October 12, 2018 in 2.447 words

Could populism actually be good for democracy?

A wave of populist revolts has led many to lose faith in the wisdom of people power. But such eruptions are essential to the vitality of modern politics.

Everyone seems to agree that democracy is under attack. What is surprising is how many of its usual friends have come to fear democracy itself – or perhaps to fear that a country’s people, too inflamed by narrow passions, risk turning politics into a distasteful blood sport, pitting The People vs Democracy, in the startling words of one recent book title.

Observers have understandable qualms about political programmes that are alarmingly illiberal, yet obviously democratic, in that most citizens support them. In Poland and Hungary, democratically elected ruling parties attack Muslim migrants for undermining Christian identity. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte rules with an iron fist, pledging to put drug pushers in funeral parlours, not prisons.

Modern democracies all rest on a claim of popular sovereignty – the proposition that all legitimate governments grow out of the power of a people, and in some way are subject to its will. Yet when a large majority of a country’s people vehemently supports policies a critic finds abhorrent, many liberals, even avowed democrats, recoil in horror.

Thus arises the possibility of a painful paradox: that “democracies end when they are too democratic”. So concluded a 2016 piece by the US political observer Andrew Sullivan, resurrecting an argument made two generations earlier by Samuel Huntington (in a 1975 report called The Crisis of Democracy, issued in the wake of the international student revolts of the 1960s).

Even the leftwing scholar Chantal Mouffe, who has long championed raw populist conflict as the essence of “radical democracy”, seems distraught at current events. “Democracy that is in good working order – with conflict, but where people accept the existence of their adversaries – is not easy to re-establish,” she recently told an interviewer, gesturing implicitly toward tolerance, one of the most jeopardised liberal norms in the current context: “I’m not that optimistic.”

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

China’s “nuclear option” in the US trade war would be economic suicide


Time to detonate?

Tensions between the US and China just keep rising. Last week, for example, US vice president Mike Pence made a speech laying out the Trump administration’s case for an all-out economic confrontation with China, beyond its current tariffs on Chinese goods.

But does the White House have the upper hand? A recent New York Times column by Andrew Ross Sorkin points out that China does have a “nuclear option” in its arsenal: US Treasuries. This scenario would involve ”the Chinese, the biggest holder of United States foreign debt with more than $1 trillion, publicly taking a step back from buying United States Treasuries—or worse, dumping what they own in the open market.”

This scenario is very scary indeed. It should also be very low on the list of things to worry about. For one thing, as Sorkin himself acknowledges, Beijing is unlikely to go down this road. For another, even if China did decide to go nuclear, the maneuver would be unlikely to cause economic catastrophe for the US. And so to give too much weight to the possibility of a Treasury dump perpetuates a flawed understanding of the US-China relationship.

China is not America’s banker

The notion of a Chinese “nuclear option” goes hand in hand with the idea China has lent the US money—or as Sorkin puts it, the idea that, in the US-China relationship, “China is very clearly the bank.”

China is indeed the biggest foreign holder of US government debt, with nearly $1.2 trillion in US Treasuries.


The first step in solving any problem is admitting there is one. But a new report from the US Government Accountability Office finds that the Department of Defense remains in denial about cybersecurity threats to its weapons systems.

Specifically, the report concludes that almost all weapons that the DOD tested between 2012 and 2017 have “mission critical” cyber vulnerabilities. “Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications,” the report states. And yet, perhaps more alarmingly, the officials who oversee those systems appeared dismissive of the results.

The GAO released its report Tuesday, in response to a request from the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of a planned $1.66 trillion in spending by the Defense Department to develop its current weapons systems. Subtitled “DOD Just Beginning to Grapple with Scale of Vulnerabilities,” the report finds that the department “likely has an entire generation of systems that were designed and built without adequately considering cybersecurity.” Neither Armed Services Committee chairman James Inhofe nor ranking member Jack Reed responded to requests for comment.

The GAO based its report on penetration tests the DOD itself undertook, as well as interviews with officials at various DOD offices. Its findings should be a wakeup call for the Defense Department, which the GAO describes as only now beginning to grapple with the importance of cybersecurity, and the scale of vulnerabilities in its weapons systems.

5 Insane Ways History’s Screwed Over Disabled People

Very few demographics outside of straight white rich dudes have gotten a consistently good deal throughout history, so maybe it’s not such a surprise to learn that we used to treat disabled people like garbage. But it might be surprising to learn how cartoonishly evil some people could be. It’s ranged from turning “freaks” into tourist attractions to making disabled schoolchildren eat radioactive oatmeal to, well, all of this stuff.

5. It Was Literally Illegal To Be Deformed/Disabled In Some Major Cities

We’re not going to sugarcoat this: Up until the 1970s, it was illegal for “unsightly” people to go outside in certain places, lest their hellish appearance cause a crash in local housing prices.

Back in the late 1800s, several major cities across the U.S. enacted “unsightly beggar ordinances” (which later became known as “ugly laws”) to stop unpleasant-looking people from begging on city streets and corrupting unborn babies (seriously). One “ugly law” introduced in 1881 Chicago targeted anyone who was “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object.” And this wording was so popular (read: awful) that it was soon copy-pasted into similar ordinances in Omaha, Columbus, Cleveland, and Portland. The end result was that someone found flagrantly, um … existing under these laws was fined or thrown in the poorhouse.

“Your crime spree ends today, granny. You’re under arrest for aggravated pointy-nose-having and unlawful possession of a frumpy hat.”

It’s also worth noting that the guy responsible for passing the Chicago “ugly laws,” a city alderman named James Peevey, hated disabled people with a vigor that would make even staunch eugenicists clutch their pearls. In an op-ed for The Chicago Tribune, he described the targets of his legislation as “street obstructions … the one-legged individual who, with drooping eye and painfully lugubrious countenance, holds forth his hat for pennies [or] the woman with two sick children who was drawn through the carding-machine in a woolen mill.”

Yeah, you tell ’em, Peevey. Those goddamn *checks notes* cripples and injured single mothers had it too good for too long, and we hope that this crusade against the disabled didn’t take too much time away from hunting for the one-legged man who accidentally kicked your childhood dog.

Trapped by the ‘Walmart of Heroin’

A Philadelphia neighborhood is the largest open-air narcotics market for heroin on the East Coast. Addicts come from all over, and many never leave.

The first time Mark shot up “Philly dope” was in the summer of 2017, with his girlfriend, Sarah. They had been on their way from Massachusetts to South Carolina, hoping to get clean there and find someplace cheap to live. The plan was to detox slowly on the way. In New Jersey, they needed to buy more drugs, just enough to make it to Myrtle Beach. Mark got out his phone and Googled “really bad drug areas.” A neighborhood in Philadelphia came up: Kensington.

Mark had never heard of it, but it was easy to find, not too far off I-95. The streetlights were broken or dim, and the alleyways were dark. Most of the blocks were lined with two-story rowhouses, abandoned factories and vacant lots. Kensington Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag, was a congested mess of Chinese takeouts, pawn shops, check-cashing joints and Irish pubs. Missing-person posters hung from storefront windows. The dealers were all out in the open, calling out brand names, even handing out free samples. Many people smoked crack or meth or injected heroin. They stuck needles in their arms, necks and the skin between toes. They were limp and nodding off. Some people lay on the ground looking dead.

Mark got addicted to oxycodone after he was injured by an I.E.D. while on deployment in Iraq. A friend taught him to shoot up heroin because it was a lot cheaper than taking painkillers. And the heroin in Kensington was very cheap. As little as $5 a bag. Mark was used to the high he got from drugs in Massachusetts, but this was different. “We thought it was real dope,” he said. But the heroin had been cut with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that the couple had never taken before. The withdrawal was the worst Mark and Sarah had ever gone through.

“I’ve never been so sick in my life,” Mark said. “It was like the alien in the movie was going to pop out of my chest, things I’ve never experienced going through detox before.” They tried dosing themselves with Suboxone, a synthetic opioid that eases the pain of withdrawal. They had used it before to get sober. Now it wasn’t helping. The addiction was too powerful and the withdrawal too excruciating. “I knew then that I wasn’t going to leave,” he said. “That we couldn’t leave.”

A Surgeon So Bad It Was Criminal

Christopher Duntsch’s surgical outcomes were so outlandishly poor that Texas prosecuted him for harming patients. Why did it take so long for the systems that are supposed to police problem doctors to stop him from operating?

The pain from the pinched nerve in the back of Jeff Glidewell’s neck had become unbearable.

Every time he’d turn his head a certain way, or drive over bumps in the road, he felt as if jolts of electricity were running through his body. Glidewell, now 54, had been living on disability because of an accident a decade earlier. As the pain grew worse, it became clear his only choice was neurosurgery. He searched Google to find a doctor near his home in suburban Dallas who would accept his Medicare Advantage insurance.

That’s how he came across Dr. Christopher Duntsch in the spring of 2013.

Duntsch seemed impressive, at least on the surface. His CV boasted that he’d earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. from a top spinal surgery program. Glidewell found four- and five-star reviews of Duntsch on Healthgrades and more praise seemingly from patients on Duntsch’s Facebook page. On a link for something called “Best Docs Network,” Glidewell found a slickly produced video showing Duntsch in his white coat, talking to a happy patient and wearing a surgical mask in an operating room.

There was no way Glidewell could have known from Duntsch’s carefully curated internet presence or from any other information then publicly available that to be Duntsch’s patient was to be in mortal danger.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The hilarious, stranger-than-fiction story of a mother and son who emigrate to America and get more than they bargained for. Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/ind…

“Little Potato” was directed by Wes Hurley and Nathan Miller. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.

A report warns that climate change disaster is closer than we thought, Banksy pulls a prank, and Melania Trump makes an ill-advised fashion choice during her trip to Africa.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including hurricane coverage and Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Office.

In his editorial New Rule, Bill argues that the Democrats need a leader with more substance than celebrity.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me critical analysis of women’s exercises. Fascinating, compelling viewing.

ハロウィンバーレルなねこ。-Halloween Maru Bucket.-


Operation Car Wash: Is this the biggest corruption scandal in history?

What began as an investigation into money laundering quickly turned into something much greater, uncovering a vast and intricate web of political and corporate racketeering.

On 14 January 2015, police agent Newton Ishii was waiting in Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport to meet the midnight flight from London. His mission was simple. A former executive of Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, was on the plane. Ishii was to arrest him as soon as he set foot in Brazil and take him for questioning by detectives.

No big deal, the veteran cop thought as he ticked off the hours in the shabby Terminal One lounge. This was just one of many anti-bribery operations he had worked on. Usually they made a few headlines, then faded away, leaving the perpetrators to carry on as if nothing had happened. There was a popular expression for this: acabou em pizza (to end up with pizza), which suggested that there was no political row that could not be settled over a meal and a few beers.

When the plane finally landed, Ishii’s target was easy to identify among the passengers in the arrivals hall. Nestor Cerveró has a strikingly asymmetrical face, with his left eye set lower than the right. “He couldn’t believe it. He said I had made a mistake,” Ishii recalled later. “I told him I was just doing my job and that he could take up his complaints with the judge.”

Cerveró called his brother and a lawyer. He expected to be free before morning. Ishii, too, had few illusions that his suspect would be locked up for long. Decades on the force had taught him how quickly the rich and powerful could wriggle off the hook. There was little reason to think this case would be any different.

As it turned out, both men were wrong.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?