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TBR News August 17, 2020

Aug 17 2020

The Voice of the White House

Comments for August 17, 2020; Trump’s soon to be aborted plan to cripple the Post Office is based partially on his plan to foul up the November election to he can try to fight any negative polling and partially on the fact that he hates Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the Washington Post. Trump, outraged that the Post dared to disagree with him tried to get the Post Office to double Amazon’s mail fees and when that did not work, tried to actually shut the Post Office down. It is doubt if he can do this, try as he might. What is next? Cancelling Christmas because he is not recognized as the True Son of God? (instead of a retread bigoted KKK member)If all good things must come to an end, so do bad ones. Vote and remember, the watchword is Dump Trump!

 

The Table of Contents

  • As Democrats prepare to nominate Joe Biden, widespread fears about unfair election
  • Joe Biden: Where does the US presidential hopeful stand on key issues?
  • Democrats step up pressure against U.S. postal cuts, Pelosi calls lawmakers back to Washington
  • The US is facing an eviction tsunami. We must cancel rent before it’s too late
  • Belarus crackdown highlights EU’s autocrat problem
  • EU calls leaders to emergency summit to support Belarus people
  • Profile

Who is Alexander Lukashenko?

  • Official Government Disinformation Methodology
  • The Past and the Present: An excerpt from ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Johnathan Swift
  • The Encyclopedia of American Loons

As Democrats prepare to nominate Joe Biden, widespread fears about unfair election

August 17, 2020

by James Oliphant

The Guardian

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With less than 80 days to go before the U.S. presidential election, it looks like Joe Biden’s race to lose.

Yet, as Democrats nationwide gather online this week to nominate him as their party’s choice to challenge President Donald Trump on Nov. 3, many fear Biden may just do that – for factors almost entirely out of his control.

The former vice president and his allies have every reason to feel bullish. Polls show Biden has built an expansive lead in nearly every battleground state that Trump won narrowly in 2016, as the Republican’s approval numbers tumble amid the coronavirus pandemic. For the first time in a decade, retaking the Senate – and full control of Congress – is within sight.

Yet interviews with more than a dozen Democratic officials, activists and voters reveal deep anxieties that Trump will make voting as difficult as possible during the pandemic, and should he lose the vote, he won’t accept its outcome.

Biden himself has called it his biggest fear. Former President Barack Obama sounded the alarm on Friday, saying on Twitter the Trump administration is “more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.” And eight of 10 Democrats are concerned about voter suppression, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in late July.

Trump has railed against voting by mail for months, proclaiming without evidence that it will lead to fraud, and on Thursday all but acknowledged he was blocking Democratic demands for additional funding for the post office because of his opposition to mail-in voting.

“We can’t predict what’s going to happen other than the closer we get to the election, the more desperate Trump and his campaign will become,” said Rodell Mollineau, an adviser to Unite the Country, a political action committee that backs Biden.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said the president wants a “free and fair” election, adding that it is Democrats who are inviting “chaos and the very real possibility of fraud” by trying to expand voting by mail.

Democrats and voting rights groups say mail-in voting can help protect voters from the coronavirus, and that a failure to guarantee that option during the pandemic will disenfranchise millions of Americans, especially the poor and African-Americans who tend to vote Democratic.

Some say Biden’s commanding edge in the polls only makes them more nervous. They worry that increasing cases of COVID-19 could keep voters away from polling places, particularly if Biden is perceived as coasting to an easy win.

“If Biden is up by 10 points, how likely are you to risk your life to pull that lever,” Stefan Smith, who was a top digital strategist for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign.

At about this time in 2016, then Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had around a five-point lead in various polls and still lost the election three months later, partly due to the first decline in African-American turnout in 20 years.

Michigan Democrat Patty Leitzel, who lives in politically divided Macomb County, said she is still traumatized by the win Trump squeaked out in her state four years ago and worries he could do so again – as do the voters she talks to on a regular basis.

Leitzel, who was county chairman for the Clinton campaign, has been phone-banking and organizing virtual house parties on Biden’s behalf. “If I had Biden’s ear, I would tell him this: Don’t follow the polls,” she said.

WHAT AUGUST LEAD WILL MEAN

Like most Democrats, Leitzel’s biggest concern is voter suppression. But she said she also would like to see Biden make a greater effort to get his message out so that the election hinges less on Trump’s performance in office.

Democrats fret that the race has become overly focused on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. That has so far worked in Biden’s favor, but has also left him vulnerable to a sudden shift in the country’s fortunes, such as the economy improving greatly in the run-up to the election or a coronavirus vaccine becoming available, they say.

“These changes could narrow the race,” said Geoffrey Skelley, an elections analyst for FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes polling data. “Because the president generally polls better in the states that are most likely to decide the election than he does nationally, he doesn’t necessarily have to recover that much to improve his chances of winning in the Electoral College.”

Murtaugh said Democrats wanted the country to remain in desperate shape through the election. “President Trump looks forward to our continued recovery, but Joe Biden fears it,” he said.

Biden has taken a far more cautious stance than Trump on reopening the economy and repeatedly emphasized the need to follow public health guidelines.

He will accept his presidential nomination virtually from his home state of Delaware, while Trump plans visits this week to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania, all politically competitive states.

The Biden campaign’s on-the-ground efforts have also gone largely digital. The Trump campaign, by contrast, says it is knocking on one million doors a week.

The wisdom of each side’s approach won’t be known until election day. But Biden allies are keenly aware that a 10-point edge in August does not guarantee a win in November.

At a July 30 fundraiser, Representative Cedric Richmond, a co-chair of Biden’s campaign, raised the specter of the Atlanta Falcons, the National Football League team that in 2017 squandered a 25-point lead to lose the championship game.

“We’re not going to be up 28 to 3 at halftime at the Super Bowl and watch our lead whittle away,” Richmond said. “We’re going to keep pressing, and we’re going to keep working.”

 

Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Daniel Wallis

 

Joe Biden: Where does the US presidential hopeful stand on key issues?

Augut 15, 2020

BBC News

When he formally announced his entry into the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden declared that he stood for two things – workers who “built this country”, and values that can bridge its divisions.

As the US faces challenges from coronavirus to racial inequity, his pitch in essence is to create new economic opportunities for workers, restore environmental protections and healthcare rights, and international alliances.

He will officially become the Democratic presidential nominee on Thursday when he will deliver this message to a national audience.

Here in detail is where the candidate stands on eight key issues.

  1. Corona virus

A national test and trace programme

Mr Biden’s approach to tackling coronavirus, the most immediate and obvious challenge facing the country, is to provide free testing for all and hire 100,000 people to set up a national contact-tracing programme.

He says he wants to establish at least 10 testing centres in every state, call upon federal agencies to deploy resources and give firmer national guidance through federal experts. He says all governors should mandate wearing masks.

Voters suspicious of federal authority will see this as overreach, but it lies very much in line with Mr Biden’s and Democrats’ general view on the role government should play.

  1. Jobs and Money

Raise minimum wage and invest in green energy

To address the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Biden has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to extend loans to small businesses and increase direct money payments to families. Among the proposals are an additional $200 in Social Security payments per month, rescinding Trump-era tax cuts and $10,000 of student loan forgiveness for federal loans.

Mr Biden’s broader economic policies, dubbed his “Build Back Better” plan, tries to please two constituencies that traditionally support Democrats – young people and blue collar workers.

He supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 (£11.50) an hour – a measure that is popular among young people and that has become something of a totem figure for the party in 2020, and a sign of its move to the left. He also wants a $2tn investment in green energy, arguing that boosting green manufacturing helps working class union workers, who perform most of those jobs.

There is also a $400bn pledge to use federal dollars to buy American goods, alongside a wider commitment to enforce “Buy American” laws for new transport projects. Mr Biden was previously criticised for backing the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which critics say shipped jobs overseas.

His 2020 plan calls for the federal government to invest $300bn in US-made materials, services, research and technology.

  1. Race

Criminal justice reform, grants for minority communities

In the wake of the race protests that have gripped the US this year, he said he believes that racism exists in the US and must be dealt with through broad economic and social programmes to support minorities – and a pillar of his “build back” programme is to create business support for minorities through a $30bn investment fund.

On criminal justice, he has moved far from his much-criticised “tough-on-crime” position of the 1990s. Mr Biden has now proposed policies to reduce incarceration, address race, gender and income-based disparities in the justice system, and rehabilitate released prisoners. He would now create a $20bn grant programme to incentivise states to invest in incarceration reduction efforts, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, decriminalise marijuana and expunge prior cannabis convictions, and end the death penalty.

However, he has rejected calls to defund police, saying resources should instead be tied to maintaining standards. He argues that some funding for police should be redirected to social services like mental health, and calls for a $300m investment into a community policing programme.

  1. Climate Change

Rejoin global climate accord

Mr Biden has called climate change an existential threat, and says he will rally the rest of the world to act more quickly on curbing emissions by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. The agreement, which Donald Trump withdrew from, committed the US to cutting greenhouse gases up to 28% by 2025, based on 2005 levels.

Though he does not embrace the Green New Deal – a climate and jobs package put forward by the left wing of his party – he is proposing a $1.7tn federal investment in green technologies research, some of which overlaps with the funding in his economics plan, to be spent over the next 10 years, and wants the US to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – a commitment that was made by more than 60 other countries last year. China and India, the two other biggest carbon emitters, have yet to join the pledge. The investments dovetail with his economic plan to create jobs in manufacturing “green energy” products.

5.Foeign Policy

Restore America’s reputation… and maybe take on China

Mr Biden wrote that as president, he will focus on national issues first. That said, there is little to suggest that Mr Biden’s values on foreign policy have shifted away from multilateralism and engagement on the world stage, in opposition to Mr Trump’s unabashedly isolationist one. He has also promised to repair relationships with US allies, particularly with the Nato alliance, which Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened to undermine with funding cuts.

The former vice-president has said China should be held accountable for unfair environment and trade practices, but instead of unilateral tariffs, he has proposed an international coalition with other democracies that China “can’t afford to ignore”, though he has been vague about what that means.

  1. Health

Expand Obamacare

Mr Biden says he will expand the public health insurance scheme passed when he was President Barack Obama’s deputy, and implement a plan to insure an estimated 97% of Americans. Though he stops short of the universal health insurance proposal on the wish lists of the more left-wing members of his party, Mr Biden promises to give all Americans the option to enrol in a public health insurance option similar to Medicare, which provides medical benefits to the elderly and to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare itself from 65 to 60 years old. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan group, estimates that the total Biden plan would cost $2.25tn over 10 years.

  1. Immigration

Undo Trump’s policies

In his first 100 days in office, Mr Biden promises to reverse Trump policies that separate parents from their children at the US-Mexican border, rescind limits on the number of applications for asylum and end the bans on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. He also promises to protect the “Dreamers” – people brought illegally to the US as children who were permitted to stay under an Obama-era policy – as well as ensure they are eligible for federal student aid.

  1. Education

Universal pre-school, expand free college

In a notable shift to the left, he has endorsed several big pieces of education policy that have become popular within the party – student loan debt forgiveness, expansion of tuition-free colleges, and universal preschool access. These would be paid using money gained back from withdrawing the Trump-era tax cuts.

 

 

Democrats step up pressure against U.S. postal cuts, Pelosi calls lawmakers back to Washington

August 16, 2020

by Jonathan Landay and David Lawder

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats stepped up pressure on Sunday against a cost-cutting campaign by President Donald Trump’s appointed Postal Service chief that they fear will hold up mail-in ballots in November’s election, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling lawmakers back and several states considering legal action.

Top Democrats in Congress called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and another top postal official to testify this month at a hearing on a wave of cuts that has slowed mail delivery across the country, alarming lawmakers ahead of the Nov. 3 election when up to half of U.S. voters could cast ballots by mail.

Democrats have accused Trump, who is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in opinion polls, of trying to hamstring the cash-strapped Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that a surge in mail-in voting would lead to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, as one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.

Several Democratic state attorneys general told Reuters they were in discussions about potential legal action to stop Postal Service changes that could affect the election outcome.

“It is outrageous that Donald Trump would attempt to undermine the U.S. Postal Service for electoral gain,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that the Republican president’s actions raised constitutional, regulatory and procedural questions.

Healy added that counterparts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington and other states were conferring.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein declined to say how many states were participating in the legal discussions, adding that North Carolina residents could request ballots now and general ballots would be sent to voters starting on Sept. 4.

“There are many states that share this concern about what the president and the postmaster general are doing to the Postal Service, and are reviewing all legal options available to us to protect the integrity of these elections,” Stein told Reuters.

HOUSE BACK TO WASHINGTON

Pelosi, the country’s top elected Democrat, said on Sunday she was calling the Democratic-controlled House back to Washington later this week to vote on legislation to protect the Postal Service from what she called Trump’s “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters.”

A senior Democratic aide said House lawmakers would likely return on Saturday to vote on the bill, which would prohibit changes to Postal Service levels that were in place on Jan. 1, 2020.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there were no scheduling updates for the Republican-controlled Senate.

But Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate locked in a tight re-election race, said here on Twitter that the Senate should return this week to consider legislation to provide the Postal Service up to $25 billion in coronavirus funding.

Congressional Democrats also called on DeJoy, a Trump donor, and Postal Service Chairman Robert Duncan to testify at an Aug. 24 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the Postal Service’s board of governors should remove DeJoy if he “refuses to come before Congress.”

DeJoy did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump said on Thursday he had held up talks with Congress over a fresh round of coronavirus stimulus funding to block Democrats from providing more funds for mail-in voting and election infrastructure.

Trump later walked back those comments, saying he would not veto a bill that included funds for the Postal Service.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday that he was open to $10 billion to $25 billion in new postal funding. The House approved $25 billion in a bill passed in May.

Mark Dimondstein, head of the 200,000-plus-member American Postal Workers Union, said on Sunday the Postal Service’s Republican-dominated governing board sought more than $25 billion.

‘TIME FOR CONGRESS TO ACT’

Appearing on Fox News, he said the service required emergency funds because of the coronavirus pandemic-driven economic slowdown, pointing out that it received no funds in a stimulus package passed in March.

“The Congress and this administration took care of the private sector to the tune of over $500 billion,” Dimondstein said. “The postal office did not get a dime. It’s time for Congress to act.”

Meadows told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the White House feared a surge in mail-in voting could delay election results and leave the naming of the new president to the speaker of the House.

“A number of states are now trying to figure out how they are going to go to universal mail-in ballots,” Meadows said. “That’s a disaster where we won’t know the election results on Nov. 3 and we might not know it for months and for me that’s problematic because the Constitution says that then a Nancy Pelosi in the House would actually pick the president on Jan. 20.”

Reporting by Jonathan Landay, David Lawder, Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis, Peter Cooney and Gerry Doyle

 

The US is facing an eviction tsunami. We must cancel rent before it’s too late

Houston’s rental aid fund was empty 90 minutes after it opened. In Chicago, 80,000 renters applied for 2,000 relief grants

August 17, 2020

by Lupe Arreola and Amee Chew

The Guardian

It’s already started. A majority of US states have resumed evictions, or are allowing them despite the worsening pandemic.

As many as 40 million people nationwide face eviction due to inability to pay rent. In comparison, the 2008 foreclosure crisis saw the loss of 10m homes. Now, millions – seniors, people with disabilities, parents and children – are at risk of homelessness. Eviction preys disproportionately, in many places overwhelmingly, on Black women and people of color, deepening savage racial inequities.

It’s not too late to stop this unprecedented “eviction tsunami” and repair the damage, but we must act boldly.

The tsunami is no accident. It’s the result of landlords’ lobbying and lawmakers’ decisions. Even before the pandemic, 20.5m households were struggling to pay rent. On May Day, thousands of renters across the country launched protests demanding the government cancel rent. Instead, Congress has spent trillions bailing out the largest corporations, including private equity landlords who profited exorbitantly from the pain of the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath. Now landlords have ramped up eviction filings in anticipation of expiring eviction moratoriums, while tenants have yet to receive unemployment benefits they’ve been approved for.

From New Orleans to Kansas City, Los Angeles to New York, renters are shutting down eviction courts, blockading evictions and fighting to extend eviction moratoriums. They’re meeting their needs for shelter and creating stopgaps against homelessness where decision-makers have failed. But we need more than stopgaps that defer displacement to a later date.

Cancelling rent and mortgage payments is the most effective solution to the mounting debt and mass displacement threatening working-class communities, communities of color and low-income households during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. This means passing laws that eliminate the obligation to pay rent, late fees and missed payments accrued during the pandemic. Concurrently, mortgage debt must be forgiven or granted forbearance. Additional relief should prioritize at-risk landlords and providers of permanently affordable housing – while large corporate landlords should be taxed to help foot the bill.

Cancelling rent and mortgage payments acts immediately to match the true scope of the problem.

We must protect renters universally by canceling rent for all renters, regardless of income, employment or immigration status. This eliminates applications, proofs of eligibility and waits for relief. By protecting all renters, we swiftly aid the most marginalized among them. Universal rent cancellation promotes race, gender and economic justice because of who renters are: mostly working-class or low-income, and disproportionately of color. In contrast, requiring renters to apply for assistance means that huge swathes of people fall through the cracks.

Rental assistance funds have reached only a tiny fraction of the millions who are struggling. Houston ran out of its $15m rental assistance fund just 90 minutes after applications opened; Los Angeles’ proposed $100m relief fund would cover less that 14% of those on the brink of eviction; and in Chicago more than 80,000 renters applied for just 2,000 available relief grants. The administration of rent relief is excluding undocumented people, those who are unbanked or informally employed, rural households and anyone who faces barriers navigating the application system.

Rent relief funds alone cannot resolve the renter crisis aggravated by the pandemic. They don’t fix the fundamental causes behind our lack of housing affordability: decades of rampant real estate speculation and increased reliance on for-profit developers to produce housing, alongside drastic cuts to the public and nonprofit production of housing that is permanently affordable. Since 2000, the proportion of newly built units at the luxury end has more than doubled, while those renting for under $850 a month halved. To truly address the housing crisis, we must limit rents and massively fund social housing that is permanently affordable.

After the foreclosure crisis, the largest private equity landlords scooped up foreclosed homes. Government policies enabled and rewarded these bad actors. In 2020, they’re again poised to acquire distressed properties en masse. We can stop this. Rather than subsidizing corporate landlords and banks that have stripped wealth from our communities, we must cut them loose.

First, by pairing rent cancellation with mortgage debt cancellation, we can stabilize whole communities: renters, homeowners and small landlords, too. Additional relief can prioritize needy landlords who maintain affordable rents and comply with tenant protections; public funds should selectively subsidize socially responsible landlords.

Second, strong eviction moratoriums, halting every aspect of all eviction processes except in cases of imminent threat to health and safety, must be enacted and extended. Failing to pay rent during the pandemic must be permanently eliminated as a basis for eviction – as San Francisco has done and California legislators are in the process of doing with AB 1436.

Finally, we must redirect copious public resources towards creating social housing. After the foreclosure crisis, the Federal Housing Administration sold 98% of foreclosed properties to Wall Street landlords at bargain rates. This time, we must shift ownership from for-profit corporations to nonprofit community control, including permanently affordable resident cooperatives, community land trusts and public housing. We must house the unhoused. And we must limit large corporate acquisitions, whether through outright prohibition, eminent domain or laws granting public entities, nonprofits and tenants the first right of purchase.

This broader vision is what housing justice organizations mean when they demand, “Cancel Rent, Reclaim Our Homes.” Along such lines, the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s visionary federal bill (HR 6515) seeks to build a more just housing system, by pairing rent and mortgage cancellation with an acquisition fund to create social housing. New York and Illinois legislators have introduced bills to cancel rent and mortgages state-wide. Momentum continues to build.

Affordable housing providers like Jane Place in New Orleans and Push Buffalo in New York have voluntarily canceled their tenants’ rent. But we need government action to cancel rent and mortgages systematically, giving these good samaritans relief for lost rental income, while leveling the playing field against the corporate landlord giants. Large corporate landlords sit on more than $470bn of tax breaks including from the Covid-19 stimulus. They must give back by funding relief and social housing.

It all starts, though, with giving low-income communities of color a fighting chance at staying in their homes. We must listen to those most affected. It’s past time to make the practical – and transformative – demand for rent and mortgage cancellation a reality.

Lupe Arreola is executive director of Tenants Together in California, a statewide coalition of tenant organizations and an anchor organization of the national Homes for All campaign and the Right to the City Alliance. Amee Chew, PhD, is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow who works in housing policy. Together, they have collaborated with national housing justice organizations on OurHomesOurHealth.org

 

Belarus crackdown highlights EU’s autocrat problem

Critics say bloc is often reluctant to take a stand against human rights abuses

August 12, 2020

by Michaell Peel

FT

The post-election crackdown by Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko has thrown a spotlight on the EU’s growing difficulties in dealing firmly with the world’s autocrats.

From Minsk to Cairo to Hong Kong, critics of the bloc say it is reluctant to take strong action, overly influenced by other political considerations and increasingly compromised by rights abuses and creeping authoritarianism within its own borders.

“The reality of EU foreign policy is double standards,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform think-tank. “There should be more consistency — and more unity.”

The problem is particularly acute in the case of Mr Lukashenko because his country borders the EU and is part of the bloc’s “eastern partnership” of six nations close to Russia’s frontiers. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarus opposition leader, fled this week to neighbouring Lithuania — an EU member state — after rejecting as fraudulent the result of Sunday’s presidential poll which gave the incumbent a resounding victory.

EU foreign ministers are due to hold an extraordinary meeting by teleconference on Friday at which Belarus will be on the agenda. On Tuesday night, the bloc threatened to impose new sanctions against individuals involved in election rigging and repression, having in 2016 lifted countermeasures against 170 people in Belarus, including Mr Lukashenko, over alleged rights abuses.

The Belarus crisis crystallises what some analysts see as a deeper conflict between the EU’s interests and values. The bloc lifted the sanctions as part of an effort to avoid driving Mr Lukashenko into the arms of Russia.

But such engagement with autocratic regimes can sit uneasily with the EU’s declaration that “universal, indivisible and interdependent” human rights are “at the heart” of its relations with “other countries and regions”. The pledge risks accusations of hypocrisy when the bloc is perceived to have failed to meet the high standards by which it invites others to judge it.

The EU has faced further scrutiny over China’s recent crackdown in Hong Kong. So far EU countries have approved only limited countermeasures, such as making it easier for activists to stay in Europe and banning the exports of equipment that can be used by Hong Kong security forces for repression. A backdrop to the calculations is the bloc’s big economic engagement with China, including efforts to land a long-awaited investment agreement with Beijing that is supposed to be signed off this year.

EU countries have faced similar question over relations with autocratic leaders of other strategically significant countries, such as Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Even as Egypt’s parliament last year backed a proposal that could extend his rule until as far as 2034, he was being courted by EU leaders. They hoped, vainly as it turned out, that the Egyptian leader would help with efforts to stop migrants travelling via the Mediterranean Sea from other North African countries to the EU.

The Sisi example also highlights how the EU’s internal problems risk undermining its international credibility. On migration, rights groups have condemned hardline policies and tactics including allegations of brutality against arrivals in multiple countries. The bloc has launched disciplinary action against two of its own members, Hungary and Poland, over their slide into authoritarianism.

“All of that is hugely damaging,” said Rosa Balfour, director of the Carnegie Europe think-tank. “The creeping authoritarians have an interest in a disunited Europe that doesn’t have the strength, the power or the will to confront other authoritarians.”

Part of the EU’s problem is that every foreign-policy decision must be made unanimously. While consensus gives weight, it also allows single countries such as Hungary or small groups to block action — or assent only in exchange for other concessions. This has led to situations such as the bloc’s failure to even mention China in a statement on a landmark 2016 international court ruling that dismissed Beijing’s territorial claim to most of the South China Sea.

When Mr Lukashenko became president in 1994, the EU had just 12 member states. Friday’s debate will test whether the now 27-strong bloc has found any way to help loosen the ever-tightening grip of leaders like him.

 

EU calls leaders to emergency summit to support Belarus people

European council chief says bloc must make clear to Russia need for peaceful solution

August 17, 2020

by Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The Guardian

EU leaders have been called to an emergency meeting on Belarus, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Minsk for the largest rally in the country’s recent history.

The president of the European council, Charles Michel, has invited the European Union’s 27 heads of state and government to an extraordinary meeting by video conference on Wednesday. “The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader,” Michel tweeted. “Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.”

The decision to call an EU summit – an idea deemed unlikely in Brussels just one week ago – reflects the rapid pace of events in cities across Belarus, after the embattled autocrat Alexander Lukashenko urged Vladimir Putin to save his regime over the weekend.

EU officials said the situation was evolving quickly and the union wanted to send a message of solidarity to the people of Belarus. “What we have seen in the last 24 hours or a little more is obviously a completely new dynamic,” said Joerg Forbrig, director for central and eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund thinktank. “The EU needs to take this to a higher level.”

He said: “The EU needs to make it very clear to Russia that there are ways of resolving this peacefully. It needs to make it absolutely clear that the Russian appearance in this situation, or even an invasion in Belarus of some sort, would carry consequences.” The analyst suggested the EU needed to step in with an offer of conducting dialogue that includes Russia, via the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The OSCE, a body that counts EU member states and Russia as members, said it had not been invited to monitor the latest elections in Belarus.

The German government, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, on Monday called for a “national dialogue” between the government and opposition to overcome the crisis. The German government’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, suggested the OSCE could play a role with “a review of the election”. Describing the mass demonstrations across Belarus as impressive and moving, Seibert said: “These people should know that Europe stands by them.”

EU foreign ministers agreed last Friday to start work on sanctioning Belarusian officials responsible for the electoral results it deemed neither free nor fair, as well as those responsible for the bloody crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

Sanctions are unlikely to be agreed until the end of next week at the earliest. One EU diplomat said the “time-consuming” process of agreeing a list could take at least a month or more.

On Monday the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, added his voice to support sanctions. Raab said the UK did not accept the results of the presidential election and called for an independent investigation “into the flaws that rendered the election unfair, as well as the grisly repression that followed”. He said the UK would “work with our international partners to sanction those responsible, and hold the Belarusian authorities to account”.

The UK is obliged to enforce all EU sanctions until the end of the year under the terms of the Brexit-transition agreement.

Meanwhile the largest political forces in the European parliament – representing 80% of MEPs – called for new and free elections under the supervision of independent monitors. “The 9 August presidential elections were neither free, nor fair, and credible reports point to a victory of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya,” said the statement signed by leaders of the centre-right European People’s party, the Social Democrats, centrist Renew Europe, the Greens and the European Conservatives and Reformists. “We therefore do not recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the re-elected president of Belarus and consider him a persona non grata in the European Union.”

While the European parliament has few foreign policy levers, it can help set the EU agenda. The groups called on the EU to appoint a high representative to Belarus to support a peaceful and democratic transition of power, as well as relaunch EU financial programmes aimed at Belarusian people.

Profile

Who is Alexander Lukashenko?

Born in August 1954 in Kopys, Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko has served as president of Belarus since the establishment of the office in July 1994. On his initial election, Lukashenko set about establishing an effective dictatorship, sustained by shamelessly rigged elections.

Over the years, Lukashenko has offered his people a sort of Soviet-lite system that prizes tractor production and grain harvests over innovation and political freedoms, and the key part of his political offer has always been political and economic stability.

Lukashenko tried to push this line again into the run-up to 2020’s disputed presidential vote, painting Belarus as an island of stability in a world buffeted by economic crises, political unrest and coronavirus. But the scale of discontent has shown that for many Belarusians, this messaging will no longer work.

The 2020 elections have been described as the deepest crisis he has faced in his career, and in order to secure his supposedly crushing victory, Lukashenko required what appears to be some of the most brazen vote-rigging in recent European history. He appears to have subsequently forced his main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, into exile.

After the election, in a congratulatory message, Vladimir Putin urged Lukashenko to consider further economic and legal integration with Russia, which the opposition has warned would undermine Belarus’s sovereignty.

The man sometimes described as “Europe’s last dictator” may have engineered a sixth term in office, but the balance of power has shifted away from him in a way few would have thought possible even a month ago.

 

Official Government Disinformation Methodology

Prior to the event of printed, and later television, media, it was not difficult for the world’s power elites and the governments they controlled, to see that unwelcome and potentially dangerous information never reached the masses of people under their control. Most of the general public in more distant times were completely illiterate and received their news from their local priest or from occasional gossip from travellers. The admixture of kings, princes and clergy had an iron control over what their subject could, or could not hear. During the Middle Ages and even into the more liberal Renaissance, universities were viewed with suspicion and those who taught, or otherwise expressed, concepts that were anathema to the concept of feudalism were either killed outright in public or permanently banished. Too-liberal priests were silenced by similar methods. If Papal orders for silence were not followed, priests could, and were, put to the torch as an example for others to note.

However, with the advent of the printing press and a growing literacy in the population, the question of informational control was less certain and with the growing movements in Europe and the American colonies for less restriction and more public expression, the power elites found it necessary to find the means to prevent unpleasant information from being proclaimed throughout their lands and unto all the inhabitants thereof.

The power elites realized that if they could not entirely prevent inconvenient and often dangerous facts to emerge and threaten their authority, their best course was not censorship but to find and develop the means to control the presentation and publication of that they wished to keep entirely secret.

The first method was to block or prevent the release of dangerous material by claiming that such material was a matter of important state security and as such, strictly controlled. This, they said, was not only for their own protection but also the somewhat vague but frightening concept of the security of their people.

The second method was, and has been, to put forth disinformation that so distorts and confuses actual facts as to befuddle a public they see as easily controlled, naïve and gullible.

The mainstream American media which theoretically was a balance against governmental corruption and abuses of power, quickly became little more than a mouthpiece for the same government they were supposed to report on. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, most American newspapers were little better than Rupert Mudoch’s modern tabloids, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing but during the First World War, President Wilson used the American entry into the First World War as an excuse for setting up controls over the American public. Aside from setting up government control over food distribution, the railroads, much industry involved in war production, he also established a powerful propaganda machine coupled with a national informant system that guaranteed his personal control. In 1918, citing national security, Wilson arrested and imprisoned critical news reporters and threatened to shut down their papers.

Wilson was a wartime president and set clear precidents that resonated very loudely with those who read history and understood its realities.

During the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt, another wartime leader, was not as arrogant or highhanded as Wilson (whose empire fell apart after the end of the war that supported it) but he set up informational controls that exist to the present time. And after Roosevelt, and the war, passed into history, the government in the United States created a so-called cold war with Soviet Russia, instead of Hitler’s Germany, as the chief enemy. Control of the American media then fell into the hands of the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency who eventually possessed an enormous, all-encompassing machine that clamped down firmly on the national print, and later television media, with an iron hand in a velvet glove. Media outlets that proved to be cooperative with CIA propaganda officials were rewarded for their loyalty and cooperation with valuable, and safe, news and the implication was that enemies of the state would either be subject to scorn and derision and that supporters of the state and its policies would receive praise and adulation.

The methodology of a controlled media has a number of aspects which, once clearly understood, renders its techniques and goals far less effective.

Mainstream media sources (especially newspapers) are notorious for reporting flagrantly dishonest and unsupported news stories on the front page, then quietly retracting those stories on the very back page when they are caught. In this case, the point is to railroad the lie into the collective consciousness. Once the lie is finally exposed, it is already too late, and a large portion of the population will not notice or care when the truth comes out.

A good example of this would be the collusion of the mainstream media with the Bush administration to convince the American public after 9/11 that Iraq had WMDs, even though no concrete evidence existed to prove it. George W. Bush’s eventual admission that there had never been any WMDs in Iraq (except chemical weapons which the U.S. actually sold to Saddam under the Reagan / Bush administration) was lightly reported or glazed over by most mainstream news sources. The core reason behind a war that killed over a million people was proven to be completely fraudulent, yet I still run into people today who believe that Iraq had nukes…

1) Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.

We see this tactic in many forms. For example, projecting your own movement as mainstream, and your opponent’s as fringe. Convincing your opponent that his fight is a futile one. Your opposition may act differently, or even hesitate to act at all, based on their perception of your power.

2) Never go outside the experience of your people, and whenever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.

Don’t get drawn into a debate about a subject you do not know as well as or better than your opposition. If possible, draw them into such a situation instead. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty in your opposition. This is commonly used against unwitting interviewees on cable news shows whose positions are set up to be skewered. The target is blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address. In television and radio, this also serves to waste broadcast time to prevent the target from expressing his own positions.

3) Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.

The objective is to target the opponent’s credibility and reputation by accusations of hypocrisy. If the tactician can catch his opponent in even the smallest misstep, it creates an opening for further attacks.

4) Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.

“Ron Paul is a crackpot.” “Dennis Kucinich is short and weird.” “9-11 twoofers wear tinfoil hats.” Ridicule is almost impossible to counter. It’s irrational. It infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage. It also works as a pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

5) A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

The popularization of the term “Teabaggers” is a classic example, it caught on by itself because people seem to think it’s clever, and enjoy saying it. Keeping your talking points simple and fun keeps your side motivated, and helps your tactics spread autonomously, without instruction or encouragement.

6) A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

See rule number 6. Don’t become old news. If you keep your tactics fresh, its easier to keep your people active. Not all disinformation agents are paid. The “useful idiots” have to be motivated by other means. Mainstream disinformation often changes gear from one method to the next and then back again.

7) Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.

Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. Never give the target a chance to rest, regroup, recover or re-strategize. Take advantage of current events and twist their implications to support your position. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

T         his goes hand in hand with Rule #1. Perception is reality. Allow your opposition to expend all of its energy in expectation of an insurmountable scenario. The dire possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.

9) The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

The objective of this pressure is to force the opposition to react and make the mistakes that are necessary for the ultimate success of the campaign.

10) If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.

As grassroots activism tools, Alinsky tactics have historically been used (for example, by labor movements) to force the opposition to react with violence against activists, which leads to popular sympathy for the activists’ cause. Today, false (or co-opted) grassroots movements use this technique in debate as well as in planned street actions. The idea is to provoke (or stage) ruthless attacks against ones’ self, so as to be perceived as the underdog, or the victim. Today, this technique is commonly used to create the illusion that a certain movement is “counterculture” or “anti-establishment.”

11) The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. Today, this is often used offensively against legitimate activists, such as the opponents of the Federal Reserve. Complain that your opponent is merely “pointing out the problems.” Demand that they offer a solution.

12) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. The targets supporters will expose themselves. Go after individual people, not organizations or institutions. People hurt faster than institutions.

The next time you view an MSM debate, watch the pundits carefully, you will likely see many if not all of the strategies above used on some unsuspecting individual attempting to tell the truth.

 

The Past and the Present: An excerpt from ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Johnathan Swift

 

“I was chiefly disgusted with modern history.  For having strictly examined all the persons of greatest name in the courts of princes, for a hundred years past, I found how the world had been misled by prostitute writers, to ascribe the greatest exploits in war, to cowards; the wisest counsel, to fools; sincerity, to flatterers; Roman virtue, to betrayers of their country; piety, to atheists; chastity, to sodomites; truth, to informers: how many innocent and excellent persons had been condemned to death or banishment by the practicing of great ministers upon the corruption of judges, and the malice of factions: how many villains had been exalted to the highest places of trust, power, dignity, and profit: how great a share in the motions and events of courts, councils, and senates might be challenged by bawds, whores, pimps, parasites, and buffoons.  How low an opinion I had of human wisdom and integrity, when I was truly informed of the springs and motives of great enterprises and revolutions in the world, and of the contemptible accidents to which they owed their success.

Here I discovered the roguery and ignorance of those who pretend to write anecdotes, or secret history; who send so many kings to their graves with a cup of poison; will repeat the discourse between a prince and chief minister, where no witness was by; unlock the thoughts and cabinets of ambassadors and secretaries of state; and have the perpetual misfortune to be mistaken.  Here I discovered the true causes of many great events that have surprised the world; how a whore can govern the back-stairs, the back-stairs a council, and the council a senate.  A general confessed, in my presence, “that he got a victory purely by the force of cowardice and ill conduct;” and an admiral, “that, for want of proper intelligence, he beat the enemy, to whom he intended to betray the fleet.”

Three kings protested to me, “that in their whole reigns they never did once prefer any person of merit, unless by mistake, or treachery of some minister in whom they confided; neither would they do it if they were to live again:” and they showed, with great strength of reason, “that the royal throne could not be supported without corruption, because that positive, confident, restiff temper, which virtue infused into a man, was a perpetual clog to public business.”

I had the curiosity to inquire in a particular manner, by what methods great numbers had procured to themselves high titles of honour, and prodigious estates; and I confined my inquiry to a very modern period: however, without grating upon present times, because I would be sure to give no offence even to foreigners (for I hope the reader need not be told, that I do not in the least intend my own country, in what I say upon this occasion,) a great number of persons concerned were called up; and, upon a very slight examination, discovered such a scene of infamy, that I cannot reflect upon it without some seriousness.

Perjury, oppression, subornation, fraud, pandarism, and the like infirmities, were among the most excusable arts they had to mention; and for these I gave, as it was reasonable, great allowance.  But when some confessed they owed their greatness and wealth to sodomy, or incest; others, to the prostituting of their own wives and daughters; others, to the betraying of their country or their prince; some, to poisoning; more to the perverting of justice, in order to destroy the innocent, I hope I may be pardoned, if these discoveries inclined me a little to abate of that profound veneration, which I am naturally apt to pay to persons of high rank, who ought to be treated with the utmost respect due to their sublime dignity, by us their inferiors.

I had often read of some great services done to princes and states, and desired to see the persons by whom those services were performed.  Upon inquiry I was told, “that their names were to be found on no record, except a few of them, whom history has represented as the vilest of rogues and traitors.”  As to the rest, I had never once heard of them.  They all appeared with dejected looks, and in the meanest habit; most of them telling me, “they died in poverty and disgrace, and the rest on a scaffold or a gibbet.”

………

“You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness, and Vice may be sometimes the only Ingredients for qualifying a Legislator: That Laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose Interest and Abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some Lines of an Institution, which in its Original might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by Corruptions.

It doth not appear from all you have said, how any one Virtue is required towards the Procurement of any one Station among you, much less that Men are ennobled on Account of their Virtue, that Priests are advanced for their Piety or Learning, Soldiers for their Conduct or Valour, Judges for their Integrity, Senators for the Love of their Country, or Counsellors for their Wisdom.

As for yourself, (continued the King,) who have spent the greatest Part of your Life in Travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many Vices of your Country.

But by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pain wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”

 

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

        

          Paul Veit

A.k.a. “The Dino Pastor”

More creationist nonsense! Paul Veit is a fundie and creationist who “spends his time traveling the country dismissing evolutionary theories.” He seems to have adopted the “Dino Pastor” moniker in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by “Dr. Dino” Kent Hovind after the latter went to jail for income tax violations. Like Hovind, Veit seems to fancy himself a bit of a researcher, having gathered plenty of evidence that appears to support the conclusions he wants to support if you don’t look at the details and dismiss all the rest of the evidence. And to explain the fossil record, Veit invokes, as creationists feebly do, the Flood. “The Grand Canyon is the loudest screaming graveyard,” says Veit: “It says God doesn’t fool around when he deals with sinners.” Creationists’ miserable failure to explain the Grand Canyon notwithstanding.

Of course, Veit doesn’t know much at all about evolution, and refuses to learn, insofar as such information might shake his confidence in his favorite counterarguments. His shows are accordingly primarily aimed at children and parents who don’t know enough about evolution to challenge him either – this is not a battle of arguments and evidence, but of outreach and marketing. Veit is also apparently the Founder and Director of Declare God’s Wonders, Inc., an evangelistic ministry, and The Dinosaur Encounter, a “Creation Learning Center” located in Bridgton, Maine.

More recently, his presentations seem to have been focusing a bit more on the Biblical case against aliens. Apparently, he has gotten it into his head that “evolutionists definitely needs [sic] aliens,” and main challenges to evolution accordingly include the distance from any exoplanet to Earth, the scientific laws and that the Bible only teaches about God and heaven: “The Bible mentions no other beings, that’s not fair to aliens.” Accompanying him on his travels is also his mobile museum of authentic fossils and replicas for presentation.

Diagnosis: Certainly a sideshow attraction and moderately amusing at first glance. But it will possibly leave you somewhat uncomfortable after a while, for there is a deep sadness to the whole act.

Lowell Hubbs

A.k.a. “TruthStorm”

A.k.a. “TruthEducation”

A.k.a. “Anti Vax Warrior”

Small fish, but worth a mention. Lowell Hubbs is an online troll whose mission is to spread FUD about vaccines and vaccine safety. Hubbs has no education or experience in any relevant field, but tends to repeat standard antivaxx tropes and conspiracy theories, claiming for instance that all vaccines are unsafe and ineffective (that better sanitation and nutrition, not vaccines, account for the decline in vaccine-preventable diseases, which is almost as delusionally ridiculous as flat-out denying gravity); instead, vaccines apparently lead to autism, asthma and SIDS. To hold those views, you also need some serious conspiracy theories, and Hubbs is not afraid to go there (“I like whale.to, its a great site containing more real history than I know you can actually deal with,” says Hubbs; whale.to is a frequent source of his information, apparently): In 2011 Hubbs even concluded that his site, lowellsfacts.com, had been taken down by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. It wasn’t.

Of course, Hubbs thinks that his claims are backed up by science, but seems genuinely not to understand the difference between a scientific study and a blogpost on a conspiracy website. He does complain, though, that his critics seem not to bother to review his work. His ridiculous nine vaccine questions addressed to non-loons are addressed here. Many of his antics are covered here.

Diagnosis: Hubbs is really not anything but a trivial troll, but he is a rather active one and his impact on civilization, if not major, is certainly not beneficial.

 

Os Hillman

 

Os Hillman is a dominionist, one of the leading theocrats in the US and an overall pretty scary fellow. He is also president of Marketplace Leaders, an organization devoted to making leaders view their workplaces as a ministry, which is part of the “seven mountains” strategy (Hillman is behind the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains website). His website promotes the work of people like Johnny Enlow, who has asserted that the goal of Christians ought to be to establish a “virtual theocracy” and that the best way to achieve this is through stealth, and Lance Wallnau, who also thinks that theocrats should do whatever is necessary to force Biblical law on everyone (including not using the word “dominionism” when the media is present). “Unfortunately, when we embrace a life of sin, no matter what sin it is, we fall into deception,” has Hillman said in a completely different context (while arguing that homosexual love is not love at all but “Satan’s counterfeit role” and should accordingly be actively fought by Christians), which is both perceptive and displaying a staggering lack of self-awareness at the same time.

But no, he doesn’t like marriage equality, and has warned that America may soon face divine punishment for tolerating gay people (he has also suggested lowering the divorce rate as a means to reducing the gay population; the reasoning is, as you would guess, somewhat tortured). In fact, Hillman has prophecied that something bad might be in store for us soon: In “Are We Entering a Modern-Day Amorite Judgment?” he suggested September 2015, and although the prophecy was a bit complicated (it was based on the lunatic rants of deranged Taliban sycophant Jonathan Cahn and is explained here), it involved pointing out that God judged the Amorites by killing them, which doesn’t sound good. Fortunately, according to Hillman, Christians stand to benefit: “If we are prepared this could be the greatest wealth transfer we have ever seen in our lifetime, or it can be a devastating time if you are not prepared,” which sounds remarkably like a standard, cheap magazine horoscope (including the safety valve: if you don’t benefit, you just weren’t prepared enough). Hillman also asked for readers’ email address in order to get his preparation tips. Yes, it’s spam.

He has also claimed that God is (or may be) using Donald Trump to wake up America and “seems to be using Fox News to bring light to moral injustices.”

Diagnosis: Oh, the Taliban-envy. He is also one of those religious fanatics who seems to think that since everyone is a sinner anyways, it doesn’t matter if he lies and deceives a bit extra. Yet, Hillman is a pretty influential character, and it is hard to exaggerate how scary that is.

 

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