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.

At Slate, David Auerbach discusses the Intercept's reporting last week that "Microsoft probably holds a copy of the encryption keys for Windows 10 users' hard drives," which suggests that "Microsoft took the path of least resistance and chose to store the recovery key on the user's OneDrive cloud account:"

The company is clearly trying to catch up to Google, Apple, and Facebook in the user-data race, and so its policies emit a whiff of eminent domain: Even when we aren't looking at your files which we mirror to OneDrive, Microsoft seems to be saying, we are the ones taking care of your data. Once the company's got it, will Microsoft be tempted to ask for a bigger peek, just as Facebook has gradually gotten nosier with its user data? The tenets of capitalism says yes.

The conclusion is bleak:

If privacy matters enough that you want to protect your machine and your data from the eyes of the government and the tech industry, you shouldn't be using Windows 10--or Apple, or Android--in the first place.

The CDC released a report on "Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Orientation Among Adults Aged 18-44 in the United States" (PDF), noting that "Almost three times as many women (17.4%) reported any same-sex contact in their lifetime compared with men (6.2%) aged 18-44:"

Feelings of attraction "only to the opposite sex" were more common for men (92.1%) compared with women (81.0%) aged 18-44. Among those aged 18-44, 92.3% of women and 95.1% of men said they were "heterosexual or straight"; 1.3% of women and 1.9% of men said they were "homosexual, gay, or lesbian"; 5.5% of women and 2.0% of men said they were bisexual; and 0.9% of women and 1.0% of men said "don't know" or "refused" (i.e., "did not report") on sexual orientation.

6.8% of women are bisexual or lesbian, 3.9% of men are bi or gay:

Regarding same-sex sexual behavior, almost three times as many women aged 18-44 (17.4%) had ever had same-sex contact in their lifetime compared with men aged 18-44 (6.2%).

So a lot of straight-identifying people are having same-sex activity...and those numbers seem likely to increase in the future:

Both women (75.9%) and men (88.6%) aged 18-24 were less likely to say they were attracted "only to the opposite sex" than women (82.8%) and men (93.4%) aged 25-44.

20160107-orientation.jpg

Yahoo's takeaway is that "Women in the United States are about three times as likely as men to say they are bisexual, and increasing numbers of them say they have had sexual contact with other females..."

AlterNet focuses on the history:

Fittingly, the report notes an increase in the number of American women who report having had same-sex sexual contact. This was true of 14.2 percent of women polled in 2006-2010 -- a figure that rose to 17.4 in the most recent survey. Just 6.2 percent of men say they'd had sexual contact with other men.

LGBTQ Nation also notes the number of heterosexual men who have had gay sex:

1.9 percent of men said they were homosexual, which is on par with the CDC's last survey conducted between 2006-2010. Meanwhile, 2 percent of men said they identified as bisexual, up from 1.2 percent in the last survey.

And this is where it gets interesting. Because 6.2 percent of men said they had engaged in either oral or anal sex with another man.

A bit of basic math: If 1.9 percent of men said they were gay and 2 percent said they were bisexual -- but 6.2 percent said they had engaged in same-sex sexual activity -- that means 2.3 percent of men engaging in same-sex sexual activity are straight. Or at least straight-identifying.

Dr. Anne Pluta is an assistant professor of political science at Rowan University who notes that Trump supporters are misinformed, not uninformed:

Donald Trump has a consistently loose relationship with the truth. So much so, in fact, that the fact-checking website PolitiFact rolled his numerous misstatements into one big "lie of the year." But all the fact-checking in the world hasn't pushed Trump toward a more evidence-based campaign, and his support has held steady or even increased in some polls. What explains Trump's ability to seemingly overcome conventional political wisdom?

"Political science research has shown that the behavior of misinformed citizens is different from those who are uninformed," she observes, "and this difference may explain Trump's unusual staying power:"

Telltale signs of misinformation, for example, were on display in a focus group of Trump supporters run by Republican media consultant Frank Luntz. Not only did negative information about Trump that was presented by Luntz to the group strengthen support for the candidate, participants held on more confidently to their misinformation as the session progressed. [...] The persistent claims by Trump and his supporters that his critics are too concerned with political correctness is a good example of this psychological process at work.

It is in Trump's interest to allow misinformation -- such as his statements about immigrants or Muslim Americans -- to flourish.

This does not bode well...

taxes and work

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Yves Smith explains why lowering the marginal tax rate doesn't increase growth:

The assumption has long been that lower corporate taxes lead to increases in FDI [foreign direct investment] resulting in "capital formation" that generates economic growth. This key assumption is politically attractive because it suggests that the foreign firms link to local production networks and in addition to creating jobs, also provide knowledge transfers that increase the productivity of their local partners.

Site selection firms broker recruitment deals between local governments and foreign investors, gaming the process for their own profit, which they earn based on winning the best incentive package for the global investor. Governments agree to lower and/or eliminate recurrent businesses costs, which are utility and tax rates. A winning bid technically translates into forgone public revenue sources. States lower tax rates, in what many call a 'race to the bottom.'

The Public Policy Center paper on "Lowering The Marginal Corporate Tax Rate: Why The Debate?" as the author observes, "offers a 60-nation analysis of the economic impact of inter-state tax competition over time:"

An empirical examination of the effect of marginal corporate tax rates (MCTRs) on the two economic outcomes most often discussed as direct results of their value - foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and GDP annual growth - suggests that lower corporate taxes are not the essential factor that stimulates economic growth. It is relatively high MCTRs that can have a stimulus effect. [...]

The data offered here examines a panel of 60 nations in a longitudinal analysis from 1999 to 2009. The results suggest that a general lowering of MCTR does increase FDI, however GDP annual growth is stimulated by a relatively higher MCTR.

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How about the American situation?

In the United States this policy direction of ever-increasing measures to deduct taxes from operational expenses has created a reality in which most firms pay no taxes at all, so that the federal government only collects 9% of its total tax revenue from corporate taxes.

ThinkProgress analyzes Ben Carson's tax plan, which could be one way that this bad situation could get worse--with a flat tax:

Rather than different tax brackets for different income levels and categories, the flat tax levies the same rate on all personal and business income, although Carson's 14.9 percent rate would only apply to people who have incomes above 150 percent of the poverty level, or $36,375 for a family of four.

Carson pitches his plan as a boon to working families, but "an analysis of his plan shows otherwise:"

...that rather than helping out families who are struggling, it would overwhelmingly benefit the rich at the expense of those at the middle and bottom.

On a static basis -- that is, without any assumptions baked in about how the plan might change economic growth or other factors -- the Tax Foundation found that only the richest 10 percent would see a benefit. Everyone else would actually see their tax burdens increase. The top 1 percent would see an increase of after-tax income of 33.44 percent, while the bottom 10 percent would see a decrease of just over 13 percent.

The financial benefits would be lopsided, and the deficit would be exacerbated at the same time:

The plan would also cost the government a large amount of revenue -- either $5.6 billion over a decade under a static model, or just under $2.5 billion under a dynamic one. That's due in part to the loss of income tax revenue, but also a significant loss of corporate income tax revenue given that corporations wouldn't have to pay the current on-paper 35 percent tax rate, but the 14.9 percent flat tax rate.

Carson's plan is not an anomaly, as "Plans released by Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich all give the biggest benefits to the wealthy rather than the poor or middle class," which affects their working lives. Why do Americans work so much? wonders The Atlantic. Author Rebecca J. Rosen cites the paper "Work and consumption in an era of unbalanced technological advance" by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman, and observes the following:

For a while, it looked like Keynes was right: In 1930 the average workweek was 47 hours. By 1970 it had fallen to slightly less than 39.

But then something changed. Instead of continuing to decline, the duration of the workweek stayed put; it's hovered just below 40 hours for nearly five decades.

So what happened? Why are people working just as much today as in 1970?

Friedman, she notes, "tries to figure out why that increased productivity has not translated into increased leisure time:"

Perhaps people just never feel materially satisfied, always wanting more money for the next new thing. "This argument is, at best, far from sufficient," he writes. If that were the case, why did the duration of the workweek decline in the first place?

Another theory Friedman considers is that "in an era of ever fewer settings that provide effective opportunities for personal connections and relationships," people may place more value on the socializing that happens at work. But the evidence for this "remains uneven at best," and, once again, "its bearing on the abrupt change in trend in the U.S. workweek in the 1970s is far from established."

"A third possibility proves more convincing," she comments, that "American inequality means that the gains of increasing productivity are not widely shared:"

In other words, most Americans are too poor to work less. Unlike the other two explanations Friedman considers, this one fits chronologically: Inequality declined in America during the post-war period (along with the duration of the workweek), but since the early 1970s it's risen dramatically. [...] The prosperity Keynes predicted is here. After all, the economy as a whole has grown even more brilliantly than he expected. But for most Americans, that prosperity is nowhere to be seen--and, as a result, neither are those shorter workweeks.


* Friedman's paper makes a point not stressed often enough, that "the growth of U.S. median income exhibits a distinct slowing in the early 1970s:"

From the beginning of the series in 1947 (the local peak preceding the 1948-9 "inventory recession") to 1973 (the local peak preceding the "OPEC recession"), the median family's income grew in real terms at 2.8% per annum - far in excess of the rate needed to deliver an eight-fold multiple over a hundred years. By contrast, from 1973 to the present real median income has grown by just 0.3% per annum, not even enough for a doubling in a hundred years (the projected 100-year multiple at that rate is merely 1.3).

Salon writes that we shouldn't improve charter schools, because most kids don't attend them. Gary M. Sasso, dean of the College of Education at Lehigh University, writes that we shouldn't let "the rancor of the school reform debate" reform the fact that "Socio-economic status is the most relevant determinant of student success in school." He ties income disparity to "the educational achievement gap" and asks, "why are wealthy school reform funders so squarely focused on identifying teachers and their unions as the cause of public education's decline and advancing charter schools as the best solution?"

Charter schools will never be the answer to improving education for all. It is simply not scaleable. And yet titans of industry such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family, and billionaires such as John Paulson who earlier this year gave $8.5 million to New York's Success Academy charter school system, are pouring their millions into support for charter schools--millions that will not, incidentally, be invested in improving the schools that the vast majority of U.S. students attend: traditional public schools.

Can it be a coincidence that those who have benefited most from the last 50 years of steadily increasing income inequality--the top 10 percent-support an education solution that hinges on denigrating public school teachers, dismantling unions and denying that income inequality is the underlying condition at the root of the problem?

"Another explanation," he offers, "suggests a darker motivation:"

The wealthy's focus on charter schools is a strategy to weaken unions, one of the few reliable Democratic voting blocs that remain. It is also a convenient way to deflect from the fact that they have benefited most from income inequality and that their business practices--such as moving manufacturing jobs overseas and reducing their tax burden by taking advantage of offshore tax havens--have been among the causes of income inequality and the accompanying erosion of the middle class.

Far be it for them to worsen several problems under the guise of teaching children...

is fascism back?

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Robert Paxton asks, is fascism back? He writes that the odious appellation "is being widely applied to cases as disparate as Donald Trump, the Tea Party, the National Front in France, and radical Islamist assassins. But, though the temptation to call such actors "fascist" is understandable, it should be resisted:"

At its creation in the 1920s (first in Italy and then in Germany), fascism was a violent reaction against a perceived excess of individualism. Italy was scorned and Germany was defeated in World War I, Mussolini and Hitler claimed, because democracy and individualism had sapped them of national unity and will.

So the two leaders put their followers into uniforms and tried to regiment their thoughts and actions. Once in power, they tried to extend dictatorship to every corner of life.

"The Tea Party," for example, "is better called right-wing anarchism:"

It is individualism run amok, a denial of any community obligations, the very opposite of a fascist appeal to the supremacy of communal obligations over individual autonomy.

He cautions that "Donald Trump is a special case altogether:"

Superficially, he seems to have borrowed a number of fascist themes for his presidential campaign: xenophobia, racial prejudice, fear of national weakness and decline, aggressiveness in foreign policy, a readiness to suspend the rule of law to deal with supposed emergencies. His hectoring tone, mastery of crowds, and the skill with which he uses the latest communications technologies also are reminiscent of Mussolini and Hitler.

And yet these qualities are at most derivative of fascist themes and styles; the underlying ideological substance is very different, with the entitlements of wealth playing a greater role than fascist regimes generally tolerated. Trump's embrace of these themes and styles is most likely a matter of tactical expediency - a decision taken with little or no thought about their ugly history.

Given these caveats, Paxton writes that "We will have to make do with more ordinary words:"

...religious fanaticism for the Islamic State, reactionary anarchism for the Tea Party, and self-indulgent demagoguery on behalf of oligarchy for Donald Trump.

In a piece re-run from November 4, 2015, Rachel Cordasco asserts that kids should read whatever they want:

Time and again, I've come across scenes in novels where a young character is wandering around a library, whether personal or public, entranced by the endless possibilities offered by the books. These characters aren't sure where to start, so they choose a book at random, and go from there.

Scenes like this occur in such works as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Black Boy, Dirty River, and The Book Thief, suggesting that discovery through reading is a universal experience, one that enables readers to imagine other lives and other worlds. To me, it doesn't get much better than that.

This is, she explains, "why I will place no restrictions on my personal library when my kids learn how to read:"

With nearly a thousand physical books and scores of e-books, our house is almost groaning under the weight of all those words. Poetry, fiction, history, biography, drama, anthologies: they're all there on my bookshelves (and floors, and futons). They tell stories that are uplifting, disturbing, gruesome, inspiring, and hilarious. They reveal the kaleidoscopic diversity of human experience. They will show my kids that the world is an infinitely fascinating place.

But, some might say, you'd let your 8-year-old read Lolita? You'd let your 10-year-old read Lady Chatterley's Lover? And anything by Emile Zola???

Yes, yes I would. You know why? Because I believe that you connect with books that you're meant to connect with at a specific time.

"The key to having your kids' reading be free-wheelin' and unfettered but also informative," Cordasco continues, "is your availability to answer their questions and listen to them figure out what they've read:"

You won't need to schedule specific times to have "Big Talks" about various issues because those issues will naturally come up in their reading. They'll read Ralph Ellison and ask you about racism and injustice and identity; they'll read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ask about feminism and equality; they'll read Dickens and Orwell and ask about poverty and surveillance and war. They'll read histories of World War II and plays about apartheid and poems about faith or sexuality or despair. They'll read graphic novels and comic books and libretti and screenplays. You'll realize that answering their questions is a full-time job and that your books are making them really smart and thoughtful and pretty soon they'll be outmaneuvering you in debates about when and for how long they can take the car and whether or not they can get a tattoo or dye their hair blue. But you'll be proud of them.

Taking a contrary position, Tara Isabella Burton warns readers against dark books:

While we might point to violent video games or sexually explicit films as potentially dangerous and corrupting influences on tender or vulnerable minds, the novel is treated as uplifting and salutary, regardless of its content: a kale smoothie for the soul. [...]

But it was not always thus. Throughout the 19th century, novels were regarded with the same suspicion with which we treat, say, Eli Roth's 'torture-porn' Saw movies today.

"Storytelling is inextricable from power," cautions Burton, pointing out that "the act of reading is, for better or worse, an act of submission to an external force granted the privilege of language, of narrative organizing:"

At its best, reading novels might be as salutary as recent studies allege. But at worst, novels - in all their dangerousness - can erode at our sense of self: a woman who reads Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (1748) could find herself accepting a world-narrative where rape is justifiable; a person of colour, growing up on Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), might internalise as normative a world of white power, just as Dorian Gray, through reading Huysmans, normalises the debauchery that is to come.

Burton's worry is as strong as Cordasco's optimism:

At its most fundamental level, to read is to put our selves at risk, to make ourselves vulnerable by welcoming the presence of an other into our psychic space. This can be a radically transformative experience, challenging us to reformulate our own self-understanding.

David Sirota exposes pension pilfering, highlighting the Rhode Island Retired Teachers Association's realization that "the fees we've been paying to the investment companies were the problem:"

Those levies -- which hit $79 million last year -- were the product of the state's recent investment strategy. Following a controversial national trend, Rhode Island pension officials led by then-General Treasurer Gina Raimondo shifted roughly a quarter of the state's pension portfolio into high-fee hedge funds, private equity firms and other so-called "alternative investments."

The shift by Raimondo, a Democrat who is now governor, has generated big revenues for Wall Street firms, but only middling returns for a $7.6 billion pension fund on which more than 58,000 current and future retirees rely.

Sirota notes that RIRTA then "stumbled onto an even more disturbing revelation:"

What they found, they say, is evidence that some investors can obtain special rights that may let them secretly siphon money from the state pensioners' retirement savings.

The retirees are now petitioning federal law enforcement officials to investigate whether the widely used provisions are violating laws designed to make sure all investors are treated fairly.

"12 out of 18 hedge funds in the Rhode Island portfolio," Sirota writes, "have filed documents with the SEC showing they assert the right to give certain investors preferences over other investors."

Siedle and the retiree group he represents say they are concerned the provisions could enable financial managers to boost the returns of sophisticated or well-connected private investors -- such as firm executives, their family members, friends and business associates -- with cash from the $3 trillion now in public pension systems across the country.

If their fiduciary duty extended to yacht-buying on behalf of their customers instead of merely themselves, the more egalitarian among us would be less concerned about their balance-sheet shenanigans. As Sirota notes, "financial firms sometimes use side letters to court deep-pocketed investors with access to non-public information, lower fees or special rights to withdraw their money -- potentially leaving other investors with losses:"

Rhode Island's retiree association appears to be the first to request a criminal probe of whether the preferences are harming taxpayers and government workers. In all, municipal and state pension funds now have roughly $660 billion in alternative investments.

Boulez est mort

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Kyle Gann [author of No Such Thing As Silence on John Cage's 4'33"] remarks that "I have little to say, but I couldn't pass up the chance to use a headline I've been holding in reserve for three decades:"

When I interviewed Pierre Boulez in Chicago in 1987, we touched on his notorious 1954 article "Schoenberg est mort," and I asked him if someone would someday need to write an article "Boulez est mort." He laughed, and said, "Maybe I should write it myself." And then he lived another 28 years. [...]

The greater significance for me is that an entire generation is now dead, a generation around which I formed part of my musical personality in high school. Boulez, Stockhausen, Maderna, Pousseur, Ferrari, Ligeti, Barraqué, Kagel, Zimmermann, Berio, Nono, Bussotti, Xenakis - I loved them, I explored them, I was inspired by them, I carried their vinyl Deutsche Grammophon and Wergo records to college with me; because I had already been seduced by Copland, Harris, Shuman, and Bernstein on one hand and Ives, Cage, and Feldman on the other, I could not totally succumb to them; because they spoke in dictatorial terms I developed a genial oedipal hatred for them. As happens, now that they are all gone only the affectionate feelings remain. In grad school I analyzed every note of Boulez's Second Piano Sonata, which I had never heard - and I knew it so well that when I finally listened to the recording, I cried.

"I will listen to Pli selon pli this afternoon," he writes somberly, "and tonight I will drink to all of the great European masters of my youth, and to having outlived them." The obligatory NYT obituary is more prim and proper, noting that Boulez "was a dominant figure in classical music for over half a century:"

Mr. Boulez belonged to an extraordinary generation of European composers who, while still in their 20s, came to the forefront during the decade or so after World War II. They wanted to change music radically, and Mr. Boulez took a leading role. His "Marteau Sans Maître" ("Hammer Without a Master") was one of this group's first major achievements, and it remains a central work of modern music. [...]

From [1960] on, he began starting more works than he ever brought to completion, while at the same time submitting older pieces to rounds of revision.

NYT's conclusion is that "the achievements contained in his published works and recordings are formidable, and his influence was incalculable:"

The tasks he took on were heroic: to continue the great adventure of musical modernism, and to carry with him the great musical institutions and the widest possible audience.

Speaking of audience breadth, NPR's photo of Boulez with Frank Zappa

20160106-boulezandzappa.jpg
(Joel Robine/AFP/Getty Images)

is a fitting accompaniment to Bill Chappell's observation that "Boulez famously challenged his peers and his audience to rethink their ideas of sound and harmony:"

Boulez, who won 26 Grammy awards, had a prodigiously broad musical reach. In the 1970s, he founded the IRCAM music and science research center at the Pompidou Center in Paris. That's where, in 1984, he conducted music from Frank Zappa's album The Perfect Stranger.

Kevin Drum looks at data indicating that universities are pretty liberal places, and asks, "why the endless argument?"

These all seem like eminently testable hypotheses:
  • Are undergraduate liberal arts departments predominantly filled with liberal students?
  • Are conservatives not much interested in the liberal arts these days?
  • How many conservatives apply to grad programs in the liberal arts? How many are accepted?
  • How much do views change while in grad school?
  • How many conservatives end up getting PhDs in the liberal arts?
  • Of those, how many get tenure-track jobs?

If, say, 95 percent of job candidates are liberal, then there's probably no discrimination. Conservatives are being hired in proportion to their numbers. If conservatives generally don't major in the liberal arts as undergrads, then probably PhD programs aren't discriminating either. Etc. These all seem like fairly answerable questions.

"For what it's worth," he continues, "I agree that it's a problem regardless of how it happened:"

It's easy for liberals to see the conservative bubble when we talk about Fox News or talk radio, and we immediately understand why it's bad: it makes people lazy and unwilling to question their basic beliefs. We don't see this so clearly when it's our own bubble, but we should. Bubbles are bubbles, and ours are no better than theirs.

In a purely hypothetical realm disconnected from the real world, I might agree--but the suggestion that academic discourse is somehow on par with, say, what's broadcast on Fox "News" and talk radio is ludicrous. Drum continues:

I would be a lot more sympathetic to conservative complaints about the academy if they showed an equal concern about fields that lean heavily conservative (big business, the military, etc.). For some reason, though, that never seems to strike them as a problem. Why?

This is, of course, because the problem isn't ideological representation--it's control. Any dissent from their party line is problematic, even when it occurs in the allegedly isolated ivory tower.

Amanda Marcotte explains how Republicans exploit anxiety over terrorism:

For 21st century conservatives, "fear" is not an authentic feeling of actual concern for your safety, but an ideological pose struck to justify the darker, more sadistic urges that motivate the Republican base.

In our day and age, declaring you want war for the pleasure of conquest or that you support racist policies out of unvarnished bigotry is socially unacceptable. So fear is donned as a costume to conceal the hate. The shivering coward is a more sympathetic figure than the snarling bigot, and so no matter how laughably implausible their posture of fear is, conservatives will strike it.

Cruz's "hang 'em high" quip is an example of their ersatz bravado, which sits uneasily alongside Chris Christie's whining about our "dangerous, perilous times" and Jeb Bush's worries about "pictures of the ISIS flag and machine guns."

Marcotte notes that "Even Marco Rubio, who tends to play at being a genial guy, is all about pretending the barbarians are at the gates these days:"

"When America needed a bold plan of action from our commander in chief, we instead got a lecture on love, tolerance, and gun control designed to please the talking heads at MSNBC," Rubio said in a speech on Monday. "The result of all of this is that people are afraid. And they have every right to be."

The "right" to be afraid is an interesting concept. If fear is an authentic emotion, to have a right to have it is neither here nor there. Fear simply is. This permission offered by Rubio is less about allowing authentic feeling, and more of a gesture to the pageantry of all this, a way of saying the curtain is up and it's time for everyone to play their roles, to mimic the fear that justifies the hatred and irrationality.

She also points out that "the fear of Islamic terrorism is not a deeply held terror actually keeping most who claim to have it up late at night:"

On the contrary, it seems, in this country anyway, that the claim to fear Islamic terrorism is inversely proportional to the distance between your house and a place that might actually be hit by it. Either we have a serious mental health crisis going on in our country with all these paranoid delusions, or people are just play-acting this emotion for ideological purposes. [...]

No matter where you live in the U.S. -- but especially if you live in heavily conservative areas -- if someone comes into a public place to start shooting it up, the odds are exponentially higher that this person is some 20-year-old malcontent or some middle-aged man hyped up on misogynist propaganda than that they are an Islamic terrorist.

Marcotte concludes that "fear, at least on the right, is not an authentic feeling, but a costume to be donned or discarded out of political necessity."

income inequality

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ThinkProgress lauds the latest work of Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, noting that "The new analysis [of tax, survey, and national accounts data] disputes previous findings that the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen a slight decline in income since the late 1970s:"

Instead, the economists say, their income actually increased slightly, by 0.7 percent annually. But the data still corroborates the story of increasing inequality between most Americans and the richest. [...] ...incomes for the top 1 percent grew about four times as fast as the bottom 90 percent in the same time period.

The data revealed other disturbing trends as well. Until 1980, income for the bottom 90 percent grew at the same pace as the rest of the economy. But after that point, incomes slowed down while the economy kept growing. [...]

Part of what's happening is that the source of the top 1 percent's income has changed. Up until the late 1990s, most of the growth was driven by the rich getting higher wages. But since then, it's been driven by capital income -- money made from returns on investment. [...]

For everyone else, on the other hand, wage growth is more important to income. But wages for most Americans have been stagnant for the last 40 years, even as economic productivity continued to increase.

WaPo provides a helpful chart from the Piketty/Saez/Zucman team:

20160106-incomegrowth.png

Eli Keel speculates about Star Wars LGBT representation, noting that "People are hailing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" as a huge leap forward in onscreen diversity:"

This leaves a lot of room for people to read other possible romantic relationships blooming between the lines, and a legion of increasingly vocal fans believe they are seeing "Star Wars"' first onscreen LGBT+ representation in Poe Dameron, expressed by his special friendship with escaped Stormtrooper Finn.

The onscreen evidence that most fans point to is the reunion moment between Poe and Finn on the planet D'Qar. The two men had met and bonded briefly at the start of the film, when they escaped together from the First Order -- Poe as a prisoner and Finn as a defecting Stormtrooper who needed a pilot. They crashed, and Poe appeared to die. Finn wore Poe's jacket until the two are reunited through the Resistance, when Poe tells him, "Hey, that's my jacket. No, no. Keep it. It suits you."

But it's all about how Oscar Isaac delivers the line. Let's examine that moment again, with blocking.

POE: Hey, that's my jacket.

FINN: (starts to take off jacket)

POE: No, no. Keep it. (Gives FINN the once over.) It suits you. (Bites lip.)

Is it getting hot in here? Let's zoom in further.

(BITES LIP.)

GIF please.

20160106-lipbite.gif

That lip bite is everything. It's a look that caused fans to launch a thousand 'ships, and it's pretty suggestive all by itself. But even before "The Force Awakens" was released, the stars went on a publicity tour that included a stop on Ellen, where Isaac talked about his character having a love interest in the film. "I think it's very a subtle romance that's happening. You have to just look very closely, you have to watch it a few times to see the little hints, but there was. At least, I was playing romance."

Is there--or will there be?--some Poe/Finn slash fiction to parallel that of Kirk/Spock?

But even if these hopeful Poe/Finn 'shippers aren't just imagining the interaction, will the "Star Wars" brain trust do right and follow through? Or is this a big screen case of queer baiting?

Keel notes not only that "Backlash over queer baiting is public and loud," but that "sexy lip biting isn't enough:"

"Star Wars" has always supposedly been about the fight for freedom. Here's hoping the Resistance's best pilot will make that fight real, and bring even more representation to a galaxy far far away.


update (1/7 at 2:22pm)
Salon's Brendan Gauthier dashes hopes for an explicit PoeFinn romance:

This week a concerned subset of the Internet was abuzz with speculation over the likelihood of a pseudo-sexual relationship between Poe Dameron and Finn, two "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" leading male characters.

Gauthier remarks that "evidence of a gay relationship brewing in the foreground of a Hollywood blockbuster may have been a little too good to be true."

AlterNet's Steven Rosenfeld provides 10 more reasons that Wall Street will hate Bernie Sanders, noting that "Sanders has declared war on the biggest players in Wall Street's financial sector:"

"To those on Wall Street who may be listening today, let me be very clear," Sanders said in a midtown Manhattan speech. "Greed is not good. In fact, the greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the fabric of our nation. And here is a New Year's resolution that I will keep if elected president: If you do not end your greed, we will end it for you."

Sanders laid out a 10-point program to deeply change the nature of the financial sector, while occasionally digressing to emphasize how much more sweeping his proposals are compared to Clinton's.

His main points center around reforming our financial system (from limiting big banks' power to reforming the rating agencies and the Fed), which many of us would dearly love to see pome to pass. The n+1 editors wonder what will happen after capitalism:

How will it end? For centuries even the most sanguine of capitalism's theorists have thought it not long for this world. Smith, Ricardo, and Mill pointed to a "falling rate of profit" linked to inevitable declines in agricultural productivity. Marx applied the same concept to industrial production, suggesting that the tendency to replace workers with machines would lead to a chronic and insurmountable lack of demand. [...]

Schumpeter was the gloomiest of all. He opened a chapter titled "Can Capitalism Survive?" (in his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy) with the definitive answer, "No. I do not think it can."

"Fear courses through the veins of the free-marketers," the piece continues, but "The surprise is that a number of prominent left intellectuals have begun to view the idea of automation with equanimity, even optimism:"

Most prominent among them are the accelerationists, whose widely circulated [see * footnote] "Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics" is the inspiration for a new book, Inventing the Future, by the manifesto's original authors Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Their motto seems to be "I for one welcome our new robot overlords"--for the principle of "accelerationism" is that automation is likely to become general, and so the left needs once and for all to cease imagining that blue-collar unionism and socialist parties will drive us toward communism.

The accelerationists insist that the future will be one in which, thanks to computer assisted advances in automation, wage labor is a condition guaranteed to very few, and "surplus populations," already large, will dominate the planet.

They may dominate in the sense of outnumber, but how is that a guarantee of even bare-subsistence living for the majority?

Among the most comprehensive statements of the accelerationist mind-set is something out of the mainstream: Paul Mason's Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. [...] Postcapitalism advances familiar arguments that capitalism has reached an impasse and follows them with wild-eyed, Wired-style notions of what might replace it.

[It appears that I have some reading to do...]

"Automation isn't a neutral, inevitable part of capitalism," the piece continues:

It comes about through the desire to break formal and informal systems of workers' control--including unions--and replace them with managerially controlled and minutely surveilled systems of piecework. An entire political and legal infrastructure has been built up to make these so-called tendencies seem like the natural progression of capitalism, rather than the effects of fights--sometimes simple, sometimes violent--to deprive people of whatever sense of control they have over their work. The only reason such work has ever not been totally shitty is that some attempt to preserve such control was made. This -- not some implausible notion of a fully automated postwork future--still remains the surest of utopian impulses, the one most likely to deliver the things we want.

One of the things that people want--but that capital seemingly does not--is a clean environment. Thom Hartmann provides the example of corporate greed in California, where a "massive gas well leak [has] been venting natural gas into the atmosphere at a rate of more than 100,000 pounds per hour for more than two months:"

According to The Washington Post, the impact of the gases that have already been released from this one volcanic leak are equivalent to the impact, over 20 years, of six coal-fired power plants - or 7 million automobiles.

But this leak isn't just a crisis for the climate, it has also forced the evacuation of 1,700 homes in nearby neighborhoods, the closing of two schools and countless residents have reported that the stench has made them ill.

"So how did all this happen?" Hartmann wonders:

Engineers are speculating that a seven-inch pipe ruptured about 500-feet below the surface, but they won't know for sure until they are able to seal the well off completely, something which the Southern California Gas Company says may not happen until March.

Hartmann points out that "the real problem here goes way back to 1979, when the Southern California Gas Company had the original safety valve removed from the gas well, and then simply didn't bother to replace it." He writes that "This example proves the importance of treating our nation's energy infrastructure as a part of the commons:"

To do that, we need strict regulations - including enforcement mechanism including fines and jail for executives - that dissuade corporations from cutting corners at the expense of communities and the environment.

And we need to lift the liability cap that allows fossil fuel companies to only pay a fraction of the damages that they cause to communities and to the environment.


*note

The Manifesto identifies "Marx, along with [Nick] Land" as "the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker," and notes that "At the beginning of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, global civilization faces a new breed of cataclysm:"

Continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. Increasing automation in production processes - including 'intellectual labour' - is evidence of the secular crisis of capitalism, soon to render it incapable of maintaining current standards of living for even the former middle classes of the global north.

"Accelerationists," the manifesto continues, "want to unleash latent productive forces:"

In this project, the material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed. It needs to be repurposed towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism.

It identifies "three medium term concrete goals:"

First, we need to build an intellectual infrastructure. [...] We need to construct wide-scale media reform. [...] Finally, we need to reconstitute various forms of class power.

I would quibble that those goals are not exactly concrete--although I don't dispute their necessity.

censorship

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Mick Hume writes about the Charlie Hebdo massacre a year later:

Two crimes were committed against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo a year ago, in January 2015. First, Islamist gunmen committed mass murder at the paper's Paris offices. They shot dead eight cartoonists and journalists, two police officers and two others, in a graphic demonstration of their hatred for freedom of speech and of the press.

Then the great and the good of Western society committed a mass free-speech fraud. They sold us the line that they all supported free speech, making rhetorical and ritualistic gestures of 'Je Suis Charlie' solidarity. Yet at the same time many were acting out their contempt for the real freedom of expression that allows such provocative publications to exist in the first place.

"Support for free speech in Europe and the US," writes Hume, "was never as solid as those solidarity banners made it appear:"

It quickly emerged that the threat to freedom came not just from a few barbarians at the gate. Free speech faces more powerful enemies within the supposed citadel of civilisation itself.

"Several police forces in England," he reports, "reportedly quizzed local newsagents about the names of those who ordered copies of the post-massacre edition:"

Even in the US, land of the free and home of the First Amendment that gives constitutional protection to freedom of speech and of the press, free-speech fraudsters from Catholic crusaders to feminist bloggers were quick to distance themselves from Charlie Hebdo. The departing ombudsman of National Public Radio, Edward Schumacher-Matos, openly declared 'I am not Charlie' and suggested that 'much of what Charlie Hebdo does' should be seen as 'hate speech unprotected by the Constitution'. In fact, offensive 'hate speech' is protected in the US by the First Amendment, as Charlie Hebdo's cartoons certainly would be.

Hume continues by observing that "the cri de coeur of these crusaders against offensive speech is 'You Can't Say That!'. The Islamist gunmen took that attitude to a murderous extreme:"

Our response should be to declare that 'Je Suis Toujours Charlie', no matter what they stick on their front cover. You do not have to agree with Charlie or find it hilarious to defend its right to offend whomever it chooses. Indeed, we might object to the anniversary cover, not because it is offensive, but because it is slightly wrong. The most powerful 'assassin' of free speech in the West today is not god, but the high priests of 'liberal' secular conformism here on Earth.

Hume's book Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? just joined by TBR list, which already contains other offensive volumes. One of them, Mein Kampf, is discussed by economist Sabine Beppler-Spahl--who was born in 1960s Germany:

The most potent example of Hitler's ghostly presence was perhaps his book Mein Kampf, which was banned until the beginning of this year. My father had a copy on his bookshelf, but kept it hidden away behind the volumes of Thomas Mann and Günter Grass - and for good reason. In 1979, a bookseller who displayed two copies of Mein Kampf was charged with unconstitutional behaviour. After the Supreme Court had cleared the bookseller, the famous literary critic Fritz Raddatz was critical of the Supreme Court's decision: 'The scars are still too fresh, the bacillus too lively, the danger of infection too acute.'

"Even today," Beppler-Spahl continues, "after Bavaria's copyright has expired, this idea of the untrustworthy reader prevails:"

Hence the first copy to be reprinted in Germany after 70 years will not be the original version, but a heavily annotated 'critical edition', published by the Munich Institute for Contemporary History. The aim of this version is to expose Hitler's 'lies, half-truths and vicious tirades' (lest the public misses them). Many of the annotations will certainly be useful and there is a need to place the book in its historical context (something which, ironically, had rarely been done because of the ban). Nonetheless, the underlying message, that the book shouldn't be read without the informed guidance of more enlightened people, indicates the lack of trust in the moral judgement of German citizens.

The 2,000-page critical edition might seem like overkill, but it might have helped to prevent, for example, "the case of a 27-year-old man who, this December, was sentenced to six months' probation for incitement, after publicly displaying a body tattoo showing a Nazi concentration camp:"

It is far more likely that he and other fools feed on the cynicism censorship produces, saying things that they have long been told they can't say. It shows that trying to deal with political issues through censorship makes problems worse. It gives confused fascists an aura of subversion and rebelliousness, which they shouldn't have. And it undermines free speech, which is not only the lifeblood of a civilised society, but is also the best way to deal constructively with the ghosts of the past.

firearm-friendly

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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.

burnout

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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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