Saturday, March 30, 2024

A Bridge Too Far

Immediately after the Key Bridge collapse, I wrote the following:

Congress needs to pass $$ for the Key Bridge rebuild ASAP. The longer it waits, the more likely some insane r-w conspiracy develops about how “bridges are DEI” and suddenly the funds are being tied to burning Pride books or something. 


This week, Pennsylvania GOP Representative Dan Meuser slammed President Biden for calling on Congress to fully fund the response to the Baltimore collapse. Meuser insisted it’s “outrageous” that Biden wants to fund repairs in their “entirety,” and even demanded that some of this money must be taken from “ridiculous EV expenditures.”


Some GOP lawmakers are already treating future funding of the Baltimore response as a future concession on their part. Representative Jeff Duncan says Congress should not spend “one more dime” of additional infrastructure money before a border wall is built, as if the need for disaster relief can be used to extort Democrats into funding MAGA priorities in return.


It gets still worse. Some right-wing media personalities are floating whackjob theories blaming the collision on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, on our supposedly open borders, and other MAGA preoccupations. Some “online influencers” and GOP politicians indulged in trivializing nitwit speculation and targeted Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg with other assorted hateful smears.

Some predictions are too obvious to get credit for nailing.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

March Badness

A GOP state legislator in Michigan, Rep. Matt Maddock, saw a bus with too many brown people near at the airport and jumped to the obvious conclusion: "Happening right now. Three busses just loaded up with illegal invaders at Detroit Metro. Anyone have any idea where they’re headed with their police escort?"

It was Gonzaga's basketball team, headed to the Sweet 16 round. But don't let facts get in the way of some good racism and red-baiting:

Maddock made his false claim in a month during which false and misleading claims about airplane flights involving migrants have proliferated on the political right.

Hundreds of social media users quickly disputed Maddock’s post on Wednesday, but Maddock refused to concede. He replied to one of the many people who pointed out the plane and buses were likely for NCAA basketball teams: “Sure kommie. Good talking point.”

Maddock continued to dig in on Thursday morning. He wrote a new post saying, “We know this is happening” and that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are “pouring into our country.” He added: “Since we can’t trust the #FakeNews to investigate, citizens will. The process of investigating these issues takes time.”

Meanwhile, in Idaho the Utah women's basketball team was essentially chased out of the state after they endured repeated racial abuse at the hotel they were staying at in Coeur d'Alene (they switched to a different hotel in Spokane).

It's nothing novel to say that athletics (and college athletics in particular) represent a prominent arena where young men and women of color are placed in the (nominally positive) spotlight of predominantly White institutions, and there are a lot of White people who really can't handle that.

The Looming(?) Haredi Draft

For many years, Israel has effectively exempted Haredi youth from the otherwise universal requirement (for Jews) of IDF service. This has been a serious source of tension and strife in Israeli society -- a rallying point for secular and moderate Jews who view the Haredim as failing to pull their weight, and an absolute bedrock priority for Orthodox parties for whom avoiding military service is their number one policy demand.

The blockbuster decision out of the Israeli supreme court you might have read about doesn't quite compel the draft to start, but it does say that Haredim can no longer get their governmental stipends if they don't serve. In practice, the Haredi community is going to view it as the same thing -- an end to the system where they got paid to study Torah instead of serve in the army.

I won't claim to be an expert on this issue -- this is where I comment as an "interested amateur" -- but here are some initial thoughts.

  • One immediate way to identify a complete know-nothing hack is if you see anyone saying this ruling demonstrates that the Israeli government is starving for manpower or some other vulgar materialist explanation. The current government, which depends on the support of Orthodox parties for its majority, was and is absolutely dead-set against this ruling.
  • That said, the current war and the strain it's placed on Israel's military capacities has certainly even further elevated this issue's salience amongst the opposition, and that may have helped create a further permission structure for the court to rule as it did.
  • It is entirely possible that this ruling could bring down Bibi's government. The mercurial nature of the Orthodox parties is I think a bit overstated (people are so proud for knowing better than the naive story about the ultra-Orthodox being the primary drivers of Israeli right-wing extremism -- "they've joined left-wing governments before! Shas backed land for peace!" -- that they skip past the ways that this social cadre has genuinely shifted rightward in recent years). But this issue really is the sine qua for the ultra-Orthodox, and if the current government can't secure it, that's going to create a yawning fissure in an already creaky coalition.
  • It might be weird to think of "more militarization" as helping bolster pro-peace impulses in Israel. But we might see some shift in that direction, for at least two reasons. 
    • Number one, in general, if every social sector is sharing the burden of military service, that may put a damper on needless military adventurism. Parties that are happy to risk the bodies of other Israelis to defend settlement outposts may be less willing to do so once their bodies are on the line. 
    • Number two, for the Haredi parties in particular, the only way they might plausibly get their exemptions back is in a world where Israel is less reliant on constant militarization. So that could create some possibility for working relationship with more liberal forces in the state; albeit an "alliance" that will always be on shaky footing.
In any event, stay tuned -- this is a big deal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

End Spoofing

The Portland JCC, which also houses the local Jewish Day School, was swatted today.

Elsewhere, the mom of a friend of mine nearly got victimized by a scam where someone used voice-altering software to impersonate her daughter and beg for money after she was "in a car accident".

It's no mystery that these sorts of scams seem to be on the rise, and seem to be increasingly sophisticated. And I doubt I'm giving any hot take when I say that these scammers are absolutely, 100%, the lowest of the low.

One common tactic in these thugs' repertoires is "spoofing" -- basically, impersonating another number when they call you, so it shows up on Caller ID as your doctor or the IRS or a customer support center (or just hides the actual number that the person is calling from). 

I don't know whether spoofing was involved in either of the above incidents. But I'm increasingly of the mind that we might need to just ban spoofing outright.

I'm aware of the legitimate reasons for spoofing. A business wants a call to register as emanating from their main line, not whatever back office is calling you. Or someone working from home still wants to be identified as calling from their company, not their personal cellphone. I even can understand some cases where spoofing may have anti-fraud properties (it lets me know that the call is coming from someone at Aetna, which I may be disinclined to believe if the phone number is the random area code of wherever the nurse went to high school).

But at this stage, I just don't see those real benefits as outweighing the costs. It doesn't seem like the phone companies have any real way to distinguish "bad" spoofing from good. And while I don't actually know the mechanics (so what I say next might be entirely wrong), it seems to me that it would be technologically-easier to simply ban the practice outright -- create no mechanism through which phone calls can "identify" themselves as anything but their unique actual phone number -- than to engage in what seems to be a losing game of whack-a-mole.

And sure, I know in my heart that this is probably a lot more complicated than I realize (though I do genuinely believe that it's one of those things where, if there was some serious government regulatory muscle behind it, you'd see the telecom providers hop to it). But one of the joys of aging is that I get to cantankerously grumble about problems and just demand they be fixed, and I'm leaning in.