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'A stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system': Here's how rich mega-doners hacked US politics

Just 12 megadonors contributed roughly $1 in every 13 dollars spent on recent campaigns for federal office, as well as the political groups that make up the U.S. campaign finance system, according to a new report on the influence of money in politics.

The staggering sum of these contributions — which represent more than $3.4 billion over the last decade — was revealed on Tuesday by Issue One, a nonpartisan group dedicated to reducing "the corrosive influence of big money in politics."

The findings offer a stark quantification of the role that a shrinking number of super-rich megadonors, both individuals and couples, have played in American politics following the Supreme Court's 2009 Citizen's United ruling. According to the report, all 12 of the country's top political donors are white, and the group represents more than a quarter of all donations from the top 100 zip codes by political contributions — which are more likely to skew white and affluent.

"Our government can't be responsive to all Americans if our elected officials are beholden to the elite donor class," Nick Penniman, Issue One's founder and chief executive, said in a statement. He added that Congress should act immediately to "pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone."

The top 12 donors were split equally down the middle among Democrats and Republicans. They were led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Both men self-funded their own Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020, with Bloomberg reportedly putting more than $1 billion and Steyer more than $200 million toward their doomed White House bids.

Top Republican donors included the late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson, his widow who received the Medal of Freedom under former President Donald Trump; shipping magnates Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein; hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Timothy Mellon, the scion of one of America's wealthiest industrial-age families; TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his wife Marlene; as well as hedge fund manager Paul Singer.

On the Democratic side, other top contributors included hedge fund managers Donald Sussman and Jim Simons, media mogul Fred Eychaner and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The list does not include state and local level donations.

These trends lend to a climate where Americans are "losing faith in our democratic institutions," Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee said in a statement. "Congress must urgently act to restrain the growing influence of money in our politics and build a system that truly represents all Americans — not just the wealthy few."

The truth about Officer Sicknick's death in the Capitol riot

United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died of a rare kind of blood clot, more often seen in men 20 years his senior, hours after being sprayed directly in the face with a chemical product designed to stop a 1,200-pound brown bear in its tracks. Even so, a medical examiner announced Tuesday that he died of natural causes.

Washington, DC's chief medical examiner, Francisco J. Diaz, stressed that "all that transpired played a role in his condition," referring to the January 6 insurrection, during which Sicknick, 42, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with armed insurgents. The Capitol Police Department considers Sicknick to have died in the line of duty.

Right-wing pundits said the lugenpresse framed the mob. Fox contributors Charlie Hurt and Glenn Greenwald accused the media of lying about the cause of Sicknick's death. Initial reports that Sicknick had been beaten to death with a fire extinguisher were based on vague statements by the Capitol Police and video of an officer being attacked with a fire extinguisher. Those reports were later revised when it became clear it was a different officer in the video. Later, video of the bear-spray attack on Sicknick was widely reported.1 The medical examiner's ruling of death by natural causes probably precludes murder charges against Julian Khater and George Tanios, who allegedly attacked Sicknick. But they're still facing serious criminal charges for the assault.

Sicknick suffered devastating strokes caused by a blood clot in his basilar artery, a vessel that supplies blood to the brainstem. His death is considered natural because he died from a medical crisis rather than from trauma or an allergic reaction to the bear spray. But the ruling does not mean Sicknick's death was a random mishap.

These rare blood clots are seldom seen in people Sicknick's age. They account for 1 percent of strokes and they are more likely to strike men in their mid-60s. The autopsy report has not been made public, and it's unclear whether Sicknick had any risk factors, such as hypertension, hardening of the arteries or a blood clotting disorder.

The factors that precipitate these blood clots have not been widely studied, but there are case reports of basilar clots forming in younger people following relatively minor trauma, like chiropractic neck manipulation and even head-banging during religious rituals. That's the sort of thing that wouldn't necessarily show up on an autopsy. As I said, the last day of Sicknick's life saw hand-to-hand combat with angry insurgents. So it's possible he suffered some kind of less-than-obvious trauma precipitating a clot.

Extreme stress has also been known to precipitate blood clots in susceptible people. The body's fight-or-flight response enhances blood clotting, which is thought to be an adaptation that reduces the chances of bleeding to death from wounds. Stress also raises heart rate and blood pressure, which primes the body for peak performance, but places extra stress on the cardiovascular system. Interestingly, two insurgents also died of cardiovascular events during the insurrection. Three cardiovascular deaths in a group of a couple thousand relatively healthy people is way more than you'd expect by chance. Fact is, this insurgency killed people, including some who died of so-called natural causes. About 140 cops were injured defending the Capitol. Their injuries included stab wounds, crushed spinal disks, head trauma and a mild heart attack. That's not even counting two responding officers who died by suicide afterward.

Could the bear spray have caused the clots? There's not a lot of research on the effects of bear spray on humans, probably because it's explicitly not designed to be used on people. Bear spray uses the same active ingredient as the pepper spray used by police departments, but in a more concentrated form and at a much higher dose. When inhaled, the spray causes acute inflammation of the lungs that, combined with the stress of agonizing pain, could predispose a susceptible person to throw clots.

A medical examiner looks for hard evidence that can point authorities to a specific person who caused Sicknick's death. The standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Science and commonsense tell us Sicknick's strokes were almost certainly caused by the insurgency. But it wouldn't be fair to charge suspects who allegedly sprayed Sicknick with his murder, given that we don't know for a fact that the bear spray they pumped into his face had anything to do with his death.

The January 6 insurrection was a premeditated assault on our democracy and everyone who supported the putsch ultimately shoulders responsibility for Sicknick's death.

Derek Chauvin found guilty on all counts in murder of George Floyd

On Tuesday, after 11 hours of deliberation, the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin found him guilty on all charges in the murder of George Floyd, a man whose death sparked a massive wave of protests in the summer of 2020.

The verdict had been highly anticipated around the country as the trial carried on. Chauvin's attorneys tried to argue that it was reasonable to doubt whether their client had murdered Floyd, suggesting that his health condition and drug use contributed to his death in police custody. However, the prosecution argued that expert testimony, video, and common sense conclusively demonstrated that Chauvin's decision to kneel on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes directly led to his death.

Prosecutors said that Chauvin's use of excessive force was a third-degree assault that killed Floyd, constituting second-degree murder. He was also charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Law enforcement had been on high alert after the trial's closing arguments, as authorities feared an acquittal or other result might trigger more protest and unrest. The National Guard was deployed to Minneapolis, and barricades were brought out around the U.S. Capitol in preparation for the verdict.

Columnist argues Biden can expose the Republicans' 'monstrous lie' about his presidency

When President Joe Biden was sworn into office three months ago, his supporters knew that Republicans in Congress would aggressively fight against his Build Back Better Agenda. Regardless, Biden enjoyed 59% approval in a recent Pew Research poll. And Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent, in a column published this week, argues that Biden's infrastructure plan could make him even more popular.

"We shouldn't let it be forgotten that Donald Trump ran for reelection on a monstrous lie," Sargent writes. "If Joe Biden won, then-President Trump told us, the mentally declining Biden would fall captive to his party's rabid socialist left flank, which would immediately drive the country into a depression. This lie lives on — Republicans continue to tell repurposed versions of it right now — yet precisely the opposite is happening."

Sargent continues, "It's not just that the center and left of the Democratic Party are working together more collaboratively than expected. It's also that Biden's willing incorporation of leftist ideas is exactly why he's posting some early successes. New details about the next big phase of President Biden's jobs and infrastructure package provide an occasion to consider how and why this is happening, and what it means for our politics."

The columnist goes on to say that the "next phase will involve another $1 trillion in proposed spending on various family support programs, on top of the $2 trillion infrastructure plan that congressional Democrats are assembling." According to Sargent, Biden's infrastructure plan "embodies some core insights of progressive economics."

"Our caregiving economy has been woefully underfunded," Sargent observes, "and the crucial societal contribution of care work — including child care — is badly undercompensated. Far too many are denied basic human goods like college education and the opportunity to take time off work to heal or spend time with a newborn."

Sargent wraps up his column by noting that although some things could derail Biden's economic agenda, it is on the right track for now.

"Sure, a lot could go wrong," Sargent explains. "Biden's plans could fail in Congress or at implementation. The left might blast them as insufficient. Voters could turn on all this spending…. But for now, the apparent broad public rejection of GOP arguments is awfully heartening."

Kevin McCarthy's plot against Maxine Waters goes down in flames

The House of Representatives has just voted against censuring U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) for remarks she made at a Black Lives Matter rally on Saturday. Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy filed the resolution.

The vote to table the resolution was, as expected, along party lines, 216-210.

McCarthy's resolution to censure Waters says she "joined protestors" in Minnesota "who were gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department," which is not unlawful and is a First Amendment right.

It also says she said: "We're looking for a guilty verdict" in the Chauvin trial.

And it says if the jury does not find Chauvin guilty protestors should "Stay on the street, and we've got to get more active, we've got to get more confrontational, we've got to make sure they know we mean business."

He also cited remarks made by the judge in the Chauvin case, who denounced Waters' remarks.

Waters' remarks were not illegal, nor did they incite violence, contrary to what many Republicans have alleged. McCarthy never attempted to censure President Donald Trump, nor did he vote to impeach him.

Here's the insane amount Republican orgs spent buying GOP books to pad best-seller lists last election cycle

The problem with having a base that isn't particularly interested in reading anything more than a headline is that it is hard to sell books to those folks. You couple that with holding and promoting wildly unpopular positions on health care, foreign policy, economics, race, and justice, and a proclivity to act morally hypocritical and you are creating the kinds of conditions most book publishers would shy away from. Add to that most of the things you say are factually incorrect, a potential lawsuit in the waiting for a publisher, and it is a wonder how any of these conservative jokes get publishing deals in the first place.

However, the conservative oligarchy-bubble has figured a way around promoting an unpopular product—buy the perception that it isn't popular. For some time news outlets have reported on the self-dealing, bulk-book buying tendencies of campaigns and Republican committees, that help propel books by people from people like Sens. Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Tom Cotton, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and cosmic embarrassment Donald Trump Jr., access to national best-seller lists. Being on a best-seller list—especially from one of the Republican proclaimed fake news sites like the Washington Post or the New York Times, can boost your sales further being the premiere advertisement for literature and nonfiction in the United States.

The Washington Post did a report on the shady-quality of this practice, pointing out that "Four party-affiliated organizations, including the Republican National Committee, collectively spent more than $1 million during the past election cycle mass-purchasing books written by GOP candidates, elected officials and personalities, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure reports." The practice is not simply deceitful in promoting a false sense of popularity for unpopular ideas, but because authors of books make serious money if they can get on best-seller lists off of royalties from hundreds of thousands of dollars in book sales.

One of the more well-publicized self-dealings in recent months was Texas's answer to intelligence, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, whose book got a $400,000 boost in sales from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The NRCC defended its purchase of Crenshaw's book, saying that it had fundraised no less than three times the amount off of the book (signed copies, etc.), making it a legitimate purchase. But the Republican former Navy SEAL, who holds an elected office based almost entirely on the truly twisted Republican gerrymandering of a Texas district, was able to point to his best-seller status as proof of the popularity of his opinions.

Trump Jr., his dad the Donald, truly unpopular Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, unpopular China-phobe Sen. Tom Cotton, and Capitol building insurgent supporter Sen. Josh Hawley all got lucky with bulk purchases of their books this past election cycle according to the Post. Hawley's big pre-buy got sidetracked when Simon & Schuster canceled the book deal with Hawley for his sweeping endorsements of anti-Democratic, fact-free election fraud charges—though he forgot to mention he likely kept some of the advance while he whined about freedom of speech.

Tom Cotton, best-known for being a slimmer, cleaner-shaven, and more hawkish version of Ted Cruz, seems to have received quite a bit of help from political action committee the Senate Conservatives Fund. According to the Post, they spent close to $90,000 buying Cotton's book—the title of which is something like Soldier Duty, Soldier soldier, duty duty, I hate China and Democracy. Coincidentally, this was the same PAC that threw $65,000 at "Regnery Publishing, [Ted] Cruz's publisher, for advance copies of Hawley's forthcoming book."

Last week, campaign finance watchdog Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against Sen. Ted Cruz, with the Federal Election Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee. Highlighting Cruz's 15% royalty rate and his campaign's expenditure of around $18,000 on Facebook ads promoting his book, the complaint accuses Cruz of violating "the ban on the personal use of campaign funds at 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(1)." The complaint also reminds the two committees that the evidence they are presenting is just the Facebook advertisements and there might very well be Cruz campaign expenditures promoting his garbage tome on other platforms.

In the three months following the publication of Cruz's book, Ted Cruz for Senate paid third-party booksellers Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble over $154,000 for "books." Other Facebook ads offered supporters a signed copy of the book in exchange for a contribution (while also urging viewers to "pre-order a copy today at Amazon or your local book retailer") and linked to a Ted Cruz for Senate fundraising page.

This isn't news for Ted Cruz, who has long bent, if not broke, the laws of campaigning and campaign finance. His interest in honesty has never existed and he has never shown the slightest of moral compunctions. And while Ted Cruz may technically be considered more intelligent than someone like Donald Trump Jr., the two men participate in identical cynical and corrupt behavior. In Junior's case, it's his actual daddy that helps pay for his lack of popularity, while in Ted Cruz's case, it's the Republican Party machine and his own campaign that he treats like a rich daddy.

Technically, the issue here is that Ted Cruz's campaign did not bulk buy directly through the publisher. The reason why this is important is that this issue has long been understood to be a thorny problem, and the FEC has made rulings on it dating back to 2014. Buying directly from the publisher, according to the FEC, allows the publisher to count those sales outside of the sales of books that they owe royalties to authors for. Cruz's campaign spent thousands directly through retailers. This makes it much more like that Cruz's royalty payouts got a direct personal bank account boost from his own campaign's funds. He's not the only one, as everybody's favorite know-nothing-at-all Dan Crenshaw's book got almost a quarter of a million in sales from a retail direct purchase by the NRCC.

Before you let that friend of yours that says chem-trails control the weather chime in, the Post explains that this level of bulk-buying, padding out the book sales, is largely a GOP "phenomenon."

House Democrats have found a 'workaround' to avoid Republican obstruction

During the Biden era, some far-right Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus have resorted to a delaying tactic designed to create legislative gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives. But according to Politico reporters Sarah Ferris, Melanie Zanona and Olivia Beavers, House Democrats believe they have found a "workaround."

In an article published by Politico this week, the reporters explain, "The conservative firebrands have sought to make life difficult for Democrats in protest against what they say are efforts to shut out the minority party. But their tactics have made it virtually impossible for Democrats and Republicans to fast-track so-called suspension bills — noncontroversial measures that are critical to running the House — and instead, created a legislative slog."

Ferris, Zanona and Beavers add that "under the response shaped by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, leaders of the far-right Freedom Caucus would no longer be able to effectively seize control of the floor by demanding individual votes on dozens of suspension bills and forcing members to vote late into the night." Hoyer, according to the Politico reporters, "plans to package much of that broadly palatable suspension legislation into a single block on the floor, which he said would 'save us somewhere in the neighborhood of seven-and-a-half hours' of voting time."

Politico quotes Hoyer as saying, "I expect to make a motion prior to us voting on any of the suspension bills that they be considered en bloc."

Not all Republicans are happy with the delaying tactics that some members of the House Freedom Caucus have been resorting to. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has complained that it does more harm than good.

The California Republican told Politico, "I've been meeting with Steny, and I went to the Freedom Caucus last night. We had a good discussion. They want to fight. They're frustrated with everything that's happening, and I get all that. But my point is: What's the goal, what's the strategy?"

Naomi Wolf has been promoting 'absurd' COVID-19 conspiracy theories — with the help of Fox News: report

Liberal author Naomi Wolf is well-known for her feminist commentary of the 1990s and her warnings against the Patriot Act during the Bush Administration's two terms. Recently, Wolf has been promoting COVID-19 conspiracy theories — and Media Matters' Matt Gertz reports that Fox News has been more than happy to hear them.

Gertz explains, "The feminist writer Naomi Wolf garnered fame during the 1990s for her book 'The Beauty Myth' and her work as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But in recent years, she's been better known for promoting an array of unhinged conspiracy theories, most recently regarding the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This combination has made her a perfect guest for Fox News."

Fox News' coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatically different from that of MSNBC or CNN. When MSNBC and CNN, in 2020, were showing how enormous a threat COVID-19 posed, Fox News joined former President Donald Trump in downplaying the pandemic's severity.

"Fox is far more interested in turning coronavirus into a political cudgel than in giving users accurate health information," Gertz observes. "And so, the network's hosts lean on Wolf's liberal credentials while giving her a platform to claim that the Democratic response to the pandemic is aimed at dissolving society and enacting a totalitarian state comparable to Nazi Germany."

Gertz notes that Wolf has "appeared at least seven times on Fox" since mid-February to "discuss her views on the pandemic: twice apiece on 'Tucker Carlson Tonight' and 'The Revolution with Steve Hilton,' and three times on 'Fox News Primetime.'"

"It is irresponsible for a news outlet to give Wolf that sort of credulous attention," Gertz writes. "Her social media channels are littered with absurd claims about the virus and its vaccines. Between her first and second Fox appearances alone, she tweeted that a new technology allowed the delivery of 'vaccines w nanopatticles that let you travel back in time'; that the Moderna vaccine is a 'software platform' that allows 'uploads'; and that due to face masks, children now lack 'the human reflex that they when you smile at them they smile back' and have 'dark circles under (their) eyes from low oxygen."

Biden's agenda on China needs a reality check

Like his immediate predecessor, Joe Biden is committed to a distinctly anti-China global strategy and has sworn that China will not "become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world… on my watch." In the topsy-turvy universe created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was, however, Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JP Morgan Chase, a banking giant with assets of $3.4 trillion, who spoke truth to Biden on the subject.

While predicting an immediate boom in the U.S. economy "that could easily run into 2023," Dimon had grimmer news on the future as well. "China's leaders believe that America is in decline," he wrote in his annual letter to the company's shareholders. While the U.S. had faced tough times in the past, he added, today "the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure, and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals." He was forthright enough to say, "Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this."

As for China, Dimon could also have added, its government possesses at least two powerful levers in areas where the United States is likely to prove vulnerable: dominant control of container ports worldwide and the supplies of rare earth metals critical not just to the information-technology sector but also to the production of electric and hybrid cars, jet fighters, and missile guidance systems. And that's only a partial list of the areas where China is poised to become dominant in the foreseeable future. Here's a likely scenario.

The Digital Yuan Versus the (Missing) Digital Dollar

Within the broad headline of the globe's "second-largest economy," China has already either surpassed the United States or is running neck-and-neck with it in certain specific sectors.

With a global smartphone market share of 20% in the second quarter of 2020, China's Huawei Technologies topped the charts, marginally exceeding South Korea's Samsung, and well ahead of Apple, according to the International Data Corporation. This happened despite a concerted drive by President Donald Trump's administration to damage Huawei that culminated, in May 2020, with Washington barring companies worldwide from using U.S.-made machinery or software to design or produce chips for that company or its entities from that September on. Nonetheless, with a 47% share of China's booming 5G smartphone market, Huawei topped the list there while it kept up its investment in future-oriented, cutting-edge technologies and basic research to the tune of a striking $3 billion to $5 billion annually.

Broadly speaking, China continues to make impressive strides when it comes to developing its information and communications technology sector. Its Fintech (Financial Technology) report, published in October 2020, showed that an estimated 87% of Chinese consumers used fintech services. With a vast mobile-payment system that hit $29 trillion (200 trillion yuan) worth of payments in 2019, China is shaping up to become the globe's first "cashless society" and its largest financial-technology ecosystem by the end of this decade.

Less than 10% of Americans use mobile payments, which means a similar scenario for the United States is nowhere on the horizon. With mobile transactions in China already accounting for at least four out of every five payments and more than half the value of all non-cash retail payments, that country is poised to leave the U.S., a comparative laggard in fintech, shackled to a cash-dominated system.

In their relentless drive for innovation, the Chinese authorities started pushing the development of a digital currency in certain regions in August 2020. Their specific goals were to make daily life easier for citizens and digital payments more secure. While non-bank payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay required users to link to bank accounts, a digital wallet with an e-currency deposit could be opened with a unique personal identification — a driver's license or a mobile phone number — enabling the un-banked population of China to embrace the digital world.

As a result, the People's Bank of China became the first major central bank to issue a virtual currency. A broader roll-out is expected for the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022, which will give the digital yuan international exposure.

This has alarmed the Biden administration. Officials at the Treasury Department, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council are frantically trying to comprehend the potential implications of a virtual yuan system. They are particularly eager to understand how it would be distributed, and whether it could be used to bypass Washington's international sanctions as applied to Iran. What distresses some American officials and experts is the notion that someday China's virtual yuan could replace the U.S. dollar as the world's dominant reserve currency.

At the Federal Reserve, Chairman Jerome Powell insisted that the central bank was involved in a large-scale research and development project on a possible future digital dollar, though pointing out that such a project could only be launched via a law that would have to be passed by a deeply divided Congress. In short, irrespective of the future of China's virtual currency, a digital dollar is not likely, not in the near future anyway.

Building Infrastructure (or Not)

As for recent economic history, even a cursory look at the performances of the United States and China in combating the 2008 financial meltdown tells a striking tale.

China made an indelible mark in meeting that financial challenge. Its government sharply increased its infrastructure spending, resulting in higher imports that helped counter flagging global demand. While this move increased Beijing's debt, it also helped build a foundation to further transform the country's economy into a productivity-led growth model. A decade after that great recession, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, China's infrastructure ranking jumped from 66th place to 36th place out of 152 countries.

Although infrastructure building on a large scale requires significant upfront investment, it's guaranteed to yield productivity gains in the long run. Time and cost savings for commuters, improved market access, healthier competition, increased exchange of ideas, and enlarged innovation capacity, all aided by modern infrastructure, are a springboard for economic development.

During the decade following the 2008 crisis, the number of Chinese cities with metro services jumped from 10 to 34 and 1.1 million kilometers of highways were built, raising the total to 4.8 million kilometers. The length of its high-speed rail system shot up by 52,000 kilometers to 132,000 kilometers. Introduced on the eve of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it's now by far the world's longest system, accounting for two-thirds of the globe's high-speed rail. Its advances in information-and computer-technology were equally impressive. On average, mobile-phone subscriptions came to exceed one per person — about the same as in the United States.

High-speed rail (of which the United States has none) reduces journey times, while linking dense urban areas with less crowded cities. In doing so, it allows for a more balanced distribution of labor and business development without sacrificing the benefits of an increasingly urbanized economy. Economies of scale in turn mean that productivity rises as rail usage increases.

Little wonder, then, that President Barack Obama and his team promoted the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as an infrastructure-building program in response to the 2008 economic crisis. In reality, however, only $80 billion, a tenth of the money Congress sanctioned, would be devoted to actual infrastructure. Of that, about a third was spent on roads and bridges, improving about 67,600 kilometers of roads and 2,700 bridges. The program also included investment in modern infrastructure like smart grids and broadband development.

In 2010, Obama announced what was to be the "largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System," the creation of a high-speed rail network that would rival China's. More than a decade later, the only visible progress is a much-delayed and still incomplete 275-kilometer Central Valley California line from Bakersfield to Merced. And in the Trump years, when essentially no government money went into such projects, "infrastructure week" became a standing joke. President Biden seems determined to rectify this, but how successful he'll be with his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal in the face of a rigidly divided Congress remains to be seen.

For its part, the Chinese government combined its program of rapid infrastructure development with upgrading of the labor force. It did so by implementing an educational system that stressed science, technology, engineering, and math, known as STEM. By achieving higher productivity in this way, the government planned to compensate for a projected shrinkage in its work force.

To promote STEM, the government issued guidelines in 2016 to create a national development strategy aimed at advancing China to the forefront of innovative countries by 2030. In February 2017, the Ministry of Education officially added STEM education to the primary-school curriculum. Since then, encouraged by official policies, schools in both the public and private sectors have implemented such programs.

In 2019, the government allocated 100% of its research funding to top universities to the ones that concentrated on STEM disciplines. By comparison, South Korea allocated 62% of such funding that way. By contrast, U.S. universities ranked in the top 100 maintained a greater balance in funding among STEM fields, humanities, and social sciences.

In October 2019, three of China's biggest mobile-phone carriers launched advanced 5G services, giving it the world's largest 5G mobile network. A year later, the Wall Street Journal reported that China had more 5G subscribers than the U.S., not just in total but per capita.

Given the ubiquity of smartphones, the news that America seemed to be losing the tech race to China was widely noted. Mostly ignored, however, was the extent to which the U.S. had become vulnerable to Chinese pressure in international trade.

America's Vulnerabilities

In testimony before Congress in October 2019, Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, revealed that at least two-thirds of the world's top 50 maritime container ports were directly owned and managed by the Chinese or supported by that country's investments (up from roughly 20% a decade ago). These included terminals at major American container ports in Los Angeles and Seattle. When it came to such ports, it led the world with seven of the 10 largest ones.

A year earlier, officials at the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company, one of the globe's largest container shipping lines, acknowledged that the company had connected its routes along what was officially called the Maritime Silk Road, linking regional markets in West Africa, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, and the U.S. to form a more comprehensive and balanced globalized trading network. "By owning and/or operating a network of logistical nodes across Asia, Europe, and Africa, China can control a significant portion of its inbound supply chain for essential commodities and outbound trade routes for its exports," Bartholomew explained. "In the event of conflict, China could use its control over these and other ports to hinder trade access to other countries."

In the manufacturing sector, China finds itself in a privileged position by virtue of its special mineral deposits, called rare earth elements. A group of 17 rare earth metals, including lanthanum, cerium, yttrium, europium, and gadolinium, often called "industrial gold," are critical components of such high-technology and clean-energy products as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars, because of their magnetism, luminescence, and strength. They are also used in a wide variety of weapons from jet fighters to nuclear submarines.

Unsurprisingly, in recent years, there has been a rapid rise in the demand for these minerals in advanced economies. They are dispersed in low concentrations and are costly to extract from ore, an industry in which China has invested a great deal since the 1970s.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2020, China accounted for 58% of rare earth minerals production, down from around 90% four years earlier, as the United States and Australia boosted their own mining of them. Still, as of 2018, the United States imported 80.5% of its rare earth metals from China. In May of that year, the Trump administration added these to a list of minerals deemed critical to American economic and national security. And in July 2019, it declared them "essential to the national defense," which freed up resources for the Department of Defense to take action to secure a domestic rare earth production capability.

Even if the mining of these ores increased in the U.S., refining them requires specialist technology and trained personnel as well as high upfront investment. Due to the lack of these in the U.S. so far, China continues to enjoy a near monopoly in processing the ore, with the raw material containing the prized metal mined outside China shipped to the Chinese sites. The refining process also generates large amounts of radioactive waste and pollutes the environment. As a result, developed countries usually opt for getting the refining done in emerging economies.

All in all, when you view the globe in the throes of a once-in-a-century pandemic, you find an authoritarian state, wedded to centralized planning, initiating programs with long-term benefits for its citizens and seeing them through. You also see a politically riven democratic republic operating primarily on an ad hoc basis.

The stark truth is that an American president cannot even bet on his policies, however laudable or otherwise, surviving his four-year term. Trump's succession after the Obama era illustrated this dramatically, as has that of Trump's successor, Biden. When judged purely on the basis of final results, centralized planning clearly beats short-term programming, even if it is viewed with a mixture of derision and condemnation by the Western governments that Biden is attempting to coopt to challenge China. The reality of our moment: that country is now rising on a distinctly wounded planet.

Copyright 2021 Dilip Hiro

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Why cops get away with killing

For most Americans, the murder trial of Derek Chauvin would seem to be an open-and-shut case. There's a video of the Minneapolis police officer kneeling down on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes until Floyd suffocated to death. All viewers were witness to the crime. At the same time, most of us believe justice is blind. Put these together—the evidence and the principle—and surely the jury, which is now deliberating, will deliver a guilty verdict in keeping with what most Americans expect.

Except the odds are in Chauvin's favor. Police are almost never convicted of serious crimes. That's despite the ubiquity of cellphone and body cameras. Juries, meanwhile, almost never second-guess the split-second decisions of cops on duty. According to the Times, about 1.1 percent of police officers who kill civilians are charged with murder or manslaughter. Over a 15-year period, only 140 state and local police officers were arrested after shooting incidents. Only 44 were convicted on lesser charges.

That may be because shootings are legally justified, Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green University, told the Times. Or it may be because "the legal system and laws themselves are overly deferential to the police. That deference, he added, protects the status quo in the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country." Stinson said: "Culture eats policy, as the saying goes. We have a police subculture whose core elements in many places include fear of Black people."

Most of us believe the reason we have police officers in the first place is providing public safety and peacekeeping. That's certainly what most of us want from state and local cops. Given this expectation, most are shocked when they murder people. Most are doubly shocked when they get away with it. But what if we're wrong? What if our presumptions are off? What if cops are doing what they think they're supposed to do?

That's certainly what the data suggests. Police officers deal out death so frequently you'd justified in thinking that's what normal, acceptable policing looks like. Since 2013, around than 1,100 people have died annually at the hands of law enforcement, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit. (These numbers include unarmed victims, like George Floyd.) Since the end of last month, at the start of Derek Chauvin's murder trial, police officers have killed more than three people every day over a span of 20 days. The data might not show policing as anomaly so much as policing as intended.

I don't mean to be cheeky. I do mean, however, to shake up most people's thinking—by which I mean most white people's thinking. Black people and people of color are on the receiving end of state coercion far more than white people are. They might be deeply disappointed if Chauvin's jury finds him not guilty. They might be despondent. They won't be surprised, though. It's white people who will be stunned. It's white people who will be outraged! It's white people who will struggle to accept the truth, and it's white people—many of us anyway—who won't. We will instead think of Chauvin's getting away with murder as the exception to the rule instead of the rule itself.

I think Philip Stinson, the criminal justice expert, is mistaken. It's not that subcultures in police departments fear Black people. It's that subcultures have come to understand for themselves, quite rationally, that their true mission, however unpopular it may be, is doling out legal and extralegal state violence to people who are deserving of state violence in the name of public safety and peacekeeping. These subcultures understand that even when white people complain about police brutality, white people benefit from it. They know what they have to do. They only need a reason for doing it. And because, in their view, Black people act criminally by existing, there's reason aplenty.

Attributing irrational fear to what is, I think, rational thinking actually deepens the problem. It makes changing the status quo more difficult. For many white people, perhaps most white people, being scared of Black people, due to the fact that Black people exist, is understandable. Therefore, second-guessing a cop seems unreasonable. Such compassion therefore contributes to the idea that most cops are good, while only some are bad, a mindset that blinds white people to what the data is telling us. Good or bad has nothing to do with it. Cops deal out so much death, because it's their job.

Reporter catches Marjorie Taylor Greene shamelessly lying about her widely panned 'Anglo-Saxon' caucus

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) on Tuesday tried to deny she ever supported forming a new "America First" caucus dedicated to promoting "Anglo-Saxon values."

Writing on Twitter, Greene claimed that she never had any intention of competing with the hardline House Freedom Caucus and accused the media of launching a baseless smear campaign against her.

"The media continues to lie about a fake story," she claimed. "They do this all the time to smear people like me and divide the GOP. I am one of the proudest members of the Freedom Caucus! I don't need another caucus."

However, Punchbowl News reporter Jake Sherman notes that Greene communications director Nick Dyer boasted that plans for the America First Caucus were so far along that it would be releasing its own policy platform "soon."

News broke late last week that Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) were creating the caucus to promote a "common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions" and "the progeny of European architecture."

The caucus proposal was widely panned, however, and even some members of the House Freedom Caucus tried to distance themselves from it. Shortly afterward, plans for forming the caucus were officially scrapped.

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