fighting back

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Liberals are cribbing from the conservative playbook, writes Josh Gerstein, who sees a "post-election scramble to build a liberal version of Judicial Watch is underway:"

In a series of meetings held in the weeks since Trump's election, liberal activists have been debating how to mount that fight. Some believe it makes sense to create a new entity that can use the courts and the legal system to keep the new administration in check. [...]

Others say there's no shortage of left-leaning groups that regularly file Freedom of Information Act suits and are sure to keep it up under Trump: the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen and more.

For now, the leading contender to assume the role of a liberal Judicial Watch is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an organization founded in 2003 with an announced goal of rooting out government corruption.

"Building CREW into a behemoth that could rival Judicial Watch," however, "will be an uphill battle:"

Buoyed by its anti-Clinton work, the conservative group's contribution revenue surged to a record $35.4 million in 2015, according to a tax filing provided to POLITICO. CREW, by contrast, received just under $2.2 million in donations last year. Judicial Watch has about a dozen lawyers on staff. CREW has four.

Perhaps Democrats should adopt the GOP's anti-Obama strategy from 2009, as demonstrated in the Economic Report of the President. This chart of state and local spending is particularly revealing:

20161216-statespending.jpg

Needless to say, Republicans feverishly opposed all attempts at economic stimulus because they didn't want the economy to get too much better. That might have helped Obama's reelection chances, you see.

Oh well. Bygones. I'm sure Trump will fix everything.

The lackluster recovery from the Great Recession is the cost of conservative obstructionism, a fact that we need to never stop pointing out.

charter culture

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Charter schools and the culture of compliance cause ThinkProgress to worry about "the cultural identity of the students these schools say they serve:"

Although charter schools differ in their approach to school culture, many popular charter school networks, such as Success Academy, the Knowledge Is Power Program, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and STRIVE Prep, embrace a strict "no excuses" approach to learning, where respect of authority is important and students always wear school uniforms.

Christopher Emdin, author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education reminds us that "There is a false attachment between being complicit and docile to being academically rigorous." The article continues by mentioning that "strict adherence to rules also negatively affects special education students:"

A 2014 Center on Reinventing Education report looked at special education in charter schools, and STRIVE and Uncommon Schools in New York specifically. The report found that although few parents of students with disabilities left the school due to the strict rules, "Nearly every parent we spoke with in Denver and New York City said they were attracted to the school's discipline and expectations but felt the stress of repeated phone calls and teacher meetings when their child struggled inside these structures."

The report also found that the STRIVE charter network overall and general education teachers in particular needed more training to understand the best range of responses to students with disabilities. Teachers at STRIVE struggled to modify practices for students when classroom structures triggered students who have trouble managing their behavior, according to the report.

UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies made this remark in a report:

"Although beyond the scope of this report, the possibility certainly exists that some charter schools are artificially boosting their test scores or graduation rates by using harsh discipline to discourage lower-achieving youth from continuing to attend."

The FBI sat on Hillary's email to impact the election, writes Darrell Lucus:

You may recall that on Wednesday, this writer was the first to report that professor and attorney Seth Abramson had amassed what appears to be compelling evidence that FBI agents conspired to derail Hillary Clinton's campaign and throw the election to Donald Trump. Specifically, in the 24 days after FBI agents discovered emails from one of Hillary's senior aides, Huma Abedin, on the laptop of her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, they found the time to tell agents investigating Hillary's email server before telling FBI director James Comey to get a warrant for the emails. The agents investigating the server, in turn, illegally leaked information about the emails to Rudy Giuliani, a top Trump aide.

Well, on Thursday afternoon, more evidence came to light that proves there's a rank odor surrounding the events leading up to Comey's now-infamous letter to Congress-a move that almost certainly cost Hillary the Electoral College. Abedin's lawyers claim that the FBI never told their client that it was getting a warrant for the emails it discovered.

"The agents knew they needed a warrant for those emails," Lucus writes, "and yet couldn't find the time to alert Comey that they needed one until just two weeks from Election Day:"

They couldn't find the time to interview Abedin, let alone get her a copy of the warrant. However, they found the time to tell the agents working on the Hillary email server case. The agents working on the Hillary case, in turn, leaked the information to one of Trump's closest advisers. What's wrong with this picture? [...]

At this point, you at least have to wonder if this wasn't just unprofessional conduct, but a deliberate attempt to throw the election to Trump.

"Useful idiots galore" is the assessment of Paul Krugman:

On Wednesday an editorial in The Times described Donald Trump as a "useful idiot" serving Russian interests. That may not be exactly right. After all, useful idiots are supposed to be unaware of how they're being used, but Mr. Trump probably knows very well how much he owes to Vladimir Putin. Remember, he once openly appealed to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's emails.

Still, the general picture of a president-elect who owes his position in part to intervention by a foreign power, and shows every sign of being prepared to use U.S. policy to reward that power, is accurate.

"I'm not talking about some kind of wild conspiracy theory," Krugman explains:

I'm talking about the obvious effect of two factors on voting: the steady drumbeat of Russia-contrived leaks about Democrats, and only Democrats, and the dramatic, totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies. [...]

The F.B.I. literally found nothing at all. But the letter dominated front pages and TV coverage, and that coverage -- by news organizations that surely knew that they were being used as political weapons -- was almost certainly decisive on Election Day.

AlterNet's Janet Allon asks, "Is Krugman mad?" and responds:

Very, as we all should be. The only worse outcome would be if somehow Election 2016 turned out to be the new normal. That would make all of us useful idiots.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum assures Bernie's fans that Sanders would have lost in a landslide:

Could Bernie Sanders have beaten Donald Trump? I think there's almost no chance of that, but since the topic keeps coming up, I feel like I ought to explain why. I know this won't persuade anyone, but the reason is simple: he's just too liberal.

20161216-landslide.jpg

No Democratic candidate with a score below 15 has ever won the presidency. Bernie Sanders, needless to say, is way below 15. There's not a snowball's chance that he could have won the presidency.

complicit?

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AlterNet offers us a dire 100-day prediction from Travis Nichols, expressing a fear that "If Trump is sworn in as president, there will be a terrorist attack on U.S. soil within his first 100 days. [Editor's note: Or anytime early in his term; the results would be the same.]:"

In response to this terrorist attack, pundits will say America must rally behind the president, that we must put the disputed election, the CIA intelligence of tampering, the bruised egos and hurt feelings behind us and come together to fight the outside threat. And we'll do it, and Trump will no longer be the unpopular buffoon in office with a giant asterisk and no mandate. He will be entrenched on the throne.

There is historical precedent from that most Trumpian of places--Russia:

In the fall of 1999, just months after then-unknown former FSB agent Vladimir Putin had been sworn in as prime minister of Russia, someone began bombing apartment buildings.

"Putin, the uniquely unqualified newcomer to political office, became a global authoritarian" and promised retribution:

Since those fateful days, experts around the world have come to agree that the Russian government was complicit in the terrorist bombings that swept Putin into power.

For more details, see this American Interest article.

two retirements

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The Institute for Policy Studies report "A Tale of Two Retirements" prompted Mother Jones to report that saving for retirement is a struggle--unless you're a CEO:

The study, titled http://www.ips-dc.org/report-tale-two-retirements/ "A Tale of Two Retirements," found that in 2015 just 100 CEOs had retirement funds worth $4.7 billion--equivalent to the entire retirement savings of the least wealthy 41 percent of American families, or 116 million people. [...]

Those 100 CEOs have nest eggs large enough to generate a retirement check of more than $250,000 per month for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, the average American fortunate enough to have a 401(k) plan has socked away only enough to receive a monthly check of just $101. And those are the lucky ones: 37 percent of all US households have no retirement savings at all.

"So how has this happened?"

Simply, the tax rules are structured in favor of massive executive retirement packages. Ordinary workers face strict limits on how much pre-tax income they invested in tax-deferred plans like 401(k)s. (The current limit is $18,000.) CEOs may participate in regular employee plans, but they also get Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans, which Fortune 500 companies set up with unlimited tax-deferred compensation. Since more than half of executive compensation is tied to stock price, CEOs have direct incentives to cut back on worker retirement benefits to pad their balance sheets. The money saved by those cost-cutting measures goes straight back into executives' pockets, often tax-free: Corporations may deduct unlimited amounts of executive compensation from their federal taxes so long as it's "performance based."

The IPS report asks, "Why has the CEO-worker retirement benefit gap become such a chasm?" and answers:

This is not the result of executives working harder or investing more wisely. Instead, this gap is one more example of rule-rigging in favor of the 1%.

After getting screwed by trickle-down economics our entire working lives, retirement is salt in the wound.

indivisible

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Wil Wheaton wants us to be indivisible against Trump, noting that "There's a lot of triumphant 'get over it you Libtard you lost' going around:"

I understand that. I get it. It's shitty, and it's obnoxious, but I understand that impulse. In 2008, I felt so relieved that President Obama was elected, because I felt like it was a chance to repair a lot of the damage done by the Bush/Cheney administration. I really wanted to believe that voters -- that America -- had repudiated Bush and Cheney. The vote totals certainly told us that. The polling certainly told us that. Unfortunately, when President Obama had majorities in both houses of congress, and progressive policies could be passed with relative ease (relative to the unprecedented obstructionism that was to come), the Democrats and the president didn't really seem that invested in doing that. They seemed to be infuriatingly focused on "healing the country," and making the Republicans who ran deceitful, hateful campaigns feeel better, which is something that right wingers always call for when they lose elections. Hey, how did appointing Republican James Comey to head the FBI work out for you? And taking that public option off the table? Letting Lieberman off without any consequences? All good, right? Yeah.

"If you thought those shitbags were obnoxious when they were relegated to the gutter where they belong," he says with no small amount of frustration, "just wait and see how terrible they can really get" because "the simple fact is that Republicans play to win, and fuck the rules because rules are for losers and Democrats:"

Republicans never let facts get in their way, (climate change and voter fraud come to mind) so even though Trump and his basket of douchebags can not claim any real and meaningful mandate, they will govern like they have one.

One infuriating example is that "Congressional Republicans who couldn't fund enough investigations into every breath Hillary Clinton took are suddenly too busy to look into Russian meddling in the election:"

Jason Chaffetz, who promised "years of investigations" if Hillary Clinton was president just doesn't think it's a big deal to find out what Trump knew and when he knew it. And who cares if Trump's nominee for Secretary of State has no experience with diplomacy, is close friends with the leader of a hostile foreign country, and has consistently put the interests of his company ahead of America's national interest? They're finally going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with ... something. Maybe. The important thing is, they won, and they put that uppity bitch Hillary Clinton in her place.

Wheaton recommends "Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda" [updated link] as motivational reading; here is part of their message:

The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs [Members of Congress] to reject President Obama's agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism -- and they won.

We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda -- but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.

Their reasoning for compiling the guide is worth reading as well:

We wrote this guide because we believe that the coming years will see an unprecedented movement of Americans rising up across the country to protect our values, our neighbors, and ourselves. Our goal is to provide practical understanding of how your Members of Congress (MoCs) think, and how you can demonstrate to them the depth and power of the opposition to Donald Trump and to Republican congressional overreach.

"This isn't going to be easy," concludes Wheaton, "but we have to start fighting back right now. If we don't, we are fucked."

Trump's fight with the CIA is one example of "the 'rift' between the incoming administration and the intelligence community"--and also one that "has deep roots in the history of the American right:"

From the earliest days of the Cold War, right-wing populists have distrusted the CIA and the broader intelligence community, believing that its allegiance to professionalism covered up a liberal bias. This hostility has flared up time and again, starting with the controversies around McCarthyism in the early 1950s, resurfacing during assessments of Soviet military capabilities in the 1970s, and appearing again in disputes over whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In each of these cases, the right organized to challenge the CIA's claim of expertise and tried to replace the agency's consensus with a much more politicized and ideological view of reality.

The piece observes of Trump that "there's little doubt that he shares his predecessors' philosophy that professionalism is not the path to truth, but an enemy of reality:"

The right-wing populist believes what his or her gut tells them, while the professional analyst tries to root their findings in information and knowledge. Thus, Trump allows his uninformed instincts on Russia to overrule the CIA's intelligence-based conclusions. He denies that climate change is real, or blames it on China. He is skeptical of vaccines. More broadly, he's appointing cabinet members who will be hostile to environmentalism, the theory of evolution, and drug testing.

ThinkProgress notes that Gingrich's desire to trash the New Deal is still strong, as seen in his Heritage comments that "this is the third great effort to break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model." ThinkProgress continues:

Yet the thrust of the speech was that Trump has opened the door to a transformative moment where nearly a century's worth of liberal victories can be reversed. Gingrich twice brought up the possibility of rolling back Roosevelt's model of governance, at one point telling the conservative audience that, if Trump is succeeded by another Republican, that would establish "firmly that we have replaced the FDR model and that we are now in a period of very different government."

So what is this "FDR model" that Gingrich finds so odious? Roosevelt took office amidst a catastrophic depression, but he also assumed power at a time when a conservative majority on the Supreme Court choked off progressive legislation, especially laws intended to protect workers. These rigid limits on governance, FDR proclaimed a month before he accepted his party's nomination to be president, would hobble the nation's ability to extract itself from the Great Depression.

FDR's successes were, of course, legion:

Roosevelt's experiments also provided workers with a minimum wage and a right to unionize. And he signed the Social Security Act, which didn't just provide a safety net to the aged and the unemployed, but which also laid the foundation for health legislation such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Roosevelt's experiments brought modern liberalism into being in the United States, and they helped liberals prove that their model works.

Dissent's look at the triumph of the 1% illuminates other facets of the problem:

The election of Donald Trump, and the daily infliction of another huckster, ideologue, paranoid, or unrepentant one-percenter cabinet appointment, has upended the politics of inequality. The defining issue of our time, not an insignificant source of Trump's victory, is disappearing from the national political radar. [...]

By all indications, the incoming administration is not just indifferent to the root causes--growing wage inequality, financialization, the collapse of progressive taxation--but eager to double down on all of them.

The new analysis ["Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States" (PDF)] explains, yet again, where all the surplus goes:

Well, a large chunk of it is captured by the top 1 percent, whose share of national income almost doubled between 1970 and 2014--from 11 percent to 20.2 percent.

"What this means, in general terms," the analysis continues, "is the growth of inequality over decades is due to the ability of the 1 percent to capture a large portion of the growing surplus:"

But there has also been a change in the nature of that inequality in recent years--which is not due to escalating wages at the top, but to a boom in income from the ownership of stocks and bonds. The high incomes of the "working rich," it seems, have increasingly been used to purchase financial assets.

It looks then as if the working rich are either turning into or being replaced by rentiers--thus mirroring, after a short interruption, the structure of inequality last seen during the first Gilded Age.

update (13:54):
Thomas Piketty explains at The Wire that "on both the Right and the Left, everyone seems to agree on the existence of a minimum income around this level in France, as is the case in other European countries"--but not the US, of course. "If we wish to live in a fair and just society," he writes, "we have to formulate more ambitious objectives which cover the distribution of income and wealth in its entirety and, consequently, the distribution of access to power and opportunities:"

To move towards fair pay, we must stop denigrating the role of trade unions, the minimum wage and salary scales. We should reconsider the role assigned to the employees' representatives. In countries where they play an active role on the executive boards - between one third and half of the votes in Sweden and Germany - we find a narrower range of salary scales, greater investment of the employees in the firms' strategy and, as a consequence, higher productivity. In addition, there is nothing to prevent us from imagining original forms of power-sharing, with the board members being elected by a combination of employees and shareholders (to go beyond the interaction between paid administrators and shareholders with the latter automatically holding the majority).

Democracy is even more dangerous to authoritarians when employed at work than it is at the ballot box.

not moving on

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Rep Collins (R-NY) thinks we should ignore Russian pro-Trump hacking, stop investigating, and "move on" to unite behind Putin's preferred candidate:

He keeps yammering about how "the truth came out," but I have to wonder--in light of viral bullshit like this--what "truth" is he talking about? MPS blogger tengrain takes great issue with Collins' brushing off concerns about Russian election trickery:

Listen here, you ignorant troll. People are not aghast at what was in the hacked DNC emails, they are aghast that Republicans are in bed with Russia. It takes a lot of nerve to blame the DNC for being hacked.

We have a Constitutional crisis: this is very likely a Russian coup overthrowing the United States government without firing a single shot. And you want us to get over it?

Until we can investigate and prove otherwise, we have an illegitimate election that resulted in an illegitimate presidency. We have a Russian Usurper as a president-elect; it's serious.

No, we will not move on and unite behind Moscow. Anyone who blocks an investigation of what happened is an accomplice after the fact. You should be ashamed of yourself.

boosting his brand

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Newt Gingrich delivered a speech on "Trumpism" today at the Heritage Foundation, commenting that "all these people in the news media" don't understand Trump:

"One of the great disgraces of the propaganda media we have, all of us on the right should describe it the propaganda media, drop the term 'news media' until they earn it, and begin to realize that the propaganda media cannot come to grips with the level of talent that they're dealing with," he said.

TNR writes that Gingrich is "already deifying Trump:"

"He's in the tradition of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and Ronald Reagan," Gingrich said, "and by that I mean, in every case, they believed in the American people, they aroused the American people, and they led the American people to victory over entrenched powerful interests."

TNR makes the frightening observation that "much of what Gingrich lauds about Trump is precisely what makes the president-elect so vile, and so dangerous to democracy:"

Gingrich devoted a great deal of time to Trump's media manipulation this year, saying only Lincoln utilized the press as effectively in his political rise. But the speaker shamelessly celebrated one of the great tragedies of this year's election--the way cable news routinely broadcast Trump rallies not for their civic value but for their ratings boost. [...]

Gingrich laughably said Trump is assembling "what may be the smartest cabinet of modern times," but his most ridiculous riff was about how Trump "could have gone to Mar-a-Lago and hidden" when he realized American needed him. "He could have gone to fifteen different golf course and hidden," he said. Yet Trump "voluntarily decided to go into the public arena." How heroic.

It's easy to imagine what Gingrich might get out of all this puffery masquerading as historical analysis. Maybe he gets an administration position. Maybe he becomes an even closer adviser to Trump. If nothing else, it should help sales of his e-book and garner some subscriptions to his newsletters--"Free, by the way," he told the Heritage crowd. It's the Trump era, after all, and the president-elect isn't the only one with a brand to boost.

disappearing data?

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WaPo's Brady Dennis informs us that "scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference:"

In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. [...]

Those moves have stoked fears among the scientific community that Trump, who has called the notion of man-made climate change "a hoax" and vowed to reverse environmental policies put in place by President Obama, could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government's repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country.

There is, sadly, historical precedent for just this sort of disappearing data:

Climate data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been politically vulnerable. When Tom Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information, and his colleagues published a study in 2015 seeking to challenge the idea that there had been a global warming "slowdown" or "pause" during the 2000s, they relied, in significant part, on updates to NOAA's ocean temperature data set, saying the data "do not support the notion of a global warming 'hiatus.'"

In response, the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), tried to subpoena the scientists and their records.

Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, commented:

"If you can just get rid of the data, you're in a stronger position to argue we should do nothing about climate change."

Anabelle Bernard Fournier writes that even straight people should explore their sexuality:

Research into the development of heterosexual identity in young adults shows that the most secure and happiest heterosexual individuals actually came to adopt this identity through exploration and experimentation.

One particular study by Sally L. Archer and Jeremy A. Gray, published in the journal Identity in January 2009, showed that heterosexual people with the highest sexual satisfaction and happiness were those who had consciously explored their sexuality.

"We can come to a few conclusions about having a healthy sexuality," she writes, "based on this study:"

The first: sexual exploration is healthy. The participants who had explored different options for their sexual identity scored the highest on sexual health measures. It means that taking an active part in choosing your own sexual identity is a good way to ensure that you'll have a happy sexual life.

Another conclusion coming from the study is that there is no difference in gender when it comes to identity achievement and foreclosure [and] sexual exploration is as common in men as in women.

This is good news. It means that for men, exploring sexual identities is more acceptable than it used to be. There is much less stigma attached to men trying on and exploring sexual identities; the heterosexual identity is not as widely assumed as it used to be.

The third and last thing I want to note from this study is that sexual exploration leads to better sexual decisions.

I've used a food analogy before: If we never stepped out of our comfort zones to try something new, we'd still be drinking breast milk (and/or formula) for sustenance. How many favorites things would we be slighting by doing so--and why should [adult, consensual] sexuality be any different?

Before taking a look at the study and its conclusions, here is a brief vocabulary lesson on the four identity statuses:

Diffusion is represented by a lack of exploration and commitment. Foreclosure is represented by commitment without benefit of exploration of alternatives. Moratorium is signified by the presence of exploration with a desire for commitment in the near future. Identity achievement is characterized by an exploration of alternatives that results in a commitment that feels right to the individual.

The following point, in line with other observations about sexual fluidity, struck me as particularly relevant:

Men were significantly more likely to be committed without exploration (foreclosed) about sexuality [...] whereas many women appeared to be seriously weighing options.

Eliason's 1995 study of "self-identified heterosexual university students in the United States" noted that:

...the majority of narratives reflected a foreclosed or diffuse process of establishing the participants' sexual identities. In line with the default notion of heterosexuality, the most common theme of the narratives was the statement that the participant had never thought about his or her sexual identity.

"false flag" at Fox

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John Bolton is suggesting that Russian hacking is a Democratic false-flag op. "This afternoon on Fox News," John Marshall reports, "John Bolton, the expected incoming Deputy Secretary of State suggested that reports of Russia hacking intervention in the 2016 election may actually be a false flag operation." Here are some tidbits from Bolton's interview with Eric Shawn:

BOLTON: It's not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation. [...]

SHAWN: For those who are bothered by your claim of a potential false flag, that's very disturbing as an American.

BOLTON: We would want to know who else might want to influence the election and why they would leave fingerprints that point to the Russians.

Has he been studying the Alex Jones playbook?

The Intercept's Robert Mackey writes that disinformation, not fake news, got Trump elected--reminding us that "a man with an assault rifle had stormed into a Washington pizzeria to 'self-investigate' an online conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence." Mackey writes, "I decided to confront some of the alt-right bloggers who had played a role in spreading the hoax on the social network:"

I'll admit there was something quixotic about the premise behind my intervention, namely the hope that people who have devoted hundreds of hours to spreading falsehoods intended to boost Donald Trump by tarnishing Hillary Clinton would suddenly transform into responsible adults when confronted by the dangerous behavior of a man who mistook the fantasy they peddled for reality.

But watching the campaign of disinformation that lifted Trump to the presidency continue and even accelerate after Election Day poses an obvious challenge for professional journalists, whose careers are dedicated to the premise that facts matter.

He quotes Sharif Silmi, who was at Comet Ping Pong with his family when the "self-investigation" occurred:

I hold @RogerJStoneJr and @RealAlexJones responsible for putting my family in danger today at the @cometpingpong -- Sharif Silmi, Esq (@bayreef) December 4, 2016

Mackey notes that "it is important to realize that the phenomenon we are confronting here is not simply fake news of the sort peddled for profit by apolitical entrepreneurs on Facebook:"

This is something different: a hoax created and released into the darker reaches of the internet for the express purpose of damaging the reputation of the Democratic candidate for the presidency.

When shoveling bullshit leads to flying bullets, we must do more to combat it.

Trump has been skipping daily intelligence briefings, because he believes that he doesn't need them:

"I get it when I need it," Trump said of intelligence reports. "I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. ... But I do say, 'If something should change, let us know.'"

Crooks and Liars writes that "A man who didn't even know that Russia had already invaded the Ukraine is a man who needs more information, not less:"

The Presidential Daily Brief has, in one form or another, been given to the president and other relevant Executive branch personnel since 1961. That's over half of a century.

The purpose of the briefing is to give the Commander-in-Chief a synopsis of important intelligence events, including updates on previous intelligence releases. We can actually look at PDBs from several administrations at the CIA. I've looked at several. They're not large, they don't take much time, and they all contain something new, relevant, and important.

Let's all take a moment to reflect upon what happened the last time we had a president who dismissed intelligence briefings with "All right, you've covered your ass now."

political cowardice

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Jonathan Chait observes in Trump and the triumph of the Will to Power that "Russian hacking played a meaningful enough role to tilt a razor-tight contest:"

Friday, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded well before November that Russia specifically sought to elect Trump. [...] The CIA could have leaked its conclusion before November, but held off. The FBI should have held off on leaking its October surprise, but plunged ahead.

Chait notes with dismay that "Very little will come of this:"

...except perhaps that future presidential campaigns may have to account for the political risk of offending the Kremlin when devising their Russia stance (lest they be targeted by hackers). When all the smoke has cleared away and the outrage dissipated, the bottom line will be that Russia set out to influence the U.S. election, and Republicans in Congress decided not to speak out against them, and both their calculations were rewarded.

That is one reason why David Masciotra excoriates Trump's winner-take-all wasteland. Among the events that provoke his ire is the "horrific" spectacle of Mitt Romney "speaking to reporters after his recent dinner with Donald Trump:"

During the presidential primary, Romney gave an impressive address to Republicans warning against the dangers of a Trump nomination. "His imagination must never be wedded to real power," the former governor stated with conviction in the same speech in which he called the current president-elect a "phony" and "fraud." [...]

Now, he has status and influence to gain by crawling around on all fours at Trump's feet. After disgracing himself at a private dinner to discuss his potential appointment as secretary of state, he made a meek attempt to offer the phony effusive praise. Romney gushed over Trump's strength of leadership, his policy ideas and his potential to solve America's problems. His tone of voice was weak and noncommittal -- similar to a political spouse who claims everlasting support for her husband who takes the microphone to admit guilt in a sexual scandal. His eyes kept darting toward the pavement, but the real terror came when he managed to look into the lens of the camera. The windows of his soul appeared empty. There was a deadness to his stare that should send chills down the spine of anyone contemplating a life of artificiality.

Ouch! One could almost feel bad for the odious Romney--except for his being, you know, Mitt Romney.

The piece continues by noting with sadness that "history has marched forward to the election of the nation's ultimate hustler to the presidency:"

Donald Trump, a transparently self-serving businessman with no background or interest in republicanism, will represent the United States to the entire world. More than 60 million voters overlooked his record in fraud, his bankruptcies and his grotesque character defects, because he embodies the lucrative hustle -- "the art of the deal" as he calls it in a book that is ethically and philosophically empty. Donald Trump could effectively present himself as a populist, because the worship of wealth is part of populism in America, [...]

Romney fell right into the pattern of hustling when he transitioned from eviscerating Trump to genuflecting toward him.

Mark Ames notes that WaPo's blacklist appears to be linked to Ukrainian fascists:

What the Washington Post did in boosting an anonymous blacklist of American journalists accused of criminal treason is one of the sleaziest, and most disturbing (in a very familiar Kremlin way) things I've seen in this country since I fled for home. The WaPo is essentially an arm of the American deep state; its owner, Jeff Bezos, is one of the three richest Americans, worth $67 billion, and his cash cow, Amazon, is a major contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency. In other words, this is as close to an official US government blacklist of journalists as we've seen--a dark ominous warning before they take the next steps.

"WaPo's key source," Ames writes, "was an anonymous online group calling itself PropOrNot (i.e., "Propaganda Or Not"):"

The Washington Post cited PropOrNot as a credible source, and granted them the right to anonymously accuse major American news outlets of treason, recommending that the government investigate and prosecute them under the Espionage Act for spreading Russian propaganda.

Because the PropOrNot blacklist of American journalist "traitors" is anonymous, and the Washington Post front-page article protects their anonymity, we can only speculate on their identity with what little information they've given us.

Amanda Marcotte sees fake news spiraling out of control, although it remains "a big deal:"

Recent research suggests that the proliferation of conspiracy theories and other urban legends, vaguely disguised as real news and disseminated widely on social media, played a significant role in helping elect Donald Trump as president.

She notes that "the problem, at least in recent years, is much worse on the right:"

The hoaxers, conspiracy theorists and urban-legend generators have also become far more sophisticated than they used to be. Instead of disseminating their bullshit through ALL-CAPS emails and poorly designed right-wing blogs, they have learned to package urban legends with photos and headlines to create articles that look indistinguishable from legitimate news sources.

"Now that we know fake news is not harmless [after the Comet Ping Pong incident]," she continues, "what can we do about it?"

How should reality-based humans react when they encounter people spreading fake news stories on Facebook or hear someone sharing a dangerous urban legend in person? [...] Conspiracy theories aren't born from rational thought processes, and therefore can't really be addressed or debunked through rational thought processes.

"A lot of Americans hold what we call 'magical beliefs,' beliefs that are not substantiated by empirical evidence or contradict empirical evidence," said Eric Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, in a phone interview. "Magical beliefs serve as emotional palliatives. They are ways to explain the world that actually make us feel better."

This explanation is particularly evocative:

As an example, Oliver talked about his son's fear of monsters, which is the grade-school version of fake news.

"My 5-year-old, I tell him there's no monster in the closet," Oliver said. "And he says, 'If there's no monster in the closet, why am I afraid?'" [...]

"There's no amount of reasoning that's going to convince the 5-year-old there's not a monster in the closet," Oliver said. "What they're looking for, at that point, is acknowledgment that they're having this emotional experience."

The problem, though, is that emotions aren't self-justifying. How much placating to fear is necessary here: How far away from correspondence with reality must they get before we can call it a problem?

CounterPunch's CJ Hopkins looks at the process of manufacturing normality and asks, "Who's behind this "fake news" menace?"

Well, Putin, naturally, but not just Putin. It appears to be the work of a vast conspiracy of virulent anti-establishment types, ultra-alt-rightists, ultra-leftists, libertarian retirees, armchair socialists, Sandernistas, Corbynistas, ontological terrorists, fascism normalizers, poorly educated anti-Globalism freaks, and just garden variety Clinton-haters.

Hopkins writes that "what we are experiencing is the pathologization (or the 'abnormalization') of political dissent, i.e., the systematic stigmatization of any and all forms of non-compliance with neoliberal consensus reality:"

Political distinctions like "left" and "right" are disappearing, and are being replaced by imponderable distinctions like "normal" and "abnormal," "true" and "false," and "real" and "fake." Such distinctions do not lend themselves to argument. They are proffered to us as axiomatic truths, empirical facts which no normal person would ever dream of contradicting.

However, he continues, "binary oppositions like 'real' and 'fake,' and 'normal' and 'abnormal,' denote nothing:"

They are weapons deployed by a dominant group to enforce conformity to its consensus reality. This is how they're being used at the moment. [...]

In any event, we can all look forward to some serious pathologization of dissent throughout the coming four (and perhaps eight) years. And I'm not referring to Trump and his boys, though I'm certain they'll be in there slinging it too. I'm referring to our friends in the corporate media [who] will be monitoring liberals' every thought to ensure that fascism does not get normalized ... which God have mercy should that ever happen. Who knows how America might end up? Torturing people? Attacking other countries that pose no threat to it whatsoever? Indefinitely imprisoning people in camps? Assassinating anyone the president deems a "terrorist" or an "enemy combatant" with the tacit approval of the majority of Americans? Surveilling everyone's phone calls, emails, tweets, and reading and web-browsing habits?

Imagine the dystopia we would all be living in ... if things like that were considered "normal."

Joseph Natoli's rumination as to whether fake news is subjective quotes Jean Baudrillard and eventually admits that "This all amounts to a very sad situation:"

The scientific method is still around; empirical and rational methodologies are still around. And yet we are now have suddenly stuck our head through a curtain, like John Bunyan's pilgrim, and see nothing sacred or reliable beyond our own subjective responses, as if an objective world we could all rationally determine had vanished and what we now see are conspiracies of truth manipulation supported by equally spurious facts and evidence. Much of this fragmentation of truth and the methods and words that reveal it have been bred and nurtured in cyberspace where everything indiscriminately finds a place. A great democratization not unlike the chaos of an abyss.

TPM reminds us that repealing Obamacare would mean a big tax cut for the rich:

Two taxes that will be presumably axed with the law affect only those making $200,000 or more. The break the ACA repeal will bring to those taxpayers will amount to a $346 billion tax cut in total over 10 years, according to the CBO report on the 2015 repeal legislation GOP lawmakers say they'll be using as their model next year. [...]

"That $346 billion represents about $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Every cent will go into the pockets of people making more than $200,000 per year," [University of Michigan law professor Nicholas] Bagley wrote. [...]

The taxes in question are known as the Medicare tax on higher income individuals and the net investment income tax. The former is a 0.9 percent tax placed on those who earn $200,000 or more individually (or $250,000 for married couples who file jointly). It comes on top of the Medicare payroll tax employees pay together with their employers, but only applies to the income that exceeds the $200,000 threshold.

The net investment income tax is a 3.8 percent levy meant to complement the Medicare payroll tax, since investment income was not previously taxed in that way. It applies on investment income, such as such as capital gains, dividends and interest income, for those making $200,000 or more.

A Tax Policy Center report found that the repeal of the net investment income tax would equate to $154,000 in annual savings for earners in the top 0.1 percent.

Regarding another of Trump's impending disasters, Paul Krugman writes of his "Make America Gasp Again" nominee to head the EPA that "Trump can indeed restore the world of the 1970s:"

He can, for example, bring us back to the days when, all too often, the air wasn't safe to breathe. And he's made a good start by selecting Scott Pruitt, a harsh foe of pollution regulation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Make America gasp again!

"The key point," Krugman continues, "is that better air didn't happen by accident:"

It was a direct result of regulation -- regulation that was bitterly opposed at every step by special interests that attacked the scientific evidence of harm from pollution, meanwhile insisting that limiting their emissions would kill jobs.

These special interests were, as you might guess, wrong about everything. The health benefits of cleaner air are overwhelmingly clear. Meanwhile, experience shows that a growing economy is perfectly consistent with an improving environment. In fact, reducing pollution brings large economic benefits once you take into account health care costs and the effects of lower pollution on productivity.

Meanwhile, claims of huge business costs from environmental programs have been wrong time and time again. This may be no surprise when interest groups are trying to maintain their right to pollute.

AlterNet points out that "The only slim consolation Krugman can find is that dirty air is a lot more visible and obvious than climate change and Americans will know exactly who to blame for it."

Peter Dreier analyzes the professor watchlist and gives it an F for accuracy:

It's easy to laugh at the error-riddled attacks on professors now being circulated on a new right-wing website, but such propaganda campaigns foreshadow more serious assaults on the First Amendment under a President Trump.

I'm one of the roughly 200 professors listed on the Professor Watchlist, which claims to "expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students." It was launched on November 21, two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president. It is sponsored by a right-wing group called Turning Point USA and run by a 22-year conservative named Charlie Kirk. [...] Fox News, the Daily Caller, and other parts of the right-wing echo chamber celebrate it as a useful tool for exposing the allegedly "liberal" atmosphere on college campuses.

If the Professor Watchlist were a research paper, I'd give it an F. Much of the information about me on the Watchlist is simply untrue.

"The Professor Watchlist," Dreier continues, "is a good example of our increasingly 'post-truth' culture, which is primarily the consequence of several decades of persistent right-wing propaganda:"

The Watchlist offers no evidence that I discriminate against conservative students, and that's because there isn't any. [...] At the beginning of each semester, I tell students up front that even though I'm a progressive, "I prefer smart conservatives to stupid liberals."

Like [the McCarthite pamphlet] Red Channels, the Professor Watchlist is riddled with lies and disinformation, but it could have the effect of chilling dissent and free speech if college and university faculty feel intimidated or threatened.

Dreier concludes:

Although it might be easy to dismiss the Professor Watchlist as the amateurish rantings of a few extreme conservatives, we cannot ignore its potential as a harbinger of efforts by Donald Trump and his ilk to suppress free speech and dissent, which, if successful, would undermine our democracy and make it possible for bullies and tyrants to rule, perhaps even with the unwitting consent of the governed.

Raja Halwani wonders is sexual desire objectifying, and hence morally wrong? Halwani discusses Kant, who "implicitly acknowledged the unusual power of sexual urges and their capacity to divert us from doing what is right:"

He claimed that sex was particularly morally condemnable, because lust focuses on the body, not the agency, of those we sexually desire, and so reduces them to mere things. It makes us see the objects of our longing as just that ¬- objects. In so doing, we see them as mere tools for our own satisfaction.

"Sex doesn't just make you objectify your partner," Halwani continues, "It also makes you objectify yourself:"

When I am in the grip of sexual desire, I also allow another person to reduce me to my body, to use me as a tool. Kant saw this process of self-objectification as an equally, if not more, serious moral problem than objectification directed outwards. I have duties to others to promote their happiness, but I also have a duty to morally perfect myself. Allowing myself to be objectified opposes this precept, according to Kant.

Halwani concludes, "I agree with Kant that sexual desire and objectification are inseparable, and a force that morality must reckon with."

A fundamental case of the lopsided world of political propaganda is that "liberals never take the bait" of fake news:

Given the proliferation of fake news, NPR spent some time tracking down one of the kings of this new industry in order to find out more.

Jestin Coler, owner of the fake news site Denverguaridan.com, commented:

"We've tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You'll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out."

Meanwhile, Will Oremus implores us to stop calling everything fake news:

Fake news is a real, specific problem. But in all the furor around who's making it, who's sharing it, its impact, and how to stop it, it's easy to lose sight of something more fundamental: what it is. The broader the definition, the less useful the concept becomes--and it's already verging on counterproductive.

He notes with disdain that "the top fake news stories are often shared even more widely than the actual news [while] right-wingers stopped ignoring the fake news discussion and began to co-opt the phrase as a synonym for liberal bias:"

...throwing the term fake news back at the mainstream media allows the right-wing fringe not only to insult their specific targets, such as CNN, but to devalue the term itself and along with it the idea that there is any clear distinction between truth and fiction. It's no surprise that those on the right who have embraced the meme most enthusiastically include conspiracy-mongers such as Infowars, which built its reputation by suggesting that the U.S. government helped orchestrate the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks. We're now faced with a grim irony in which mainstream news outlets reporting on "Pizzagate" as a fake news story are themselves being labeled fake news outlets by the conspiracy theorists that propagated it. [emphasis added]

At this point, no one can stop right-wing nuts from attaching fake news as an epithet to every CNN report that bothers them. But there may still be time for the reality-based community to find enough common ground to tackle the original problem. If we can't collectively find a way to counter misinformation so egregious that even its authors admit it's a hoax, the outlook for the media--and the truth--in the Trump era is bleak indeed.

Pentagon waste

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WaPo explains that when confronted with $125 billion in military waste, the Pentagon tried to bury the report "amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget:"

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified "a clear path" for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

20161206-pentagonbureaucracy.jpg

Salon's Matthew Rozsa reminds us that "the Pentagon's $125 billion waste alone would be enough to fund the world's third-most expensive military:"

Pentagon leaders ... became concerned that the study would prompt politicians in the White House and Congress to cut their budget instead of giving them more money for the projects they wanted, the Post reported. The study was suppressed and its data subjected to secrecy restrictions.

Richard Eskow, who notes that Trump's grift gave government to the 0.01 percent, sees the endemic "economic fear and distress [as] a breeding ground for grift:"

Studies like those conducted by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research confirm what professional con artists have always known: people in financial distress are easier marks. And make no mistake about it: Donald Trump is a con artist. Trump voters have been taken in by a grift so shameless he might as well have pretended to be calling from the IRS.

Trump was always a Trojan horse for the 0.01 percent. And now he's forming a government of, by, and for the very elites he campaigned against.

"Trump's administration is already the wealthiest in history," he continues, but "It's not just their wealth that distinguishes Trump's team from the vast majority of Americans:"

It's their class exclusivity. Trump has largely drawn from people who, like him, were born into wealth and privilege. This insularity, combined with the heartlessness of the policies they espouse, makes it even less likely that they will empathize with -- or even understand -- the problems of ordinary people.

Most of them have never experienced hard times. And judging from their policy positions, they can be counted on to have about as much empathy for working people as Leona Helmsley's dog. [...] Here's Trump last February, speaking about his primary opponent Ted Cruz:

"I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over (Cruz). Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton."

What a difference a few weeks make. Key Trump picks from Goldman Sachs include Steve Mnuchin, Trump's pick for Treasury Secretary; his political czar, Steve Bannon; his transition advisor Anthony Scaramucci; and even Cohn, who is seen as a possible top hire.

Those picks are no better than billionaire Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary or ExxonMobil's CEO as Secretary of State:

It's becoming clear that Trump plans to give direct control of the government to the people who have indirectly ruled us for decades, thanks to an over-financialized economy and a government whose policies are guided by the desires of oligarchs.

The new boss is indeed the same as the old boss, as Trump's team of fake populists and real crony capitalists reveals his duplicity. "After playing to the country's populist mood as a candidate," WaPo writes, "Trump has surrounded himself almost exclusively with corporate elites:"

Trump has loaded up his transition and Cabinet-in-waiting with members of the establishment he claimed he would crush. Trump's team, with few exceptions, is filled by the "swamp creatures" we'd expect in virtually any Republican administration.

WaPo's conclusion is brutal:

Like the contractors he stiffed throughout his career, millions of working-class voters may soon learn that Trump has no intention of fulfilling his campaign's red-meat promises. One way to hold him accountable is for the media to spend less time gawking at Trump's tweets and more time exposing the greed and cronyism that are already poisoning his administration.

Buzzfeed's look at where Trumps gets his news reveals many problems:

Since winning the presidential election, Donald Trump has reportedly skipped out on the majority of his intelligence briefings; this past Sunday, Trump made headlines after sharing false information blaming his loss of the popular vote on mass voter fraud -- a claim previously reported by the conspiracy news site Infowars. It's been widely reported that Trump is an obsessive consumer of cable news ... [...]

To better understand Trump's media consumption, BuzzFeed News turned to the president-elect's largest source of public proclamations and shared news: Twitter. While Trump's media consumption and methods appear opaque and unconventional, the stories he chooses to share with his now 16 million-plus followers offer a unique window into the news and commentary that catch his eye.

"BuzzFeed News reviewed 26,234 of Trump's 34,062 tweets," the piece continues, as well as "the 2,687 hyperlinks tweeted by Trump's personal Twitter account since he announced his candidacy in June 2015:"

The news stories Trump tweets share several characteristics: 1) They often favor sensationalism over facts and reporting; 2) They frequently echo direct quotes from Trump himself or his closest advisers; and 3) They routinely malign his enemies and vindicate his most controversial opinions.

"During campaign season," Buzzfeed continues, "Trump shared more Breitbart links to his more than 15 million followers than any other news organization:"

Trump's preferred content seems to be right-leaning, hyper-partisan sites and opinion blogs including Daily Caller (21 links), Newsmax (18), the Gateway Pundit (14 links), the Conservative Treehouse (11), the Political Insider (1), Conservative Tribune (1), Infowars (1), newsninja2012.com (5), and westernjournalism.com (1).

"Frequently, stories shared by Trump from hyper-partisan outlets sacrifice facts for convenience of narrative," which helps explain why "engagement from his account outperformed Hillary Clinton's substantially:"

In the three months leading up the election day (Aug. 9 to Nov. 8), Clinton's account tweeted 2,449 times with an average of 3,964 retweets; Trump tweeted 587 times with an average of 10,863 retweets.

Kevin Baker dismantles the myth of the smug liberal by writing that "The most irritating media trope to emerge in the aftermath of Donald Trump's election is the idea that it was a rebuke to 'condescending' liberals who live in our own 'bubbles' [as noted here]:"

The whole idea that liberals live nowhere but in their own bubbles has become such a commonplace that it was turned into a (pretty funny) Saturday Night Live sketch. Yet at last count, well over 65 million Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, which would make for a helluva lot of bubbles across this country.

Significantly, Baker notes that "we were the ones whose candidate ran on the slogan, 'Stronger Together':"

It wasn't us who went to rallies in shirts that read, "Trump That Bitch," or shouted, "Lock her up!" We were the ones who wanted to talk about how we could all move forward, not who we could demonize, or deport. Our candidate was the one with the laundry list of practical, immediate ideas about how to help Americans knocked flat by the global economy, instead of some vague palaver about how one man alone could fix the modern world. So who, exactly, is living in the bubble?

That's a valid question--and one which I haven't seen answered in any way that would benefit conservatives.

Politico's Michael Grunwald sees GOP obstructionism as a lesson for Democrats in the age of Trump, noting the House GOP's post-2009-inaugurational "strange celebration of defeat:"

The Democrats had just drubbed them at the polls, seizing the White House and a 79-seat advantage in the House. The House had then capped President Barack Obama's first week in office by passing his $800 billion Recovery Act, a landmark emergency stimulus bill that doubled as a massive down payment on Obama's agenda. Even though the economy was in freefall, not one House Republican had voted for the effort to revive it, prompting a wave of punditry about a failed party refusing to help clean up its own mess and dooming itself to irrelevance.

But at the House GOP retreat the next day at a posh resort in the Virginia mountains, there was no woe-is-us vibe. The leadership even replayed the video of the stimulus vote--not to bemoan Obama's overwhelming victory, but to hail the unanimous partisan resistance. The conference responded with a standing ovation.

"I know all of you are pumped about the vote," said Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip. "We'll have more to come!"

The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything.

Their unified obstructionism, writes Grunwald, "helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016," as "Unprecedented intransigence has yielded unprecedented results:"

The Republicans had real philosophical differences with Obama about the size and scope of government, and many viewed their resistance as a principled return to the GOP's limited-government roots after a spending spree under Bush. But they also filibustered and voted in lockstep against previously uncontroversial Obama priorities, like extended unemployment benefits, expanded infrastructure spending, and small-business tax cuts. Senate Republicans even turned routine judicial nominations into legislative ordeals, filibustering 20 of his district court judges--17 more than had been filibustered under all of his predecessors.

Grunwald quotes a "senior Obama aide" who offers this comment: "I guess obstructionism works. It sure worked for them."

Blue Lies Matter

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In The Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong and Sam Levin write about how the Standing Rock protesters are holding out against extraordinary police violence:

Police violence against Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota has risen to extraordinary levels, and activists and observers fear that, with two evacuation orders looming, the worst is yet to come.

A litany of munitions, including water cannons, combined with ambiguous government leadership and misleading police statements, have resulted in mass arrests, serious injuries and a deeply sown atmosphere of fear and distrust on the banks of the Missouri river.

"Police have acknowledged," they write, "using sponge rounds, bean bag rounds, stinger rounds, teargas grenades, pepper spray, Mace, Tasers and a sound weapon:"

The explosive teargas grenades in use at Standing Rock have been banned by some US law enforcement agencies because they indiscriminately spray people, Lederman said.

"I feel like Morton County law enforcement is experimenting on us," Black Elk said. "It's like they received all this free military equipment and they're just itching to try it out."

H/t to Richard Stallman for the "Blue Lies Matter" title, which seems far more appropriate in this situation than the quaint "Protect and Serve" slogan.

bursting bubbles

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David Masciotra discusses the ideological bubbles and wonders, don't all American live in their own little worlds?

It is likely true that many liberals live insulated lives of cultural and intellectual isolation, but it is equally true of conservatives. The construction of a bubble around an individuated life is part of human nature, but with typical idiocy and hypocrisy, American culture has issued a one-way, exclusive indictment against isolation for liberals and no one else. To condemn people of progressive politics for insular thinking and living is the equivalent to prosecuting a petty shoplifter for theft, while ignoring the bank robbery spree of a modern-day John Dillinger. Liberals, by any criteria, are the mildest offenders.

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that a rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right-wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award-winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

"The entire framework of the 'bubble' conversation reinforces, unintentionally or not," Masciotra continues, "the bias that the 'real America' is white, rural and Christian:"

White Christian conservatives, according to what appears is the dominant assumption, have no bubble to escape because they have ownership over the social norms and cultural conventions of American identity. The atheistic, lesbian nurse in Chicago or the Muslim schoolteacher in Los Angeles should not have the expectation that the "real America" will make accommodations to understand her, but she does toil under the pressure to appreciate the "real America," even as mainstream discourse implies that she is not part of that parochial precinct.

His conclusion is spot-on:

White Christian conservatives, especially outside major metropolitan areas, occupy their own bubbles and from the distorted view of their self-imposed ignorance mistake the media as representative of all liberals and adopt the posture of persecution. Their false sense of oppression -- visible every December with protests against the "war on Christmas" -- inspires them to act defensively against anything that strikes them as "un-American."

Just as many right-wing Christians believe they are soldiers in a cosmic war between God and the devil over the fate of the universe, they also believe that they are the last line of defense against the destruction of the "real America."

They could check out the "Real American" majority in this country--all those communities that voted (with an impressive surplus of votes) to put Hillary Clinton in the White House. Pretending that most Americans are some variety of "un-American" is perhaps the most noxious bubble of all.

In writing about Carrier's crony capitalism, Bernie Sanders explains that corporations have figured out how to roll Trump:

In exchange for allowing United Technologies to continue to offshore more than 1,000 jobs, Trump will reportedly give the company tax and regulatory favors that the corporation has sought. Just a short few months ago, Trump was pledging to force United Technologies to "pay a damn tax." He was insisting on very steep tariffs for companies like Carrier that left the United States and wanted to sell their foreign-made products back in the United States. Instead of a damn tax, the company will be rewarded with a damn tax cut. Wow! How's that for standing up to corporate greed? How's that for punishing corporations that shut down in the United States and move abroad?

In essence, United Technologies took Trump hostage and won. And that should send a shock wave of fear through all workers across the country.

He continues by reminding us that "I said I would work with Trump if he was serious about the promises he made to members of the working class:"

But after running a campaign pledging to be tough on corporate America, Trump has hypocritically decided to do the exact opposite. He wants to treat corporate irresponsibility with kid gloves. The problem with our rigged economy is not that our policies have been too tough on corporations; it's that we haven't been tough enough.

In an assessment that should surprise no one, Nicholas Napier pegs Trump's picks as comprising the richest cabinet in history:

Remember when President-elect Trump attracted working class voters by promising to "Drain the Swamp" of establishment politicians and wealthy Wall Street bankers?

As evidenced by Trump's picks, he's convinced that a cabinet full of billionaires will know what's best for a country where the average household earns $52,250 per year.

The three billionaires identified include Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), and Todd Ricketts (Deputy Secretary of Commerce). Napier continues:

Trump rewarded his wealthy contributors with positions of power, and he isn't the first. However, for a campaign that was run touting the needs of the uneducated working class, it's hard to believe that a team comprised of the wealthiest people ever to work in government will have his voters' best interest in mind.

Over at Crooks and Liars, shelleyp asks, how much damage can they do?

If we were to search for the absolute best leaders for the different cabinet positions in the White House, we'd find Trump's picks directly opposite them. A cabinet leader should support the mission of his or her cabinet, and seek to ensure it operates to the best of its ability. Trump's picks have been, almost universally and vehemently, opposed to both the work and the premise of the organizations they've been picked to lead.

She continues:

In the Department of the Interior, requirements related to resource allocation can be relaxed. This could lead to more coal, gas, and oil leases, trees cut for timber, more acreage for cattle grazing permits, not to mention opening up mining where it was previously disallowed on public land.

Enforcement of existing water and air regulations can be discouraged, to allow more agricultural and industrial pollution. Fewer endangered species will make it to the lists, and to the protection they need.

She sees hope in a rather unusual place:

What will be the primary saving grace from the destruction these ill-equipped, fanatical leaders can bring?

Bureaucracy.

Federal departments and agencies are large, with big budgets, and considerable responsibility. How the organization operate is guided by procedures and rules that have been in place for decades, if not centuries. For the government to function, it can't go through a complete upheaval every four years. It can't be completely undermined by an incapable President and his ill-considered choices. Bureaucracy is the basis for maintaining a functioning government.

Most of Trump's picks are inexperienced, and ill-equipped for their jobs. Meanwhile, the work in the federal agencies and departments is done by career employees, who understand what they need to do to keep things running and fulfill the obligations of their job. Though these employees can be severely hindered in what they do, especially with budget cuts, they're also capable of slowing, or even stopping, permanent harm.

It's not an inspiring call to arms, but it may well mitigate the damage.

trans voices

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Tyler Ford's piece on my life without gender [from August 2015; I'm a bit late to it] is quite an intriguing read. Ford relates that, "At 17, I was sitting in a psychology class when I found myself admiring a girl in the corner of the room:"

Instead of feeling relief upon discovering that I was what other people would call a lesbian, I felt guilt, as though I were an impostor. I knew I was not like the girl I admired from the back of the classroom. I was not like any girl I had ever known. I did not know any more than this.

Ford continues with the observation that, "Learning about the existence of transgender people for the first time, at college, allowed me to start imagining a future for myself:"

Researching trans issues became a round-the-clock hobby: instead of going to class, I endlessly watched videos of trans men at various stages in their transitions, read blogs about gender identity, researched the effects of hormones, and tried to piece together my identity and my future. After eight months of exploration, I decided I wanted to start hormone replacement therapy, and I started coming out to friends and family as a transgender man.

"I came out to myself as a non-binary person," Ford continues, "someone who does not identify with either binary gender (man or woman). [...] I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now:"

To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don't know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn't. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.

As fetching as Ford's miniskirts are, trans bodybuilder (and former Marine, world champion powerlifter and father to three sons) Janae Marie Kroczaleski reminds us that there are other ways to be trans. Here are some interview excerpts:

When was the first time you told someone you felt different?

I never said a word about it to anyone until I was 23.

In the Marines, a few of my buddies sensed there was something different about me. Even though I found women attractive, dating relationships were always very difficult. I was always an alpha male and a leader -- someone who had to be top dog. But when it came to relationships I was very uncomfortable in the male role. It took a long time until I could put two and two together, and it was confusing and frustrating.

Today, you describe yourself as gender-fluid or nonbinary. How do you describe that?

It means I don't fit neatly into our male-female system. [...] So right now I don't really fit into any of the boxes society tries to put us in regarding gender or sexuality. I think it's going to take a unique partner to find me attractive -- whether that's a woman, a man or someone like me.

I've always been powerfully attracted to women and so far, I haven't felt a connection with a man like that; but if that were to happen I would be open to it. These days I am much less concerned about "what" someone is and am more interested in who they are.

If I think something is going to make me happy, I have no problem following the adventure.

The ever-wonderful Janet Mock declares that we will not be forced to be silent, writing that "we're going to have to fight. But we've always being fighting:"

"What we have to do is ensure that all those people who are othered, whether they're disabled folks, trans folks, undocumented folks, queer folks, women--that everyone bands together to stand up in power, saying we will not be forced to be silent," Mock explained. "We will not have our rights taken away. We will develop deep coalitions that are intersectional, that are deliberate, that are clear about the kind of world and kind of country we want to live in."

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