January 2017 Archives

PC philosophy?

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Scotty Hendricks wonders at BigThink whether philosophy has gotten PC:

Name a few philosophers. I'll wait. You probably named a few Greeks, maybe a German or two. More frequent readers may have included an Arab or a Persian. But can you name many, or even any, thinkers from Africa? How about South Asia? Can you name a non-white philosopher from the last century at all?

"Many people will say no," he continues, "and a group of students at a University of London college thinks that is a problem:"

The student union of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is requesting that a majority of philosophers studied at the college be of an Asian or African background at the expense of more commonly studied European philosophers.[...] Its desire to reduce the focus given to the mainstays of European philosophy has earned it the ire of many online news sources. However, the union raises a fair point. If students in a globalized world are going to understand the world they live in, should they not be armed with the ideas and philosophies of that world? Even at the cost of the traditional curriculum?

One needn't disparage Plato and Aristotle to recognize the value of Confucius and Lao Tzu, for example--merely recognize that texts written in non-Roman alphabets also have much to teach us.

Ted Rall's 3 rules for resisting Trump uses the example of France in 1940, and essentially asks if we want to be collaborators--or members of the Resistance:

Though it's premature to draw a direct comparison between Nazi Europe and Trump's America, it's never too early to start thinking about the ethics of resistance in a United States whose government whose repressiveness is likely to feel unacceptably severe to a significant portion of the population.

What is the correct way to behave after January 20th? Should one Keep Calm and Carry On?

"Like the French during World War II," he continues, "most Americans opposed to/afraid of Trump will muddle through some murky middle ground." Rall then suggests some rules:

Rule 1: Anything for survival.

"You're not required to starve to death over a principle."

Rule 2: Nothing for Trump.

"The one thing Trumpism offers is ideological clarity; at times like this, everyone has a dog in the fight, ostriching not allowed."

Rule 3: Ignorance is no excuse.

Rall states bluntly that:

You must hide the undocumented immigrant on the run. You cannot submit a bid to construct the Wall. You must, if you work for an insurance company, try to avoid enforcing rules that deny healthcare.

One of the things people overseas tell me they like about Americans is that we're happy-go-lucky. That has to change.

It's time to get serious.

FakenewsBook

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Whether it's adding President Obama to Mount Rushmore or giving free cars to welfare recipients, notes MediaMatters, Facebook's fake news problem means that biased BS is pushed to nearly five million followers:

"The Facebook page for Proud To Be Conservative, with more than 1.5 million followers," notes MediaMatters, "also exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website:"

American News posts -- whether sharing fake news or pushing highly partisan and heavily spun content -- have several traits that are common to the content pushed by fake news purveyors: They use classic clickbait headlines, actively seek to confirm far-right ideology, and exploit bigotry and biases.

MediaMatters continues by noting that "the distinct problem of fake news has several unique symptoms, including a startling level of opacity, which is exemplified by American News:"

Hyperpartisan pages that push fake news stories [....] like American News, often make it nearly impossible to find any information about the people contributing to their pages or the entities operating them -- even as they rake in tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. This secrecy allows them to remain unaccountable for the content they share, which often includes copied or plagiarized content from other such sites, shared to further spread patently false information.

In summary, "the social media giant clearly has more work to do in addressing its fake news problem; without action, it remains complicit in American News' deceptive fake news tactics."

AlterNet's 5 ways to resist Trump before the inauguration by Ilana Novick lists the old standards:

1. Call your representatives.

2. Start your own organizing group, focusing on lobbying elected officials.

3. Join an existing group.

4. Attend a January 15th Day of Action rally to protect health care.

5. Support journalists and freedom of the press.

There is plenty that we can do to spread light in these rapidly-darkening times; let's roll up our sleeves and get to work!

James Kwak's look at Econ 101 and the minimum wage [an excerpt from his book Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality] points out that "The minimum wage has been a hobgoblin of economism since its origins," from Henry Hazlitt to Milton Friedman to Ronald Reagan:

Think tanks including Cato, Heritage, and the Manhattan Institute have reliably attacked the minimum wage for decades, all the while emphasizing the key lesson from Economics 101: Higher wages cause employers to cut jobs.

Kwak cites two recent meta-studies suggesting that "increasing the minimum wage does not have a significant impact on employment." One study is "The New Minimum Wage Research;" the other, "Publication Selection Bias in Minimum-Wage Research? A Meta-Regression Analysis," agrees that minimum-wage increases can drive up labor costs overall, but with this caveat:

But many companies can recoup cost increases in the form of higher prices; because most of their customers are not poor, the net effect is to transfer money from higher-income to lower-income families.

"Raising the minimum wage," this study observes, "would also reduce inequality by narrowing the pay gap between low-income and higher-income workers:"

This conviction that the minimum wage hurts the poor is an example of economism in action. Economists have many different opinions on the subject, based on different theories and research studies, but when it comes to public debate, one particular result of one particular model is presented as an unassailable economic theorem.

conventioneers

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In These Times issues a warning about a constitutional convention, arguing that right-wing activists "are dangerously close to convening the first state constitutional convention in U.S. history:"

They have already passed resolutions in 28 states, and after November's elections, Republicans will hold control of both chambers in 32 states, up from 30 before the election. Conservatives also dominate in Nebraska's officially nonpartisan, single-chamber legislature, giving them 33. This puts them "just one state shy of the 34 needed to propose an Article V convention and permanently take back our government," Daniel Horowitz wrote in the Conservative Review one week after the election.

"This is no fringe, unrealistic movement," writes Simon Davis-Cohen, "They came close to calling a convention in the 1980s, and in the 1990s Congress came one senate vote away from passing a balanced budget amendment:"

This would hamstring the federal government and prevent it from stimulating the economy and undertaking robust public programs--effectively institutionalizing austerity. [...]

Increased local democracy, in principle, should be a good thing. Millions of Americans of all stripes are fighting for local self-determination over education, corporate projects, employment laws and basic protections for health, safety and welfare. But the movement for a convention of states twists this demand into a gift for the rich.

Bloomberg's Noah Smith takes aim at Milton Friedman's cherished theory, noting that "Friedman was wrong about the permanent income hypothesis:"

But unlike with the first two examples [Einstein on quantum mechanics and Linus Pauling on DNA], where scientists quickly realized the mistake, economists haven't yet come to grips with the reality.

"This idea is important," Smith continues, "because it meant that we shouldn't expect fiscal stimulus to have much of an effect"--which it clearly does. Smith cites this study (PDF) by Peter Ganong and Pascal Noel showing that "consumer behavior is more short term than almost any mainstream model predicts." His conclusion is that "it's likely that decades of believing in Friedman's idea have caused us to underrate the potential power of fiscal stimulus and other policies that boost short-term income:"

Even the greatest scientists can be wrong. The measure of a science is how quickly it comes to grips with the mistakes its heroes make.

I suspect that, particularly on the conservative side, economics will fail that measure.

resistance

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Tim Dickinson introduces Rolling Stone readers to the leaders of the Trump resistance:

Donald Trump is riding into office on a make-believe mandate: Despite a possible assist from Vladimir Putin, Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, and he's taking command of the Oval Office with the lowest favorability rating in modern memory: 37 percent.

"But even as the 45th president takes the oath of office," notes Dickinson, "a fierce resistance is rising to confront and constrain the Trump presidency:"

From the ACLU to the Sierra Club to Everytown for Gun Safety, civil society is girding for battle - reinforced by an unprecedented upwelling of activist support and donations.

Protectors of women's rights, gun-control advocates, LGBTQ activists, conservative splinter groups, defenders of civil liberties, and more are ready to resist--let's all join in!

We must fight so Republicans don't let us die, writes Mara Keisling at The Advocate. She refers to many potential avenues for eviscerating the ACA:

Excluding preexisting conditions. Excluding transition-related care. Lifetime limits for HIV care. Denying routine cancer screenings because you're the "wrong gender." Refusing care at a clinic or hospital because you're LGBT. Being poor but still ineligible for Medicaid.

"While the ACA will definitely be in effect in 2017," she continues, "its future beyond that is in doubt:"

Lawmakers could vote as soon as next week to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, stripping away many of these gains. Congressional Republicans say they want to "repeal and replace" -- but what they're actually proposing is a repeal with no replacement in sight. [...]

This repeal could strip 30 million Americans -- mostly working families -- of health insurance. It would cause premiums to spike dramatically for millions more. Ordinary LGBT Americans would lose tax credits, Medicaid, or health care through their job, while insurance and drug companies and the wealthy would get huge tax breaks.

Plus, the GOP would also get to destroy one of Obama's accomplishments--and that's far more important to them than LGBT lives. Their voters, however, are worried about another type of pride. Karoli Kuns at Crooks and Liars explains some of the anti-ACA spite, writing that PA Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) "told a story of a couple who lives in Mount Joy, PA and currently benefit under the ACA:"

Tim Hollinger is on Medicare. His wife, Phyllis, is not yet eligible and is self-employed. Phyllis obtained coverage through the marketplace, and her premium is over $1,000 per month with a $2,700 deductible, which is over 23 percent of her net income.

Here's the thing: Phyllis gets a subsidy that covers 35 percent of that cost, helping to make it affordable. Because that is how the ACA works. The subsidy reduces the monthly cost to Phyllis so she isn't going broke trying to pay for health insurance.

Rep. Smucker went on to explain why he thinks it's a great idea to repeal the ACA for Tim and Phyllis.

"Phyllis receives a federal subsidy that covers 35% of that monthly cost. To Phyllis, that's not right," he explained. "To Phyllis, this is about her pride. and she's not asking for a lot."

C&L then drops the hammer:

No, Phyllis, you really are asking for a lot. If you don't want the subsidy, don't take it. That's an option, too. But because of your pride, you'd like for 30 million others who are able to have access to healthcare to lose it.

"Here's what I worry will happen to Phyllis Hollinger if the ACA is repealed," the piece concludes:

She will not be able to afford her health insurance and will be hoping against all hope that she doesn't get sick before she's eligible for Medicare. If she does get sick, she and her husband will be forced into medical bankruptcy because she will not have any safety net over her head. I do not want this to happen to her, but it's more or less inevitable if the ACA is repealed.

At least her pride will remain intact.

The Atlantic wonders if conservative politicians are more attractive:

Prior research indicates that good-looking political candidates win more votes, just one of the many ways attractive individuals seem to have it better in life. There is evidence to suggest that beautiful people are viewed by others as more likable, trustworthy and competent, and may be more likely to land job interviews and earn more money than less attractive people to name just a few advantages.

The study "The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it" gets into more detail, observing that "politicians on the right look more beautiful in Europe, the United States and Australia:"

Our explanation is that beautiful people earn more, which makes them less inclined to support redistribution. Our model of within-party competition predicts that voters use beauty as a cue for conservatism when they do not know much about candidates and that politicians on the right benefit ore from beauty in low-information elections. Evidence from real and experimental elections confirms both predictions.

The paper cites another study [Lenz, G.S., Lawson, C., 2011. Looking the part: television leads less informed citizens to vote based on candidates' appearance. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 55, 574-589) which "showed that the positive relationship between votes and an appealing appearance is most pronounced among voters with low political knowledge who also watch a lot of TV." That sounds a lot like the Fox audience!)

We study beauty premia in municipal and parliamentary elections. The former can be regarded as low-information and the latter as high information elections, where voters know little and reasonably much, respectively, about candidates. We show that in municipal elections, a beauty increase of one standard deviation attracts about 20% more votes for the average non-incumbent candidate on the right and about 8% more votes for the average non-incumbent candidate on the left. In the parliamentary election, the corresponding figure is about 14% for non-incumbent candidates on the left and right alike. This makes clear that voters both on the left and on the right respond to beauty in both types of elections, but that voters on the right are more responsive in a low-information setting.

Here's an interesting causal chain:

A simple economic explanation of the appearance gap in favor of the right is that beautiful people earn more money (Hamermesh and Biddle, 1994; Mobius and Rosenblat, 2006; Scholz and Sicinski, 2015), and the more people earn, the more they are inclined to oppose redistribution (Alesina and Giuliano, 2011) and, arguably, to support, get active in and represent parties to the right. A more general psychological explanation could be that good-looking people are more likely to perceive the world as a just place, since they are treated better than others (Langlois et al. 2000), achieve higher status (Anderson et al. 2001) and are happier (Hamermesh and Abrevaya, 2013) - and a frequent reason for people to sympathize with the left is a perception of the world as unfair. In line with this, it has been found that greater self-reported attractiveness is negatively related to a preference for egalitarianism, typically associated with the left: The more beautiful people consider themselves, the less they are in favor of redistribution (Price et al. 2011; Belmi and Neale, 2014).

Trump's fake news

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AlterNet's Kali Holloway writes about Trump's history with fake news, noting that "Fake news is the one thing Trump hasn't claimed to have invented that he actually deserves at least partial credit for inventing:"

He has been spreading fake news since it was just called "lies," and he's shown that winning the presidency will only increase his fake news output. Trump puts out so much misinformation he is a fake news factory unto himself, an artisan of lies, a curator of untruths. Real estate may be his job, but lying is his career, hobby and passion project.

Trump has put thousands of fake news stories out there, some enormous and others so small you wonder why he bothers.

Holloway lists 14 fake news stories that Trump has "created or promoted:" Lying about anti-Obama birtherism and anti-Hillary health scares, spreading rumors about JFK's assassination, demanding the death penalty for the (innocent) Central Park 5, inventing thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheering 9/11, proposing that Scalia was murdered, spreading "completely fabricated numbers for black murder rates," alleging millions of illegal voters, claiming that climate change is a Chinese hoax, promoting the nonexistent vaccine/autism link, suggesting that Cruz and Rubio weren't eligible to run, and blaming "professional protesters, incited by the media" for the demonstrations against him.

All that, and he hasn't even been sworn in yet!

The ACLU provides a hopeful note that dissent is a powerful antidote to propaganda:

Fifty-five years ago this January, the ACLU of Northern California was busy filling orders from across the country for copies of its recently produced film, "Operation Correction." The film was a response to a piece of Red Scare propaganda, "Operation Abolition," which was produced by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and depicted civil liberties activists in San Francisco as violent "communist agents" bent on destroying the fabric of America.

"College students from UC Berkeley and Stanford mobilized to protest the hearings and take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of association," the piece continues,

Through manipulative editing and voiceover narration, HUAC's "Operation Abolition" used real news footage to portray the student activists as violent and dangerous "hardcore Communist agents" and "indoctrinated and trained dupes." [...]

While "Operation Abolition" was being viewed by millions of Americans at town halls and colleges across the country, the ACLU produced "Operation Correction." Our executive director at the time, Ernest Besig, narrated the exact same footage and explained the propagandistic tactics being used to mislead the public.

"People flocked to see it," the piece continues, and "Historians credit HUAC's 'Operation Abolition' with backfiring spectacularly:"

Young people across the country were shown the film at school, saw right through it, and decided they should make their way to Berkeley -- after all, that's where all the action was. Four years later, the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement began.

Let's remember this moment in history as a lesson in the power of free speech and free thought. And let's remember it as proof that if we remain vigilant, lies can wither in the face of truth.

That worked against HUAC's lies, and it will work against Trump's as well.

Paine's heirs

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Let them call us rebels, writes Harvey Kaye--because we are the heirs of Thomas Paine. "As yet, we do not have our own pamphleteer for these soul-trying times," he writes, "But we still have Thomas Paine's ever-timely words:"

We do not yet have a writer who can as magnificently express our outrage that a man whose character Paine would deplore is about to become president after losing the popular ballot by nearly 3 million votes. We do not yet have a writer to encourage us to not only resist the ambitions of both the man who would be king and his Tory allies in Congress, but also to turn our outrage into a sustained struggle that will fulfill the promise of democracy. Nonetheless, we have the words that burned like fire in the breast of a man who believed that to be an American in his time meant being a radical.

Kaye suggests that we "Pick up Paine's writings and prepare for Inauguration Day by immersing yourself in them:"

Carry his works with you. Give copies to friends and family. Read them aloud just as yeomen and farmers and artisans and merchants did in the fields, workshops and taverns of 1776. Drink deeply from his Common Sense. Relish his attacks on kings and would-be monarchs. Delight in his belief that working people can govern themselves. Listen as he embraces America's ethnic and religious diversity. And note well his plans for establishing an inclusive, prosperous and expansive American democracy.

Until I find a better option--a doubtful proposition--I'm sticking with the Library of America edition of Paine's Collected Writings.

O'Keefe owned

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James O'Keefe got owned, and it's delightful:

Here's a stinging quotation from narrator Lauren Windsor:

Convicted criminal and right-wing con artist James O'Keefe and his cohorts in the Trump Foundation-funded Project Veritas are at it again; this time, infiltrating progressive groups in an attempt to create a storyline smearing progressives by promising to fund money for violent schemes to unsuspecting advocates. But this time the tables were turned. We received a tip on suspicious behavior and immediately recognized O'Keefe's malicious handiwork. We partnered with Ryan Clayton of Americans Take Action and launched a counter-sting.

The question, "is James O'Keefe still conducting political hit jobs on the president-elect's behalf?" is all too pertinent.

The whole picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words cliché is sometimes true, but here it's worth a thousand shaking heads:

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H/t to Daily Kos for both the hilarious meal above, and the dessert below:

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Comey

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Vox's team bluntly states that Comey cost Clinton the presidency:

Donald Trump has called his election a historic landslide, but it was anything but. Only two other presidents have been elected with smaller popular vote margins since records began in 1824. His edge in the Electoral College, while decisive, depends on less than 80,000 votes across three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) out of more than 135 million cast nationwide. It was a very close election.

Despite this, conservatives "have scoffed at the claim that the [Comey] letter changed the outcome of the election, suggesting that it's a convenient excuse for a weak candidate who made some questionable strategic decisions:"

But the Comey effect was real, it was big, and it probably cost Clinton the election. Below, we present four pieces of evidence demonstrating that this is the case.

After detailing the historical uniqueness of Comey's letter, Vox notes that "Clinton's margin over Trump falls dramatically in national polls directly after the Comey letter and never recovers:"

It's worth noting that Comey also made headlines in July [...] every time Comey and emails were driving the news cycle, Clinton's national polling numbers took a significant hit."

"Democrats," writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, "didn't lose because their message was unpopular or because they're out of touch or because they're insufficiently centrist or insufficiently leftist:"

That just wasn't the problem. The Democratic message was fine; Democrats are perfectly well in touch with their constituencies; and they weren't perceived as too unwilling to shake things up. Even with eight years of Democratic rule acting as a headwind, Hillary Clinton's default performance was a substantial win.

The only reason it didn't happen is because James Comey basically decided to call her a liar and a crook--based on absolutely no new evidence and with everyone in the world advising him not to--with 12 days left in the election. That was something she couldn't overcome, and it has nothing to do with the basic Democratic message.

Ellen

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The Advocate reminds us that Ellen taught us how to fight Trump 20 years ago:

When Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997 -- on the cover of Time magazine, in an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and then in an episode of her ABC sitcom Ellen -- it was a watershed moment in culture. In "The Puppy Episode," she (and her character) were among the first to come out on a television show, an event that attracted a record number of viewers upon its airing. [...]

Her network, ABC, not having a playbook for what to do with a lesbian actor playing a lesbian character, placed a parental advisory on Ellen episodes. In 1998 the series was cancelled after ratings dipped.

"Since DeGeneres's coming-out," the piece continues, "other media figures -- many inspired by her courage and success -- have also left the closet:"

DeGeneres's bravery in coming out and being vocal is undeniable. But as they say, it takes a village. Her success also required the support of Hollywood power players behind the scenes who were willing to take a risk. Over two decades ago, the network ABC was not obliged to approve and air DeGeneres's coming-out story. But it did so anyway. While the show was canceled a year later due to a drop in ratings, the courage of producers and executives to stand by and promote their lesbian star changed what was possible for storylines on television.

The takeaway lesson is simply that "Hollywood, LGBT people, and their allies -- in addition to being gayer -- must be louder in demanding rights in the face of adversity."

Nat Hentoff, RIP

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Eulogized all over for his passionate advocacy (of jazz and free speech, among other necessities), Nat Hentoff is missed deeply by The Nation:

In well over a half-century of writing and advocacy, Hentoff passionately defended the importance of freedom in the most capacious sense--as the unqualified right of expression, whether that meant a riff from John Coltrane's sax or an unpopular, even offensive idea.

One of his early "Indigenous Music" columns [which ran from 1976 to 1980], Hentoff reminisced about Billie Holiday, "whose music he was reportedly listening to in his last moments alive:"

In 1957, less than two years before she died, Robert Herridge, Whitney Balliett and I put together The Sound of Jazz for CBS-TV, and the section of that hour which has been replayed most often has Billie, sitting on a high stool, singing Fine and Mellow to her once and former very good friend, Lester Young. They had not spoken for a long time, but that afternoon they connected in and through the blues, looking directly into each other's eyes, their music softly overwhelming everything else around and beneath them. And in the control room, the engineers, the director, the producer, all of us had tears in our eyes. None of us was the least embarrassed either. We were grateful.

It doesn't get any better than that.

"If there's one thing we can learn from his life," writes Hemant Mehta at Patheos, "it's that there's power in forging your own path and following the evidence, as you see it, even if it may not sit well with those in your circles:"

Hentoff didn't hold certain positions just because they were expected of him. He came to his own conclusions and fought for them passionately. That's never easy to do when some of your opinions are bound to create friction. It's also why people are mourning the loss of the kind of voice we rarely hear these days.

The Federalist mentions that Hentoff wrote "more than 30 books" and was prolific in periodicals as well:

Hentoff's columns appeared regularly in such far-flung and incongruous places as the Washington Post, the Village Voice, the New Republic, the New Yorker, and at conservative and libertarian outlets like Jewish World Review, the Washington Times and the Cato Institute, where he was a fellow.

In the early 1980s, his vocal championing of the pro-life cause was such a rejection of the liberal orthodoxy that it perplexed and infuriated his colleagues at the Village Voice, the iconic New York broadsheet he did so much to establish in the 1950s. For conservatives, of course, his heterodox, civil libertarian views (especially on the War on Terror) could be equally incensing. While he loved smashing expectations and arguing, it was never a put-on; Hentoff's sincerity and intellectual rigor won him the respect of those with whom he differed on any one of these issues.

"Hentoff's greatest desire was his success in presenting jazz," continues the piece, "this country's signature artistic innovation--and his lifelong love--as a serious intellectual pursuit:"

For him, that meant respecting the craft and the artistic ambitions of the musicians themselves, and the sacrifices these musicians made to attain mastery and success.

He disdained the caricature of the primitive, emotion-driven African American musician who seemed to spontaneously create without study and practice. As a later book very much in the tradition of Hentoff's work would exclaim in its title, this music was "as serious as your life."

Like The Nation, The Federalist also cites the Holiday/Young recording:

Holiday singing "Fine and Mellow" stands out, 50 years on, as one of the most beloved performances in jazz history, due largely for the empathy evident between the pair during Young's solo (at 1:25), which is the perfect example of the tenor giant's vibrato-less, years-behind-the-beat artistry. [...] "Fine and Mellow" is all the more poignant knowing that the performance was the last time Young and Holiday would see each other before their deaths in spring and summer of 1959. In 2000, NPR interviewed Hentoff about the take:
The song she sang that, to most people (including me), was the climax of the show was one of the few songs that she herself ever wrote: 'Fine and Mellow.' It's a basic 12-bar blues. It may be the only blues song she ever wrote, although the language of the blues, the texture of the blues, the cry of the blues was always part of what she did.

What made this the climax of the show was this: She and Lester Young -- she had given him his nickname, Pres, and he was the guy who called her Lady Day, which other people came to call her. They had been very close for a long time, but then they stopped being close. They paid very little attention to each other while we were rehearsing the show.

Lester was not feeling well... When it came to his solo, in the middle of 'Fine and Mellow,' Lester stood up and he blew the purest blues I have ever heard.

Watching Billie and Lester interact, she was watching him with her eyes with a slight smile, and it looked as if she and Lester were remembering other times, better times. And this is true -- it sounds corny -- in the control room, [Robert] Herridge, the producer, had tears in his eyes. So did the engineer. So did I. It was just extraordinarily moving. I think for all the times she sang this song, on records and in night clubs, this was the performance that I think meant the most to her, and it came through on 'The Sound of Jazz.'

After it was all over, she was so pleased with how it went--it was live, by the way--she came over and kissed me. And that's worth more to me than the Congressional Medal of Honor.

There are worse ways to spend your time today than listening to the Hentoff-produced jazz tracks that the article so thoughtfully includes. Bravo!

The US has a billion-dollar deficit on research about gun deaths, according to San Francisco's Dr. David Stark. He first cites "the Dickey Amendment, the annual rider first inserted into the 1996 federal congressional appropriations bill prohibiting the use of CDC funds 'to advocate or promote gun control.' Though not an outright ban, the measure has had a chilling effect on research." The article notes that "Stark wanted to measure the effects of the congressional restrictions on gun violence research in statistical terms:"

To do that, he built statistical models to predict how much funding and how many published articles would be expected based on the number of people who died from 30 top causes of death. Data came from the Compressed Mortality File on a database known as CDC Wonder (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research), the Federal RePORTER funding database, and the MEDLINE publications database.

Stark's model assumed that the more Americans are killed by a given cause of death, the more the government will study that subject. Between 2004 and 2014, the United States saw about 350,000 deaths because of firearms, with a mortality rate of 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Based on how often people were dying from gunshots, Stark's formula predicted nearly $1.4 billion in gun violence research funding and 38,897 publications.

In reality, gun violence research received only $22.1 million in federal funding and generated just 1,738 scientific articles during the decade in question. That shortfall became the centerpiece of widely covered analysis that Stark published last week in the the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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"Gun violence killed about as many individuals as sepsis," says the study, but "funding for gun violence research was about 0.7 percent of that for sepsis and publication volume about 4 percent."

voter suppression

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According to American Prospect, voter suppression works too well, as "Republican state lawmakers across the country have moved to suppress the franchise to maintain GOP political dominance" via simple strategies:

Turn voting into a bureaucratic nightmare by eliminating popular timesavers such as same-day registration and early voting. Require photo identification to vote, using IDs that many people don't have or cannot pay for. The harder it is to vote, especially for people juggling some combination of work, classes, and child or elder care, the fewer people will.

"Many of those new election laws," the piece continues, "were promulgated after the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that invalidated provisions of the Voting Rights Act," including fourteen state restrictions since November:

The high court's Shelby County decision eviscerated the landmark law's "preclearance" provision, which required nine states and specific counties or townships in six other states to submit election law changes to the Justice Department for review. The preclearance process gave the federal government a tool to prevent blatantly discriminatory regulations from going into effect. (Now challenges to election laws must be fought as rearguard actions through state and federal courts.) The remaining teeth of the VRA rest on another provision that mandates that voting laws do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or certain languages. [...]

Voting rights are under siege in a way that hasn't been seen in more than a generation. But these coordinated attacks follow a historic pattern: Laws that expanded the franchise during Reconstruction and after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have typically been followed by state-level repression and federal indifference.

"The tactics used to ferret out alleged fraud almost exclusively affect minority groups, the young, and the elderly," the piece continues:

Regulations like photo identification are supposedly designed to prevent people from impersonating other voters, despite the fact that practically no one impersonates another person with the intent to vote in the United States. The misuse of alternatives to in-person voting, such as the fraudulent use of absentee ballots, is also rare. Other tactics, like consolidating polling places, are explained away by noting that these moves save money, despite long lines and other headaches such closures produce in the remaining polling stations.

"With the 2018 midterm elections on the horizon," the article intones ominously, "the next two years will be a crucial test for voting rights." The piece cites both the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act as likely targets:

Only 37 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls in 2014, the lowest midterm turnout in 70 years. The average voter who sits out a midterm election does not make the connection between a party's control of the state legislature and the governor's office, and how those partisan officeholders will have the ability to craft new election laws and carve out state and federal legislative districts after the 2020 census. Yet in 2014, a Center for American Progress/NAACP-LDF/Southern Elections Foundation report found that the numbers of voters in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia that were affected by changes in early-voting and photo-ID laws far outstripped the margin of victory in those states' U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

"Republicans' determination to dismantle voting rights that were once presumed settled," the piece concludes, "will necessitate a response worthy of a new civil-rights movement."

unethical panel

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Well, it appears that GOP House members secretly gutted their ethics panel after all:

Remember how the House Republicans tried to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, only to back down under a torrent of criticism? Well, it turns out that Paul Ryan and friends actually succeeded in their mission to neuter the ethics panel after all. A little-noticed change to the House rules allows members to hide their records from any sort of scrutiny-even from someone conducting an ethics or criminal investigation.

The Center for Responsive Politics is all over this sleazy sleight-of-hand:

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is but the latest example of how the GOP wants to overflow the swamp. For all intents and purposes, this has the same effect as what the GOP initially tried to do in the open before seemingly being forced to back down. After all, if a lawmaker is suspected of taking shady donations (read: bribes), how can you know for sure if you can't review his or her records? And if you can't review records, how can you conduct a credible investigation?

"The Democrats won control of the House in 2006," the piece exclaims, "in part due to tying the GOP to the seemingly endless scandals surrounding Tom DeLay and others:"

In a clever move, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared that DeLay had turned the House into a "House of Scandal." Well, DCCC chairman Ben Lujan and his team may want to take a cue from their 2006 counterparts. After all, it's now clear that under Ryan, the 115th Congress is going to be a House of Corruption.

loopy

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There's some news on the three-slit experiment front:

Physicists have performed a variation of the famous 200-year-old double-slit experiment that, for the first time, involves "exotic looped trajectories" of photons. These photons travel forward through one slit, then loop around and travel back through another slit, and then sometimes loop around again and travel forward through a third slit.

Will a diagram help to clarify this loopy trajectory?

20170110-threeslits.jpg

Perhaps not.

The Intercept's expose on the crimes of Seal Team 6 by Matthew Cole begins with a bang:

Officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, SEAL Team 6 is today the most celebrated of the U.S. military's special mission units. But hidden behind the heroic narratives is a darker, more troubling story of "revenge ops," unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities -- a pattern of criminal violence that emerged soon after the Afghan war began and was tolerated and covered up by the command's leadership.

Incidents such as mutilating the body of an unarmed man "by stomping in his already damaged skull" and other "episodes of criminal brutality" disgusted some SEALs, and "Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes." One retired SEAL claims that "Mutilation isn't part of the game," but Britt Slabinski, "a second-generation SEAL who joined Team 6 in 1993," happily described "the funny stuff we do:"

After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you'd kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, 'hey look at this dude,' and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there."

"Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, Devil's Guard," writes Cole, "published in 1971 by George Robert Elford:"

The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the "savage" Vietnamese.

"These fucking morons read the book 'The Devil's Guard' and believed it," said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. "It's a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it's bullshit. But we all see what we want to see."

Cole discussed photographs that "show deceased enemy combatants with their skulls split open by a rifle or pistol round at the upper forehead, exposing their brain matter:"

The foreign fighters who suffered these V-shaped wounds were either killed in battle and later shot at close range. Among members of SEAL Team 6, this practice of desecrating enemy casualties was called "canoeing."

Thankfully, this barbaric practice "virtually ceased to appear in after-action reports" once military directives mandated better reporting requirements on combat deaths. Cole's summary is brutal:

The falsehoods, both significant and slight, demonstrate that even when conducting the most important missions, SEAL Team 6 was unable to rise above the culture of deceit, personal enrichment, and self-aggrandizement that has corrupted a fighting unit legendary for its discipline and code of honor.

The Nation's Julia Mead explains why Millennials aren't afraid of the S word. She reveals that "I'm 22. I was born in 1994" and talks about "The erasure of socialist ideas from serious political discourse throughout most of my life" where "communism was killed, and along with it went any discussion of socialism and Marxism:"

This was the world of my childhood and adolescence, full of establishment progressives who were aggressively centrist and just as willing as conservatives to privilege the interests of capital over those of labor: think of the reckless expansion of so-called free trade, or the brutal military-industrial complex. For most of my life, I would have been hard-pressed to define capitalism, because in the news and in my textbooks, no other ways of organizing an economy were even acknowledged. I didn't know that there could be an alternative.

She notes that "while Trump has dominated the headlines, there is still plenty of momentum around the socialist ideas that Bernie used to inspire America:"

Our Revolution is working hard to take the fight to the states; there it will be joined by groups like the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership has grown by more than 50 percent since November 8. That's more than 4,000 new members.

"Maybe socialism isn't a lost cause after all," she concludes. "Maybe it's our best hope."

WaPo reminds us of Donald Trump Jr's 2008 remarks at a real estate conference:

Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.

According to several Financial Times articles, Trump was bailed out by Russian crime bosses. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton "examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade--the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit:"

The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

He was their man.

WaPo continues:

The second Financial Times article puts Trump at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.

Why would Trump's organization make such a good means of laundering funds? Because real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it's even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account. And while some businesses require due diligence in looking at the source of funds, real estate is a bit more ... flexible.

The piece concludes by observing that "The Trump Organization was a hollow shell and Trump was bankrupt, but Donald Trump the public figure was a "successful businessman," a screen behind which criminal activity could be carried out on a massive scale:"

To inflate the value of his portfolio, Trump had to do nothing other than look away as the dirty money poured in from one LLC to the next. Citizens in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet states lost hundreds of millions, but Trump got a cut as looted funds flowed through offices and apartments in buildings that carried those critical gold letters.

Yale News notes that "Gun violence is often described as an epidemic or a public health concern, due to its alarmingly high levels in certain populations in the United States:"

It most often occurs within socially and economically disadvantaged minority urban communities, where rates of gun violence far exceed the national average. A new Yale study has established a model to predict how "contagious" the epidemic really is.

The study, "Modeling Contagion Through Social Networks to Explain and Predict Gunshot Violence in Chicago, 2006 to 2014," conducted "an epidemiological analysis of a social network of individuals who were arrested during an 8-year period in Chicago, Illinois, with connections between people who were arrested together for the same offense:"

Modeling of the spread of gunshot violence over the network was assessed using a probabilistic contagion model that assumed individuals were subject to risks associated with being arrested together, in addition to demographic factors, such as age, sex, and neighborhood residence.

"Social contagion accounted for 63.1% of the 11 123 gunshot violence episodes," the study continues:

...subjects of gun violence were shot on average 125 days after their infector (the person most responsible for exposing the subject to gunshot violence). Some subjects of gun violence were shot more than once. [...]

Gunshot violence follows an epidemic-like process of social contagion that is transmitted through networks of people by social interactions. [...] Contagion via social ties, then, may be a critical mechanism in explaining why neighborhoods matter when modeling the diffusion of crime and, perhaps more important, why certain individuals become subjects of gun violence while others exposed to the same high-risk environments do not.

"We postulated that a person becomes exposed to gun violence through social interactions with previous subjects of gun violence," write the authors:

Therefore, associating with subjects of gun violence, and specifically co-engaging in risky behaviors with them, may expose individuals to these same behaviors, situations, and people that in turn increase the probability of becoming a subject of gun violence. [...]

By identifying high-risk individuals and transmission pathways that might not be detected by other means, a contagion-based approach could detect strategic points of intervention that would enable measures to proactively reduce the trauma associated with gun violence rather than just react to past incidents.

Specifically, the study observed that "more than 70% of all subjects of gun violence could be located in networks containing less than 5%of the city's population."

Grow this, Mitch!

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Mitch McConnell made some obnoxious remarks on Face the Nation:

"Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. [...] I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that."

Salon responded that we're not going to "get past it"--we're going to resist it:

McConnell's "grow up" remark is one we've heard quite often in social media and elsewhere from Trump Republicans and pundits alike who have completely failed to grasp why, specifically, Americans of many political dispositions are terrified right now.

We're not breaking any news when we observe that Donald Trump might be the most erratic, unpredictable, unqualified, misinformed politician ever to step into national politics, much less to be thrust into the highest office in the world. The threat here isn't necessarily Trump's policy agenda, though his promises on that front are harrowing: border walls, deportations of American citizens, blacklists, registries, abortion bans, prosecution of journalists, a nefarious alliance with Vladimir Putin and so forth. The fear and loathing with regard to Trump's publicly known agenda only covers a small fraction of the problem.

The piece then wonders "what sort of madness will burst forth when we least expect it:"

Sixty-two million Americans, through their poorly-considered, nihilistic votes, have stupidly chosen to shut down the containment grid, Ghostbusters-style, releasing untold horrors into the atmosphere. I challenge anyone to predict what those things will be. But knowing Trump's vindictiveness, his ignorance and his lack of core values, none of it can be good.

In his piece "Welcome to the Vortex," Todd Gitlin decries "the sheer breakdown of the truth-telling imperative" and observes that "the mainstream media are only part -- a significant part, but only a part -- of an interlocking ecology of falsification that has driven the country around the bend:"

I've decided to devote myself this coming year to an effort to take seriously the far-flung warp-world, the force-field of distortion and derangement that generates and circulates propaganda, fabrications, sloppy thinking and straight-out nihilism which dominates the beliefs, if we can use that word, of the Republican Party, and which large numbers of Americans have come to accept as a baseline for what they call reality. What bent world do the purveyors live in? What's the method to their legacy? Can we say anything to clarify what they're on about? [...]

Over recent decades, a poison cloud of right-wing propaganda has been pumped into living rooms. The poisoners have been called an "echo chamber," a "vast right-wing conspiracy," Fox and Friends, "barking heads" or, most anodyne, "conservative media" [and] This propaganda enterprise owns a major political party which has floated crazy, fruitless, indictmentless investigations and insinuations with apparently permanent standing in the Congress of the United States and all over the airwaves for a quarter century now. Whitewater! Vince Foster! Benghazi! Emails! Emails!

"I am going to call the totality of this enterprise The Vortex," he writes, "which stands for: VOices of RT-wing Extremism." He then excoriates the lot of them:

Breitbart "News" and its fellow travelers do not belong to news organizations. [...] business is to circulate propaganda. And in this benighted age of low-cost internet access, they have a business model that works. By keeping their base in a state of simple frenzy, they win back, and back, and back their core of customers.

"The Joneses, the Bannons, the Hannitys are not lovers of freedom, democracy, justice or truth," he continues:

Their cynicism is breathtaking. They believe in nothing but raw power, above all the power of their own braying. They believe in nothing else. Nothing. They are hatred incarnate in suits on the payrolls of billionaires. [...] We may not be interested in right-wing lunacy, but it's interested in us, our republic and our capacity to know the truth. So we must know it to someday, somehow, set ourselves free.

"Somebody to Love"

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Open Culture looks at a track I listened to a few times over Christmas weekend: George Michael's performance of "Somebody to Love" at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992. Open Culture's assessment is that "while he lacked Mercury's range, he nearly matched the former Queen singer in power and charisma:"

Immediately after Michael's death, this rehearsal video began making the rounds on social media, and people highlighted not only his mastery of a very challenging vocal melody, but the appreciation of fellow Mercury tribute performer David Bowie, whom we see nodding along in the wings at around 3:00. It's a very poignant moment, in hindsight, that underlines some of the significant similarities between the two stars. Not only were they both sexually adventurous chameleons and riveting performers, but--as we learned in story after story shared in their many posthumous tributes--both men used their status to help others, often anonymously.

Here is the rehearsal:

Here is the concert:

It's worth remembering both Mercury and Michael as exemplifying the best of pop-music artistry.

The Nation has supplied us with a lesson in surviving Trumpism from the McCarthy era. Ellen Schrecker reminds us that "political repression does require an enemy, otherwise the authorities will be unable to frighten the nation into accepting massive violations of people's rights:"

During the McCarthy era, the supposed threat to the USA was the international communist conspiracy; now it's Islamic extremists, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and left-wing professors. And they may be dealt with using methods J. Edgar Hoover embraced.

Newt Gingrich, for instance, has called for Congress to revive a World War II-style Un-American Activities Committee. Our president-to-be--who, it's worth noting, took advice from Joe McCarthy's sleazy amanuensis, Roy Cohn--has suggested depriving flag-burners of their citizenship. And, just last month, Turning Point USA, a right-wing student organization, posted a "Professor Watchlist" [see here] of one or two hundred (the numbers, like McCarthy's, keep changing) academics who "advance a radical agenda in lecture halls" and make life hard for the conservatives in their classes. Their abuses: criticizing the Republican party, the NRA, and the current Israeli regime.

McCarthyism, she reminds us, "silenced just about all serious criticism of the status quo" in "a two-stage procedure:"

First, the alleged subversives were identified--either by the media or by an official agency like the FBI or a congressional committee--and then they were punished, usually by being fired.

Although a few hundred people went to prison and two--Julius and Ethel Rosenberg -were executed, the main sanctions were economic. People lost their jobs and could rarely find new ones. That blacklisting was remarkably effective--and not just in the entertainment industry. Professors, steel workers, writers, attorneys, longshoremen, school teachers, and anyone else who got caught up in the anticommunist furor could end up out of work and unemployable.

"There was no need for violence," she continues, because "The threat of joblessness sufficed to stifle most dissent." Liberals, therefore, must be "prepared to fight back," and "we cannot drop our guard:"

To do so will allow the creation of an authoritarian regime that will stamp out dissent and create a far more repressive society than either Joe McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover ever dreamed of.

Perennial agitator Michael Moore calls for 100 Days of Resistance to Trump: "Trump gets upset if there's 10 people outside Trump Tower," he reminds us, so "What's he going to think if there's 100,000 or 500,000 (at his inauguration)?"

"It's important that everybody go there. This will have an effect. We have to throw everything at this. This man is slightly unhinged, if I can say that, and he's a malignant narcissist. He's going to be very upset if there's a lot of people there."

Lest anyone doubt Moore, here's what he wrote last July:

"Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin," Moore wrote in July. "It's 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he's expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that'll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn't need Florida. He doesn't need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November."

Robert Reich identifies "two lines of resistance to Trump:" resistance to Trump's regressiveness, and resistance to Trump's tyranny. "Both resistances are critical," he concludes:

But the second has nothing to do with partisanship or the age-old fight between Republicans and Democrats over the reach or role of government.

Resistance to tyranny must not be seen in partisan terms. We need Republicans to join in resistance to Trump's tyranny. Conservative Republicans have traditionally been vigilant against tyranny, and they must be invited to the cause and become part of the coalition.


Matt Bruenig writes that UBI already exists for the 1%:

The universal basic income -- a cash payment made to every individual in the country -- has been critiqued recently by some commentators. Among other things, these writers dislike the fact that a UBI would deliver individuals income in a way that is divorced from working. Such an income arrangement would, it is argued, lead to meaninglessness, social dysfunction, and resentment.

He points out the flaw in this argument:

One obvious problem with this analysis is that passive income -- income divorced from work -- already exists. It is called capital income. It flows out to various individuals in society in the form of interest, rents, and dividends.

Currently, "around 30% of all the income produced in the nation is paid out as capital income," which prompts Bruenig to snark that "If passive income is so destructive, then you would think that centuries of dedicating one-third of national income to it would have burned society to the ground by now:"

In 2015, according to PSZ, the richest 1% of people in America received 20.2% of all the income in the nation. Ten points of that 20.2% came from equity income, net interest, housing rents, and the capital component of mixed income. Which is to say, 10% of all national income is paid out to the 1% as capital income. Let me reiterate: 1 in 10 dollars of income produced in this country is paid out to the richest 1% without them having to work for it.

This leads to an improved defense of UBI:

The UBI does not invent passive income. It merely doles it out evenly to everyone in society, rather than in very concentrated amounts to the richest people in society.

Meanwhile, the indignity of not-work should be examined:

As I see it, there's nothing necessarily dignified about most people being forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to a tiny group of employers. The idea may be intrinsic to capitalism--but that doesn't mean it contributes to the dignity of people who work for a living, especially when they have no control over how they work or what they produce when they work.

"So, when critics of a universal basic income rely on the 'dignity of work' argument," the piece continues, "what they're really doing is reinforcing the idea that most people can and should derive dignity from working for a small group of employers:"

At the same time, critics are presuming there's no loss of dignity for the tiny group at the top, those who have managed to capture most of their income from sources related not to their own work, but the work of everyone else.

Where's the dignity in that?

too many tabs

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Some people can multitask and others can't, writes Peggy Alexopoulou at The Conversation. "The internet may be the most comprehensive source of information ever created," she notes, "but it's also the biggest distraction:"

Set out to find an answer on the web and it's all too easy to find yourself flitting between multiple tabs, wondering how you ended up on a page so seemingly irrelevant to the topic you started on.

Past research has shown that we have a very limited capacity to perform two or more tasks at the same time and brainpower suffers when we try. But my new study suggests that some people are better at multitasking online than others. Being able to switch between multiple web pages and successfully find what you want all comes down to how good your working memory is.

Alexopoulou notes that "participants with high working memory switched between their information topics and web search results more often than those with low working memory:"

This seemed to enable them to test and retest different strategies for finding the answers they wanted. This means that they were able to divert more of their attention between different tasks [whereas] those with low working memory capacity thought the previously unfamiliar topics they were researching became more complex as they went on. They also reported that they could not generate more strategies to complete the task or evaluate and judge the content of the webpages they were looking at in the same way as they did for the topics they had prior knowledge.

"My research shows that these people will have to work harder when they search for information on the web," concludes Alexopoulou, "especially for topics that have no prior knowledge of."

The Economist looks at Florida's rise in homicides after "stand your ground" legislation passed, noting that Jeb Bush's 2005 law was a disaster for Floridians:

Citizens who "reasonably believed" their lives to be threatened were given the right to "meet force with force, including deadly force"-- even in public places and, critically, without the duty to try and retreat first. More than 20 states have passed similar laws since then. Critics warned that, rather than protecting self-defence rights as intended, the bill would result in unnecessary deaths. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association appears to vindicate those fears.

"Soon after the law took effect in Florida," The Economist summarizes, "there was a sudden and sustained 24% jump in the monthly homicide rate." The JAMA study continues with these details: "We found that the implementation of Florida's stand your ground law was associated with a 24.4% increase in homicide and a 31.6% increase in firearm-related homicide."

20170108-standyourground.png

Gun nuts were up in arms (I wish that were funny) over the study, but similar results were seen in a previous study by Texas A&M (PDF). The ill effects of their doctrines in the real world aren't aberrations--it's their ideology that is the aberration, if not an outright abomination.

American conservatives aren't conservative, writes P.M. Carpenter in his conversation with historian Mark Lilla of Columbia University. "Conservatives and reactionaries are adversaries," writes Carpenter:

The conservative believes that change should happen slowly, but that it is inevitable. He might regret what has happened in history, but he is under no illusion that the past can be recovered or recreated; neither does he believe that society should be reconstructed according to some rational plan inspired by the past. The conservative thinks that while societies differ, human nature stays pretty much the same over time and that the problems of politics are perennial. The reactionary thinks that history has changed human nature and that action in history can restore it to what it should be.

"I would venture that by now it is axiomatic that American conservatism, rather than being adversarial to reactionaryism, is utterly inseparable from it," he continues:

Today's reactionaries call themselves conservatives and have bamboozled most Americans, left and middle and right, into believing that what they stand for is in reality true conservatism. That's a farce, but an accepted farce.

Speaking of farces, Trump's incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus admitted that Russians hacked the RNC as well as the DNC:

The part of the story that Trump and Priebus keep leaving out is that the RNC was also hacked by Russia. The New York Times reported that Russia also hacked the RNC, but chose not to release the data. The Republican talking point that the RNC didn't get hacked is a lie. The RNC got hacked, but the Russians only released the DNC hack, because they wanted Trump to win.

Priebus's messy answer when pushed was a sign of an incoming administration that has a ticking time bomb of a scandal on its hands, and no clue how to defuse it.

"A new declassified report," writes TPM, "says Russian President Vladimir Putin 'ordered' an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election:"

U.S. intelligence officials released the 25-page public version of the report Friday, after they briefed President-elect Donald Trump and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill from a longer, classified version.

The report says Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow's long-standing desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for financial disclosures from several of Trump's cabinet nominees:

The Office of Government Ethics is raising alarm over the pace of confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump's nominees, saying Saturday that they have yet to receive required financial disclosures for some picks set to come before Congress next week.

OGE Director Walter Shaub observes that "I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process" while Trump's transition team blithely claims that "the transition process is currently running smoothly:"

"In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process in order to distract from important issues facing our country," the Trump statement read. "This is a disservice to the country and is exactly why voters chose Donald J. Trump as their next president."

[Uh, no--voters did not choose Trump--unless one counts the Russian ones.]

Priebus asserts that that "Change was voted for and change we will get," and says of the OGE that "They have to get moving:"

"I mean, they have to move faster. And they have all the information. These are people that have been highly successful in their lives. They need to move quicker."


update (2:23pm):
ThinkProgress explains how Putin is greasing the way for the Exxon/Rosneft deal, and calls Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson a "puzzling choice for Secretary of State:"

I say "puzzling" because the long-serving Exxon employee (from age 23!) has no qualifications to be secretary of state -- other than a history negotiating major oil deals with countries like Putin's Russia, which in any sane world would actually disqualify him or at least force a recusal from all State Department dealings with Russia.

"You can certainly make a plausible case," the piece continues, "that Putin had plenty of motivation to interfere:"

He wanted to undermine the legitimacy of U.S. elections and a Clinton Presidency, he blamed Secretary Clinton for "inciting mass protests against his regime," and he was angry with the U.S. for the Panama Papers leaks. Those leaks showed a $2 billion trail of offshore accounts and deals that traced back to Putin and his cabal of kleptocrats, who, among other things, were getting rich "trading shares in Rosneft," Russia's state-owned (i.e. Putin run) oil monopoly.

But a half trillion dollars to line their pockets and prop up the Russian economy offers a much more tangible motivation for team Putin to get Trump elected. And it was Tillerson who had made the $500 billion oil deal with Putin that got blocked by sanctions. [in 2014]

ThinkProgress also notes that "if Trump and Tillerson [...] end the sanctions that are blocking the Exxon-Rossneft deal, it is going to look suspiciously like a half trillion dollar quid pro quo for Putin's help getting elected."


update 2 (6:01pm):
TruthDig has more details from OGE's director Walter Shaub:

OGE "has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominee scheduled for hearings," which seemed to be an unprecedented failure on the part of the nominees as well as the Trump transition team.

The letter, which was penned in response to an update request from Warren and Schumer, casts doubt on whether the nominees will received a proper vetting, which is particularly concerning because of the many potential conflicts they hold.

Kaveh Waddell writes about being tracked by your employer 24/7:

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, but it only constrains the government's actions. If local police or the FBI wants to track your car, they have to ask a judge for a warrant first. But if your boss wants to track your phone, it's likely within his or her rights.

"In fact, businesses track their employees' locations all the time," Waddell writes, but "The legal landscape around tracking employees is murky," because "There's no federal privacy law to keep businesses from tracking their employees with GPS, and only a handful of states impose restrictions on it:"

A survey released last month offered a few hints: Nearly a third of people who responded said their employer tracks them by GPS, and 15 percent said they were tracked 24 hours a day. More than 22 percent said they weren't told they would be tracked when they started their job.

Waddell talked to Lillian Chaves Moon, a lawyer who represents employers:

According to Moon, employers have a whole lot of leeway to track their employees, both on the clock and off, and most workers have a very high bar to clear if they want to challenge their employers for invading their privacy. "In most states, you have to show that it would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and that's a pretty high standard," she said. "You have to show that it's so egregious and outrageous." [...]

At least 29 states and the District of Columbia have at least some discrimination laws that prevent companies from firing employees for their off-duty conduct. In states without those laws, a boss can fire an employee for his or her actions outside of work.

Drum on deficits

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Kevin Drum quotes this WaPo piece about GOP concern for deficits:

In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.

20170106-deficits.jpg

"As always," continues Drum, "Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is president:"

This time around they didn't waste even two days before they made that crystal clear. I wonder how many times they can pull this bait-and-switch before the public and the press stops taking them seriously on their alleged horror of the spiraling national debt?

Republicans want to cut spending on the poor and cut taxes on the rich. That's it.

Isn't it ironic?

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"Glenn Beck discussed the dangers of 'fake news' on his radio program yesterday," writes Right Wing Watch, but Beck was spreading false information in the process. Beck claimed that CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] "was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist trial," and the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] "recently named David Barton a terrorist!"

The "unindicted co-conspirator" charge against CAIR is a bogus smear that anti-Muslim activists have been baselessly leveling for years, while the claim that the SPLC designated Barton a "terrorist" is entirely false and originated with Barton himself.

Right Wing Watch points out the irony of Beck's claims:

It is more than a little ironic that Beck decried the spread of "fake news" by unreliable sources by repeating false claims that are routinely spread by unreliable sources.

Robert Reich offers a resistance agenda for Trump's first 100 days:

Trump's First 100 Day agenda includes repealing environmental regulations, Obamacare, and the Dodd-Frank Act, giving the rich and big corporations a huge tax cut, and putting in place a cabinet that doesn't believe in the Voting Rights Act or public schools or Medicare or the Fair Housing Act.

Our 100 days of resistance begins a sustained and powerful opposition.

Reich suggests using "about an hour of your time each day" for activities ranging from writing letters to the editor and using social media to the following:

1. Get your senators and representatives to pledge to oppose Trump's agenda.

2. March and demonstrate.

8. Make the resistance visible with bumper stickers, lapel pins, wrist bands.

9. Push progressive causes at your state and local level

Here's the video:

Republicans are afraid of the Resistance, writes Lucas Grindley:

Conventional wisdom had said all that protesting in the streets these past two months wouldn't matter, because Donald Trump had won the presidency, and you all should just go home and "get on with your lives."

Now we have proof that protest matters. Tweeting and Facebooking matters. Calling your representative in Congress matters. All of it matters regarding whether Republicans are stopped from going on a spree of law-passing. Activism always did matter, no matter what the opposition tried to pretend.

"We complained," writes Grindley, "and Republicans got spooked and backed down Tuesday:"

Going into a negotiation, and that's what these first 100 days of Trump's administration will be, it's informative that one side backed down on its first effort. Republicans were tested by the faintest of protest, and they folded.

"What does this mean for repealing Obamacare?" wonders Grindley--or privatizing Medicare and the VA, or crippling Social Security?

The Resistance can protest in Republican districts, it can hold marches in Washington, it can flood the switchboards with calls, it can send letters or go to town hall meetings, and more.

Then the Republicans have to decide whether they're going to just keep right on driving, white knuckles on the wheel, pedal to the floor, no matter how many bodies they run over.

Yves Smith describes the American dream:

A third of Americans think they'll be rich someday. More than half of 18-29 year olds think they will be.

Less than 5% actually make it. And many of those do it the old-fashioned way: they inherit it.

That's quite a caveat. Smith then asks, "how do Americans accumulate wealth?"

And how does that vary across income and wealth classes? How do the bottom 50% accumulate wealth, for instance, compared to the top 1%?

A huge aid to answering that question arrived last month. Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez, and Thomas Piketty (PSZ) released one of the most important pieces of economic research in the last century. Their Distributional National Accounts (DINAs) reveal the distribution of national income to different income classes, wealth classes, age groups, and genders (and potentially different races, etc. etc.).

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"Concentration of total wealth accrual is almost always far higher," Smith notes, "and has been rising faster, than concentration of income alone:"

The rich are getting richer, faster. It's an inequality picture more dire even than that depicted in the DINAs. And because wealth begets more wealth, it's a self-perpetuating picture.

We pay people for doing things, and we pay people for owning things. Increasingly, the latter.

AlterNet's Steven Rosenfeld writes that some Trump Electors were illegitimately seated in the Electoral College:

More than 50 Electoral College members who voted for Donald Trump were ineligible to serve as presidential electors because they did not live in the congressional districts they represented or held elective office in states legally barring dual officeholders.

That stunning finding is among the conclusions of an extensive 1,000-plus page legal briefing prepared by a bipartisan nationwide legal team for members of Congress who are being urged to object to certifying the 2016 Electoral College results on Friday.

Americans Take Action's Ryan Clayton says that "Trump's ascension to the presidency is completely illegitimate:"

"It's not just Russians hacking our democracy. It's not just voter suppression at unprecedented levels. It is also [that] there are Republicans illegally casting ballots in the Electoral College, and in a sufficient number that the results of the Electoral College proceedings are illegitimate as well."

It smacks of desperation with only two weeks until Inauguration Day, but he seems undeterred:

"We have a list of 50 illegal electors," Clayton said. "That puts Donald Trump below the threshold that he needs to be elected president. Let's debate it in an open session. According to the Constitution, the Congress, if nobody wins on the first round of balloting, picks from the top three candidates. That will be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Colin Powell."

Senate Dems won't challenge the EC, though:

The activists said several House members were willing to sponsor a formal challenge--as Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-OH, did in 2005, then opposing ratification of Ohio's 2004 Electoral College votes. [...]

Notwithstanding any last minute changes of heart or courageous impulses, it's not likely Democrats will make a parallel high-profile stance protesting Trump's election.

BigThink recommends that you get off Facebook:

The big issue with Facebook use is that it offers endless opportunities for social comparison. It turns out that seeing countless exotic vacation photos and reading about the career accomplishments of your friends and acquaintances may make you feel worse about your current status.

Additionally, "The average American Facebook user spends around 50 minutes a day on Facebook:"

That's a significant amount of time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends 4 minutes a day on social events, 17 minutes exercising, and 19 minutes reading.

JFC, what a time sink! 300 hours a year?! That's nearly two months of 40-hour work weeks!

The study ("The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being") points out that "provides causal evidence that Facebook use affects our well-being negatively " as well as the fact that "Most people use Facebook on a daily basis; few are aware of the consequences:"

By comparing the treatment group (participants who took a break from Facebook) with the control group (participants who kept using Facebook), it was demonstrated that taking a break from Facebook has positive effects on the two dimensions of well-being: our life satisfaction increases and our emotions become more positive. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that these effects were significantly greater for heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.

The study noted that "two out of three 3 Danish Internet users had an account on Facebook in 2015," and summarized the sample as "86 percent women, geographically residing throughout the country, with an average age of 34 years (SD = 8.74), having an average of 350 Facebook friends and spending a bit over an hour on Facebook daily." The authors then consider the effects of "Millions of hours are spent on Facebook each day:"

We are surely better connected now than ever before, but is this new connectedness doing any good to our well-being? According to the present study, the answer is no. In fact, the predominant uses of Facebook--that is, as a means to communicate, gain information about others, and as habitual pastime--are affecting our well-being negatively on several dimensions. First, the present study provides causal evidence that quitting Facebook leads to higher levels of both cognitive and affective well-being.

The caveat is chilling:

The effects presented in this article were generated after just 1 week of absence from a single social network. Future studies should investigate the effects of quitting Facebook for longer periods of time to test if the effects are permanent.

H/t to Taegan Goddard for linking to Factbase's work in compiling Trump's tweets, speeches, and policies into a nearly 2.5-million-word searchable word salad. They have plans for the future, which should be interesting:

"We are testing this concept right now with the President-elect, though we plan to expand to cover other world leaders and people of note."

obstructionism

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MSNBC's Steve Benen looks at McConnell's obstructionism about-face:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Rachel on the show this week that he's "absolutely" prepared to hold open the Supreme Court's vacancy, agreeing that Republicans effectively "stole" a high-court seat with their partisan blockade last year. [...] The comments did not escape the attention of his Republican counterpart.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed a pledge from his Democratic counterpart to block President-elect Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, insisting "the American people simply will not tolerate" such a move. [...]

"Apparently there's yet a new standard now, which is to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all," McConnell said, adding: "I think that's something the American people simply will not tolerate, and we'll be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it."

Benen remarks that "if there's one thing the 2016 elections made abundantly clear, it's that most of the public couldn't care less about Supreme Court obstructionism:"

Senate Republicans, for 11 months, refused to even consider a moderate, compromise nominee - and GOP senators had little trouble keeping their majority.

His analysis is quite even-handed:

I've spent a fair amount of time looking for someone - in either party - who's been consistently principled on this, regardless of which party was in control at the time. I've never been able to find such an individual. There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

Queerty's look at conservative college students quotes Ben [a pseudonym], "a first-year student at Brandeis University:"

"I think it's a shame," he says. "A lot of people have negative preconceived notions about conservatives...we're intolerant, racist, homophobic."

"Gee, we can't imagine why," snarks Queerty:

After all, it's not like conservatives nominated (and elected) a man endorsed by the KKK and his stridently antigay running mate to the highest office in the land or anything. Oh, wait.

The observation that "Many conservatives on New England's campuses are feeling more marginalized and alienated than ever before" prompts this reaction:

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the crap LGBTQ people and other minorities have had to put up with since, well, forever.

Ben comes from Chris Sweeney's Boston Magazine rant about how liberal professors are ruining college. "Exploring his conservative viewpoints," the piece notes, "is proving difficult to do on campus [which] makes Ben feel like an outsider:"

The way he sees it, coming out politically a step to the right is the fastest route to social isolation on campus and the surest way to invite ridicule from his professors. So he bites his tongue in class and retreats to his dorm room to read and listen to conservative commentary alone. "I think it's a shame," he tells me. "A lot of people have negative preconceived notions about conservatives...we're intolerant, racist, homophobic."

Sweeney writes that "Last spring, Samuel Abrams, a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, in New York, decided to run the numbers" on professorial political leanings:

From the start, he certainly expected liberal professors to outnumber conservatives, but his data--25 years' worth of statistics from the Higher Education Research Institute--told a far more startling tale: In the South and throughout the Great Plains, the ratio of liberal to conservative professors hovered around 3 to 1. On the liberal left coast, the ratio was 6 to 1. And then there was New England--which looked like William F. Buckley's worst nightmare--standing at 28 to 1. "It astonished me," says Abrams, whose research revealed that conservative professors weren't just rare; they were being pushed to the edge of extinction.

"At first," Sweeney writes, "even Abrams had a hard time believing the 28-to-1 ratio was accurate:"

He checked and rechecked his work, accounting for every variable he could think of--tenured versus untenured professors, age, income, type of college, the selectivity of the college, which departments the professors belonged to. Time and again, though, the results showed that geography was among the strongest determining factors when it came to the political diversity of professors. After Abrams took his findings public in the New York Times, academics were floored.

The NYT piece asks:

Why are New England professors so far left compared with the rest of the nation? That's a question for further research. My intuition is that inertia and history play a huge role here. Regions have traditions and cultures that can have powerful influences on thought.

"So how did our colleges and universities become such a liberal monoculture," one might ask, "and why is it so pronounced in New England?"

To this end, Abrams's research has fueled ample criticisms and theories. Nobel laureate and Times columnist Paul Krugman has argued that professors actually haven't become more liberal, but rather that the meaning of conservatism has changed and the Fox-ification and now Trump-ification of the Republican Party has pushed highly educated members of the right over to the left. Others contend that it's solely because conservatives don't go into academia. There is also the argument that political identities are social constructs that are far too complex and fickle to capture in a simple survey, as well as evidence indicating that the more highly educated a person is, the more liberal he or she tends to be.

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Chris Mooney analyzes NOAA and the global-warming "pause" by looking at what might be "the most controversial climate change study in years:"

...the 2015 paper, led by NOAA's Thomas Karl, employed an update to the agency's influential temperature dataset, and in particular to its record of the planet's ocean temperatures, to suggest that really, the recent period was perfectly consistent with the much longer warming trend.

This consistency has drawn fire by way of "a congressional subpoena from Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Committee on Science:"

That controversy is likely to be stirred anew in the wake of a new study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, that finds the NOAA scientists did the right thing in adjusting their dataset. In particular, the new research suggests that the NOAA scientists correctly adjusted their record of ocean temperatures in light of known biases in some observing systems -- and indeed, that keepers of other top global temperature datasets should do likewise.

"We pretty robustly showed that NOAA got it right," said study author Zeke Hausfather, a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley and a researcher with Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit consortium that has reanalyzed the Earth's temperatures. "There was no cooking of the books, there's no politically motivated twisting of the data."

In comparing data collected from ships versus that from buoys:

So to better patch together a long term temperature record necessarily reliant on both data sources, NOAA used a "bias correction" to take this into account, and more generally gave greater weight to the buoy data, in updating its dataset.

This highly technical switch, in turn, had the effect of increasing the overall warming of the oceans in the new dataset -- and helping to wipe out claims that there'd been any recent slowdown in the rate of climate change.

Aeon's look at existentialism and parenthood by philosophy professors Clancy Martin and John Kaag begins with the statement that "male philosophers are notoriously bad fathers:"

Of course, there are exceptions, but think of Socrates shooing his family away in his final moments so that he can have alone time with his philosophical buddies, or, even worse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau writing Emile (1762), a tract about raising kids, while abandoning his own. Instead of being bad parents, many of the titans of European existentialism - Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre - remained childless.

They suggest that we consider Sartre's comment that we are 'condemned to be free' and "pretend that an existentialist, after careful consideration or random accident, becomes a father:"

According to his essay Anti-Semite and Jew (1946), the core of existential freedom is what Sartre terms 'authenticity', the courage to have 'a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate'.

Here is what a 'true and lucid consciousness of the situation' of fatherhood might resemble: you watch wide-eyed as your beloved pushes a stranger out of a bodily orifice that seems altogether too small for the labour; when the gore is cleaned up, the stranger becomes your most intimate companion and life-long dependent; existence, from that day forward, is structured around this dependency; and then, if everything goes well, the child will grow up to no longer need you. At the end of the existential day, your tenure as a father will end in one of two ways: either your child will die or you will. As Kierkegaard writes in Either/Or (1843): 'You will regret both.'

"Most parents," they continue, "will want to gloss over the difficulties of parenting and concentrate on its many joys:"

Existentialists, however, suggest that such optimism is often a form of 'bad faith': it is a way of masking the freedom that underpins parenting and being a child. When a parent emphasises only what 'fits' into his conception of being a father, or being a child, rather than attending to the specific nuances of day-to-day interaction, existentialists, such as Sartre, would sound the alarm. Life with children is chaos at best. Things slip through the cracks. Daughters fall off jungle gyms. Sons run away. It happens, and not always to someone else's children. If a man presumes that fatherhood is going to go perfectly smoothly, he is either going to be upset or self-deceived.

"In the words of Albert Camus," they conclude, "our efforts in life, pitted against the indifference of the world, often resemble the frustrations of Sisyphus, who is fated to push his boulder up an endless mountain."

Siddhartha Mukherjee explains at Nautilus why sex is binary, but gender is a spectrum:

In 1955, Gerald Swyer, an English endocrinologist investigating female infertility, had discovered a rare syndrome that made humans biologically female but chromosomally male. "Women" born with "Swyer syndrome" were anatomically and physiologically female throughout childhood, but did not achieve female sexual maturity in early adulthood. [...]

In 2005, a team of researchers at Columbia University validated these case reports in a longitudinal study of "genetic males"--i.e., children born with XY chromosomes--who had been assigned to female gender at birth, typically because of the inadequate anatomical development of their genitals. Some of the cases were not as anguished as David Reimer's or C's--but an overwhelming number of males assigned to female gender roles reported experiencing moderate to severe gender dysphoria during childhood. Many had suffered anxiety, depression, and confusion. Many had voluntarily changed genders back to male upon adolescence and adulthood. Most notably, when "genetic males" born with ambiguous genitals were brought up as boys, not girls, not a single case of gender dysphoria or gender change in adulthood was reported.

"The hierarchical organization of this genetic cascade," Mukherjee writes, "illustrates a crucial principle about the link between genes and environments in general:"

At the bottom of the network, in contrast, a purely genetic view fails to perform; it does not provide a particularly sophisticated understanding of gender or its identity. Here, in the estuarine plains of crisscrossing information, history, society, and culture collide and intersect with genetics, like tides. Some waves cancel each other, while others reinforce each other. No force is particularly strong--but their combined effect produces the unique and rippled landscape that we call an individual's identity.

Based on this excerpt, Mukherjee's book The Gene: An Intimate History sounds intriguing.

Trump's lies about Obamacare have largely gotten a free pass from the media, writes Politicus USA:

Media Matters for America provided 10 facts reporters should mention when they cover Obamacare, and none of them will be mentioned by Donald Trump or congressional Republicans, or indeed, by the mainstream media:

1. Passage Of The ACA Has Resulted In The Lowest Uninsured Rate In Recent History 2. The ACA Medicaid Expansion Provided Health Care Access For Millions Of The Most Vulnerable Americans 3. The ACA Tangibly Improved Women's Health Care Coverage 4. The ACA Helped America Take Huge Steps Toward LGBTQ Equality 5. Contrary To Popular Belief, The ACA Extended The Solvency Of Medicare By Over 10 Years 6. The ACA Reduced The Budget Deficit, Reined In Medical Costs, And Reduced Economic Inequality 7. The ACA Improved Health Care Access For Minority Communities. 8. The ACA Banned Discrimination Against Those With Pre-Existing Conditions 9. The ACA Provided Crucial Insurance To Young Adults 10. The ACA Resulted In The Biggest Expansion Of Mental Health Care Services In Decades

"These are just plain facts," Politicus writes, "and they are beyond dispute:"

Donald Trump made opposition to Obamacare central to his campaign, but as usual, his attacks are lacking a factual basis. When Donald Trump speaks of "poor coverage," it needs to be remembered that we're talking about an additional 20 million + who have coverage and didn't have it before.

Additionally, the media "overwhelmingly failed to ask any substantive questions about Trump's health care policies or the consequences of repealing the ACA," and "virtually ignored Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's resurrection of his Medicare privatization scheme:"

While cable and broadcast news tended to avoid robust discussions of the impact of health care policy, right-wing media filled the void with rampant misinformation. Since the ACA passed in 2010, conservative news outlets have consistently attacked the health law with complete fictions, claiming it will explode the budget, create death panels, bankrupt Medicare, end in a "death spiral," and facilitate a government takeover of the health care system.

Today, media outlets regularly provide Trump surrogates with free airtime to push misinformation and avoid substantive discussion.

five major shifts

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Tom Engelhardt discusses exceptionalism and writes that, on election night, "I simply couldn't accept that Donald Trump had won. Not him. Not in this country. Not possible. Not in a million years."

Mind you, during the campaign I had written about Trump repeatedly, always leaving open the possibility that, in the disturbed (and disturbing) America of 2016, he could indeed beat Hillary Clinton. That was a conclusion I lost when, in the final few weeks of the campaign, like so many others, I got hooked on the polls and the pundits who went with them. (Doh!)

In the wake of the election, however, it wasn't shock based on pollsters' errors that got to me. It was something else that only slowly dawned on me. Somewhere deep inside, I simply didn't believe that, of all countries on this planet, the United States could elect a narcissistic, celeb billionaire who was also, in the style of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, a right-wing "populist" and incipient autocrat.

"So how did it happen here?" he asks. His answer identifies "at least five major shifts in American life and politics [that] helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Trumpism:"

* The Coming of a 1% Economy and the 1% Politics That Goes With It,

Without the arrival of casino capitalism on a massive scale (at which The Donald himself proved something of a bust), Trumpism would have been inconceivable. And if, in its Citizens United decision of 2010, the Supreme Court hadn't thrown open the political doors quite so welcomingly to that 1% crew, how likely was it that a billionaire celebrity would have run for president or become a favorite among the white working class?

* The Coming of Permanent War and an Ever More Militarized State and Society,

It's no coincidence that Trump and his generals are eager to pump up a supposedly "depleted" U.S. military with yet more funds or, given the history of these years, that he appointed so many retired generals from our losing wars to key "civilian" positions atop that military and the national security state. As with his billionaires, in a decisive fashion, Trump is stamping the real face of twenty-first-century America on Washington.

* The Rise of the National Security State,

* The Coming of the One-Party State, and

After all, the Republicans already control the House of Representatives (in more or less perpetuity, thanks to gerrymandering), the Senate, the White House, and assumedly in the years to come the Supreme Court. They also control a record 33 out of 50 governorships, have tied a record by taking 68 out of the 98 state legislative chambers, and have broken another by gaining control of 33 out of 50 full legislatures. [...] In many ways, the incipient collapse of the two-party system in a flood of 1% money cleared the path for Trump's victory.

* The Coming of the New Media Moment:

It may have seemed that Trump inaugurated our new media moment by becoming the first meister-elect of tweet and the shout-out master of that universe, but in reality he merely grasped the nature of our new, chaotic media moment and ran with it.

"Let's add a final point to the other five," he concludes:

Donald Trump will inherit a country that has been hollowed out by the new realities that made him a success and allowed him to sweep to what, to many experts, looked like an improbable victory.

Trump and tax cuts

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Steven Rattner's 2016 in charts piece notes "the strong economy that President Obama will be leaving him:"

Unemployment is down to 4.6 percent, the lowest since August 2007 and a stunning decline from the 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office. The economy has expanded by nearly 15 percent (adjusted for inflation), the stock market has nearly tripled, auto sales have notched records, the federal deficit has been cut by more than half and house prices nationally are above past peaks. Even real median incomes ended marginally higher.

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Rattner says this of Trump's tax-cut plan:

It includes a $6 trillion tax reduction over the next decade, vastly tilted toward business and the wealthy. An estimated 83 percent of the benefits would go to the top 20 percent of Americans and 51 percent to the top 1 percent by 2025. A middle-class taxpayer would receive an average tax benefit of $1,090; a typical member of the top 1 percent would get $317,100.

These huge tax giveaways -- along with Mr. Trump's promises to increase infrastructure spending and not touch Social Security and Medicare -- would blow up the deficit and add $4 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years over and above current projections. That's made particularly ironic by Mr. Trump's claim in a Washington Post interview that he would eliminate our current $19 trillion of debt over eight years through better trade deals and economic growth. [emphasis added]

Here's another chart, an indication of the fiscal damage that Trump intends to wreak:

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motion to impeach

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Digby asks, does impeachment begin now?

After a huge public outcry this week, even Trump questioned the timing of the new Congress' first initiative, which was to roll back certain ethics procedures. (He wasn't actually against the rollback, just thought it was premature.) There are also some encouraging signs that repealing the Affordable Care Act may not be quite as easy as Republicans had hoped, which could tangle them up with their followers all over again. If they can be similarly stopped or slowed from enacting the rest of their agenda, we might just get through this thing.

She also observes that "As long as congressional Republicans let him strut around taking credit for 'getting things done,' he'll be happy to sign anything they put in front of him:"

So what are Democrats to do with this? It's already going to be an overwhelming task to fight off Trump's worst nominees, battle back legislation that's coming from 20 different directions and expose the mountain of scandals that are quickly piling up. The Trump train wreck is already creating a chain reaction of one explosion after an other.

"Robert Kuttner wrote this provocative piece for the Huffington Post," notes digby, "advocating for a group of experts, preferably bipartisan, to begin seriously putting together the case for impeachment:"

Some people are reflexively opposed to making such a strong statement so early in the administration. But Trump is already committing impeachable offenses, and dealing with someone like this requires being well prepared to take advantage of any openings to stop him.

Along those lines, Doug Rossinow examines leftists and liberals in the political heartland and discusses "left-liberal relations in American politics:"

The World War II and Baby Boomer generations came to see these political entities as inherently discordant. Yet many today lament that, in theory, liberals and leftists ought to work for broad, common goals; otherwise no one would think that Ralph Nader's voters in 2000, or Jill Stein's in 2016, should have voted for the Democrat. We seem caught between obsolete models of progressive politics and a yearning for a progressive solidarity that is closer to fulfillment than we may realize.

"The left," Rossinow says, "has returned to prominence after an era in the wilderness of American politics:"

Today, opposition to war, capitalist exploitation, and white supremacy cut across both liberalism and the left. Now the left is often called progressivism, a notoriously ambiguous term. Much of it has reappeared inside the Democratic Party--a development overlooked by those who equate the left with minor parties or anti-systemic organizing. We have Bush and Sanders to thank for this reinvigoration of leftist politics inside the party system. [...]

Now President Trump looms. The coming years will offer plenty of fronts on which liberals and leftists may collaborate if they can manage it. Both groups may call themselves progressives, and for many--especially millennials--the old, rigid, Cold War-era distinction between liberal and left politics may fade. Leftist elements certainly won't pledge undying loyalty to the Democratic Party, but the basic political fact is that today's progressive politics, whether it succeeds or fails in securing its objectives, is already taking shape in that party and around its edges.

Mike LaBossiere's Trump and the return of Sophism looks at Trump mouthpiece Scottie Nell Hughes' take on truth from The Diane Rehm Show:

And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts--they're not really facts. Everybody has a way--it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.

"Since the idea that there are no facts seems so ridiculously absurd," LaBossiere comments, "the principle of charity demands that some alternative explanation be provided for Hughes' claim:"

If Hughes takes the truth to be relative to the groups (divided by their feelings towards Trump), then she is a relativist. In this case, each group has its own truth that is made true by the belief of the group. If she holds truth to be dependent on the individual, then she would be a subjectivist. In this case, each person has her own truth, but she might happen to have a truth that others also accept.

This is something that "Trump showed with great effect. He simply accuses those who disagree with him of being liars and many believe him:"

I have no idea whether Trump has a theory of truth or not, but his approach is utterly consistent with sophism and the view expressed by Hughes. It would also explain why Trump does not bother with research or evidence--these assume there is a truth that can be found and supported. But if there is no objective truth and only success matters, then there is no reason not to say anything that leads to success.

538 says that fact-checking won't save us from fake news, and Brooke Borel (author of The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking) notes the following:

Fact-checking politicians' statements or articles after they've published -- a close relative of the type of fact-checking that goes on behind the scenes in journalism -- has been instrumental in holding politicians accountable. I know what fact-checking can do, and how important it is. But to combat fake news, it's simply not enough.

I'm as distressed as any journalist is to watch fake news spread, even as available facts can disprove it. But if facts don't matter, what does? The history of news -- and the power structures that control its spread and consumption -- may offer clues on how to wrangle fake news in a way that fact-checking alone can't.

Step one is to consider that fake news may be a fight not over truth, but power, according to Mike Ananny, a media scholar at the University of Southern California.

She asks, "So how can we strip power from fake news? How do we prevent the next Pizzagate?" Andrew Pettegree, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland suggests that media outlets' efforts "to debunk fake news [...] won't work, particularly for readers who have already decided that the traditional press is fake news -- and, fair or not, partisan." He suggests that "the news should stop trying so hard to entertain:"

Political reporting could improve by refusing to force false balance -- an attempt at impartiality and objectivity that can backfire. Science reporters have known this for a long time: Stories about vaccines or climate change shouldn't give equal space to deniers who think that vaccines cause autism or that climate change is a hoax.

Eliminating their false equivalency and bothsiderism would indeed be a substantial improvement.

Rachel M. Cohen looks at Trump's war on public schools and observes that "The next few years may well bring about radical change to education:"

During a March primary debate, Trump said charters were "terrific" and affirmed they "work and they work very well." A few months later he traveled to a low-performing for-profit charter school in Cleveland to say he'd invest $20 billion in federal money to expand charters and private-school vouchers as president. His campaign has not outlined where the money would come from, but suggests it will be accomplished by "reprioritizing existing federal dollars."

Mike Pence, notes Cohen, "worked vigorously to expand charter schools and vouchers while serving as Indiana's governor."

Today, more than 30,000 Indiana students--including middle-class students--attend private and parochial schools with public funds, making it the largest single voucher program in the country. Pence also helped double the number of charter schools in his state; he increased their funding and gave charter operators access to low-interest state loans for facilities.

"The new backlash from conservatives against testing and the Common Core should not be interpreted as a rejection of a federal role," she continues, "The right loves it when Washington intervenes--if it serves the right's purposes:"

While there are limits to what Trump and DeVos could do to end the Common Core standards (they are state standards, after all), Trump's executive bully pulpit could certainly help embolden Common Core opponents on the local level.

Also notable is the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association effort to "overturn a 40-year-old ruling that required public employees represented by a union to pay fees to cover the union's bargaining and representation costs:"

Now that the Republican Senate has refused to hold a vote on Obama's appointment of Judge Merrick Garland, Trump will nominate a conservative Scalia successor to the Court. With a number of Friedrichs look-alike cases headed to the Supreme Court, it's a near certainty that a reconstituted majority of five conservative justices will strike down agency fees, which could considerably reduce the resources available to the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association--two of the nation's largest unions. Were that not trouble enough, the massive support that the AFT and NEA gave to Hillary Clinton's campaign is not likely to endear them to a president with a well-known penchant for revenge.
That's not all the damage he could do, though:
Conservatives have also proposed rolling back Obama administration reforms that federalized all new student loans and applied stricter regulations, particularly to for-profit institutions. If President Trump does ultimately re-privatize student loans, consumer protections would likely disappear, and the cost of borrowing would rise.

University leaders are also worrying about what a Trump administration could mean for research funding. The government is likely to cut back on investments on budgetary grounds, but also on ideological grounds, since universities tend to be seen as liberal enclaves.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says bluntly that "If Donald Trump opts for privatization, destabilization, and austerity over supporting public education and the will of the people," she says, "well, there will be a huge fight."

The Advocate's report on straight men and gay porn by Brenden Shucart discusses a new study ("Sexually Explicit Media Use by Sexual Identity: A Comparative Analysis of Gay, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men in the United States" in Archives of Sexual Behavior) showing that "55 percent of gay men watch straight porn, and 21 percent of straight men watch gay porn:"

So what gives? It's no giant leap to hypothesize why gay men might enjoy watching straight porn: to watch straight guys. But when one out of five self-identified straight men reports watching gay porn, it prompts the further question: Are these men really straight, or are they down-low/straight-identified bisexual men?

Dr. Martin J. Downing, the study's lead researcher, "sees this 'identity discrepant viewing' as 'some level of evidence' of fluidity in sexual attraction, at least in terms of what people are watching." Interestingly, the piece continues, "bisexual men displayed porn-viewing habits that were quite distinct from those of their homo and hetero peers:"

Bi men reported watching guy-on-guy porn just as much as gay men do, and they consumed heterosexual porn (one male/one female) almost as much as heterosexual men. They also reported watching a significant amount of "bisexual porn" that has either two men and one woman or two women and one man. According to Downing, bisexual men aren't "watered down gays or heterosexuals."

"[Bisexual men] are more like heterosexual men in some things, and more like gay men in other things, but that's a reflection of their own unique attractions. They're not identical to either group in terms of their porn viewing, which I think is really interesting for understanding bisexuality."

Indeed. Shucart summarizes the study as follows:

There are a few takeaways from this study: Our porn consumption is more eclectic than previously suspected, and bisexual men are distinct from their straight and gay brothers in their pornographic habits and inclinations. Though not the study's focus, this further suggests that bisexuality isn't simply a way station on the road to being gay; bisexuals are bisexual.

This study is further proof of bisexuals' validity within the LGBT community--as if more were actually needed.

Derek Parfit

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Vox eulogizes philosopher Derek Parfit:

Derek Parfit, who died at age 74 on Sunday evening, was not the most famous philosopher in the world. But he was among the most brilliant, and his papers and books have had a profound, incalculably vast impact on the study of moral philosophy over the past half century.

"Parfit was not a prolific author," the piece observes:

...he tended to write his books over the course of decades, refining them repeatedly after discussions with colleagues and students. In the end, he wrote only two: 1984's Reasons and Persons, and 2011's On What Matters, a two-volume, 1,440 page tome whose third volume is still yet to be published.

[The first two volumes of Parfit's opus On What Matters are available here, with a third volume due in March.]

As befits its title, Parfit's last and longest book On What Matters sprawled across a great variety of topics. It's broadly interested in what reasons people have to act in certain ways, or hold certain beliefs, or desire certain things. A lot of those questions have to do with morality, but some don't. Perhaps the greatest joy of reading it is spotting the occasional diversions, the odd moments here and there where he makes an aside from the main narrative, often concisely expressing what would take others of us pages and pages to articulate.

Trump's propaganda effort against Obamacare includes misrepresenting Bill Clinton's remarks:

People must remember that ObamaCare just doesn't work, and it is not affordable - 116% increases (Arizona). Bill Clinton called it "CRAZY"

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017

What Clinton said, though, was drastically different:

The current system ... But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small businesspeople and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies.

So you've got this crazy system where all of a sudden, 25 million more people have health care and then the people that are out there busting it ― sometimes 60 hours a week ― wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It's the craziest thing in the world.

So here's the simplest thing....let people buy into Medicare or Medicaid.

It's clear, the piece writes, that "Clinton was arguing for expanding health care access. He never called the ACA crazy."

Speaking of repealing Obamacare, digby wonders:

When Trump's own voters lose their health insurance will they be happy to sacrifice their own lives in order that their enemies will lose theirs? And by enemies, I mean me. And maybe you. Because that's what they're trying to do. They care more about cutting taxes for rich people than middle class people who don't get their insurance at work. [...]

Oh, and by the way, they don't think employers should be required to offer health insurance either. So, if they decide it's too expensive, it's really it's all about begging from your neighbors. After all, if you get sick when you aren't rich, it's really your fault right?

This is immoral. But then so are they.

In describing pushback on the delayed oversight killing, Kevin Drum quotes from the Washington Post:

The House GOP moved to withdraw changes made the day before to official rules that would rein in the Office of congressional Ethics. Instead, the House will study changes to the office with an August deadline.

"Oh please," he comments:

Trump didn't object to Republicans gutting the ethics office. He just thought they should do it later, when fewer people might notice. And that's what they're doing. They'll "study changes" and then gut the office in August, when everyone is on vacation.

Meanwhile, media outlets are falsely giving Trump credit for the reversal:

According to CNN, "President-elect Donald Trump dramatically strong-armed House Republicans into line Tuesday in his first Washington power play."

While it is true that Donald Trump criticized congressional Republicans, so did many other people.

And it is not true that he opposed gutting the OCE. His response this morning was only to say that while the OCE's existence was "unfair" to Republicans, that there were more important priorities to focus on.

We need to keep hammering on his unparalleled unpopularity, writes Eric Boehlert, who observes that "Trump's contrast with Obama in late 2008 is stunning:"

Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating. Today, Trump's favorable rating stands at an anemic 43 percent. And if history is any indication, that rating is almost certain to go down once the new president takes office.

Given the plurality of Americans who expect Trump to be a "poor" or "terrible" president, he wonders "what explains the press's passive, often genuflecting coverage of Trump since November?"

If Trump had just posted a 49-state, Reagan-esque landslide victory, I could more readily understand why the press would be acquiescing so regularly. But Trump just made history by losing the popular tally by nearly three million votes and remains, without question, the least popular president-elect since modern-day polling was invented.

Yet members of the press seem unduly intimidated by his presence, and have even rewarded him with chatter of an invisible "mandate." (He has none.)

Then he asks the big question:

Does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton had won in November while badly losing the popular vote to Trump, and then posted historically awful approval ratings during her transition, that story would not dominate Beltway coverage day after day, week after week?

And don't forget the press's entrenched fascination with Obama's public approval during his presidency, particularly the desire to depict "collapsing" support when, in fact, Obama's approval rating remained stubbornly stable for years.

There's a glaring Trump transition story hiding in plain sight: He's historically unpopular. The press ought to start telling that tale on a daily basis.

Conor Lynch suggests that 2017 could be even worse than 2016. As he writes, "there is little reason to celebrate the year's end this weekend, or to be hopeful for 2017:"

And when "deplorable Don" arrives in Washington, he will have a Republican-controlled Congress full of partisan lackeys, unscrupulous sycophants and empty-suit pontificators to lick his boots and kiss his ring -- as long as they can slash taxes for their wealthy donors, privatize Social Security and Medicare and, of course, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In no time at all people will be feeling nostalgic for 2016 -- longing for the days when Donald J. Trump was just a billionaire demagogue running for president, without any real power. Before he became the most powerful toddler in the world.

Trump, Lynch continues, "did more than any other individual in recent American history to normalize public racism, sexism and xenophobia, as well as political violence:"

His provocative campaign emboldened bigots and misogynists and rejuvenated white-supremacist and neo-Nazi hate groups, while poisoning political discourse and accelerating the country's descent into a post-truth reality. If Trump had lost the election to Hillary Clinton, he would still have left the country hopelessly divided and more vulnerable than ever before to the forces of extremism and bigotry. But at least he would have left the country breathing.

Lynch writes that "this lunatic will have real and terrifying powers," leading to a "great potential for catastrophe:"

There is no telling what Trump will do once he is in the Oval Office, or how much of his campaign rhetoric was empty talk. But his erratic behavior since the election and the far-right cabinet he has assembled over the past month indicates that he will be every bit as reactionary, demagogic and impulsive as he was on the campaign trail.

He concludes with no small amount of resignation that "it is all but certain that 2017 will make 2016 look like the good old days, regardless of which beloved celebrities drop dead." Amanda Marcotte looks at political resolutions, noting that "2016 was a vile, no-good year that can go suck eggs:"

Unfortunately, there is every reason to believe that 2017 will be treating us no better. In fact it is quite likely, with President Donald Trump in the White House, to be a waking nightmare from which there is no escape.

She offers "three resolutions I'm undertaking to preserve my sanity:"

1. No more attention given to dudes who want to relitigate the Democratic primary.

2. A strict outrage diet for Donald Trump's culture war antics.

But it's become clear that Trump's provocations -- from the Mike Pence "Hamilton" fiasco to whatever asinine thing he's saying on Twitter this week -- are rooted in his reality-TV background and his understanding that glib provocation is a great way to sow chaos that both distracts from and helps dismantle our democracy. So my goal is, every time Trump is spouting distracting culture war nonsense, to start looking for whatever, usually more serious, story he's trying to distract the public from.

3. Having a life outside politics.

But with Trump ripping through our democracy like a tornado, it's doubly important to remember that there are things in this world that aren't terrible. So it's important to take the time to read a novel or go to a museum or listen to a record the whole way through.

Similarly, AlterNet's Les Leopold explains why resisting Trump is not enough:

While resistance is critically important, we will fail unless resistance is contained within a long term strategy to reverse runaway inequality and upend neoliberalism (defined as systematic tax breaks for the rich, cuts in social programs, anti-union legislation, financial deregulation and corporate-managed trade.) If we don't build an alternative movement, our defensive struggles could enhance Trump's popularity rather than to diminish it.

He then lists the risks of a "resistance only" response:

1. It makes our politics Trump-centric or even Trump-dependent.

"Of course, resistance is badly needed," he says, while also stressing "a pro-active positive agenda:"

The key items include a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, free higher education, single-payer health care, massive infrastructure spending, a halt to the off-shoring of jobs, criminal justice reform, taking money out of politics, and reducing global warming. That's our agenda, not Trump's.

The fact that few if any of these issues are being discussed today shows the weakness of a Trump-centric approach.

2. Trump resistance can slide into defending the status quo:

3. Resisting Trump by itself will not win back swing states

Key swing states may remain in Trump's column if all we do is resist. A marginal voter could view progressive resist actions as simply disruptive if we don't put forth a positive agenda that frames our resistance and expands the debate. [...] The future goes to whichever camp develops the most compelling vision for America. A negation of Trump is not a vision.

4. Resisting Trump on trade and the off-shoring of jobs is a big mistake.

5. Betting on Trump's failure is reckless:

"it is not a forgone conclusion," he writes, "that Trump's economic policies will fail:"

So waiting for Trump's collapse or just pushing for it, seems like an irresponsible political strategy. Instead, we actually have to do the hard work of building something new that is independent both of Trump and the neo-liberal establishment.

5. Resisting Trump could turn into an excuse to stay within our issue silos:

This could cause "extreme fragmentation among progressive organizations:"

There is no common agenda, no common strategy, no common structure. We have enormous experience in promoting our specific agenda silos and very little practice in working together around a hard hitting common program that transcends all of our silos.

"We need a tangible organizing effort that brings together our many issue groups," he writes, which "entails four tasks:"

• We need a common agenda and common analysis.
• We need a national educational campaign that explains the agenda and analysis all around the country, as the Populists did in the 1880s.
• We need a new national organization that we can all join as dues paying members.
• Finally, we need to expand our own perceptions of the possible.

The Advocate's list of 6 things we must do the survive Trump's America, penned by Mark Joseph Stern, calls the spectre of Trump's presidency "a disaster for LGBT people throughout the nation:"

There can be no doubt that the Trump administration, together with a Republican-dominated Congress, will roll back hard-fought victories and stall the push for ever greater equality. [...]

Trump will take office at a moment when LGBT people enjoy historically high tolerance and support from the American public. His presidency will not change that, at least not immediately. The supermajority of Americans will still support marriage equality; trans people will continue to gain greater visibility, and thus acceptance; and despite distractions about "religious liberty" and discrimination, most people will still believe that nobody should be fired because they're LGBT. "Don't ask, don't tell" will not be revived. The Supreme Court, even one stacked by Trump, will feel immense institutional pressure to respect the precedent of marriage equality. We will elect more openly LGBT people to statehouses across the country. [...]

If Hillary Clinton were assuming office after Obama, the path forward would be clear and manageable. It will now be tortuous and grueling.

He offers "six suggestions as to how the movement can protect and even expand its rights over the next four years:"

1. Remember: Trump may not be a virulent homophobe, but he is a threat.

In order to shore up evangelical votes, Trump has already declared that the Supreme Court's marriage-equality decision should be overturned, that states should be allowed to deny transgender people access to public bathrooms, and that President Obama's executive orders protecting LGBT people should be rescinded. As president, he will surely continue to throw LGBT people under the bus when Bannon -- who has stated his desire to "turn on the hate" -- thinks it's convenient.

2. Keep the focus on Pence.

Dangerous as Trump may be, his vice president is significantly more threatening to LGBT people's safety and well-being. [...] It is too early to surmise the extent to which Pence's unrepentant, unrelenting homophobia will influence the Trump administration.

3. Watch out for cabinet cronies and "religious liberty."

Obama's appointees have interpreted bans on "sex discrimination" in existing civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity; as a result, they have granted LGBT people new protections in housing, credit, education, and employment. Trump's appointees will quietly reverse these interpretations, stripping LGBTs of vital federal protections.

These reversals should be met with public protests.

LGBT advocates should also prepare for a drawn-out brawl over bills designed to legalize discrimination in the guise of "religious liberty." Pence's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" allowed "religious belief" to supercede nondiscrimination ordinances in certain circumstances; congressional Republicans appear poised to offer Trump an even more extreme variation on this genre. Their "First Amendment Defense Act" would broadly legalize any anti-LGBT discrimination ostensibly required by one's "religious belief or moral conviction."

4. Focus on state politics and the community.

"Instead of wasting energy on the federal level," he writes, "LGBT advocates should find room for improvement in the states:"

These [pro-LGBT] governors can work to expand LGBT protections -- and veto gerrymanders that would permanently entrench an anti-LGBT Republican majority in the statehouse.

Meanwhile, every supporter of LGBT rights should get involved with their communities to protect the most vulnerable among us. Young queer people will soon face a barrage of hate, which starts at the top and trickles down into the classroom and home.

5. Change the legal strategy.

Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who toppled the federal Defense of Marriage Act as well as Mississippi's same-sex-adoption ban, thinks activists should shift their focus to blatantly hateful and extreme laws that explicitly license religious-based discrimination.

6. Don't lose hope, and don't back down.

The past eight years have marked a new era of openness in the United States. [...] Marriage equality marked a point of no return, and we are still just beginning to experience the benefits that will flow from that decision. We will not retreat; we will not become invisible; we will not stop demanding the full array of rights that are owed to us under the law.

Fareed Zakaria worries about the US becoming an illiberal democracy, which he believes is "something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic:"

It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices -- democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today. [...][

But we are now getting to see what American democracy looks like without any real buffers in the way of sheer populism and demagoguery. The parties have collapsed, Congress has caved, professional groups are largely toothless, the media have been rendered irrelevant.

He wonders, "who and what remain to nourish and preserve the common good, civic life and liberal democracy?"

In reference to National Geographic's Gender Revolution issue, The Federalist's Walt Heyer writes that "Transgenderism is today's popular social delusion." For once, it's not completely clueless pontificating from the right-wing site. Heyer writes that "like Avery Jackson, I was a cross-dressing boy at the age of nine:"

Eventually, I did become a female transgender. I was approved and underwent the full range of hormone therapy and surgeries and legally changed my identity. I lived life as a female, Laura Jensen, for eight years. All too late I realized transgenderism was all "B.S."--a surgical masquerade to superficially project a change of gender. Like others who elect to live the transgender life, I painfully discovered it was only a temporary fix to deeper pain.

A cover photo is visually exciting and can persuade young people that male and female gender models are not fixed, when they are. Photos like the one on the cover of National Geographic can encourage a child to question his or her gender and sex and act out accordingly.

Well, that didn't take long to go off the rails. "The activists' theory of gender fluidity, or gender spectrum," he writes, "suggests that God-designated genders of male and female indicated by biology is too limiting."

No, the scientific theories of biology indicate the spectrum.

Heyer also argues that "changing gender is encouraged, nurtured, and celebrated seemingly everywhere."

Really?!

When he claims that "Young people are told transgender feelings are permanent, immutable, physically deep-seated in the brain, and can never change," I can only respond [citation needed]. Heyer continues by accusing NatGeo editor of "recklessly using the magazine and this child to promote gender questioning and the theory of gender as a spectrum:"

The magazine cover is designed to change minds and influence gender transition. [...] It completely abandons any pretense of covering male-female gender inequality. Like the special issue of the magazine, the "documentary" [a two-hour feature of trans kids and their parents] is an indoctrination for the activist transgender point of view. It endorses cross-gender affirmation and transition for children to the exclusion of any other less-invasive treatment.

This Is Child Abuse

Studies have shown that childhood gender dysphoria does not inevitably continue into adulthood. An overwhelming 77 to 94 percent of gender dysphoric children do not become adults with gender dysphoria. Given this, it's social, medical, and psychological malpractice to push young children to lop off or sew on body parts and take highly charged cross-sex hormones that can further destabilize their prepubescent bodies and minds, especially when they are highly likely to regret what grown adults pushed them into before they were able to sort through such life-altering decisions.

The study, "Ethical issues raised by the treatment of gender-variant prepubescent children," explains this more realistically:

Gender dysphoria in childhood does not inevitably continue into adulthood, and only 6 to 23 percent of boys and 12 to 27 percent of girls treated in gender clinics showed persistence of their gender dysphoria into adulthood. Further, most of the boys' gender dysphoria desisted, and in adulthood, they identified as gay rather than as transgender.

The study also describes treatment at a California clinic "where a child is supported in socially transitioning to a cross-gendered role without medical or surgical intervention:"

As in the other two clinics, only at the onset of puberty are medications administered to suppress development of unwanted secondary sex characteristics. This approach presumes that an adult transgender outcome is to be expected, that these children can be identified, and that children who transition but then desist can revert to their natal gender if necessary with no ill effects.

This cautious but compassionate approach is nowhere near the "child abuse" alleged by Heyer:

Given that how any gender identity develops is an unknown, is it not possible that opposing a wish to explore cross-gender expression is harmful to some children? Whether they persist or desist in their transgender behavior or identity, children may internalize disapproving attitudes toward atypical gender behavior and expression (transphobia), with possible negative consequences for adult development.

20170103-genderrevolution.jpg

Returning to NatGeo, their Gender Revolution issue (above) features an editor's note from Susan Goldberg that discusses nine-year-old Avery, the subject of the left-hand cover photo:

She has lived as an openly transgender girl since age five, and she captured the complexity of the conversation around gender. Today, we're not only talking about gender roles for boys and girls--we're talking about our evolving understanding of people on the gender spectrum. [...]

We hope these stories about gender will spark thoughtful conversations about how far we have come on this topic--and how far we have left to go.

Yep, that sounds like indoctrination all right.

The issue also examines how science is helping us understand gender, describing a 14-year-old, identified only as "E," who, the author writes, "searched for the right label for her gender identity:"

"Transgender" didn't quite fit, she told me. For one thing she was still using her birth name and still preferred being referred to as "she." And while other trans kids often talk about how they've always known they were born in the "wrong" body, she said, "I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be." By which she meant a body that doesn't menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and "a ginger beard." Does that make E a trans guy? A girl who is, as she put it, "insanely androgynous"? Or just someone who rejects the trappings of traditional gender roles altogether?

Superseding high school biology, the piece points out that "on occasion, XX and XY don't tell the whole story:"

Today we know that the various elements of what we consider "male" and "female" don't always line up neatly, with all the XXs--complete with ovaries, vagina, estrogen, female gender identity, and feminine behavior--on one side and all the XYs--testes, penis, testosterone, male gender identity, and masculine behavior--on the other. It's possible to be XX and mostly male in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology, just as it's possible to be XY and mostly female.

The actions of the SRY gene or conditions such as complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) may mean, for example that:

The baby looks female, with a clitoris and vagina, and in most cases will grow up feeling herself to be a girl.

Which is this baby, then? Is she the girl she believes herself to be? Or, because of her XY chromosomes--not to mention the testes in her abdomen--is she "really" male?

Those gray-area questions lead to the observation that "Gender is an amalgamation of several elements:"

...chromosomes (those X's and Y's), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and estrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviors). And sometimes people who are born with the chromosomes and genitals of one sex realize that they are transgender, meaning they have an internal gender identity that aligns with the opposite sex--or even, occasionally, with neither gender or with no gender at all.

20170103-identitysexexpression.jpg

The article also points out that "one finding in transgender research has been robust: a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD):"

According to John Strang, a pediatric neuropsychologist with the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Gender and Sexuality Development Program at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C., children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.

Far from the aggressive push toward "malpractice" that Heyer sees, the medical consensus is cautious one, that "biology can be put on hold for a while with puberty-blocking drugs that can buy time for gender-questioning children:"

If the child reaches age 16 and decides he or she is not transgender after all, the effects of puberty suppression are thought to be reversible: The child stops taking the blockers and matures in the birth sex. But for children who do want to transition at 16, having been on blockers might make it easier. They can start taking cross-sex hormones and go through puberty in the preferred gender--without having developed the secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts, body hair, or deep voices, that can be difficult to undo.

The Endocrine Society recommends blockers for adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Nonetheless, the blockers' long-term impact on psychological development, brain growth, and bone mineral density are unknown--leading to some lively disagreement about using them on physically healthy teens.

Politico comments on Republicans gutting Congressional oversight:

In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog -- a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Monday's effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.

"President-elect Donald Trump ran on a platform of draining the swamp of an often all-too-cozy Washington D.C.," writes Politico, "Monday night's moves go in the opposite direction, severely loosening oversight of lawmakers' potential conflicts of interest, use of campaign money and other ethical matters:"

Democrats created the Office of Congressional Ethics in March 2008 after the Abramoff scandal, in which the well-connected GOP lobbyist plead guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials. Abramoff and his clients had used campaign donations and favors to sway members, including former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who served 30 months in prison, and a number of staffers.

Their idea was that an outside agency of sorts could take up a more robust oversight of members. Republicans, however, have claimed the group has been too aggressive in making referrals.

"The proposed change will be included in a package of new House Rules governing the 115th Congress," the piece concludes, "which will be voted on Tuesday afternoon." That doesn't leave much time for public reaction, does it?

David Neiwert makes a great observation about GOP obtuseness:

So I see that amnesiac Republicans are very, very confused about why Democrats and other sane human beings are already standing up to voice their opposition to Donald Trump's presidency even before he is sworn in. [...]

Well, here's a little cure for their amnesia: An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (June 2017, Verso Press). This section is from Chapter Five, discussing the rise of the Tea Parties and how the Birther conspiracy theories helped fuel them.

"Conservatives did not consider Barack Obama to be a legitimate president," he points out, "a fact underscored by the growing 'Birther' campaign." [Rush Limbaugh's hope that Obama would fail--as seen here--is another example.] "Open political warfare," Neiwert continues, "a defiance of the new president's every objective, was to be the right-wing political project for the ensuing eight years," as Teabaggers disrupted healthcare townhalls:

And the behavior fit the blueprint for action laid out early on: Disrupt, distract, and destroy any chance for an actual civil and informed conversation. In other words, demolish the entire purpose of a town-hall forum as the means to bring health-care reform to a halt. [...]

But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting. When someone's entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren't just expressing their opinions -- they are actively shutting down democracy.

In an announcement that we should prepare to be ungovernable, Sarah Lazare issues "A call for civil servants to resist:"

"A core component of resistance is to get the class of civil servants, particularly on the federal but also the state level, to not comply with arbitrary laws and policies that are going to be created," said [Kali] Akuno [organizer with Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement]. "To not recognize the laws we know are coming that will discriminate against Black people, Latinos, immigrants and queer people. There is no need for anyone to comply. Let's not give it legitimacy just because it's the law. We need to be prepared to disobey and engage in civil disobedience. We need to get ready for that now."

In words reminiscent of Gunter Eich's exhortation to "be sand, not oil, in the gears of the world," Akuno envisions resistance as "just one prong of a broader strategy," including:

"not going to work, not participating in your run-of-the-mill economic activities, with the hope and aim that we can build prolonged acts of civil disobedience that lead to a general strike." While such plans are not fully fleshed out, he noted organizations across the country are actively discussing such a possibility.

"The orientation we're taking is not just about surviving Trump, but drawing attention to the fact that the system was already heading towards more severe types of repression, surveillance and austerity," he said. "We're also looking at the global dynamics as to why right-wing populism and fascism is spreading internationally."

What is clear, says Akuno, is that the right-wing populism of the Trump administration will not be defeated by civil discourse and liberal democracy. He emphasized, "If we are serious and steadfast, we can create a clear and comprehensive message around being ungovernable."

Similarly, John Scalzi looks at the arc of justice:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

In the main I agree with that quote. There are things about it, however, that I think many of us elide.

The first is the word "long." I think both Parker and King understood that moral endeavors can be measured in years, decades and sometimes centuries.

Also, he notes, "The arc is not a natural feature of the universe:"

It does not magically appear; it is not ordained; it is not inevitable. It exists because people of moral character seek justice, not only for themselves but for every person. Nor is the arc smooth. It's rough and jagged, punctuated in areas by great strides, halting collapses, terrible reverses and forcible wrenching actions.

Crooks & Liars snarks that WSJ editor Gerard Baker won't report Trump's lies as "lies" because...reasons:

When Donald Trump says things that are undoubtedly lies, not even just hyperbole, Mr. Baker is of the opinion that calling a lie a lie will alienate readers, as if "readers" are also Trump supporters. You are also forbidden to have any controversial opinions, no matter how factual you are, because certain people don't like the truth. Being honest in a way they perceive as derogatory will cause them not to 'trust' you.

Here is Baker's statement:

GERARD BAKER: I'd be careful about using the word, "lie." "Lie" implies much more than just saying something that's false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.

As long as these returning champions come back every Sunday, it's okay to sugar coat lies as something the consumer decides is true or false, because you gotta get those advertising dollars. [...]

Thanks to this failure to call a lie exactly what it is, Trump's supporters believe the most outlandish fallacies to be true and by golly, no one will convince them of the facts without being labeled something awful, like 'educated' or 'intellectual elitist' or a 'thinker.'

Daily Kos's 9 craziest things that Trump voters believe refers to an Economist/YouGov survey (PDF); here are some of the lowlights, beginning with the question "Is the country better off now than it was eight years ago?"

Most Americans recall that eight years ago the nation was descending into an economic abyss. The stock market dropped 46 percent. Unemployment shot up to 10.1 percent. Home foreclosures hit record figures. And total household wealth declined by more than $19 trillion.

Yet somehow a whopping 60 percent of Trump voters responded to this question saying that the country was better off eight years ago than today. Another 19 percent say there is no difference. That's after stocks climbed back from about 7,000 to nearly 20,000. And unemployment dropped to 4.9 percent. The auto industry that was on the brink of collapse is reporting record profits. And the delusions of the Trumpsters are unique to their breed. Only 21 percent of Democrats thought 2009 was a better year.

That's not the only example, either. Only 36 percent of them realize that climate change is real, "only 26 percent of Trump voters correctly said that [the number of] persons without insurance decreased," and "68 percent of them said that it was definitely/probably true that Saddam had WMDs." Also, Obama's birth certificate is fake ("52 percent continue to say that Obama is definitely/probably a native Kenyan") and Pizzagate is real("46 percent of Trump voters said that this ludicrous fiction was definitely/probably true").

As Daily Kos reminds us, "this epidemic of ignorance was not accidental:"

It was a deliberate act of disinformation by Trump and the Republican Party. And the media bears its share of responsibility for putting ratings and profit before journalistic ethics.

Salon's Erin Coulehan calls work stress "the saddest American status symbol:"

It's no secret that our culture today prides itself on the amount of work we put into our jobs. We work to an excessive degree as if there's a competition to impress people by our willingness to take our work everywhere.

But why?

A new study sheds light on what seems to be an American obsession with being overworked and stressed out.

A Harvard Business Review report shows that a busy person is "perceived by participants to have higher status than the one with free time," indicating that "Americans seem to be obsessed with overworking ourselves in an effort to gain social esteem:"

The research suggests part of Americans' obsession with being overworked is an effort to seem important and gain social influence, which makes sense given the hyper-competitive system with which we're socialized. [...]

It's foolish to think we must unnecessarily burden ourselves in order to be effective, important, or relevant. Our time management skills should be adapted to include time for work and leisure, although doing so in the digital age seems nearly impossible.

"In today's America," the study points out, "complaining about being busy and working all the time is so commonplace most of us do it without thinking:"

If someone asks "How are you?" we no longer say "Fine" or "I'm well, thank you." We often simply reply "Busy!"

This is more than just a subjective impression. An analysis of holiday letters indicates that references to "crazy schedules" have dramatically increased since the 1960s.

"What has changed so dramatically in one century?" the study asks:

We think that the shift from leisure-as-status to busyness-as-status may be linked to the development of knowledge-intensive economies. In such economies, individuals who possess the human capital characteristics that employers or clients value (e.g., competence and ambition) are expected to be in high demand and short supply on the job market. Thus, by telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.

Veblen's theory that "leisure is a mark of higher status" is thus inverted, to the detriment of (nearly) all of us, as we become a leisure-less class of worker bees, consumed by busyness.

Matthew Yglesias writes about Trump and the Russian allegations, commenting that: "if you're wondering whether there is dirt on Trump out there, then the answer is clearly yes." From his sexual assault comments to his fake university, from his foundation's shady deals to his casino shenanigans--not to mention the revealing remarks from Trump Junior about the family's Russians assets--there's plenty of dirt there:

Last but by no means least, it's quite obvious that there is at least one thing -- and perhaps several things -- lurking in Trump's tax returns that would be highly damaging to his political standing. He has taken a fair amount of political heat for quite some time now to defy tradition and keep these documents secret. I have no idea what he's hiding or whether the Russians somehow secretly know what it is, but he's pretty clearly hiding something.

A special congressional select committee investigation -- or maybe some kind of independent prosecutor -- seems clearly appropriate given the level of questions still hanging around the specific issue of Russian hacking and communication with Trump's staff during the campaign.

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