I tried to get to know the people trying to rob me

Courtesy YouTube/Scammer Payback. Indian phone scammers in their offices.

Lucy called me on Friday to steal my money.

That isn’t her real name and, technically, she didn’t call me. The automated system used by her Delhi-based call center did. Lucy was merely the “officer” on duty the system routed me to when I pressed #1 after an automated message:

“This is the Social Security Administration Department. You social security is suspended. Please call to avoid penalties authorized by US Government Agencies and Laws.” The mistakes are intentional. It was bad. Somehow the robo-voice had an accent. As scam calls go, this was comically bad so far. …


America’s “omnibus ballot” is an outlier among democracies and may be driving down voter participation

Contrary to what nearly every observer, and participant, of American elections says, America doesn’t really have low voter turnout. It does have relatively low voter registration and low institutional trust at the moment. We may be able to fix that by asking Americans to vote less, not more. Americans are asked to vote far more than other developed democracies — sometimes more than twice a year and often multiple years in a row — and this may be exhausting the American voter. Maybe Americans don’t register to vote because we’re expected to do too much.

The common story goes something…


America’s misinformed war on vaping is helping tobacco companies, increasing crime, and hurting public health.

After decades of declining smoking rates among all ages, smoking is going up again. A combination of life in lockdown and a media inexplicably hostile to safer alternatives has been pushing Americans back to cigarettes. To save lives anti-smoking advocates need to step back and look at harm reduction instead of prohibition to save lives. Hyperbolic rhetoric attacking electronic cigarettes is not defending public health — it’s causing public harm.

Wilting sales of tobacco

Tobacco companies lost more money than usual in 2019. They’d been losing money and customers for decades but that year the trend accelerated. Altria, one of…


Either money isn’t as important as we thought in politics or Democrats are really bad at spending it

Votes are still being counted but even if the 2020 election isn’t quite over yet, the campaigns themselves are over. Yes, in many places lawyers are sharpening their teeth to contest results and election officials are preparing for recounts, but there are no voters to court, no mailers to design, no signs to wave. The algorithms in charge of our TV commercials and online-ads are already fazing out insane politics for inane products. It’s over.

Those algorithms were kept busy in 2020, as fundraising and spending records of all kinds were broken as candidates, campaigns, and advocacy groups vied for…


Alaska’s polling difficulties have not been overcome — be careful in trusting polls that paint the state purple.

A view of the Chugach Mountains from inside Anchorage.

New polls out of Alaska are fueling progressive hopes for a Democratic swing in the 2020 election. Harstad Strategic Research released survey results this week suggesting that Republican incumbents US Senator Dan Sullivan and President Donald Trump are leading their Democratic rivals by only one point each. This would be huge, if true. However, it probably isn’t.

Aside from sometimes writing about Alaska politics, I worked in and around the 49th State’s political scene for a number of years. As a legislative staffer in the State House in Juneau, political campaign staffer and consultant, communications director for one of the…


Wikimedia Commons

While war is by definition destructive, it is also perversely constructive; often proving the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.’ During the Vietnam War, the US military utilized a number of innovative techniques to keep soldiers safe. As an Air Force officer recounted in the Armed Forces Journal in 1971: “We wired the Ho Chi Minh Trail like a drugstore pinball machine and we plug it in every night.”

The Army and Marines used ammonia-detecting “ people sniffers” to watch for enemy personnel movements. Perhaps most imaginative was the seismic intruder detection devices dotting the jungles that could double…


The yellow vest and pension reform protests in France portend issues that most industrialized nations will have to face sooner or later

France has spent much of the last seventeen months embroiled in chaos. French President Immanuel Macron has asked the French people to be more French — and pay even higher taxes than they already do — and to be more American — and work longer hours before retirement. These mutually contradictory requests have predictably ticked off the French people, many hundreds of thousands of whom have spent over a year protesting in the streets of over 100 cities all over France. …


A combination of cash and intimidation is keeping online creators in China compliant, quiet, or kicked out of the country.

Franco isn’t a typical Chinese name. Which made the email that J.J. McCullough, a Canadian YouTuber and conservative columnist, opened last May all the more peculiar. “Hi McCullough, Just watched your videos, and we thought it would be a great to place our content, we wonder if you want to help us upload this video to your youtube channel? And for that, we will support your youtube channel for $500” [sic] read the email. Attached was a video which can charitably be described as pro-Chinese government content; a less generous description might be clumsy propaganda.

J.J. was confused. He’d never…


Image source: Getty

Christopher Ahn is awaiting extradition from the US to Spain. He is accused of a crime that he doesn’t necessarily deny taking part in. According to Ahn, a former US marine, in February last year, he and 10 other people were invited into the North Korean embassy in Madrid by a senior official who wanted to defect from the regime. But according to the Spanish and North Korean governments, Ahn and his group forced their way into the embassy with guns, tied up the staff and vandalised the offices.

Adrian Hong, the alleged leader of the embassy invasion, has been…


Congress just turned millions of young, mostly poor, Americans into lawbreakers

There are criminals and there are criminals. Philosophers and theologians and social workers theorize about their origins; what makes a criminal? Are they all the same? Are some people just born larcenous and violent? Are they products of a hard world, reacting to circumstances beyond their control in the only way they can assert control? Nature or nurture; it’s an old argument and society has tried various ways to address it, with often ugly consequences for public policy and the citizens who have to live under it. There is one broad swath of criminals, however, that are definitely created. …

Thomas Brown

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