Bots stoke racial strife in Virginia governor’s race

Politico reports: Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race and promoting chatter about a racially charged Democratic ad days before Election Day, according to a report commissioned by allies of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign.

The activity centers on an ad from Latino Victory Fund, depicting a child’s nightmare in which a supporter of Republican Ed Gillespie chases immigrant children in a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag. Gillespie’s campaign reacted furiously to the ad, which barely ran on TV but got major attention online, and has made backlash to the Democratic ad a major part of its closing message.

That backlash erupted quickly, and Latino Victory Fund later retracted the ad. But the reaction has been amplified on Twitter by automated accounts. Out of the 15 accounts tweeting most frequently about the Latino Victory Fund ad, 13 belong to fully or partially automated bots, according to an analysis from Discourse Intelligence. (The other two accounts are Republican political operatives.)

“Highly scripted, highly robotic accounts are being used to boost this message into the Twitter conversation,” said Tim Chambers, the report’s author and the U.S. practice lead for digital at the Dewey Square Group. The firm was retained by the National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate has endorsed Northam.

Of the 15 accounts most frequently sending out messages about the ad from Latino Victory Fund, just two accounts belonging to GOP operatives were human, while 13 belonged to either fully or partially automated bots, according to the report from Discourse Intelligence. The National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate backs Northam, paid for the report.

The 15 accounts highlighted in the report have the potential to reach 651,000 people, the report says. It notes these accounts just make up less than 1 percent of the nearly 3,000 accounts with tweets including both “Latino victory” and either “Gillespie” or “Northam.”

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is helping lead the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the incident mirrors past bot attempts to “manipulate” social media conversations. Warner and other senators, including Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have also warned during their investigation about attempts to interfere in future American elections as well. [Continue reading…]

While this report may be used to highlight the ever-present threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections, what it really underlines is the corrosive effect on democracy presented by the existence of social media.

Twitter and Facebook weren’t created to damage democracy, so this isn’t an issue of malevolent intent. But given that social media has already become — globally — the preeminent instrument for manipulating public opinion, at some point attention needs to turn away from Russia’s opportunistic use of social media and the internet to further its national interest, and focus more intently on the broad political repercussions of the digital age and the extent to which connectivity, far from creating a global village, has become the most effective means for promoting division. This doesn’t simply result in online spats — it can lead to ethnic cleansing and a refugee crisis.

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Remember Sean Hannity crediting Manafort for the success of the Trump campaign?


Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument, which is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda.” For example:

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Trump’s military minders are also his preeminent political enablers

Mark Perry writes: For many of America’s senior military officers, retired Gen. John Allen’s speech endorsing Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention back in July of 2016 was a kind of tipping point. Allen’s rousing address, coupled with one given by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for Donald Trump at the Republican convention, spread waves of discomfort through the U.S. officer corps, many of whom thought Allen and Flynn had gone too far. “The military is not a political prize,” former J.C.S. Chairman Martin Dempsey wrote in a high-profile critique two days after Allen’s appearance. “Politicians should take the advice of military leaders but keep them off the stage.”

Allen and Flynn’s appearance, and Dempsey’s letter, set off an under-the-radar debate about the proper role of retired military officers in American political life that has been deepened by President Trump’s appointment of several former and current high-ranking officers to key policy positions in his administration. Far from being “off the stage,” the president has put the military front-and-center in his administration: retired Marine Gen. James Mattis heads up the Pentagon, retired Gen. John Kelly is the White House chief of staff and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (who is still in uniform) is Trump’s national security adviser, having replaced Flynn.

Richard Kohn, a respected expert on civilian-military relations at the University of North Carolina, points out that Trump’s critics have welcomed the appointments because Mattis, Kelly and McMaster are viewed as “the adults in the room” who can “can keep Trump on the right policy track, can kind of fence him in.” But, he warns, there’s a problem with that view. “We’re putting all three of them in an impossible squeeze,” he says. “By tradition and experience they are supposed to be subordinate, to follow orders, yet here we are hoping that they can somehow manipulate the president—to keep him from saying and doing things that he shouldn’t. Is that really what we want the military to do? It sets a bad precedent and it’s dangerous.”

There’s one key constituency who agrees with that last thought: Former top military leaders, many of whom are deeply conflicted over the political role their colleagues are playing. [Continue reading…]

The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this administration as the indispensable “adult supervision” Trump requires, is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for his presidency — exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this kind of Teflon political protection.

Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the executive branch of government.

If Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster were to jointly resign, I predict that the Trump house of cards would instantly collapse — no need for impeachment or the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.

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Homegrown ‘fake news’ is a bigger problem than Russian propaganda

Brendan Nyhan and Yusaku Horiuchi write: State-sponsored propaganda like the recently unmasked @TEN_GOP Twitter account is of very real concern for our democracy. But we should not allow the debate over Russian interference to crowd out concerns about homegrown misinformation, which was vastly more prevalent during and after the 2016 election.

Why is misinformation so prevalent and widely believed in U.S. politics?

One explanation for the growth of misinformation is the way people are exposed to — and consume — news today. In particular, concerns have grown about “echo chambers.” According to this theory, people are, intentionally or unintentionally, surrounding themselves with news from like-minded sources. In such environments, people may tend to uncritically believe news content from outlets they trust while dismissing or ignoring information from sources they dislike. If this is true, politicians and commentators may be able to effectively mislead the public by promoting misinformation through allied news outlets.

But when one of us (Horiuchi) and his Dartmouth undergraduate co-authors tested this hypothesis in a recent study, they found that the source of the misinformation they showed to study participants (an incorrect news excerpt about the Affordable Care Act) didn’t matter very much. Regardless of the respondents’ party identification or ideology, attributing the article to Fox or CNN had relatively little effect on the news article’s perceived accuracy.

The problem instead was that people were surprisingly vulnerable to believing the misinformation even when it came from an uncongenial source. Far more believed the false claim (that people would lose health coverage from their parents’ insurance plans when they turned 18 under proposed legislation) when they read an article making the claim. In other words, they swallowed the news story without carefully considering whether it was true.

In this sense, concerns about echo chambers may be overstated — a finding that is consistent with other evidence. The problem isn’t that we’re only willing to listen to sources that share our political viewpoint; it’s that we’re too vulnerable as human beings to misinformation of all sorts. Given the limitations of human knowledge and judgment, it is not clear how to best protect people from believing false claims. [Continue reading…]

For as long as there are masses of people who can easily be deceived, there will continue to be a market for deception.

The focus these days might be on so-called fake news, but the practice of deception extends far outside news and social media. Indeed, we live in economies, societies, and cultures, where through commerce, political structures, and religious institutions, deception plays a role in most human relationships.

The professed shock at Russian interference in U.S. elections while being a response to a genuine threat to democracy, is also often disingenuous in a context where native truthfulness is often in such short supply.

Are we to believe that there is something intrinsically less harmful about being lied to by an American rather than a Russian?

Flip the issue on its head and the issue is not about protecting people from believing what turns out to be false, but rather a much more far reaching challenge: how to cultivate and propagate a large-scale interest in the discovery of what is true?

The lack of such an interest is the very thing that makes falsehoods so easy to package and sell.

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Insectageddon: Farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown

George Monbiot writes: Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening. A study published this week in the journal Plos One reveals that flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.

It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

But anyone of my generation (ie in the second bloom of youth) can see and feel the change. We remember the “moth snowstorm” that filled the headlight beams of our parents’ cars on summer nights (memorialised in Michael McCarthy’s lovely book of that name). Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.

Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes. [Continue reading…]

Out of sight, out of mind — the issue here is not just generational in the sense experienced by those of us old enough to remember insects, birds, and other creatures in greater numbers. The issue is above all one that springs from the physical separation between humans and nature in a world where humans experience life predominantly inside cities and predominantly as the seemingly most commonplace species.

I happen to live in a town where squirrels undoubtedly outnumber humans and where bears can show up in the most unexpected places and yet even here, for most people most of the time, nature remains in the background of human affairs.

While the rapid demise of flying insects should provoke alarm in anyone with even just a rudimentary understanding of the interdependence of species, a more commonplace response is likely to be that this loss signifies a welcome reduction in unwanted pests — fewer mosquitoes, fewer flies, and less irritants to complain about.

When it comes to human appreciation for non-human forms of life, insects get short shrift.

Butterflies are admired and yet most people would be hard pressed to name a single species, let alone recognize and appreciate any species in its larval form.

Bees are appreciated as productive, yet potentially dangerous and to most people indistinguishable from wasps.

Ants are lauded in the abstract as exemplars of industry and complex social organization and yet bound to suffer swift extermination when they turn up where they’re unwelcome.

Even so, the objective truth that insects would grasp if they had the cognitive capacities to do so is that the most prolific forms of life that have lived sustainably on this planet for hundreds of millions of years are now at risk from the life-threatening effects of human infestation.

No, this isn’t an argument for the elimination of humans, but as the late-comers on the stage of life, we have to do a hell of a lot better learning how to harmoniously co-exist with the creatures around us. Not only do their lives depend on this, but so do ours.

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George W. Bush rebukes Trump’s ‘America first’ foreign policy

 

Josh Rogin writes: For the second time this week, a prominent Republican has made a speech rebuking President Trump’s vision for the United States’ role in the world. On Monday, it was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Today, President George W. Bush joined the call for the United States to reject the “America first” principle in world affairs.

Although he did not mention Trump by name, the 43rd president gave a thorough and detailed rebuttal to Trump’s nationalist, values-neutral, anti-refugee, anti-immigration and anti-free-trade ideology. Bush also called on the United States to reject attempts to play down Russia’s interference in our democracy and warned Americans not to fall for conspiracy theories and fake news.

Bush, who made the freedom agenda a key pillar of his presidency, also called on the United States to lead a rejuvenation of the Western, liberal world order, which he described as under attack.

“The health of the democratic spirit itself is at issue, and the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand,” Bush told a meeting of the Bush Institute on Thursday in New York. “We know that when we lose sight of these ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.” [Continue reading…]

While Bush’s defense of democracy and rebuke of Trumpism is, I believe, sincere, the freedom agenda promoted by the neoconservatives who guided the Bush administration, certainly bears a large share of responsibility for breeding widespread cynicism about American democratic values.

By launching a catastrophic war against Iraq whose destablizing reverberations still rock the Middle East and by fighting in the name of democracy, it was inevitable that as popular U.S. support for the war soured, this would lead many Americans to conclude that the promotion of democracy had never been anything more than an excuse for ill-conceived and costly expansionism. A reaction, in the form of America-first isolationism, is part of the backlash.

That said, there is now less value in apportioning blame for the corrosion of democracy than there is in recognizing that it is indeed under threat and that the defense of democracy is a responsibility shared by every single citizen who benefits from its existence.

For us to understand how we are the beneficiaries of a democratic system, demands we look beyond our parochial preoccupations and see what it means to live in societies across the globe where freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections are rights that are constrained or withheld. And it means recognizing that we too stand at risk of losing these freedoms.

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Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

The Guardian reports: The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.” [Continue reading…]

I often get the impression that many of the people who dismiss dire warnings about environmental collapse and climate change have a fabulously inflated faith in the human capacity to solve problems through technical solutions, combined with an attitude that the natural world is in some fundamental sense superfluous to human needs. Seemingly, nature needs protecting mostly because it provides pleasant locations for vacations.

Nevertheless, experiments in the creation of closed ecological systems should have already shattered any illusions about the capacity for humanity to survive on an ecologically wrecked planet through artificial means.

But maybe the cavalier attitude that many decision-makers display in the exercise of their responsibility to protect the ecosystem on which all of life depends is ultimately a reflection of the cynicism and selfishness of individuals who simply don’t care much about the continuation of life after the end of their own.

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‘Allah’ is found on Viking funeral clothes

The New York Times reports: The discovery of Arabic characters that spell “Allah” and “Ali” on Viking funeral costumes in boat graves in Sweden has raised questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia.

The grave where the costumes were found belonged to a woman dressed in silk burial clothes and was excavated from a field in Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm, in the 1970s, but its contents were not cataloged until a few years ago, Annika Larsson, a textile archaeologist at Uppsala University, said on Friday.

Among the contents unearthed: a necklace with a figurine; two coins from Baghdad; and the bones of a rooster and a large dog.

Dr. Larsson discovered the Arabic characters in February, as she was preparing some of the items for an exhibition on Viking couture in Enkoping, Sweden. She had been trying to recreate textile patterns for the exhibits — by comparing motifs on the burial dress with a silk band found around the head of a skeleton in a Viking grave at Birka, Sweden — when she discovered Kufic characters of Arabic. [Continue reading…]

Although Europe is referred to as a continent, we should always remember that as a topographical entity it is actually — as described by the Oxford archeologist, Barry Cunliffe — “the westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia.”

In other words, the separation between Europe and the lands and cultures surrounding it is a construct that resides solely inside people’s minds. Inside this cognitive space, it has periodically taken on a rigidity that obscures both geography and history.

While evidence of the influence of Islam across Europe might alarm some contemporary nativist Europeans whose cultural identity is only skin-deep, the location of the artifacts in question hardly seems surprising. What they reveal is open to question — their arrival might simply be the result of trade in goods. Yet intermixing is and always has been an engine that enriches cultural development.

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How Russia harvested and amplified American rage to reshape U.S. politics

The New York Times reports: YouTube videos of police beatings on American streets. A widely circulated internet hoax about Muslim men in Michigan collecting welfare for multiple wives. A local news story about two veterans brutally mugged on a freezing winter night.

All of these were recorded, posted or written by Americans. Yet all ended up becoming grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that has carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin, and which is now believed to be at the center of a far-reaching Russian program to influence the 2016 presidential election.

A New York Times examination of hundreds of those posts shows that one of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.

The Russian pages — with names like “Being Patriotic,” “Secured Borders” and “Blacktivist” — cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine. They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect.

Other posts on the Russian pages used stilted language or phrases rarely found in American English. Yet their use of borrowed ideas and arguments from Americans, which were already resonating among conservatives and liberals, demonstrated a deft understanding of the political terrain. The Russians also paid Facebook to promote their posts in the feeds of American Facebook users, helping them test what content would circulate most widely, and among which audiences.

“This is cultural hacking,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They’re feeding outrage — and it’s easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share.” [Continue reading…]

One of the biggest problems in shining light on Russia’s massive interference campaign is the same one that’s presented by all other forms of fraud: the victims are reluctant to acknowledge that they got duped, because this is humiliating — very few people have the humility to own their capacity to be fooled.

Moreover, one of the engines driving political social media is the fact that alternative news sources cater to an audience that sees itself as smart enough not to be deceived by the mainstream media. So, when the mainstream media now says, you guys got duped, the reflexive response from many will be, that’s what the mainstream media wants everyone to believe.

In this way, social media has become the perfect delivery system for disinformation. To a significant degree it is inoculated from the impact of being called out.

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Trump fires more tweets at North Korea

If this is the calm before the storm, it’s not filled with an ominous silence, but on the contrary, another round of Trump’s seemingly portentous tweets.

He doesn’t seem to recognize that his efforts to promote alarm and uncertainty have become so repetitive that the only reaction they can be expected to provoke is another sigh — here he goes again.

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The cancer in the Constitution

Timothy Egan writes: One of the great disconnects of our history is how a nation birthed on the premise that all men are created equal could enshrine an entire race of people as three-fifths of a human being. We tried to fix that, through our bloodiest war and a series of amendments that followed.

Not so with guns. The Second Amendment, as applied in the last 30 years or so, has become so perverted, twisted and misused that you have to see it now as the second original sin in the founding of this country, after slavery.

It wasn’t meant to be the instrument for the worst kind of American exceptionalism — setting up the United States as the most violent of developed nations. But it is now. The more we stand out for random mass killings daily, the more the leading cause becomes clear: the warped interpretation of the freedom to own lethal weaponry.

The amendment itself is not the problem. Yes, it’s vague, poorly worded, lacking nuance. But the intent is clear with the opening clause: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.”

The purpose is security — against foreign invaders and domestic insurrectionists. President George Washington relied on a well-regulated militia from three states to put down the Tea Partyers of his day, the tax-evading lawbreakers in the Whiskey Rebellion.

At the time, the typical firearms were single-loading muskets and flintlock pistols. At most, a shooter could fire off three rounds per minute, at a maximum accuracy range of about 50 yards.

Compare that with the carnage unleashed by the gunman in Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock. Among the 23 guns he hauled into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino were at least a dozen that he had apparently modified into rapid-fire weapons of mass murder. [Continue reading…]

I would argue that the cancer is more extensive than the Second Amendment and is rooted in the deification of America which seeks to anoint this nation with a pristine purity that belies its human frailty.

Neither the Constitution nor its creators embodied a prophetic genius that could gave them unquestionable authority.

America is nothing more than a work in progress.

A capacity to adapt matters vastly more than any of its self-declared exceptional virtues.

Whether in the life of the individual or society or the state, adaptation is the name of the game.

Failures in adaptation result in extinction.

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As Republicans consider banning ‘bump stocks’ used in massacre, sales of the devices boom

The New York Times reports: Top congressional Republicans, who have for decades resisted any legislative limits on guns, signaled on Wednesday that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.

For a generation, Republicans in Congress — often joined by conservative Democrats — have bottled up gun legislation, even as the carnage of mass shootings grew ever more gruesome and the weaponry ever more deadly. A decade ago, they blocked efforts to limit the size of magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Five years later, Republican leaders thwarted bipartisan legislation to expand background checks of gun purchasers after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Last year, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, they blocked legislation to stop gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists.

But in this week’s massacre in Las Vegas, lawmakers in both parties may have found the part of the weapons trade that few could countenance: previously obscure gun conversion kits, called “bump stocks,” that turn semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing in long, deadly bursts. [Continue reading…]

The Trace reports: Bump-fire stocks remain legal, but it is getting increasingly harder to find one to buy. Scores of online retailers have sold out of the devices, which enable a semiautomatic weapon to mimic the functionality of a machine gun.

Police found at least a dozen rifles equipped with bump-fire stocks in the hotel room from which a gunman killed 59 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night. In the wake of the shooting, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill that would ban the devices.

Bump-fire stocks are typically widely available for purchase on the Internet. WalMart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s largest gun sellers, appear to have halted online sales of the devices early Wednesday. For retailers that have continued to sell them, business is booming. The webpages of several online retailers state that the devices are sold out.

“Due to extreme high demands, we are currently out of stock. Please check back with us shortly,” reads a notice on the website of Slide Fire Solutions, the manufacturer of a popular bump-fire device. [Continue reading…]

If it doesn’t exist already on the Dark Web, “Buy it before it gets banned,” would be a lucrative business geared towards the large market of buyers in America whose drive to acquire products seems driven by a fear of lost opportunities.

What exactly is running through the mind of the typical bump-stock buyer right now? Securing the opportunity for carrying out mass murder might not be on their agenda, but perhaps it’s a question of “just in case…”

Just in case what?

Since, as far as I’m aware, bump stocks have not been used in any of the recent mass shootings prior to Las Vegas, for Congress to now ban them would certainly be a purely symbolic form of gun control of no more significance than their obligatory rituals of solemn silence that signify nothing.

As much as the following proposition will cut against the American libertarian grain, there is another way of addressing gun violence that would involve banning nothing and yet impose massive and useful regulation.

If the ability to legally drive a car requires that I have a driver licence, insurance, and the car has registration and receives annual inspection, why shouldn’t the same level of regulation apply to gun ownership?

And if that was the case, why couldn’t the accumulation of stockpiles of weaponry and ammunition automatically trigger legal scrutiny?

Cars aren’t designed for killing people but their use poses risks to life and property such that the state recognizes the freedom to drive needs to be constrained by enforced forms of personal responsibility.

Guns are designed for killing people and that’s probably why the phrase “well regulated” was included in the Second Amendment.

The fact that a minority of people break the rules by being unlicensed, uninsured, or driving stolen vehicles, doesn’t make the regulatory system collapse. It merely requires that there is also a system of law enforcement.

Overall, yet imperfectly, the system works.

From what is already known about Stephen Paddock, he appears to have been law-abiding — until just recently.

Perhaps his response to being the son of a bank robber was to be better than his father in this respect: that instead of finding a dumb and illegal way to take other people’s money he would refine his skill in legally accumulating money that other people were dumb enough to throw away.

Had Paddock not been provided with the means to legally stockpile weapons and ammunition, there’s no reason to assume that he would have sought an illegal pathway to the same end.

He would have remained a miserable gambler who never made news.

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How Trump turned the Las Vegas massacre into an America First moment — updated

Even though Stephen Miller looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it’s often clear that it’s Trump who is the dummy whose lips are getting animated by Miller — no more so than when the president robotically read from his script in an unlikely performance yesterday as America’s impromptu prayer leader:

In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.

Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack.

We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.

For some cable news anchors this might have sounded “pitch perfect” and yet that perception required overlooking not only the glaringly obvious fact that none of these were Trump’s own words, but most importantly that his speechwriter should choose to single out the American victims of Sunday’s violence.

Even though country music is a quintessentially white American cultural phenomenon, Las Vegas is an international tourist destination and believe it or not there are actually millions of non-American lovers of this musical genre.

It might turn out that every single one among the hundreds of victims and their thousands of relatives and friends are or were indeed all Americans, but that’s actually very unlikely.

So, at a moment that calls out for human sympathy, why declare we are “praying for every American”? The lives of the non-American victims are surely just as precious and just as deserving of prayer.

And yet, at a time when America could engage in some kind of moral reckoning through facing the culpability that extends through gun dealers, gun manufacturers, the NRA, the GOP, Congress, the president, and all those who value the Second Amendment more than the lives of those around them, what better way of ducking the issue than turning this into a nationalistic America First moment.

Update — CBC News reports: Four Canadians are among the 59 dead in Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Calla Medig and Tara Roe Smith, 34, both from Alberta, died in the attack.

Medig, who was in her 20s, was from Jasper, Alta. Roe, 34, was from Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She had been reported missing since Sunday.

Jordan McIldoon, 23, of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Jessica Klymchuk, 34, of Valleyview, Alta., were also killed when a gunman opened fire on a large crowd near the end of the outdoor festival on the Vegas Strip. Their deaths were confirmed by their families on Monday. [Continue reading…]

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Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, son of a ‘psychopathic’ bank robber, was a high-stakes gambler who ‘kept to himself’

The Washington Post reports: Before he opened fire late Sunday, killing at least 58 people at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, gunman Stephen Paddock was living out his retirement as a high-stakes gambler in a quiet town outside Las Vegas.

Paddock, 64, would disappear for days at a time, frequenting casinos with his longtime girlfriend, neighbors said. Relatives also said Paddock had frequently visited Las Vegas to gamble and take in concerts.

Eric Paddock said his brother often gambled in tens of thousands of dollars. “My brother is not like you and me. He plays high-stakes video poker,” he said. “He sends me a text that says he won $250,000 at the casino.” [Continue reading…]

NBC News reports: The suspected gunman behind the Las Vegas massacre made several large gambling transactions in recent weeks, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials and a casino executive.

On several occasions, Stephen Paddock gambled more than $10,000 per day — and in some cases more than than $20,000 and $30,000 a day — at Las Vegas casinos, according to an NBC News source who read the suspect’s Multiple Currency Transaction Reports (CTR) and a casino gaming executive.

According to a U.S. statute, a CTR is a Treasury- and IRS-mandated report that casinos have to file when “each transaction in currency involving cash-in and cash-out of more than $10,000 in a gaming day.”

It was not immediately clear if those transactions were losses or wins. [Continue reading…]

Slate reports: News reports suggest Stephen Paddock, a reclusive professional gambler who lived in a retirement community in Nevada, had a very limited public profile before perpetrating one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. His late father, a notorious bank robber who spent eight years on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List after escaping from a federal prison in Texas, was a very different kind of criminal. The elder Paddock, whose nicknames included “Big Daddy” and “Chrome Dome,” was charged in 1960 with stealing about $25,000 from three separate bank branches in Phoenix, Arizona. Paddock was 34 at the time, and had already been to prison twice for his role in what the Arizona Republic called “confidence games.”

According to witnesses who testified at Patrick Benjamin Paddock’s trial in 1960, an assistant bank manager took the initiative to follow him after one of the robberies and took note of the unusual radio antennas affixed to his getaway vehicle. Two days later, six FBI agents located Paddock near a gas station in downtown Las Vegas. When the bank robber tried to run one of them over with his car, the agent fired at his windshield. Paddock was arrested shortly thereafter; a search of his vehicle turned up a loaded .38 snub-nose revolver, a blackjack, and about $3,000 in cash.

Prior to his arrest, Paddock had been living in Tucson with his wife and four kids. (Most likely, the gunman who carried out Sunday night’s attack was among them.) According to a newspaper account, the family’s neighbors said they couldn’t believe that Paddock—who was known as a “hot rod racer who keeps his head shaved so he resembles Yul Brynner”—“was involved in crime.” [Continue reading…]

In social media in the aftermath of America’s latest mass shooting, once again there are objections to the fact that a white gunman is not being referred to by the press as a terrorist — the assumption being made by many that terrorist is a label reserved for brown people and mostly Muslims.

OK. Let’s call Paddock a terrorist.

There’s no disputing that he terrorized thousands of people in Las Vegas last night.

But beyond underlining the abhorrent nature of his actions, does calling the gunman a terrorist shed light on what he did?

Earlier today, ISIS made a transparently opportunistic attempt to claim Paddock as one of their own, saying he was “was ‘a soldier’ from its ranks who had converted to Islam months ago,” the Associated Press reports.

Really? Unless there’s some compelling evidence to back up this story or any other links to terrorism, I’m strongly inclined to believe Paddock’s career as a professional gambler and his family history had everything to do with the carnage he wrought and neither ISIS or any other terrorist organization or political ideology had any influence.

So why call him a terrorist?

Instead of pushing for a more inclusive use of a word that in common parlance has come to mean the worst of the worst, the most evil of human beings, maybe it’s time to face the fact that, at least in America, mass murder (typically carried out by men, usually white and using legally obtained weapons) is a much bigger problem than terrorism.

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Las Vegas shooting good news for gun makers

MarketWatch reports: Shares of gun makers rallied Monday, in the wake of what has been described as the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil.

Smith & Wesson parent American Outdoor Brands Corp.’s stock AOBC, +0.64% jumped 3.0% in afternoon trade. Volume topped 3.7 million shares, compared with the full-day average over the past 30 days of 2.1 million shares.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. shares RGR, +3.48% climbed 2.7% and Vista Outdoor Inc. shares VSTO, +2.44% ran up 1.8% toward a 6-week high.

Analysts say the regulatory environment is among the biggest drivers of demand for guns, as fears of tighter regulation have boosted gun sales and share prices in the past. Since President Trump was elected, however, fears of tighter regulations have faded and share prices have dropped. [Continue reading…]

For gun makers, this would have to be the perfect combination: increased fear of gun control boosting gun sales at a time when a Republican president and Congress means there is zero chance of increased gun control. Add to that the fact that the Trump administration is looking for ways to “turn the spigot” on overseas gun sales and there’s never been a better time for trading in deadly weapons.

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King of compassion: Trump dedicates golf trophy to hurricane victims

In a display of empathy and concern that fell short of the standard attributed to Marie Antoinette, Donald Trump yesterday dedicated the 2017 Presidents Cup trophy to hurricane victims:

 

HuffPost reports: As Trump spoke at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, New Jersey, someone in the crowd called out: “You don’t give a shit about Puerto Rico.”

Online, the reaction was about the same: [Continue reading…]

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Washington sends indecipherable signals to North Korea on nuclear/missile tests and war

Yesterday the New York Times reported: The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital. [Continue reading…]

This afternoon, State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert reiterated that channels of communication remain open — for now:


And yet Donald Trump says there’s no point engaging in talks:


While the State Department appears ignorant that North Korea has already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities:


And Trump insists he will succeed where Clinton, Bush, and Obama failed:


But as Jeffrey Lewis points out, Trump already failed, having claimed in January that North Korea testing an intercontinental ballistic missile “won’t happen” — until it did happen:


Perhaps the North Koreans have less hesitation about engaging in talks with the U.S. than difficulty believing there is anyone in this administration with whom they can productively engage.

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Divide and rule

The New York Times reports: Over the course of just 17 hours this weekend, President Trump assailed John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Stephen Curry, the National Football League, Roger Goodell, Iran and Kim Jong-un — the “Little Rocket Man.” And that was on his day off.

While football players knelt, locked arms or stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem in protest on Sunday, any notion that Mr. Trump may soften his edge, even under the discipline of a new chief of staff, seemed fanciful. While he has restrained himself for brief stretches, his penchant for punching eventually reasserts itself.

Never in modern times has an occupant of the Oval Office seemed to reject so thoroughly the nostrum that a president’s duty is to bring the country together. Relentlessly pugnacious, energized by a fight, unwilling to let any slight go unanswered, Mr. Trump has made himself America’s apostle of anger, its deacon of divisiveness. [Continue reading…]

Among journalists and elsewhere, there seems to be a pervasive naivety around the issue of Trump’s divisiveness — as though this represents the unfortunate consequence of a temperamental defect, an inability to moderate his language, or simply the nature of Trump being Trump.

Instead, Trump’s divisiveness should be named for what it is — not simply an expression of his vileness as a human being but the very core of his classical and dictatorial method of rule.

Division is the root of Trump’s power.

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