Monday, June 26, 2017

The Weird Free Market Religion of the Conservatives: Three Recent Examples.



The free market religion of many conservative politicians bears little resemblance to what markets mean in economics.  I wasn't aware of that until I became obsessed with politics.  But now there are days when I read conservative market-focused opinions which make my eyes try to look in opposite directions. 

Take three recent examples:

First, the nightmarish fire at the Grenfell Tower in London was made more devastating by inadequate fire safety.  The New York Times:

The fire that destroyed a London apartment building, killing at least 79 people, provides a grim warning about the dangers of a regulatory approach President Trump has made official policy in Washington.
One of the safety failures under investigation in the fire is the lack of sprinklers in the 24-story Grenfell Tower. High-rises built in England since 2007 must have sprinklers, but older ones, like Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, do not have to be retrofitted with them.
And why don't they have to be retrofitted?  The answer has to do with the Demon of Regulations.  If you are a believer in the Free-Market God, you also believe in demanding that two or three old regulations must be abolished for every new one that is created.  Here's the UK take on that:

Speaking in February 2014 during Fire Sprinkler Week, some of the members of the British House of Commons were all for sprinklers, but not for regulations to require them.
“We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation,” Brandon Lewis, who would later become housing minister for the Conservative government, said after praising the one-in, two-out formula then in use.

Butbutbut:  The customer in this particular case would have been the local government, because Grenfell Tower was council housing, that is public housing operated by the local council!  (This is why my eyes attempt to look at opposite directions while reading.)

Is the government supposed to act like a reluctantly-persuadable consumer in such markets, expecting the suppliers to talk it into buying sprinkler systems?   And if so, how do we model the fact that the people who are going to be housed in that building are not the people in the government who make those choices?  The incentives the latter have are very different from those the former would have.

Second,  the most recent health care proposal by the US Republican Senators seems to assume that markets are run the way an imaginary Santa Claus runs the Christmas presents industry:  If you work hard enough, you get good insurance for yourself and your family from your employer.   Here's Mike Pence, or Dear Vice President, with that market-based message:






So.  There's little need for Medicaid, the program which pays for health care for certain groups of the poor and for the majority of the elderly in long-term nursing home care, because it's interpreted as largely used by gormless and lazy able-bodied adults, who could buy their own health care coverage if they only bothered getting a job and showing some personal responsibility!

The truth is quite a bit different:

In reality, those who benefit from this $545-billion-a-year program are not so easily typecast. More than 70 million Americans, or 1 in 5, use this government program. And they come from all walks of life—including people you know.
It could be your grandmother—one-quarter of Medicaid enrollees are elderly people or disabled adults.
It could be the child next door. About half of Medicaid enrollees are children, many of them with special needs.
The rest are adults without disabilities who earn too little to afford health insurance otherwise. Many of them are working: Six in 10 able-bodied adults on Medicaid have a job. And 78 percent of Medicaid recipients are part of a household with at least one person working full time. Many of those who don't work are caregivers for other people.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 14 million Medicaid recipients could lose their coverage if GOP plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA) become law.

And sixty-four percent of the elderly in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.  Many of those elderly come from the middle class, by the way, and many probably voted for Republicans.  The reason for such a high dependency on Medicaid to pay for nursing homes is the cost of long-term care (which Medicare does not cover).  Few families can afford, say,  $ 6,000 per month to keep grandpa or grandma in the nursing home, and few families can afford to do without at least one full-time earned income to give that care at home.*

The conservative view, reflected in the " Health Wealth Care" proposal (crafted by a small group of very wealthy white men), is firmly based on unquestioning faith in the God of Markets:

All employers are assumed to provide good health insurance without any regulations demanding them to do so, and health care markets are assumed to compete in price and to automatically result in the most efficient care bundles**.  Neither of those assumptions hold in reality.

But then, of course, the Wealth Care proposal is exactly that:  A device to move billions into the pockets the Republicans see as belonging to the rightful owners of that money.

Third,  have you noticed how comfortable we all now seem to be with the increasing market concentration in many industries?  That Amazon might purchase Whole Foods is perfectly fine.  That we might end up getting all our news from media owned by Rupert Murdoch or someone equally rich is just how things are.

There was a time when market competition meant the very opposite of one or few large firms taking over a market, because the latter situation is bad news for consumers, resulting in higher prices and less choice. We even used to have something called the Federal Trade Commission, to regulate the tendencies toward market concentration by enforcing the anti-trust laws of the nation.

Well, we still have the FTC and those laws, but it's not the American consumers they now seem to protect.

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*  Anyone glibly assuming, as a money-saving proposal,  that a patient with dementia, say, could easily be cared for at home (probably by women and without pay) needs to be fed into a wood chipper, feet first, so as to maximize the pain of the experience. 

I understand that some voluntarily choose to do that care, out of love, but the sacrifice required is enormous and should never be just expected, especially by those who are never planning to do it themselves.  Besides, few families can provide 24-hour care which is needed for dementia patients.


**  The markets for health care are the textbook example of how and why markets fail.  If we used medical technology for those failings the list of diseases of health care markets would be almost endless.

This doesn't mean that markets cannot be used at all.  But it does mean that the ability of the markets to result in high-quality-low-price combinations is pretty limited outside the kinds of services people buy fairly routinely, and it does mean that the markets need regulation.
    







Thursday, June 22, 2017

The "Hectoring" Nancy Pelosi



Did you know that Jon Ossoff didn't lose the special election in Georgia because district six there is a deep, deep, deep red conservative place where his victory would have been a miracle in any case, but because of Nancy Pelosi, that ugly old hag from San Francisco with San Francisco liberal values (baby killing, homosexual marriages)?

That's the take of many political writers I have read today, but nobody went quite as far as Matt Lewis at the Daily Beast.  He ends his list of Pelosi's horrible flaws by writing this:
The last reason Pelosi was such an inviting target is that she’s not just a liberal; she’s a liberal woman of a certain age. Now it’s politically incorrect to admit this, but it seems that in much of the county, whether we’re talking Hillary or Pelosi, they come across as hectoring. What is more, this stereotype plays into policy concerns about the “nanny state,” etc. We can label this visceral dislike of them “sexist” if we want, but it seems to be that a lot of men and women alike are repelled by their style. To be sure, it is dangerous for me (as a dude) to note this, but it seems to be an observable phenomenon that liberals would do best not to ignore. 

I had to roll on the floor a bit (yes, snakes can do that very well), laughing until I cried.  Matt thinks that old women are really icky, their speech is hectoring,  and they should shut up.  Better still, they shouldn't be in positions of power.  

He is aware, poor thing, that those opinions some mistaken people might see as sexism, but because sexism is so fu**ing common, Democrats should get on board with it.  Perhaps a handful of young and nubile women can be employed to lick the envelopes so that the female base of the Democratic Party won't completely go away?

That is so precious.  I"m glad, in a weird way, to be living during an era when not only fascism but even fairly overt bipartisan sexism is returning, because then we can speak about it, though so far it has been mostly in euphemisms about the necessary end of "identity politics."

Let's put that into a wider framework (1):  The United States has never had a female president, the current Congress is 81.6% male, while men are less than one half of all Americans.  There are only four female governors in the US, Nancy Pelosi was the first (and so far the only) female Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Hillary Clinton was the first woman nominated by a major party to run for the presidency of the United States.

But even those numbers are too much!  The screeching and hectoring vampire bitches from the iciest hell are rising and grappling for the bloody crowns which rightfully belong to others!  And they are no longer even young enough to be fertile eye-candy! (2) 

Political diatribe is very different when its object is a female politician.  Even Sarah Palin suffered from that, so a woman doesn't necessarily have to be an old hag from San Francisco to get Hillarized:  The criticism is more bitter when it is aimed at women, the hind-brain thoughts blurt out as they did in that quote above, and I always smell a strong whiff of outrage: "howdareshe!"

So this is a rant, because I have earned the right to rant on my blog.  It's not that Lewis isn't correct about the enduring nature of American sexism, the dislike of powerful women, the interpretation of their speech style as "hectoring" or "screeching", although he doesn't address any of the reasons for that sexism, but suggests that we should just all get along with sexism. 

But thinking about the reasons is useful before we make that crucial decision:

The right-wing fundamentalists are taught that women are not to be dominant over men and should stay silent in the public sphere.  The online MRA and Alt Right trolls agree and see their task as the monitoring and control of uppity women of all colors.  Some other fractions of the conservatives (including the MRA and Alt Right ones) believe that evolution has created women to be naturally submissive and home-oriented, that evolution has created men to only value young boobs in women and that societies are naturally led by men.

Feminists have been labeled man-haters, home-wreckers and feminazis so successfully that many women won't even call themselves by that term (or define it so widely that men drop out of the picture altogether) even when they agree with such boring values as gender equality and general fairness.

Finally, because women are still scarce in politics, every powerful woman becomes a mythical symbol for all womanhood, and that elicits real fears in those who don't want to see their own gendered lives changed in unpredictable ways.

But remember also the Million Women Marches.  Remember that women, right now, are the backbone of the Resist-movement.  Remember that it is women of African ancestry who have been the most faithful of all Democratic voters.  And remember that if the Democratic Party loses its female base it can surely kiss goodbye to most political power. 




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(1)  Think about that data for a few minutes and then relate it to the kind of coverage Hillary Clinton's campaign got in the vast majority of news.  We all politely agreed to close our eyes to the fact that she was attempting something unprecedented.

Instead, we argued about how bad a candidate she exactly might be, and though most on the left would start their attacks on her by stating thatofcoursethereissexismofcourse, the final assessment tended to be that she was a very flawed candidate, never mind why,  and that she represented only the waning powers of the Clinton clique.  Now, women, by the very definition, cannot represent the waning powers, as women have never been in power in the US.  It's a miracle how easily we forget that.

(2)  These comments are from following the criticisms of various female politicians over the last years.  Many are from comments sections, some from actual columns or articles.

It is not only men, by the way,  who view powerful women with discomfort.  We are all born into the same culture and the messages women receive while growing up make many internalize sexist views.  Besides, the gains from feminists activism are unlikely to accrue in the near future, while its costs certainly will.  Patriarchal structures, on the other hand, reward their supporters almost instantly.










Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More Information on Those White Working Class Voters Who Went For Trump


You can listen to John Sides, a  political scientist who has studied this topic here, starting at 15:30 and ending at 37:24. 

It's well worth your time if you want to understand why some white working class voters voted for Obama in 2012 but moved to Trump in 2016.  That's because Sides' research has something other studies of the 2016 elections lack:  A data bank of the political opinions of the same 8000 individuals over several years.

This allowed him to see how a person's attitudes and opinions in, say, 2011 seem to have influenced that person's vote in 2012 and also in 2016. 

That resolves several problems cross-sectional studies done on, say, the level of a county in 2016 have.  For instance, if a county went for Obama in 2012 but for Trump in 2016 a cross-sectional county-level study cannot tell us why that happened.  Perhaps those who voted for Obama in 2012 stayed at home in 2016 in greater numbers or perhaps those who voted for Trump in 2016 stayed at home in 2012 in great numbers or perhaps a large number of voters switched parties etc.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Things To Read, 6/19/17



1.  This article by Jerry Useem says that power causes brain damage.  That would be human power, not electricity, say.

I don't have any expertise in the required field, so take this with a pinch of salt*:

Useem's article reminded me not so much about brain damage but about how social intelligence is developed and maintained.  The lower you are on some totem pole, the more social intelligence you need to survive and thrive.  This applies particularly to the ability to read the mood and intentions of the more powerful people, to become "bilingual" in a different sense.

Once someone is sufficiently powerful, the demand for those skills is much less and the skills themselves can rust.  But there are people who have never had the need to develop social intelligence of that type.

2.  Rebecca Traister has interviewed suburban white Democratic women in Georgia's sixth district,  a very Republican area.  These women were not politically active in the past, but the election of Donald Trump woke them up, and they are now very active.

This doesn't mean that Ossoff is bound to win the special election, but it might make those of us more cheerful who were despondent over the number of white women who voted for Trump.  Besides, it's important to read encouraging pieces, too.**

3.  The Republican Senators are designing our health care system and they won't let anyone else look over their shoulders to see what the Senate proposal might contain.  But as Jeffrey Young points out, the result will certainly be something much worse than the Affordable Care Act, except for the quite wealthy.

Still, I detest that secrecy, because its intention is to make it impossible to properly critique the proposal.  Instead, it will be rammed down our throats.

4.  An example of modern sharecropping?  In sharecropping the poor peasants bore all risk while the owners of the land they farmed were guaranteed a certain annual income with no risks.

If the linked story has its facts correct, this modern case is even worse:

It's as if the sharecroppers were promised the chance to buy the fields they farmed by making small regular payments over time.  But one failed harvest or delayed payment would have given the landowner the right to get rid of the sharecropper and also keep all the money that was paid toward the purchase of the field.

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* Social intelligence may not be the correct term, in any case.  Social skills might be a better one, because they are skills most of us can acquire. I know that from having lived in different cultures where body gestures, facial expressions and loudness of voice can mean very different things.

** An article I came across after publishing this post also talks about women waking up in various parts of the US.



 
 

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Women Speak. The Examples of Kamala Harris and Veronika Hubeny.



Did you know that Kamala Harris's rapid-fire prosecutor-like questioning of Jeff Sessions was evidence of hysteria?  Jason Miller thinks so, in any case, though of course he used to be one of Trump's henchmen, so references to women and their wandering wombs might play well to Trump's new base, the "Alt Right":

KIRSTEN POWERS: Can I just go back to something that Jason [Miller] said? How was Sen. [Kamala] Harris (D-CA) "hysterical?" I don't really understand that. I mean, she was asking some tough questions -- 
JASON MILLER: I believe this is the second hearing in a row with completely partisan screed. 
POWERS: But, how is that hysterical? 
MILLER: It was. From my perspective, my, I would say objective, perspective, I mean it was -- it didn't seem like there was any effort to try to get to a real question or get to the bottom of it. She was purely out there to shout down --

Whatever one might call Harris's style of questioning, hysterical it was not.  But Miller called it hysterical, because Harris is a woman.  If that connection can be made to stick, we are at the beginning of Harris's long road to Hillarization.

Certain adjectives have gendered connotations:  Though men can be called hysterical, that label comes much more easily to our minds when we want to apply some derogatory label to women.  "Hysterical," after all, comes from the Greek hystera, for the womb, and hysteria was originally viewed as a medical condition of women, caused by something wrong with their wombs.

I have no way of knowing if Jason Miller carefully picked that adjective, for political purposes, or if it just smoothly flowed out of his maw.  But a slightly different recent event about how sex affects the way we treat people is probably evidence of not overt sexism but of obliviousness*:

While watching a panel titled “Pondering the Imponderable: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology,” Marilee Talkington noticed that the moderator wasn’t giving physicist Veronika Hubeny, a professor at UC Davis and the only female on the panel, her fair share of speaking time.
So when the moderator, New Yorker contributor Jim Holt, finally asked Hubeny a question about her research in string theory and quantum gravity, then immediately began speaking over her to explain it himself, Talkington was furious.
Fed up with the continuous mansplaining, Talkington interrupted Holt by yelling loudly, “Let her speak, please!” The crowd applauded the request.

The moderator apologized, and Hubeny herself minimized the meaning of the incident.  And that's fine.  But it's still worth pointing out that this is something that happens quite a bit, and the way to reduce it is consciousness-raising:

Think about the reasons why ignoring certain people has traditionally been almost cost-free, why ignoring other people has traditionally been very costly, indeed, and how we have all absorbed those rules (though differently, depending on our own status) without even realizing that we have absorbed them, as if by osmosis.

Explicit (rather than implicit) rules also help in reducing any unconscious bias we might have:  Make sure that everyone gets the same amount of time in a debate, for example.

The problem of invisibility or inaudibility** doesn't apply to only women.  It can apply to any group who has traditionally not been powerful in a society, but the most accentuated form of the problem does crop up with women, perhaps, because women have been easier to ignore without negative consequences, and because a modest and relatively silent*** role is still one which fits better with the normative expectations of how women should behave.

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*  This footnote was added a day later, because I forgot the Uber case.  One board member, David Bonderman, cracked a silly joke about women talking too much at a meeting which was all about changing Uber's culture, including it's sexism. Bonderman has since resigned from the board.

It's that obliviousness, again.  I can't think of a perfect parable to explain how it strikes me, but it's as if a board member of a charity funding wheelchairs to elderly people made one of those "Help!  I've fallen and can't get up!" -jokes.

**  And neither does the earlier example about gender-specific adjectives.  There are race-specific slurs and adjectives with negative connotations about gays and Lesbians and so on.

It's not that those adjectives can't be used about other groups, but when they are applied to the "target" group (such as when "hysterical" is applied to a woman), the adjective bears a double-load:  It has its direct meaning and then it brings with it all the stereotypes about that particular group.

Come to think of it, they have that double-load, at least in the case of gendered adjectives, even when applied to some other group.  A man called "hysterical" is also implicitly called a sissy.

***  This article explains how that works in the criticisms of Hillary Clinton's post-election speeches.   Funnily enough, this later article suggests that she should go quietly away.  Into the night.







Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From My Archives: It Can't Happen Here.


One of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote is relevant for this era.  It's a review of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.  You figure out why someone seems to have been able to predict the rise of Donald Trump so many years ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Thirty-Nine States And Counting


That's the number of states in which some part of the electoral systems are known to have been hacked by Russians.  The real number could very well be higher.  Fun snippets:

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data.
...

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

Bolds are mine.

Charlie Pierce has something to say about all this:

We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn't even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary.

What I want to add is this:  Let's go back to paper ballots and hand counting.  Let's have voting scheduled for two consequent days, such as Saturday and Sunday.  Let's make federal rules which stipulate equal access to voting equipment, compared to populations of voters, in all districts.  And if the voter ID requirements remain, let's make those voter IDs free and easy to get hold of for all people.

Finally, Pierce surmises that Obama decided to stay mum about all this before the election "so as not to undermine the public's confidence in the integrity of the elections". 

Perhaps.  But that's a bit like not telling someone about a possible (but not certain) cancer diagnosis so as not to make them upset and worried and afraid, even though it also leaves them in the dark about possible treatments.

We Are Not in Kansas Anymore. On Sam Brownback's Economic Experiment.



Sam Brownback, a Christianist fundamentalist and the governor of Kansas, has completed his tax-cut experiment, though not voluntarily:


The topic on the table: the governor’s 2012 tax plan, the most sweeping tax cut in state history. The governor called the cuts a “real live experiment” of the principle that slashing taxes and cutting government spending would spur economic growth that would power the state.
But over the last five fiscal years, that plan has failed to create enough jobs and businesses, leaving Kansas’ overall revenue — the money it spends on the mass of state services from fixing roads to schools to social services — down by some $3.6 billion.
The Republican-led Legislature, weary of severe budget shortfalls, handed Brownback a new tax plan aimed at reversing the state’s sinking fortunes by raising $1.2 billion more over two years. Income tax rates would go up, and 330,000 owners of “pass-through” businesses such as law firms and family farms would start paying taxes again.
The governor vetoed the plan. But on Tuesday, in a stunning rebuke, the Legislature overrode the veto, wiping away the centerpiece of Brownback’s conservative agenda.

These natural experiments using flawed macroeconomic models are painful for those who must be the subjects in them, but they are useful lessons for the rest of us.

This clip is added just because.  And so is the title of the post. 



Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article155431604.html#storylink=cpy



Monday, June 12, 2017

Snippet posts 6/12/17: On love of Our Leader, anti-Sharia Marches and Russian Anti-Corruption Demonstrations



1.  Today's belly laugh:  First watch this video clip about Trump's cabinet meetings.  Then watch this spoof of it by Chuck Schumer (a Democrat, and the Senate Minority Leader) and his people.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

America Made Paulina Porizkova A Feminist


Paulina Porizkova, a Czech-born model, actor and author, has written a widely quoted opinion column in today's New York Times.  It's titled "America Made Me A Feminist."


(By David Sedlecký - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36940389)

Porizkova compares the role and treatment of women in Sweden, where she grew up, to that in France, where she began her super-model career, to that in the United States, where she now lives.  This is the core of her argument:

In the Czech Republic, the nicknames for women, whether sweet or bitter, fall into the animal category: little bug, kitten, old cow, swine. In Sweden, women are rulers of the universe. In France, women are dangerous objects to treasure and fear. For better or worse, in those countries, a woman knows her place.
But the American woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it. In adapting myself to my new country, my Swedish woman power began to wilt. I joined the women around me who were struggling to do it all and failing miserably. I now have no choice but to pull the word “feminist” out of the dusty drawer and polish it up.
All this is a good reminder that not all cultures treat women the same (if you needed such a reminder).  Indeed, there are far worse places to be a woman than those Porizkova has experienced.  The variation in how cultures understand the role and treatment of men is much, much less.

But also keep in mind this:  Paulina Porizkova has lived in at least four different  cultures, but because of the passing of the time it's different Paulinas who experienced the treatment of women in the Czech Republic, Sweden, France and the United States.  She was a small child in the Czech Republic, a child and a teenager in Sweden, a young woman in France, and a more mature woman now in the United States.

And keep in mind this:  Paulina Porizkova's experiences are her experiences.  The experiences of one individual, with certain demographic characteristics (whiteness, say) and great beauty.

Our stories are of course our own, and there's nothing wrong with Porizkova telling her own stories.  It's valuable and interesting.  On the other hand, someone less physically attractive might have found less grrrl power in Sweden and perhaps different reactions in France.  Or maybe not, but it's worth thinking about.

My point about the different experiences women have at different ages is an important one:  Sexism in those countries where strides have been made in legislation about gender equality tends to hit women at a later age than it does in countries where such strides have not yet happened.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Weekend Reading: On Empathy


You should read Katha Pollitt on empathy toward Trump-voters, or rather the lopsided demand that the "lefty elitist" show such empathy, but must not demand any back in return.

Empathy is valuable and even necessary, as I wrote in my earlier post (which also referred to that problem of lopsidedness).  But our empathy should be aimed at the economic troubles of rural towns in some parts of the US, and our understanding should be applied to solving that problem and the associated problem of poverty-driven drug addictions.

It's not empathy toward certain right-wing values* that is needed, but empathy toward all who suffer, even those who might wish us to suffer more, and the best way to demonstrate that empathy is through proper economic policies, good education systems and an adequate safety net, with encouragement for people to be self-reliant and hard-working and so on.

As an aside, two questions about this conversation fascinate me:  First, why is it assumed that if I lean left politically I am not hard-working, self-supporting or resilient?  In other words, why do many assume that the stereotypical left and right values cannot be held by the same person?

Second, note the sleight-of-hand in the way the basic problem is so often defined by first constructing all of the left as "elitist" (and not the party of the poor, say) and then demanding that those "elites" -- because they now are viewed as elites -- must attend to the grievances of the down-trodden Trump-voters (who are actually in power)?

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*  Unchanging human hierarchies based on either presumed divine decrees or essentialist biological thinking, patriarchal gods telling all of us what to do, flawed market models as a form of religion and so on.


On Duterte's "Rape Joke"



Rodrigo Duterte, the president of Philippines, has branded himself as the most vicious junkyard dog, the one that would bite ISIS dogs in the butt.  His supporters lap his threats of violence up.  If violence has rained down from the other side, then a violent bully in one's own corner feels good.

That's the background to use for understanding his May "joke" about raping women:

“You can arrest any person, search any house,” Duterte told the soldiers Friday.
“I alone would be responsible” for anything they did under martial law, he said. “I will go to jail for you. If you happen to have raped three women, I will own up to it.”
This last comment — absolving his soldiers for any future rapes — was widely reported as a joke, and if it was, it wouldn't be the ruler's first attempt at the genre.
Before he won the presidency last year, Duterte joked that he “should have been first” in the gang rape of a woman who was held hostage, raped and killed in the 1980s.
Let's make a thought experiment:  What if Duterte had said "If you happen to have throttled three babies, I will own up to it."?  Did anything change?

I believe something did change.  The "rape joke" has an aspect of titillation, of almost-pleasure.  It's not just a way to tell the soldiers that they can violate human rights as much as they wish, that they can use whatever violence they regard necessary.  It's also a promise of the kind of violent sexual release which wars have traditionally promised soldiers:  The "right" to rape the enemy's women*, because those women belong to the enemy in the same way that their goods belong to them.  Thus, rape and pillage are identical "rights."

When Chelsea Clinton tweeted about that "rape joke" she made the mistake of taking it out of context by writing: "Not funny.  Ever."  It wasn't intended to be funny to a woman, after all, ever.

But Duterte's response to her moved the "joke" even further away from its actual meaning.  He said:

"When your father was screwing Lewinsky and the rest of the young girls there in the office of the president, on the table, on the floor, on the sofa, did you raise any" criticism? Duterte said Thursday.
Duterte used the identity sign between philandering or adultery and violent rape by strangers.

And so did in a way the article I quote for that comment, because it describes Dutarte's language as "foul-mouthed" and "profanity-laced."   I could be truly foul-mouthed without advocating any violence at all.  It's the violence-laced language of Dutarte which troubles me, not any profanities. 

The mixture of sex and violence Dutarte uses in his speeches amounts to a primitive kind of rough heterosexual male bonding, with a strong stench of entitlement.  It will be interesting to see if similar speeches become more common in the US now that Trump has opened the door for Bannon and his white male supremacist brethren, or if the "awful" forces of "political correctness" can still manage to rein it in.

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Or their sons.  Or anyone who isn't an actual combatant but is viewed as "belonging" to the enemy.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

I Heard Comey


By reading his prepared statement and by listening to some of the hearings themselves.  The prepared statement, covering several meetings between Trump and Comey, contains these sentences which Comey attributes to Trump:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President.
 
He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

And:

On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as "a cloud" that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to "lift the cloud." 

Comey interpreted those statements by quoting Henry II on the topic of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury:

Maine Sen. Angus King was pressing Comey about how he interpreted phrases President Donald Trump used in a one-on-one February dinner, in which Trump urged Comey to drop the probe into just-fired national security adviser Mike Flynn.
King, an independent, asked Comey if he interpreted language like "I hope" as directives from the President.
"Yes. It kind of rings in my ears as, 'Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'" Comey said.
...
Those words, some historical accounts suggest, were interpreted by Henry's men as him wishing for Becket to be killed.
The next month, four knights loyal to Henry tracked Becket down and killed him.
What a pity we don't have video recordings of those meetings.  For instance, did Trump ask what Comey's people could do to "lift the cloud" while was sighing, staring at the ground and nervously wringing a wet hankie?  Or did he go wink-wink-nudge-nudge while talking about that cloud lifting?  Comey's statement strips all those potential nuances and leaves us with just his interpretations of the words themselves.

But in any case the evidence suggests that Trump wanted various investigations to be terminated.

The hearings themselves were not terribly interesting, though John McCain did appear to argue that perhaps Hillary Clinton used Russian connections to orchestrate her own electoral downfall.

That argument differed from the other Republican arguments only in being more bizarre:  All the Republicans I heard tried to obfuscate the issues by drawing our attention to that heinous criminal,  Hillary Clinton, and her crime of having  used a private e-mail server for classified documents while being the secretary of state.  That Comey had recommended no criminal charges for her and that the investigation has been concluded makes no difference in these political games*.

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*  Neither does the fact that previous politicians had committed similar blunders and were not investigated on those.







Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Political Polarization. Wear Your Seatbelts, For Turbulence Is Predicted.



Political polarization in the United States may be the main reason why we now live in the Turd Reich*.  Enough people think like Mark Levin:

MARK LEVIN (HOST): So, the spectacle goes on. The enemy is on the move, Islamo-Nazis are on the move, the Russians are on the move, the Chinese are on the move, the North Koreans are on the move, the Iranians are on the move, and the Democrats are on the move.
Let me ask you this question: Who threatens our country more? Who threatens our country more? The Iranians, the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, or the Democrats?

There ya go.  If you are a registered Democrat, you are the enemy of Mark Levin, comparable to all sorts of foreign states, some of which, at least, do not dote on the US.

The left, the liberals, the progressives and/or the Democrats are not blameless in the polarization of opinions.  But the left did not start it. 

Indeed, for a long time (and perhaps even now) the Democrats were the mumbling milquetoasts on political debate shows while the Republicans breathed fire and promised hellfire to the opposition.  Still, the Democratic base is now getting to slightly resemble the Republican base in the way the "internal enemy" is dehumanized.

Whether all this began with the right-wing radio shows, Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News can be debated.  But the fertilizer which made political extremism grow in this country has the name of that right-wing media on it**. 

The audiences loved hearing how vile the Democrats are (because who wouldn't like to be told that everything is the fault of someone else, someone truly evil, so there's no need to feel guilty about that anger), and so the shows gave them more what they liked.  Then the shows stepped one step further by giving their audiences not only right-wing opinions but also only those facts or factoids which fit the right-wing worldview.  (I still get e-mails from The Judicial Watch, a right-wing organization which "fights for accountability and integrity in law, politics and government."  They are still all about about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and their representative was on Fox News yesterday).

I see faint echoes of that when I visit the left Twitter or read the comments on lefty blogs, though the extent of distortion on the two sides is not comparable.  Still, we should avoid copying what happened on the extreme right (which is now most of the right), because it is crucial to know what "facts" or facts people hold and to try to have a conversation, with data and analysis,  aimed at deciding on some shared set of evidence.

Right now Republicans and Democrats live in separate political information bubbles.  Sure, some live in disinformation bubbles, but even those people are human beings and compatriots.

The Internet exacerbates the dehumanization process.  Others do not appear as multi-dimensional people online, but often become condensed into one mistake, one opinion, one aspect of their characteristics.  Empathy seems difficult to maintain toward such one-dimensional invisible strangers who we often only experience as angry ranters on, say, Twitter.  Those angry rants elicit angry rants back, and -- yippee -- another step has been taken toward even greater polarization.***

But that is not where the process began, as I noted above. 

So where is the process heading?

I don't know the answer.  The "elitist" left (which is elitist for some odd reason I can't quite fathom) is asked to stop being so horrible to the heartland folks, assumed to have voted for Trump, though I have never seen appeals for the "elitist" right to stop being so horrible about the bi-coastal Liberal rabble. 

There is contempt on both sides, and both sides should address that contempt.****  There might still be time for something different than a society consisting of two separate cultures which loathe each other, where the paradise of one is the hell of the other. 

But time is running short on that.

A post-script:

Writing this post was like drinking cod-liver oil.  I didn't enjoy the task at all, because the emotional and angry Echidne strongly disagrees with the (more?) rational Echidne who insisted on boring everyone with a Goody Two-Shoes post.    

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*  Because some have argued that the vote for Trump may have largely been a fuck-you vote for the Democrats and for eight years of the Obama administration.

**  I'm not giving a politicians an out on that, either.  How many of you get fund-raising emails from politicians which imply that the world is going to end tomorrow because of the evils of the internal enemy, unless you chip in ten dollars?  Triggering a panic response helps with political fund-raising, but it also increases the likelihood of dehumanizing one's neighbors, co-workers and compatriots.

***  Add to that the online information bubbles.  It's a good idea to get out of one's own bubble, occasionally.  I recently saw several rather nasty comments by a woman who loves Trump.  When I checked her Facebook page, I found that her life is centered around dog rescue, something I have also done in the past. 

The point, of course, is that we human beings have many dimensions.  The Internet doesn't show all of them, and it might be a good idea to keep in mind that the other users are also human beings.  Some are pretty deplorable, but none of us are perfect.

****  I'm not sure how to engage those who believe that I might be the enemy, as Mark Levin seems to think, and I have little hope that I could persuade a misogynist or a racist about the value of people who are women and/or people of color.  But a national discussion about basic values could be worthwhile.  Even getting people together in the meat-space could be valuable, to show that the opposition doesn't have horns and red eyeballs.  Unless they do, of course. 


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

So. Will Your Vote Be Counted in 2018? In 2020?

The leaked NSA hacking report and the woman, Reality Winner, who allegedly leaked it are all over the news.  The whole case reminds me of a large Spanish onion, with many layers, and each of them worth a closer look.

But let's look at the very core of that onion, the part which I find most indispensable to examine: 

Are future US elections safe?  How can you tell if your vote is not going to be altered at some later point in the process?  And what would be so bad about paper ballots and real people counting them?  It would be a lot harder for both foreign powers and either of the domestic parties to meddle with that process.

I have followed the US elections since the Florida debacle in 2000, and have spotted an odd aspect of the elections integrity debate:  Nobody, but nobody, is willing to even entertain* the possibility that the software in the voting machines could be manipulated.  Even the Democrats refuse to entertain that possibility.  Even anonymous people online mostly refuse to entertain it.**

Nobody should assume that the machines have been hacked by the Russians, say, without evidence that it happened.  Rationality requires that.  But neither should almost everybody assume that the machines have never been hacked by anybody, that they cannot be hacked, that even querying the possibility turns one into a member of the tinfoil hat brigade.

I keep reading that the voting infrastructure in this country is safe, but when I ask for the evidence on transparency, on how we can verify and double-check votes, I'm given answers such as the one where voters get a paper receipt of their vote.  To take home.  Which is then not available for verification of the later total machine counts.

Here I lift my tinfoil helmet long enough to look into your eyes, without blinking, while I firmly state that I do not necessarily believe that the voting machines were manipulated in 2016.  But neither do I believe that someone with political motivations would go all out to influence everything about the elections, including hacking the voter registration rolls, and then suddenly face his or her conscience and decide not to affect the votes themselves.

If it can be done, it will be done, by someone, somewhere.  Given that, the systems should be inspected to see if they truly are safe from manipulation, and we should be given thorough reports which prove that nothing comparable can take place in 2018 or 2020, whether it's the hacking of voter rolls or the hacking of the machines themselves or the suppression of the votes of people with African ancestry and/or of students and so on. 

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* Even in an intimate dinner party with no leaks to the press.

**  I get some of the reasons for that.  First, some sites commenting on vote fraud in the past have turned out not to have strong evidence, thus sliding into the tinfoil sphere.  Second, if the elections themselves are meaningless in, say, the trigger states, then American democracy is already dead, and most of us don't want to even think that, let alone entertain it in our homes.  Third, it could be (and here I firmly step into the tinfoil territory) that both parties have always gently massaged the results and so nobody really wants to change the system.  Well, nobody in power today.

I don't believe that last sentence, but unless I am clearly shown how transparency in the voting system is guaranteed, in every single district, I have no way of refuting what it says.







Monday, June 05, 2017

Free Skies? On Privatizing Air Traffic Control.


Why do the Republicans want to privatize air control? This article summarizes the reasons, I guess.

But how fascinating that the ultimate way we would measure the productivity and efficiency of an air traffic control system is utterly ignored in that push for privatization in everything, just because the freemarketgods should be getting their sacrifices:

While both sides of the privatization debate may laud the system's clean record, critics point out its "WWII-era radar technology" and process of physically passing paper strips with an individual's aircraft information and flight plan from controller to controller. FAA's NextGen program to introduce digital communications and GPS systems to replace decades old technology in one of the world's most complex airspaces has been slow; too slow for many in Washington, D.C.

What guarantees are there that a privatized system would produce the same clean record?  I think the probabilities work in a different direction.  For instance, what should the optimal distance between airplanes taking off be?  If that decision is not made purely on safety, but also on the basis of the profit motivation of large airlines, the calculations could be different and the outcome could be a dirtier record, with more accidents.*

And the way digital communications might be introduced should be carefully thought out, because we now know how good various groups of hackers can be.

This post doesn't mean that I would necessarily be opposed to privatization of air traffic control (though that's my initial stance, for safety reasons).  But the debate appears not to have enough data to justify Trump pushing it.  Neither did he campaign on it.

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*  Partly, because there are jobs where trying to keep salaries low and working hours long is extremely counterproductive.  Private firms have different incentives in how to weigh various risks, and the pressure to suppress earnings is stronger for profit-oriented firms.  But tired and disgruntled air traffic controllers are something I don't want to contemplate before flying.




Friday, June 02, 2017

The Small Matter Of A Female President


Michelle Goldberg has written an excellent article about the dreams and nightmares of those who would like to see one half of humanity a little bit more often represented in positions of power.  Of course, to even address this question is for some a clear sign of identity politics.  What's not identity politics is to always have men leading countries, and in the US, with one exception, white men.  That last sentence is for clarification, in case you are unclear about what non-identity politics might be.

You should read Goldberg's article, because it is nuanced and also gives the results from many studies which suggest that being female is a negative for politicians.  What I wish to discuss is one quote from the article, by the researcher Dan Cassino who has studied the role of sexism in not voting for women politicians:
According to Cassino, the long-term solution to male anxiety about female leadership “is that you run women so often that it becomes absolutely unremarkable.” Seen that way, the next primary could mark the beginning of this process. “It’s a coming of age,” Lake says. “It’s not just about a woman candidate. It’s that all the best candidates are women.”

This reminds me of early work by Virginia Valian (or at least reported by her) in her book Why So Slow.  She describes studies where the study participants were asked to rate various job applicants for a job in a firm.  Both the applicants and the firm were fictitious, but the participants were told what percentage of the firm's labor force already was female,  and they also knew the sex of the various applicants they were asked to rate.

The results of those studies tell us that if the number of women the fictitious firm was already assumed to be employing equaled or exceeded some critical mass (possibly 30%), then female applicants were judged as just people with particular job skills.  If, on the other hand, the fictitious firm was supposed to employ fewer women than the critical mass, the female applicants were judged as representatives of "womanhood" first, and that judging was likely to elicit all the stereotypes the participants, both female and male, had about women.

If the same results apply to politics*, then what Cassino suggests could be true, and also a detour around the road blocks the sexists have erected on the basis of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

It's her almost unique situation as a very powerful political woman in this country that makes assessing the role of sexism in her treatment so difficult.  A sample of size one lends itself to few clear conclusions, though I'm pretty sure that Hillary Clinton has been scrutinized through a magnifying glass while one Donald Trump has been allowed to get away with anything, and that suggests to me that Clinton's sex had a role to play.

Clearly, then, we need many more women to enter politics.  That sounds awkward, given the treatment they might expect, but if the critical mass could be achieved the sexist treatment would fade away or at least look for other interesting targets for attack.  On the online, say.

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*  I see something of this sort happening when newspapers etc. report on the filling of important posts.  If the job goes to a woman the article rarely even addresses that, with the exception of jobs where the appointed woman is the first female job-holder ever.  What the comments to the articles say is naturally a horse of a very different color.  But nothing good comes from reading unmoderated comments.

  



 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

More Presents From Trump To His Base


These are fun ones.  For example, you are now more likely to die or be financially devastated in a hurricane or other weather disaster, because of our Dear Leader:  Both NOAA, the agency overseeing weather forecasting and FEMA, the agency responding to disasters, are without leaders, though the latter has a nomination pending.  Then there is this:

For states and communities hit by floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters, the Trump budget slashes another important source of recovery funds. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides money that helps communities rebuild after a disaster, after FEMA has moved on. The Trump budget cuts that $3 billion fund to zero.
Trump's great managerial skills are reflected in all that, I'm sure.

And remember how he promised to drain the swamp in Washington, DC?  To get rid of all those lobbyists?  Well, that promise isn't much honored:

The White House disclosed Wednesday evening that it has granted ethics waivers to 17 appointees who work for President Trump and Vice President Pence, including four former lobbyists.
 Among the high-profile figures who received waivers: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who were both permitted to engage with their former employers or clients. In addition, a blanket waiver was given to all executive office appointees to interact with news organizations — a move that gives chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon permission to communicate with Breitbart News, the conservative website he used to run. 
The rate at which the Trump White House has handed out waivers is far faster than that of the Obama administration, which issued 17 exemptions for White House appointees over eight years.
Bolds are mine.

Isn't that delicious and juicy?  Trump is clearly much more productive than Obama ever was.  And Stephen Bannon, the white male supremacist, can continue communicating with Breitbart News, to equally productively steer the conservative media.

But of course the assumption that the swamp in Washington DC referred to lobbyists is for our consumption.  Trump-voters fully know that the swamp referred to the Democrats, and that Trump promised to get rid of every single one of them.

Finally, the Trump administration is considering handing back the Russian-occupied properties which Obama shut down:

The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
 Those guys are part of Trump's base, though that the Trump administration would consider this move seems shocking, given that

...[the] administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.

Our Dear Leader is the Gift That Keeps On Giving.

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I'm not sure why I bother to writer about all this.  I very much doubt any Trump-voter reads here, what with the news bubbles and the two separate theories about how the world works.



 


"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." On Trump And Climate.


That (from the Bible, of all things) is the proper interpretation of Trump's decision to drag the US out of the Paris climate accord.  It's the refusal to consider the lives of future generations, even the lives of Trump's own grandchildren or their children, perhaps because Trump agrees with Louis XV (or Madame Pompadour) that whatever happens after his death is of no consequence:  Après nous le déluge.

It's a big fuck-you gesture to those who worry about the giant refugee floods which will follow when parts of the world become uninhabitable or incapable of feeding their populations.  And it's a humongous fuck-you to the "elites", the experts (i.e., those who have actually studied something), and anyone who didn't vote for Trump.

Coal will not return to Pittsburgh, even though Trump uttered this inanity:

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Mich., and Pittsburgh, Pa., along with many, many other locations within our great country before Paris, France,” he said. “It is time to make America great again.”

It is an inanity because the Paris climate accord is not about the city of Paris at all.  It is about this planet, and Trump pretends to put the towns of Youngstown, Detroit and Pittsburgh ahead of all humankind. 

And it is also an inanity, because many more jobs are lost for other reasons than the climate accord,  in other industries, such as retail.  But those jobs are not the types of manly-man jobs the Republicans like to use as political bait.

So let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.  At least the capitalists can make money by selling us our last dinners, on styrofoam plates.

Trump's stupidity is a scourge in itself, but the implications of his behavior, including this most recent travesty, are much more serious:

Those who used to be the allies of the United States now receive Trump's wrath, those who do not have the best interests of Western liberalism* in mind now receive his praise and his submission.  The risks in international politics are rising, and the principles of democracy are losing.

It is that possibly terminal illness of the basic values of democracies that still horrifies me:  The world has turned its face toward fascism, religious extremism and radical klepto-capitalism, and enough people in the world like what they see there.

Stephen Bannon, a white male supremacists who is now the main strategist of this country and who wishes to destroy the administrative state (to replace it with what? anarchy?) is one of those people.  The linked New York Times article notes that it's his sweaty fingerprints we can see in Trump's climate decision:

The president’s decision was a victory for Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, and Scott Pruitt, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, both of whom had argued forcefully to abandon the global agreement in favor of a clean break that would clear the way for a new environmental approach.
But let's not just demonize Bannon (though he hardly needs external help in that).  Let's also note that most Republicans applauded Trump's decision.  It is, of course, a victory, if one's goals are only about oneself and only about short-term selfish satisfactions.



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* By that term in this post I mean countries which are, at least in theory,  built on basic concepts of fairness and equality: universal suffrage, freedom of speech and the media, equal treatment of the sexes and the races, full protection for sexual minorities and legal systems which provide citizens with basic safety nets and rein in the worst aspects of capitalism.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Final Fund-Raising Post


My sincere thanks to all who have contributed toward the purchase of a new computer for the Snakepit Inc.  This one is nine years old and a bit doddering.

There's still time to give me money!

As a general thank you, this is Karri, a gentleman cat, who would send me money if he had any:




The Gifts of Trump Administration to the Ladies



I get that Trump's tweets are fun to take apart, and I get that other similar behavioral and linguistic outrages are what draws most attention.  But what ultimately matters to all of us are the policies.  Those boring granola topics which nevertheless can bring you security and comfort or pain and anxiety.

So let us see what the Trump administration is promising to women in their policies:


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fund-Raising Post. And On Trump's Language Through the Ages.


There is still time to contribute to the survival of this blog.  The instructions are in the left column.  My warmest thanks to all who have contributed and to all who read here.

Trump's limited vocabulary has troubled me for some time.  It is an odd aspect of the most powerful man on this earth.  His basket of adjectives is oversupplied with "greatest" "tremendous" "crooked," "corrupt," "bad" and "evil," all very emotional and basic adjectives, easily used for the purposes of exaggeration.

But it's not just Trump's limited vocabulary which troubles me, it's also the way he describes the day-to-day policies and politics of his job as the president of the United States.  If Trump was female,  critics would immediately see the way he evaluates other heads of states based on how he likes them as people and how nice they were to him,  because those are assumed to be stereotypical female characteristics.

All this made me want to know if Trump has always used the same limited vocabulary in the same self-centered and emotionally concrete manner*, or if that is a new development.  Note that should the latter turn out to be the case, we still wouldn't be able to tell why his vocabulary might have changed.  The changes could be a conscious policy, an attempt to come across as a simple man-of-the-people, or they could be evidence of verbal deterioration or both.

To learn more about this I went to YouTube and chose several videos from 1980 to 2017 where Trump was being interviewed on television**.  Interviews provide a context for speech that stays roughly constant over time, though the topics of the interviews do differ.  The earlier interviews I found are about Trump's real estate deals, while the later ones are more focused on politics.

It's important to stress that this tour of Trump's language over time is not a proper research piece.  That would require the kind of skills linguists have.  All I wanted to do is to see if anything obvious would stick out when one speed-listens to Trump speak over the last 37 years.

And I'm not sure what might stick out.  My tentative conclusions are these: 

1.  If we compare the Trump of 1980 to the Trump of 2017 the differences in the dexterity with which he uses language, in his demeanor and in the emotional content of the speech are pretty clear.

But that might be true just because of the passing of the time and the changes in the topics which are covered in the various interviews.  For example, the 1980 interview is about his real estate business, an area where he stood on the firmest of grounds, while the 2017 interviews were given after the first hundred days of his much-criticized presidency.  He would feel more threatened in the latter circumstances.

2.  Trump hated the media a long time before he decided to use that hatred as a Republican meme. 

3.  His use of certain strong-and-simple adjectives ("great," "tremendous," "bad") is not entirely recent, but its frequency seems to have increased from 2007 onward (though this, too, could be an artifact of some interviews having more anger-causing topics).

4.  The self-praise and self-congratulatory aspect of Trump's current speech is very much stronger than anything I could find in his earlier interviews.  If he gave himself credit in those, he did it in a much more subtle manner.

I would love to see a proper study of this topic.



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* I can't think of a better term for the kind of concreteness I believe his speech conveys.  He seldom leaves the narrow emotional word around Donald Trump, even when he talks about global politics.

** If you wish to spend some time on videos of that type, here are the ones I watched yesterday: Trump 1980Trump 1988 (from 16:14 onward), Trump 1989, Trump 1990, Trump 1998Trump 2005 (with Melania Trump), Trump 2007Trump 2010Trump 2014, Trump 2017




The Tweeting President


I have no idea if Trump's twitter account has suddenly purchased several million pretend-followers*, as this story tells us, but if that indeed is the case, what is Trump planning to do?

Notice how paranoid I'm getting under the Turd Reich?  If the government strives to be opaque and refuses to be open, those who try to understand what it might be up to must use the flight -- or the twittering -- of birds to make their predictions.

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* Or if someone else has purchased them to make Trump look even worse.


When Trump Plays Tic-Tac-Toe, Others Play Multidimensional Chess


Trump's isolationist and sulky international politics have repercussions which may not have popped into his mind:

Reflecting on the fraught new era of U.S. relations with Germany, and Europe at large, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Sunday at a beer hall, and contended that her continent-mates “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
Those jitters about already weakening transatlantic alliances were surely heightened as President Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning and accused Germany of maintaining a trade imbalance and under-contributing to NATO. Trump has also suggested that he might withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, which Merkel has championed.
Merkel on Tuesday reiterated her sense that Europe must seek new alliances, telling reporters in Berlin, “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”
The reference to the "past few days" is a reference to Trump, but not only to Trump.  It's also a reference to the American voters' most recent choice and the lessons the Europeans are learning from that in the longer-run:  Americans are unpredictable, easy to manipulate and willing to elect a megalomaniac, narcissist and ignorant president.

Americans are not alone in apparently preferring megalomaniac dictators as both history, especially German history,  and recent elections in countries such as Russia and Turkey tell us.  But while Putin and Erdogan understand the games they are playing, I doubt that Trump does.

For instance, when Merkel states that Europe can no longer count on the US, what are the alternatives she might have in mind?  More nuclear weapons development in Europe?  Closer cooperation with some of the rising super-powers?

Whatever they are, the consequences to most of the world and to the US are unlikely to be positive.  Besides, the increased uncertainty and unpredictability of international politics is a risk on its own.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Day Three of My Fund-Raising Week



It's not too late to donate money to guarantee the future of this tiny blog.  As I mentioned earlier, do not give if it would cause you hardship.

Thanks for reading!

Here are a few fun stories about women, to balance all the not-so-nice stories I feel compelled to write:

Brenda Milner is 98-years old and still works three days a week as a cognitive neuroscientist.

Maria Lorena Ramirez, a 22-year old indigenous Mexican runner, won the women's fifty kilometer ultra-Marathon competition in Puebla, Mexico, last April.  She ran wearing basic sandals (made out of recycled tire rubber), a skirt, hat and a kerchief.

And Rhonda Grayer's family company, WT Stevens, is one of just four companies to be awarded a contract to replace the contaminated water pipes in Flint, Michigan. 





Justice in Bangladesh: A Parable.



Bangladesh is a case study of a country which is slowly becoming more fundamentalist.  Consider the most recent example:

Under pressure from Islamic hard-liners, the Bangladeshi authorities in the predawn hours on Friday swiftly and quietly removed a sculpture of a woman personifying justice from outside the country’s Supreme Court building.
The hard-liners argue that Islam does not allow the depiction* of living beings in art.  Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina appears to have consented to the removal of the statue which was only erected five months ago.

I cannot tell if she believes that such a compromise would make the hard-liners content or if she has other political motivations.  Nevertheless, Bangladesh already suffers from extremist violence:

In recent years, its authorities have struggled to contain extremist violence against religious minorities, foreigners, gay people and secular intellectuals. Attendance at madrasas, or Islamic schools, is swelling, and more women are wearing the hijab, or head scarf.

What drives this radicalization in Bangladesh?  Is it supported by the petro-dollars or is it home-grown or both?  Whatever the seeds that have been sewn, the harvest is not something the world might want to gather.

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*  This is based on the sayings of Mohammed, the hadiths, and not on the Quran, as far as I can tell.  The original intention was most likely to ban idolatry. 

Note that Bangladesh is nominally a secular country, though with Islam as its state religion. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Signs of the Times: Gianforte, Trump and Mulvaney


1.  Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in the Montana special election, joined the war against the media by allegedly assaulting Ben Jacobs,  a reporter for the UK Guardian.  Gianforte's spokesman gave a statement which ends with:

It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.

There ya go. What did Ben Jacobs do to make Gianforte so mad?  Sounds like the kind of stuff domestic abusers say (you made me do it).

2.  Our Dear Leader is working hard to be the PR person for the United States.  It's great comedy or would be, if I was watching it with nectar and manna at hand on some other planet. 

The man has no social intelligence.  I guess he has never needed it, what with having been born with a golden hoof in his mouth and having grown up the little king of his world, surrounded by yes-men and yes-women.

3.  Mick Mulvaney, Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget removes his human mask and bluntly states his views:*

For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. 

Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny. The president’s budget will put our country’s budget back into balance.

Taxation is theft, eh?  I doubt Mulvaney thinks that giving even more money to the already-bloated US military is theft.  But subsidizing the health care costs of poor people certainly is.

Let's see what thieving Mulvaney's budget plans to stop:

President Donald Trump's budget plans to cut the Children's Health Insurance Program by at least 20% over the next two fiscal years and slash Medicaid, which covers millions more children.
Millions of poor and working families could lose their health coverage if his proposed budget, released Tuesday and called "A New Foundation for American Greatness," gets through as-is. It would hit children's health care hard and break Trump's campaign promise to "save" Medicaid "without cuts."
Over the next decade, the proposed budget would cut Medicaid more than $800 billion, or nearly a quarter of what the health care program is projected to spend on poor families.
Poor children are covered by a complicated mix of programs. Medicaid covers 37 million children. The Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, has 8.9 million enrolled. Together, these two programs cover about one in three American children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Elsewhere Mulvaney states that he believes in the social safety net, but that he doesn't want it to be misused:

“If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” Mulvaney said during a briefing with reporters on Monday. “If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be, if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. We need everybody pulling in the same direction.”
But the way to fix such misuse should be to supervise the basis on which help is given, not to cut the total amount of money going into, say, the CHIP program.  Children shouldn't have to go back to work or be punished for having bad parents. 

Their job is to go to school, and healthy children will do that job better and end up more productive and useful citizens, ultimately benefiting everyone in the society, even Mick Mulvaney.

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* This proposal may never turn into reality, but it tells us what the Trump administration would like to happen.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Time To Pay The Piper









Or the start of my begging week* which will run to the end of next week's Wednesday.  This year I have an actual project (other than the usual expenses), and that is my need for a new computer.  This one (bought by my lovely readers, by the way, in 2008) is beginning to misbehave.  It's slow as molasses in January, and I want to be ready for its demise.

Please do not give if you are poor.  The ways to give are described in the left column.  If you prefer not to use PayPal, send me an email about other ways for me to get money for a computer and chocolate.

May I take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, for your past contributions and for being you.  I also want to thank those of you who send me a little every month.  I only recently found out how to send those folks thank-you emails.  My silence was not ingratitude, in other words.

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*  That odd part of Echidne must pick the worst time of the year for the funding week!  I still feel embarrassed about asking for money, even though I do work very very hard on the stories I put up here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Isla Vista Killings


Happened three years ago.  I wrote about Elliot Rodger in 2014.  That post, sadly, is still relevant, given the misogynist online sites.

A Political Paradox: The Anti-Extremist Ideology Center in Riyadh.







The glowing orb in this picture, taken while our Dear Leader was visiting his BFFs in Saudi Arabia, is a decoration in a new center in Riyadh.  The center is intended to combat extremist ideology. 

Most politics has those incredible paradoxes, the kinds which any observer from outer space would immediately place one of her twenty-one fingers on and then shake her three heads with great sadness, trying to understand them.  In this case the paradox is why the country* which is the home of the most extremist religious ideology in Islam would now build a center to combat its own messages to the rest of the world.  

After all, the petro-dollars have financed Wahhabist mosques all over the world, including in Europe,  and it is the ur-conservative and extremely literal Wahhabist interpretations of the Quran which the terrorists in ISIS, for example, have partly used  to create their own theological justifications for terror attacks, slavery,  the wholesale killing of those whose religious beliefs differ, and the extreme oppression of women.

But then similar paradoxes abound elsewhere, too.  The United States is not exactly innocent in that respect, either.

Still, it's imperative to address the long-term negative effects of religious extremism which is rearing its ugly head not just in Islam but also in Christianity and Hinduism

This is particularly crucial for the equality of women and men, because extremists/literalists always base their views of women's proper roles on what ancient nomadic herding societies thought those were,  and then desire to make them today's norms.  Indeed, one might even argue that the rise of religious fundamentalism may be a partial response to women's increasing rights.

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*  The word "country" is here used to refer to the rulers and clergy of Saudi Arabia, not the ordinary citizens of the country.