April 2018 Archives

Thomas White's look at Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil discusses, of course, her 1961 reportage for The New Yorker on Adolph Eichmann's war crimes trial:

Arendt found Eichmann an ordinary, rather bland, bureaucrat, who in her words, was 'neither perverted nor sadistic', but 'terrifyingly normal'. He acted without any motive other than to diligently advance his career in the Nazi bureaucracy. Eichmann was not an amoral monster, she concluded in her study of the case, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Instead, he performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his 'thoughtlessness', a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann 'never realised what he was doing' due to an 'inability... to think from the standpoint of somebody else'. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he 'commit[ted] crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong'.

Arendt dubbed these collective characteristics of Eichmann 'the banality of evil': he was not inherently evil, but merely shallow and clueless, a 'joiner', in the words of one contemporary interpreter of Arendt's thesis: he was a man who drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief.

Arendt wrote in 1971 that "The deeds were monstrous, but the doer - at least the very effective one now on trial - was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous." Alan Wolfe, in Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (2011), criticised Arendt for 'psychologising,' and historian Deborah Lipstadt, in The Eichmann Trial (2011), remarked that Arendt's use of the term 'banal' was flawed. Arendt is criticized by others, as well:

In Eichmann Before Jerusalem (2014), the German historian Bettina Stangneth reveals another side to him besides the banal, seemingly apolitical man, who was just acting like any other 'ordinary' career-oriented bureaucrat. Drawing on audiotapes of interviews with Eichmann by the Nazi journalist William Sassen, Stangneth shows Eichmann as a self-avowed, aggressive Nazi ideologue strongly committed to Nazi beliefs, who showed no remorse or guilt for his role in the Final Solution - a radically evil Third Reich operative living inside the deceptively normal shell of a bland bureaucrat. Far from being 'thoughtless', Eichmann had plenty of thoughts - thoughts of genocide, carried out on behalf of his beloved Nazi Party. On the tapes, Eichmann admitted to a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde dualism:
I, '[t]he cautious bureaucrat,' that was me, yes indeed. But ... this cautious bureaucrat was attended by a ... a fanatical [Nazi] warrior, fighting for the freedom of my blood, which is my birthright...

Arendt completely missed this radically evil side of Eichmann when she wrote 10 years after the trial that there was 'no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives'. This only underscores the banality - and falsity - of the banality-of-evil thesis. And though Arendt never said that Eichmann was just an innocent 'cog' in the Nazi bureaucracy, nor defended Eichmann as 'just following orders' - both common misunderstandings of her findings on Eichmann - her critics, including Wolfe and Lipstadt, remain unsatisfied.

White provides more context:

By declaring in her pre-Eichmann trial writings that absolute evil, exemplified by the Nazis, was driven by an audacious, monstrous intention to abolish humanity itself, Arendt was echoing the spirit of philosophers such as F W J Schelling and Plato, who did not shy away from investigating the deeper, more demonic aspects of evil. But this view changed when Arendt met Eichmann, whose bureaucratic emptiness suggested no such diabolical profundity, but only prosaic careerism and the 'inability to think'. [...]

Nevertheless, Arendt never downplayed Eichmann's guilt, repeatedly described him as a war criminal, and concurred with his death sentence as handed down by the Israeli court. Though Eichmann's motives were, for her, obscure and thought-defying, his genocidal acts were not. In the final analysis, Arendt did see the true horror of Eichmann's evil.

Arendt describing Eichmann as banal does not imply that she was blind to his butchery.

TCJ's interview with Craig Thompson about the new expanded edition of his travelogue Carnet de Voyage reminded me yet again that, despite how much I enjoyed Blankets, I still haven't read Habibi. I had better get to it before Thompson produces any more novels. In the interview, Alex Dueben asks Thompson, "what are you working on now?"

I am still secretive about it, but I'll probably be ready to announce it this fall. I haven't signed a contract yet, but the plan is to serialize it as a comic book. For the first time in my career. When I did Blankets I was really pushing against comic book store culture and collector mentality and serial comics. I was sick of the format of comic books. Now I'm sick of graphic novels and the pretension around them and the prohibitive cost and space they consume. We live in this era over-saturated with media and images and there's something really pure about the 24-32 page comic book to me now. As I was struggling with how to structure this new book, I realized that I want to do it as a comic book. It's still going to be a graphic novel but I want to use the constraint as the structure. I'm excited about comics as a medium again.

Given Thompson's propensity for longer works, Dueben asks, "Is this going to be a shorter or longer book?"

[laughs] Unfortunately it's going to be another Blankets-Habibi. I resisted that for so long. I did not want it to be that and I was trying to figure out how I could cut it down. It wasn't until I came upon the serialization idea that it started to feel more right for me. [...] I hope that this serialization makes it more pleasurable for me. It means I can start having stuff out next year rather than disappearing for years and years again.

Anders Nilsen seems to be really enjoying serializing Tongues.

That's a great example. I don't know if I'm as bold as him, though, self-publishing. But his book is a good example of what I like reading these days. The new Crickets or Ganges or Tongues are much more exciting to me right now than graphic novels.

I don't even know that Nilsen had another series out--it's always nice to have another new series to read!

TCJ's interview with Craig Thompson about the new expanded edition of his travelogue Carnet de Voyage reminded me yet again that, despite how much I enjoyed Blankets, I still haven't read Habibi. I had better get to it before Thompson produces any more novels. In the interview, Alex Dueben asks Thompson, "what are you working on now?"

I am still secretive about it, but I'll probably be ready to announce it this fall. I haven't signed a contract yet, but the plan is to serialize it as a comic book. For the first time in my career. When I did Blankets I was really pushing against comic book store culture and collector mentality and serial comics. I was sick of the format of comic books. Now I'm sick of graphic novels and the pretension around them and the prohibitive cost and space they consume. We live in this era over-saturated with media and images and there's something really pure about the 24-32 page comic book to me now. As I was struggling with how to structure this new book, I realized that I want to do it as a comic book. It's still going to be a graphic novel but I want to use the constraint as the structure. I'm excited about comics as a medium again.

Given Thompson's propensity for longer works, Dueben asks, "Is this going to be a shorter or longer book?"

[laughs] Unfortunately it's going to be another Blankets-Habibi. I resisted that for so long. I did not want it to be that and I was trying to figure out how I could cut it down. It wasn't until I came upon the serialization idea that it started to feel more right for me. [...] I hope that this serialization makes it more pleasurable for me. It means I can start having stuff out next year rather than disappearing for years and years again.

Anders Nilsen seems to be really enjoying serializing Tongues.

That's a great example. I don't know if I'm as bold as him, though, self-publishing. But his book is a good example of what I like reading these days. The new Crickets or Ganges or Tongues are much more exciting to me right now than graphic novels.

I don't even know that Nilsen had another series out...another new series to read!

Trump's fabulism

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TPM's Nicole Lafond reminds us that Trump tried to dupe Forbes about his wealth:

In 1984, when President Donald Trump was a 38-year-old budding real estate mogul, a Trump Organization aide called the reporter who was developing the annual Forbes 400 list to try to convince him that Trump was a billionaire, not a $200 millionaire, as the magazine had suggested the year before

That aide, according to an op-ed from the former Forbes reporter in the Washington Post Friday, was actually Trump himself.

The WaPo piece, by investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg, even brags that we have the tapes:

In May 1984, an official from the Trump Organization called to tell me how rich Donald J. Trump was. I was reporting for the Forbes 400, the magazine's annual ranking of America's richest people, for the third year. In the previous edition, we'd valued Trump's holdings at $200 million, only one-fifth of what he claimed to own in our interviews. This time, his aide urged me on the phone, I needed to understand just how loaded Trump really was.

The official was John Barron -- a name we now know as an alter ego of Trump himself. When I recently rediscovered and listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I didn't see through the ruse: Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. "Barron" told me that Trump had taken possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred. "Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump," he said. "You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] . . . but I think you can really use Donald Trump now." Trump, through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned "in excess of 90 percent" of his family's business. With all the home runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he should be called a billionaire.

"This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career," writes Greenberg, "telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be real:"

The tactic landed him a place he hadn't earned on the Forbes list -- and led to future accolades, press coverage and deals. It eventually paved a path toward the presidency. [...]

Although Trump, posing as Barron, asked Forbes to conduct the conversation off the record, I am publishing it here. I believe an intent to deceive -- both with the made-up persona and the content of the call -- released me from my good-faith pledge. In a 1990 court case, Trump testified that he had used false names in phone calls to reporters. In 2016, when The Washington Post published a similar recording, Trump denied it was him.

"It would be decades," Greenberg continues, "before I learned that Forbes had been conned:"

In the early 1980s, Trump had zero equity in his father's company. According to Fred's will (portions of which appeared in a lawsuit), the father retained legal ownership of his residential empire until his death in 1999, at which point he left it to be divided between his four surviving children and some of his grandchildren. That explains why, after Trump went bankrupt in the early 1990s, he borrowed $30 million from his siblings, secured by an estimated $35 million share of his future inheritance, according to three sources in Tim O'Brien's 2005 biography, "TrumpNation." He could have used his own assets as collateral if he'd had any worth that amount, but he didn't.

The most revelatory document describing Trump's true net worth in the early '80s was a 1981 report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. O'Brien obtained a copy for his book. Trump had applied for an Atlantic City casino license, and regulators were able to review his tax returns and personal and corporate debt, giving them the most accurate picture of his finances. They found that he had an income of about $100,000 a year, while his 1979 tax returns showed a $3.4 million taxable loss. Trump's personal assets consisted of a $1 million trust fund that Fred Trump provided to each of his children and grandchildren, a few checking accounts with about $400,000 in them and a 1977 Mercedes 450SL. Nowhere did the report list an ownership stake in the Trump Organization's residential apartments. Trump also possessed a few parcels of valuable but highly leveraged real estate, financed with $22.5 million in debt, all of it secured by his father's assets. He did not own a safe deposit box or stocks in publicly traded companies. In sum, Trump was worth less than $5 million, not the $100 million that I reported in the first Forbes 400.

"Later attempts by Trump to paint himself as fantastically wealthy were also duplicitous," Greenberg writes, "according to the New Jersey Casino Commission, which issued another report in 1991:"

His net worth, the commission estimated, was $205 million -- less than 6 percent of what he'd told Forbes. In 1990, the magazine dropped Trump from the list and kept him off it for five years.

To summarize, "Trump's fabrications provided the basis for a vastly inflated wealth assessment for the Forbes 400 that would give him cachet for decades as a triumphant businessman:"

In his book, O'Brien criticized Forbes for rewarding Trump's fabrications, citing interviews with "three people with direct knowledge of Donald's finances" who estimated his true net worth after debts to be "somewhere between $150 million and $250 million." Trump, who had told O'Brien he was worth $6 billion, sued for libel -- and lost. When he lost his appeal in 2011, a New Jersey appellate judge wrote, "The largest portion of Mr. Trump's fortune, according to three people who had had direct knowledge of his holdings, apparently comes from his lucrative inheritance. These people estimated that Mr. Trump's wealth, presuming that it is not encumbered by heavy debt, may amount to about $200 million to $300 million. That is an enviably large sum of money by most people's standards but far short of the billionaires club."

The opacity persists. In 2016, Trump's presidential campaign put out a statement saying the candidate had a net worth "in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS." But he has never released his tax returns, and he has said that the core Trump Organization asset is the ownership of his brand -- an ineffable marketing claim that is impossible to substantiate or refute.

If Trump hadn't been able to dupe Forbes so easily, we might have been spared the sad spectacle of him conning a substantial minority of the electorate.

Trump/Moscow

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Josh Marshall writes at TPM on the subject of Trump's repeated lies about his Moscow trip, noting that "I want to zero in on one point:"

The President repeatedly and demonstrably lied about his November 2013 trip to Moscow. This is the visit in which the 'pee tape' was purportedly recorded. There's no evidence in the memos that that tape exists or that the President spent the night with prostitutes. But again, he clearly and repeatedly lies about the trip itself, specifically how long he was there. This seems highly significant to me.

"There's ample evidence," writes Marshall, "that Trump stayed not one but two nights:"

In July 2017, Bloomberg News's Vernon Silver and Evgenia Pismennaya reported out a detailed reconstruction of the trip based on FAA records, social media postings and interviews. They showed clearly that Trump flew from North Carolina to New York on the evening of November 7th (Thursday) and then proceeded on to Moscow overnight and arrived sometime early on November 8th (Friday). He overnighted in Moscow. He was in Moscow all of November 9th (Saturday), the day of the pageant, and departed for New York early November 10th. For the details of how we know these facts, see the Bloomberg article. It is forensic in its detail.

Clearly, Trump lied about not spending the night in Russia. It's conceivable that he forgot he'd spent the night. But again, the whole idea is wildly implausible. He said he'd discussed the details of the trip with others. Surely they would have reminded him. And he stayed not one but two nights. Clearly, Trump was lying about this. He lied about it repeatedly to Comey. And Priebus's presence during one of the encounters strongly suggests he'd told this same lie to his senior staff.

And there's more.

Here's the rest of Marshall's take:

Conceivably, Trump was so adamant about denying the prostitute story that he poured on extra lies (not spending the night) to make his denial more plausible. But in any court, this lie would be entered as evidence of his lack of credibility on the main point. There's zero question he lied about this repeatedly and to multiple people. You can be the judge of why.

Thomas Frank talks to The Nation's Jon Weiner and explains that Trump could win in 2020:

JON WIENER: You describe Donald Trump as deeply unpopular and as someone who has no clue how to govern. Now Robert Mueller is tightening the noose, the US Attorney in Manhattan has seized Michael Cohen's files, and Stormy Daniels is going to be hard to stop. And yet you think this president could be reelected, that there a clear path for Trump to win in 2020.

THOMAS FRANK: That's right, but first I have a couple of assumptions that you have to grant me. The first is that he doesn't get impeached and removed from office. I think there's good reason to believe that that won't happen. Then he has to avoid a disastrous war. If you give me those, yes, I think he has a really good chance of getting reelected.

Frank reminds us that "Clinton was massively popular towards the end of his administration," and points out that "It wasn't because of NAFTA or the balanced budget or bank deregulation. Those were not particularly popular things. It was because the economy was booming:"

JW: Can Trump actually make it happen? It seems to me that the most likely thing is that Trump will do nothing at all to help the working class.

TF: Trump is a buffoon and a scoundrel and a national embarrassment, but this is something he understands.

[Well, I'm not so sure about that...]

JW: Let's talk about what the Democrats can do to stop him. Of course, we have Robert Mueller, and we have Stormy Daniels. Will Stormy save us?

TF: The period when Bill Clinton was at his most popular was when he was actively being impeached for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. You'd think a president having an illicit affair with a porn star would be pretty bad, politically. But I don't know if that's going to hurt Trump at all if the economy is booming.

JW: Okay, what about Mueller saving us?

TF: Every Democrat that I talked to is counting on Mueller to deliver the midterms for them. This has worked for Democrats before. The famous Watergate class in Congress in 1974 was entirely the doing of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, and the Democrats are basically expecting that to happen again. It looks like it will work.

JW: What's wrong with that?

TF: It breeds a kind of passiveness among Democrats where they never have to think about their own message. They may succeed in the coming midterms, but that's a recipe for disaster in the long term.

Frank writes that "the bottom line is this: If the economy booms and wages go up, it's going to be hard to beat Trump in three years." With that spectre looming over our psyches, I'm just going to re-post this:

20160507-donttrumponme.jpg

Comey's memos

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Comey 's memos might be interesting:

The Associated Press has obtained memos maintained by former FBI director James Comey of meetings he had with President Donald Trump in early 2017. In the memos, Comey recounts Trump telling him of his concerns about former national security advisor Michael Flynn's judgment, and that Trump had told him that Russian president Vladimir Putin had talked to him about Russian sex workers.

AP posted the memos here.

efficient brain

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Stanford professor Liqun Luo wonders at Nautilus how the human brain is so efficient. "Which has more problem-solving power," Luo asks, "the brain or the computer?"

Given the rapid advances in computer technology in the past decades, you might think that the computer has the edge. Indeed, computers have been built and programmed to defeat human masters in complex games, such as chess in the 1990s and recently Go, as well as encyclopedic knowledge contests, such as the TV show Jeopardy! As of this writing, however, humans triumph over computers in numerous real-world tasks--ranging from identifying a bicycle or a particular pedestrian on a crowded city street to reaching for a cup of tea and moving it smoothly to one's lips--let alone conceptualization and creativity.

"The computer has huge advantages over the brain," writes Luo, in both the speed and the precision of basic operations. However, the brain is "neither slow nor imprecise:"

For example, a professional tennis player can follow the trajectory of a tennis ball after it is served at a speed as high as 160 miles per hour, move to the optimal spot on the court, position his or her arm, and swing the racket to return the ball in the opponent's court, all within a few hundred milliseconds. Moreover, the brain can accomplish all these tasks (with the help of the body it controls) with power consumption about tenfold less than a personal computer. How does the brain achieve that?

Part of the explanation is that the brain "employs massively parallel processing, taking advantage of the large number of neurons and large number of connections each neuron makes:"

For instance, the moving tennis ball activates many cells in the retina called photoreceptors, whose job is to convert light into electrical signals. These signals are then transmitted to many different kinds of neurons in the retina in parallel. By the time signals originating in the photoreceptor cells have passed through two to three synaptic connections in the retina, information regarding the location, direction, and speed of the ball has been extracted by parallel neuronal circuits and is transmitted in parallel to the brain. Likewise, the motor cortex (part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for volitional motor control) sends commands in parallel to control muscle contraction in the legs, the trunk, the arms, and the wrist, such that the body and the arms are simultaneously well positioned to receiving the incoming ball.

This massively parallel strategy is possible because each neuron collects inputs from and sends output to many other neurons--on the order of 1,000 on average for both input and output for a mammalian neuron. (By contrast, each transistor has only three nodes for input and output all together.) Information from a single neuron can be delivered to many parallel downstream pathways. At the same time, many neurons that process the same information can pool their inputs to the same downstream neuron. This latter property is particularly useful for enhancing the precision of information processing. [...]

Another salient property of the brain, which is clearly at play in the return of service example from tennis, is that the connection strengths between neurons can be modified in response to activity and experience--a process that is widely believed by neuroscientists to be the basis for learning and memory. Repetitive training enables the neuronal circuits to become better configured for the tasks being performed, resulting in greatly improved speed and precision.

Although "recent advances have expanded the repertoire of tasks the computer is capable of performing," Luo still maintains that "the brain has superior flexibility, generalizability, and learning capability than the state-of-the-art computer:"

As neuroscientists uncover more secrets about the brain (increasingly aided by the use of computers), engineers can take more inspiration from the working of the brain to further improve the architecture and performance of computers. Whichever emerges as the winner for particular tasks, these interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations will undoubtedly advance both neuroscience and computer engineering.

[See Luo's Principles of Neurobiology (Garland Science, New York, NY, 2015) for more.]

Babs the Impaler

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Barbara Bush's death has prompted a fair amount of commentary, among which is tengrain's--quite possibly the least sugar-coated of them all. "I have nothing nice to say about the late first lady, Babs-the-Impaler," tengrain writes, "My polite version is that she was not a force for good:"

Besides giving birth to, and raising, a nest of cambions, crooks, and out-right thieves the likes of which the world has never before known (Hi Chimpy! Hi JEB!, Hi Doro, Hi Silverado, Hi Marv!), she was a special kind of monster herself.

As the Katrina disaster befell New Orleans, we are reminded, she has some charming sentiments to offer:

"Almost everyone I've talked to says, 'We're going to move to Houston.' What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them."

It's really an two-fer, spoken by an entitled racist ghoul: which is pretty scary is almost never remembered, because everyone focuses on the Marie Antoinette-like let-them-eat-cake-in-the-Astrodome surrounded by dead bodies and raw sewage.

As tengrain concludes:

There's a certain amount of rose-colored glasses we all are allowed to peer through, and nostalgia is a great blur-er (is too a word!), and certainly the Poppy Bush kinder-gentler era seems like a golden time compared to now (unless you were an Iraqi), but never forget that he (and she) were part of the Reagan VooDoo Economics, trickle-down, screw-the-poor, grasping gang of thieves that put us in our current tragedy. Yes, they were Never Trump, but that is only because they were Always Bush and wanted ¡JEB! to put the Bush Crime Family back in power.

At LGBTQ Nation, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld writes about intersectionality and asks,

1) Whether this forum should or should not post material only focused directly and explicitly on "LGBTQ" issues, and 2) Whether or not black LGBTQ people exist, and if they do, whether their one and only social identification should or should not focus exclusively on their sexuality and/or gender identity and expression.

Blumenfeld reminds us that the LGBTQ+ community is itself an intersectional entity [*note below]:

People have, in fact, joined in movements around one or a couple of identities, and they have successfully pushed for social, legislative, and political change. For example, lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, trans, and queer people have come together to increase our visibility in the media and within the larger society.

We have joined in alliance to fight for marriage equality, the right to serve in the military, equality of treatment in housing, employment, insurance coverage, public accommodations, partnership benefits, adoption, and many others concerns.

We have and continue to work to dismantle the social, medical, and religious stigma that have long plagued our lives and our very existence; we have challenged conditions that place our bodies at risk for random acts of violence; we have worked to end the bullying of our youth in the schools and our workers in the workplace; and we have joined to empower each and every one of us to live with pride, dignity, integrity, and authenticity.

Though the political and theocratic Right accuses us of promoting some sort of conspiratorial "gay agenda" on the people of our country, I believe the truism that "Whenever there are two queer people in a room, there will be at least three different opinions."

"Though I continue to engage in identity politics occasionally on particular issues," Blumenfeld continues, "I have come to understand that sexual and gender identities with the social oppressions that come with these are simply not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, to fuel a movement for progressive social change:"

Therefore, my major focus and energy has been to join and connect with people of similar political ideas and ideologies that cut across individuals from disparate social identities in what some call "idea politics" or "coalition politics."

My motto is: "I don't care who's in your bed. I care instead what's in your head!"


[*note: Years ago, I read an observation about the irony of gay men and lesbians being forced into political proximity specifically because they didn't want to sleep with each other--but I can no longer remember the source.]

Hannitized

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"Michael Cohen, President Trump's fixer," writes The Atlantic, "was in court, trying to shield documents seized in a raid Monday on his office, home, and hotel room from prosecutors:"

Cohen had invoked attorney-client privilege to ask the court to hold documents back, but there have been questions about the extent to which Cohen was actually working as a lawyer. Cohen's attorneys said he had three clients for whom his work was legal in nature. Two were previously known: Trump, and Elliott Broidy, a major GOP fundraiser for whom Cohen arranged a $1.6 million payout to a Playboy Playmate whom he had impregnated.

Cohen's lawyer wrote to Judge Kimba Wood, "The third legal client directed Mr. Cohen to not to reveal the identity publicly." But Wood ordered Cohen to reveal the name Monday afternoon.

It was Sean Hannity.

ThinkProgress proclaims that "It's been a rough start to the week for Sean Hannity," and describes Hannity's on-air dissembling:

Hannity then had to try and figure out how to address the bombshell revelation while he was meant to be doing his radio show -- which played 10 minutes of music and James Comey's ABC interview before Hannity finally showed up and said he was working to decide whether to address the news.

Around two hours later, Hannity decided to pull the "we're just friends" routine. He told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he and Cohen "have been friends for a long time. I have sought legal advice for Michael." He then took to Twitter to claim that he had "no personal interest" in Cohen's proceeding and that his discussions with the lawyer had mostly involved "real estate."

As a board member of the pacifist War Resisters League, Frida Berrigan offers us a perspective on the weaponization of everyday life. She writes that "One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns," and that "two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely." She notes with dismay that "School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives," and "Part of their orientation now involves regular "shelter in place" and "secure-school" drills:"

As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

According to the WaPo article:

Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (and a shooting in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday that police called accidental that left one student dead). That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. [emphasis added]

We should consider a more realistic metric: the cumulative risk over a student's academic career. At 180 days per year, the 13 school years of a K-to-12 student works out to 2340 education days; the student's career risk of gun death in school is 0.0003811%, or 1 in 262,398. Those odds don't look quite as good, do they? "Two questions are answered far too infrequently," Berrigan continues, "Where do the guns come from?" and "Where does violence come from?"

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn't conceivably be used for "hunting." They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that -- like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz legally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree. [emphasis added]

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which -- honestly, folks -- doesn't have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Steve Benen points out that--shock!--every criticism of the Republican tax plan is proving to be true:

During the abbreviated debate over the Republican tax plan, Democrats said the corporate beneficiaries of the tax breaks would use their windfalls on priorities such as stock buybacks. We now know, of course, that this prediction turned out to be true.

"Critics of the GOP plan," he continues, "also said it included all kinds of sloppy and consequential errors that would need fixes, which is also happening:"

Dems also warned that Republican leaders would use the impact of the tax cuts as a pretext to go after social-insurance programs - sometimes called "entitlements" - such as Social Security. That, too, is coming true.

And, of course, progressive opponents of the GOP tax breaks said the proposal would do real harm to the nation's finances, and wouldn't come close to paying for themselves. We can now add this to the list of things Dems got right and Republicans got wrong. [...]

Note that the budget office [the report is here (PDF)] projects the annual budget shortfall will swell this year to $804 billion, before growing to $941 billion next year and $1 trillion in 2020.

As Benen writes, "at some point, Republicans probably ought to face some accountability for the fact that their promises about tax breaks are always wrong." Politicus USA points out that "it is the estimated cumulative deficit over the next decade that will cause the most problems:"

The tax plan won't pay for itself. Massive deficits will lead to pressure to cut back social programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal deficit will be $1.6 trillion larger than previously projected, thanks to the misguided Republican plan.

In fact, current projects show that by the year 2028, our national debt will be nearly as large as our entire Gross Domestic Product. This is not sustainable.

We can only hope that Ryan's retirement means that our country will also retire his right-wing ideology that is leading our country to a disaster. Our only hope is that sanity will be restored to Washington and there will be a massive Blue Wave in the 2018 midterm elections.

Socialist Worker's Emma Wilde Botta provides some number on guns and the suicide epidemic, noting that "35,000 people are killed by guns every year in the U.S.:"

According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2017, there were 346 mass shootings (broadly defined as a shooting in which four or more people were shot but did not necessarily die) and 437 resulting deaths. In 2017, police killed an estimated 1,100 people.

Gun homicides account for nearly 13,000 deaths annually. More than two in three gun deaths per year are the result of suicide.

"In 2015, an estimated 44,193 people died by suicide in the U.S.," Botta continues, "with 22,018 of these deaths involving a gun. That's an average of 121 deaths by suicide every day:"

Suicidal acts are often prompted by a temporary rush of rage or despair, and most people who attempt them do not die. For every suicide, there are about 25 attempts that do not end in death.

Guns are especially dangerous because they are more lethal than other means by which people attempt suicide, and because people often attempt to take their own lives shortly after deciding to die.

Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a gun end in death. Among people who survived attempts, 24 percent took less than five minutes between the making the decision to die and the actual attempt, and 70 percent took less than an hour. Most people who are feeling suicidal will not choose another method if their preferred method is not at hand.

Botta cites a 2006 National Center for Health Statistics study in 2016, which looked at suicide trends between 1999 and 2014. "The study showed that overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent in these 15 years," she writes, "putting suicide rates at their highest in nearly 30 years:"

Indisputably, access to guns increases suicide risk by making it more likely that suicide attempts will involve guns and prove fatal. Serious attempts to slow down or prevent access to deadly means can keep people in crisis alive.

"National standards around gun safety training and safe storage, free lock boxes and waiting periods," she reminds us, "are all possible restriction measures:"

Keeping a gun locked and unloaded, and storing a gun separate from ammunition can reduce the likelihood of a suicide attempt by children and teens, and adults as well. Gun waiting periods that mandate time between initiating the purchase of a gun and completing that purchase have also been shown to reduce suicide.

I mentioned Stan Lee's situation a month ago, and io9's piece by Charles Pulliam-Moore summarizes a new Hollywood Reporter article that makes things seem even worse:

In a document dated February 13 that was notarized in front of Lee's former lawyer Tom Lallas, Lee specifically names Jerardo "Jerry" Olivarez, a one-time business associate of his daughter J.C., Lee's current guardian and caretaker Keya Morgan, and J.C.'s attorney, Kirk Schenck as people with "bad intentions."

The document goes into detail about Lee's fraught relationship with his 67-year-old daughter, detailing her impulsive fits of rage and alleging that she spends tens of thousands of dollars a month all on Lee's dime, despite his attempts to curtail her. The document details how, in 2014, J.C. allegedly shoved her mother and choked Lee after being told that a new Jaguar leased in Lee's name was not going to be hers. The document also claims that Olivarez, Morgan, and Schenck "insinuated themselves into relationships with J.C. for an ulterior motive and purpose: to take advantage of Lee and gain control over [Lee's] assets, property and money." [...]

Perhaps most disappointing of all is that, from the looks of it, Lee doesn't have anyone in his corner who's able to protect him from the people that are draining him. If there's one thing Lee needs right now, it's someone genuinely acting in his best interest.

The Hollywood Reporter piece by Gary Baum starts out with a survey of Lee's situation:

Lee's estate is estimated to be worth between $50 million and $70 million (it's been reported he receives $1 million a year for his Marvel ties). And while his primary role with the company is now mostly ceremonial -- including a cameo in nearly every film -- he remains a deity in fanboy culture. Despite the fact that his health requires nursing care at home and on the road, up until his most recent illness, Lee was a jovial regular at international comic conventions, where he can draw thousands of paying autograph seekers.

J.C. declined to speak with THR, Baum notes, but "nearly all of the other players in the messy drama over Lee's estate and well-being are speaking out:"

Their often conflicting stories reveal an increasingly toxic and combative situation involving broken alliances, abrupt expulsions and allegations of elder abuse against one of America's most influential and beloved cultural icons. On several occasions, the turmoil drew the attention of law enforcement.

"Joanie's death from a stroke on July 6 at age 95 marked the end of their evening martini ritual at home in the exclusive Bird Streets of the Hollywood Hills," Baum continues, "and the beginning of pandemonium.

According to household staff and business associates, there have been times when J.C.'s verbal outbursts have turned physical. One incident took place in winter 2014, explains Lee's former business and asset manager Bradley J. Herman, after J.C. discovered that the new Jaguar convertible parked outside, which she thought had been purchased for her, was in fact only leased -- and in her father's name.

J.C. called her parents "fucking stupid," and according to Herman,"J.C. then roughly grabbed her mother by one arm, shoving her against a window:"

Joanie fell to the carpeted floor. Lee, seated in a nearby chair and looking stunned, told J.C. he was cutting her off: "I'm going to stick you in a little apartment and take away all your credit cards!" Herman recalls Lee shouting. "I've had it, you ungrateful bitch!" In "a rage," J.C. took hold of Lee's neck, slamming his head against the chair's wooden backing. Joanie suffered a large bruise on her arm and burst blood vessels on her legs; Lee had a contusion on the rear of his skull. (J.C. has previously denied the incident.)

"This really did never, ever happen," claimed JC, calling it a "Total lie."

Lee appears to need some everyday heroics, and one wonders--who will suit up and protect him?

On the occasion of Paul Ryan announcing his retirement, AlterNet's Jon Frel reminds us that lunatic Ayn Rand was his biggest influence. Here is Ryan's most revealing remark about Rand, which still hasn't been mocked nearly enough:

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand."

Frel offers a summary and a list of countervailing messages:

AlterNet has kept the pace with Rand's resurgence, doing our best to educate people about what a nutcase she was and how harmful her ideas are. These 10 articles, previously published on AlterNet, shed light on why Rand's influence on Ryan was so dangerous.

If you haven't spent much time at AlterNet, check out his list.

Paul Waldman writes that Trump has never been in more trouble than he is right now, because "federal agents raided the office and home of Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer:"

Yet despite how rare an action it is to pierce attorney-client privilege this way, the big-picture story here seems inevitable: Once a serious prosecutor with resources and authority began taking a good long look at Trump and his associates, a bunch of people were going to be in big trouble, with some winding up behind bars.

Waldman spoke to former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade, and uses her expertise in his analysis:

The upshot: The Cohen raid isn't a "fishing expedition," and didn't happen because Mueller suspected he might find something interesting, despite how Trump himself and his defenders would like to characterize it as a case of a special prosecutor out of control.

"A judge has found probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is housed in the office of Michael Cohen," McQuade told me. "They may have a goal of flipping him, but there's also evidence of a crime here." [...]

The raid on Cohen's office and home could produce all kinds of evidence -- some related to his relationship with his client, and some not. They've got files, computers, cellphones, everything. Anyone who knows Cohen knows there is bound to be a whole lot of interesting stuff to be found.

"Making this more problematic," Waldman continues, "Trump isn't someone who played close to the line a time or two, or once did a shady deal. He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America:"

He ran scams like Trump University to con struggling people out of their money. He lent his name to pyramid schemes. He bankrupted casinos and still somehow made millions while others were left holding the bag. He refused to pay vendors. He exploited foreign workers. He used illegal labor. He discriminated against African American renters. He violated Federal Trade Commission rules on stock purchases. He did business with the mob and with Eastern European kleptocrats. His properties became the go-to vehicle for Russian oligarchs and mobsters to launder their money.

So it was no accident that when he ran for president, the people who joined him in his quest were also a collection of grifters, liars, and crooks -- people such as Paul Manafort. Those were the kind of operators Trump has attracted all his life. Honest, upright people with a deep respect for the law don't go to work for Donald Trump.

"Things were bad for Trump before. But they just got a whole lot worse," concurs Dr. Mark Bear at Politicus USA. Bear cites GOP strategist Steve Schmidt's appearance on The Eleventh Hour with Brian Williams as being especially revealing in his assessment of Trump:

"We see Donald Trump with his arms crossed, like a dime-store Mussolini, saying [...] that anything that endangers him politically or otherwise legally, is in fact, an attack on the country. That the leader and the country are synonymous. And that just goes to show the degree to which Donald Trump doesn't understand the United States of America.

"It was disturbing to watch him in action today; it was disturbing to see how he operates, but his reaction is obvious because this scandal has moved another giant step closer to the Oval Office."

"I think what the prosecutors have done is that the empowering of the Special Counsel, that they've looked inside the Trump organization," he adds, "they've looked at this collusion issue, but what they've found is that there is corruption everywhere:"

So, everywhere you look, there seems to be the stench of corruption, and I think this is just another piece of evidence in what we're going to see unfold that before very long the extent of the shambolic Trump's organization's corruption, and the dirtiness around this administration.

Adam Lee points out that Christian conservatives are the real snowflakes, beginning with Oklahoma Wesleyan University president Everett Piper and his 2015 editorial called "This is Not a Day Care, It's a University!" "Our culture has actually taught our kids to be," Piper claims, "self-absorbed and narcissistic:"

Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them "feel bad" about themselves, is a "hater," a "bigot," an "oppressor," and a "victimizer."

Lee notes that, despite Piper's indignation, Oklahoma Wesleyan is "a private Christian college that puts far more and harsher restrictions on its students than any of the places he's criticizing:"

It's not just Oklahoma Wesleyan that indulges in this hypocrisy. This recent article in the New Republic is a timely reminder that, for all the hand-wringing over no-platforming and students protesting controversial speakers, there are hundreds of conservative religious colleges that are openly intolerant of differing views and have been suppressing speech for far longer and on a much grander scale.

Incidents at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Wheaton College, Liberty University are mentioned, and Pensacola Christian College, Lee says, "exercises a draconian, North Korea-like authority over its students' lives:"

It doesn't end with the colleges, either. Don't forget the "Benedict Option", a call for Christians to withdraw from the world and form their own isolated, ideologically enclosed communities where they don't have to deal with a culture they can no longer control.

Most of all, there's Christianity's longstanding support for book-burnings, blasphemy laws and other theocratic intrusions into everyday life. What is the purpose of this censorship, if not to turn all of society into a "safe space" for them and their ideas?

This long history of censorship shows that religious conservatives are and have always been "snowflakes", in the pejorative sense of the word - people whose worldview is so fragile that they immediately melt in the face of criticism, whose overriding desire is to go through life swaddled in a protective cocoon so they never have to see, hear or think about anything they disagree with. And if they do get unexpectedly confronted by criticism, they're swift to cry persecution and claim that they're the victims of bigotry against their beliefs. (But remember, Everett Piper mocked students who claim to be victims any time their feelings are hurt!)

In addition to noting that Religious Correctness is far more pervasive than Political Correctness, I also suggest that there might be more than a little bit of projection involved in the rabid anti-PC denunciations conservative Christians...

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Dr. Chris Donaghue proclaims that we are much more sexually fluid than we think, despite that fact that "Very few of us will ever be able to fully overcome socialized homophobia, sex phobia, genital anxiety and slut shaming:"

Authentic sexuality is buried under a lifetime of sexual development, which is a sex-negative bootcamp that works to not develop you but to shame and push you into conformity.

"You are developed away from yourself sexually by your gender," Donaghue writes, "with all its rules and expectations:"

None of that is about authenticity or pleasure; it's about normalization and limits. Fold homophobia and bisexual or pansexual erasure into the mix, and the policing of your sexuality becomes even more powerful.

If you identify as hetero but have sex with other gender expressions, you are seen as "gay." And if you are pan or bi and have sex with the same gender, you are seen as "gay."

A major problem is that "Homophobia doesn't allow for the existence of sexual fluidity:"

The gay community enacts misogyny by calling vaginas gross and sets heavy limits on the possibility of eroticizing the female body, and the hetero community is far from celebrating a guy who sucks cock.

The severe social limits and stigmas placed on anyone wanting to explore sexual fluidity are massive, because few can tolerate actual experimentation and sexual development.

"Shame, labels, gender and sexual orientations," Donaghue continues, "are all methods of policing and confinement, not liberation and sexual honesty:"

Sexual authenticity suffocates within these boundaries and limits. Add in intersectionality and how our other identities (such as race, class, disabilities) impact and further oppress our sexual possibilities and opportunities for expression and exploration, and it's shocking that any arousing sex ever happens at all!

TruthDig discusses a federal court ruling that the Second Amendment doesn't protect assault weapons:

Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment, a federal judge said in a ruling Friday upholding Massachusetts' ban on the weapons.

U.S. District Judge William Young dismissed a lawsuit challenging the 20-year-old ban, saying assault weapons are military firearms that fall beyond the reach of the constitutional right to "bear arms."

The piece quotes Massachusetts AG Maura Healey saying that the decision "vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war," and reminds us that SCOTUS denied a challenge to Maryland's assault-weapons ban. On the other end of the reasonableness spectrum, some South Carolinians are threatening to secede over guns, reports Angela Helm at The Root:

The first time South Carolina left the union, it was because the scions of that state wanted the brutal practice of chattel slavery to continue, sparking the U.S. Civil War. This time, a group of House Republicans is proposing the very same action over so-called gun rights. To which I say, "See ya!"

On Thursday, Reps. Mike Pitts, Jonathon Hill, and Ashley Trathman introduced legislation that would allow the state to consider secession should the federal government violate the Second Amendment.

"The black people of S.C. had better beware if it happens," Helm warns ominously.

On a smaller scale, but also in South Carolina, Cristiano Lima writes about legislator who pulled out a loaded handgun during a meeting:

Rep. Ralph Norman pulled out a loaded pistol while discussing gun-violence prevention during a meeting with constituents in South Carolina on Friday, according to several advocacy group members in attendance.

The episode was brought to light by volunteers for the South Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who said in a news release that the lawmaker laid out a loaded firearm while discussing gun safety at an event in Rock Hill.

According to the group, the pistol was left out for "several minutes" while Norman "kept telling his constituents that the presence of the gun made them safer."

Norman said that he brandished the weapon to show that "guns don't shoot people, people shoot guns," but that's a ridiculous rationale. Since people can only shoot the guns that they have, a loaded gun on the table makes everyone less safe, not more.

He added a claim that "Mental health, and more importantly, a lack of morality is the driving force behind this epidemic. [I assume that Norman is in favor of rigorous background checks, then?] Guns are not the problem." We can quibble about the real "driving force," but an over-abundance of firearms clearly does not help.

Norman cited the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was seriously wounded during a 2011 constituent meeting, in explaining his decision.

"I'm not going to be a Gabby Giffords," Norman told the newspaper. "I don't mind dying, but whoever shoots me better shoot well or I'm shooting back."

Over at TNR, Jason Christian penned "Confessions of a Former Left-Wing Gun Nut." He begins his tale this way:

When I was just five years old, before I had even started kindergarten, I received a tiny rifle for Christmas, a .22-caliber bolt-action rod called a Chipmunk, built for and marketed to small children. By the time I was twelve I owned a small arsenal of five guns, and proudly possessed a lifetime hunting and fishing license for the state of Oklahoma.

"We were going deeper and deeper into gun culture," he continues:

From time to time we drove out to my family's land in the country and fired off a few boxes of rounds at beer cans and bottles and little paper targets. We had a gun-cleaning movie night where we watched First Blood; on another night it was the documentary about the Weather Underground. We dreamed of a revolutionary situation that would allow us--if not obligate us--to act bravely in defense of freedom. [...]

Later, I went to another gun show and sold my AK to a complete stranger. To this day it haunts me that I didn't destroy the gun. It is still out there, unregistered, anonymously owned, its only trace the serial number attached to my name as its buyer, if that record even exists.

"Thank God I came to my senses and left this world behind," he observes. He worries, though, about "recent armed activism on the left, such as the John Brown Gun Club, a nationwide network comprised mostly of activists rooted in the ultra-left and anarchist subcultures, founded by some of those same radicals from Kansas I once knew:"

In June 2016, the John Brown Gun Club gave its network a name: Redneck Revolt. There are 32 chapters across the U.S. and counting. The group describes itself on its website as an "anti-racist, anti-fascist community defense formation." On the internet you'll find dozens of images of Redneck Revolt members wearing flannels and Army-issued fatigues and tactical vests, brandishing tricked-out AR-15's, side arms, walky-talkies, and other gear. Some of them showed up with their weapons at Charlottesville last year, ostensibly to take an oppositional stand or to keep the peace. Mostly it was to just tell the world, "Hey, we exist."

"It's sometimes difficult," he notes, "to tell them apart from the neo-Nazis they oppose:"

However, they do call for the "total liberation of all working people, regardless of skin color, religious background, sexual orientation, gender, country of birth." There are a number of women among them, and even a few people of color. And I suspect that not a few of them come from upper-class, urban-liberal homes themselves.

Still, the logic behind arming the left is confused. Do the people advocating for armed self-defense against tyranny actually think a toe-to-toe battle with the government will occur? Do they imagine a scenario where left-wing militias will rove around the Midwest or the South or upstate New York defending "the weak" against enemy militias? Do they think anyone will join them?

Christian points out that Vox's Ezra Klein interviewed sociologist Jennifer Carlson, author of Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. "Klein tries to understand what carrying a gun does to our minds," he writes:

Klein goes on to speculate that carrying a gun in public "seems like it makes the world into much more of a drama, in which they're the hero and they may be called to do these extraordinary, dangerous, heroic things at any moment, [which seems] like a really addictive, interesting way to approach the world, to enliven your day, particularly if other parts of your life at this point offer less opportunity of that kind of narrative and status and feeling of essentialness."

This "feeling of essentialness" is key to understanding why gun possession is an existential issue for so many people. It's not only part of their identity, like skin color or religious faith, but it's an identity that presupposes importance and a kind of indispensability to others. Gun owners are fighting both for their very existence and for the benefit of greater society. Without their guns they're just another office worker or truck driver or clerk.

"Just how much traction the armed left will get," he notes, "remains to be seen:"

I suspect another tragedy will happen before it's all over. I hope I'm wrong, but recent history has shown that nothing much good comes from guns.

Speaking of "nothing much good," Paul Blest discusses conservative media hatred of the Parkland survivors, noting their "obsession with [David] Hogg:"

An analysis of [the Daily Wire] and four other right-wing sites--Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, and Infowars--shows that the five sites combined have published at least 145 posts about the high schooler-turned-gun control activist since February 19 (five days after the shooting), when Gateway Pundit White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich alleged that Hogg was coached on media appearances by his retired FBI agent father. Similarly, at least a dozen posts were published between the five sites about fellow Parkland students Cameron Kasky (20 in total) and Emma Gonzalez (14).

"Our count does not include posts about the pro-gun control students as a whole," observes Blest, "or about other students who haven't found themselves in the spotlight as much as Hogg, Gonzalez, and Kasky:"

The amount of personal coverage that Hogg and his classmates have received represents a new phase in the conservative media's ongoing war against perceived threats to personal freedom--even when those perceived threats are teenage survivors of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

This screenshot shows that InfoWars is, not surprisingly, the worst of the lot:

20180408-infowars.png

Breitbart editor Joel Pollak served up some hyperbole to go with the hate:

In abusing their newfound power, Hogg and company are tugging at the threads of our civilization, unraveling the social fabric that holds us together, exacerbating our common, but divided, pain.

Way to denigrate people who have just suffered a tragedy, and are trying to prevent future massacres.

Tug this, you tool.


update (9:18pm):
Ann Werner points out that http://samuel-warde.com/2018/04/ted-nugent-calls-for-killing-democrats-video/ we can always count on Ted Nugent to make things even worse:

"NRA board member Ted Nugent is at it again. On Good Friday, he attacked the Parkland student survivors and proclaimed, 'They have no soul.'"

Of course, he had more to say:

"Just know that evil, dishonesty, and scam artists have always been around and that right now they're liberal, they're Democrat, they're RINOs, they're Hollywood, they're fake news, they're media, they're academia, and they're half our government, at least. So come to that realization. There are rabid coyotes running around. You don't wait 'til you see one to go get your gun. Keep your gun handy and every time you see one, you shoot one."

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