December 2016 Archives

John Tirman speculates that Trump's rise portends the end of the commonwealth:

Amid the many controversies attending the election of Donald Trump is one easy to overlook: the mounting assault on "public goods" -- public education, public lands, public information and public health, among them. The worldview of Trump and those he's bringing into government is one in which seeking private interest is paramount, not only as a business aspiration but as a governing ideology. Of all the attitudes of the new administration, this may be the most threatening to democratic practice.

"The scales have been tipping toward private interest rather than public good since the years of President Ronald Reagan," he continues, "and the coming of Trump promises an even stronger swing to private over public:"

It would be difficult to imagine more significant public goods than clean air, the avoidance of catastrophic climate change or the legacy of the nation's protected parks, forests and wildlife.

Yet all of these are in jeopardy. Turning over public lands to the states would in many cases result in "development" -- commercial enterprise, resource extraction, grazing, roads and sell-offs of land -- far beyond what is already granted on federal lands.

"What is particularly disturbing in 2016," he writes, I"s the attempt to limit participation and to limit the quality of discourse:"

The limits on participation are not gauged by expertise -- that is, how knowledgeable you are -- but by race or religion. A number of the white supremacists now ascendant have insisted that blacks, Jews and Muslims be treated differently, submissively, even denied the vote and other standard civil rights. So the very definition of who constitutes "the public" is under attack.

He concludes the piece by positing that "If the trajectory of 2016 continues through Trump's presidency, the 'commons,' the public sphere and the values of shared responsibility, will be tested as never before."

haiku, too

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I penned a few more Rude haikus:

"Vote for Trump!" they cried,
and they did, just because they
hate Clinton so much.
The airwaves were full of
Benghazi, "crooked," emails:
worst news job ever.
"librul media"
they're called, for doing the work
of conservatives.
Benghazi, emails...
weapons of mass distraction
unleashed on US.
Trump voters proclaim:
"We voted against Clinton"
but that's just bullshit.

changing minds

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Vox's Brian Resnick discusses a study on changing minds, which he describes as "the hardest challenge in politics right now:"

Psychologists have been circling around a possible reason political beliefs are so stubborn: Partisan identities get tied up in our personal identities. Which would mean that an attack on our strongly held beliefs is an attack on the self. And the brain is built to protect the self.

When we're attacked, we evade or defend -- as if we have an immune system for uncomfortable thoughts, one you can see working in real time.

"The brain's primary responsibility is to take care of the body, to protect the body," Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, tells me. "The psychological self is the brain's extension of that. When our self feels attacked, our [brain is] going to bring to bear the same defenses that it has for protecting the body."

20161229-beliefchange.jpg

Thanks to decades of right-wing paranoia and propaganda, even the science of fluoride isn't safe from ideological blindness--remember Jack D. Ripper?

What I Believe

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Rhian Sasseen discusses EM Forster's defense of liberalism. Published some 77 years ago as "What I Believe," Fosters opens with the statement that "I do not believe in Belief." Sasseen wonders, "Where to begin, then, for those of us who still think that a fact is still a fact, an article of so-called "fake news" is better branded as a piece of propaganda?"

Outlets like Breitbart, InfoWars, Russia Today, and other luridly-named websites peddle conspiracy theories and half-truths that in another era might be more easily fact checked; today, they pile up too quickly on the evanescence that is the internet, as overwhelming and as momentary as a cloud of smoke. In this particular age of belief, dependent as it is on the digital, it seems as appropriate a time as any to turn to an artist from an earlier age for guidance.

Foster's commentaries, writes Sasseen, "offer a defense of liberalism during a time of shifting extremes and ideologies that feels startlingly relevant to this 21st century American"

And in "What I Believe," there's a clear appreciation and love for humans, despite our foibles and inconsistencies, which rings true even in today's smoke and mirrors world of online trolling.

Forster's essay "What I Believe" was published in Two Cheers for Democracy. It begins thus:

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they are not enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot. [...] My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My motto is : "Lord, I disbelieve - help thou my unbelief.

"Where do I start?" he wonders:

With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty. [...] I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man's pleasure when they come a cropper.

"I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it," he continues:

Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names.

This observation surely cost him some accolades:

I cannot believe that Christianity will ever cope with the present world-wide mess, and I think that such influence as it retains in modern society is due to the money behind it, rather than to its spiritual appeal.

If you're unfamiliar with Foster's essay, it's worth a read.

George Michael

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George Michael, writes Slate, was the gay icon we didn't know we needed, beginning with the "I Want Your Sex" controversy back in the Faith era:

At a time when the mainstream associated gay sex with the AIDS crisis, Michael was finally a pop icon who exalted its joys. Here was a gay celebrity who loved to fuck.

A decade later, a different notoriety was obtained when he "was arrested for a 'lewd act' in a public bathroom by an undercover cop:"

1998 was an early time to come out in our contemporary history, and when Michael did, he wore the cultural stigma as a badge of honor. Michael may not have had the freedom he craved in his own life, but he certainly cleared the way for others. [...] Michael showed no remorse for the act itself. Instead, he gave an almost insouciant response: "I don't feel ashamed and I don't believe I should," he told CNN.

Michael further embraced the incident later that year, when he released the single "Outside," a disco anthem that celebrates cruising and flagrant, illicit public displays of affection. The single works as a statement of Michael's own personal coming-out process: What was once veiled in subtext had been brought wide into the open. [...] It's a bold, radical, campy video that still feels remarkably defiant in today's political environment.

Also interesting is George Michael's interview in the October 2004 issue of GQ:

George went into therapy as soon as Anselmo was diagnosed [in 1991], and it was three years after his death [in 1993] before he felt able to consider another relationship. Then, in 1996, he met Kenny Goss the chisel-jawed Texan who shares his life to this day. [...]

"My biggest problem in life is fear of more loss. I fear Kenny's death far more than my own. I don't want to outlive him. I'd rather have a short life and not have to go through being torn apart again.

The piece also notes "another George Michael revelation... sexually, he swings both ways:"

"When I walk into a restaurant I check out the women before the men, because they're more glamorous. If I wasn't with Kenny, I would have sex with women, no question," he enthuses. "But I would never be able to have a relationship with a woman because I'd feel like a fake. I regard sexuality as being about who you pair off with, and I wouldn't pair off with a woman and stay with her. Emotionally, I'rn definitely a gay man."

"George had worked out he was bisexual," the piece observes, "during the making of Wham!'s second album" way back in 1984:

He told Andrew Ridgeley and close friends immediately, and was ready to tell the world. "I had very little fear about it, but basically my straight friends talked me out of it. I think they thought as I was bisexual, there was no need to. [...] But it's amazing how much more complicated it became because I didn't come out in the early days. I often wonder if my career would have taken a different path if I had."

"One of the complications," the piece continues, "was not being able to be completely honest with people:"

"I used to sleep with women quite a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man. I didn't want to commit to them but I was attracted to them. Then I became ashamed that I might be using them. I decided I had to stop, which I did when I began to worry about AIDS, which was becoming prevalent in Britain. Although I had always had safe sex, I didn't want to sleep with a woman without telling her I was bisexual. I felt that would be irresponsible. Basically, I didn't want to have that uncomfortable conversation that might ruin the moment, so I stopped sleeping with them."

A 1999 Advocate interview asks, "Why, after a career-long battle to keep his personal life away from the press, is George Michael sitting down with The Advocate and doing what he swore he'd never do?"

"People are still telling me to be careful," he sighed. "But at the end of the day, all I can be is honest. I've reached a very good point of self-acceptance. I don't have any shame about my sexuality. I don't think people are going to desert me because they know more about me--"

Here are some bits from the Q&A:

How did your father react to your arrest?

He was great, actually. He called me the next day and said, "Tell them to fuck off. You are who you are." I was very impressed with that.

"What's really interesting," he said later, "is that it [revealing his bisexuality] didn't stop the women:"

It actually made the women more involved. It was a challenge. I wasn't really gay; they could change me. I got that a lot. I slept with quite a lot of women, especially at the end of my Wham! days, because I was still thinking, Maybe I could still be straight. It would make life easier. But suddenly it turned into a time where bisexuality seemed to be the most dangerous form of sexuality--and I suppose it still is--so I felt like the bad guy. I couldn't have it both ways with AIDS around.

AIDS changed what bisexuality meant. It used to be a safer place to be.

And quite cool. You just had more options. But gay and straight people look at me with suspicion when I say, "I'm bisexual." They want me to be one way or another.

Derek Beres analyzes white evangelical voters' fondness for Trump. "We often think of morality as rule-based," he writes, but "it seems difficult to explain why evangelical Christians swung their vote toward Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election." Obama's 26% and 20% share of evangelical voters dropped to just 16% for Hillary:

Clarion calls for evangelical ballot checkmarks have long been religious: abortion, same-sex marriage, infidelity. Their moral card is pronounced and marketed throughout the campaign. Yet it's incredibly plastic. Every four years their demands shift, which explains how a thrice-married businessman with fidelity problems and previous endorsement of women's rights could command the largest evangelical vote of this century.

In a question tailor-made for Trump's personal issues, the observation that "Asking voters if private immoral acts will affect the ethical responsibilities of elected officials, the group that shifted most was the religious" makes perfect sense:

The biggest shift, however, was found in one specific group: white evangelicals. In 2011, 30 percent of that demographic claimed that a politician acting immorally behind closed doors can still be an upstanding moral leader. In the era of Trump that number has surged to 72 percent.

But...Hillary's emails!!!1!!

Dexter Filkins spins a frightening tale of Iraq's Mosul Dam, which a US Army Corps of Engineers report called "the most dangerous dam in the world:"

Completed in 1984, the dam sits on a foundation of soluble rock. To keep it stable, hundreds of employees have to work around the clock, pumping a cement mixture into the earth below. Without continuous maintenance, the rock beneath would wash away, causing the dam to sink and then break apart. But Iraq's recent history has not been conducive to that kind of vigilance. [...]

In February, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a warning of the consequences of a breach in the dam. For a statement written by diplomats, it is extraordinarily blunt. "Mosul Dam faces a serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning," it said. Soon afterward, the United Nations released its own warning, predicting that "hundreds of thousands of people could be killed" if the dam failed. [...]

If the dam ruptured, it would likely cause a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, loosing a wave as high as a hundred feet that would roll down the Tigris, swallowing everything in its path for more than a hundred miles. Large parts of Mosul would be submerged in less than three hours. Along the riverbanks, towns and cities containing the heart of Iraq's population would be flooded; in four days, a wave as high as sixteen feet would crash into Baghdad, a city of six million people.

The description of the potential catastrophe predicts that "An inland tidal wave could displace the 1.2 million refugees now living in tents and temporary quarters in northern Iraq, adding to the chaos:"

The wave, the Embassy's report predicted, would move rapidly through the cities of Bayji, Tikrit, and Samarra, wiping out roads, power stations, and oil refineries; damage to the electrical grid would probably leave the entire country without power. At least two-thirds of Iraq's wheat fields would be flooded. [...] To control the erosion, the government began a crash program of filling the voids with cement, a process called "grouting."

Grouting work had been running "Every day, nonstop" until recent years:

When ISIS fighters took the dam, in 2014, they drove away the overwhelming majority of the dam's workers, and also captured the main grout-manufacturing plant in Mosul. Much of the dam's equipment was destroyed, some by ISIS and some by American air strikes. The grouting came to a standstill--but the passage of water underneath the dam did not.

Estimates of the lost time range from "less than three weeks" to "about four months" to a former official's estimate that "The grouting work stopped for eighteen months."

According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, numerous voids had opened up below the dam--as much as twenty-three thousand cubic metres' worth. "The consensus was that the dam could break at any moment," John Schnittker, an economist who has been working on water issues in Iraq for more than a decade, said.

A subsequent report "that water downstream contained high concentrations of dissolved gypsum--evidence of large voids" makes one worry about the potential closeness of this catastrophe.

MediaMatters quotes from CNN's Reliable Sources to make a point about skeptical journalists:

BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Let's tell some truths about lying, because the way Donald Trump lies has people rethinking some of the basic premises of journalism, like the assumption that everything a president says is automatically news. When President-elect Trump lies so casually, so cynically, the news isn't so much the false thing he said, it's that he felt like he could just go ahead and say it, go ahead and lie to you. That's the story. Why does he bend and flex and twist and warp and distort the truth? Personally I'm curious because I think Trump does it differently than past presidents. His lies are different and deserve scrutiny.

"I think fact-checking is important," Stelter continues, "but the framing of these stories is even more important." Digby concurs, writing that "what Stelter is saying is true:"

There's a lot of data out there showing that when people are shown facts it only tends to reinforce their own biases. [...] Journalism cannot rely on simply fact-checking, although it's important to do it. It has to try to promote truth, not just facts, and that means they have to think hard about ways to talk about politics and government that successfully does that.

"We are in big trouble," she observes, "if we don't figure out a way to govern from a common reality."

What's in a name?

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Christina Cauterucci ruminates on the label lesbian and young queer women. She discusses her peer group and mentions that "Some of our resistance to the term lesbian arose, no doubt, from internalized homophobic notions of lesbians as unfashionable, uncultured homebodies:"

We were convinced that our cool clothes and enlightened, radical paradigm made us something other than lesbians, a label chosen by progenitors who lived in a simpler time with stricter gender boundaries. But with a time-honored label comes history and meaning; by leaving lesbian behind, we were rejecting, in part, a strong identity and legacy that we might have claimed as our own. While all identities are a product of their respective historical moments, starting from scratch is a daunting prospect. And so we're left in a gray area of nomenclature, searching for threads of unity in our pluralism, wondering what, if any, role lesbian can play in a future that's looking queerer by the day.

Cultural connotations aside, the main reason my friend and I felt (and still feel) more comfortable with queer than lesbian was practical: The word lesbian, insofar as it means a woman who is primarily attracted to women, does not correctly describe our reality. My personal queer community comprises cisgender and transgender women; transgender men and transmasculine people; and people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer.

"Losing lesbian" she points out, "means losing a well-defined commonality around which to socialize and mobilize:"

Perhaps that commonality was never as common as it seemed; at any rate, it's clear that lesbian doesn't properly explain our collective identity any more. But as queer women and our comrades mourn the losses of lesbian bars and media outlets the nation over, it's worth wondering how we might expect a dance party or magazine to cater to us when our identities and politics appear to prevent us from sharing a name.

She observes that "Queer people have generations of experience reclaiming words and cultural traditions that weren't explicitly meant for us:"

The tea dance is a brilliant example of our capacity for reinvention and asserting belonging from within. If queers can transform a formal social gathering for biscuit-nibbling heterosexuals into a mainstay of the gay party circuit, imagine what we could do with lesbian.

lil' philosophers

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Quartz reports that teaching philosophy to kids improves their math and English scores:

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another's thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students' confidence and ability to listen to others.

The Education Endowment Foundation's Philosophy for Children program comments that "The project does not aim to teach children philosophy; instead it equips them to 'do' philosophy for themselves:"

SAPERE [Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education]'s program does not focus on reading the texts of Plato and Kant, but rather stories, poems, or film clips that prompt discussions about philosophical issues. The goal is to help children reason, formulate and ask questions, engage in constructive conversation, and develop arguments.

The report "Philosophy for Children: Evaluation report and Executive summary" (PDF) notes that "Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which students participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues:"

Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as 'truth', 'fairness' or 'bullying'. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion.

rude haikus

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Rude Pundit announced his "Annual Haiku Celebration of the Dying Year:"

Submit your haiku about the year that is almost past, any subject. The only rules are that it has to be a for-real goddamn haiku (a line of five syllables, a line of seven syllables, and a line of five syllables). You can be as angry or sad or funny or fucked up as you like.

I came up with a few, but nothing spectacular:

Dafuq? How did that
short-fingered vulgarian
win the election?

I still can't believe
President Pussy-Grabber
won the election.

"Cheetoh-faced buffoon
loose in the Oval Office,"
the front page should read.

'16 took too many:
Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen,
and now George Michael.

Fake news fucked it all:
the manufactured "scandals"
blinded us to Trump.

DC will fill with
imported alligators
the swamp won't get drained.

the C-suite credo

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Jon Chait points out how 'the wealthy would never steal' is a credo for Trump's party:

Donald Trump's government has not yet taken power, but its epitaph may have already been written. The author, Lawrence Kudlow, is a noted voodoo economist and the reported leading candidate to head the administration's Council of Economic Advisors.

In a National Review column, Kudlow makes the case not only that Trump and his administration are not corrupt, but also that they cannot be corrupt, by virtue of their wealth. "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" reasons Kudlow, "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."

The examples of Bernie Madoff, Don Blankenship, the Enron crew, WorldCom, and too many others to list come to mind--but not at NR. "Conservatives like to imagine that their policy represents a challenge to the power structure," Chait continues, but 'crony capitalism' is not the only type of white-collar thievery. Chait continues:

The conceptual distinction between the good kind of wealth, earned through the free market, and the bad kind, earned through political favoritism, is an absolutely vital one for right-wing intellectuals. And yet Trump is showing how easily it collapses in practice. Conservatives have treated a first family using the powers of office to enrich itself -- not theoretically or in the future but right now, on an ongoing basis -- as, at worst, a distraction or a problem of optics. In practice, conservatives share Kudlow's belief that a government of and by the rich is necessarily virtuous.

The conclusion?

We can be pretty sure that Trump, his family, and his friends will be among the people who gain from his policies. Conservatives appear distinctly unalarmed by the prospect.

TrumPutin

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NYRB's look at how Trump will rule observes warily that "Over the last few days, concerns about some kind of a hidden alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have exploded:"

There is the president-elect with his apparently fawning regard for the Russian leader. There are Trump's top cabinet picks, with their unusual Russian ties: as national security advisor, Lt. General Mike Flynn, who has met Putin and done paid events for a Kremlin-sponsored TV station; and as secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has done billions of dollars of business in Russia and received an award from Putin. And then there is the revelation, from the CIA, that Russia may have actively interfered in the US election to get Trump elected.

The piece notes that, of course, "There is still much we don't know about how Trump will rule:"

But in the month since his election, some characteristic patterns have emerged--and they bear some instructive similarities to the style Putin has practiced over many years. Here are a few of them:
  • Lying is the message. It's not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself. [...]
  • The media is the mirror. Trump, like Putin, has a demonstrably thin skin and short temper when it comes to being criticized by journalists. [...]
  • Taking charge of a boring world. The real-estate magnate and the KGB agent share a peculiar trait: both seem to be lazy and uninterested in the world they want to dominate. [...]
  • Interests rather than priorities. Attempts to decipher the process by which Trump is choosing his cabinet have stumbled over the usual question: What are the incoming president's priorities? [...]
  • A president behind enemy lines. Many of Trump's cabinet picks have one thing in common: they are opposed to the very mission of the agencies they have been chosen to lead. [...]
  • The chosen one. When I published a biography of Putin in 2012, some American reviewers criticized the book for asserting that Putin was merely an "ordinary man [whom voters could invest] with whatever they wanted to see in him." I argued that an unqualified man of limited intelligence had by accident come to rule a nuclear power. That simply does not happen, some reviewers claimed. [...]

"It does," he writes--and not only in Russia.

Slate asked, how tall is Trump?

Donald Trump went on quacky Dr. Oz's TV show Thursday to talk about his health, and somehow, the weirdest number to come up had nothing to do with his testosterone (though, yes, that too was discussed).

Instead, it was Trump's claim, through his doctor's letter, that he is 6-foot-3.

Most everyone else puts him at 6-foot-2.

Slate then asks, "Why does this matter?"

My colleague Jeremy Samuel Faust suggested a theory to me. It has to do with the other disputed number floating around prior to the show's airing: his weight, which the doctor's note put at 236 pounds, though some reports suggested he's 267 pounds. At 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, his body mass index is a convenient 29.5--overweight but just a biscuit shy of obese (BMI of 30). At 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, he's at 30.3--obese. BMI is a worthless measure of physical health, but maybe in this case it tells us a little something about a man's self-regard. Is it possible that Trump's doctor added the extra inch so that his patient, who is not exactly lacking in vanity, would not be "officially" obese?

Politico provides corroboration:

Donald Trump and his doctor claim he's 6-foot-3, but his New York driver's license says he's actually an inch shorter.

A copy of Trump's license, obtained by POLITICO through an open-records request, lists the president-elect at 6-foot-2.

20161227-trumplicense.jpg

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum piles on:

By a remarkable coincidence, I happen to be 6-foot-2 and weigh exactly 236 pounds. I have an unfortunate amount of belly fat to show for this, but nowhere near what Trump does. At a conservative guess, Trump weighs at least 30 pounds more

Hemant Mehta defends Snopes against distractions:

It's been a rough PR week for the people behind fact-checking website Snopes.com. There was a nasty piece against the site's founders and staffers at the Daily Mail and an article drawing attention to those attacks at the New York Times.

Ignore the distractions for a moment. The only question that matters is whether Snopes is reliable. Does it do a good job of setting the record straight on urban legends and (actual) fake news?

Mehta admits to having "no interest in the personal lives of the couple that founded the site:"

The people who accuse Snopes, or PolitiFact, or any other similar site of being biased -- often conservatives unhappy to have their pet conspiracy theories debunked by people who know better -- have no understanding of how fact-checking works. [...]

The personal lives of the people behind it are irrelevant, and anyone who brings that subject up as a reason to discredit the site are simply trying to distract you.

Don't fall for it.

Salon points out that all news is fake news in the Right's war on truth. "Conservatives," writes digby, "are launching an attack on the concept of reality itself"--one that's been brewing since the Reagan Era:

Conservatives learned to challenge the media's alleged liberal bias as a tactic to make reporters leery of any news that reflected negatively on conservatives. It was very effective. By the time right-wing talk radio came along and later Fox News, with its pretensions of being "fair and balanced," conservatives had convinced millions of people that their version of reality was the truth and that mainstream media and major newspapers were all catering to the liberals.

"The right-wing media complex," she writes, "is all-in on this:"

According to the Times, everyone from Laura Ingraham to Erick Erickson to Donald Trump himself is labeling anything they disagree with, including the fact-check sites like Snopes or Factcheck.org, as "fake news." Millions of people have been conditioned to believe their claims for years, which means polarization is only likely to get worse. If Americans can't even agree which facts are real, it's hard to see how we're going to be able to govern ourselves.

Michael Shermer offers some hope by explaining how to convince someone when facts fail:

Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.

He lists Creationists, anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers climate-change deniers, and birthers as instances of this tendency:

In these examples, proponents' deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by skeptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed. This power of belief over evidence is the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect.

For another example, we can consider the question what does the science say about torture's efficacy?

The US president-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions insisted that torture is a good idea and that procedures such as water-boarding are not "tough enough" when dealing with terrorist groups like Islamic State.

"The view is clearly morally and ethically questionable," the piece continues:

Torture has a long history, and despite being prohibited worldwide (in 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations inserted the prohibition against torture in the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the use of torture appears to be increasing worldwide.

"The evidence that torture works appears to be anecdotal [and] the available science simply does not support the argument that torture is effective." Sadly, the Right's anti-objectivity efforts have been quite effective. Sometimes I'm not sure which campaign is more dangerous.

TPM's Josh Marshall expresses skepticism, calling fake news "the bright, shiny object of the post-2016 election America:"

I think there's a legitimate question about how much many people actually 'believe' what we call 'fake news'. In many cases, 'fake news', the latest manufactured outrage, functions as a kind of ideational pornography, ideas and claims that excite people's political feelings, desires and fears and create feelings of connection with kindred political spirits.

NYT's look at conservatives' Bizarro world mentions that Breitbart News "dismissed reports on the intelligence assessment as "left-wing fake news:"

Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. "The fake news is the everyday news" in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. "They just make it up."

The piece notes that "top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda:"

In defining "fake news" so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country's increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.

Trumpian dishonesty

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Trump bragged that 100% of donations to his eponymous foundation go to "wonderful charities," but PoliticusUSA points out that his claim is ridiculous:

Trump's dishonesty is breathtaking in scope, given how he used his foundation to buy portraits of himself to hang in his own properties and an autographed Tim Tebow helmet, not to mention, as Rebecca Berg was quick to point out, "A large chunk of money went to advance Trump's political prospects."

Also, "The Trump Foundation gave a quarter of a million dollars to settle lawsuits involving @realDonaldTrump's businesses." In addition, MSNBC noted about that Trump's announcement "that he would dissolve his namesake foundation to avoid any potential conflict of interest during his time as president:"

The plan may quickly run into a snag, however. [...]

"The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete," New York Attorney General spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said in a statement released Saturday.

"We know Trump's lying," the piece continues, "in part because the Trump Foundation has already admitted that some of its money covered non-charitable expenses:"

Trump used foundation money to buy giant portraits of himself. Trump used foundation money to make illegal campaign contributions. Trump used foundation money to settle private-sector lawsuits. Trump used foundation money to support conservative political entities that could help further his partisan ambitions. [...]

A month ago, the Trump Foundation admitted in official documents that "it violated a legal prohibition against 'self-dealing,' which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity's money to help themselves, their businesses or their families." The materials, filed with the IRS, were signed by Trump himself - so it's not as if he can credibly claim he had no idea what was going on.

It's not just the dishonesty, though; "what's alarming about Trump's latest deception is how brazen it is:"

The president-elect knows his claims are false, and he must realize that anyone with a passing familiarity with current events knows it, too. But Trump just doesn't care about getting caught lying, in part because his followers don't care, in part because he's counting on news organizations to push back against his lies with kid gloves, and in part because he assumes much of the public will reject any evidence published by journalists. [...]

The more inclined Trump is to keep this up-is-down experiment going, the more mind-numbing the next four years are going to be.

In other news, Kevin Drum dissects another Trump tweet, this one even more self-serving:

The world was gloomy before I won - there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars! -- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016

"In a mere 26 words," Drum notes, "Trump has managed to mislead his audience in three separate ways without quite lying about anything:"

In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. But it's still a fascinating little insight into how Trump gaslights his followers and the nation into believing that he's the savior of the country. Most people have no idea about any of these numbers, so he can say anything he wants and he's likely to be believed. Nor will fact checking change this even a tiny bit.

Is he warming up to be 2017's Misinformer of the Year?

twice-hacked

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Richard Eskow looks at Russian hacking and Republican election-rigging:

What does it tell us when leading Democrats are more upset about allegations of Russian election-rigging than they are about Republican election-rigging? After all, American oligarchs like the Koch Brothers have no more right to undermine our democracy than Russian oligarchs do. [emphasis added]

GOP voting laws systematically discriminate against minority voters and working people. Yes, leading Democrats have lodged pro forma protests against them, but they should be shouting about it from the rooftops. They seem more comfortable challenging Russians than they do challenging a party that's undermining the electoral process much closer to home.

"It's a conspiracy in plain sight," he writes:

If Democrats want to challenge the electoral outcome, it would be better to do it on behalf of the minority and lower-income voters disenfranchised by Republican lawmakers. That's a charge we can prove. [...]

We can't resolve the Russian question without more answers, but we can fix what we already know is broken. Investigate Putin. But democracy, like charity, begins at home.

noisy data

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Florence Williams writes a cautionary take on noise pollution:

If you're a tree frog or an ovenbird in mating season and you happen to live in the 83 percent of the continental United States that lies within 3,500 feet of a road, bummer for you. Not only are you more likely to collide with an SUV, but you're going to have a harder time finding a mate. Research suggests that human-generated noises also mess with nesting behavior, predator-prey dynamics, and sleep patterns. In other words, wildlife gets stressed out by noise.

So do we, it turns out--and the world is getting louder.

She continues by writing that "anthropophony (a fancy word for the human soundscape) is also contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities:"

Not only does background noise interfere with our much-needed ability to recuperate, but in the places where we live and play, we have increasingly fewer havens from the onslaught.

Even if you think you're immune to city noise, it may well be affecting your health. The best research on this comes out of Europe. In one study of 4,861 adults, a 10-decibel increase in nighttime noise was linked to a 14 percent rise in a person's likelihood of being diagnosed with hypertension.

Yet another depressing study examined the cognition of 2,800 students in 89 schools across Europe. Published in The Lancet in 2005, it found that aircraft and road noise had significant impacts on reading comprehension and certain kinds of memory. The results, adjusted for family income, the mother's education, and other confounding factors, were linear. For every five-decibel noise increase, the reading scores of British children dropped by the equivalent of a two-month delay, so that kids in neighborhoods that were 20 decibels louder than average were almost a year behind.

She observes that other studies are "finding ... that noise may well be the most pervasive pollutant in America." The study to which she refers, "Aircraft and road traffic noise and children's cognition and health: a cross-national study," indicates that "a chronic environmental stressor--aircraft noise--could impair cognitive development in children, specifically reading comprehension:"

Schools exposed to high levels of aircraft noise are not healthy educational environments. [...] With respect to health effects, increasing exposure to both aircraft noise and road traffic noise was associated with increasing annoyance responses in children.

The study makes a caveat that "we focused largely on exposure to noise in schools, though noise at home might also affect health outcomes"

An effect of aircraft noise on reading is consistent with previous findings. Exposure to aircraft noise has been related to impairments of children's cognition in terms of reading comprehension, long-term memory, and motivation. Tasks that involve central processing and language comprehension, such as reading, attention, problem solving, and memory seem most affected by exposure to noise.

Irin Carmon's "My Sluthood, Myself" gives us some details of her long dry spell, followed by a Craigslist Casual Encounters hookup that prompts her to declare that "sluthood is scary:"

Because we've been taught to fear it all our lives, and that training doesn't just go away because we understand the agenda behind it. And because there are real risks involved. Society likes to punish slutty women. And so do a lot of individual men, some of whom frequent Craigslist Casual Encounters.

I left my roommate a note telling her what I'd done and where I was going and to call me at 11 and if I didn't answer to call the police. (What they were going to do about the fact that her 30-something roommate had gone on a CE date and wasn't home after two hours I mercifully didn't wonder at the time.) And then I went down to the local bar and met him.

You've probably already guessed that I didn't get axe murdered. Instead, we spent a lovely hour chatting over a couple of glasses of wine, he used the phrase "male hegemony" critically in a sentence (entirely unprompted by me), and then he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place, which was nearby. And once again, to my shock and terror and excitement, I found that I did. Though not before asking him for his address, calling my roommate with it in front of him, and letting him know I had extensive self-defense training.

Reader, I fucked him. Three rounds worth that night. And it was awesome.

After talking a bit about privilege, she says, "I'm telling you this because it's important for everyone to understand:"

Sluthood isn't a disease, or a wrong path, or a trend that's ruining our youth. It isn't just for detached, unemotional women who "fuck like men," (as if that actually meant something), consequences be damned. It isn't ever inevitable that sluthood should inspire violence or shame. Sluthood isn't just a choice we should let women make because women should be free to make even "bad" choices. It's a choice we should all have access to because it has the potential to be liberating. Healing. Soul-fulfilling. I'm telling you this because sluthood saved me, in a small but life-altering way, and I want it to be available to you if you ever think it could save you, too.

Interestingly, Kate Carraway opines that queer women can't be sluts:

There's a crucial difference between a straight slut and a queer slut, and it's the shame factor. But it's not shame in the way you might think.

She continues by observing that this is "because 'slut' doesn't exist as an idea without its association with shame:"

This is why there's no original analog for a "male slut," why we have to dredge up horrible jargon like "himbo" and "man-whore." These all provocative-on-purpose jokes cannot be taken as seriously as to call a woman a "slut."

"A slut without shame is not a slut at all," she continues, "and a queer slut is, mostly, freed from all of the still-in-effect stigmas and judgments of straight straight-up sluts:"

This is because the shame of "slut" is specifically about the fear and subsequent judgment of women making themselves available and in some ways vulnerable to men. But we're not so much worried about a so-called slut's emotional well-being as we are afraid of her being used up, spoiled, pregnant with a fatherless baby -- because all of that stuff is bad for women, individually and collectively.

But these fears don't -- can't, really -- translate to the lesbian community.

I'm not sure that I completely agree with her take on the semantics of sluthood, but it's worth considering.

Matthew Yglesias' letter to future historians sounds an ambivalent note about our current situation. "I hope it will all turn out for the best," he writes, "But I fear that it will not:"

The election of a man temperamentally unfit to the presidency and lacking in the basic qualifications to perform the job, backed up by congressional allies who seem determined to ignore his flagrant corruption, is an alarming situation. The odds that he will systematically corrupt American institutions and install an authoritarian kleptocracy or blunder into some kind of catastrophic war seem simply too high to entirely discount.

"No matter how stupid it sounds," he points out, "the dominant issue of the 2016 campaign was email server management." He then reminds us that "Email fever reached its peak on two separate major occasions:"

One was when Comey closed the investigation. Instead of simply saying "we looked into it and there was no crime," Comey sought to immunize himself from Clinton critics by breaking with standard procedure to offer extended negative commentary on Clinton's behavior. He said she was "extremely careless."

Comey then brought the email story back to the center of the campaign in late October by writing a letter to Congress indicating that the email case had been reopened due to new discoveries on Anthony Weiner's laptop. It turned out that the new discoveries were an awfully flimsy basis for a subpoena, and the subpoena turned up nothing.

His details are damning:

• The New York Times dedicated 100 percent of its above-the-fold space to coverage of Comey's letter to Congress.
• Throughout the campaign season, network newscasts dedicated more time to Clinton's email server stories than to stories about all policy issues combined.
• Donald Trump's campaign rallies featured regular "lock her up" chants, centering the email server as the opposition's main criticism of Clinton.
• Across five television networks and six major newspapers, 11 percent of campaign coverage was stories about Clinton's email server.

"Indeed," he continues, "research from Gallup indicates that emails dominated what voters heard about Clinton all throughout the campaign," as these wordclouds demonstrate:

20161226-wordcloud.jpg

Even at the time, some of us found it hardly credible that a decision as weighty as who should be president was being decided on the basis of something as trivial as which email address the secretary of state used. Future generations must find it even harder to believe.

Digby makes a great point--that "It's actually a testament to her rectitude that a vague scandal called 'emails!' was all they came up with:"

They had certainly tried over the course of 25 years to come up with something real and they ended up having to make up this ridiculous fake scandal to justify their Javert-like obsession. Unfortunately, it worked as perfectly as any Clinton-scandal ever worked. It was a complicated story that added up to nothing but fit the "didn't pass the smell test" narrative for the media so they pimped it and pimped it and pimped it like it was Watergate.

Speaking of not passing a smell test:

Now we have Trump, the horror story some of us were screaming about until we were hoarse for the last 18 months, knowing that he could and might very well win unless the media, the Republican establishment and some very silly voters sobered up. They didn't. And now we all have to deal with the hangover.

economic regression

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Economist Anatole Kaletsky writes about the crisis of market fundamentalism, suggesting that "The US may now be ready to abandon the monetarist dogmas of central-bank independence and inflation targeting, and to restore full employment as the top priority of demand management:"

By deregulating finance and trade, intensifying competition, and weakening unions, governments created the theoretical conditions that demanded redistribution from winners to losers. But advocates of market fundamentalism did not just forget redistribution; they forbade it.

The pretext was that taxes, welfare payments, and other government interventions impair incentives and distort competition, reducing economic growth for society as a whole. But, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, [...] "there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." By focusing on the social benefits of competition while ignoring the costs to specific people, the market fundamentalists disregarded the principle of individualism at the heart of their own ideology.

Kaletsky continues:

Just as fiscal and monetary policy can be calibrated to minimize both unemployment and inflation, redistribution can be designed not merely to recycle taxes into welfare, but to help more directly when workers and communities suffer from globalization and technological change.

He then notes that "governments have mostly done the opposite:"

They have made tax systems less progressive and slashed spending on education, industrial policies and regional subsidies, pouring money instead into health care, pensions, and cash hand-outs that encourage early retirement and disability. The redistribution has been away from low-paid young workers, whose jobs and wages are genuinely threatened by trade and immigration, and toward the managerial and financial elites, who have gained the most from globalization, and elderly retirees, whose guaranteed pensions protect them from economic disruptions.

It's a Wonderful S&L

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Bourree Lam and Gillian White discuss It's a Wonderful Life and banking; here are some highlights:

Lam: I actually think the movie does a good job of portraying the downsides of what it means to be both a "good" bank (one that lends to people who need it, but is likely over-leveraged) and a "bad" bank (a more profitable one that loans at high interest rates and only provides credit to people who already have money). But there are also inherent moral judgments about the way a bank should work that come across as too black-and-white. For example, when Potter asks Bailey, "Are you running a business or a charity?" we know it's not mutually exclusive like that. After all, a bank ideally would help people reach financial goals while also turning a profit.
White: I think part of what makes It's a Wonderful Life such an appealing movie is that people can easily rally around Bailey as the savior of the community. He's a hard-working and self-sacrificing businessman, who is helping out his neighbors. In the end, the community saves itself. I think what's interesting is that in reality, many places probably didn't have a George Bailey. And certainly now--with bank consolidation--there are fewer and fewer neighborhood financial institutions and certainly fewer individuals who could help bridge those gaps. In those instances, people who are having a hard time would have much less heart-warming options: government services or dangerous, expensive short-term loans, like payday or auto titles.

Reuters' Daniel Trotta discusses the early transitioning of trans kids:

Increasingly across the United States, doctors and parents of transgender children are embracing their identity as soon it starts becoming obvious, sometimes around age 3. Many say they are finding much greater chances of happiness and well-being when children are nurtured in their new gender identity at such a young age.

Although there is not a consensus on the issue, some clinicians who work with transgender children have concluded that when children persistently identify as the nonconforming gender, the best course is to socially transition, or live as the other gender, even at age 3.

Other specialists in the field advocate a more cautious approach because the long-term psychosexual results for young children can vary widely and unpredictably.

"Whatever the age," Trotta stresses, "parental support is crucial:"

Fifteen percent of transgender Americans say they ran away from home or were kicked out of the house, according to a survey released on Dec. 8 of nearly 28,000 transgender adults.

The same study, by advocacy group the National Center for Transgender Equality, found transgender adults were nine times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide.

But transgender people with supportive families were far less likely to attempt suicide, be homeless or experience serious psychological distress - by nearly 20-point margins compared with those who lacked family support, the survey said.

Johanna Olson-Kennedy, medical director LA's Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children's Hospital concurs:

Because prepubescent transgender children require no more physical change than a new hairstyle and clothes, the initial transition is completely reversible, Olson-Kennedy said.

Of some 1,000 patients she has dealt with, only one switched back to the natal gender, and without any harm, she said.

The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman claims that time management is ruining our lives--and has been since at least Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" system a decade ago:

Mann advised his audience that day at Google's Silicon Valley campus, every time you visit your inbox, you should systematically "process to zero". Clarify the action each message requires - a reply, an entry on your to-do list, or just filing it away. Perform that action. Repeat until no emails remain. Then close your inbox, and get on with living.

The "rich seam of societal anxiety" that Mann was mining has since been refined into a multitude of productivity apps and time-management techniques:

And yet the truth is that more often than not, techniques designed to enhance one's personal productivity seem to exacerbate the very anxieties they were meant to allay. The better you get at managing time, the less of it you feel that you have. Even when people did successfully implement Inbox Zero, it didn't reliably bring calm. Some interpreted it to mean that every email deserved a reply, which only shackled them more firmly to their inboxes.

"The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day," Burkeman continues, "everything might finally be under control:"

Yet work in the modern economy is notable for its limitlessness. And if the stream of incoming emails is endless, Inbox Zero can never bring liberation: you're still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity - you're just rolling it slightly faster.

After a few years of working on a book that never materialized, Mann himself concluded as much:

"I'm mostly out of the productivity racket these days," Mann told me. "If you're just using efficiency to jam more and more stuff into your day ... well, how would you ever know that that's working?"

The problematic issue of self-consciousness affects every GTD-like system:

One of the sneakier pitfalls of an efficiency-based attitude to time is that we start to feel pressured to use our leisure time "productively", too - an attitude which implies that enjoying leisure for its own sake, which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure, is somehow not quite enough. And so we find ourselves, for example, travelling to unfamiliar places not for the sheer experience of travel, but in order to add to our mental storehouse of experiences, or to our Instagram feeds. We go walking or running to improve our health, not for the pleasure of movement; we approach the tasks of parenthood with a fixation on the successful future adults we hope to create.

Burkeman shares an anecdote from software engineer Tom DeMarco:

DeMarco points out that any increase in efficiency, in an organisation or an individual life, necessitates a trade-off: you get rid of unused expanses of time, but you also get rid of the benefits of that extra time. [...]

In the accident and emergency department [...] remaining "inefficient" in this sense is a matter of life and death. If there is an exclusive focus on using the staff's time as efficiently as possible, the result will be a department too busy to accommodate unpredictable arrivals, which are the whole reason it exists.

A similar problem afflicts any corporate cost-cutting exercise that focuses on maximising employees' efficiency: the more of their hours that are put to productive use, the less available they will be to respond, on the spur of the moment, to critical new demands. For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.

This passage, wherein DeMarco discusses "those sliding number puzzles, in which you move eight tiles around a nine-tile grid, until all the digits are in order," is my Quote of the Day:

To use the available space more efficiently, you could always add a ninth tile to the empty square. You just wouldn't be able to solve the puzzle any more. If that jammed and unsolvable puzzle feels like an appropriate metaphor for your life, it's hard to see how improving your personal efficiency - trying to force yet more tiles on to the grid - is going to be much help.

"Personal productivity," Burkeman concludes, "presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness:"

And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don't have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. [...]

You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like - but eventually you'll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren't really about technology. They're manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas. Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?

Salon's look at Trumpers and the "drain the swamp" con makes the case that it's not about good governance--it's a political purge. The goal isn't better governance, it's a purely partisan goal of putting conservatives in charge.

This ties in with Newt Gingrich, who might have revealed too much:

"I'm told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore," Gingrich said...

"But, you know, he is my leader and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator I will drop the swamp and the alligator."

Adele Stan's analysis of Trump's oligarchy-building worries that it's "difficult to take in all the harm being inflicted on the republic at this moment in history, and the consequences are terrifying to contemplate:"

The stage has been set for a massive accrual of profits to private capitalists--both here and abroad--through the leveraging and misappropriation of the nation's assets and resources, be they highway funds or the fossil fuel that sits beneath the lands and oceans, or the lands over which such fuel must travel to reach a market. And even those two examples represent but a glimpse of the massive grift that is to come.

Stan writes that "the real act....is the diversion of the nation's assets in the service of financial flows between the private capitalists of the United States and the oligarchs of the world--especially those of Russia:"

Trump has found his model, and thanks to the political infrastructure created by private capitalists Charles and David Koch--oilmen themselves--he has access to a strong apparatus for maintaining power. It's the same apparatus that just stripped the incoming governor of North Carolina of much of the office's previously held powers. It's the apparatus that is likely to keep the U.S. House of Representatives in Republican hands for a generation.

It's all to the good of the gaggle of people who sit atop large, privately-held entities and corporations, people whose actions are unaccountable to the public because shares in their businesses are not traded on exchanges.

Rather than divest himself of any holdings, Trump will apparently maintain his position atop that financial apparatus:

Today comes word that rather than place his holdings in what is traditionally known as a "blind trust," Trump is contemplating a "half-blind trust," one that would leave his family in charge of the store.

The nation rustles lightly, its weariness from a hellish campaign and fear over its outcome obscuring its view with heavy eyelids.

In the land of unseeing, the half-blind man is king.

And thus we return to Newt, this time for a lecture on professional ethics:

We have never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work, and we're going to have to think up, you know, a whole new approach. ...

I've suggested that people who are widely respected, like Attorney General Mukasey, might -- that the president-elect might want to form a panel who are sort of a review group, if that makes sense, and that the panel would monitor regularly what was going on and would offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.

"This is not a surprise," the piece continues, "to anyone who has followed the three-decade-arc of the deeply corrupt and cynical career of Newton Leroy Gingrich:"

But let us take him at his word that Donald Trump wants to "clean up" Washington because we live "in an age when people are convinced that government corruption is widespread both in the United States and around the world." Exactly how does letting the incoming administration off the hook on corruption issues ahead of time help fight that perception?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn't.

"After eight years of complaining that Obama is a dictator who sees himself as above the law," Salon snarks, "surely we can expect the GOP to put its money where its mouth is. Right?"

not-so-good grief

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David Horsey writes, "I have never seen anything quite like the grief being felt by the majority of American voters who did not vote for Donald Trump."

This is not simply a case of Hillary Clinton supporters being bad losers. For most of those who feel traumatized by what happened on Nov. 8, this is not about the candidate who won the popular vote, yet lost the election. It is about the candidate who was picked as president by the electoral college on Monday. People are mourning because the fate of their country will now be in the hands of an intellectually disinterested, reckless, mendacious narcissist.

It is not just Democrats. There are plenty of conservatives and Republicans among those feeling depressed. Their party has been captured by a man who has no bedrock belief in any principle; a man whose only allegiance appears to be to himself.

Horsey offers at least a glimmer of hope:

In the presidential campaign, the fears of one group of citizens morphed into a powerful anger that Trump harnessed to propel himself to the White House. Now, another set of Americans -- a significantly larger group -- is feeling profoundly distressed. If their fears are borne out, their anger, too, will become a political force that could upend an election yet to come.

David Masciotra writes my college students aren't snowflakes, and backs it up with tales of a student undergoing chemotherapy, one who lost both parents, and another living with her daughter in a homeless shelter.

He proclaims, "These are just a few of the delicate 'snowflakes' I have met and taught" and notes that "There are few activities more predictable and pathetic than old people lamenting the loss of virtue, the weakness or the incompetence of young people"--despite the fact that "they are stronger, and better for our country, than most of the insufferable scolds who enjoy insulting them."

It turns out that Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll did not usher in the age of Armageddon, easily accessible birth control has not reduced civilization to a heap of ashes, women in the workplace have not caused the collapse of the nation's economic institutions and the assimilation of same sex couples into mainstream culture has not transformed the United States into a contemporary incarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. [Does that sound familiar?]

Almost all of the anxiety over the social progress of the baby boomer generation was without justification, making it all the more ironic that it is currently the boomers directing hysterical sanctimony at millennials. The accusations and condescension that many boomers hurl at younger Americans have all the charm and appeal of projectile vomiting.

"Because the dopamine rush of mocking young people is so irresistible," he writes, "no one bothers to actually investigate the veracity of the charges against the so called "snowflake generation." This is no surprise, because the charges are almost completely BS:

It would appear that the only people too fragile to handle communication counter to their own assumptions are the right wing paranoiacs shrieking and cowering over the barely visible minority ["in the 2014-15 academic year, a mere 6.4 percent of American universities had a demonstration take place on campus"] of college students actively involved in progressive political activism.

"The overwhelming majority of college students," he writes, "are trying to earn a degree that will help them matriculate into a career of their choice:"

In the meantime, they want to make friends, have fun and get laid. Anyone who has spent time teaching in the college classroom would relate to my testimony that the biggest problem of political participation among American youth is that it does not exist. Too many college students are apathetic -- not only about politics, but about the arts, and history and culture in general.

Noah Charney's piece "Your Brain on Art" praises Eric Kandel's book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, saying that it "offers one of the freshest insights into art history in many years:"

Ask your average person walking down the street what sort of art they find more intimidating, or like less, or don't know what to make of, and they'll point to abstract or minimalist art. Show them traditional, formal, naturalistic art, like Bellini's "Sacred Allegory," art which draws from traditional core Western texts (the Bible, apocrypha, mythology) alongside a Mark Rothko or a Jackson Pollock or a Kazimir Malevich, and they'll retreat into the Bellini, even though it is one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of the art world, a riddle of a picture for which not one reasonable solution has ever been put forward. The Pollock, on the other hand, is just a tangle of dripped paint, the Rothko just a color with a bar of another color on top of it, the Malevich is all white.

Kandel offers this explanation:

In abstract painting, elements are included not as visual reproductions of objects, but as references or clues to how we conceptualize objects. In describing the world they see, abstract artists not only dismantle many of the building blocks of bottom-up visual processing by eliminating perspective and holistic depiction, they also nullify some of the premises on which bottom-up processing is based. We scan an abstract painting for links between line segments, for recognizable contours and objects, but in the most fragmented works, such as those by Rothko, our efforts are thwarted.

Thus the reason abstract art poses such an enormous challenge to the beholder is that it teaches us to look at art -- and, in a sense, at the world -- in a new way. Abstract art dares our visual system to interpret an image that is fundamentally different from the kind of images our brain has evolved to reconstruct.

"We like to think of abstraction as a 20th century phenomenon," he writes, but its roots lie far deeper:

A look at ancient art finds it full of abstraction. Most art history books, if they go back far enough, begin with Cycladic figurines (dated to 3300-1100 BC). Abstracted, ghost-like, sort-of-human forms. Even on cave walls, a few lines suggest an animal, or a constellation of blown hand-prints float on a wall in absolute darkness.

Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.

Enriching, but not merely entertaining--no wonder it's so unpopular.

Eric Boehlert presents the disgusting mental image of NBC in bed with Trump:

The parent company for NBC News, one of the largest news organizations in America, is going to maintain its business relationship with the president of the United States; the same Donald Trump whom NBC announced last year didn't reflect the company's "core values," which was why NBC publicly terminated its business relationship with him.

But now after winning the White House, it turns out Trump is going to stay on as executive producer for the latest incarnation of The Apprentice reality show, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And all of this we're learning just days after Trump made a big public show about how he was going to remove himself from his business conflicts. [...]

It's impossible to suggest those conflicts for NBC will soon evaporate when Trump's sworn into office. In fact, they'll only multiply.

"Meanwhile," Boehlert writes, "a key point is that this is just the latest in the media's rampant normalization of Trump's wildly abnormal behavior:"

Every modern-day president before Trump, and every modern-day nominee before him, pledged to make sure not only wouldn't there be any conflicts of interest surrounding their presidencies, but there wouldn't even any appearances of conflicts; of cashing in on the Oval Office. (Cue Richard Nixon: "People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.")

Now Trump does the opposite by openly flaunting obvious conflicts and the D.C. press largely shrugs its shoulders.


BigThink's piece asking if running is the sport for smart people (written by Robby Berman) will likely show up in my feeds more than a few times:

Some people look to it as a workout that it gives you time to think, away from distractions. Others just love running. And, of course, many runners run with the intention of exercising their bodies. A new study, though, suggests that this seemingly simple activity may also exercise the brain in surprising ways.

A just-published study by researchers at the University of Arizona in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reveals that runners appear to have an exceptionally high amount of connectivity between areas of the brain associated with higher-level thinking, including those dealing with multitasking and concentration. They also showed less connectivity, or "anti-correlation" -- in the brain's areas associated with daydreaming and unfocused thought.

Berman notes that "One of the study's authors, Gene E. Alexander, a professor of psychology, neurology and physical sciences, spoke about the array of mental skills running engages to the New York Times:

"It requires complex navigational skills plus an ability to plan, monitor and respond to the environment, juggle memories of past runs and current conditions, and also continue with all of the sequential motor activities of running, which are, themselves, very complicated."

Exercising these skills might have long-term benefits:

The researchers' final conclusion is that the enhanced neuroplasticity they saw in younger athletes may have implications for older adults, and "should be investigated in relation to brain aging and the potential to reduce vulnerability to cognitive aging and the risk for neurodegenerative disease," especially since there's already evidence that supports the idea of exercise as a tool for supporting and prolonging mental acuity in the elderly.

I can definitely get behind Berman's closing comment: "Want to improve your mind? Lace up, warm up, and go."

The study ("Differences in Resting State Functional Connectivity between Young Adult Endurance Athletes and Healthy Controls") looks at numerous other research "suggest[ing] that locomotion in general, and high-speed locomotion specifically, engages several cognitive domains in ways that, over time, may alter brain structure, function, and connectivity:"

We hypothesized that individuals who engage in highly intense aerobic exercise (i.e., competitive endurance cross-country running) would differ in resting state functional connectivity in these networks compared with more sedentary, non-athlete controls due to the intense demands on executive functions that are intrinsically linked with such motor activities.

"Our results show, for the first time," write the study authors, "clear differences in resting state functional connectivity between expert endurance athletes and healthy age-matched non-athletes:"

These differences may arise in response to the cognitive demands of long distance running combined with aerobic exercise. It is possible that differences in resting state fcMRI activity may improve aerobic athletic performance by allowing more efficient execution of cognitive and motor demands during highly intense activity.

They, too, stress the long-term effects:

Lifelong physical activity may be an important element of successful aging and strengthened resting state connectivity could reflect a mechanism for the protective effects of physical activity. Together, our findings suggest that more detailed investigations of exercise-induced neuroplasticity in young adults may help us better understand how lifelong healthy behaviors can improve quality of life in older adults.

the F word

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Despite Merriam-Webster's warning that "fascism could become 2016's most-searched term on its online dictionary," Dominic Green sees a problem with using 'fascism' as an insult--primarily that fact that "To call someone fascist is to announce that they are beneath contempt--and thus beneath serious consideration:"

But is fascism an accurate heuristic for the populist movements in the United States and Europe that have arisen in recent years, or is invoking the term just a kneejerk way of condemning political opponents? And if it's inaccurate, might the word still represent a useful case study on the debased value of political language?

Green discusses Robert Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism, and seems as if he merely wants us to preserve the F-bomb's sting by avoiding overuse. Today, he fears, "the language of politics is stuck with an F-word whose value is more rhetorical than analytical."

Putin in the polls

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Business Insider reports that "Putin's favorability rating has taken an amazing turn among Republicans since President-elect Donald Trump began praising the Russian president:"

According to a YouGov/Economist poll, Putin's favorability rating in July 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, was negative-54 among Democrats and negative-66 among Republicans.

A poll from the same outlets released this month showed that Putin's favorability rating among Democrats dipped to negative-62. But the Russian leader's rating among Republicans improved dramatically, from negative-66 to negative-10.

20161217-goputin.jpg

New York Magazine comments that "with a -10 net favorability among GOP members, the Russian president is far better liked by them than either Hillary Clinton (-77) or Barack Obama (-64)" and links to this Vox piece--which notes that this is "a massive improvement in his ratings since 2014:"

And it makes sense, because GOP voters are no longer hearing uniformly negative messaging from their party elites about Putin. Trump has repeatedly praised Putin as a "strong leader," and it is instead Democrats who have been loudly criticizing Russia for its attempts to intervene in the 2016 election.

Another tidbit: Republican voters view Hillary Clinton (-77) and Barack Obama (-64) far more unfavorably than Putin (-10), and Democratic voters also view Trump (-65) about as unfavorably as the Russian president (-62).

bromosexual buddies

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The Conversation discusses bromosexual friendships:

For a long time, friendships between gay men and straight men - what some now call "bromosexual" friendships - were uncommon. Homophobia was likely one reason; another was that straight men probably assumed didn't they have much in common with gay men.

But lately, "bromosexual" friendships have started to receive more attention, acceptance and interest.

The article asks, "which straight men are the most likely to befriend gay men, and vice versa? And what determines whether these friendships prosper?"

For one, the timing of when these friendships form may be crucial. We know that gay men are now coming out at an earlier age. Gay men who disclose their sexual orientation to their straight male friends earlier in life may be able to build more open and honest friendships with them into adulthood.

Second, recent research has argued that gender and sexual orientation might not be as black and white as previously thought, which opens up new avenues for exploring how gay and straight men can relate to one another. If a straight guy and his gay male friend are less rigid about their masculinity and sexuality, they'll probably be more likely to discuss details about their sexual and romantic lives openly with one another.

These discussions are particularly important because they normalize same-gender attraction. Friendships also strengthen when each side discloses personal information, which can include discussing sexual experiences.

The NYT piece mentioned in the article, "The Rise of the 'Bromosexual' Friendship," has a wealth of anecdotal tales--and quotes Michael LaSala (author of Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child) on the difference between gay and straight worlds:

He relates this to friendships between those of a different race. "Some of us who are white are rightfully accused of being 'colorblind,'" Mr. LaSala said. "There's an equivalent for straight men who can be 'culture blind.'"

fighting back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20161216-statespending.jpg

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

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

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

charter culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20161216-landslide.jpg

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

complicit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more details, see this American Interest article.

two retirements

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A report from the Institute for Policy Studies prompted Mother Jones to declare that saving for retirement is a struggle--unless you're a CEO:

The study, titled "A Tale of Two Retirements," found that in 2015 just 100 CEOs had retirement funds worth $4.7 billion--equivalent to the entire retirement savings of the least wealthy 41 percent of American families, or 116 million people. [...]

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

"So how has this happened?"

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

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

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

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

indivisible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FDR's successes were, of course, legion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

not moving on

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

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

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

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

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

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

boosting his brand

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

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

TNR writes that Gingrich is "already deifying Trump:"

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

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

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

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

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

disappearing data?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"false flag" at Fox

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

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

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

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

Has he been studying the Alex Jones playbook?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

political cowardice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This explanation is particularly evocative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreier concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentagon waste

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

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

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

20161206-pentagonbureaucracy.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WaPo's conclusion is brutal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Lies Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bursting bubbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

His conclusion is spot-on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She continues:

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

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

She sees hope in a rather unusual place:

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

Bureaucracy.

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

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

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

trans voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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