Friday, December 08, 2017

On My Blog Anniversary. Take Four: Or Where In The Political World Is Echidne Now?

This is a rant about American politics in 2017 and my place in it.  Let me begin by noting that I have never liked politics as a horse race or a ballet performance, except when it's about something I regard trivial, I have never liked arguing for just the sake of arguing or for the sake of the type of winning where being right doesn't matter, but crushing the opponent does (1).  I have never enjoyed debates where ad hominem or ad feminem slurs are used or where some people are closed out of a debate due to lack of proper tribal credentials.

So it's a miracle that I have kept this blog going for fourteen years, right?  Or possibly not a miracle but a side effect of the hallucination that makes me swear that I am an avatar of a snake goddess?

The following list is about my pet hatreds in American politics.  It tilts toward the liberal and progressive end of the political dimension, despite my belief that our end is much better on almost all counts.  The reason for that choice is that so many of my posts on this blog already are about the heinous acts of the Trump administration, the Republican Party, the fake information factories, and so on, but very few address the issues I write about below.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Happy Centenary of the Finnish Independence!

 Here's a flag for you:

The next picture is just because the gentleman in the picture is a Finnish cat, enjoying the scarce and precious winter sun:

And some music:

Added later:

Two interesting articles to read:  First, the short history of Finland as a social democracy, and, second, some interesting facts about Finnish dads.

Monday, December 04, 2017

What Did Women Ever Do?

You may have come across this recent tweet exchange:

Dr. James Kent's argument is common in the manosphere, almost part of its basic bible:

That men are viewed as superior to women is because men are superior to women.  It is, after all, men who created everything, and have done so  all through history*.  The usual examples on the manosphere sites are buildings, roads and bridges, and that's probably what Kent meant when he asked people to look out of their windows and list five things that women have made.

Mel Condon's answer to the tweet is of course the most important one:  Women, indeed, do produce all human beings by gestating them and by giving them birth, and in most cases by caring for them in their childhoods.

That is a very time-intensive job, and before reliable contraception it kept most women from building bridges or buildings or roads, though women were also traditionally kept away from all building sites and from the kind of education which teaches how to build such things.

But wait, there's more!  If we open our mental eyes a bit wider and accept not only directly seeing something but also deducing its presence as evidence,  lots of things made by women can be discerned by looking through our windows in any place where the view includes humans.

Most of the clothes on those humans women made were also made by women, for one example, and many of those humans have food in their stomachs that was cooked by women.  More generally, if we can see into other domestic buildings or hotels from our windows**,  the dirt and disarray we do not see is because of the work of mostly women.  That the drivers on the streets outside can read the traffic signs might be because of the work of elementary school teachers, a female-dominated profession.  And so on.

Still, one aspect of the bigoted comment by our dear Dr. Kent made me note that the traditional gendered division of labor has, indeed, resulted in a situation where the things women make or have traditionally made seem more ephemeral:

People die and disappear before bridges do, meals are digested and new meals must be cooked, clean rooms will become messy again.  Even the few arts traditionally viewed as women's arts (or crafts!), such as textile arts, are by their very nature less permanent than granite statues, most of which were sculpted by men until very recently.

Or consider archeological finds:  The early tools we find tend to be made out of stone or bronze or iron, and most of them apply to hunting, agriculture or warfare.  Those, together with pottery shards, are among the most common finds, not because women didn't make anything but perhaps pottery***:  Rather, those tools are simply much more durable than clothing or woven baskets or other similar artifacts.

*  The more academic argument on that is discussed in this old post of mine and also in this series of earlier posts.  Still well worth reading.

Note also, that many books explain in great detail the kinds of obstacles women faced if they tried to enter arts or sciences in the past.  Women were formally excluded from universities and arts until the nineteenth century, the medieval guild systems in Europe limited women's access to many professions, to give just a few examples.

To this day girls are steered into different occupations than boys.  Such steering is ubiquitous but hard to spot and almost everywhere in our cultures, but it also happens in explicit career counseling and the same effect can be created by hostile environments in traditionally male occupations or during the education for them.

My point is that more has been going on with respect to this assertion than Dr. Kent seems to know.

**  In many countries women also clean administrative buildings, offices and so on.  This is less the case in the United States where those fairly low-wage jobs are often done by men who are recent immigrants.  I haven't found the reason that difference, though it may reflect the greater fear of crime here (a lot of that work happens at night).

***  And we don't really know who made the tools or the pottery.  We infer the likely answers from how later societies were arranged.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

No Booze, Women Or Movies. Chuck Grassley on the High Morals of Rich People As A Reason To Repeal the Federal Estate Tax.

Remember the estate tax demolition plan*?  It's in the House tax "reform" bill, but not in the Senate tax "reform" bill.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) favors repealing it.  This is what he told the Des Moines Register:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies," Grassley told the newspaper.

And there we go again!  See how the three things "people" are spending every darn penny on are booze (a commodity), movies (a commodity) and women (not a commodity, but turned into one here).  See how "people" exclude the category of "women," or at least heterosexual "women."  See how what the list of items that all the money is spent on also excludes gay men from the group "people."

This is a lot like the joke about someone spending all their moneys on hookers and blow.  Doing that is pretty hard for women, especially hard for heterosexual women, given that there are very few hookers willing to service them. Rather, heterosexual women are the largest percentage of hookers.

So old Chuck objectifies women in that comment.  I don't particularly mind that bit, because I do mind this so much more:

Grassley's comment tells us that he has an image of "people" which equals the image of "heterosexual men."  Grassley is a politician supposed to care for our common concerns.  How can he do it if his image of the "people" does not include the vast majority of women?  Does he ever even consider how his policies affect half of his constituency?

There Echidne goes again, nattering on about something utterly trivial, you might mutter.  After all, listing things one is supposed to consume, such as entertainment, alcohol and sex, is just a traditional way to make a point.  Write about real problems, will you!

It is trivial on one level, sure.  But it's not trivial to realize that powerful people have a certain view of the world and that you are not a default human being in that view.  I get the benefit of belonging to the racial default in this country, but not getting the benefit of belonging to the biological sex default in this country has made me more aware of when the former kind of treatment happens, too.

Then those kinds of statements simply are something that the not-in-the-default-category people would never make, because they see the world as it really is.  Being in the default category blinds one from the fact that there IS one (or several, really).  Just imagine a female politician saying something about "people" spending all their money on Jimmy Choo shoes, movies and booze.  That signals something quite different.

This post  didn't even get to criticizing the common conservative assumption that rich people, every single one of them, deserve their wealth, because they work hard for it while poor people, every single one of them,  lie drunk and lazy next to the government's teats.  But then that view cannot explain why someone deserves to inherit the wealth they did not work for.


*  As an aside, the Hill article is dreadful in the way it defines the estate tax:

The estate tax, often derided as the “death tax,” is a 40-percent tax on the wealth of a person after he or she dies. The future of the estate tax is one of the key differences between the House and Senate bills that will need to be reconciled in a joint committee.
The true definition is something very different, because the first $5.49 million left are exempt from any tax.  The tax is only collected on the dollars in excess of that exemption in the estate:

For 2017, the estate and gift tax exemption is $5.49 million per individual, up from $5.45 million in 2016. That means an individual can leave $5.49 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple will be able to shield just shy of $11 million ($10.98 million) from federal estate and gift taxes. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Senate Tax Vote: A Farce in Both Competence And Democracy.

Tonight's Senate vote (51-49 for passing) on the tax plan is the most hilarious thing ever.  It is also one of the most cruel, heartless and greedy acts by the US Republican Party, ever.

Note, first, that the tax bill is almost 500 pages, and that it seems to be a first draft.  Note, second, that Democrats were not allowed to read what they were supposed to vote on.  That is perhaps not the best way to do the business of the American people, right?

But because the real goal of the tax plans is to benefit the rich Republican donors, the new oligarchy in this country, it doesn't matter that few people seem to have been able to read the enormous stack of papers:

The above tweets demonstrate sheer incompetence.

But the next two tweets demonstrate something far worse:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today's Mulvaney Quote

Mick Mulvaney is now the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is what he said about his plans when it comes to protecting consumers*:

"We're going to try and limit as much as we can what the CFPB does to sort of interfere with capitalism and with the financial services market."

It's nice that he has taken off his carnival mask so that we can all see he is on the side against which the CFPB was created.

The front page of the CFPB website tells us how the bureau is trying to stop payday loan debt traps.  It also gives you tips about what to do after the Equifax data breach.

Are those the types of things which interfere with capitalism?

That depends on the definition of capitalism.  If klepto-capitalism is included, sure.  But we really shouldn't include the exploitation of consumers under the definition of capitalism.

Mick Mulvaney's role at the CFPB is the by-now familiar one of the fox guarding the chicken coops.  That's because the corporate donors which rule the Republican Party want consumer protections to disappear.  Business is better for them that way.


*  Wish to know Mr. Mulvaney better?  Here's an earlier post on his budgetary views.  In this post he talks about private responsibility for diabetes.  And in this one he suspects that able-bodied people are taking advantage of disability insurance.  It's remarkable how Mulvaney can see ethical problems among the poor but cannot seem to spot any in klepto-capitalism.

The Blog Anniversary. Third Take. On The Angle of Our Inquiries. And Free Lunch, Which Does Not Exist.

The planned series of post about the blogiversary has been delayed by my exhaustion and existential ennui.  A year of Trump is exhausting, as all of you probably know, and life's ordinary punches will not help.  So I have been taking time off, reading fun books about history, physics and astronomy, and eating a lot of chocolate.

Still, I want to extend this series into December, so that I can address a long-term issue that I have wrestled with:  The meaning of feminism.  I finally got a few workable models of what differentiates and unites various current feminist streams.  Those who share my predilection for analytical thought over other types of equally valuable thought forms might like my planned posts on that topic.

For today, I want to talk about something different:  The angle we adopt when trying to understand some political or economic event.  The choice of that angle is crucial, and because of that, the powers-that-be try to force one particular angle on us.*

Take the Republican tax reform plans.  They can be evaluated by choosing the angle of calendar time and income levels.  Thus, the results on various income groups' tax liabilities can be calculated for the near future and for later years, and if we do so we find the results to vary, with the lower income groups seeing their taxes rise earlier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Topics For Tuesday, 11/28/2017: US As An Oligarchy, the Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren and Fake Information As Warfare

1.  I still can't fathom if the Republicans truly see what their tax plans are going to do to this country.  Income and wealth is already very concentrated in the hands of the richest, a situation which last prevailed right before the Great Depression, but the Republicans think it's a good idea to make it even worse.

A very unequal country will look like a banana republic.  The more money the small group of the super-wealthy will hold on the top of the distribution, the more political power they will have.

It's a vicious cycle.  The rich donors have bought the Republican Party (and to some extent the Democratic Party), and as part of what they have bought they get the tax reform!  That, in turn, will give them even more money, even more power.  The rest of us are given the promises of many more similar tax "reforms" in the future, much less government spending (on anything but on defense and on those parts of the legal system which protect the wealth of the rich), less health care, less old-age security and more suffering*.

Ultimately all this will create the kind of a country where even the rich don't really want to live, because they need personal police forces to guard their private enclaves against the hordes of have-nots.

2.  Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.  Most recently, this:

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Nice Nazi Next Door

The Gray Lady, New York Times, had one of those close-up-and-personal (remember Olympics coverage?) articles about, Tony Hovater,  a white supremacist  and Nazi sympathizer,  who is ultimately just your average kind of guy.  He used to play in heavy metal bands!  He just got married!  He and his wife eat pasta!  And

On a recent weekday evening, Mr. Hovater was at home, sautéing minced garlic with chili flakes and waiting for his pasta to boil. The cats were wandering in and out of their tidy little rental house. Books about Mussolini and Hitler shared shelf space with a stack of Nintendo Wii games.

Guess what?  Hitler, in Mein Kampf,  praised his self-sacrificing mother who stayed at home caring for her children.  Hitler was a vegetarian (though not for ethical reasons) and he loved dogs.  None of that makes him any less of a monster.

The  NYT article created a lot of outrage.  The Times has been accused of trying to normalize* Nazism by implying that Nazis or white supremacists are just ordinary people, people who have families and pets, people who eat turkey sandwiches and so on.  Given that we have a president who has tiptoed in the same direction, the danger of such normalization is real.

So what did the writer of the article, Richard Fausset, and the Times try to accomplish with it?  Fausset writes in another explanatory piece:

There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
 Fausset thought that delving into the minutiae of Hovater's life would produce an explanation, that a sinister demon would suddenly look at him from a doorway or from Hovater's eyes or suddenly materialize from the fascist books in Hovater's library.  But, alas and alack, Fausset found nothing, and concluded:

Mr. Hovater was exceedingly candid with me — often shockingly so — but it seems as though his worldview was largely formed by the same recombinant stuff that influences our mainstream politics.

So why write or publish the original article at all, if it didn't contribute anything to our understanding about the reasons for Hovater's extremism?

The Times responded to its readers' criticisms of the piece as follows:

Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.
We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.
We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.

Bolds are mine.

The trouble I have with the bolded sentence is that describing Hovater's private life does not tell us one single thing about how "normal" hate and extremism are in American life**.  To show us that, we need numbers of the people who hold Hovater's views, not information about his musical taste or his recent wedding.

No.  The more likely reason for the publication of the piece is that showing how a white supremacist really is "normal" in some areas of his life would be shocking enough to get a lot of readers, a lot of advertising revenue, a lot of attention and debate.  All publicity is preferable to no publicity.

Finally, I'd like to return to the reasons why someone like Hovater turned into an extremist.  Fausset may not have my experiences of spending time on various online hate sites***, and that could be why he believes that Hovater was baked into his current form by the same forces which operate in mainstream politics, despite writing this:

It was midday at a Panera Bread, and Mr. Hovater was describing his political awakening over a turkey sandwich. He mentioned books by Charles Murray and Pat Buchanan. He talked about his presence on 4chan, the online message board and alt-right breeding ground (“That’s where the scary memes come from,” he deadpanned). 

The emphasis is mine.

Anyone who has spent an hour or more on 4chan and similar hate sites can tell you that Hovater's most extreme beliefs would be supported and validated there by others, that his beliefs would become much more extreme there, that he would learn about the planned marches and other events there, and that there he would be offered the kind of literature which would further strengthen his fascist tendencies.   That, my friends, is where his beliefs were "normalized."


*  The term "normalizing" is tricky and must be interpreted carefully in this context.

It can mean "average," as in the most common type in some population, or it can mean something more normative (heh), such as in medical literature where normal ranges in test findings mean that the diagnosed patient does not suffer from certain medical conditions.

And it can mean "mainstreaming," which is the meaning I use here:  The idea that if Nazis are just average folks (which they are, in some ways), then their beliefs are also somehow acceptable (which they are not).

**   Unless one believes that people with vile values can easily be distinguished by just looking at them, because they have red pupils in their eyes, because they drink blood for breakfast, because they dismember flies for entertainment and so on.

*** I have had similar experiences with misogynistic sites and various ISIS sites.  I have immersed myself in all sorts of hate sites (send money for mental care), and though they didn't drown me they made me understand how others can easily drown in that bogmire and never surface back into whatever we regard as decent normalcy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Johnstown, Revisited. Or The Plight Of The White Working Class Trump Voters.

Isn't it fascinating how much the media writes on the Trump voters, even a year after his crowning as the Emperor of Everything?   These stories are not about the average affluent Republican voters who did go for Trump, but about one type of Trump voters:

Those living in dying ghost towns which once had thriving factories, those living in the epicenter of the meth and opioid abuse epidemics, those who are white, often older and retired or permanently unemployed, those who are grieving for the death of the local economy and the premature deaths of many, those who fear (and therefore hate) immigrants and minorities and those who have been reduced in standing by the changes happening in the global economy.

It is not that these stories shouldn't be written.  All marginalized people deserve some publicity, and the declining real incomes and shrinking life expectancy of many working class whites is important to cover.  But few similar stories are written about the troubles in the lives of women of African ancestry, to pick one example.

That silence is partly due to Trump's seeming victory (with a little help from Vlad the Impaler Putin).  That he managed to win must be explained, preferably in interesting tales.  But even if Hillary Clinton had won I doubt that we would read equal amounts of reporting on those African-American women, the spine of the Democratic Party.

That could be because stories about the death of small white towns and the despair of their inhabitants make for more click-worthy news:

Something new in its focus on white poverty (when whites are less likely to be poor than most other demographic groups), something different in what kind of a political protest that newfound poverty seems to have caused (the support of a crooked playboy millionaire born with a silver foot in his mouth, the song of white supremacy as the anthem of the movement),  yet something familiar in its focus on white Americans, still the numerical majority.  It's as if the familiar stories are turned upside down, but only superficially.

I understand the appeal of those plots in story-telling, I do, and I even understand the importance of answering the question how the Emperor of Everything ended up running this country.  If that understanding requires us to repeatedly visit the Johnstowns* of this country, so be it.

But do those frequent visitations really clarify?  The reference in the previous sentence to Johnstown has to do with a Politico article earlier this month.  It described the dying white factory town in Pennsylvania and interviewed many of its Trump-voting inhabitants, concluding that they were still enamored of Trump, that they still got most of their news from Fox and that they regretted nothing about their vote.

The article left its readers with the impression that the problems of Johnstown are not amenable to any quick fixes and that the inhabitants of Johnstown are not reachable by Democrats.**

And all that may be true.  At the same time, the piece fails to pursue these important sentences:

George is a Democrat, but he voted for Trump, and he would do it again, he said. His whole adult life, essentially, he’s watched potential customers leave, as the population of the city has plummeted from more than 70,000 to less than 20,000. Now he sees the names and faces of some of his customers in the newspaper. In the obituaries.

The emphasis is mine.

A town that used to have 70,000 people now has less than 20,000.

This is very important.  It isn't the case that Johnstown and all its residents just went down the drain.  Rather, when the writing was on the wall about bad economic times coming, the majority voted with their feet and left an area where jobs were disappearing.  Those who left were more likely to be young, more likely to have training and skills which allowed them better economic prospects elsewhere, more likely to be healthier.

Thus, what we see in Johnstown now is not the suffering of all its initial residents, but the suffering of those who could not or would not leave.  As I wrote above, it's worth describing their plight.  But that plight is not the plight of all working class white voters, including the ones who left.  Journalists should make that clear in a way they mostly have not, because failing to do so exaggerates what is going on.


*  Why not the Flints of America?  What is different between Johnstown and Flint in terms of poverty and suffering? 

** Both because they have been captured by the Fox News and other right-wing sites of similar ilk, but also because of opinion like these, from the Politico story:

More than anything, what seemed to upset the people I spoke with was the National Football League players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Frear told me, “if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake.”
“Shame on them,” Del Signore said over his alfredo. “These clowns are out there, making millions of dollars a year, and they’re using some stupid excuse that they want equality—so I’ll kneel against the flag and the national anthem?”
“You’re not a fan of equality?” I asked.
“For people who deserve it and earn it,” he said. “All my ancestors, Italian, 100 percent Italian, the Irish, Germans, Polish, whatever—they all came over here, settled in places like this, they worked hard and they earned the respect. They earned the success that they got. Some people don’t want to do that. They just want it handed to them.”
“Like NFL players?” I said.
“Well,” Del Signore responded, “I hate to say what the majority of them are …” He stopped himself short of what I thought he was about to say.
Schilling and her husband, however, did not restrain themselves.
“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit,” Schilling told me in her living room. “I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit. We do not watch no NFL now.” They’re Dallas Cowboys fans. “We banned ’em. We don’t watch it.”
Schilling looked at her husband, Dave McCabe, who’s 67 and a retired high school basketball coach. She nodded at me. “Tell him,” she said to McCabe, “what you said the NFL is …”
McCabe looked momentarily wary. He laughed a little. “I don’t remember saying that,” he said unconvincingly.
Schilling was having none of it. “You’re the one that told me, liar,” she said.
She looked at me.
The NFL?
“Niggers for life,” Schilling said.
“For life,” McCabe added.

Added later:  I should have pointed out that Johnstown actually narrowly went for Hillary Clinton, according to this story.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Roy Moore Defended. A Religious Explanation

A few days after I write about the doubtful patriarchal morals in the three Abrahamic religions and the way those morals justify the use of very young women and even children by older patriarchs, one patriarch echoes my arguments:

Pastor Flip Benham told a local Alabama radio show on Monday that there was nothing wrong with Moore dating teenage girls.
“Judge Roy Moore graduated from West Point and then went on into the service, served in Vietnam and then came back and was in law school. All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere. So he looked in a different direction and always with the [permission of the] parents of younger ladies. By the way, the lady he’s married to now, Ms. Kayla, was a younger woman,” Benham said on WAPI 99.5 FM Monday evening. “He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”

The bolds are mine.

Note the ownership of the "young ladies" by their parents, but especially note the argument that it was perfectly acceptable for Roy Moore to seek purity (read: inexperience, naivete and intact hymens), to want one of those unwrapped Xmas presents that nobody else had touched yet.

That's the concept of purity in the fundamentalist patriarchal versions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  It's not really the purity of the young woman's thoughts or the purity of her general deeds that they are concerned with, but her sexual inexperience and her inability to compare the patriarch as a lover to any other lovers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meanwhile, in the Business News: Kiss Net Neutrality Goodbye

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is turning the Internet into the property of large commercial firms.  That is my interpretation of the crap that has been released just a few days before Thanksgiving holiday, when many Americans are either too somnolent from turkey gobbling or too tired after having had to cook the turkey to care about the news.

A more polite way to express the same is this:

The Federal Communications Commission released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites.
The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services.

Doesn't it sometimes seem to you that the real political system in this country is klepto-capitalism, where the country is auctioned off to a small number of powerful moneyed interests?

Why enough of the peons vote for that system is a mystery to me, though the Republicans are indeed excellent in creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats as the targets of all the rage some people feel after decades of increased income and wealth inequality, and the United States also has its sizable Taliban-like contingency who only care about their brand of patriarchal Christianity.

The basic difference between the Obama administration rules and the new ones is this:  The former saw the online world as public commons, a public square, a place where all sorts of issues can be debated, where people can learn about various topics, and where information (and, sadly, fake information) is transmitted, while the latter sees the online world as a set of giant shopping channels where the telecom firms decide how fast and conveniently you can visit various online sites.

Or, more succinctly, the earlier rules treated the Internet as a public utility, whereas the new ones treat it as prime business real estate, where large profits are to be gained by few large firms.

This latest move is part and parcel of the Trump administration (even writing that makes me feel ill) move to get rid of all the regulations that are intended to protect the consumers.  Or to protect democracy:

Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump in January, has eliminated numerous regulations during his first year.
The agency has stripped down rules governing television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies that were meant to protect the public interest. On Tuesday, in addition to the net neutrality rollback, Mr. Pai announced a plan to eliminate a rule limiting any corporation from controlling broadcasts that can reach more than 39 percent of American homes.

Allowing the market concentration to grow in the media industry means that one day your choices for television news and analysis just might be Rupert Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch.

And what is this all about?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Short posts, 11/20/17: On Vaginas, EarthSea, On Believing Sexual Assault Victims and The Tweeting President

1.  On vaginas.  There's an odd sense in which pron (I believe) has turned vulvas and vaginas into something public.  Probably penises, too.  I doubt it's a good thing for people's peace of mind.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New Gilded Age

Has arrived.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision (= every dollar has an equal voice) paved the way for the oligarchy which is now developing in the United States.  We might soon be openly ruled by a handful of very rich families, pulling the strings of their politician marionettes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Second Take.

(This series will run during November, whenever I feel like writing about my blogoversary.  Presents are welcome, of course.)

The writer's block is an interesting condition.  I sometimes think that it has similar functions to my (now rarer) migraines:  The body decides that the mind needs a rest, and when the stubborn mind refuses to rest, the body makes sure that it will happen.  Slam.  I have the ability to sleep through migraines, which means that I do get a lot of rest when struck by one.

The writer's block doesn't work quite the same way, and based on my past experiences the reasons for mine vary.  Right now, for instance, I am blocked even though I have many topics more or less thought out and ready to be written in my fevered brain, except that seeing the empty screen suddenly makes writing quite impossible.*

And I am usually an efficient writer.  This time, I think, the block is about political writing.  I can write this post, after all.  The current political clamors are chaotic, and the more I read the more chaotic they look.

Consider how the recent revelations about sexual harassment by famous men are going.  From the very beginning of the wave of new allegations I felt both optimistic and fearful,  the latter because I have been a political blogger long enough to know how these pendulum shifts happen:

The pendulum begins at one end point, starts shifting, the speed of its swing increases, the pendulum is at full swing, but then nears the other end point, the swing slows down, slows down, stops, and then it begins to reverse. 

Yes, it is wonderful that this extra tax levied on many women (and some men, too) is now spoken about, that women are taken seriously when there are enough women behind the accusations, that perhaps, just perhaps, this is a change which will become more permanent, resulting in a more just society, where not only the victims of harassment are punished.

But all through reading about the new allegations I have feared the turn of the pendulum, the publication of one accusation which is clearly false, or, more likely the publication of several cases which are borderline.  Such case or cases are then used by some who have an axe to grind to negate the previous evidence, to taint it all with the same flavor of iffiness. 

There's the flavor of a fad** in much American political debating, and this topic is no different.  We debate gun control after each new atrocity.  We debate hurricane responses after hurricanes.  And we debate sexual harassment mores when famous harassment cases are in the news.  But just like fads fade, the intensity of these debates fades when something else becomes the flavor of the day.  Often nothing else has changed.

I want to see the institutional changes in all the topics mentioned in the above paragraph, but I fear my wishes will not be fulfilled.


The thoughts go like this, while the eyes stare at the blank screen:

Is that a spiderweb in the ceiling?  Do I need coffee?   Let's see what x is writing.  I should clean the screen...  What's in my Twitter feed? 

Oh, the usual sadness and anger and rage and a thousand topics piled up in the time order they come, with no rhyme or reason about their contents. 

Should I cut my bangs with nail scissors?   Should I publish one more rant about the madness that is Trump?  What's the point?  Those who love him love his very madness and will never repent. 

This room really needs vacuuming (the one English word with two u's in a row).

And Finnish does have lots of words for snow.  Take snow in the air.  There's pyry which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but mostly vertically.  Then there's tuisku which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but sometimes sideways.  But no word that would mean "to snow."  Finns must do with "it rains snow."  Which is weird.

** I don't mean to belittle the importance of the topics, so I am not using the term in that sense.  But I can't think of a good synonym for the fierce word fights we have right after something important is publicized, their patterns of widening, intensifying and then diminishing,  and the way those fights and their contents fall into the memory hole so very rapidly when something else important happens.

All this is natural for humans, I think.  But it's seldom the case that the debates result in any greater clarity or in policy changes, either.  They stand in their place, and important topics simply turn into yesterday's news.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore

Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers

We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. First Take.

I have been writing this miserable blog for fourteen years now!  I should get my head checked.  The problem with the anniversary (which was yesterday) is that it is also very close to the one-year-anniversary of the Turd Reich and follows a year of Very Bad News.

That coincidence is uncomfortable and cannot but help to affect how I view these years and their puny harvest.

I am planning to have several anniversary posts in a row.  That lets me express some Deep Thoughts and lets you give me presents if you are so inclined.  If not, thanks for reading here anyway.

Gary Cohn, Trump's Economic Advisor, on the Unavoidable Tax Cuts For The Rich

Gary Cohn's arguments about the Republican "tax reform" plan are worth thinking about, because he is hilarious.  He is Trump's economic advisor, and in a recent interview explains why most of the goodies from the Republican tax plan would fall in the laps of the wealthy.

At first he states that the warped outcome of how much various income groups would benefit is just an accident:  Somehow all the money just slipped into a few pockets:

Among other bloopers, the National Economic Council director explained that CEOs of big corporations were “the most excited group out there” about a proposal that would ultimately raise taxes on a good chunk of the middle class. He also said that while the administration hadn’t “set out” to lower taxes on the wealthy, he’s “not upset” about it, as if its massive rate cuts for business owners were merely some form of serendipity.
I'm sure Gary is not upset about getting a lot out of the Republicans' plan, of course.

Then he gives a different excuse for why the middle class will not benefit that much:

Cohn: Yup. But, John, if you look at what we’re doing for middle-class taxpayers, the reality is kind of simple. The median-income family in the United States, the family that earns about $60,000 in the United States, the Speaker [Paul Ryan] talked about them getting a $1,182 tax cut. That family is now paying a marginal tax rate of less than 1 percent. They’re paying less than $500 of total taxes in the system. So a $60,000 earner, family of four, is paying less than $500. We have cut their taxes significantly. You can’t go much further in the tax system.
Harwood: You’re saying you can’t give middle-class taxpayers more of a tax break than you’ve done?
Cohn: Unless you want to start going negative tax rates and go into the negative world. So, when people score this, you’re scoring against the bound of zero.

I'm having so much fun with that.  Remember the many Trump tweets about BIG LEAGUE tax cuts for the middle classes?  Here's one example from the time of the campaigns:

But now his economic advisor says that This Cannot Be Done.

Never mind.  Let's take one more step backward and ask why the Republicans are spending all their remaining energy on trying to get those tax cuts passed, if there's really no way to give the middle class families any kind of "big league" income tax cuts.

The only answer must be that the goal indeed was to return a lot of money into the pockets of the super-rich.  That this money must come from reducing government expenditure (on the poor and on the elderly, it seems) is just an unfortunate and unintended side-effect, too, I guess.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Virginia Elections

Wow.  I went out to get the flu shot, and this happened?  Maybe I should get one every day.

That was a bad joke and a good example of the way some fake news are created.  More importantly, having paper ballots is important, and all states should return to them, even if they are machine scanned, because paper ballots, kept by the voting districts as separate copies, allow for transparent elections. 

That and stopping voter suppression are the way to go right now, in the fight for democracy. 

The latter can be battled in several ways, of course,  but one would be to call the Republicans' bluff by creating an organization which argues that if certain types of IDs are necessary for voting, then the state is responsible for providing them in some cheap and easily managed way, perhaps at local post offices.  While that process is ongoing, the imaginary organization could pay for such IDs wherever poor or elderly voters can't get hold of them.

My congratulations to the winners in Virginia and, in particular, to Tom Perillo who worked very hard for his erstwhile primary opponent.  I sincerely hope that Virginia is a good omen for the 2018 elections.

The Proud Boys

Are proud.  Of being boyz. They are also an extreme right society for men, and only men, who believe in the superiority of the Western Civilization.  Here's a picture from their magazine (1):

And here's a short summary of the goals of Proud Boys (2):

McInnes calls the Proud Boys a “fraternal order” dedicated to a concept he calls “Western chauvinism,” which is roughly spelled out in the Proud Boys’ list of “tenets,” published in the official Proud Boys magazine.
They include closed borders, free speech, gun rights, and “venerating the housewife.” Proud Boys also abide by a “no wanks” rule, which is a loose prohibition on masturbation, because, they say, it is better to have sex and produce babies.
“Though these are our central tenets, all that is required to become a Proud Boy is that a man declare he is ‘a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world’,” according to the Proud Boy Magazine.

A closer examination of those rules suggests that Proud Boys are a society of men (you have to be declared biologically male at birth to be allowed in) who want, among other things,  a certain kind of patriarchy to return.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Short Friday Posts, 11.3.17: Isabelle Karle, U of Notre Dame, Tax Reform, and Endurance Running

1.  An interesting obituary of Isabella L. Karle, a chemist who worked with her husband to reveal the structure of molecules.  Her husband, Jerome Karle,  received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1985, together with mathematician Herbert A. Hauptman.

2.  University of Notre Dame  ends covering birth control in the health insurance policies of its staff and students.  Thanks, Donald!  The university's decision is based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thanks, celibate guys, running that institution!

The decision also reflects something which I find troubling:  Institutions now have the right to impose their religion on other people, so that Notre Dame (Our Lady!) can refuse to cover birth control even for those employees and students who are not Catholics.

3.  The tax reform plan of the Republicans is tailor-made to cut the taxes of one Donald Trump.  That's perhaps really not such a great surprise.  After all, Trump recently stated that he is the only person who matters.

Heh.  That's from the popcorn section of those watching this stuff.

But even in reality the so-called tax reform plan is aimed at benefiting the very rich, and much of the money needed for that would come from government expenditure cuts on the poor and/or the elderly.  It's a type of "trickle-up" theory the Republicans use:  Taxes are made so much easier if even more of the country's wealth is safely stored in the back pockets of the 0.01 percent at the very top of the distribution.

If the Republicans truly wanted to simplify the way Americans report and pay their taxes, they could copy the policies of several other countries.

4.  Courtney Dauwalter finished the Moab 240 race in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59   minutes.  A great achievement, though I really posted it in answer to some trollish comment about women deserving to be paid less at work because they have less staying power.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

That Wide Group Guilt, Again

The horrible terror attack in New York City has provoked all the usual social media debates. I want to address one particular one, exemplified by this troll comment from Eschaton

This day a Muslim murdered 8 NYC people. Liberals everywhere will not comment much because 8 dead is a minor nuisance in their quest to excuse anything that religion's proponents do.

Note the use of two generalizing terms in that quote  "Muslims" and "Liberals".  Thus, according to this troll, all Muslims are responsible for this latest atrocity, and Liberals "everywhere" are abetting that crime.

These kinds of generalizing comments are nothing new, of course.  They are very much the basis of certain types of racism and sexism, in particular stereotypes about how African-Americans are assumed to be, in general, how women are assumed to be, in general, and also about how, say, African-American women are assumed to be, in general.  Thus, it has often been the case that something one person does is attributed to that person's demographic group, to a general tendency shared by all in the group.  All people of the same type are then responsible.

And that is what the above comment about Muslims and Liberals reflects.

Sadly, the generalizing tendency that I describe is not limited to the right side of the political aisle or to those with anti-Muslim bigotry.

It's every bit as alive on the other side of the aisle, where vast demographic groups* are seen as guilty for what some percentage of their members do or have done.

Note that we can't choose the demographic group others decide we belong to, and that's what makes the apparently very easy generalizations** problematic, unless the accusation truly can be shown to apply to every single member of that group.  After all, most concepts of justice require more than sharing some  culprit's very loosely defined demographic grouping.

None of this means that institutional forms of racism and/or sexism do not provide obvious advantages to some demographic groups (such as white men, men or whites) and obvious disadvantages to other demographic groups, and those institutional forms, as well as the explicit sexism or racism of individuals, must be strongly addressed and corrected.

Neither does it mean that theological interpretations of some concepts inside the more extremist types of interpretations of Islam aren't something that needs to be addressed, preferably inside the religion, or that we shouldn't debate more the impact of petro-Islam and its radicalizing influence in the world.

What I write about is something different from those points.  It's also different from memberships in narrowly defined ideological groups, such as the KKK or ISIS, where the group indeed deserves guilt for the actions of individuals carrying out the group's commands.  But belonging to ISIS is very different from being a Muslim, just as belonging to the KKK is very different from, say, being white and living in the American South.

I believe that the rhetorical uses of group or genetic guilt are counterproductive and can even be dangerous.

To see how the latter might work, simply think of those American Muslims who are now afraid of a yet another backlash after the New York terror attack.

To see how the former might work against the intended goals of those who employ the device, observe how difficult it is to know what to do when your whole demographic is viewed as guilty for something you (as an individual) had no role in creating (even if you benefit from it), then observe how nothing you can actually do is likely to stop those accusations.

This is an opinion which I seem to hold pretty much on my own.  Most people are perfectly happy with false generalizations, as long as they are done by their own side, but very grumpy when they are done by the other side.

And I even understand the reasons for that comfort with one's own false generalizations.  After all, if all the abuse one experiences comes from some wide group "x," then blaming x feels right, even if not all its member (as in #notallmen) engage in that abuse, and if x is a group with much more societal power,  demanding that they take responsibility for that institutional edge they command also feels right.  Besides, it's a lot more powerful to write "x" than "the y% of x who voted for candidate z."

Nevertheless, I still believe that assigning wide group guilt is counterproductive and unlikely to result in the kinds of changes we wish to see. 

*  "Muslims and "Liberal" are a religious and political group, respectively, but many other commonly employed generalizations blame the types of groups which one cannot choose to enter or leave, even in theory.

Examples I have seen used in this way are "white men," "whites", "blacks, "trans people," "cis women," "trans women."   In all the cases I have noticed, the generalization were applied to arguments by one or a handful of individuals or written articles, each by one author.  Yet the views those individuals or articles expressed were generalized to much larger demographic groups.

It's clearly true that "punching upward" is better than "punching downward," that those who have more societal power can do more to change institutional racism and sexism.  But it would be more effective to simply demand that those with more societal power work to remove institutionalized bigotry of all kinds and to ask them to speak up when they observe racism and/or sexism from others inside their demographic group.

**  This practice is so common that I suspect it is part of how we humans parse the world.  I wish we paid more attention to this tendency in ourselves.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Nature's Fall Whispers

I heard this odd noise yesterday morning, from outside. It sounded like hail or extremely loud whispering or some plane landing. I looked out and the neighbor's back yard had roughly 500 or so black birds on the ground and all the trees were black with birds. Some distant sound happened, and they all took flight at the same time..
All those feathers making feather noises which grew giant!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What Is Happening In The Alternative Reality? Fox News Tells Us

The video here shows Sean Hannity foaming at the mouth while listing the zillion evil deeds of one Hillary Clinton.  Lists of various laws appear next to his angry face, each topped by a statement qualifying the lists by "these are the laws that were potentially broken by x scandal," where the x stands for the Steele dossier or the uranium or the emails.

The word I have bolded there is the crucial one.  No actual evidence of such law-breaking has been produced, as far as I can tell, and I have looked, with an open mind.

But the rant is a fun one to watch and to listen to, though they did cut out the bit where Hannity momentarily called Hillary Clinton "president Clinton."

He also tells us that Hillary Clinton would be in prison if she were just the kind of an ordinary person you are or I am.  Or Sean Hannity is.

To understand how weak the ice is on which Hannity's accusations skate, do read this report.

How To Fix The Problem of Sexual Harassment at Work

This post is about how to fix the workplace sexual harassment problem reflected in the alleged behaviors of Messrs. Weinstein, Toback, Wiesenteil and Halperin, among others.  It's based on my recent readings and thoughts.

Here are the proposals I have come across:

Monday, October 30, 2017

On Monday's Indictments : Hope

Today is such an odd day, don't you think?  When I first heard about today's indictments* in the Mueller investigation I felt — weird.  But weird exactly how?

Weird as in gleeful?  Yes, a little, I admit, to my shame, but mostly this odd feeling, one I can vaguely recall from the distant path, seems to be fledgling hope.

Hope that justice isn't only another name for klepto-capitalism or political cronyism by the big money boyz, hope that the balance of the powers could somehow right this sinking ship of democracy before it is permanently water-logged, hope that even the conservatives include among their ranks people (such as Mueller) who just might put democracy and justice before the interests of one political party.

It's a sad statement about this last year that hope tastes so alien to me.   And sure, this hope can still be taken away, turned into a nothingburger, while we are all advised to move on as there's nothing to see.  But wow!  It's so lovely to have some hope again.

Now, media, get going on the erased election server in the state of Georgia.

* Seth Abramson has a series of tweet threads which explain several aspects of these indictments.  I have no idea if I linked to them correctly or not, but you can find numbered tweets on his page.

The Harasser-In-Chief And The Recent Flood Of Sexual Harassment Allegations

While (alleged) serial sexual harassers in the media and movie industries (like Weinstein, TobackHalperin and Wieseltier) are finally made to face the consequences of their (alleged) behavior, our Dear Leader is still the self-admitted harasser-in-chief who was voted in by tens of millions of Americans (even if with Russian help) either despite all that pussy-grabbing or maybe even because of it!

Now how do you explain that paradox? 

It's not a paradox, I think.  Rather, many of the sexually molested women in this country heard the election results and their anger boiled over for the way their suffering* was discounted as just "locker-room talk." 

I argue that the flood of allegations we are currently seeing, against a large number of powerful men, is precisely because Trump is the president.  Once a sufficient number of angry women were willing to take the risks of going public**, others could join them,  because there is power in numbers and in the repeated descriptions of similar harassment by many unrelated victims.

In short, we have Trump to thank for the current evidence on how common sexual molestation in corporate America seems to be.
*  This suffering is both instant and real, especially if the molestation takes a more violent form. 

But it exists for even the more marginal forms of harassment, because it signals that a particular object of harassment is not really a valid member of the team or the workforce, but is present as a kind of pizza which was delivered for the delectation of others. 

Another way of viewing such harassment is that it's an extra cost for some employees and not for others, something to take into account, something to cope with, something which consumes energy that should go into the work itself.

Note, also, that though the recent newspaper revelations have been about events fairly high on corporate power ladders, women (and men) in low-income jobs face even more harassment and have fewer ways to protect themselves against it.

** These risks are very real.  Nobody likes a trouble-maker, and complaining about a very powerful boss, say, is not going to make future job searches easier or promotions more likely.  Rather the reverse. 

Indeed, in some fields going public with such claims can mean the end of the complainer's career, even if the complaints are shown to be valid. This is one reason why many of the claims turn up years or even decades later.

Photography As A Vehicle For Understanding of History

These old photographs   are quite wonderful.  This article tells more about them:

Itinerant photographer William Bullard left behind a trove of over 5,400 glass negatives at the time of his death in 1918. Among these negatives are over 230 portraits of African Americans and Native Americans mostly from the Beaver Brook community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rediscovering an American Community of Color features eighty of these unprinted and heretofore unpublished photographs that otherwise may have been lost to history. Bullard identified over 80% of his sitters in his logbook, making this collection especially rare among extant photographic collections of people of color taken before World War I and enables this exhibition to tell specific stories about individuals and recreate a more accurate historical context. Moreover, Bullard’s portraits examine the role of photography as the vehicle for a “new Black identity” during the nascent years of the New Negro movement. Offering a photographic narrative of migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Bullard’s portraits address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today, notably, the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society as well as the fundamentally American story of migration, immigration, and the creation of a community in new surroundings

Friday, October 27, 2017

This Happened. Matt Taibbi and the Ames-Taibbi book on Russia.

Garance tweets about something Matt Taibbi recently told us: That the misogynistic stories in the book he co-authored with Mark Ames were a giant cosmic joke, sarcasm, and not true at all:

I recommend the third (last) section of my 2016 post (under the title Mark Ames) on wounded young heroes if you want to understand the context of that tweet better.

As Garance mentions in another tweet, the book has been marketed as non-fiction and:

My 2016 post asks what  wounded young heroines could get away with, in terms of their future careers, and concludes that it wouldn't be much, even if written as a sarcastic giant joke on the world.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Georgia Election Server Wiped Clean After Suit Filed

This is worth reading.  I have read so many outrageous things today, but this is still the most outrageous thing.

A snippet from the article:

The server data could have revealed whether Georgia’s most recent elections were compromised by hackers. The plaintiffs contend results of both last November’s election and a special June 20 congressional runoff— won by Kemp’s predecessor, Karen Handel — cannot be trusted.
Possible Russian interference in U.S. politics, including attempts to penetrate voting systems, has been an acute national preoccupation since the Obama administration sounded the alarm more than a year ago.
Kemp and his GOP allies insist Georgia’s elections system is secure. But Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff, believes server data was erased precisely because the system isn’t secure.
“I don’t think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious,” she said.

Where is the national movement for elections integrity?  After all, without that there can be no democracy.  None.

Added later:  More information can be found here.  Note that the server and two backups were all wiped clean, on purpose.

On The Latest Steele Dossier "Scandal"

Here's the interesting fact about this latest "Hillary Clinton scandal:"

I have known for a very long time* that the so-called Steele dossier was acquired in the form of opposition research.  The project was first paid for by a Republican anti-Trump donor, during the Republican primaries.  Once Trump won the Republican candidacy, that person withdrew his or her funding (for obvious reasons) and from that point onward the funding of the project was by Democrats.

So if I, a mere blogger, have had this knowledge from reading easily available published material, then surely the same is true of all those journalists?  It doesn't really seem to make any difference if that opposition research was paid by the Clinton campaign or the DNC, as opposed to having been paid by "Democrats."  And it doesn't make any difference if some Democratic operatives deny their involvement or if the expenses were incorrectly classified as legal expenses.

Those are not good things, of course.  But they have nothing to do with the question of how to judge the contents of the dossier (which should be done carefully, critically and objectively), and they certainly don't prove, even in some bizarre  right-wing world, that it was Hillary Clinton who was helped by all those Russian connections.  After all, it's hard to argue that she would have paid for the clearly pro-Trump Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The object of the current "scandal" is, of course, to cause doubt on the validity of whatever the Mueller investigation might find.

This might be one of the earliest pieces on that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Today's Pictures Of The Powerful Share One Characteristic

I should make this into a series, from all over the globe, to make it clearer how power is distributed.

First, this is the picture attached to one story about the powerful oil interests in the New York Times:

Second, this is the picture attached to another story in the New York Times, about the seven powerful people who will be running China:

Third, here's one glimpse of the powers in North Korea:

Now, what might be the common missing aspect in all those pictures?

We get a few sprinkles of that missing aspect in this one, from two days ago:

The framework for judging these is that half the people in this world are female.

Meet The Republican Party. Or Echidne's View Of It.

I rarely write posts based on nothing but my own opinions.  Here is one, just because this is my blog:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How To Write In The Trump Reich?

John Thomas Peele:  The Young Scholar (1871)

Writing about politics in the Trump Reich is a fraught enterprise.  So much that needs to be covered, so little time!  Besides, we now live in the post-rational era, which means that rational arguments are soooo 2016 and of no interest whatsoever.  Files nails, bats eyelashes. 

The one great talent Trump has is to direct our attention to his own peccadilloes:  The most recent one is his petulant attack on Myeshia Johnson, a Gold Star widow!  How does one NOT write about that, especially when her husband may have died because of Trump's incompetence, and when Trump extends his temper tantrum to two women of color:  Ms. Johnson and Rep. Frederica S. Wilson?

But then this is how he always acts, unable to take any criticism in a mature way, unable to feel empathy, unable to put any value above the picture he sees in his mirror, and if we always focus on such outrages (in this case tinged with his racism and sexism), then we never get to talk about the other things which are happening behind the curtain:

The great tax cuts for the rich.

-  The expiration of the Children's Health Insurance Program.  

-  The clearly clientelist state his administration is creating:

Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a reported $300 million for the restoration of its power grid to a tiny utility company which is primarily financed by a private equity firm founded and run by a man who contributed large sums of money to President Trump, an investigation conducted by The Daily Beast has found.
Whitefish Energy Holdings, which had a reported staff of only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria touched down, appears ill-equipped to handle the daunting task of restoring electricity to Puerto Rico’s over 3 million residents.

-  Trump's militaristic boasting and threats, combined with his eagerness to see how nuclear bombs explode.

-  The secret and unelected powers who are financing what is happening to us.

-  And — in particular for someone who writes about women's issues — the apparent intensification in the Republican war against abortion and reproductive choice in general:  Cases like this one, and the new battle front that has opened up on contraception.

Sigh.  So what would work?  We need a more optimistic approach to the whole question of resistance, and probably a better division of labor in how to tackle Trumpology.  He shouldn't be allowed to determine what we talk about the way he currently does.  He plays with us, like a cat plays with a mouse, and much of our writing is just so much squeaking.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The State of The Media Address, 2017. By Echidne

1.  Most news web pages now won't let me read an article without white-listing the page or pausing my Ad Blocker.  This means that I cannot read those sites without being exposed to their ads.

I get the reason: The free rider problem is enormous in journalism, and the development of Craig's List and other similar web markets have largely destroyed the old way newspapers used to fund their activities: By selling ads.  Indeed, the whole industry is dying a painful death, because most everything can now be obtained without paying for it, so why pay?*

But if few are willing to pay for news, then very few journalists will be able to make a living, foreign news bureaus will no longer exist, and ultimately we will all be stuck with trying to guess which rumors on Twitter or Facebook might be news and which might be fake news**.  Besides, money will be available for propaganda (which is at least biased news if not fake news) for much longer than it will be available for news, and the Republicans have a lot more money.

That makes subscribing to mainstream news important, even if they do a less than perfect job, and I do subscribe to all the major news sources I use for my blogging (thanks, nice donors).  But I can't afford to subscribe or donate to every single site I might need to read when I research a topic.  Instead, I read the allowed free articles and use an Ad Blocker.

Why block the ads?  Because moving GIFs and videos performing at a certain frequency give me an almost instant 24-hour migraine.  The sites I have contacted have not been willing to guarantee that their ads won't use those frequencies.  If I want to read that free article, I must take a health risk.  It's only fair.

So it goes.

2.  A recent Politico / Morning Consult survey found that 46 percent*** of the registered voters in the survey believe that the nation's major news organizations (p.146) fabricate**** stories about Donald Trump and his flying circus (administration).  How sad that they did not list those major news organizations!

It makes quite a bit difference if, say, Fox News is listed among them or not listed among them.

Republican men and women are the most likely to believe that the media lie about Trump, however, so it's probably the case that the findings reflect this new world where Republicans and Democrats sit inside their own information bubbles and simply refuse to believe anything from outside that bubble.

Republicans have long decided that the so-called mainstream news are not neutral at all, so it doesn't come as a great surprise that when the weird stuff about Trump's escapades comes out it's simply rejected as "fake news."

After all, that's what he tells his acolytes in plentiful tweets.  Though the weird stuff is also in his tweets and easily available to those acolytes!  Now think of those two facts together inside someone's head,  and your own head will start feeling dizzy.  Mine did, in any case.

Why didn't the survey ask if the respondents think Trump himself fabricates stories?  That's a lot more likely than some kind of a vast conspiracy where all the major news media secretly collaborate with each other.  Besides, it would have been fun to see if the political tribalism is equally fervent when the question is put that way.

What's troublesome about this trend is that I see no easy way to correct the tribal refusal to interrogate news sources of all kinds or to learn, more generally,  how facts can be established.


*  The free rider problem is an example of the kind of economic behavior which is individually optimal and rational (you get stuff for nothing), but which is destructive from a wider angle:  Ultimately the news we are able to read without paying will no longer be produced as the people working to produce them will not be paid.

Potential readers often argue that the news media would be paid if they worked in a more objective and better way, and cancelling subscriptions is a fun way to show our disapproval.

But even if the media was perfect (which will never be the case), the free rider problem would remain, as its basis is technological.  We really must think of some other way of paying for news, because a free press IS indispensable for democracy.

**  The problem is not limited to the fact that propagandists have a great incentive to disseminate biased or fake news.  It also includes the fact that becoming a good reporter takes skill, practice and learning, and producing news takes money.  Volunteer laypeople can provide anecdotal evidence and their private experiences, but they cannot replace professional news production.

***  Thirty-seven percent of the respondents don't think that the media fabricates such news, seventeen percent don't know.

As a complete aside, the same survey also tells us 66% of the respondents support the provision of contraceptives in health insurance, either strongly or somewhat.  Even the plurality of Republican men (the group which tends to oppose such things) supports that, and so do the majority of Catholic respondents.  This suggests that the current war against contraception is based on some desire by one of the shadowy figures behind Trump (either the white supremacy boyz or some billionaire with a particular pet hatred).

But what's fascinating about the answers to the question are the very large differences  (pp.119-120) between male and female respondents, both overall and within each party.  Contraception benefits both participants in a heterosexual intercourse when no pregnancy is desired, so heterosexual men, too, benefit from contraception used by heterosexual women for the purposes of preventing pregnancy (and without any side-effects to them).  Yet more men than women oppose the idea altogether.

The interesting question is whether the same men who express opposition in these answers would also oppose the coverage of a safe and effective male contraceptive pill in health insurance.  The answers to that would tell us if the opposition is about not wanting to pay for other people's sex or about something quite different.

****  This footnote was added later, because it occurred to me later:  The question actually has "fabricated" in it.  It's not a good word to use, and it's just possible that some respondents didn't realize it's the same as lying.  Why not call it lying?