March 2017 Archives

Today I came across several pins that purported to show George Soros wearing an SS uniform. Recognizing the absurdity of such a claim, and wanting to combat its hateful accusation, I replied to a number of them with this note:

FALSE: "this one was neither plausible nor hard to disprove. Given that Soros -- born in 1930 -- was only nine years old when World War II began and 14 when the war ended in Europe in 1945, he couldn't have joined the SS, whose minimum age requirement was 17, even if he had wanted to. Moreover, Soros would never have met the SS requirement for pure "Aryan" heritage. Soros grew to adolescence as a persecuted Jew in Nazi-occupied Budapest." http://www.snopes.com/george-soros-ss-nazi-germany/

One clown responded with Snopes I dont believe a two thirds what they say!!!!, to which I responded:

You don't have to just "believe" what Snopes says...it's not as if they simply make up stories to libel people, like whoever wrote the text for this pin clearly did. The information provided is linked to primary sources and can be easily verified.

Another one dropped this load of bovine excrement:

If you saw the interview he gave to 60 minutes he admitted to them that he was given an honorary SS position since he helped them to take the Jews belongings from the ones being sent to the camps or the ghettos. He claimed it was the best time of his life.

By the way, never believe anything from Snopes either. Most of the supposed things they've checked are also false.

I replied with a [citation needed] on the second claim, and this comment on the first one:

The "60 Minutes" video is here, but it doesn't back up your claims. Soros said that (at the age of 14 in Nazi-occupied Hungary, using forged papers identifying him as a Christian) he had "no role" is taking the possessions of other Jews. There is no mention of an "honorary SS position" either. (See 6:40 to 10:15 for the relevant section of the interview.)

Despite the circumstances, Soros referred to his childhood as "the happiest of my life" because "it had provided him with an opportunity to observe a man he adored and admired [his father] acting bravely and well."
Source: Michael Kaufman, George Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire (2002, p. 5)

One would hope that people wouldn't be so hateful liars about Holocaust survivors, regardless of any political disagreements...but that does not appear to be the case.

Beth Sherouse writes flat out: dear lesbians and gays, I'm bisexual and you treated me like crap. She continues, "this angry bisexual is tired of being your afterthought:"

I'm exhausted by showing up for you, time and again, with no reciprocity. I'm tired of facing more biphobia from organizations that claim to represent bi+ people than I do in the straight cis world.

I'm tired of trying to prove that I'm worthy of your love while you seem to forget or deny that I exist.

Bisexual people are tired of being told that our voices, our needs, our lives are a distraction from the "real" issues, when we constitute half of what you claim as your LGBT community.

"Even after 15 years of being out," she continues, "my voice still shakes sometimes when I say the word 'bisexual' aloud to one of you, and I get a little jolt of adrenaline, bracing for the snarky comment, the rolled eyes, the dismissal of my existence." That's just not right, especially in these times:

As the LGBTQ community faces an uncertain future under Donald Trump's presidency, I'm giving up on you, gays and lesbians. I don't love you the same way anymore. You broke my heart too many times. I will no longer fight for the liberation of people who actively perpetuate my community's oppression.

I'm too busy just trying to survive.

Not that straight couples who sexualize bi women are any better, as Eloise Nicholson (an "unpartnered polyamorous bisexual") reminds us. Addressing the "dear couples on dating sites," she forcefully states that "no, I'm not interested in playing out your promiscuous bisexual fantasy:"

I'm not going to act out the porn scenes you've spent far too much time watching. At least not until you can start treating me like a human being instead of a prop to spice up your sex life before you go back to your emotionally monogamous, vanilla relationship.

Until you can respect my personhood, and the personhood of all bi femmes, I will disrespectfully decline.

The LGBTQ community needs to be more unified, and not just when hooking up.

Alan (The Case for Socialism) Maass discusses Marxism and democracy:

Historically, socialists have fought not for the restriction of democracy, but for the widest possible expansion of it. Some of the most important struggles in our history--for the abolition of slavery, for the right to vote in the Jim Crow South, for the legal recognition of unions, for the freedom to assemble and protest--were partly or wholly about winning democratic rights and making them real and meaningful.

When we challenge the right--whether in protesting the policies and actions of a reactionary government, or in confronting individuals and groups which try to spread right-wing ideas and organize on the basis of them--we want it to be clear that our side is fighting for more democracy.

Maass notes that "the most essential building block of Marxism--that socialism must be the self-emancipation of the working class and can't be accomplished on its behalf:"

Our goal is only possible as the act of the conscious masses of the majority class in society, and that requires the fullest expansion of democracy--whether workers achieve democracy on the basis of their own actions and organization or by relying on rights established under the existing system and defended by their mobilization.

The defenders of the capitalist system need the opposite. They need to straitjacket and contain mass involvement, whether within the political system or in struggles and movements outside it. So they seek to undermine or diminish or even abolish democracy. This applies not just to right-wing ideologues, whose contempt for actual freedom is obvious, but to liberals whose defense of status quo puts them in opposition to mass expressions of democracy that threaten it.

For Marx, this conflict--between the expansion of democracy and the limitation of it--was an essential part of the class struggle. Some of the confusion arises because the government is routinely on the wrong side of the conflict--even though it's the place where democracy is supposed to "happen."

This is because the state, including its elected component, isn't neutral. Under a capitalist system, it's on the side of the capitalists--which means in the struggle for democracy, it's ultimately on the side of limitations and constraints.

"The reason the struggle for democracy was so important to Marx and Engels was that the ruling class," Maass continues, "want the minimum possible expansion of rights and political participation, while it's in the interests of the working-class movement to have a maximum, unlimited expansion:"

In other words, struggles over democratic rights are part of the terrain of the class struggle. The goal of socialists is to expand democracy and freedom to the maximum extent within the political system--and to extend democratic forms and the principle of popular control outside it, into the economic sphere and every corner of society.

"There can be doubt from that passage about the commitment of Marxists to 'winning the battle of democracy,' as the Communist Manifesto put it," he writes:

Socialists are harsh critics of the false and limited "democracy" that exists under capitalism. But this isn't to minimize it, but rather the opposite: To state the central importance of extending democracy to the fullest extent as part of the struggle for socialism.

"Democracy, popular control, equal rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to protest," Maass concludes, "all of these things must be cornerstones of our struggle for a new world. Because if they aren't, then we aren't fighting for socialism."

Trumpcare

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Paul Krugman looks at the Trumpcare proposals:

Given the rhetoric Republicans have used over the past seven years to attack health reform, you might have expected them to do away with the whole structure of the Affordable Care Act -- deregulate, de-subsidize and let the magic of the free market do its thing. This would have been devastating for the 20 million Americans who gained coverage thanks to the act, but at least it would have been ideologically consistent.

But Republican leaders weren't willing to bite that bullet. What they came up with instead was a dog's breakfast that conservatives are, with some justice, calling Obamacare 2.0. But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it's a half-baked plan that accepts the logic and broad outline of the Affordable Care Act while catastrophically weakening key provisions. If enacted, the bill would almost surely lead to a death spiral of soaring premiums and collapsing coverage. Which makes you wonder, what's the point?

"How could House Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who the media keeps assuring us is a smart, serious policy wonk, have produced such a monstrosity?" Krugman asks. "Two reasons:"

First, the G.O.P.'s policy-making and policy analysis capacity has been downgraded to the point of worthlessness. There are real conservative policy experts, but the party doesn't want them, perhaps because their very competence makes them ideologically unreliable -- a proposition illustrated by the rush to enact this bill before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office can estimate either its costs or its effects. Basically, facts and serious analysis are the modern right's enemies; policy is left to hacks who can't get even the simplest things right.

Second, Republicans seem to have been undone by their reverse-Robin-Hood urges. You can't make something like Obamacare work without giving lower-income families enough support that insurance becomes affordable. But the modern G.O.P. always wants to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted; so the bill ends up throwing away the taxes on the rich that help pay for subsidies, and redirects the subsidies themselves away from those who need them to those who don't.

Krugman summarizes that "the answer, of course, is that they were all lying, all along -- and they still are. On this, at least, Republican unity remains impressively intact."

The Atlantic's examination of musical anhedonia--something that I had not considered in my previous writings on music and pleasure--notes that "roughly 3 to 5 percent of the world's population that has an apathy toward music. It's what's referred to as specific musical anhedonia:"

As part of his research, Silvia found that some people were more prone to get chills and experience goosebumps when listening to music, and those people also tended to be more open to new experiences. "People with high openness to experience are much more creative and imaginative, and they get these kinds of awe-style experiences so much more often," Silvia says. "They're much more likely to play an instrument, they go to concerts, they listen to a wider range of music, they listen to more uncommon music. They just get more out of music."

The study, entitled "Neural correlates of specific musical anhedonia," observes that "Although music is ubiquitous in human societies, there are some people for whom music holds no reward value despite normal perceptual ability and preserved reward-related responses in other domains:"

A small percentage of healthy individuals do not find music pleasurable, a phenomenon known as specific musical anhedonia. A detailed study on this population revealed that this phenomenon cannot be explained by perceptual problems [e.g., hearing impairment or specific impairment in perceptual capabilities, a condition known as amusia] or by general anhedonia (lack of pleasure for all types of rewarding stimuli). [...]

We demonstrate that the music anhedonic participants showed selective reduction of activity for music in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), but normal activation levels for a monetary gambling task. Furthermore, this group also exhibited decreased functional connectivity between the right auditory cortex and ventral striatum (including the NAcc). In contrast, individuals with greater than average response to music showed enhanced connectivity between these structures. Thus, our results suggest that specific musical anhedonia may be associated with a reduction in the interplay between the auditory cortex and the subcortical reward network, indicating a pivotal role of this interaction for the enjoyment of music.

20170310-figure2.JPG

[The skin conductance response (SCR) to the highest pleasure-rated music shows the drastic attenuation of response in the ANH group.]

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[This image depicts brain activation differences between those with specific musical anhedonia (ANH) alongside people with standard (HDN) and high (HHDN) sensitivity to music. A gambling task is represented with striped bars; a music task with solid bars.]

As the study observes, "the NAcc activity of the ANH group was significantly reduced during music listening but not when participants were winning or losing money in a gambling task."

The connection between Trump and Russia's Alfa Bank [mentioned all the way back in November] is drawing more attention, but will it matter? Towleroad notes that "it deserves attention in the context of all the other suspicious Russia - Trump ties that are turning up" and quotes CNN:

Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI's investigation remains open, the sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI's counterintelligence team -- the same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election.

Andreas Weigend, author of Data for the People: How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You, writes about algorithms using photos to learn about you:

More than three-quarters of American adults own a smartphone, and on average, they spend about two hours each day on it. In fact, it's estimated that we touch our phones between 200 and 300 times a day--for many of us, far more often than we touch our partners.

That means that when we're on our phones, we aren't just killing time or keeping in touch. We're "sensorizing" the world in ways that we may not yet fully comprehend.

Weigend also expresses concern about photo recognition systems and their associated algorithms:

Many of the algorithms being developed will improve our lives--helping us to make better decisions about our personal relationships, work lives, and health by alerting us to signals we are not yet aware of. The problem comes when others have access to this data, too, and make decisions about us based on them, potentially without our knowledge.

Taking a photo or video in public isn't illegal, nor is taking one with a person's permission. It's also not illegal to upload the file or store it in the cloud. Applying optical character recognition, facial recognition, or a super-resolution algorithm isn't illegal, either. There's simply no place for us to hide anymore.

Ijeoma Oluo's experiences in deleting men's comments online have had a souring effect:

I used to love debate. I believed in testing ideas and theories, and in the power of discourse. And I thought that debate, the back and forth of ideas, was instrumental to that. This love carried me through my Political Science degree. But I've found that there are two types of debate. There's the debate of ideas represented in new vs. old schools of thought, nuanced critique, new study, and the progression of circumstance and ideas. And then there's the patriarchal sport of debate now given new life in the age of the internet.

"The latter," she observes, "is harmful, distracting bullshit:"

In this white supremacist, transphobic, ableist, misogynistic, hyper-Christian society, the majority of our speech platforms were built off the loud espousals of hatred that still hurt so many today. There is no lack of space for a white man who thinks that Mike Brown was a thug who deserved to die. There is no lack of space for a Midwestern white woman who lives thousands of miles away from anywhere that could be a target of tourism, let alone terrorism, and yet wants to spread fear of Muslim extremism. That side of the debate is heard in deafeningly loud decibels, to the detriment of the rest of us.

And honestly, these are not subjects that should still be up for debate to begin with. Whether or not a woman deserves the same pay as a man should not be up for debate. Whether or not a cop should be able to shoot an unarmed black man in the street without consequence should not be up for debate. Whether or not trans people should be able to use the restrooms that match their gender identity in safety should not be up for debate. Whether or not sick people and many disabled people should be allowed to suffer and die without medical coverage in the richest country in the world should not be up for debate.

And if you, in 2017, think that these issues should be up for debate, it is because you've willfully ignored or dismissed the fact that these debates have been had for decades, if not centuries, and progress and general human decency have already shown the fatal flaws of your arguments. There is no debate right now that will convince a flat-earther that the earth is round. If you think the earth is flat in 2017, it is because you are determined to think the earth is flat in 2017, not because you haven't seen enough evidence. You are choosing to climb up on a cross of archaic bullshit, and I certainly have no intention of climbing up with you.

"And so," she continues, "I just do not have these useless, outdated, repetitive, one-on-one debates:"

When a comment about how "illegals need to get out" is left on my post voicing concern over families being torn apart over this country's xenophobia, I just delete it. I don't have time to debate something so backward, and I don't have time to explain. My page is my part of the debate at large, this is true. But I'm not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry, I'm debating those who are instead wedded to the inertia of inaction and ignorance.

"It is 2017," she concludes, "and whether or not a black woman has a right to decline conversation from a white man is not something that should be up for debate. So I won't."

Sophia A. McClennen lists 6 ways to fight Trump brain rot:

1. Talk back

When faced with a leader who whines, bullies, berates, insults and threatens, we must hone our skills to intelligently talk back.

This means that one key skill for us to develop is persuasive and effective argumentation.

But talking back should take multiple forms and in certain contexts the best talking back includes sass, snark and sarcasm. [Be still, my heart!]

2. Make fun

The value in using satirical comedy to deflate Trumpism is even greater than its external political impact, [and] one of the smartest ways to deal with a political gasbag who speaks at a third-grade level is to make fun of him.

3. Get out of your head

McClennen observes that "for the mind to thrive we need to socialize and develop affective relationships," and reminds us that "physical activity also helps keep our minds nimble and active:"

All this helps support the intrinsic value of marches and other forms of nonviolent public protests in enabling us to move and connect with a larger community.

4. Play mind games

Despite Trump's repeatedly telling us that he has a "very good brain," he apparently does not do even the simplest things to take care of his own mind. If we want to avoid being like him, we should play as many productive mind games as possible.

5. Give it a rest

Stress, depression and insomnia are some of the biggest threats to cognitive health. There is already significant proof that Trump is increasing our nation's anxiety and depression. Taking that seriously and getting help is essential to keeping our minds strong.

6. And when all else fails, swear a blue streak

Here is a prime example:

Scotland voted to stay & plan on a second referendum, you tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon. https://t.co/iKyEIxf8ej -- Hamfisted Bun Vendor (@MetalOllie) June 24, 2016

Politico writes that "Trump's evidence-free accusation that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones has cast a dramatic spotlight on the country's most clandestine surveillance programs:"

However, there are still many ways in which information from Trump Tower phone calls could end up in the hands of intelligence agents -- even without any knowledge on Obama's part.

First, they may have come upon Trump Tower phone calls if a targeted foreign agent was on the other end of the line -- this method comes from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Or Trump Tower digital chatter might show up while digging through the vast quantities of data hoovered up via more sweeping foreign surveillance programs.

Second, the FBI could have also asked for a so-called "pen register" or "tap and trace device," which only record the parties involved in a phone call. These requests have a lower bar for approval.

Politico notes that investigators "got approval in October to monitor a computer server in Trump Tower to establish whether there were ties to Russian banks [such as Alfa Bank]:"

But such surveillance would be vastly different than the type of direct wiretapping Trump raised in his Tweet storm Saturday morning.

TPM notes this denial from Lewis:

Neither @barackobama nor any WH official under Obama has ever ordered surveillance on any US Citizen. Any suggestion is unequivocally false pic.twitter.com/qF04X3NUvq
-- Kevin Lewis (@KLewis44) March 4, 2017

At Politicus USA, Sarah Jones and Jason Easley make the following observation:

Heat Street reported that the FBI was granted a FISA warrant in October of 2016 to cover the activities of "'U.S. persons' in Donald Trump's campaign with ties to Russia." [...]

If there wasn't a FISA warrant issued already, Trump's tweets just admitted that there should be. So the question is, the warrant would need to have certified that the person or people are foreign powers or agents of.

By tweeting without thinking, Trump may have declassified a warrant and brought down his entire presidency.

Sarah Jones points out that "Former NSA analyst John Schindler mocked President Trump" in this tweet:

Trump will show the public evidence of Obama's illegal wiretapping right after he reveals his Kenyan birth certificate.
-- John Schindler (@20committee) March 4, 2017

NCRM comments on Trump's tweetstorm:

Trump compared the alleged activity to "McCarythism," as well as "Nixon/Watergate," and called President Barack Obama a "bad (or sick) guy." He even made a veiled threat of prosecuting Obama, saying that "a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to the election."

The Atlantic provides some background:

Obama's spokesman, Kevin Lewis, issued a short response to Trump's allegations, saying "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false." [...]

The process for obtaining a federal wiretap, either for domestic crimes or for foreign intelligence purposes, involves the approval and supervision of a federal judge. Those requests are made by investigators themselves, and the president is ultimately briefed on them only if Justice Department officials believe it is necessary.

As Crooks and Liars remarks:

It appears that perhaps the FBI had a FISA warrant to investigate communications within Trump Tower because of unusual patterns of communications with Moscow. They had a warrant because they had presented evidence. [...]

And now the so-called president is tweeting wildly about his political opponents out to get him.

Kevin Drum wonders at Mother Jones, "Did Obama really tapp Trump Tower during the sacred election process?"

I hope so! If he did, it would mean a judge had found probable cause that Trump had committed a crime of some kind.

Alternatively, it could mean that the FBI or the NSA was listening to a foreign phone call and Trump was on the other end. That would be great too.

Or, of course, Trump might be full of shit. Sadly, this is the most likely possibility.

AlterNet reports that "Trump's tweets follow claims made by conservative radio host Mark Levin on his Thursday night show about the alleged steps taken by the Obama administration to undermine the Republican candidate's campaign to win the White House:"

The presenter called the effort a "silent coup" by the Obama administration and called for a congressional investigation into the issue. That contrasts with demands from across the US political spectrum to examine Russian interference in the presidential election.

Robert Reich has some choice words. "Folks, we've got a huge problem on our hands," he writes. "Either:"

Trump is more nuts than we suspected - a true delusional paranoid who shouldn't be anywhere near the nuclear codes that could obliterate the planet, or near anything else that could determine the fate of America or the world.

Or Trump's outburst was triggered by commentary in the "alt-right" publication, Breitbart News, on Friday, which reported an assertion made Thursday night by right-wing talk-radio host Mark Levin suggesting Obama and his administration used "police state" tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team's dealings with Russian operatives.

But if this was the case, we've got a president willing to put the prestige and power of his office behind baseless claims emanating from well-known right-wing purveyors of lies. That means Trump still shouldn't be anywhere near the nuclear codes that could obliterate the planet or anywhere else he could do damage.

The third possibility is that Trump is correct, and the Obama administration did in fact tap his phones. But if this was the case, before the tap could occur it's highly likely Trump committed a very serious crime, including treason.

"Whatever the reason for Trump's rant," Reich continues, "America is in deep trouble:"

We have a president who is either a dangerous paranoid, or is making judgments based on right-wing crackpots, or has in all likelihood committed treason.

Each of these possibilities is as worrying as the other.

Wired quotes April Doss, formerly an NSA lawyer:

"While the order would have been requested by some part of the executive branch, Obama can't order anything. Nor can Trump. The order has to come from the court, and the court operates independently."

The piece then observes:

If federal authorities did have cause to listen in on Trump Tower, though, and they provided enough evidence for a FISA court to approve the snooping, Obama is not the one who ought to worry
.

Time speculates about Putin's riches:

Figuring out the Russian president's net worth has long been the holy grail of spooks and hacks around the world. But the personal wealth of Putin--a former KGB agent--is nearly impossible to decipher, and is likely distributed across a secret web of company holdings, real estate, and other people's accounts. In fact, at a time when his political motivations are under scrutiny across the world, the struggle to pin down Putin's riches reveals something about the covert ways in which he wields his authority over Russia.

A former Kremlin adviser named Stanislav Belkovsky estimated Putin's net worth at "At least $40 billion" when talking to the Guardian:

Later, in 2012, Belkovsky upped his estimate to $70 billion, based on new information from "confidential sources around the corporations," according to an interview with nonprofit journalism outlet The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Putin certainly has the visible trappings of wealth. Among his alleged holdings is a palace on the Black Sea with a reported price tag of $1 billion.

It features "a magnificent columned facade reminiscent of the country palaces Russian tsars built in the 18th Century," according to the BBC. It also allegedly includes a private theatre, a landing pad with bays for three helicopters, and accommodation for security guards.

The palace was personally built for Putin but paid for using a secret slush fund created by a group of Russian oligarchs, according to a self-exiled Russian businessman named Sergei Kolesnikov, who provided evidence of the alleged scheme to the BBC.

"Perhaps we'll never know," the piece admits, because "Unlike Donald Trump, Putin has publicly downplayed his net worth" [see here]. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the taciturn one is worth much more than TEN BILLION DOLLARS, while the verbose one is worth much less.

The brain needs a body, writes Derek Beres, and "The relationship between our body and mind is critical for self-understanding:"

While physicality has generally been removed from our daily workload, the exercise industry continues to expand. Six days a week I move bodies in yoga and fitness classes. People inherently recognize they're not only toning and stretching their muscles and fascia. Emotional catharsis and mental focus keeps studios and gyms crowded. If emotional intelligence has been a catchphrase over the last decade, a renaissance in physical intelligence is occurring.

That's important. Rewarding careers that push numbers from bank account to bank account instead of those responsible for building the buildings those computers sit inside is an indication of how disembodied we've become as a culture. Championing sedentary behavior in the quest of prosperous algorithms is a modern tragedy we don't pay enough attention to. More than our personal well-being is at stake. We need our bodies as much as our brains, a lesson we need to learn before atrophy is complete.

His upcoming book Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body for Optimal Health might be a very helpful one indeed.

Trump made zero false or misleading claims for an entire day, notes a surprised WaPo:

Donald Trump has been president for 41 days, and he finally put up a goose egg: no factual errors or misleading statements for a full day, midnight to midnight, according to The Washington Post's great Fact Checkers, Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

All he had to do, it turns out, was say almost nothing.

Trump made only one tweet on Wednesday (consisting of the two words "THANK YOU!") and "basically no public comments:"

It's also important to note that Trump's sudden factual restraint comes with a massive caveat: It came the day after arguably his worst factual day as president. On Tuesday, the same day in which his speech earned plaudits for its delivery and presidentiality, Trump made 26 misleading or counterfactual claims.

Trump has now made 190 false or misleading in 41 days as president, and his media diet--heavy on Faux News--isn't helping:

Bloomberg Technology reported, "The president now spends hours some mornings watching Fox News, switching occasionally to CNBC for business headlines, along with a daily diet of newspapers and press clippings, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. On the evenings when he doesn't have a dinner or briefing, Trump will spend most of his TV-viewing time watching Fox News shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, the aide said."

This is the most important job in the world, and Donald Trump is spending his time watching Fox News. It's really is like America has elected it's cranky, racist retired uncle to run the country.

It is amazing how much free time that a president has when he doesn't bother reading intelligence briefings, studying, or holding important meetings.

David Reynolds asks, what caused the 1917 Russian Revolution? He identifies Petrograd as "the crucible of revolution:"

The fifth-largest metropolis in Europe, it was an industrial sweatshop of 2.4 million people in a predominantly rural country. Seventy per cent of the city's workers were employed in factories with a staff of over 1,000, a proportion unmatched even in the conurbations of Germany and the US. Sucked in by the war boom, they lived amid squalor: more than three people on average to every cellar or single room, double the figure for Berlin or Paris. About half the homes lacked water supply or a sewage system; a quarter of all babies died in their first year.

Yet wealth and privilege were staring these workers in the face: the main factory district, on the Vyborg Side of the Neva, lay just across the water from the imperial palace and the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt. This cheek-by-jowl polarisation contrasted with more suburbanised industrial centres such as Berlin, London and Paris. Equally important, Petrograd was a large garrison, with over 300,000 soldiers in and around the city. That, an eyewitness said, was like placing "kindling wood near a powder keg".

"For months," writes Reynolds, "it had been clear that trouble was brewing:"

"If salvation does not come from above," one Russian duchess warned the French ambassador, "there will be revolution from below." Yet few anticipated how Petrograd would stumble into a new era. [...]

It was "a revolution carried on by chance", Bert Hall, an American aviator attached to the Russian Air Service, wrote in his diary - "no organisation, no particular leader, just a city full of hungry people who have stood enough and are ready to die if necessary before they will put up with any more tsarism".

"On 2 March the tsar abdicated, but plans for a constitutional monarchy evaporated when his brother Mikhail refused the throne, leaving Russia headless." As described in Stephen Smith's Russia in Revolution, Lenin made a dramatic return:

After a tense delay in Berlin, the train chugged on to Germany's Baltic coast, from where a ferry and then more train journeys through Sweden and Finland brought Lenin to the Finland Station in Petrograd on Easter Monday, 3 April.

That night he delivered a tub-thumping, two-hour speech to his socialist comrades explaining that the first phase of Russia's revolution was over and the second was beginning. [...] ...the second stage was quite simply to "place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasantry".

"But finally he went for broke," Reynolds writes, and the Bolsheviks established "a form of absolutist rule," as Orlando Figes wrote in A People's Tragedy:

"It was a mirror-image of the tsarist state." Lenin and Stalin replaced the Tsar-God, and the Cheka/NKVD/KGB continued (even more systematically) the brutal work of the tsarist police state. In a new introduction to a reprint of his book, Figes emphasises that Putinism is also rooted in this Russian past - in the enduring weakness of civil society and the scant experience of deep democracy.

Michelle Chen discusses Trump's war on science and how his "troubled relationship with the truth...portends existential crisis for its scientists" because "the workers who form the brain trust of the federal bureaucracy fear their services may soon be no longer needed:"

"I have had people call me and ask me to download certain things...in case they get deleted, just to preserve things," says Kyla Bennett, a former Environmental Protection Agency attorney under the Clinton administration, now a regional advocate with the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As fossil-fuel ally Scott Pruitt takes the reins at the environmental agency he has repeatedly attacked in court, she says, many EPA employees (including younger staffers who have only worked under the more reality-based governance of the Obama administration) are now "preparing to either get laid off or get moved into another [unrelated] job entirely.... This change goes above and beyond anything that we could have possibly anticipated."

Chen mentions how the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Rush Holt commented on the administration's mendacity issues: "When officials use a phrase like 'alternative facts' without embarrassment, you know there's a problem."

Even before Trump took office, Energy Department staff received an intimidating questionnaire that suggested the White House transition team would investigate employees linked to climate research. (News reports then surfaced about the apparent "litmus test," protests erupted, and the administration quietly walked back the measure.) Following the inauguration, Parks Service social-media accounts were temporarily shuttered after the agency's Twitter account posted unflattering news reports about Trump's crowd-size estimates and reported speech-suppression attempts.

Chen hopes that "At the dawn of the Trumpocene, even under a regime fueled by contempt for truth, facts will still matter."

NYT's Robert Zaretsky explains how a half-century-old book of French philosophy [Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle] is uniquely relevant today:

It was a thin book in a plain white cover, with an obscure publisher and an author who shunned interviews, but its impact was immediate and far-reaching, delivering a social critique that helped shape France's student protests and disruptions of 1968.

"The Society of the Spectacle" is still relevant today. With its descriptions of human social life subsumed by technology and images, it is often cited as a prophecy of the dangers of the internet age now upon us. And perhaps more than any other 20th-century philosophical work, it captures the profoundly odd moment we are now living through, under the presidential reign of Donald Trump.

Zaretsky writes that "We are not just innocent dupes or victims in this cataclysmic shift from being to appearing, [Debord] insisted:"

Rather, we reinforce this state of affairs when we lend our attention to the spectacle. The sun never sets, Debord dryly noted, "on the empire of modern passivity." And in this passive state, we surrender ourselves to the spectacle.

The issue isn't just passivity, but the loss of a place for public discourse:

"There is no place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them," Debord concluded, "because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse." Public spaces, like the agora of Ancient Greece, no longer exist. But having grown as accustomed to the crushing presence of images as we have to the presence of earth's gravity, we live our lives as if nothing has changed.

With the presidency of Donald Trump, the Debordian analysis of modern life resonates more deeply and darkly than perhaps even its creator thought possible, anticipating, in so many ways, the frantic and fantastical, nihilistic and numbing nature of our newly installed government.

Zaretsky's piece, however, ends on a note of hope:

The unfolding of national protests and marches, and more important the return to local politics and community organizing, may well succeed where the anarchic spasms of 1968 failed, and shatter the spell of the spectacle.

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