Uganda’s harsh new attack on LGBTQ+ rights

The president of that nation has signed into law tough new measures aimed against the LGBTQ community.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, drawing Western condemnation and risking sanctions from aid donors.

Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as in more than 30 African countries, but the new law goes further.

It stipulates capital punishment for “serial offenders” against the law and transmission of a terminal illness like HIV/AIDS through gay sex. It also decrees a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality.

A presidency photo of Museveni showed him signing the law with a golden pen at his desk. The 78-year-old has called homosexuality a “deviation from normal” and urged lawmakers to resist “imperialist” pressure.

A local organisation, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, and 10 other individuals later filed a complaint against the law at the constitutional court, one of the petitioners, Busingye Kabumba, told Reuters.

Museveni had sent the original bill passed in March back, asking parliament to tone down some provisions. But his ultimate approval was not seen as in doubt in a conservative country where anti-LGBTQ attitudes have hardened in recent years, in part due to campaigning by Western evangelical church groups.

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DeSantis may have misjudged the tide

Ron DeSantis finally made his big announcement about running for the Republican nomination for president and the reviews about his launch were decidedly negative. As Susan Glasser writes, apart from the technical glitches which plagued the process that he chose to do on Twitter along with Elon Musk, DeSantis did not even give a clear indication of what he was hooping to achieve as president.

The start of the Twitter Spaces event featuring DeSantis and Twitter’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, was delayed by more than twenty-five minutes while Musk audibly struggled to get his new platform to work. But just as wretched was what DeSantis had to say once he started talking, both on Twitter and in a subsequent interview on Fox News, which boiled down to a lot of complaints about the “legacy media” and little rationale for his candidacy.

The really vital question posed by DeSantis’s official entry into the 2024 race was not, after all, whether Twitter could handle a large crowd in its Spaces feature without crashing. (Answer: no.) It was whether DeSantis could revive his Presidential prospects and actually emerge as the Republican to take out Trump.

After DeSantis’s nineteen-point reëlection victory, last November, he looked to be the Republican Trump-beater at last, a younger, sharper, smarter version of the forty-fifth President—without the nasty Twitter habit and all the legal troubles. Subsequent exposure suggests he’s also Trump without the charm. In recent months, DeSantis has been sinking rather than surging in the polls, as his many missteps, from thuggishly retaliating against Disney to signing an unpopular six-week abortion ban into law, have given Trump and his allies much to feast upon. DeSantis doesn’t look like so much of a Trump-beater anymore. The ex-President, whose lead in the G.O.P. primary is back up into double digits over DeSantis, remains an overwhelming front-runner. DeSantis, meanwhile, will go into the history books for one of the worst and least competent campaign launches ever. Ouch.

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Texas attorney general impeached and suspended from office

Ken Paxton has been one of the most right wing and belligerent of Trump’s supporters, advancing all manner of propositions of the MAGA agenda including legal challenges to the results of the 2020 election which was, of course, thrown out. He also seems to be very arrogant and corrupt, with 10 years of investigations and charges pending, so much so that we had that rare event, where Republicans filed 20 articles of impeachment against a fellow Republican and then the body voted in favor, requiring him to be suspended from office, pending a trial by the Texas senate.

Many articles such as this one were irritatingly short of details. They said that the vote in favor of impeachment 121-23 and that the senate needs a two thirds majority to convict him and that his wife is a member of that body but gave no further breakdowns, requiring me to search for them.
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The complex story of Jessica Watkins

On Friday, US district judge Amit Mehta handed down two more sentences to Oath Keepers for their role in the January 6th, 2021 events, following the 18 year sentence given earlier to its leader Stewart Rhodes. One of those sentenced was army veteran Jessica Watkins, a transgender woman, who was given eight years and six months in prison.

The name Jessica Watkins was familiar to me because I had long been aware of Watkins’s role in the events. Micah Loewinger, a reporter for On The Media, and Hampton Stall, the founder of MilitiaWatch, had been tracking the activities of the Oath Keepers and monitoring the walkie-talkie app Zello that was used for militia recruiting and organizing. They listened in as the riot was unfolding. As far back as in January 13, 2021, just a week after the riot, Loewinger and Stall reported how she figured prominently in the conversations of the mob that day, issuing instructions to others on what to do.

The Zello user who described breaking into the Capitol building appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio, who admitted to participating in the insurrection. Watkins told the Ohio Capital Journal she was the leader of a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and a member of the national Oath Keepers militia.

“We have a good group: 30 to 40 of us. We’re sticking together and sticking to the plan,” the female voice is heard saying on Zello as they were walking toward the Capitol. “The police are doing nothing. They’re not even trying to stop us.”

The Ohio Capital Journal also identified Watkins as one of a line of Oath Keepers pushing their way through the crowd on the steps of the Capitol toward the east entrance of the building. She can be seen toward the back of the line in livestream footage taken at the deadly event wearing battle rattle. Moments later a stream of pro-Trump insurrectionists poured inside.

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Tentative debt ceiling deal reached

House speaker Kevin McCarthy and his Republican negotiators have reached a deal with Joe Biden and Democratic negotiators over a deal that would raise the debt ceiling to carry it over until 2025, i.e. after the next election. There still remains the task of having the deal passed by both houses of congress before the X-date of Monday June 5. It is scheduled for the first vote in the house on Wednesday, May 31.

I am no federal budget expert but on the surface it seems like a deal that could just as easily have been arrived at without all this brinkmanship. This article outlines what is in it.
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How the internet went to hell and what to do about it

The internet is a mixed bag. While it has been an exceptional vehicle for increased communication and information access, it has also spawned a whole host of problems such as enabling the rapid spreading of misinformation and hate, and as big tech monopolies have used it grow their profits at the expense of the user experience.

Brooke Gladstone, the host of the radio program On The Media had an excellent conversation with Cory Doctorow, special advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on what happened to the internet and what can be done about it. It took place over three weeks. You can listen to the podcasts and also read transcripts of each episode by clicking on the links but be warned that the transcripts are done by machine and these tend to be fraught with poor punctuation, homophone mistakes, are other errors that require listening to the podcast to correct.

In Part 1 (20 minutes) they discuss why every platform goes bad and why going online feels evermore more repellent—or as he calls it, the “enshittification” of online platforms.

He gives the example of Amazon’a business model.

So step one, buyers or end users are lured in with a good offer, but they’re also locked in with subtle things that keep them from leaving if the offer gets worse. And then things are made worse for the buyers to make things better for the sellers and bring in lots of sellers. But they too are locked in. And once you have buyers and sellers who are locked in and can’t leave, all of the good stuff is taken away from both of them. Life is made worse for them and life s made infinitely better for the shareholders who own the platform, in this case, Jeff Bezos and his pals.

One such offer is the so-called ‘free shipping’ of Amazon Prime which really means that you have prepaid for shipping. Once you have signed on, you tend to keep buying from that same source even as it gets worse because you do not want to waste that free shipping, which was never free. As long as it does not get too infuriating, you tend to remain.

Big companies have used such tactics for ages but the internet has made this practice much easier to implement, with just a few clicks of a mouse.
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The government will run out of money by June 5th

As of Thursday’s close, the amount of cash in the government’s account was just $38.837 billion, the lowest it has been since the current debt ceiling crisis began. To get a sense of how small that figure is, it is less than the net worth of 31 individuals in the US, even though the size of US economy is of the order of $27 trillion. Or if one wanted to look at it another way, it is also an indicator of the obscene wealth accumulation in the US that allows individuals to have more than the government has in its cash account.

Treasury secretary Janet Yellen warned some months ago that the government would run out of money sometime around June 1. Skeptics accused her of scaremongering and that the so-called X-date would be much later, maybe even in July or August. It is hard to estimate the exact date since revenues and expenditure vary on a day-by-day basis. But it is beginning to look like she was pretty accurate and yesterday she provided a much firmer date, and that it would be June 5th.

“Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government’s obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5,” she wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Yellen’s new estimate contains more specificity than her earlier guidance. “By June 5,” she said in Friday’s letter, whereas her last two letters to Congress suggested a little more uncertainty — “as early as June 1” was the phrasing she used. 

The exact timing of the so-called “X-date,” when the U.S. will not be able to pay its bills, has a degree of uncertainty, as the Treasury Department tracks money coming into and leaving its coffers. 

“We will make more than $130 billion of scheduled payments in the first two days of June, including payments to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients. These payments will leave Treasury with an extremely low level of resources,” Yellen wrote.

She noted the Treasury Department is scheduled to make an estimated $92 billion in payments and transfers the week of June 5 and said the government would not have adequate resources to satisfy all of its obligations. 

So here we are, on the brink again.

It is a crazy way to run the economy.

Remember the dress color controversy?

Back in 2015, there was this interesting phenomenon about people seeing a photograph of a dress and coming down sharply on two different sides of what colors the dress was, with some saying it was white and gold and others that it was blue and black.

This short video explains what is going on and this phenomenon shows dramatically that our perception of color is not due exclusively to the spectrum of light wavelengths that is reflected off the image and enters our eyes, and thus entirely objective, but also depends on the way that our brain processes sensory input which in turn depends on factors such as the context in which the image is embedded, and thus has a subjective element as well.

Oath Keepers get stiff sentences for role in January 6th riot

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and head of the Oath Keepers organization that was involved in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th 2021, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being found guilty of seditious conspiracy.

Rhodes, 58, is the first person convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack to receive his punishment, and his sentence is the longest handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

It’s another milestone for the Justice Department’s sprawling Jan. 6 investigation, which has led to seditious conspiracy convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups authorities say came to Washington prepared to fight to keep President Donald Trump in power at all costs.

In a first for a Jan. 6 case, the judge agreed with the Justice Department that Rhodes’ actions should be punished as “terrorism,” which increases the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. That decision could foreshadow lengthy sentences down the road for other far-right extremists, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who have also been convicted of the rarely used charge.
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Government cash balance drops below $50 billion

As of the close on Wednesday, the government’s cash on hand had dropped to just $49.473 billion, the lowest value since the current debt ceiling brinkmanship by the Republican congress began.

That should give some urgency to the process of increasing the debt ceiling but there are mixed signals coming from the on again-off again talks between the speaker of the House of Representatives and the White House, with some suggesting progress and others suggesting major obstacles, though the two position are not mutually exclusive.

As details leak about an emerging bipartisan debt deal just days before a possible default, House conservatives are growing increasingly unhappy.

One of the concerned lawmakers was Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who has repeatedly stated he didn’t want anything less than what the House GOP passed as their debt plan last month.

McCarthy “doesn’t have the 218 on that unless he gets Democrats,” Norman said of the emerging proposal, noting he saw the list from Burchett. “If he gets Democrats, that’s a telltale sign.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) echoed Norman, citing concerns about “rumors” of a potential deal that would raise the debt ceiling for more money and more time than Republicans wanted — and “for a whole lot less in return that we need.”

“If that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt-ceiling increase,” he said.

These signals should not be taken too seriously since such leaks may be part of the negotiating process, as each side seeks to ramp up the pressure.

One thing I have noticed is that although McCarthy and his allies regularly keep issuing statements thus keeping their point of view in the news cycle, Joe Biden has not been doing the same. This seems like a mistake.