, give or take. A company that big is sure to become news, and Facebook does, whether it’s because of their recent major outage, their sudden decision to “ban” white separatist and white nationalist material or some other issue, it pops up a lot as a topic. What hasn’t changed, however, is that two questions have become persistent: Will Facebook survive? And, should it be allowed to?

The recent chart from Statista (up top) shows the percentages of various age groups using Facebook over the past three years. The overall trend has been for younger users to move away from Facebook even as the over 55s move toward it, which is what led Statista to cheekily ask, “Is Facebook Becoming Social Media's Retirement Home?” In the post accompanying the chart, Niall McCarthy acknowledged that, at the moment, “it’s a bit of a stretch” to call Facebook social media’s retirement home. He added:
There are several possible reasons as to why younger users are leaving Facebook in droves. …Facebook's privacy issues and breaches of trust have been cited as having an impact. The emergence of other platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are another key reason and both are highly attractive to younger generations due to their simplicity and the fact that they collect less private information. Facebook of course owns Instagram but that isn't helping it rectify the situation. It could well be that Facebook will have to roll out a universal messaging system to halt the user migration or else it might eventually have to accept that it's on the road to becoming social media's retirement home.
Facebook obviously knows all this—there’s very little about its users that it doesn’t know. This is probably what’s behind Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recently stated intention of turning Facebook into more of a privacy-focused messaging platform. In fact, Facebook already owns a secure messaging service, WhatsApp, which offers end-to-end encryption for users, something that means, theoretically, no one, including WhatsApp (currently run as a separate company) can see the contents of chats or listen in on phone calls made using the service (I say “theoretically” because there’s no such thing as a service that can’t be hacked, so there’s an at least theoretical possibility that someone, or some entity, might be able to intercept and decode messages—theoretically).

WhatsApp is in stark contrast to Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, all of which harvest data to deliver targeted ads to users. Advertising is, in fact, one of the main ways Facebook makes money, often at the expense of traditional publishers, including those companies’ own Internet sites. So, if Facebook ends its ability to glean boatloads of personal information about individuals, and ads can’t be targeted to individuals with razor-sharp focus, how will it make money?

Obviously, we shouldn’t cry too hard for Facebook—they won’t do anything that will cost them their business. But as Associated Press writer Kelvin Chang pointed out, “Facebook’s vision of future? Looks like Chinese app WeChat”, a service that makes money mostly through commerce. It is different, though, since, being Chinese, encryption of private communication is forbidden.

Another possibility is that “This could be the beginning of the end for Facebook’s social network”, as recode put it in a recent piece by Kurt Wagner. He said:
Facebook’s core social network is primarily a place to post photos and videos and comments that aren’t private and don’t disappear. That’s not the future Facebook is building toward — and apparently not the future that users actually want.
Obviously, there are risks in this strategy, and not just for Facebook. A service using end-to-end encryption is the perfect choice for all sorts of really bad people, from drug dealers, to terrorists, to anyone engaged in any sort of criminal conspiracy. This concerns police operations, governments and their spy agencies, for obvious reasons, and they argue it shouldn’t be allowed.

But there’s another side to end-to-end encryption of communication: It can allow a parent to chat with their child who’s away at university without someone snooping on their every word, it can allow a suicidal person to chat completely confidentially with people who can help, and it can allow an abused spouse/partner/child to confidentially plan their escape without their abuser knowing what’s going on. It can make financial discussions—like with a bank and its customer—possible. And even on a basic, day-to-day life level, ordinary people can talk and chat with each other without someone snooping on what they say in order to target ads at them. These are all very good things.

Do the good uses outweigh the bad? In my opinion, they do—for now. Do any of us seriously believe that were it not for commercial companies bad people wouldn’t be able to chat secretly? Of course they could—and they have been doing so. Stopping ordinary people from preserving their privacy will never stop bad people using encrypted communications for bad purposes because—by definition—they don’t follow the law.

The larger question here is who should control access to these new communication channels? There are open source alternatives to Facebook (diaspora* is one, and the asterisk is part of the name) and WhatsApp (Signal is one) that don’t collect data on their users. But they’re infinitesimally small compared to Facebook—of course. Could it be that, despite all our complaints, we’re okay with Facebook controlling so much of our online communications?

None of us knows where this is all headed, but everything changes, so Facebook needs to evolve, and not just to avoid becoming “social media’s retirement home” (as if there couldn’t be a role for such a thing…). MySpace was once the biggest social network around, and it’s pretty much irrelevant now. Meanwhile, governments threaten regulation and more. Users threaten to walk away. Despite all that, nothing much is happening yet, but whether Facebook survives will depend on how it responds to these challenges. Oddly enough, that will also answer the question of whether it should it be allowed to survive.

Time will tell. We’ll all have to watch our newsfeed for a while longer, it seems.

The chart up top from Statista shows the share of the U.S. population using Facebook by age group.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 345 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 345, “12 Years Later” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

Today is the 12th Podoversary of the AmeriNZ Podcast, which is significant, even if the specific number isn’t, because both the podcast and I are still here. I talk about that today, but first I have some updates to last week’s episode first. This episode isn’t really a celebratory episode as such, but at the end I have an audio montage I created for this episode. Wendy made me do it.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The big joke

There are plenty of reasons to laugh at the current occupant of the White House, but plenty more reasons to laugh at his sycophants, enablers, and lackeys. The above Facebook post shares an example.

The gist of the story is that Secretary of State Pompeo was asked if the current occupant “is a new Esther.” This refers to the biblical legend in which a Jewish woman named Esther, said to be a woman that the Persian king (supposedly Xerxes I) married because of her great beauty—and to replace a disobedient wife. Esther, the legend has it, heard about a plan to kill all the Jews under Persian control, and she thwarted it.

Pompeo said, “As a Christian I certainly believe that's possible."Sending more chills down the spine of everyone who doesn’t share his particularly rigid form of extreme fundamentalist Christianity, he added, “I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”

Why? Because the radical “Christian” extremists think that the current occupant will “save” the Jews (Israel) from Persia (Iran) by solving a problem the current occupant himself created in the first place. Their Lord (temporal and spiritual alike) moves in mysterious ways, indeed.

It doesn’t happen much anymore, but I did literally laugh out loud when I read about this. It was only last year that I read about radical “Christian” extremists declaring that the current occupant of the White House is a modern day King Cyrus, the Babylonian king who, while not Jewish, nevertheless “saved” the Jewish people according to biblical legend. He was, according to the legend, an unwitting tool for the Jewish god to use.

This is known as “vessel theory” in which the radical “Christian” extremists’ god can use someone who may not be a believer or even "worthy"—in this case, the current occupant of the White House—as a “vessel” for the god's will to be done. In this way, the radical “Christian” extremists can excuse and ignore the current occupant’s serial adultery, his bragging about committing sexual assault, paying off a porn star, etc., etc., etc.

This is all pretty hilarious, really. The radical “Christian” extremists are SO wedded to their man, so willing to overlook everything bad about him, that they’ll come up with anything, no matter how bizarre, to use as justification for giving him their utter loyalty. And, in return, they get absolutely everything they want. Politics at play, obviously, in which power—and gaining power over people who don’t share their beliefs—matters more than honesty, integrity, or principle. Every time.

So, I mocked them in my post:
“Waitaminute, waitaminute, those “Christian” extremists have been banging in for two years that their guy is a new King Cyrus, used by their god to accomplish things that, just coincidentally, of course, align perfectly with their radical political agenda. Now he’s supposed to be ESTHER?! I thought those radical “Christians” hated trans people…
Because, if they can come up with bizarre and stupid justifications to allow them to fall at the feet of someone not worthy of such worship, then we all get to mock them for it. Don't worry, though: The radical “Christian” extremists have plenty of quasi-biblical, loosely "Christian" rationalisations as to why such mockery is actually good for them, a "storing up treasures in heaven" sort of thing, or maybe one of those "five crowns". Point is, they don't care, which isn't even the point of such mockery: There's a social good in helping others to see how silly the radical “Christian” extremists' rationalisations and excuses for supporting the current occupant really are.

Of course, those radical “Christian” extremists could always go and sin no more, but I certainly don’t expect that to ever happen.

Related: "Trump’s spiritual adviser: relationship with president is ‘assignment’ from God" By Jessica Glenza, The Guardian

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Political Notebook: About that ‘summary’

This week, the filing of the Mueller Report, and the letter summarising it from Bill Barr, has dominated the news in the USA. It will for a few days more days, too, before the summary becomes fully weaponised by the USA’s rightwing. Which makes this the perfect time to look at where we’re at. Consider this a sort of reader on what the rightwing doesn't want people to know or think about.

It now appears to be as bad as we thought

In my post yesterday, I pointed out some reasons why Barr may have been economical with the truth about what the Mueller report really says. Naturally, I’m not the only one who’s suspicious.

John Dean, who was White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, suggested that Barr’s word choices may have been an attempt to “put a little lipstick on something that might’ve been fairly ugly.” He wasn’t alone in this view. On Slate, William Saletan explained “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words” in detail. He’s right—actually, they both are.

Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank suggests that “William Barr has made this a win for Moscow”. Clearly the problem, once again, is Barr’s curious word choices. Sean Illing at Vox added: “A former prosecutor explains why Barr’s hasty obstruction conclusion should raise red flags”.

It was never just about collusion

The biggest bit of deliberate disinformation coming the rightwing is that somehow the alleged contents of the Mueller Report “exonerates” the current occupant of the White House when it does no such thing. Jumping off from that absurd claim, Republicans then leap to declaring that Democrats have “nothing” against the current occupant.

Oh, really?!!

“For many of his critics, Trump is still ‘unfit’ to be president”, writes Eugene Scott for The Washington Post. He wrote, “Anyone viewing Mueller’s report as the end of concerns about Trump’s fitness for office are showing a lack of understanding about his critics’ actual concerns about Trump’s presidency.” That’s absolutely correct: There is so much about that man that makes him fundamentally unfit to occupy the White House. In fact, here’s another reason, something we just today: “Trump asked aides to cut federal funding for Puerto Rico: report”.

Frank Bowman pointed out what “What the Left Got Wrong About Robert Mueller”:
Robert Mueller was never going to save us from Donald Trump. He was certainly never going to indict a sitting president of the United States. Indeed, given the narrow scope of Mueller’s charge—to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and any “matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”—uncovering evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of an underlying crime was always a long shot. It was extraordinarily unlikely that he would find that Trump or high-ranking members of his presidential campaign “colluded”—or, to use the better and more precise legal term, conspired—with the Russian government to fix the 2016 election.
Exactly so. Which is why it’s true that “2020 Democrats’ Strategy of Restraint on the Mueller Probe Was Wise”. But it was also never going to be the focus, anyway, unless Mueller had called for indictment, maybe, which, obviously, was never going to happen, no matter what.

It’s also worth noting, as Vox put it, “What we already know Mueller found”.

The battle lines are drawn

While it’s true that “Washington politicians spin competing storylines on Mueller report”, the obvious important thing is that the only one side will be using Barr’s summary as a weapon: “Trump and his allies plan to use Barr’s summary of Mueller report as a cudgel against critics”, because, well, of course they will. That’s politics.

Republicans have already started to trying and use Barr’s questionable summary as a weapon: “Pelosi defends Schiff after Republicans call for resignation”. Then, too, “Some conservatives say the end of the Mueller investigation is the beginning of new investigations — of Democrats”. Sure. Whatever. Oddly enough, the fine individuals mentioned in the story are never—ever—interested in investigating anyone for anything if they’re Republican. Just so we’re clear about their true motivation: Partisan politics, and nothing more.

Republicans are playing partisan political games, of course, and a pretty stupid one, really: We have nothing other than Barr’s questionable summary to go on right now, and they know that, which is how we can tell it’s all a game, something just for their base, and nothing more.

Is the division unbridgeable?

As if playing partisan games over Barr’s questionable summary wasn’t bad enough, or politicians of both parties trying to score political points as best they can without either side having actually read the report, there’s worse: The bitter and toxic divide in the USA’s politics may be permanent. That’s a subject in itself, but Zack Beauchamp, a Senior Correspondent for Vox, mentions an important aspect of this in “Robert Mueller and the collapse of American trust”, writing:
…this reflects a collapse in trust in two core American institutions: politically independent federal law enforcement and the free press. This lack of faith, combined with a concomitant rise in partisanship, means that virtually every major political event is interpreted through a partisan lens. There’s no political institution widely accepted as being neutral anymore; instead, Americans judge the quality of the country’s leading institutions based on how favorable each one’s outputs are to their political interests.
Is there a way forward? On this issue, yes, and it’s stupidly simple: Release the entire report and the evidence it’s based on. Without that, the two sides can never be at peace. Republicans, even ones who know better, will continue to use Barr’s questionable summary as if it’s the final word, and Democrats and Independents will continue to be very suspicious of it—and rightly so. There’s absolutely nothing else that can ever put this issue to bed, not even investigations by House committees, because Republicans will always dismiss them.

As for whether the partisan divide itself can be bridged and healed, the odds are clearly against it, and it would be impossible if the current occupant manages to hold onto power next year. But that subject is another page in the Notebook.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spin, spin, spin

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: We still don’t really know any more about what’s actually in the Mueller Report than we did a couple days ago. What we are mainly hearing is spin and marketing, and no amount of PR puffery and declarations to the contrary can change that fact. Once the entire report is released, we can judge for ourselves what is true—and what isn’t.

Republicans are claiming that the report “exonerates” the current occupant of the White House from charges of collusion with Russia, but that relies on Robert Barr’s assertion alone. What we can surmise from what he said is that there is no prosecutable evidence of collusion, which is absolutely NOT the same thing as there not actually being collusion. Moreover, a prosecutable crime is not the same thing as an impeachable offence. The US House of Representatives will investigate the matter. In any case, if Barr and the current regime are so certain that the report “exonerates” the current occupant, they should just release the entire report. What are they afraid of?

Barr notes that Mueller’s report doesn’t commit either way on the question of whether the current occupant or his regime engaged in the crime of obstruction of justice, saying: “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him’.” Regardless of whether a crime was committed, once again, a prosecutable crime is not the same thing as an impeachable offence. The US House will investigate this matter, too. If Barr and the current regime are really so certain that the report “exonerates” the current occupant from the crime of obstruction of justice, they should just release the entire report. What are they afraid of?

Barr will claim that most of the report cannot be released because much of Mueller’s work was done before a grand jury. Whether that’s a legitimate reason or a political excuse is something we cannot know unless we see the full report. Expect Congressional subpoenas and then lawsuits when the current regime defies them. But, again, if Barr and the current regime are so certain that the report “exonerates” the current occupant of any crimes, they should just release the entire report. What are they afraid of?

Barr gives the appearance of trying to seem dutiful, but, to reiterate, we cannot know whether that’s the case or not unless the entire report is released. There’s a very good reason for Barr to make assertions that are not necessarily, or not literally, supported by the report: Getting ahead of the news cycle. They know that getting the current regime’s narrative out first will dominate the news cycle and, because of that, people’s perceptions of what’s factual and true. Sceptics have little to counter with right now other than casting doubt and raising an eyebrow. This whole matter, including the questions about whether Barr is being accurate and truthful in his summary, can be answered very simply by releasing the entire report. What are they afraid of?

In the Republican Party’s spin, they attack Democrats as now somehow having no grounds to oppose the current occupant. But as Robert Reich pointed out in an opinion piece, the important point here, and one that Democrats have always been focused on, is not whether or not the current occupant engaged in prosecutable crimes related to collusion with Russia, its that he “has undermined the very idea of America”. His lies, his deliberate attempts to divide the American people, his using the office of president to enrich himself, his cosy hero worship of brutal dictators, his undermining of the Western Alliance that's kept the peace since the end of World War Two, all of these are things that make him unfit to be president—and most are mainly political matters.

We know that some 40-ish% of the American people won’t care about any of his failings, some 50-ish% will care enough to possibly vote against him, and the remaining 10-ish% will be somewhere in between. Who will prevail? No one has any idea, and anyone who claims they know for certain is either lying or delusional. Or both.

Even if the report really does say that the current occupant of the White House didn’t participate in the collusion, that doesn’t exonerate him of responsibility. As I’ve long suggested, it’s entirely possible that the current occupant didn’t know that people close to him in his campaign were colluding with Russia. If this were a normal crime syndicate, they would have kept him in the dark to preserve plausible deniability. It’s also possible that he was told, but his fading cognitive abilities have prevented him from remembering. It also possible that he simply didn’t have the intellectual heft to understand what was happening or the implications of what his people were up to. At the moment all of those are possible, none can be ruled out, and none can be proven. We simple don’t know. But if any of those are true, he's still responsible for the conduct of his campaign, particularly when it was traitorous.

However, there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of him, and to think that the talk of collusion is based on something. We know, for example, that he lied about his business dealings with Russia, something that caught the attention of the Mueller investigation, but we don’t know what led do, as opposed to what it could have led to; the former would be fact-based, the latter speculation.

The current occupant has had multiple private chats with the Russian dictator, but we don’t know what they talked about. We do know, however, that he nearly always takes the dictator’s side—and few exceptions are both insignificant and short-lived. We also know he shared classified information with the Russians when they called on him in the White House. There are plenty of other connections, too, including the infamous Trump Tower meeting.

Having said all that, we still don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s far too early to draw any firm conclusions.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know the truth, or, at least, we won’t until he’s out of office—assuming, of course, that the USA’s republic and constitution survive this regime. But right now, we simply don’t know what the truth is, and we cannot know unless the full report is released.

So, no, we have absolutely no reason to believe that the report really does “exonerate” the current occupant or his regime, nor can we have certainty that it doesn’t. The ONLY way we can ever know is if the entire report is released. What are they so afraid of?

The reality now is exactly the same as it was, say, a week ago: The Constitutional process will have to run its course. Congressional committees will now take over the job of investigating the current occupant and his regime, as is their role under the US Constitution. Whether the solution is ultimately a political one alone or from the criminal justice system will be clear in time.

Until we have some real answers and some actual facts to look toward, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


“4 key takeaways from the Mueller report summary”Washington Post

“Special counsel finds Trump did not collude with Russia”ThinkProgress

“Nadler: Mueller 'not exonerating' Trump in report”The Hill

The image of the spinning gyroscope up top is in the public domain (via Wikimedia).

Friday, March 22, 2019

We were one

I went to a local gathering at the edge of the Manukau Harbour to join with others in the community to observe today’s two minute silence in memory of those NZ lost in the terrorist attack last week. A couple dozen people or so were there, right in our little community, taking time out from the work day. They were men and women, and various ages. Some of the women wore head scarves. I held my phone up so we could all hear Radio New Zealand’s broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer and the two minutes silence. During those two minutes, the only sound we heard was the broadcast of the squeals and chirps of very young children, which seemed appropriate to me. I also watched the tide slowly go out, and to me that was a symbol of our collective grief starting to ease. May the families of the victims find some small measure of peace that New Zealanders could unite in sorrow and solidarity with the victims’ families and community, and in peace and love. I hope we all will now work together to make sure that such a thing can never happen here again. #WelcomeBrother #Aroha4NZ #RadioNZ
A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Today New Zealand stopped for two minutes silence to remember those we lost a week ago today. There were small and large gatherings, just as there have been all week. I even found a small gathering to attend right in our little community.

The caption for the Instagram photo above pretty much tells the story of the small commemoration I attended, but the main commemoration was at Hagley Park in Christchurch, the park that borders the Al Noor Mosque. After the time of silence, the mosque’s Imam told the crowd, "New Zealand is unbreakable. We are broken-hearted but we are not broken." He also said, "Thank you for your love and compassion. To our Prime Minister, thank you. Thank you for your leadership – it has been a lesson for the world's leaders.” Most poignantly, he said: "Thank you to our neighbours who opened their doors to save us from the killer."

Before everything began, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the crowd, "New Zealand mourns with you. We are one."

The caption above doesn’t tell the whole story about my photo, of course, which is something I do on this blog instead. The truth is, I wasn’t sure I was going to go until the last-minute before I left, and even then I was a bit on auto pilot.

Despite what some may think because I publicly blog, podcast, etc., I’m actually a pretty shy person by nature, especially when it comes to public gatherings where I won’t know any of the people there. All morning I tried to decide if I should go or not, my indecision being because of that reluctance to put myself “out there”. My anxiety was still rising right up until the moment I grabbed my keys, said goodbye to the dogs, and left the house.

Two things made me push on and persevere. First, and most obviously, this wasn’t about me, and had I stayed home it would have become about me. Second, and this is what provided my final push, I was ashamed to realise how my fear about going to that gathering was absolutely nothing compared to the terror the victims must’ve felt a week ago today. From that point, I was determined to go despite my anxiousness because I felt a need to be strong for them, the survivors, and those who were mourning the people we lost. Which didn’t make it any easier to go, to be honest, and I was uncomfortable there, but it at least provided the drive I needed to go and do the right thing.

I mention that because in the future we’ll all be forced to confront our own personal fears and anxieties to do what is right, to stand up to racism and bigotry, to draw our community closer together and resist the efforts of those who would tear us apart. For many of us, this will be extremely difficult to do, and we will be very uncomfortable, or worse. But today I learned that being committed to doing the right thing can help to overcome shyness and anxieties so that we can do what we must.

Today we really were one. I got strength from that. I hope that as we move on from the horror of last week we can all draw strength from it, too.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Two minutes silence tomorrow

Tomorrow, one week after the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand will observe two minutes silence to remember those we lost. It’s two minutes, rather than the customary one minute, in recognition of the seriousness of this horrific event. At 1:30pm NZST, the major free-to-air TV channels and radio stations will broadcast the Muslim call to prayer. Then, at 1:32, the two minutes silence begins.

If anyone overseas would like to join us, here’s the exact time in some world time zones:
  • Auckland: 1:30pm Friday, March 22
  • Sydney: 11:30am Friday, March 22
  • London: 12:30am Friday, March 22
  • New York: 8:30pm, Thursday, March 21
  • Chicago: 7:30pm, Thursday, March 21
  • Los Angeles: 5:30pm, Thursday, March 21
  • Honolulu: 2:30pm, Thursday, March 21
If you participate, it would be nice if you could share that on social media to show worldwide solidarity. But only if you feel comfortable doing so.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 344 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 344, “They Are Us” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode is personal reflection on the day of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, and the immediate aftermath, all from my perspective. The is a personal viewpoint, not a news report or news analysis—there are plenty of places that provide that. But for nearly a dozen years I’ve talked about good things and bad things that have happened in New Zealand, and this could be no different.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

They Are Us

Via Internet (source unknown).
The people of any country that has experienced an horrific major event—such as a natural disaster, a major accident, or an act of terrorism—will take time to comprehend what’s happened before they can begin to heal. This is natural. In recent years, New Zealand, and the South Island in particular, have experienced all three, and while national mourning has happened each time, this time there’s something more, something stronger, something more hopeful than we’ve seen before.

I’ve been struggling with this post for days. What can anyone really say about a terrorist attack, like what New Zealand experienced this past Friday? So much of what would be obvious also risks sounding empty and superficial in the face of so much pain and hurting. There will be public policy and political things to be said, but not now, not in this post. Instead, this a personal reflection. And, it’s also a beginning of trying to resume normal life.

I won’t re-hash all the facts about the attack, since it’s been so extensively covered by the world’s news media. I’m not a journalist, and I have no new facts to report. All that I, or anyone else, has to offer that’s unique is how we feel about and react to despicable acts like this. Still, it's necessary to talk about some of the details of that day in order to explain how I reacted.

I heard about the attack not long after it began. I heard there was a “mass shooting” in Christchurch, and that six people were believed dead. Then, it was 12. And then, as the TV news switched to live broadcasts, talk of numbers ceased and they instead focused on what was known, and attempts to understand what was going on.

TVNZ’s One News, which I was watching, had a fixed camera providing live shots of the police blocking the road that one of the mosques is on. It was mostly to provide moving images while the anchor, Simon Dallow, talked to experts by phone. I watched the cops there holding their assault rifles at the roadblock and thought how focused they looked.

I was watching when a car approached the roadblock. The cops tried to gesture to the driver to turn away, and the driver didn’t immediately comply. I saw the cops lower their rifles and point them at the car. I’ve never seen that in New Zealand before. I would never have thought I would see that in New Zealand. The car did turn away, clearly not a danger, but maybe driven by someone who was confused and unsure what to do. Maybe it was a friend or relative of a victim who was desperate to get to the mosque. I doubt we’ll ever know. But the image of police weapons aimed at a civilian car was the first jarring image I saw.

Later, of course, there were images of survivors leaving the mosque area, their clothes stained with the blood of victims. I’ve never seen that in New Zealand before. I would never have thought I would see that in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been having an ordinary Friday visiting parts of New Zealand, until everything changed. She spoke to us [WATCH] shortly before boarding a flight back to Wellington, where the national civil defense efforts are coordinated. “This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” she said. “Many of those who will have been directly affected by the shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.

It was the perfect response at a time when there was still so much that wasn’t known. We needed reassurance and certainty at a time when neither were evident. As the news coverage continued, there was eventually footage of the terrorist being arrested—alive. Cops from a rural area of the South Island who happened to be in Christchurch for routine firearms training, responded to the call. They rammed the terrorist’s car, which could be seen with its front end up on the police car, its wheel still spinning because it was in gear. The cops cuffed the terrorist and took him away. At the time they had no idea what weapons the terrorist still had, nor did they know he’d put improvised bombs in a vehicle he’d used. All they knew was that they had a duty to end the event, to stop the terrorist, and to protect the people of New Zealand. They did so and became instant heroes to us all.

More time passed. Reporters talked about how the Prime Minister would speak again once she was briefed in Wellington, and they suggested we should expect the casualty numbers to go much higher. They were right.

When the Prime Minister addressed us again [WATCH], she told us that there were 40 dead and at least that many more injured. which was the best information they had at that time. She said it was a terrorist attack, and she reassured us that the terrorist was in custody. Then she spoke to us in calm, measured tones, saying exactly what needed to be said:
Christchurch was the home of these victims. For many, this may not have been the place they were born. In fact, for many, New Zealand was their choice. The place they actively came to, and committed themselves to. The place they were raising their families. Where they were part of communities that they loved, and who loved them. It was a place that many came to for its safety, a place where they were free to practice their culture, and their religion.

For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here, we, New Zealand, we were not a target because we’re a safe harbour for those who hate, we were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we’re an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not, and cannot be shaken by this attack.

We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values, and the one that we place the currency on right now, and tonight, is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy. And secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.
The Prime Minister’s words moved me to tears, for both her compassion for the victims and their community, and also for her defiance of the forces of hatred and racism. She consistently did both every time she spoke in the immediate aftermath.

On Saturday the Prime Minister led a multi-party delegation to Christchurch to express support for the survivors and their community, to mourn with all those who are grieving, and to demonstrate clearly that New Zealand will not tolerate extremist racism.

There were many photos of the Prime Minister wearing a headscarf in support of the Muslim community, and of her comforting those who were mourning. She was, in that moment, every decent and rational New Zealander.

Some New Zealanders have taken a small measure of comfort that the terrorist was not one of us, but a foreigner who targeted us. But evil knows no nationality. Hatred is hatred. Our mission is to stamp out hatred wherever it exists, not to blame the people of the country where a monster happened to be born.

And yet, in the immediate aftermath it was good to think that we don’t have home-grown violent extremists, even though we know that’s not actually true. In the days and months ahead, we’ll find out for sure how extensive this cancer is. The message so far has been clear that we will not tolerate violent racism in this country.

When the Prime Minister said of the victims, “They are us”, she was right. But it’s equally true that the racists among us are “us”, too, not because we literally are them—we reject them. However, because we don’t do enough to stop racism, we are complicit in its continuation. And because we don’t object to small expressions of racism, it can give fertiliser to those who will go on to commit acts of racist violence, including terrorism. We must do more.

This isn’t the duty of one race alone, but white people are the only ones in a position to stamp out white supremacism by forcefully rejecting it. This is where our work now lies: We all have a duty to stand up to racism whenever it pops up. That means that many of us will need to learn how to stand up to racism whenever it pops up, because New Zealanders by nature aren’t a confrontational people. I think that maybe this can lead us to develop ways to respond, even to racist “jokes”, in ways that don’t end up escalating the situation. The goal is to get people to stop being racist, not to publicly shame them or to make them angry; we want change, not to incite them.

In the meantime, though, jaded and cynical as I am, I've been ASTOUNDED by the reaction of ordinary Kiwis. They have embraced our Muslim fellow Kiwis in a way I've never seen happen before or anywhere else. It makes me get all teary-eyed when I see it on TV. Others are wearing a green ribbon in support of Muslim Kiwis. Some have gone to their nearest mosque to lay flowers and to be there in case anyone needs a hug. Yesterday in the Ponsonby neighbourhood of Auckland, a bunch of ordinary white, middle class-looking office workers, all millennials, I think, went on their lunch hour to a local mosque to join with the Muslims worshipping there. It was, to be honest, funny watching the dolled-up ladies taking off their expensive high heels to go inside—but it was very touching, too, and inspiring, So, too, have been the numerous stories of ordinary Kiwis just doing what they can to help, and it was gratifying to see the newsmedia report on what they were doing.

The terrorist—and I am doing the same as the Prime Minister who said, "one thing I can assure you, you won't hear me speak his name"—the terrorist tried to sow hatred and division. He utterly failed. It wasn’t just the nation he inadvertently brought together, he also specifically united New Zealanders regardless of background, religious beliefs, whether we were born here or came from somewhere else. We have, though this horrible event, become a stronger and more united people. I hope it can continue.

We will all move on from this, as always happens. The shock will fade, the rawness will go away, and the pain will ease. That’s what always happens. But we mustn’t let the unity and focus fade, too. We have so much work to do to cure the cancers of terrorism and white supremacism.

Now, let’s get to work.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Customary arrangement

Someone apparently owns someone else in the Instagram photomontage above, and it’s apparently not the customary arrangement. Not that I’m complaining—I get Instagram photos out of it.

This wasn’t the first time that Leo climbed up onto my shoulder, though it was the first time he’s done that when he should have been eating his dinner. The reason, I think, is that he’s pretty skitterish about Jake and Sunny driving him away and eating his food. They usually eat out on the deck, as they always have, but I moved Leo inside to make him more likely to actually eat, since he was extremely hesitant when I tried feeding him out there, too.

One the whole, this arrangement works well enough, especially in the morning, but in the evening he’s much more cautious. In the photo above, he was up there so he could get a better look out the door where Jake and Sunny eat.

I sit in the chair next to his bowl so I can intercept Sunny when she comes back in and keep her from bothering Leo. He knows that. But he seems to need to know she’s near, and being held back by me, than not knowing where, precisely, she is.

Every once in a while his reluctance gets worse and I pick up his bowl for him to eat out of. This is actually more about my own impatience and wanting to get on with my evening rather than sit and wait for him to decide to eat.

Having me hold his bone while he chews it is rare, but it happens. One of my very good friends told me his dog does that, too, and wondered if it’s a small dog thing. Maybe it is?

Whatever the case, and whatever Leo’s motivations for doing what he’s doing, it doesn’t actually affect me. It comes down to which chair I watch the evening news from, really, which isn’t a genuine inconvenience.

But it does give me an excuse for an Instagram photo, so clearly I have nothing to complain about. And, apparently, neither does Leo.

Another one like me, sort of…

The video above is the American Idol audition by Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, a 25-year-old man who had been working as a janitor in the church where his dad is a pastor. He’s also gay, and in this case, that matters.

Harmon’s audition song, “Almost Heaven”, is a song he wrote, which is about, he said, “questioning whether there is a place for me and people like me in heaven.” Most of the gay Christians I’ve known over the years have wondered the same thing, including me. Harmon’s family apparently still struggles to accept the real him.

Similar though me may be in both being a gay P.K., that’s kind of the end of it, really. I never experienced the family struggle he has, though it was because I never had the chance to come out to my parents. But, as I’ve said several times, I don’t think they would have had a problem with knowing the real me.

Of course the bigger difference is that I cannot write a song, in whole or in part, nor can I carry a tune without a bucket. Neither of those is not entirely true, mostly, but, when compared to him, it absolutely is literally true.

It is very unusual for me to hear anyone use the nickname “P.K.” for a preacher’s kid. Hearing two of them (Harmon and judge Katy Perry) talking about being one is even more unusual. To see a P.K. who is gay and trying to be true to who they are in every sense is awesome to see.

I left religion behind a very long time ago, but I still remember what it was like to be between two worlds. It’s good to see a fellow gay P.K. finding ways to merge those worlds. I hope he does well.

This audition is yet to air in New Zealand; someone shared the YouTube version on Facebook, which is how I saw it. The series is airing on New Zealand TV channel Choice TV (this information is provided for informational purposes only; no endorsement is implied).

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Calvin Harris

Watching New Zealand's pop music video channel, as I do, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid seeing videos of songs by Scottish-born DJ, produce, singer, and songwriter, Calvin Harris. As it happens, a performance of his most recent song (above) was also on a TV show I watch on a “regular” channel. And, well, some sharing became inevitable.

The song above is “Giant” which features Harris and English singer-songwriter Rag’n’Bone Man (real name Rory Graham), who also co-wrote the song. I’ll admit it took me a little while to warm up to the song, but once I did, I really liked it. Released in January of this year, the song hit 24 in Australia (Gold), 31 in Canada, 21 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Silver), and 2 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.

The two performed the song live on The Graham Norton Show a few weeks ago [WATCH on YouTube], and that show aired here in New Zealand this past Friday.

Harris does a lot of collaboration songs, and another song I liked a lot was released in August of last year, “Promises”, a song with Sam Smith, who co-wrote it:

This video was released in September of last year, and it may have helped promote sales. The song hit Number 4 in Australia (3x Platinum), 15 in Canada (Gold), 7 in New Zealand (Platinum), 1 in the UK (on both the Singles and Dance charts, and it went Platinum), and 65 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as 1 on their Dance Clubs Songs chart (Gold).

I featured Sam Smith, who has done a lot of collaborations, too, back in December 2014 and again the following February. His look has changed a bit since then.

The next song is also one I’ve seen on the music video channel a lot, “One Kiss” from May of last year, a collaboration with Dua Lipa who, once again, co-wrote the song:

This song was also successful: It reached Number 3 in Australia (4x Platinum), 6 in Canada (3x Platinum), 6 in New Zealand (Platinum), 1 in the UK (on both the Singles and Dance charts, as well as reaching 2X Platinum), and 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 (as well as 1 on the Dance Clubs Songs chart, and achieving Platinum status).

I could feature more such songs, and most of them have been quite successful. But Calvin Harris is also a successful DJ, for several years the highest-earning DJ in the world, making many tens of millions of dollars a year from that alone. Needless to say, perhaps, he’s a millionaire.

Featuring a DJ/producer can be a bit difficult—what best shows their work? What’s representative? Normally, I just pick songs I like when I’ve included the work of DJs/producers in the past. In my mind, it was similar when I included one of Harris’ songs before in a Weekend Diversion post about John Newman in July of last year (third video).

But Calvin Harris is more than a DJ/producer, he’s one of the few I pay attention to who also sings. I could have picked any number of videos to demonstrate that, but I decided to go way back, all the way to his debut single, “Acceptable in the 80s”, which was released in March of 2007:

Being a debut single, perhaps, it wasn’t as successful as his later songs. It reached Number 97 in Australia (Gold), 10 in the UK and 2 on the UK Dance chart (Silver). It didn’t chart in Canada, New Zealand, or the USA. Still, it’s kind of catchy in a way that reminds me of both “novelty songs” and also some of the self-consciously ironic songs of, well, the 1980s. This video also captures some of the feel of many videos from that decade. Even so, it’s not exactly my favourite by him.

No matter what videos I’d picked, it would only be a bare hint of the stuff he’s done over the past dozen years, so it’s really worth checking out the videos on his YouTube Channel. I have a feeling that in the future we’ll be talking about Calvin Harris as having been behind a lot of our favourite pop and dance songs from this era, and that’s something I don’t believe I’ve said, or thought, about any of the other current people doing the sort of work he’s doing. Still, this decade isn’t over quite yet, so there’s still time to add to the list. To me, though, this is a good start.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Political Notebook: Stupidity and hope

These Notebook posts have always been about related topics that were too short for their own posts. This time, however, they’re mostly things that were parts of brewing posts. Until they weren’t. But the topics nevertheless are worth commenting on.

Yes, he really is that stupid…

The current occupant of the White House is world-renowned for his lying prowess. He’s made more than 8,000 false or misleading statements since taking power, and uncounted thousands more in the 2016 campaign. Insiders have also reported that he’s spectacularly ill-informed about nearly every topic, and lacks curiosity about pretty much of everything. So, it’s no surprise that he keeps showing us how utterly stupid he is.

The current occupant was recently shown on video having absolutely no understanding of how international trade negotiations work. He declared he didn’t like Memoranda of Understanding, the standard way that trade agreements are finalised. His chief trade negotiator, Rober Lighthizer, corrected him, the occupant misstated what they are and do (causing the Chinese negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, to laugh at him). In the case of the occupant’s ignorance, Lighthizer abruptly switched tactics, saying, “From now on we’re not using ‘memorandum of understanding’ anymore,” to audible laughter in the room. “We’re going to use the term ‘trade agreement,’” he said. “We’ll have the same document; it’s going to be called a trade agreement. We’re never going to have an MOU again.” To which the Idiot in Chief replied, “Good”.

…but WE’RE not stupid

Breathless reports recently told us “Trump administration launches global effort to end criminalization of homosexuality”. Trouble is, when asked about it later, the current occupant himself seemed “unaware of his plan to end criminalization of homosexuality”. Of course, this isn’t the first time he seemed to have absolutely no idea what action of his regime reporters were talking about.

For the first couple days, no one in the radical “Christian” professional anti-gay industry said a word. But on the other side, Matthew Rodriguiez, writing for Out said “Trump’s Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic”, basically one of “white men trying to save brown gay men from brown straight men”. This was, predictably, savaged by the current occupant’s fervent fans who mocked the Left for not understanding anything, nor appreciating that the self-proclaimed best-ever president for LGBT+ people was, in fact, the mostest bestest best-ever president for LGBT+ people (I don’t ever knowingly link to extremist sites, but if you really want to read the charming and occasionally correctly-spelled comments for yourself, copy and paste this link: https://bit.ly/2GZWIKa).

Turns out the “Christians” were just slow. A couple days after the news of the “global effort” broke, the Head Bigot from one of the USA’s most notorious professional anti-LGBT+ hate groups called the move “cultural imperialism”. A particularly vicious professional anti-gay activist chimed in, declaring that his god would withdraw its “hand of favor”. So… is his god righthanded? Lefthanded? Can’t be ambidextrous, obviously, or there would be no hand favoured.

Putting the most out-there bigot aside, the leading hate group leader and the piece in the LGBT magazine seem to be talking about roughly similar things, right? After all, the hate group leader purred, “Let’s find common ground in calling for an end to all forms of physical violence against homosexuals,” almost as if he even meant it—though, obviously, he didn’t, and that’s the difference: The writer for Out was at least sincere.

What’s really going on here are two things. First, the man behind it was US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, was at the time running for US Ambassador to the United Nations, though the current occupant later decided on someone else. Grenell, who has long been a hardliner against Iran, was also trying to get Europe to join the current US regime’s crusade against Iran. Some in the regime clearly realised that they could gain sympathy for their efforts by focusing on human rights, something Europeans care about a lot, even though, ironically enough, the current US regime couldn’t possibly care less about—unless it can claim “Christians” are being “persecuted”; it certainly couldn’t possibly care less whether people are being executed for being gay, unless they can use that against Iran.

Put another way, whoever was behind this supposed effort to help LGBT+ people was playing European nations for fools by pushing their buttons, just as the Right does to the Centre and Left in the USA and in some other countries. Within the USA, LGBT+ people and the Centre and Left generally aren’t stupid: We all know how this regime has waged an ongoing war against LGBT+ people, and they’re not done yet. Given all the harm the current regime has done to LGBT+ Americans, how likely was it really that they suddenly gave a damn about decriminalisation of homosexuality overseas? It’s obvious that the most likely explanation isn’t that they suddenly have a new-found passion for ending oppression of LGBT+ people, but, rather, that they thought of a new tactic to use to try to hoodwink other nations into joining their anti-Iran crusade.

The 2020 Republican nominee is certain

Barring impeachment, criminal indictment, or actuarial tables manifesting themselves, the Republican Party’s 2020 presidential nominee is certain: The current occupant of the White House will be re-nominated. His many opponents—Republican and Democratic alike—would like to think a challenge, and re-nomination defeat, is possible, but it just isn’t.

In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, Henry Olsen declared that:
The Republican Party is now the party of Trump, but not for the reasons anti-Trumpers think. It is not Trump’s party because he has bent it to his will; it is his party because its voters have bent Trump and the party to their will. Anyone who wants to lead today’s GOP must engage with that will, or they will continue to feel politically homeless.
He’s right—kind of. As he himself points out, the current occupant has given everyone except “moderate” Republicans the things that matter most to them. Those “moderate” Republicans make up, at most, 20% of the party’s base, and that right there explains why the current occupant always has at least 80 approval among Republicans, and more than 90% approval among those who voted for him: The vast majority of Republicans are getting what they want from this regime.

Because the vast majority of Republican voters approve of the current occupant’s performance, this means there’s no room for anyone else to cut through. It seems unlikely that level of support would be affected by impeachment, which would almost certainly not result in removing him from office, nor would criminal indictment of the current occupant bother them. With an unshakeable base, there’s no room for “moderate” Republicans who will be faced with losing their fight for their party, and will be left with the choice of staying home on November 3, 2020, or else voting for the Democratic nominee.

Meanwhile, a different 2020 Democratic nomination battle

The campaign for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination has hardly begin, but as the thousands (more or less…) of candidates vie for attention, Five Thirty-eight has been tracking the endorsements the candidates have received.

The thing is, since Democratic “Superdelegates”, the sort of people this list tracks, won’t have a vote on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention (and so, almost certainly no vote), their endorsements just aren’t that important. Sure, endorsements are nice, and maybe they’ll help build momentum with volunteers and donors, but the reality is that hardly anyone pays any attention to them, especially this year.

• • • • •

That’s all that’s in my Notebook at the moment. But with so much going on—too much to keep up with—it’s likely that there will be more posts that were brewing, but that’ll end up in my Notebook instead. At least they’ll find another life—unlike those “moderate” Republicans.

Rich white guy gets away with crimes

It’s difficult, nearly impossible, actually, to look at the 47-month prison sentence given to convicted felon Paul Manafort as anything other than yet another example of a rich, white man in the USA’s elites getting a virtual free pass while people who are poor or not white get harsh treatment. That’s the way criminal justice system works—or, rather, doesn’t—in the USA: Rich white men almost never pay for their crimes. But, would rational people still feel his sentence was unjust if poor people and people of colour were treated fairly?

The headline story is that Manafort was sentenced to a mere 47 months for his serious crimes, despite the sentencing guidelines calling for 20 years. Why so lenient? Well, for one thing, the judge, a Reagan appointee, seemed to resent Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s bringing charges against Manafort when Mueller is charged specifically with investigating crimes related to the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The judge seemed unaware that Mueller was also charged with investigating other crimes uncovered in the course of his investigation, and, of course, it would be highly unusual as well as improper for a prosecutor to ignore crimes he discovered.

The judge also seemed to identify with Manafort, who is a white man of a similar age and class. The judge declared that even though Manafort had hidden $55 million in secret offshore accounts to avoid paying $6 million in taxes, despite the fact he’d defrauded three banks out of $25 million, that he lied constantly, that while awaiting sentence for his crimes he committed more felonies, that even though he showed absolutely no remorse for his crimes, all of that didn’t matter because, the judge declared, Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life,” an absurd, bizarre, and offensive nonsense that the Associated Press’ Jacquelyn Martin pointed out was absolutely not true.

But the judge wasn’t the only one looking at the case through delusions. The Unindicted Co-Conspirator in the White House Tweeted (of course!) about it claiming the judge had “stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia.” That is bullshit. What the judge ACTUALLY said was that Manafort was “…not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence the election,” because he wasn’t—everyone knew that, apart from the current occupant of the White House, apparently. That, or he’s lying—he lies most of the time, so it’s impossible to know when he’s lying or just stupid.

Part of what made the 47-month sentence so outrageous, apart from the judge’s bizarre remarks, was how pathetically lenient it was compared to crimes committed by people of colour and poor people. There's an ever-increasing list of comparisons between the rich white dude’s slap on the wrist and the unfair and unequal “justice” faced by poor people and people of colour.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is now running for president, compared Manafort’s slap on the wrist with the case of Fate Winslow, who helped to sell $20 worth of marijuana and got LIFE in prison. Many others, including Judd Legum, compared it to the case of Crystal Mason, who didn’t know she wasn’t eligible to vote in her state because she’d had a conviction, so she voted, was caught, showed extreme remorse for her action, but was sentenced to five years in prison, anyway.

On the other hand, the white elites thought the sentence was too harsh. It wasn’t only the con-man and crook in the White House who, thought so. His “lawyer”, Rudy Giuliani, declared of Manafort, "He’s not a terrorist. He’s not an organized criminal. He’s a white collar criminal.” Emphasis on white, obviously. Maybe he and is boss both have dementia?

The question then becomes, if poor people and people of colour we treated less harshly by the USA’s criminal “justice” system, would people feel as outraged by Manafort’s extremely light sentence? Would it still seem like a slap on the wrist? I don’t think it would. It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, because the system is so utterly unfair and unjust, however, it’s clear that the reaction is mainly because it’s so light compared to the extremely harsh sentences handed down to poor people and people of colour who committed far less serious crimes. It is about the unjust disproportionality more than anything.

To be sure, the USA’s Right thinks that the only reason people are outraged at the obscenely lenient sentence handed down is because Manafort is connected to the current occupant of the White House, despite the fact that these particular charges had nothing to do with that. It is, however, typical of Rightwing thinking, that everyone else operates from the same base emotions that they do, rather than the reality, which is that mainstream Americans can see how utterly unjust the light treatment of “white collar” crime is.

The way this story ends is obvious. Manafort will get a presidential pardon, and the only question is, how soon? Had Manafort been given a 20-year sentence, a pardon would have been fast because the Conman in Chief would have called that sentence “very, very unfair”. 47-months may seem harder to excuse, but if his sentencing next week adds the maximum 10 years (which is possible but possibly unlikely), the Conman in Chief will call that “very, very unfair”. A real president would have Manfort serve at least part of his sentence, since he did, indeed, commit crimes, but this guy is illegitimate and not sensible in any way. He may very well pardon Manafort at any moment, even before sentencing, just as he did with that racist convicted ex-sheriff.

The pardon is inevitable because Manafort refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. The current occupant of the White House has made it abundantly clear that he’ll pardon those who don’t “squeal” on him. Of course, dangling the prospect of a pardon is prosecutable as witness tampering and obstruction of justice, and it’s definitely grounds for impeachment.

But none of that will matter to the man who has spent his life lying, cheating, and conning people with impunity. He believes that as a rich white man who is part of powerful elites, he’s untouchable. Based on the evidence, and the joke sentence given Manafort, it’s hard to argue with his assessment. And, odds are that he’ll get away with his crimes of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, too.

Maybe some day the USA really will have “equal justice under law”. Maybe. But even with massive election defeats for the current regime, their enablers, and all the powerful elites, it would take decades to fix this mess. This particular case really did little more than show us all how profoundly unjust the USA’s “justice” system really is.