February 2017 Archives

Rolling Stone notes CPAC's awkward flirtation with the Alt-Right:

Dan Schneider, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the conference, has just decried the Alt-Right as a "sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks."

"Schneider," the piece continues, "rather than provoking a serious discussion of the conservative movement's relationship with the Alt-Right, has thrown up a straw man:"

The Alt-Right, he says (correctly) are "anti-Semites," "racists" and "sexists." But, he adds (incorrectly), they do not emerge out of conservatism's own trenches. Instead, he maintains, "they are garden variety left-wing fascists."

Similarly, TNR observes that "the drama of this year's CPAC revolves around how conservatives should handle the alt-right:"

The solution, so far, has been to make a gingerly attempt to separate out the more socially acceptable parts of the alt-right while distancing CPAC from figures like [Richard] Spencer, who would remind the press and larger public that we are dealing with neo-Nazi ideologues.

But you cannot whitewash the alt-right, nor deny its influence in today's conservative movement or the highest levels of the Trump administration. [As with Breitbart's former CEO Steve Bannon.]

TNR notes that "Spencer was ejected from CPAC," and asks:

The current solution of accepting Bannon but rejecting Yiannopoulos and Spencer is a temporary compromise, one that is unlikely to last. Soon conservatism will have to face its moment of truth: Do they accept the alt-right as the future of American conservatism?

Salon also examines the actual history of the Alt-Right, writing that it "actually has its roots in a conservative reaction against President George W. Bush, whose internationalism and support for the Republican Party establishment were perceived as an affront to their own right-wing principles:"

Although it was initially comprised of more libertarian-minded individuals, there were always racist and xenophobic elements within the movement. By the early 2010s it had been overtaken by white nationalists as well as more subtle racists, many of them initially associated with the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Speaking of CPAC, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre is lying his ass off again:

"The truth is the far left have turned protesting into what seems like a full-time profession. Seriously. You would think that for $1,500 a week they would at least know what they are protesting," LaPierre said. "Half of them can't even tell you. One thing is for sure, we've all seen just how violent they can be. Just look at Inauguration Day. They disguised themselves with black ski masks, they spit in the faces of gold star families. They tomahawk beer bottles and rocks at police, putting multiple police in the hospital. They smashed businesses while customers cowered inside."

Though it has been a common refrain from conservatives, Republican lawmakers facing protests at town halls and even the President, there is no evidence that any protesters have been paid. Though there were incidents of violence during Trump's inauguration, with windows being smashed and 200 people being arrested, there is no evidence that that anyone spit in the face of a Gold Star family.

LaPierre also made "a claim that Trump supporters in San Fransisco were beaten, pelted with eggs and had their hats burned. LaPierre said the 'nightmare' of the left's violence is just beginning." He also alleged that "Deliberate lies aimed at destroying freedom is something we've been dealing with for decades"--without a glimmer of either irony or self-awareness.

Right Wing Watch called LaPierre's speech "nothing but a cavalcade of dark warnings about sinister forces intent on killing every law-abiding patriot in the nation:"

Claiming that activists who are protesting President Trump are being paid thousands of dollars as part of a massive conspiracy to "dehumanize and demonize" conservatives in order to purge them from society, LaPierre painted the NRA as the only organization capable of protecting decent Americans from the "terror and bloodshed" that is sure to come.

If there will be terror and bloodshed in our future, you can bet that the NRA and its minions are more likely to be causing it than opposing it.

David Dayen delves into Paul Manafort's shady real-estate loans:

Since 2012, Manafort has taken out seven home equity loans worth approximately $19.2 million on three separate New York-area properties he owns through holding companies registered to him and his son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, a real estate investor. They include a condo on 27 Howard Street in Manhattan, a condo in Trump Tower, and a four-story, two-unit brownstone in Brooklyn, at 377 Union Street.

"By June 1," Dayen continues, "the lender, Genesis Capital, had filed for foreclosure, alleging a missed payment:"

The total borrowing cost appears to exceed the equivalent market value of a property of that size in the neighborhood, and it's also unusual from a risk management standpoint to loan millions of dollars for a home already in default by the same owner.

In case Manafort's name doesn't ring any bells for you:

A longtime Republican strategist, Manafort's removal from the Trump campaign last summer came amid reports that a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine gave him $12.7 million in off-the-books payments. He has re-emerged in the news because of leaked intelligence reports suggesting his ongoing contacts with Russian government officials during the Trump campaign. Manafort has denied all of these allegations.

The Advocate talks about Trump's reversal of guidelines protecting trans students:

The Departments of Education, headed by Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Justice, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, issued an order Wednesday revoking the guidance issued by their departments last year that advised schools to affirm trans students' identity by using their preferred names and pronouns, and allowing them access to the restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The guidance was not legally binding, but it gave schools a blueprint to follow to avoid violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. President Obama's administration interpreted Title IX as covering discrimination based on gender identity.

Spicer claimed that "We're not reversing [the Obama administration's guidance] [because] "there was no legal basis for it in a law that was instituted in 1972." The article continues by observing that "despite Spicer's assertion that Trump understands trans people's troubles, members of the religious right clearly believe the president is on their side." Approving statements from Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel, and Family Research Council certainly bolster that argument.

Not to oversimplify, but if you're siding with the Religious Right instead of trans kids, you're clearly wrong.

In the Age of Trump, conservatism has gone from Edmund Burke to Mr Burns, writes Salon; other writers have made similar observations. Andrew O'Hehir asks, for example, should we blame Friedrich Hayek?

One way to understand what we are witnessing, amid the national humiliation of Donald Trump's presidency, is to see it as the total collapse of conservative ideology.

"That might seem like a strange claim," he admits, but he backs it up:

As a political force, American conservative movement has been morally and philosophically bankrupt for decades, which is one of the big reasons we are where we are right now. Largely in the interest of preserving their own power and empowering a massive money-grab by the class they represent, Republicans have cobbled together cynical coalitions by trying to appease multiple constituencies with competing and often contradictory interests: Libertarians, the Christian right, the post-industrial white working class, finance capital and the billionaire caste. Those groups have literally nothing in common beyond a shared antipathy for ... well, for something that cannot be precisely defined. They don't like the idea of post-1960s Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberal bicoastal cosmopolitanism, that much is for sure. But the specific things they hate about it are not the same, and the goals they seek are mutually incompatible and largely unachievable.

O'Hehir names Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton as "titans the modern conservative movement likes to cite as forebears," and notes that they "would be horrified by the limited, narrow-minded and intellectually inflexible nature of so-called conservative thought in the 21st century:"

How those guys would make sense of the fact that supposedly intelligent people who claim to share their lineage have hitched their wagons to the idiocy, mendacity and delusional thinking of the would-be autocrat in the White House -- an implausible caricature of the stupefied mob democracy Burke and Hamilton hated and feared -- I can't begin to imagine.

He then delves into Margaret Thatcher's admiration for Frederick Hayek's book The Constitution of Liberty:

He begins the book by advancing the narrowest possible conception of liberty: an absence of coercion. He rejects such notions as political freedom, universal rights, human equality and the distribution of wealth, all of which, by restricting the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful, intrude on the absolute freedom from coercion he demands.

Democracy, by contrast, "is not an ultimate or absolute value". In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take.

Hayek, writes O'Hehir, "justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth:"

He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

The ultra rich are "scouts", "experimenting with new styles of living", who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. The progress of society depends on the liberty of these "independents" to gain as much money as they want and spend it how they wish. All that is good and useful, therefore, arises from inequality. There should be no connection between merit and reward, no distinction made between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge.

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: "the idle rich", who don't have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing "fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs". Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but "aimless display", they are in fact acting as society's vanguard.

Trump, O'Hehir continues, "is the perfect representation of Hayek's 'independent':"

the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want.

While contemplating this situation, I note how Zizek proposed that Trump's darkness would lead to a revolution. Conor Lynch discusses Slavoj Žižek's pronouncement if he were American, that he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton -- not because Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual's hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would "be a kind of big awakening" that would trigger "new political processes" in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump's reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an "absolute inertia" that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton -- especially in the long run.

In the long run, I would argue, we're all dead--and perhaps in the short run, too, if Trump's destructiveness in office matches his business bankruptcies. I do agree with Zizek's snark that "I'm just afraid that Hillary stands for this absolute inertia," but JFC! When it's a contest between Clinton's competence and the nightmare that is Trump's administration, choosing the more volatile option strikes me as juvenile bomb-throwing of the worst sort: destruction for its own sake. As Lynch observes:

Though we are just one month into Trump's term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. [..]

With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the "establishment." That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

...and they won't have to lie in order to do so.

Meanwhile, Samuel Warde hopes that President Pence won't be a complete disaster after Trump's impeachment:

Professor Ronald L. Feinman, Ph.D., of Florida Atlantic University predicts that "Trump is on his way to second or third shortest presidency in American history" in an article published on the History News Network earlier this week.

"According to Feinman's analysis," writes Warde:

[I]t seems likely that Donald Trump will be leaving the Presidency at some point, likely between the 31 days of William Henry Harrison in 1841 (dying of pneumonia) and the 199 days of James A. Garfield in 1881 (dying of an assassin's bullet after 79 days of terrible suffering and medical malpractice). At the most, it certainly seems likely, even if dragged out, that Trump will not last 16 months and 5 days, as occurred with Zachary Taylor in 1850 (dying of a digestive ailment). The Pence Presidency seems inevitable.

It's a frightening possibility, but it might be the least-worst option.

LGBTQ Nation analyzes Milo Y's appearance on Bill Maher's episode with "Gay provocateur and Breitbart senior editor Milo Yianoppoulos:"

As the British self-professed "troll" continues to creep into the daily U.S. news cycle, voices on both ends of the political spectrum are speaking out against him.

Another of Maher's guests, Larry Wilmore, slammed Milo with my QOTD:

"You can go fuck yourself, all right?" Wilmore replied, to raucous cheers, defending fellow guest counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance adding, "he can talk circles around your douchey little ass from England."

The video is actually worth watching:

This is as good an example as any of what Robbie Medwed means in writing that he's proud of his liberal bubble:

In the wake of accusations of being stuck in a "liberal bubble," many of us have been accused of being intolerant of other opinions and shutting down debate before it even starts.

And you know what? It's true, and I'm proud of it.

Not every opinion or point of view is valid and acceptable.

Medwed continues:

I don't need to hear from a Klansman why ethno-nationalism and white supremacy are beneficial (because they're not). I don't need to hear from a radical Christian who says that transgender people are (a) not real or (b) only here to attack you while you use the bathroom (again, because they're not). I don't need to listen to that guy from high school who swears that the Muslims are going to take over our country and force all of our women to wear burqas as they impose Sharia law (once more, they're not).

I don't need to read those articles or listen to those opinions because I don't need to engage with racism and bigotry to know it's bad. [...] But even more than that, I don't need to defend those people and what they write, because nothing they say has a basis in reality. People who share and say such sentiments should absolutely be silenced because they are objectively wrong. We can prove that.

"Holding ourselves to the highest standard of free speech," he observes, "doesn't mean accepting arguments that aren't factully correct:"

Somehow "Make America Great Again" has turned into "I get to say all the disgusting stuff I want and you can't stop me." I refuse to live in a world where that's the standard.

So, go ahead and call me intolerant. You can even make up new fancy-sounding terms like "reverse bigotry" if it makes you feel good.

If the worst thing you can say about me is that I live in a bubble becuase I refuse to tolerate racism and bigotry? Great. Bring it. I'll take it as a compliment.

The Concourse's the CEO look is brutal:

The duties of CEOs vary somewhat from company to company, but they all have a few things in common:
  • They are paid an astounding sum of money, relative to the people who do the actual "work."
  • They justify their salary by taking credit for everything that goes right and blaming everything that goes wrong on rogue employees or uncontrollable "market forces." And,
  • They are okay to look at.

"The third point is very important," the piece continues:

CEOs need not have model looks, but they do need to have a reassuring look, like airline pilots. When you watch a CEO speak, you must think to yourself, "This middle-aged white male has everything under control." Whether or not that is in fact the case is a minor, secondary point. There are underlings for that.

"A CEO job is welfare for dudes with salt-and-pepper hair," it states, citing this WSJ piece on CEOs "looking the part" [which cites the study "A Corporate Beauty Contest"]:

Study participants were shown pairs of photos, one of a CEO and one of a non-CEO of the same race, age and gender. Despite not knowing which of the pair was the CEO and having no other biographical knowledge, the online survey takers (mostly students at Duke University) rated the CEOs as looking more competent than the non-CEOs, based on facial characteristics.

In a separate experiment, survey takers labeled large-company CEOs as looking more competent than their counterparts at smaller firms.

Privileging comeliness over competence seems to be a hallmark of our age:

Understanding these subconscious behavioral biases is important because there is no evidence that looking competent leads to better business decisions, according to the researchers.

"The look of competence isn't correlated with superior performance," Dr. Graham says.

Paul Krugman looks at the silence of the hacks on Russian intervention:

Maybe there's nothing wrong here, and it's all perfectly innocent. But if it's not innocent, it's very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?

Nothing.

Krugman cites do-nothingers like Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, and Jason Chaffetz, and suggests that Rand Paul has perhaps the worst case of partisan myopia, as evidenced by this quote:

"We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans."

"The thing is," Krugman continues, "this nightmare could be ended by a handful of Republican legislators willing to make common cause with Democrats to demand the truth:"

And maybe there are enough people of conscience left in the G.O.P.

But there probably aren't. And that's a problem that's even scarier than the Trump-Putin axis.

AlterNet's Janet Allon writes, "There it is in a nutshell:"

The hard-liners in the Republican party are not going to let the little whiff of the possibilty that Americans are being governed by a man taking his cues from Moscow get in the way of depriving millions of healthcare, demolishing the safety net and letting polluters pollute freely again.

Speaking of partisan hackery, Jason Chaffetz is still going on about Clinton's emails:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking him to convene a grand jury or charge Bryan Pagliano, the computer specialist who helped establish Clinton's server while she was secretary of state.

Pagliano did not comply with two subpoenas ordering him to appear before the oversight panel. The GOP-led committee later voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.

30 years too late

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NPR wonders about presidential dementia, noting that "At 70, Trump is the oldest American president to ever take office:"

Couple his age with a family history of dementia -- his father Fred developed Alzheimer's disease in his 80s -- and one could argue that the question of baseline cognitive testing for the U.S. head of state has taken on new relevance.

Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University's Langone Medical Center, comments:

"I think we're about 50 years overdue for having some sort of annual physical for the president and vice president, the results of which should be reported publicly," he says. "Part of this should be psychiatric and cognitive testing."

We need it now even more than we did 30 years ago.

The Observer's John R. Schindler looks at the spy revolt against Trump, particularly as it involves "Mike Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who now heads the National Security Council:"

Flynn's problems with the truth have been laid bare by the growing scandal about his dealings with Moscow. Strange ties to the Kremlin, including Vladimir Putin himself, have dogged Flynn since he left DIA, and concerns about his judgment have risen considerably since it was revealed that after the November 8 election, Flynn repeatedly called the Russian embassy in Washington to discuss the transition. The White House has denied that anything substantive came up in conversations between Flynn and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

That was a lie, as confirmed by an extensively sourced bombshell report in The Washington Post, which makes clear that Flynn grossly misrepresented his numerous conversations with Kislyak--which turn out to have happened before the election too, part of a regular dialogue with the Russian embassy. To call such an arrangement highly unusual in American politics would be very charitable.

In particular, Flynn and Kislyak discussed the possible lifting of the sanctions President Obama placed on Russia and its intelligence services late last year in retaliation for the Kremlin's meddling in our 2016 election. In public, Flynn repeatedly denied that any talk of sanctions occurred during his conversations with Russia's ambassador.

There are higher-level (as in Oval Office) concerns as well:

A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the "good stuff" from the White House, in an unprecedented move. For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president's eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets [and] NSA doesn't appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears.

What's going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that "since January 20, we've assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM," meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. "There's not much the Russians don't know at this point," the official added in wry frustration.

Kevin Drum remarks that "reporting about the intelligence community is notoriously unreliable, so take this with a grain of salt:"

Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. But just the fact that stuff like this is getting a respectful public hearing is damning all by itself. For any other recent president, a report like this would be dismissed as nonsense without a second thought. But for Trump, it seems plausible enough to take seriously. Stay tuned.

Crooked Trumpery

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NYT dismisses the Trump family's conflicts of interest:

But the [Trump] brothers say they are convinced that they and their father have taken sufficient steps to create a management structure that will allow them to avoid creating the kind of appearance of conflict of interest that plagued Hillary Clinton as secretary of state while her husband continued to operate the Clinton Foundation. The measures they have taken, they say, have included explicit instructions to their domestic and international business partners not to reach out to anyone in the United States government for help.

Digby, however, refers to the situation as Trump's gaslighting corruption:

You have to read the whole thing to get the full flavor of the brothers' weirdly confident delusion that what they're saying is normal.

I cannot get over the fact that this is ok. It's mind-boggling and not just because they ran a campaign against "crooked Hillary" who was ripped to shreds for giving speeches and having a family charity. It's as if they are determined to make us feel as if we've lost our minds.

But it appears they're going to get away this because Donald Trump and his band of extremist weirdos are incompetent in every way that their epic corruption and self-dealing is a secondary story.

Amanda Marcotte's observation that conservatives love dead progressives and radicals uses misrepresentations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King to make her point:

Conservatives love a dead progressive hero, because they can claim that person as one of their own without any bother about the person fighting back. In some cases, the right has tried to weaponize these dead progressives, claiming that they would simply be appalled at how far the still-breathing have supposedly gone off the rails and become too radical. The Kings are just two prominent victims of this rhetorical gambit.

Marcotts cites National Review and Sean Spicer; I found a few others here, here, and here. Similarly, Peter Beinart sees the anti-anti-Trump Right as another conservative element that is allergic to facts. "At one extreme sit those conservatives who championed Trump during the campaign, and still do: Breitbart, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, among others:"

At the other extreme sit conservatives like my Atlantic colleague David Frum, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies Professor Eliot Cohen and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who warned against Trump during the campaign, and believe he is now vindicating their fears.

For them, conservatism is about prudence, inherited wisdom, and a government that first does no harm; they see none of those virtues in Trump. They see themselves as the inheritors of a rich conservative intellectual tradition; Trump's ignorance embarrasses them. And they believe America should stand for ideals that transcend race, religion and geography; they fear white Christian identity politics in their bones. They are, to my mind, highly admirable. But they don't have much of a base. They can denounce Trump because they work for institutions that don't primarily cater to his supporters.

"National Review," Beinart continues, "has developed a technique that could be called anti-anti-Trump. It goes like this:"

Step number one: Accuse Trump's opponents of hyperbole.

Step number two: Briefly acknowledge Trump's flaws while insisting they're being massively exaggerated.

Then the rhetorical sleight-of-hand comes into play:

Sure, Trump may have botched something, they acknowledge hurriedly, before turning to what really matters: The left's overwrought response. In this way, National Review minimizes Trump's misdeeds without appearing to defend them.

"It's not deranged to worry that Trump may undermine liberal democracy," Beinart concludes, "It's deranged to think that leftist hyperbole constitutes the greater threat:"

Unfortunately, that form of Trump Derangement Syndrome is alive and well at National Review. And it helps explain why Republicans across Washington are enabling Trump's assault on the institutions designed to restrain his power and uphold the rule of law.

It is inconvenient for National Review that the individual in government who now most threatens the principles it holds dear is not a liberal, but a president that most conservatives support. But evading that reality doesn't make it any less true.

Bob Cesca's Salon piece "Taking the Resistance to Trumpland" points out that "The message of the resistance hasn't broken through Trump's wall of mendacity:"

Couple the large-scale Russia scandal with his explosive diarrhea of horrendous tweets and public statements, along with the fact that his own staffers think he's mentally unstable, and there's simply no logical reason why Trump hasn't been driven from office in disgrace.

"Republicans still support Trump by overwhelming margins," he mentions, as "86 percent of GOP voters still approve of Trump's job performance so far:"

The problem here is obvious. Voters who still support Trump aren't getting the news. The ongoing Trump catastrophe isn't breaking through the firewall of disinformation at Fox News or AM talk radio, and, so Trump's popularity remains unnaturally higher than it should be. Shockingly, much of the news you're reading and watching throughout a typical day is being intercepted and buried by pro-Trump media outlets and publications, making it virtually impossible for Trump voters to get a full taste of how irresponsible they were by electing a professed sexual predator and/or a mentally unstable game show host to be president.

A key part of correcting this will be bursting their false narrative of white victimhood. Despite mockery of #triggered snowflakes and "safe spaces," writes Sean McElwee, "feelings of victimhood are central to Trump's appeal:"

Far from being concerned about "facts, not feelings," Trump supporters and the conservative movement have created a false narrative of victimhood that motivates their supporters.

McElwee quotes Corey Robin from his book The Reactionary Mind:

Far from being an invention of the politically correct, victimhood has been a talking point of the right ever since Burke decried the mob's treatment of Marie Antoinette. The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose.

"Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy," McElwee writes, "one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization:"

This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren't at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it's the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.

"At the same time," he continues, "the right has created a caricature of their opponents on the left:"

In this imagined caricature, the left is sensitive to being "triggered" at every corner, but also capable of unspeakable political violence. The activist left are "snowflakes" on one hand, and brutal killers on the other. In reality, political violence has long been a tactic of the right, from the labor violence that left thousands of workers dead to lynchings to brutality against peaceful protesters inflicted by corporate security and police to the harassment of women seeking abortion, the destruction of abortion clinics and the assassination of doctors who provide abortions. The rhetoric of victimization has costs -- white supremacists are committing unspeakable violence to combat the perceived threat of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For the next four years, we are likely to have a government driven by perceptions of white Christian victimhood.

Another all-too-prevalent misperception on the Right is the "liberal media" myth:

One would expect Trump -- a reality TV star who clearly understands the importance of ratings -- to have a pretty good idea how the mass media works in America. In public, however, the president espouses a simplistic right-wing view of the press, portraying it as an all-powerful monolith that is always out to unfairly smear him and advance a sinister left-wing agenda. (Trump may believe this to a degree, but he has clearly been playing on the right's ingrained distrust and paranoia.)

And thus, in Trump's mind, the press is the "opposition party," as his chief strategist Steve Bannon put it last month. It deliberately underreports Islamic terrorist attacks while overreporting or manufacturing bad press, such as mass protests, his slipping approval rating or public opinion polls that disapprove of his agenda.

In reality, the mainstream media, or the "corporate media," is driven primarily by business rationale and the profit motive, not some left-wing or liberal agenda.

For a specific--and highly relevant--example, see this Harvard Gazette article about researcher Thomas Patterson:

Given all of the attention that was devoted to Trump by the press, it certainly wasn't surprising that he got the lion's share of the coverage. The interesting part is how much of that was favorable coverage, which contradicts the media narrative that they were tough on him from the beginning.

Patterson's Harvard study from last June found that "Trump got the most coverage of any candidate running on either side" during the primaries, and that the vast majority of it "was favorable in tone:"

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton received the "least favorable coverage of any Democratic or Republican candidate," and during the first half of her campaign there were "three negative reports about her for every positive one." That was partly because Clinton undeniably came with extensive political baggage, but it also discredits the right-wing narrative that the media was a propaganda machine for Clinton.

(Not that logical consistency has ever been one of their strengths...)

Besides reality-TV-style political campaigns, terrorist attacks and other calamities tend to bring in big ratings for news networks, which means Trump has it completely backwards when he claims that those in the media "have their reasons" for underreporting terrorism. In fact, they have every reason to overreport and sensationalize terrorism -- which they do. This sensationalism has resulted in a false perception of violence and danger, leaving Americans extremely fearful of terrorism even though they're more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than to die in a terrorist attack.

Here is some detail from the study:

This paper evaluates news media coverage of the invisible primary phase ["the period before a single primary or caucus vote is cast "] of the 2016 presidential campaign through the lens of the election reporting of eight news outlets--CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

"Trump's coverage was worth millions in free exposure"--the paper estimates $55 million during this phase alone--and which the paper describes as "an unprecedented amount of free media." Additionally, despite the candidate's best efforts to demonstrate his unfitness for office, the majority of his coverage was favorable:

20170213-favorablecoverage.JPG

What happened on the Democratic side of the 'invisible primaries'?

Over the course of 2015, the Democratic race got less than half as much news exposure as the Republican race.

Less coverage of the Democratic side worked against Bernie Sanders' efforts to make inroads on Clinton's support. Sanders struggled to get badly needed press attention in the early going. With almost no money or national name recognition, he needed news coverage if he was to gain traction.

"Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump," the paper observes, "it helped tear down Clinton:"

Trump's positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton's negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.

Here, for example, is the consistently negative tone of Clinton's coverage:

20170213-negativetone.png

Perhaps we should be investigating the Trump campaign's collusion with domestic media outlets, and not merely with Russian oligarchs.

econocracy

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Naked Capitalism discusses "a fantastic economics book" entitled The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts:

It is about how the general population has been excluded from public policy debate by an inward-looking economics profession. More than this, the profession is fundamentally failing, having grown in the past three decades to become nothing more than ideology masquerading as science.

The authors - Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins (EMW) - assert that "the economy is whatever economists assume it to be:"

When we think of Gross Domestic Product, probably the main measure of the ethereal thing we call the economy, we are actually thinking of a measure whose definition has changed dozens of times. The latest change of note is the inclusion of illegal drugs and prostitution in the European Union offical GDP statistics. So is crime now part of the economy? And if so, is it good or bad to have more of it?

Examples like this are common, yet routinely ignored. They reveal that when you define an economy, you are making moral judgements about what is good or bad for society. [...] Many people want to put forward their views in political debates about what constitutes a good, and just, society, but are bamboozled by economics jargon, which seems to leave no place for them. Cloaking policy debates in economic jargon limits participation from those who simply want to express their valid moral judgements about how society should be run.

"EMW propose that teaching in a more pluralist and critical way is the answer," the piece continues:

Many of the core parts of an economics course would be kept, and some replaced with a more diverse set of ideas and methods. No longer would material be presented uncritically as religious icons to be believed, not challenged, but each idea would be pulled apart and rigorously scrutinised.

In Salon, Jay Parini writes that "a key moment" for him was "reading an article in the New York Review of Books that caught my eye. It was 'The Responsibility of Intellectuals,' written by Noam Chomsky:"

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I've reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I've not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

"It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies," as Chomsky asserted. Parini continues:

Fifty years after writing "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and -- in the dawning age of President Donald Trump -- one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump "placed total control of the government -- executive, Congress, the Supreme Court -- in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history."

"As I reread Chomsky's essay on the responsibility of intellectuals," Parini concludes, "it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now:"

Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Paul Krugman's op-ed "When the Fire Comes" piece asks, "What will you do when terrorists attack, or U.S. friction with some foreign power turns into a military confrontation?:"

I don't mean in your personal life, where you should keep calm and carry on. I mean politically. Think about it carefully: The fate of the republic may depend on your answer.

'The Bush administration," he points out, "exploited the post-9/11 rush of patriotism to take America into an unrelated war, then used the initial illusion of success in that war to ram through huge tax cuts for the wealthy:"

Bad as that was, however, the consequences if Donald Trump finds himself similarly empowered will be incomparably worse. [...]

Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

AlterNet has some comments:

What Trump has done in attacking the very Judges and Courts that have (thus far) placed restraints upon his arbitrary abuse of power is to tie those restraints directly to the potential for further acts of terrorism against the country. He is telling us, in a very cold, cynical way, that he will consider himself blameless if we are attacked, with the unmistakable implication that such an attack would justify abandoning any constraints or limitations on his own powers.

Here's the tl;dr version: "We need to be ready. What is coming will literally be the fight of our lives."

"paid protesters"

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Peter Dreier deflates Trump's "paid protesters" propaganda:

Last week you Tweeted that, "Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

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Thank you for the reminder. I forgot to pick up my paycheck for protesting. Whomever is paying people to protest left me off the list -- or just ripped me off. Since the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, I am owed at least $72.50 for the 10 hours I spent protesting that Saturday. However as of this January 1 the California minimum wage is now $10.50 an hour, so I'm actually owed $105, and even more if the people who are paying people to protest against you abide by overtime rules.

If all five million Americans who protested that day got paid the federal minimum wage, and if people spent an average of five hours protesting, those patriotic rabble-rousers are owed a total of at least $181 million in unpaid protest wages.

I think you'll agree that putting $181 million in Americans' pockets is good for the economy. If you will recall the Economics 101 course you probably took at college, that is called an increase in "consumer demand." Economists also call it the "multiplier effect." The five million protesters will spend that $181 million in their local economies -- boosting sales, revenues, and jobs. So thank you for reminding us that protest is good for the economy.

Dreier then asks, "Do you think we could find a 'so-called' judge who would be sympathetic to this wage-theft cause and order the owners of Protest Inc. to compensate us for our labor?"

I don't consider this reparations for radicals and reformers. I see it as the kind of economic nationalism you've been talking about. You can't export protest jobs. These are Americans jobs for Americans. As any economist could tell you, those back payments would do wonders for the economy.

"You will be pleased to know that Americans will continue to protest your policies for the next four years," he points out, "assuming you are not impeached."

violent-crime rates

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Kevin Drum looks at a decade of violent-crime stats, and uses them to bust some political illusions:

Donald Trump keeps saying that the murder rate is the highest it's been in 45 years. This is wildly untrue, but other people are joining the bandwagon anyway. Jeff Sessions says the current rise in crime is a "dangerous permanent trend." Talk show hosts agree. America is a dark and dangerous place, and it's getting more dangerous all the time.

Aside from outright lies, a lot of this is based on cherry-picked statistics.

The data show some local increases amid a steady overall decline:

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As Drum notes:

Some big cities have indeed shown worrying upward trends: Chicago, San Antonio, and Los Angeles are all up over the past two or three years. At the same time, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Diego are all down. More generally, except for San Antonio every single one of these cities has a lower violent crime rate than in 2006, ranging from 4 percent down (San Jose) to 40 percent down (Dallas and Philadelphia). The overall violent crime rate for all big cities is up over the past two years, but still lower than it was in 2006. [...]

Chicago, obviously, is a big outlier, with a high and rising murder rate (up 53 percent over the past two years).

The challenges of governing are vexing Trump most sorely, it seems. "Being president is harder than Donald Trump thought," the piece opens, and "the transition from overseeing a family business to running the country has been tough on him:"

Trump has privately expressed disbelief over the ability of judges, bureaucrats or lawmakers to delay -- or even stop -- him from filling positions and implementing policies.

Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo says that "he operates like many great CEOs I know"--but that's exactly the problem! Trump can't just issue orders, demand obedience, declare bankruptcy when it all goes south, and then move on to the next scam as he's been accustomed to doing. Deadspin's Albert Burneko snarks along similar lines, writing the following:

Donald Trump, a skill-free inheritance baby with a virtually unbroken lifelong track record of incompetence and failure, has found that running the United States government is a tougher job than lending his name to mail-order steak delivery scams run by other people.

"Trump had never previously held an actual job," he continues, "because actually, spending your inheritance on a succession of failed cons is not an actual job:"

Our new president occupies a wild outer range of blundering, arrogant stupidity, far beyond that typically euphemized in newspaper-ese, and the effort to describe the former truthfully and accurately--but without using such frank and impolite words as "stupid" and "ignoramus" and "spray-tanned fart balloon"--very nearly breaks the latter.

The transition from that ["Overseeing a family business"] to being the president "has been tough on him." Doing things that you are not qualified to do is tough! Who could have predicted that this would be a challenge for a butter-soft septuagenarian nincompoop?

Steve Bannon's reading list gets analyzed by Politico:

Bannon, described by one associate as "the most well-read person in Washington," is known for recommending books to colleagues and friends, according to multiple people who have worked alongside him. He is a voracious reader who devours works of history and political theory "in like an hour," said a former associate whom Bannon urged to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War. "He's like the Rain Man of nationalism." [...]

Bannon's readings tend to have one thing in common: the view that technocrats have put Western civilization on a downward trajectory and that only a shock to the system can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apocalyptic tone that at times echoes Bannon's own public remarks over the years--a sense that humanity is at a hinge point in history. His ascendant presence in the West Wing is giving once-obscure intellectuals unexpected influence over the highest echelons of government.

Here's an example:

The term ["black swan"] was popularized by Nassim Taleb, the best-selling author whose 2014 book Antifragile--which has been read and circulated by Bannon and his aides--reads like a user's guide to the Trump insurgency.

It's a broadside against big government, which Taleb faults for suppressing the randomness, volatility and stress that keep institutions and people healthy. "As with neurotically overprotective parents, those who are trying to help us are hurting us the most," he writes.

Curtis Yarvin (who blogs as "Mencius Moldbug") is practically a mainstream voice, and Michael Anton (whose pseudonym is Publius Decius Mus) is now a National Security Council staffer:

Hiring Anton puts one of the key intellectual forces behind Trump in the West Wing. In his blockbuster article "The Flight 93 Election," [see here] a 4,300-plus-word tract published in September 2016 under his pseudonym, Anton strikes many of the same notes as Taleb and Yarvin.

In The Atlantic's look at the dark anti-democracy movement, Rosie Gray sheds light on "the pro-authoritarian philosophy gaining visibility on the right."

Yarvin's ideas, along with those of the English philosopher Nick Land, have provided a structure of political theory for parts of the white-nationalist movement calling itself the alt-right. The alt-right can be seen as a political movement; neoreaction, which adherents refer to as NRx, is a philosophy. At the core of that philosophy is a rejection of democracy and an embrace of autocratic rule. [...] The alt-right, at this point, is well-known, while NRx has remained obscure. But with one of the top people in the White House paying attention, it seems unlikely to remain obscure for long.

"Neoreaction is explicitly and purposefully opaque," continues Gray, "and has no interest in appealing to a wider audience:"

This puts it at odds with some of the alt-right or "new right" leaders who seek to take their ideas mainstream.

"NRx was a prophetic warning about the rise of the Alt-Right," said Nick Land, the English philosopher whose Dark Enlightenment series is considered a foundational neoreactionary text. "As a populist, and in significant ways anti-capitalist movement, the Alt-Right is a very different beast to NRx."

In an excerpt from his 2016 book Listen, Liberal, Thomas Frank's look at how the Democratic elite undermined the system expresses no small dismay at Obama's lost opportunities in 2009:

To say "the centre held", as one of his biographers, Jonathan Alter, does, is an optimistic way to describe Barack Obama's accomplishment. Another would be to say he saved a bankrupt system that by all rights should have met its end. America came through an economic debacle, an earthquake that shook people's faith to the ground. Yet out of it, the system emerged largely unchanged. The predators resumed operations. Everything pretty much stayed the same.

"It is the Republicans, certainly, who bear primary responsibility for our modern plutocracy in the United States," he observes:

They are the party that launched us on our modern era of tax-cutting and wage-suppressing. They are the ones who made a religion of the market and who fought so ferociously to open our politics to the influence of money at every level.

Democrats deserve plenty of blame for being enablers, he points out, noting that "our current situation represents a failure of the Democratic Party as well:"

Protecting the middle-class society was the Democrats' assigned historical task, and once upon a time they would have taken to the job with relish. Shared prosperity was once the party's highest aim; defending the middle-class world was a kind of sacred mission for them, as they never used to tire of reminding us. And to this day, Democrats are still the ones who [in the election campaign of 2016] pledge to raise the minimum wage and the taxes of the rich.

When it comes to tackling the "defining challenge of our time" however, many of our modern Democratic leaders falter. They acknowledge that inequality is rampant and awful, but they cannot find the conviction or imagination to do what is necessary to reverse it. Instead they offer the same high-minded demurrals and policy platitudes they've been offering since the 1980s. They remind us that there's nothing anyone can do about globalisation or technology. They promise charter schools, and job training, and student loans, but other than that - well, they've got nothing.

It's difficult to fight something--however awful that something is--with nothing, but The Resistance is shaping up to be, perhaps, just the sort of something that is needed. At TPM, Josh Marshall reminds us that the Resistance harkens back to the 2005 efforts to protect Social Security from Bush's privatization schemes:

We are hearing again now that the repeated protests and aggressive questioning at Republican townhalls is Democrats taking a page from the Tea Party playbook of 2009 and 2010. People have short memories. The real reference is to 2005 when Democrats turned out at Republican townhalls to protest President Bush's plan to partially phaseout Social Security. Those protests (or in many cases simply turnout) helped kill the plan by scaring off congressional Republicans. They also presaged the Democratic blowout in the 2006 midterms. It was 2005 that Tea Partiers (and the GOP pressure groups organizing them) explicitly referenced in 2009.

We certainly shouldn't give conservatives credit for liberal achievements, which is something that The Federalist's Robert Tracinski strives mightily to do in asserting that The Resistance won't be the new Tea Party. Tracinski purports to provide "the context for the Tea Party movement," but immediately stoops to condescension by proclaiming that "Democrats never really understood the Tea Party:"

In fact, they avoided understanding it because they preferred their own narrative to the facts. [...] It's the closest thing I've ever experienced to the Norman Rockwell vision of old-fashioned town hall politics."

He then mocks Democrats as "the revolutionary vanguard trying to herd the proletariat into following them."

That's why there won't be a Tea Party movement for the Left. [...] They're trying to throw their own party even farther out of balance with the rest of the country.

What was that about preferring one's own narrative over the facts? Coming from someone who espouses a distinctly minority ideology, that sounds like projection to me...

Robert Zaretsky writes about French intellectuals for LARB:

"As Shlomo Sand suggests in his new book [La fin de l'intellectuel français? (The End of the French Intellectual?)], the French intellectual was never what he was cracked up to be."

"Sand devotes much energy," writes Zaretsky, "to scraping the mythic veneer off the heroic phase of French intellectuals:"

From these less than rarefied summits, the career of the French intellectual careens from one historical pothole to another. Consider Julien Benda's celebrated 1927 book-length essay La Trahison des clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals). The veteran Dreyfusard lambasted those fellow "clercs" who, having descended from the heights of truth and justice, had become shills for political parties. True intellectuals, he declared, are immune to "political passions" and dedicated to a "realm not of this world." Finishing his days as a Communist fellow traveller, Benda himself never escaped this world's gravitational pull.

Most thinkers do not, but must we not still try?

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