January 2016 Archives

Here's a long excerpt from David Corn's look at Ted Cruz's "Satanic tones" and conservative victimhood:

I don't know about Brooks, but I was besieged on Twitter by conservatives who hurled angry how-dare-you tweets at me. Some accused me of committing a hate crime (the victims: Christians). But this was yet another exercise of false right-wing outrage, and a demonstration of rather poor reading comprehension on the right.

This phony brouhaha was triggered when Newshour host Judy Woodruff asked Brooks and me to evaluate recent developments in the GOP presidential primary. Brooks went first:

Ted Cruz is making headway. There's--you begin to see little signs of liftoff. Trump has sort of ceiling-ed out. Carson is collapsing. And Cruz is somehow beginning to get some momentum from Iowa and elsewhere. And so people are either mimicking him, which Rubio is doing a little by adopting some of the dark and satanic tones that Cruz has, and so--

Woodruff interrupted Brooks at this point to ask about his use of the word "satanic," and Brooks explained:

Well, if you go to a Cruz--if you watch a Cruz speech, it's like, we have got this enemy, we have got that enemy, we're going to stomp on this person, we're going to crush that person, we're going to destroy that person. It is an ugly world in Ted Cruz's world. And it's combative. And it's angry, and it's apocalyptic.

At that point, with this article in mind, I chimed in to point out that Cruz's father, an evangelical pastor who officially campaigns for Cruz, truly does believe and promote satanic conspiracies, claiming in a recent speech that Lucifer was responsible for the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision:

Well, actually, if you go to a speech from his dad, who is a pastor, evangelical, Rafael Cruz, it actually is satanic. He--I watched a speech in which he said Satan was behind the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.

"As you can see," explains Corn, "neither one of us called either Cruz 'satanic':'

Brooks did use the word "satanic" to describe Cruz's tone, but he meant that Cruz pitches an apocalyptic message of good versus evil, light versus dark. Which he does. And I then explained that his father, who has been recruiting religious leaders to support his son's campaign, does indeed see political and policy developments he opposes as the handiwork of Satan. That is, the elder Cruz, who routinely resorts to fiery fundamentalist rhetoric, often labels his (and his son's) foes as "satanic," noting that they're being manipulated by the Evil One. Neither Brooks nor I suggested that Ted or Rafael Cruz are serving the Dark Lord.

The points we made were not that hard to understand. Yet conservatives--perhaps driven by their antipathy to the RINO-ish Brooks--quickly tried to manufacture a fake controversy. I wonder if the devil made them do it.

Politico looks at Trump's economic plan:

Many economists say Donald Trump's proposals -- from big import tariffs to mass deportations -- would hurt the very demographic that supports him in the greatest numbers: less educated voters struggling in a tepid U.S. economy.

If Trump policies actually went into effect, these economists say, prices for goods lower-income Americans depend on could soar and a depleted low-end labor force could trigger a major downturn.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics and an adviser to McCain in 2008, bluntly states that "If you force 11 million undocumented immigrants to leave in a year, you would be looking at a depression:"

If 11 million immigrants were rounded up and removed from the country, many of the jobs they do -- including restaurant, hotel and low-end construction work -- could go largely unfilled, economists say. That would create a large and immediate hit to gross domestic product growth and the effects would ripple out to companies that supply goods and services to all those businesses. There would also be 11 million fewer people consuming goods and services, further driving down economic activity.

As far as tariffs go, "Trump is really harkening back to the outdated mercantilist positions of hundreds of years ago."

Judd Legum notes in ThinkProgress' look at Powerball and other lotteries that "The next Powerball drawing, scheduled for Wednesday, will be worth about $1.3 billion to the winner. This is projected to be the biggest lottery payout in the history of the world:"

The odds of winning any lotto jackpot are extremely low. And that means people spend a lot of money without getting much, if anything, back. Players lose an average of 47 cents on the dollar each time they buy a ticket.

And it's those who can least afford to lose any money who are most likely to be buying tickets.

The use of lottery receipts for socially-worthy state goals tends to fail, anyway:

Part of the problem is that lottery revenue tends to be unstable and hard to predict over the long term, while it can only rise so much given that residents can only buy so many tickets. It's also easy for lawmakers to move the money away from priorities like education to anything else, like plugging budget holes.

Lotteries promise the low-income people who make up the biggest portion of ticket buyers that they'll win either through a payout or increased services. But most of the time, neither is true. As one study put it, "lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals' desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations."

culture and suicide

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Chris Hedges writes about the great forgetting, reminding us that "Ignorance and illiteracy come with a cost:"

The obsequious worship of technology, hedonism and power comes with a cost. The primacy of emotion and spectacle over wisdom and rational thought comes with a cost. And we are paying the bill.

The decades-long assault on the arts, the humanities, journalism and civic literacy is largely complete. All the disciplines that once helped us interpret who we were as a people and our place in the world--history, theater, the study of foreign languages, music, journalism, philosophy, literature, religion and the arts--have been corrupted or relegated to the margins. We have surrendered judgment for prejudice. We have created a binary universe of good and evil. And our colossal capacity for violence is unleashed around the globe, as well as on city streets in poor communities, with no more discernment than that of the blinded giant Polyphemus. The marriage of ignorance and force always generates unfathomable evil, an evil that is unseen by perpetrators who mistake their own stupidity and blindness for innocence.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump may be boorish, narcissistic, stupid, racist and elitist, but he does not have Hillary Clinton's carefully honed and chilling amoral artifice. It was she, and an ethically bankrupt liberal establishment, that created the fertile ground for Trump by fleecing the citizens on behalf of corporations and imposing the neoliberal project. If she is elected, Trump may disappear, but another Trump-like figure, probably even more frightening, will be vomited up from our cultural and political sewer.

"There was a time, a few decades ago, when the work and thought of intellectuals and artists mattered," he continues, but today "new independent, brilliant and creative minds...are locked out:"

And this has turned our artistic, cultural and intellectual terrain into a commercialized wasteland. I doubt that a young Bruce Springsteen or a young Patti Smith, or even a young Chomsky, all of whom exhibit the rare quality of never having sold out the marginalized, the working class and the poor, and who are not afraid of speaking truths about our nation that others will not utter, could today break into the corporatized music industry or the corporatized university. Sales, branding and marketing, even in academia, overpower content.

T.S. Eliot warned us in "What Is a Classic?" that, as Hedges paraphrases, "a civilization that did not engage with its greatest artists and intellectual traditions, that did not protect and nurture its artistic and intellectual patrimony, committed suicide." I apologize for the awkward segue, but Aaron Swartz's "Against School" at TNR (an excerpt from his book The Boy Who Could Change the World) dovetails into Eliot and Hedges:

Despite all the talk about educators and education priorities, the most important people in any school have always been businessmen. They constantly complain that our schools our failing, that they need to cut out modern fads and go "back to basics," that unless schools get tougher on students American business will be unable to compete.

As Richard Rothstein [of the Economic Policy Institute] has shown, such claims are hardly new. Because schools have never been about actual education, businessmen have been easily collecting studies about their failure at this task since the very beginning.

He rails against the "cover story" that "schools are about teaching people the things they need to know to survive in the world of business:"

It's not true, of course--there's no connection between the facts memorized in school and the skills needed on the job--but the story is convincing enough.

And so the spread of schools and factories destroys the American model of freedom. Instead of being independent farmers or self-employed manufacturers, Americans are herded into factories en masse, forced to work for someone else because they cannot earn a living any other way. But thanks to schools, this seems normal, even natural. After all, isn't that just the way the world works?

Why should one spend precious off-the-job time becoming educated when intellectualism is so devalued?

In discussing the Obama Boom, Paul Krugman asks, "What did Mr. Obama do that was supposed to kill jobs? Quite a lot, actually:"

He signed the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, which critics claimed would crush employment by starving businesses of capital. He raised taxes on high incomes, especially at the very top, where average tax rates rose by about six and a half percentage points after 2012, a step that critics claimed would destroy incentives. And he enacted a health reform that went into full effect in 2014, amid claims that it would have catastrophic effects on employment.

Yet none of the dire predicted consequences of these policies have materialized. It's not just that overall job creation in the private sector -- which was what Mr. Obama was supposedly killing -- has been strong. More detailed examinations of labor markets also show no evidence of predicted ill effects. For example, there's no evidence that Obamacare led to a shift from full-time to part-time work, and no evidence that the expansion of Medicaid led to large reductions in labor supply.

So what do we learn from this impressive failure to fail? That the conservative economic orthodoxy dominating the Republican Party is very, very wrong.

His summation is golden:

From a conservative point of view, Mr. Obama did everything wrong, afflicting the comfortable (slightly) and comforting the afflicted (a lot), and nothing bad happened. We can, it turns out, make our society better after all.

lack of leisure

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Constant availability and the strain of always being on-call have negative effects, such as "decreased calmness, mood, and energy levels:"

By looking at industries from technical services to nursing, the study evaluated the effects of being on-call -- that is, not at work, but being expected to remain available by phone for questions or customer requests. Participants answered questions in the evening after an on-call day about how often they thought about work or how constrained their activities felt. The next morning, they were quizzed again to better understand how the previous day's mental requirements affected their mood.

Participants marked lower moods the morning after being on-call compared to mornings after days when they were not required to be available, which the researchers believe occurs because readiness to respond makes it harder to recover from work. The possibility alone impeded recovery from work, as the effects persisted even when no calls came.

"Specifically," the article continues, "this on-call study found the measurement that best accounted for a person's resilience was detachment:"

People who were able to detach from work even while on call were most likely to recoup their energies and avoid effects on mood and cortisol. In lieu of actually reducing work availability, practicing mental detachment from work might be the next best approach.

Today, employees (and employers) feel pressured into responding immediately to communications after hours. [...] Given the present knowledge of stress's long-term effects on our health, we have two options to consider. We can reduce job stress or maximize recovery afterwards. But so long as we are jumping to answer the phone when work calls, there is little chance of either happening.

The study, "Extended Work Availability and Its Relation with Start-of-Day Mood and Cortisol," makes an important point:

The results demonstrate that nonwork hours during which employees are required to remain available for work cannot be considered leisure time because employees' control over their activities is constrained and their recovery from work is restricted.

Glenn Greenwald purports to explain what causes terrorism against the West, and singles out "self-defending jingoistic Westerners who insist that their tribe in no way plays any causal role in what it calls terrorist violence:"

They insist that those who posit a causal link between endless Western violence in the Muslim world and return violence aimed at the West are "infantilizing the terrorists and treating them like children" by suggesting that terrorists lack autonomy and the capacity for choice, and are forced by the West to engage in terrorism. They bizarrely claim [...] that to recognize this causal link is to deny that terrorists have agency and to instead believe that their actions are controlled by the West. One hears this claim constantly.

The claim is absurd: a total reversal of reality and a deliberate distortion of the argument. That some Muslims attack the West in retaliation for Western violence (and external imposition of tyranny) aimed at Muslims is so well-established that it's barely debatable.

He points out that "There's a reason the U.S. and NATO countries are the targets of this type of violence but South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico are not." This is because "U.S. policies -- such as Guantanamo and torture -- were key factors in how Muslims become radicalized against the U.S.:"

Even in those cases where religious extremism rather than anger over Western violence seems to be the primary cause -- such as the Charlie Hebdo murders, done to avenge what the attackers regarded as blasphemous cartoons -- the evidence is clear that the attackers were radicalized by indignation over U.S. atrocities in Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib. Pointing out that Western violence is a key causal factor in anti-Western terrorism is not to say it is the only cause.

But whatever one's views are on that causal question, it's a total mischaracterization to claim that those who recognize a causal connection are denying that terrorists have autonomy or choice. To the contrary, the argument is that they are engaged in a decision-making process -- a very expected and predictable one -- whereby they conclude that violence against the West is justified as a result of Western violence against predominantly Muslim countries. To believe that is not to deny that terrorists possess agency; it's to attribute agency to them.

The whole point of the argument is that they are not forced or compelled or acting out of reflex; the point is that they have decided that the only valid and effective response to Western attacks on and interference in Muslim societies is to attack back.

He concludes by observing that "One can, needless to say, object to the validity of that reasoning. But one cannot deny that the decision to engage in this violence is the reasoning process in action."

"Ignorance is power," writes Tom Sullivan, who goes on to observer that "cultivated ignorance is not uniquely a product of the political right. It just seems to be a major export." [He mentions both Robert Proctor's Agnotology and Charlie Pierce's Idiot America, which I also found to be worthwhile.] He also points out that "Donald Trump is merely a symptom of that ethos and an industry dedicated to propagating doubt:"

It's not an accident that Fox News wants an audience that isn't preoccupied with carefully dissecting complex social, political, economic and religious issues. Critical thinking is perhaps our very best strategy for apprehending the true nature of reality, and as the great comedian Stephen Colbert once declared, "reality has a well-known liberal bias." In other words, critical thinking could lead to liberalism -- or worse, to that most dreaded form of liberal fanaticism called secular progressivism. [...]

It follows from such data that the divide between right and left isn't just about differing social, political, and economic philosophies. It's also about the the [sic] role of the intellect in determining our normative worldviews.

The BBC also mentions Proctor, and that he "create[d] a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology:"

It comes from agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or 'not knowing', and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being. Agnotology is the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour.

Cornell's David Dunning [of Dunning-Kruger Effect fame] writes that "Donald Trump is the obvious current example in the US, suggesting easy solutions to followers that are either unworkable or unconstitutional." If ignorance were truly bliss, Trump's followers should be ecstatic. Since they tend to be furious, the aphorism appears to be untrue in this case.


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Steve Benen writes about Obama's push to close gun loopholes, nothing that "the president is taking a series of executive actions this week" and made "a powerful, and at times emotional, presidential pitch:"

The Atlantic's James Fallows, himself a presidential speechwriter nearly 40 years ago, wrote this afternoon, "I think the presentation as a whole - talking about law, balances of rights, the art of the possible, the long process of political change - will be one of the moments that is remembered and studied from Obama's time in office.

Obama stated plainly, "I believe in the Second Amendment:"

"It is there, written on the paper, it guarantees a right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to my words around, I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this. I get it.

"But I also believe we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. I mean, think about it - we all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech. But we accept that you cannot yell 'fire' in a theater. We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.

He also notes that "all of us need to demand that Congress be brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby's lies:"

All of us need to stand up and protect its citizens. All of us need to demand governors, and legislators and businesses do their part to make our communities safer.

"We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners, who grieve with us every time this happens and feel like your views are not being properly represented, to join with us to demand something better.

JT Eberhard remarked that "Even St. Reagan wanted more than what Obama is calling for, and made it clear when he was advocating for the the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act:"

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now -- the Brady bill -- had been law back in 1981.

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

Eberhard points out that "the real problem [is that] every kind of suggestion is deemed by one demographic as "Taking our guns:"

Background checks don't "take guns," they help prevent people who shouldn't be getting them from obtaining them. Requiring training and minimum competency doesn't "take guns" unless you are such an incompetent putz you shouldn't have one. Waiting periods don't "take guns." They may create an inconvenience or a delay in getting them, but it doesn't take them. Restricting magazine size on new purchases doesn't "take guns," it limits what will be available in the future, but it doesn't take what you have. And so on.

James Carville's modest proposal on guns observes that "The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa - which adopted a platform 'uphold[ing] the right... to keep and bear arms' - was curiously a 'gun-free zone':"

Firearms were also disallowed at a campaign event last year in Nevada featuring Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. And when the Republican hopefuls debate on January 28 at Iowa Events Center, they'll be doing so in an arena that usually prohibits "weapons of any kind," presumably because the event coordinators think it'll keep people safer. In yet another head-scratcher, the RNC has chosen Quicken Loans Arena, where a stadium policy "strictly" forbids firearms, for their next national convention.

This has to be an oversight.

See, the conservative argument against gun-free zones - and for the right to carry anywhere - is that it deters gun violence. And if it doesn't deter gun violence, then at least it gives anybody the chance to put two in the chest of a wannabee murderer.

As he snarkily concludes, "it's crazy that the Republican National Convention hasn't declared itself a 'gun-friendly zone' yet:"

Republicans know they need to protect themselves. RNC boss Reince Priebus should've put out a press release by now, a thumbs up next to a trigger finger, demanding that Quicken Loans Arena reverse its policy. And Ohio Governor Kasich and his Republican legislature should've already suspended the pesky law from July 18th to the 21st that allows the arena to set its policy so the Second Amendment can be in the speeches - and in the waistbands - of everyone at the convention.

After all, these big political conventions always attract their fair share of threats. And sure, the Secret Service is there with snipers to protect the nominee. But shouldn't the Republicans on the floor - the guys from the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and the fellows of the Heritage Foundation - be able to lock and load if ISIS breaks through the security barrier?

Commentary gets sarcastic on Clinton's promise and peril, snarking that "Americans do so love the '90s:"

That's a sentiment upon which Hillary Clinton is hoping to capitalize in November when Americans head to the polls to determine whether or not to vote another Clinton into the White House. Conservatives, too, are catching the '90s nostalgia fever. For many on the right, Hillary Clinton's campaign provides them an opportunity to re-litigate long ago lost battles over Bill Clinton's presidency and to rectify what more than a few conservatives regard as a great crime: the 42nd president's persistent popularity.

It is true that both parties are looking backward--but Democrats are trying to remind us of the past, and Republicans are trying to rewrite it:

Bill Clinton is more popular today than almost any living political figure (with the arguable exception of George H. W. Bush) or institution. By November of 2016, Bill Clinton will not have appeared on a ballot for 20 years. The youngest American to cast a vote for or against him will be 38-years-old by the next election.

Oregon assholes

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Crooks and Liars has some more details on the Oregon assholes, courtesy of Vox's German Lopez:

... In 2001, the pair started a fire on their land to, they said, destroy invasive plants. But federal prosecutors argued that the Hammonds started the fire on federal property with a different motive: to cover up illegal deer killing. Whatever the reason, the fire spread to public land, burning 139 acres of public land and forestalling grazing for two seasons.

In 2006, the Hammonds started another fire, one that the government acknowledged was a defensive move -- to stop a lightning-caused fire from spreading to the pair's ranch. But prosecutors argued that the fire violated a countywide burn ban and was started despite knowledge of nearby part-time firefighters who could be harmed by another fire.

The fires didn't injure anyone, but they did damage federal property, a violation of federal law....

The piece notes that "the past behavior of the Hammonds makes me think they're getting no more than they deserve"

So, a generation ago, Dwight and Steve Hammond were repeatedly in willful defiance of federal law to the point where they were held on felony charges -- remember, this was before the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed -- and the reason they were let go after spending only a couple of days in the clink was that a band of wingnut blackmailers threatened government agents (although there was also an assist from a hard-line anti-environmentalist congressman).

Dan Gillmor's reminiscence on switching to Linux notes positively that "Almost four years later... everything's terrific:"

I'd recommend this move to lots of folks -- not everyone, by any means, but to anyone who isn't afraid to ask some occasional questions, and especially anyone who gives some thought to the trajectory of technology and communications in the 21st Century. Most of all, to people who care about freedom.

He notes with some resignation that "It's almost certainly too late for Linux to be a hugely popular desktop/laptop operating system, at least in the developed world:"

But it's not too late for enough of us to use it that we ensure some level of computing liberty for those who want it. [...] Ubuntu is among many in the open-source world working on mobile operating systems; it's spent years moving toward an OS that can transcend devices. But the mobile dominance of Apple and Google is daunting.

In comparing the iOS ecosystem to Windows 10 to Google's Chrome OS, he points out his unease with "the embrace of a company that relies on surveillance to support its advertising-based business model:"

So for anyone who's even slightly interested in retaining significant independence in desktop and laptop computing, Linux is looking like the last refuge. [...]

Meanwhile, because users so often prefer convenience and hidden subsidies to their own long-term liberties, centralized players like Facebook are assembling unprecedented monopolies. Like Google in search, they are reaping the expanding benefits of network effects that competitors will find difficult if not impossible to challenge.

Let's not forget government, which absolutely loathes decentralization. Centralized services create choke points, and make life easier for law enforcement, spies, regulators and tax collectors. The surveillance state loves data-collection choke points that ultimately put everyone's communications, and liberty, at risk.

Choke points also make it easier to help prop up corporate business models in ways that generate lots of campaign cash for the politicians. Hollywood is a prime example; the copyright cartel's near-ownership of Congress has led to absurd and deeply restrictive laws like our current copyright system.

"My choices lately," he concludes, "have been to opt out of the control-freaks' grip wherever possible. I hope you'll give some thought to doing the same."

This Piketty on Piketty piece is interesting:

In this essay, I seek to discuss a number of implications of my findings, in particular regarding the optimal regulation of capital and the complementarity between the "predistribution" and the "redistribution" approach. [...] First, I will clarify the role played by r>g in my analysis of wealth inequality. Next, I will present some of the implications for optimal taxation, starting with inheritance taxation and then moving with annual taxation of wealth, capital income and consumption. Finally, I will emphasize the need to develop a multi-sector approach to capital accumulation.

This particular quantification stood out:

For realistic empirical values, we find that the optimal inheritance tax rate might be as high as 50-60%, or even higher for top bequests, in line with historical experience.

backward Bundys

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ThinkProgress looks inside the Bundys' backward ideology:

The reality is that the right-wing insurgents behind this incident are driven by an ideological battle that stretches back many years, and that was most recently fought by anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy and his armed supporters during a famous standoff with federal officials in 2014.

Clive Bundy himself has offered support to the insurgents, and the militia members involved in this armed uprising against their own government reportedly include as many as three of Bundy's sons.

The triggering event that led to this insurgency involves a father-and-son. Dwight and Steven Hammond are ranchers from eastern Oregon who illegally burned federal land in 2001 and again in 2006.

"Prosecutors claim that this fire," the piece observes, "was set to cover up evidence of illegal poaching on federal property."

Although the Hammonds were convicted of crimes that carry a 5 year minimum sentence, Judge Michael Hogan -- a judge the New York Times describes as a "politically conservative, devoutly Christian jurist" -- sentenced them both to much shorter terms, claiming that the minimum sentence could not constitutionally be applied to these two men. Hogan was reversed by a federal appeals court, and the Hammonds were set to go back to prison as ranchers and militiamen protested their resentencing.

Salon suggests that we call the Oregon standoff what it really is--domestic terrorism, and notes that their "entire existence seems to be rooted in false narratives about individual liberty and state tyranny:"

The blockheads who arrived in Nevada last year, like the faux freedom fighters in Oregon now, are drunk on dreams of revolution. They live incredibly privileged lives and know nothing of actual tyranny, but delusions of grandeur and a lack of productive hobbies keeps them eternally vigilant against non-threats wherever they find them. And thanks to the cavalcade of crackpots in conservative media, the imaginary hazards are everywhere.

Even more bluntly, the piece calls them "looters and traitors:"

They're occupying a wildlife sanctuary against the wishes of the people who live there and in defiance of federal law. And they're defending two men who burned land they didn't own after illegally grazing cattle on it for decades. Unlike other protests, moreover, these militiamen are explicitly threatening to use force if authorities attempt to remove them.

The kid-glove media treatment of them, however, "tells you everything you need to know about the double standards at work here:"

This is textbook domestic terrorism, but it's not identified as such because terrorism, increasingly, is about the actors, not the acts. As Salon's Chauncey Devega observed, if this were anything other than white men, this would be called what it is, and the federal response would be overwhelming. [...]

That they fancy themselves patriots and carry a pocket constitution means absolutely nothing. They're breaking laws they don't understand in defense of lands they mistakenly believe they're entitled to, and their self-righteousness doesn't obviate any of that.

These are armed domestic terrorists, and that's exactly what we should call them.

Thanks, Obama!

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Paul Krugman reminds us that elections have consequences, and takes a look at an alternative universe in which Romney beat Obama in 2012. Part of his thought experiment is pointing out that "some widely predicted consequences of Mr. Obama's re-election -- predicted by his opponents -- didn't happen:"

Gasoline prices didn't soar. Stocks didn't plunge. The economy didn't collapse -- in fact, the U.S. economy has now added more than twice as many private-sector jobs under Mr. Obama as it did over the same period of the George W. Bush administration, and the unemployment rate is a full point lower than the rate Mr. Romney promised to achieve by the end of 2016.

In other words, the 2012 election didn't just allow progressives to achieve some important goals. It also gave them an opportunity to show that achieving these goals is feasible. No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won't destroy the economy.

Similarly, ThinkProgress lists 4 things that were supposed to happen by 2016:

1. Gas was supposed to cost $6.05 per gallon. ("Today, the nationwide average for a gallon of gas is $2.00.")

2. Unemployment was supposed to be stuck at over 8% ("The unemployment rate currently stands at 5.0% and has been under 6% since September 2014. Since January 2013, the economy has created over 7.8 million new jobs.")

3. The stock market was supposed to crash ("The Dow Jones Industrial Average currently stands at 17,425.03 and, despite a downturn in 2015, is up over 27% since Obama was reelected.")

4. The entire U.S. economy was supposed to collapse ("The U.S. economy grew at a respectable 2% in the 3rd quarter of 2014, following 3.9% growth in the second quarter.")

Some of Obama's successes are due to the partial effects of rolling back Reaganomics:

Any economist not working for a billionaire's think tank will tell you in no uncertain terms that Reagan's (and Bush's) claims were total bullshit. Giving more money to the rich does not improve the economy, it only makes the rich richer and hurts everyone else. Since the 80s, we've handed billions every year to the rich and they took that money and invested it in buying politicians and factories in other countries. Now we have definitive proof, in the form of the strongest job growth since the Dot Com bubble of the 90s, that taking those tax cuts away will not hurt the economy in any way whatsoever.

Thanks, Obama!

On the right-wing side of things, though, the closed marketplace of economic ideas means that "what didn't change: the way economists think about themselves and their discipline:"

Despite the profound - and largely unpredicted - financial and economic turmoil of the intervening decade, the intellectual influence of those whose theories suffered the most evidently remains undented. [...]

How surprised should we be that, even after the Great Recession cast grave doubt on the rational-market theories so dominant a decade ago, the top tier of academic economics remains largely unchanged? After all, many of these scholars have made tremendous, lasting contributions to understanding how markets and societies work. And ideas tend to advance and retreat slowly, like glaciers, not precipitously, like armies.


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Jalees Rehman looks at today's exhausted slaves:

We live in an era of exhaustion and fatigue, caused by an incessant compulsion to perform. This is one of the central tenets of the book "Müdigkeitsgesellschaft" (translatable as "The Fatigue Society" or "The Tiredness Society") by the German philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Han is a professor at the Berlin Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) and one of the most widely read contemporary philosophers in Germany.

"The 21st century," Rehman writes, is "characterized by neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), burnout syndrome and borderline personality disorder:"

Unlike the diseases in the immunological era, where there was a clear distinction between the foreign enemy microbes that needed to be eliminated and the self, these "neuronal" diseases make it difficult to assign an enemy status. Who are the "enemies" in burnout syndrome or depression? Our environment? Our employers? Our own life decisions and choices? Are we at war with ourselves in these "neuronal" conditions? According to Han, this biomedical shift in diseases is mirrored by a political shift in a globalized world where it becomes increasingly difficult to define the "self" and the "foreign". We may try to assign a "good guy" and "bad guy" status to navigate our 21st century but we also realize that we are so interconnected that these 20th century approaches are no longer applicable.

Han suggests, he continues, "that the reason why we so often feel exhausted and fatigued is because we are surrounded by a culture of positivity:"

At work, watching TV at home or surfing the web, we are inundated by not-so-subtle messages of what we can do. Han quotes the example of the "Yes We Can" slogan from the Obama campaign. "Yes We Can" exudes positivity by suggesting that all we need to do is try harder and that there may be no limits to what we could achieve. The same applies to the Nike "Just Do It" slogan and the thousands of self-help books published each year which reinforce the imperative of positive thinking and positive actions. [...]

Here is the crux of Han's thesis. "Yes We Can" sounds like an empowering slogan, indicating our freedom and limitless potential. But according to Han, this is an illusory freedom because the message enclosed within "Yes We Can" is "Yes We Should". Instead of living in a Disziplinargesellschaft(disciplinary society) of the past where our behavior was clearly regulated by societal prohibitions and commandments, we now live in a Leistungsgesellschaft (achievement society) in which we voluntarily succumb to the pressure of achieving. The Leistungsgesellschaft is no less restrictive than the Disziplinargesellschaft. We are no longer subject to exogenous prohibitions but we have internalized the mandates of achievement, always striving to do more. We have become slaves to the culture of positivity, subjugated by the imperative "Yes, We Should".

Rehman notes that "Han's critique of the achievement society and its impact on generalized fatigue and malaise is not limited to our workplace:"

By accepting the mandate of continuous achievement and hyperactivity, we apply this approach even to our leisure time. Whether it is counting the steps we walk with our fitness activity trackers or competitively racking up museum visits as a tourist, our obsession with achievement permeates all aspects of our lives.

Han's book The Burnout Society looks like a must-read.

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