Sunday, November 22, 2015

228.5 - Footnote: Vigilers in French city of Lille drive away right-wing xenophobes

Footnote: Vigilers in French city of Lille drive away right-wing xenophobes

Just as a footnote to that: The day after the Paris attacks, hundreds of people attended a silent vigil in the French city of Lille.

About 15 minutes into the vigil, it was interrupted by a group of around 15 people claiming to be supporters of the National Front, a far-right political party lead by notorious anti-immigrant bigot Marine le Pen.

The group set off firecrackers and screamed "Expel Islamists" while unfurling a large banner with the same message.

They got more than they bargained for: The crowd turned on them, shouting "Go away fascists." The fascists were forced back across the square and had to leave under the protection of police, who kept things from getting too far out of hand.

After they had gone, the crowd broke its silence to sing the French national anthem La Marseilleise.

Frankly, I would love to see an occasion where our sick 31, those governors who want to deny Syrian immigrants a chance to enter, get treated the same way as their cousin xenophobes were in Lille.

Sources cited in links:

228.4 - Outrage of the Week: using the Paris attacks to close the door to Syrian refugees

Outrage of the Week: using the Paris attacks to close the door to Syrian refugees

Now for one of our regular features. This is the Outrage of the Week.

I mentioned a few minutes ago the weaponization of grief. Closely related to that, of course, is the weaponization of fear. And we are seeing that in full bloom as well over half the nation's governors - 31 as of the time I'm preparing this, the night of November 17 - have called on the federal government to stop admitting Syrian refugees. Most of those governors, all but one of them GOppers, have promised to do everything in their power to prevent such refugees from being settled in their particular state.

While most of the states involved are from the traditionally so-called red states of the south and the plains, they do include even some blue states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.

This is driven, it shouldn't be necessary to say, by plain old-fashioned bigoted xenophobia with a side order of specifically Islamophobia.

None of this anti-immigrant frothing arose now, of course, immigrants, even legal ones, have been a favorite punching bag of the right and the nativists for decade upon decade. But now there is a new claim, a new way to dog-whistle your rejection of immigrants, documented or otherwise, without admitting that's what you are doing:

Example of anti-immigrant cartoon
Every one of these governors cited the terrorist attacks in Paris. Every one of them warned darkly of terrorists sliding in among the immigrants to bring desolation to our shores. The argument for this is based essentially entirely on a Syrian passport found on or near one of the suicide bombers.

That passport was traced back to a crossing into Greece and proved to be either a copy or a forgery when police in Serbia arrested a man with a passport identical to the other in every way except for the photo.

So it certainly appears that the passport was a fake, which is not surprising considering the active trade in fake passports and other documents among people trying to get out of Syria. But this one, it appears on available evidence, was used by someone somehow connected to ISIS to get into France.

So why is the argument of the governors still such bullshit?

For one thing, the passport itself is a red flag. The migration correspondent for The Guardian said that "analysts find it strange that a bomber would remember to bring his passport on a mission, particularly one who does not intend to return alive." More pointedly, Charlie Winter, an analyst focusing on Islamist extremism, tweeted
Why would a jihadist who expressly rejects all notions of modern citizenship take his passport on a suicide mission? So it gets found.
Which makes real sense in the context of an observation by Iyad El-Baghdadi, an activist who keeps and reviews a private Twitter list of around 200-300 Jihadist accounts. He tweeted that:
You know what pissed off Islamist extremists the most about Europe? It was watching their very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis.
That is, the passport was used and brought to the scene of the attacks specifically so it would be found for the precise purpose of provoking exactly the reaction that our jackass governors have had: paranoia and suspicion about all Syrian refugees with the intent of driving a wedge between them and the West, to convince those trying to flee that there is nowhere to go, that the West will never accept them, that they have nowhere to go except the imaginary caliphate.

The heinous attacks in Paris had nothing to do with Syrian refugees. Not a damn thing.

The suspected "mastermind" behind the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is a French citizen. At least five of the eight suspected militants are French or Belgian nationals. Even French president Francois Hollande said the attacks had been "planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, perpetrated on our soil with French complicity."

As for the US resettlement program the governors are demanding be stopped, the Obama administration plans to admit just 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year as compared to the hundreds of thousands coming into Europe. What's more, those 10,000 will have to get through security screenings that typically take 18 to 24 months. And the resettlement program, which has been going on for about 40 years and has resettled more than 3 million people here, has never seen one of them commit a terrorist act.

These - I can't think of what to call them that is fit for air - these scumbags, these foul, ugly, venomous, toads occupying and defiling the governors' mansions of the nation, panderers to the bigotry of nativism, more interested in a self-serving soundbyte than in what is good in our nation's heritage, ready to throw the huddled masses yearning to breathe free back into the maelstrom of desperation and war rather than offend some right-wing donor, ready to feed our fears and muzzle our morality, they are contemptible. They are despicable. They are an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

228.3 - Considering the attacks in Paris

Considering the attacks in Paris

Okay, we have to talk about Paris.

On Friday, November 13, terrorists who appear to be connected to Daesh, or ISIS, killed 129 people and wounded hundreds more in a series of attacks involving suicide bombers and, more deadly, automatic weapons and explosives aimed at crowds of people at sidewalk cafes and at the Bataclan theater.

Daesh has claimed responsibility for the carnage, even though there remain questions about how much the plan was controlled from Syria as opposed to organized locally and so how much was ideologically rather than organizationally driven.

That distinction, of course, does not matter to the dead and wounded, nor does it matter to their families and friends. Nor should it. Nor should it, except as part of some overriding political calculation, matter to any of the rest of us.

What matters is the pain and the suffering and the blood and the death. More death. More blood. More suffering. More pain.

As always happens, as is natural to happen, the first question that arises is "why?" Why did this happen? And the answer to that question, an answer thought through to get past the simplistic, is important because it can direct us toward an answer to the bigger, more important, question: what now?

But the first thing to do, the very first, even if it's only for a short time, the first thing to do is mourn. To mourn and to condemn the attackers, who, no matter how many injustices real or imagined they may cite in their defense, are still responsible for their actions and they are still cowardly murders.

And then, after, we can ask why. There are, of course, lots of official officials and expert experts already making statements and sopping up ink and air time with answers that run the gamut from "they hate us" to "they are fanatics" and back again as if such a puny range represented thoughtful thought and analytical analysis.

Instead of speculating on why they hate us or dismissing the question with some version of "haters gonna hate," how about we ask them? Writing in The Nation recently, Lydia Wilson, field director at Artis International, which she described as a consortium for scientific study in the service of conflict resolution, described her experience of questioning ISIS members who had been taken prisoner:
Many [people] assume that these fighters are motivated by a belief in the Islamic State, a caliphate ruled by a caliph. ... But this just doesn't hold for the prisoners we are interviewing. They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate. ...

There is no question that these prisoners I am interviewing are committed to Islam; it is just their own brand of Islam, only distantly related to that of the Islamic State. Similarly, Western fighters traveling to the Islamic State are also deeply committed, but it’s to their own idea of jihad rather than one based on sound theological arguments or even evidence from the Qur'an.
In other words, it is not a commitment to any radical Islam that drives them. That's a judgment seconded by Doug Stone, a retired American general who spent over two years in Iraq during the US occupation, interviewing prisoners on a daily basis. He said that 80 percent of the prisoners he interviewed had the same profile as the ISIS prisoners Wilson saw: men in their late 20s who had come to age during the US occupation of Iraq and had the same complaint, that the US invaded, threw out Saddam, and it lead to civil war, leaving them, as Sunnis, oppressed and abandoned.

These men now are not driven by the idea of an Islamic caliphate; rather, ISIS is now the one group that offers them a way to defend - or at least a way to feel they are defending - their dignity, their family, their tribe.

How may times have I said it? ISIS, Daesh, grew out of disaffected Sunnis who felt abandoned and then betrayed by the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, a government that existed due to the United States. Maybe it's a step too far to say we created Daesh, but it's not too far to say we created the conditions in which it could take root and flourish.

And that points to the answer to the question "what now?" And the first, the most important, answer is what not to do: not to engage in what one writer pointedly called "the weaponization of grief," the turning of this crime into an excuse for other, additional, even greater crimes.

Beirut bombing
But of course, that's already what's happening, as French president Francois Hollande declares that France is now "at war" - as if France had not been bombing ISIS-held areas in Iraq and, more recently, Syria since last year. Old questions - what now - getting old answers: more bombs.

It won't work - that is, unless your goal is to, to slightly misquote Mark Twain, "drown the thunder of the bombs with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain," unless your goal is more senseless killing, more blood, more anger, more fury, more militants ready to die, ready to commit havoc on the innocent, ready for terror.

That new anger is already being generated by another event, just one day before the attacks in Paris: A pair of suicide bombers, who appear to have been sent by ISIS, blew themselves up in separate attacks in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Forty-three people were killed, nearly 250 more wounded.

To the almost complete silence of the West. No Lebanese flags were flown, no cries of "We are all Lebanese now" streamed across social media, no buildings were lit in the red, white, and green of the Lebanese flag. Oh, it was reported, surely enough: For example, the New York Times carried one story. On page 6.

In response to the Paris attacks, the Times ran six stories the first day, three of them on the front page, two of them above the fold. There were 20 follow-up stories the next day, four of them on the front page. The day after that, there were 15 more follow-ups, again four of them on page 1. Forty-one stories in three days, 11 of them on the front page. One story on page 6 for Beirut.

Perhaps even more telling was the fact that in covering the terrorism in Paris, the Times headline was "Paris Terrorist Attacks Kill over 100." In covering the terrorism in Beirut, the single story on page 6 was initially headlined "Deadly Blasts Hit Hezbollah Area in Southern Beirut," later changed to "Hezbollah Stronghold." Hezbollah, as I expect you know, is regarded by the west as a terrorist group. Reuters, NPR, and MSNBC all joined in shouting "Hezbollah." This was despite the fact that the New York Times article itself says the neighborhood "typifies working-class Beirut, where Palestinians, Christians and Syrian refugees (mostly Sunnis) live, work and shop" and later calls it a "bustling area with narrow streets, many small shops and vendors selling fruits and vegetables from stalls and pushcarts."

Even Daesh, in claiming responsibility for the attacks, said the target was Shiite Muslims, who it views as apostates, and mentioned Hezbollah almost as an afterthought.

But no matter. Somehow, in the eyes of major western media, the presence of a Hezbollah office in the area made all those civilians disappear into a terrorist "stronghold." They became "other." Well, then, no wonder we couldn't be bothered to mourn them. Or even remember them, once someplace we think of as "us" was attacked.

Do you think people in the Middle East don't see that? You think they don't see that difference? You think they don't see that difference as demonstrating the West's indifference to what they live every day? You think that doesn't fuel anger, rage, fury?

How long can we keep making the same stupid mistakes? How long can we keep charging down the same blind alleys? How long can we tell ourselves that - Democrats' version - a little more bombing or - GOPpers' version - a lot more troops will do what bombing is failing to do in Syria, what 140,000 troops failed to do in Iraq, what 100,000 troops failed to do in Afghanistan?

We've got to find another way. We've got to take another way. It has been said, quite truthfully, that those who deal in vengeance tend to become that which they oppose. So we have got to stop imagining that vengeance, that "get them back" is the answer or even an answer. We have got to find the courage to say we will not be terrorized, we will not be afraid, we will not be intimidated, but we will not become what we oppose. We will not become, or, if I'm to be completely honest here, we will stop being, terrorists.

No, that won't be easy and no, it won't be safe. But the hard truth is that while you can kill terrorists, you can't kill terrorism, as the recent history of the Taliban to al-Qaeda to Daesh should have taught us but has yet to do so. Terrorism can't be killed and ultimately it can't be bombed or invaded into submission except at most temporarily. It can only be overcome by being dried up, desiccated to the point of, like Voldemort in the movie version, turning to dust and blowing away - and that requires not attacks but aid, not ultimatums but understanding, not bombs but bread; it requires, bottom line, justice. It requires acting with justice - and not the kind of "justice" that is just a code word for vengeance, for "get them back," for tit for tat, but true justice. It requires acting justly, even when it's not convenient, even when it's inconvenient.

The dead everywhere deserve no less of an honor.

Sources cited in links:

228.2 - Good News: Court says feds collecting URLs as metadata may be violating federal law

Good News: Court says feds collecting URLs as metadata may be violating federal law

So that's the Not Good News, what's the Good News?

The Good News is that in the same decision that let Google off the hook, the Court was careful to make another point: Courts have pretty consistently ruled that the government does not need a warrant to spy on and collect so-called "non-content" data, or the metadata, of our communications - they can record, for example, who made a phone call, who got a phone call, who sent an email, who got an email; but not the content of what was said or written.

But in its decision, the Third Circuit said that merely tracking the URLs someone visits can constitute collecting the contents of their communications, and that doing so without a warrant can violate the Wiretap Act.

As an example of how the would happen, Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute says that a visit to "" might count as metadata, but a visit to "" clearly reveals something about the visitor's communications beyond the simple fact of the visit itself, and that amounts to recording content, which requires a warrant.

And the real point here is that this declaration in the court's ruling, this finding that what's supposedly metadata can actually be content, the principle is across the board - meaning it will apply not just to Google, but to the Justice Department and the NSA and the rest of the spook-ocracy.

This is not completely new territory; the Department of Justice already states that it seeks a warrant when it collects URLs from a suspect's web history and the judges in the Google case cited a formerly secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling that also found that URLs could count as content as well as metadata.

But the DOJ's policy is just that: policy, not a legal requirement. And the FISA ruling was secret. This is public. Both of those differences matter.

Edward Snowden
In some ways, this finding may seem not particularly important since the whole idea of metadata being easily subject to surveillance may be going away. In fact, due to changes in the law driven by the revelations of Edward Snowden, who first brought the massing NSA spying on phone metadata to light, the program is supposed to end as of November 29. I say "supposed to" because the metadata will still be collected, it just will be held by the phone companies instead of the government and the government can still look at it, but it will have to meet a higher standard than at present to do so, at least to do so legally. So, it's better, but it's not really good and metadata being used by the government for surveillance is not going away.

But what matters right now is that while it may just be because that impending date of November 29 makes it seem politically safe, the decision in the Google case is one among some others that hint at an increasing willingness of the courts to challenge the spooks on their authority.

For one example, last May the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Patriot Act did not authorize the metadata collection program. The Court did not rule on its constitutionality, but it did find the program to be illegal.

More importantly, on November 9, US District Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia ruled that the NSA's entire metadata-collecting program is unconstitutional and ordered it stopped immediately, finding that the Constitutional violation involved was so egregious that even though it was supposedly going to end in a few weeks anyway it could not be allowed to stand another day.

Ellen Rosenblum
The ruling has a limited legal impact not only because of the time frame involved but also because, technically, it only applies to the two plaintiffs who brought the suit. But the principle involved - the finding of unconstitutionality - is important and will clearly survive the date of November 29. The ruling is significant precisely because courts so rarely challenge the spooks waving "national security" banners. David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says it could set a precedent for future cases involving spying on citizens and residents of the US because the NSA defends many of its programs by invoking the same sort of arguments that Judge Leon rejected. So while this is limited Good News, it is still Good News and it offers hope for bigger Good News in the future.

In a related matter, since it involves government spying on citizens, the att gen of OR, Ellen Rosenblum, has said she is "appalled" by the discovery that the state's Criminal Justice Division, which she supervises, had been tracking the Twitter feeds of a number of OR residents based solely on their use of certain hashtags, particularly that of #BlackLivesMatter.

Wile she gave no details on the scope of the digital surveillance, she did say she is investigating it and strongly suggested the practice was to stop. Which, again, is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

228.1 - Not Good News: Court says Google can evade non-tracking technologies in browsers

Not Good News: Court says Google can evade non-tracking technologies in browsers

We'll start, as we always like to, with some Good News, but this time it's a case of Good News being wrapped inside some Not Good News.

The Not Good News involves a long-running class action lawsuit against Google and two media firms, who were accused of circumventing cookie-blocking technologies in web browsers, thus enabling the sites to track users' web histories.

In a significant loss for online privacy, on November 9 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, saying that, contrary to the plaintiffs' claims that Google and the others had violated the Wiretap Act, they in fact hadn't because they were a "party" to the communications rather than a third-party eavesdropper.

Which I find a bizarre decision, since it's the internet equivalent of saying that because I visit a store to shop for something, that store can properly secretly follow me everywhere else I go to shop even if I've made it clear I want them to stop doing that. This, I have to say, is Not Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #228

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 19-25, 2015

This week:

Not Good News: Court says Google can evade non-tracking technologies in browsers

Good News: Court says feds collecting URLs as metadata may be violating federal law

Considering the attacks in Paris

Outrage of the Week: using the Paris attacks to close the door to Syrian refugees

Footnote: Vigilers in French city of Lille drive away right-wing xenophobes

Monday, November 16, 2015

227.5 - Heroics: Soldiers are not heroes

Heroics: Soldiers are not heroes

This show is on the week following Veterans Day, so this seemed the right time to include my annual Veterans Day commentary. I have done this either on my blog or here - or both - for this will make it seven years now.

I gave up sometime back on worrying about how it will be taken. When I first did it, I tried various ways to start, wanting to make sure that I said what I meant and only what I meant. But I came to accept that there is no way that will not be misunderstood, either accidentally or, by some, deliberately. So I gave up trying to do anything other than say it outright. I regard it as an at least useful if not necessary counterpoint to the annual hyped praise of all things veteran, which too easily slides over into praise of all things military.

The thing is, November 11 has become so well-known as Veterans' Day that not many people remember that it was originally called Armistice Day. It was intended to commemorate those who died in World War I by an observation of the end of the war, which ended, at least on the Western front, on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." But after World War II, the US changed its day to Veterans' Day and over time it's become not a commemoration of those who have died in war and a call for peace but a celebration of anyone who's ever been in the military.

This actually originally arose, what originally prompted it the first time I did this, was that I was (and still am) deeply disturbed by the increasing tendency among "progressives" to adulate all things military, and particularly disturbed by the practice of referring to soldiers routinely as "our heroes" or some similar formulation.

The attitude still exists: Do a Google search on "soldiers our heroes" and you get something over 16 million hits. So let me be clear here: Soldiers are not "heroes." A "hero" is by definition someone who is in some way extraordinary, remarkable, worthy of emulation. It is at best a risky business to define someone as "extraordinary" simply by virtue of wearing a uniform - which is exactly what has happened: Instead of being, again, a commemoration of the dead and of peace, November 11 has become a celebration of all things military, rife with paeans to the "nobility of sacrifice" and to veterans as the "true patriots" - apparently the only true patriots, as they are given due unavailable to everyone else.

This is not only unfortunate, it is potentially dangerous as it makes it too easy to slip into the militaristic attitude that what soldiers do goes beyond "necessary evil" or just necessary, beyond even honorable, to admirable, to something to celebrate, an attitude that makes it all too easy to promote additional enlistments, additional weapons, and even additional wars.

A perhaps revealing example of that attitude came a couple of years ago during an interview with then-Senator and liberal hero of the month Jim Webb on "The Daily Show," the audience for which, both on-air and in-studio, has a well-known lefty tilt. Most of that interview was a discussion about Webb's bill to expand veteran educational benefits, under which, in return for three years in the military, soldiers would receive four years' tuition at their best state college plus the cost of books, plus a monthly stipend. At one point, when Webb said that the least we can do for our soldiers is give them the chance for "a first-class future," the audience burst into loud applause.

And I thought then, as I have since, would there be any chance, any chance at all, of that same sort of reaction if the same proposal was made on behalf of any other group? What if someone proposed paying for four years of college for, say, firefighters? Or cops? How about volunteers in VISTA (now AmeriCorps VISTA)? Or the Peace Corps? The latter two provide some educational benefits for those who put in their time, but nothing vaguely approaching four fully-paid years at their best state college.

What about publicly-funded continuing education for doctors and nurses? Such continuing education is not only a good idea for health care professionals, it's often a requirement for maintaining their licenses to practice. And certainly having doctors and nurses who are up to date on the best knowledge and practice is beneficial to the public. So why not have public financing of that continuing education?

And while it's true that the idea of tuition-free, taxpayer-supported public education up through four years of college for anyone who can show themselves capable of meeting the educational standards involved has entered the political arena, that doesn't change the fundamental argument here: Propose an educational plan for a "first-class future" for veterans, and everybody will cheer wildly while proposing it for others doesn't even chart - and proposing it for everyone gets mostly moans about "Gee, how can we afford it?"

So why only soldiers? What does it say about us that the idea of paying soldiers' way through college gets ovations while the idea of anyone else getting the same benefit gets at best quizzical stares if not overt sneering rejections?

What it says is that we regard the work of soldiering as inherently more important, inherently more deserving of praise and reward, than the work of others, no matter what contributions they make or have made to society. And it means we regard the lives of soldiers as inherently more valuable than the lives of the rest of us.

But if it was only things like veterans' benefits, it might not seem particularly important. I say that despite the fact that the amount of money involved in such benefits is not trivial, being something over $80 billion a year and the arguments for them often quite misleading: Many such benefits were instituted in the wake of World War II. The avowed purpose of those benefits was to make up for what those soldiers had lost in regard to their civilian careers as compared to those who had not been in the military. That is, they were to insure that soldiers did not wind up being penalized for having been soldiers. They were not intended to give soldiers a leg up over others (or "a first-class future") and they most definitely were not presented as being a reward for military service. But that's what they have become over the years and that's how we continue to treat them.

I also want to make abundantly clear in case it's not or is willfully ignored that what I'm questioning here is not the right of veterans to get any medical care, rehabilitation, and counseling they need as the result of being wounded either physically or psychologically and the military's practice of giving soldiers less-than-honorable discharges precisely to avoid providing them with benefits is morally reprehensible.

But, yes, veterans benefits are too generous to the extent that they become a reward for being in the military - such as, for example, veterans' preferences in civil service jobs are - and especially when they single out veterans for opportunities such as for higher education and housing that are becoming increasingly financially impossible for most of the rest of us.

Put another way, I do not object to or resent any veteran taking advantage of any benefits to which they are legally entitled: They are there to be used. If you're legally entitled to it, take it. But that is born of the general principle that I would advocate for the right of anyone to get any help which they truly need.

Put yet another way, I am opposed to soldiers getting benefits simply for having been soldiers when those benefits are not equally available to others with equal need and equal opportunity for personal advancement.

But even so, even again, if that's all there was to it, it still might not seem like a great big huge deal. But that's not all there is to it. The emotional embrace of soldiers as "our heroes," as some sort of disembodied ideal, has implications beyond the immediate ones, beyond questions of public support and access to programs and beyond as well the immediate experience of our recent and present wars. Because within that embrace, it becomes easy to absorb, absorb so deeply that one is unaware of it, the idea that a veteran's take on military matters - and by extension, all of foreign policy - is inherently more valuable than that of others not by virtue of knowledge or logic or informed comment but simply by virtue of being a veteran. We regarded it (correctly) as a scandal several years ago when media outlets used retired generals who were actually Pentagon-trained PR flacks as "experts" on military and foreign policy questions - but an overlooked point is that the reason retired generals were so prominent in that number was that their status as military people gave them added credibility in the eyes of many viewers and the ears of many listeners.

In our pursuit of "support the troops," we have fallen prey to that same attitude, one that regards the statements of war veterans as more valuable, more telling, than those of non-veterans. That is, we embrace the militarist, the Pentagon, view of world affairs simply because it is the Pentagon.

It even has become fairly common to hear dismissive references to those who "never saw combat." At first, that was a legitimate argument, because it was directed against those derided as chickenhawks, those rightwingers who were eager for fights, ready for wars, provided they did not have to take part in them. But increasingly it has been used as an all-purpose put-down, even against those on the left who have criticized soldiers - as, I imagine, it would be directed against me (a non-veteran and a Vietnam-era draft resister) were my voice loud enough to attract the attention.

Chelsea Manning
But the real danger is that as the attitude persists, it distorts our way of thinking, drops a magnet on our moral compass. I still recall with pain how during the Iraq war we dismissed, ignored, downplayed, the atrocities committed by US forces; how we refused to blame those who shot civilians even when the attacks were clearly acts of vengeance; how we downplayed the routine cruelties and closed our eyes to the evidence of war crimes; how we made excuses for those who shot the wounded or tortured prisoners; how even when an official Pentagon report casually mentioned how a US soldier summarily executed a wounded fighter and shot another wounded, unresisting fighter twice in the back, we paid little notice - and if we did, it was usually to brush off complaints with that all-purpose "you've never been in combat" defense. "These things happen in war," we said.

Yes, they do. And "our heroes" were doing them. Which was and is, even as the deniers seemed and still seem incapable of recognizing it, the point. We as a culture, as a society, as a people, wanted to give a blanket pass to all soldiers, to remove from them all their responsibility for their own actions. That is an idea we were supposed to have rejected nearly 70 years ago now; apparently, we haven't. Instead, we put our judgment not on those who commit the crimes but on those who tell us about them - such as Chelsea Manning, now spending 35 years in prison for having done precisely that.

Soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can become heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform and agreeing to put your conscience in a lockbox for the next so many years does not make your life more important than others, it does not make your contributions more valuable than others, it does not make you more deserving of aid than others, it does not make your opinions and insights more worthy of respect than others, it does not exempt you from moral judgment.

It does not make you a hero.

And we should not fall prey to hero-worship.

Sources cited in links:

227.4 - Hero Award: 11-year-old Will Smith

Hero Award: 11-year-old Will Smith

So a quick Hero Award, which is something we give out here on occasion to recognize someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our hero this time is a young one: 11-year-old Will Smith of Long Island City, NY.

Will is a devoted fan of the NY Mets - and particularly a fan of infielder Daniel Murphy.

Personally, I'm not a fan of Murphy, not after he declared last March that he is "100% against" the "homosexual lifestyle" but that's actually neither here not there right now.

What is here and there right now is that Will used $175 of his own birthday money to purchase a signed Daniel Murphy bat from Topps. When he ordered it, the bat was in stock online and he was even promised a delivery date.

But in the postseason, Murphy got real hot. He broke a record by hitting home runs in six consecutive postseason games, set a Mets franchise record for most homers in postseason, and became only the second person - Lou Gehrig being the other - to have a hit, a run, and an RBI in seven consecutive Major League postseason games.

Will Smith
Suddenly, the bat was unavailable. Topps cancelled the order, claiming it had run out of bats, and said it was processing a refund.

Will's father, suspecting as I did and do that Topps intended to raise the price of the bat because of Murphy's increased profile, told the story to the New York Daily News. Which published it.

And guess that, presto, the bat was not out of stock. Not only did Topps have a bat to send to Will, it also sent a refund.

Okay, so it's a cute story of a corporation getting shamed by some bad publicity into doing what it should have done in the first place. So why is Will a hero?

Because he took the $175 refund and donated it to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a national, non-profit organization which gives scholarships to minority youths for higher education. Maybe it will remind Topps that there are more important things than its bottom line - but in any event, in my eyes it makes Will Smith a hero.

Sources cited in links:

227.3 - Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS makes it almost impossible to sue killer cops

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS makes it almost impossible to sue killer cops

Now for our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

And the source of this week's outrage has been the source of too much outrage over the time we've been doing this show: the US Supreme Court.

Let's run down the basic facts: On March 23, 2010, Israel Leija lead Texas police on an 18-minute chase at speeds up to 110 miles per hour after cops tried to serve him with an arrest warrant.

Clearly, police had cause to stop Leija, so they laid down road spikes at three locations he was predicted to pass. But at one location, beneath an overpass, state trooper Chadrin Mullenix showed up, having heard about events on his police radio. When it developed that Leija was coming that way, Mullenix decided his own strategy: He went up onto the overpass with a high-powered rifle, intending to shoot the car's engine block. He got into shooting position and waited.

As Leija's approached three minutes later, Mullenix fired six times. He didn't hit the engine once. However, he did hit Leija four times, killing him.

Chadrin Mullenix
Okay, here's some necessary fill: Mullenix not only had no training in shooting at a moving vehicle, he had never even seen it done. Mullenix asked his superior officer for permission to proceed with his plan, but was told to "stand by" and "see if the spikes work first." Mullenix claims he never heard that message, but even if that's true, it means he asked for permission and then went off without waiting for an answer.

The claim that he was protecting other officers is belied by the facts that the officers involved with the spike strips did have training on how to minimize the risk to themselves from the car hitting the spikes - which Mullenix would know - none of them had expressed any concern for their safety - which Mullenix would also know - and the timed gained, the time between when Mullenix shot Leija and when the car hit the spikes, was less than 3/4 of a second. And after the shooting, Mullenix's first words to his superior were "How's that for proactive?" That apparently had been an issue in an evaluation.

Leija's family sued Mullenix, claiming he had violated Leija's Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force. Mullenix claimed what's called "qualified immunity," under which cops and other government agents can't be held personally liable for damages unless their conduct violates "clearly established" statutory or constitutional rights.

The trial judge denied the claim, saying the case could go to a jury. A panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. On re-hearing, the full Court did likewise.

Sonia Sotomayor
On November 9, the Supreme Court overturned that decision, letting Mullenix off the hook, saying that cops are immune from lawsuits unless it is "beyond debate" that a shooting was unjustified and clearly unreasonable.

Beyond debate! That is a standard higher than that required for a murder conviction in a criminal trial. But that, apparently, is what the Supreme Court thinks is a reasonable standard to hold a cop liable for killing someone, a standard which would make is essentially impossible to hold a cop civilly liable for shooting someone down.

What wrenches my gut more is that the decision was 8-1. Yes, Stephen Breyer was with the majority. Yes, Elena Kagen was with the majority. Yes, the latest liberal hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was with the majority.

The dissent, and it was a blistering one, came from Sonia Sotomayor, who lambasted the majority for both re-framing the issue and describing the facts in the ways most favorable to Mullenix even when that meant ignoring precedent.

Her conclusion deserves special recognition: Referring to Mullenix's "proactive" crack, she says that doesn't affect the legal reasoning, but, quoting now,
the comment seems to me revealing of the culture this Court's decision supports when it calls it reasonable - or even reasonably reasonable - to use deadly force for no discernible gain and over a supervisor's express order to "stand by." By sanctioning a "shoot first, think later" approach to policing, the Court renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow.
At this point, I don't see why we don't just issue all cops double-0 badge numbers and be done with it. It truly is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

227.2 - Clown Award: Rep. Louie Gohmert

Clown Award: Rep. Louie Gohmert

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

Again this week we have a repeat amuser or if you prefer offender. In this case, it is the man who has got to be the stupidest person in Congress, Texas - where else - Congressman Louie Gohmert, the man who puts the Gomer in Gohmert.

He recently gave a speech to students at Liberty University, an ostensibly Christian school founded by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia. In the course of this, he continued his increasingly-lonely crusade against same-sex marriage, which he once compared to bestiality.

He cited the Bible - of course - but then took what he called a "totally secular approach" which should convince even those who don't believe in God that homosexuality is "unnatural." He proposed an "experiment" because, he said, "Congress is good about having studies."
How about if we take four heterosexual couples and put them on an island where they have everything they need to live and exist, and we take four couples of just men and put them on an island where they have all they need to survive, and then let's take four couples of just women and put them on an island. And then lets come back in 100 years and see which one nature favors.
Rep. Louie "Gomer" Gohmert
I would spend a minute explaining why this isn't even a valid experiment (Hint: the conditions on the islands have more than one variable), but that would mean taking seriously for even that time a man who has claimed that opponents same-sex marriage face the same level of persecution as Jews in Nazi Germany, put forth a "Terror Babies" idea where terrorists are coming to the US to have their children born here so they will be citizens who can be raised to commit acts of terror decades later, and supported a pipeline through Alaska because if that flow of warm oil through the pipeline ever stopped, it would be harmful to the sex lives of caribou.

Instead, I'll note that in quoting the Bible on marriage, he mentioned that Jesus said "what God has joined together let no one separate." Now when someone can show me all the times Gohmert condemned and railed against all his conservative colleagues who have had affairs, gotten divorced, or both on the grounds that they were defying God's law, then it might be possible, just possible, to see his drooling antipathy to same-sex marriage as an outgrowth of his extremist fundamentalist convictions rather then out of plain old bigoty against homosexuals, with the Bible the excuse, not the reason.

I do not expect that to happen. Which is why Louie "the Gomer" Gohmert, the stupidist person in Congress, will always remain a clown.

Sources cited in links:

227.1 - Good News: Keystone XL pipeline rejected

Good News: Keystone XL pipeline rejected

Okay, as I always try to do, let's have some Good News at the top.

Last week, I said that indications were that the Obama administration was going to reject permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, the one intended to carry tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas.

The day after I did the show, that is exactly what happened. The state Department, involved here because the project crossed an international boundary, refused to allow TransCanada, the corporation behind the pipeline, permission to proceed.

The department's press release gave five reasons for the rejection, among them a negligible impact on our energy security; a marginal contribution to the economy;concerns about local communities, water supplies, and cultural heritage sites; and the nature of what would be transported.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in whose name the release was issued, declared in it:
The critical factor in my determination was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combatting climate change.
Now, it's questionable if the US is "leading the world" in combatting climate change when its own promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions fall short of those of a number of other nations, but still, to hear that the potential impact on climate change was "the critical factor" in rejecting the project is welcome.

This, as always seems to be true, is not the end of the bigger issue. Canada is already shipping about 3M barrels of some sort of oil a day to the United States through 31 existing pipelines - and about half of that is heavy bitumen - tar sands - from Alberta. But without the Keystone XL pipeline to make it more price competitive, more of those tar sands are likely to stay in the ground - and in terms of global warming, that, not the pipeline itself, was the issue.

Another thing is that as I noted last week, the project may not be totally dead. TransCanada is said to be "exploring its options," including starting all over again with a new and hopefully for them friendlier administration in January 2017, pushing Congress to overturn the decision, or even filing suit under NAFTA, which would involve asking a business-oriented tribunal under the treaty to demand the US approve the pipeline or compensate TransCanada for lost potential profits.

However, newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unlikely to back a NAFTA challenge, the US has never lost a challenge under NAFTA, and the legislative route has already been tried and failed.

So trying again, starting from scratch, under a new administration is the only realistic option. But even with a favorably-disposed White House, the project would still face extensive and hardened local opposition all along the route. So pursuing it may well appear to the company to be throwing good money after bad. Ultimately, to me, TransCanada seems more likely to lick its wounds, write off its investment to date, and look elsewhere.

So while I don't feel I can be as definite as Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, was in describing the pipeline as "dead" and "won't happen," I do think we can be pretty damned confident that this is the end of the line for the Keystone XL pipeline and a victory for people power and the environment. And that is Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #227

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 12 - 18, 2015

This week:

Good News: Keystone XL pipeline rejected

Clown Award: Rep. Louie Gohmert

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS makes it almost impossible to sue killer cops

Hero Award: 11-year-old Will Smith

Heroics: Soldiers are not heroes

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

226.7 - Move to investigate Exxon goes mainstream

Move to investigate Exxon goes mainstream

One last thing about global warming: There have been increasing calls for an investigation of ExxonMobil for violations of RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which makes it illegal to engage in fraud for financial gain. There is a precedent, pointed out by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse when he jump-started the idea in a floor speech and op-ed in May, in that tobacco companies were prosecuted under RICO for their long campaign to hide and deny what they knew were the dangers of smoking.

The connection is that investigations by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Los Angeles Times, and Inside Climate News have shown that according to its own internal documents, as long ago as the late 1970s ExxonMobil's researchers knew both of the dangers of global warming and that use of the corporation's main product - oil - was a prime cause.

Hillary Clinton
By 1981, ExxonMobil was factoring climate change into its decisions - even as it buried and concealed its own findings, publicly denying that climate change is a problem while privately bankrolling the nanny-nanny naysayers.

And now that past might, just might, be catching up with it - although I have no confidence that a massive corporation like ExxonMobil could be brought to justice or, bluntly, that Barack Obama has much interest in trying.

Still, the calls for an investigation have been growing - and reached a sort of milestone on October 29, when Hillary Clinton said the Justice Department should investigate because "There’s a lot of evidence that they misled people."

Why is that important? Because if Hillary Clinton can endorse the idea, that is a real sign that this has gone mainstream. This is about as centrist as it gets. And even if Exxon can't face justice, the fact that its lies - and the fact that it lied - are going mainstream can only help those fleeting hopes for an environmentally-safe future.

Sources cited in links:

226.6 - Outrage of the Week: Promises on global warming fall short of minimum needed

Outrage of the Week: Promises on global warming fall short of minimum needed

But speaking of global warming - and I note again, as I will from time to time, that despite what some of the nanny-nanny naysayers try to claim, the terms global warming and climate change are synonyms, they refer to the same causes and the same effects and they mean exactly the same thing - speaking of global warming, it is becoming hard to not feel discouraged. Not that it's impossible to avoid the catastrophic effect of climate change, not that it's impossible to prevent them, but that it feels impossible to imagine that we will actually do it even as we tell ourselves we're working as hard as we can. And in that conflict between between what is being done and what needs to be done lies the Outrage of the Week.

Consider this: The UN just issued a report on an analysis of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, of 146 countries. The INDC's represent the pledges each country has made to reduce its output of greenhouse gases. The press release for the report starts off with happy talk:
An unprecedented world-wide effort is underway to combat climate change, building confidence that nations can cost effectively meet their stated objective of keeping a global temperature rise to under 2 degrees C.
An increase of two degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is the level generally agreed to be the upper limit if we're to avoid the worst effects of climate change, remembering always that lower increases will still cause problems, are already causing problems - but if we can keep the increase below 2 degrees C., we should be able to manage.

It's not until the ninth graph of this press release that you read that the actual prediction for temperature increases by 2100 based on the analysis of the INDCs is 2.7 degrees Celsius - a third higher than the upper safe limit. What's more, you also read that the INDCs "have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100."

What does that mean? It means that the overwhelming majority of the pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions end by 2030. If you assume all of those same countries commit in the future to keep reducing emissions after 2030 at the rate they did before 2030, you can limit warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. If they don't, warming easily could reach 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, which is disaster territory.

This comes at a time when a new study of high-resolution climate models says that without significant action, by the end of the century some areas of the Persian Gulf could experience something unknown since the start of civilization: temperatures that are literally too hot for human habitability, temperatures and humidities so high that even the healthiest people literally could not survive outdoors for more than a few hours, even in shaded, well-ventilated areas.

And still the nations of the world - more particularly, the industrialized nations of the world, the rich nations of the world - hem and haw and stumble and make non-binding promises of some future actions, while the temperatures continue to edge up and 2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record - beating the old record set way back in 2014.

It's not that we can't do it - just about a month ago I described new studies that showed how the US and the entire world could go to fully renewable-energy-based economies by 2050. We have the technology, we have the resources, we even have the money. What we don't have is the will to challenge entrenched corporate interests and the interest in inconveniencing ourselves.

And it is our children and especially our grandchildren who will pay the price for our hubris, our greed,  our laziness, and our indifference. And that is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

226.5 - Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Okay, let's take a moment out to laugh at some inanity. It's the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of Big Red Nose this week is a repeat amuser or offender, as you will, which means this week he gets not only the Big Red Nose but the size 20 floppy shoes.

He is the man with the world's most perfect middle name because he clearly has rocks in his head, Sen. James Mountain and yes that is his real middle name, James Mountain Inhofe.

You may know him by his other name, Senator Snowball, which he earned after standing on the Senate floor in February with a snowball and tossing it to the presiding officer while claiming the fact that it snowed in DC in winter was some kind of proof that global warming, that climate change, is, as he has maintained, a hoax.

Well, Senator RocksInHisHead is planning on hitting the road. Unfortunately, he's also planning on coming back. But he is planning on crashing the international climate conference in Paris in December, where some 190 nations are going to try to put some actual meat on the bare bones of past agreements on preventing catastrophic climate change.

Sen. James RocksInHisHead Inhofe
He says he wants to be "the one-man truth squad, and tell the truth, that they’re going to be lied to by the Obama administration." The "lie" being that that the US is going to actually do anything to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and the reason it's a lie is that he and the rest of the troglodytes in Congress will keep anything from being done. And while they can't stop executive orders, those can be overturned by the next president, who of course -Preach it, brother! - will be a GOPper.

This is not the first time he's made this pilgrimage to be a beacon of truth; he showed up uninvited at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, where after stalking nearly-empty halls for a time - he got there hours before the days events were to start - his staff rounded up a couple of reporters to hear him declaim that the "hoax" of global climate change was based in the UN and the "Hollywood elite," leading one reporter to ask if he meant Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who was at the time governor of California, and another reporter, from the German daily Der Spiegel, to say "You're ridiculous."

He then turned around and headed home, without a single meeting with a delegate, even the US one, yet apparently convinced he had succeeded in his mission of bringing to the conference the "truth" of guaranteed US inaction.

It's really doubtful he'll fare any better this time.

Which means, from another point of view, that he will succeed wildly, just as he did last time - succeed wildly that is, at being James RocksInHisHead Inhofe - clown.

Sources cited in links:

Monday, November 09, 2015

226.4 - Boots on the ground in Syria

Boots on the ground in Syria

I said it last week. I said that, quoting myself,
The Obama administration, the Amazing Mr. O, our Nobel-Peace-Prize winning Prez, is considering a direct combat role, boots on the ground, for US forces in Iraq and Syria.
I reported that, quoting again, his
most senior national security advisers have recommended measures that would move US troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria, including positioning some number of Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria.
Well, just two days after I did that show, last Friday, it came true: The US, lead by our peacenik in residence, is going to deploy Special Operations forces into Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. Supposedly to "coordinate" but perhaps also to protect the Kurds from more attacks by our supposed ally Turkey, which has pledged to take a more active role in battling ISIS but has spent most of that time bombing the Kurds because it's afraid that if the Kurds get a foothold in northern Syria it may lead to increased demands for autonomy or even independence among Kurds in Turkey.

But the point I wanted to focus on here is the obvious one: These special forces are going into Syria. Boots on the ground. In Syria. Where they were never going to be.

This is so blatant a move that even the New York Times was obliged to call it "a huge shift" in policy.

The White House continued with its bold faced lying about what is going on, insisting it's just a small number of troops while at the same time insisting they will be "an important force multiplier" that will have "a real impact" but without having "a combat mission." And if you can follow the logic of that, you can be a White House representative. Actually you don't have to follow it, you just have to be able to say it with a straight face.

Again, even the New York Times was moved to pointedly note that
the definition of combat has changed several times since the United States began airstrikes against the Islamic State in August 2014.
In fact, the paper notes, "Special Operations forces have conducted several secret missions on the ground" including raids into Syria.

That is, Obama and his minions have been lying to us about fighting on the ground, they are lying to us about fighting on the ground, and they will continue to lie to us about fighting on the ground for as long as they can get away with it, which is likely to be until some sufficiently large numbers of Americans are killed that they can't be brushed away as accidents or isolated tragedies or the results of individual acts of heroism.

Even so, the lies are fraying because they are becoming so obvious. Recently, White House press secretary Josh Earnest, saying something only a presidential press secretary could say with any facade of dignity because they actually have none, asserted that sending Special Forces into Syria  does not represent any change in strategy and, swallowing whatever self-respect he had left, said that troops in Syria don't have a combat mission, but they could be in combat situations. Which strikes me like a burglar saying "I don't have a breaking-and-entering mission, but I could find myself in a breaking-and-entering situation."

But in one sense, the strategy does remain the same. Not the military strategy, but the domestic political strategy of heading off any opposition that can't be brushed off as the product of right-wing rejection of anything Obama does, heading off opposition by making the US role in the carnage as invisible, as seemingly sanitary, as, most importantly, painless for us as possible. The pain suffered by others? Well, they, after all, are "others."

There was some bitter humor to be found in all this. A "senior defense official" quoted by CNN said that Obama has approved a current cap of less than 50 troops in Syria - but more could be sent. So there is a cap. Unless there isn't. Which shouldn't be a surprise, considering this president has blown through his own declared limits on US forces in Iraq, the time frame for withdrawal from Afghanistan, and now the promise of no "boots on the ground" in Syria. It seems the only "cap" around here is the one on Donald Trumps' pointed head.

Sources cited in links:

226.3 - Update: Dismissal of discrimination suit and loss for HERO in Houston show continuing need for federal protection

Update: Dismissal of discrimination suit and loss for HERO in Houston show continuing need for federal protection

If we want flat-out bad news on LGBTQ rights, we have to come home, where a recent case shows both the persistence of anti-LGBTQ prejudice and the need for federal level protection.

In Missouri, a gay man named James Pittman who was harassed by his boss and then fired over questions about his sexuality has lost his discrimination suit because, the state supreme court found, Missouri's Human Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation and would not accept Pittman's argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation is sex discrimination. In other words, in short, in Missouri it is entirely legal to discriminate against homosexuals.

Missouri is hardly alone: Only 17 states and Washington, DC have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations; five more have some limited protections.

Which means 28 states have no explicit statewide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be harassed, fired, denied housing, denied public accommodations, with impunity.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC, has found that both sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under existing federal protections in the Civil Rights Act, but those were administrative law judgments and so not legally binding on courts. Including those of Missouri.

Worse news, in the sense of sadder news, comes out of Houston, the nations' fourth largest city, where a campaign of bigotry and lies has been successful in defeating a proposed city equal rights ordinance that would have extended legal protection against discrimination to 15 protected classes, including LGBTQ people.

The city adopted the ordinance in May 2014, but it was held up when the reactionaries and bigots mounted a legal challenge which was upheld by the equally right-wing Texas supreme court, which ruled that for some hard-to-decipher reason, the city could not pass such a law but had to put it to a referendum.

When the campaign for that referendum came, the bigots quickly latched on to the possibility that it would allow a transgender male - that is, someone declared male at birth but who identifies as, thinks of themself as, female - to use the woman's restroom. It was labeled "the bathroom bill" and the haters focused all their attention on delusional but useful images of male sexual predators going into women's bathrooms to molest girls, focused attention to the point where a good number of people thought the ability of men to use women's bathrooms was the only thing the referendum was about.

(A quick sidebar which I think is revealing of the reactionary mindset involved here is that no one seemed disturbed by the idea of a transgender woman using the men's room.)

Supporters of the ordinance, as is all too often the case, proved incompetent at dealing with that kind of limbic system appeal, instead trying to run an upbeat campaign emphasizing the protections it offered and the fact that it was similar to those approved in 200 other cities. There was no way that, to use a slogan from a couple of years back, "reality-based" campaign was going to counter ads and posters shouting “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

I said it when the Supreme Court declared bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional: The battle is not over. And when these sort of fights come up again, as they surely will, we've got to stop playing nice with the bigots.

Sources cited in links:
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