Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff explains why Nunes won't release the memo, noting that "The FBI has not been permitted to see the memo Rep. Devin Nunes and his staff wrote about alleged abuses by the intelligence community:"

"The FBI has requested to receive a copy of the memo in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps if necessary. To date, the request has been declined," said Andrew Ames, a spokesperson for the FBI. [...]

Nunes, who heads the powerful House intelligence community, put together the four-page memo based on intelligence the FBI showed him and a few of his staff, as well as Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee. More than 150 members of the House have seen Nunes' memo. Scores are calling for its release, while Democrats say it is "a misleading set of talking points attacking the FBI."

"The fact that Republicans refuse to show the memo to FBI," Woodruff continues, "which characterizes the intelligence they shared with Nunes, has Democrats concerned:"

One aide told The Daily Beast it means Nunes' efforts are just politics. [...] The House intelligence committee decided against letting Democrats release a minority report characterizing the intelligence underlying the memo.

The second curious incident is the new White House voicemail greeting, as David Boddiger writes:

In response to the government shutdown over a funding impasse, someone has recorded an automated voice mail greeting on a public White House phone line that is overtly partisan and blames Democrats for "holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."

Fact-checking website Snopes reported that, on Saturday, "The Republican-controlled White House went so far as to change the outgoing message on the White House telephone comment line (202-456-1111) to an unprecedented message blaming Democrats." Here's the transcript:

Thank you for calling the White House. Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today, because Congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, the government is shut down. In the meantime, you can leave a comment for the president at www.whitehouse.gov/contact. We look forward to taking your calls as soon as the government reopens.

As Snopes continues:

A press release announcing the ad accuses Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and his fellow Democrats of "shut[ing] down the federal government, holding lawful citizens hostage over their demands for amnesty for illegal immigrants."

The press release goes on to call out "Democrats 'who stand in our way' of progress" of being "complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants."

To end on a lighter note, John Prager writes that Mar-a-Lago guests are horrified about plastic spoons with their caviar:

Trump bemoaned the fact that the government shutdown he and his party caused made him have to miss his big election anniversary extravaganza at the Mar-a-Lago.

While his sons Don Jr. and Eric filled in for him, Trump's guests were less than pleased with their $100k-$250k price of admission because they're spoiled rich jerks.

"I hate to do this, but this is a total disgrace, shame on Mar-a-Lago, you can't serve caviar with plastic spoons!" a horrified guest posted on Instagram. "Please offer your caviar with mother of pearl spoons and dishes."

Prager snarks that "It is unclear if the Caviar, like Trump's masters, was Russian."

Trump attacked the WSJ for "misquoting" him in this transcript:

Mr. Trump: President Xi has been extremely generous with what he's said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

I have relationships with people, I think you people are surprised.

WSJ: Just to be clear, you haven't spoken to the North Korean leader, I mean when you say a relationship with Korea--

Mr. Trump: I don't want to comment on it--I don't want to comment, I'm not saying I have or I haven't. But I just don't--

"Ahead of Trump's attack," NCRM continues, "late Saturday, the newspaper released the audio of the transcript:"

We have reviewed the audio from our interview with President Trump, as well as the transcript provided by an external service, and stand by what we reported. Here is audio of the portion the White House disputes. https://t.co/eWcmiHrXJg pic.twitter.com/bx9fGFWaPw

-- The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 14, 2018

NBC News' Geoff Bennett made this comment:

Worth noting this push to discredit the WSJ comes after the paper reported Friday that the president's private attorney brokered a $130K payment to a former adult film star to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump https://t.co/sLrgpdUG7h

-- Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) January 14, 2018


update (9:53pm):
Liberal America contextualizes the controversy:

The reporter was not being dishonest if he misinterpreted it. I guess it comes down to whose interpretation we trust, that of the Wall Street Journal reporter or that of Donald Trump. Me? Of course I believe nearly anyone over Donald Trump. D'uh. When you're dishonest and shady in most of your other dealings, you forfeit the benefit of the doubt in any argument. [...]

How will the Trumpers respond to this? I suspect they'll hear exactly what they want to hear, and they never want to hear the truth.

The duplicity also reaches into Trump's "shithole" remarks. H/t to Taegan Goddard for linking to Erick Erickson's explication of that event:

20180114-erickson.JPG

We now have corroboration of Stormy Daniels' story:

Adult actress Alana Evans claims porn star Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump invited her to their hotel room in a report that offered further corroboration of the Wall Street Journal's account earlier on Friday.

"Evans," the piece continues, "said she received multiple calls from the fellow actress while she was in a room with Trump:

"Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she's with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he's talking through the phone to me saying, 'Oh come on Alana, let's have some fun! Let's have some fun! Come to the party, we're waiting for you,'" Evans told the Beast.

"She ultimately turned down the offer," the piece mentions, thereby foregoing the inevitable hush money and NDA. How many more stripper heels have yet to drop, one wonders...

idiot king

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The Rude Pundit wants Trump's defenders to prove that Trump isn't a fucking moron. Stephen Miller and CIA Director Mike Pompeo have defended Trump, but the Rude Pundit remains unsatisfied, suggesting that we "take a page from Trump himself:"

When questions were created by right-wing nutzoids about whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States, Trump hounded Obama about producing his birth certificate. The best-known birther in the nation, Trump wouldn't let it go until Obama did finally make the document public. Even then, that wasn't enough for Trump, who fanned the flames of crazy until it no longer served a political purpose for him. [...]

So let's demand that Trump fucking prove that he's not an idiot, that he's actually engaged and understands the issues. That he is "like, really smart" and that he understands tax law better than any CPA or health care as well or better than anyone. That he's fit for office. Prove it. Put the fuck up or shut the fuck up. Because right now, we're just supposed to take his word and the word of his lackeys and sycophants. And if President Obama's word wasn't good enough on his place of birth, then Trump's word sure as shit ain't enough.

"Trump's gotta do a press conference," he continues "a real one, not a spontaneous one:"

He's gotta sit for an interview with someone who isn't one of his conservative ball washers. It's gotta be a real reporter who will ask him specific questions about specific policies and demand detail. C'mon, motherfucker. Let's see what you've got.

One can hope--although it's far more likely that "his idiot hordes will tell us that Trump is smart because, indeed, idiots want one of their own as their idiot king."

Alex Shephard discusses Holt's hit book at TNR, noting that "numerous people in the publishing industry have unironically compared Michael Wolff's explosive Trump administration tell-all Fire and Fury to Harry Potter:"

It's a genuine cultural phenomenon. Booksellers across the country told me they sold out in hours, if not minutes. Barnes & Noble's website informs anxious customers that the mega-chain will have the book back in stock on January 19. The otherwise speedy Amazon is even less precise: It warns the prospective reader that the book "usually ships within two to four weeks." More than 1,000 people are on the New York Public Library's waiting list. This scarcity has driven samizdat electronic copies of Fire and Fury, which began circulating even before the book's publisher, Henry Holt, moved the on-sale date up to January 5 from January 8. It may be the most pirated book since, you guessed it, Harry Potter. [...]

For the last year, major publishers have increasingly bet on Trump-focused books like Fire and Fury to drive revenue, with readers being distracted by the daily avalanche of news coming from the White House. Publishers spent 2017 catching up to Trump, having largely written him off in 2016.

HuffPo notes Holt's response to Trump's demands, writing that "Lawyers for the author and publisher [...] issued a letter Monday to the president's attorney, refusing to cease publication:"

"My clients do not intend to cease publication, no such retraction will occur, and no apology is warranted," [Holt and Wolff's attorney, Elizabeth] McNamara wrote in a letter obtained by HuffPost.

"Though your letter provides a basic summary of New York libel law, tellingly, it stops short of identifying a single statement in the book that is factually false or defamatory," the letter continued. "Instead, the letter seems designed to silence legitimate criticism."

Richard Eskow explains how the GOP's 100-year war is bigger than taxes or Trump, and says of Fire and Fury that "the book, and the president's unhinged reaction to it, provide new evidence that Trump is cognitively and emotionally unfit for office." Despite the focus on Trump's (lack of) intellect, Eskow writs, "the deeper forces of history move on, and we ignore them at our peril:"

While the nation obsesses about Trump, he and his fellow Republicans are radically rewiring our political and economic order. The tax bill they passed at the end of last year proves it.

"While Democrats offer complex proposals that tinker at the margins of multiple crises and fight one holding action after another," he continues, "Republicans are thinking big:"

They want to shape the next 100 years. They understand the sweep of history, as former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett told David Sirota in a recent interview:
"Republicans have been working for at least 40 years to get to where they are now. And one of the ways they did this, is by creating a vast number of institutions and outlets for people who think the way they do to create and echo chamber, and really I call itself brainwashing ... There's nothing like this on the left. They don't put the resources into long term institutions and programs. They tend to be fireman. We're gonna rush to put out this fire, and once that fire's put out, they sit back and relax.

"Meanwhile," he adds, "the Republicans are setting other fires in lots of other places:"

The Republicans want to dismantle the collective gains of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. Instead of building on the progress of the past, they want to undo it. They want to radically unmake communitarian society, while turning workplaces, medical facilities, and the landscape into scenes of pollution and bodily harm - a Hieronymus Bosch landscape, but with white men in suits and ties instead of that artist's more customary demons.

Paul Waldman's assessment of Trump as a third-class intellect, but a fourth-class temperament harkens back to the erroneous attribution of "a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament" as Oliver Wendell Holmes' assessment of FDR. Of Trump, Waldman snarks that "He's the stablest, most geniusy stable genius, believe me," before opining on "the fact that the president of the United States is an obvious halfwit:"

We don't need to argue about whether it's true, because we see it every day.

Not only was he the most uninformed candidate in memory, he had no evident interest in learning about any substantive issue--yet proclaimed himself to know more about everything than anyone.

Contrast Trump's brainless braggadocio with a hypothetical opposite--such as his predecessor:

So if you were building a politician's mind from scratch you'd want him to have the intellect to understand complex policy issues but the judgment to make good decisions with limited information; the social intelligence to connect with a variety of different kinds of people; the wisdom to grasp potential futures from an understanding of the past; and the verbal dexterity necessary to speak eloquently off the cuff, to name just a few of the ways he might be considered smart. Few presidents have them all, yet our current president seems to have none of them.

Waldman then issues this frightening prophecy:

As a 71-year-old man who never exercises and subsists largely on junk food, the potential for Trump to experience a cognitive decline in the next few years is real. If you thought 2017 was crazy, just wait for 2018, 2019, and 2020.

I truly hope that he is wrong.

Ellen Brown examines the plight of student debt slavery in a pair of articles. Part 1 observes that "Slavery by debt has continued to this day, and it is particularly evident in the plight of students:"

Graduates leave college with a diploma and a massive debt on their backs, averaging over $37,000 in 2016. The government's student loan portfolio now totals $1.37 trillion, making it the second highest consumer debt category behind only mortgage debt. Student debt has risen nearly 164% in 25 years, while median wages have increased only 1.6%.

Due to that disparity, it's no surprise that "nearly one-third of borrowers have made no headway in paying down their loans five years after leaving school, although many of these borrowers are not in default:"

They make payments month after month consisting only of interest, while they continue to owe the full amount they borrowed. This can mean a lifetime of tribute to the lenders, while the loan is never paid off, a classic form of debt peonage to the lender class.

What happens if they don't pay up on time? Many people can't, which is why "the default rate on student debt was over 11% at public colleges and was 15.5% at private for-profit colleges:"

Defaulted borrowers risk damaging their credit and their ability to borrow for such things as homes, cars, and furniture, reducing consumer demand and constraining economic growth. Massive defaults could also squeeze the federal budget, since taxpayers ultimately cover any unpaid loans.

"It hasn't always been this way," she reminds us:

Until the 1970s, tuition at many state colleges and universities was free or nearly free. Education was considered an obligation of the public sector, and costs were kept low.

In Part 2, Brown mentions an estimate that "the government spends $38 for every $1 it recovers from defaulted debt. The other $37 goes to the debt collectors." To this, she simply asks, "Why?"

Student borrowers are reporting widespread mishandling of accounts, unexplained exorbitant fees, and outright deception as they are bullied into default, tactics similar to those that homeowners faced in the foreclosure crisis.

The public banking movement is a partial solution, as is tuition-free higher education. Such efforts might prevent the problem from worsening, but what to do about the current situation?

We need to free our students from the system of debt slavery that has financialized education, turning it from an investment in human capital into a tool for exploiting the young for the benefit of private investors.

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Selingo mentions a related problem, the false promise of worker retraining, which he describes as "a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma:"

Employers don't want to expand or relocate without the availability of an already-skilled workforce. Workers who have been laid off through corporate downsizing or because their jobs were shipped to a foreign country don't want to dedicate the time and effort needed to go through retraining without the pledge of a sure-fire job with the same or a better paycheck. [...] As a result of the 2008 recession, the U.S. shed 1.6 million manufacturing jobs requiring just a high-school diploma; only 200,000 returned.

The fastest-growing jobs in the country require training and education beyond high school.

"For a few," writes Seligno, "a rejection of higher education might seem rational:"

After all, why would someone in his 50s who hasn't been in a classroom in decades dedicate a few years to train for a new job surrounded by people half his age and then start on the bottom rung of the career ladder? [...]

For many dislocated workers--or employees who were terminated and are unlikely to return to that job or even that industry--it's often easier to collect unemployment or other cash benefits that come along with training and then either remain jobless or patch together work that doesn't require learning a new skill or acquiring a college degree. But that's not a recipe for sustainable careers or even long-term work.

Something like a 21st-century GI Bill would do the trick, but we seem to lack the political will to make it happen.

Sheriff Clarke lies, as Crooks and Liars' Heather points out:

If former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is known for one thing, it's his irresponsible rhetoric. The most recent and egregious example came just a few days ago when he managed to get himself suspended from Twitter for his tweets threatening violence against the media.

Heather also noted that this tweet made a "wild and baseless accusation" against Hillary:

LYING Lib media spreads FAKE NEWS about me and @realDonaldTrump to fool their liberal followers into believing LIES because as Mrs. Bill Clinton once said, "Look, the average DEMOCRAT VOTER is just plain STUPID. They're easy to manipulate." Classic! pic.twitter.com/8n5tIZKOcI

-- David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) December 30, 2017

In fact, as Snopes remarked, what's "classic" about Clarke's tweet is his mendacity:

"This statement was not uttered by Hillary Clinton, nor was it published in the 2005 book Rewriting History by Dick Morris as something she ostensibly said. We found no record of this quote in any major publication or news account. In fact, the first mention of this item came in October 2015, more than a decade after Morris' book was published, on a Tumblr page dedicated to generating fake Hillary Clinton quotes."

As Heather remarks, "It's no wonder that Clarke is such a good fit for his current job working for POTUS (Piece Of Totally Useless Shit) Trump. They're practically twitter soulmates."

The Atlantic's James Hamblin wonders about Trump's cognitive decline, noting that "Trump's grandiosity and impulsivity has made him a constant subject of speculation among those concerned with his mental health:"

But after more than a year of talking to doctors and researchers about whether and how the cognitive sciences could offer a lens to explain Trump's behavior, I've come to believe there should be a role for professional evaluation beyond speculating from afar.

"Viewers of Trump's recent speeches have begun noticing minor abnormalities in his movements," writes Hamblin, and a prominent neurosurgeon commented on what are "clearly some abnormalities of his speech." He continues:

Though these moments could be inconsequential, they call attention to the alarming absence of a system to evaluate elected officials' fitness for office--to reassure concerned citizens that the "leader of the free world" is not cognitively impaired, and on a path of continuous decline. [...]

Unfortunately, the public medical record available to assuage global concerns about the current president's neurologic status is the attestation of Harold Bornstein, America's most famous Upper Manhattan gastroenterologist, whose initial doctor's note described the 71-year-old Trump as "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

The phrasing was so peculiar for a medical record that some suggested that Trump had written or dictated the letter himself.

Hamblin also observes that "over the years, Donald Trump's [verbal] fluency has regressed and his vocabulary contracted:"

Ben Michaelis, a psychologist who analyzes speech as part of cognitive assessments in court cases [said that] Trump has exhibited a "clear reduction in linguistic sophistication over time" with "simpler word choices and sentence structure."

"Though it is not possible to diagnose a person with dementia based on speech patterns alone," Hamblin points out, "these are the sorts of changes that appear in early stages of Alzheimer's:"

Trump has likened himself to Ronald Reagan, and the changes in Trump's speech evoke those seen in the late president. Reagan announced his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 1994, but there was evidence of linguistic change over the course of his presidency that experts have argued was indicative of early decline. [...]

After more than a year of considering Trump's behavior through the lens of the cognitive sciences, I don't think that labeling him with a mental illness from afar is wise. A diagnosis like narcissistic personality disorder is too easily played off as a value judgment by an administration that is pushing the narrative that scientists are enemies of the state. Labeling is also counterproductive to the field in that it presents risks to all the people who deal with the stigma of psychiatric diagnoses. To attribute Trump's behavior to mental illness risks devaluing mental illness.

"The idea that the president should not be diagnosed from afar," Hamblin concludes, "only underscores the point that the president needs to be evaluated up close."

Elizabeth Drew's piece "Breaking Bannon" opines that "the bulk of Fire and Fury's disclosures, though deeply disquieting, aren't all that surprising:"

It's not yet clear how Michael Wolff, the book's controversial author, obtained some of his information, but it must be assumed that he taped many of his interviews, particularly those used for the long conversations found throughout the book. What Wolff has achieved is to get attributed quotes from high officials about how the president functions, or doesn't.

But the book mostly tells us what most of political-journalistic Washington already knew: that Trump is unqualified to be president and that his White House is a high-risk area of inexperienced aides. The only surprise is that more calamities haven't occurred - at least not yet.

"A good portion of what was released before the book's publication," she continues, "concerns a battle between two of the most talkative, argumentative, self-regarding braggarts US politics has ever seen: Trump and his one-time chief strategist, Stephen Bannon:"

In the summer of 2016, with his campaign lacking a leader, Trump made Bannon - a scruffy, scrappy former businessman who was then the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website preaching white nationalism - the campaign's chief executive.

Bannon, he surmises, "bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have" before his ouster in August:

In Trump's view, Bannon's great sin with regard to Wolff's book was to say highly negative things about the president's family. Trump was particularly infuriated by Bannon's description of a now-famous meeting that his son, Donald Jr., and other senior campaign staff held in Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was "treasonous." But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Bannon might not have been so far off. [...]

Trump was also reportedly furious that Bannon had described the president's favorite child, Ivanka, as "dumb as a brick." Wolff also reports that Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ivanka who would run for president.

Trump's ire over the man he now derides as "Sloppy Steve" boiled over in this Saturday morning tweetstorm:

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence..... -- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

....Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star.....
-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

....to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!
-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

As Shannon Barber snarked at Addicting Info:

The idea of the likes of Donald Trump being any sort of genius is laughable. Narcissistic? Yes. Delusional? Sure. Genius? Not a chance in hell.

NYT's Michael Tackett also reacted with dismay at Trump's braggadocio:

Mr. Trump's self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have invited armchair diagnoses and generated endless commentary.

Trump's NYT interview is remarkable for his pathologically obsessive denial of what he referred to as "made-up problems like Russian collusion:"

DONALD J. TRUMP: ...frankly there is absolutely no collusion, that's been proven by every Democrat is saying it.

TRUMP: Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. [...] Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it's been proven that there is no collusion. [...]

TRUMP: There's been no collusion.

TRUMP: There was no collusion. None whatsoever. [...]

TRUMP: I think that Bob Mueller will be fair, and everybody knows that there was no collusion. I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion. She's the head of the committee. The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they're so angry because there is no collusion. So, I actually think that it's turning out -- I actually think it's turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion. [...]

TRUMP: There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. [...]

TRUMP: I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. [...] There is no collusion, and even if there was, it's not a crime. But there's no collusion.

This exchange is a cold-shiver moment--except for conservative authoritarians, who will probably love it:

SCHMIDT: You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?

TRUMP: What I've done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.

Trump's ego seemingly knows no bounds:

I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn't, I couldn't have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

Towleroad notes that Trump claimed "no collusion" 16 times, and the Toronto Star enumerated 25 false claims in a 30-minute interview:

U.S. President Donald Trump sat down Thursday for a rare interview with a media outlet other than Fox News, holding an impromptu 30-minute session with New York Times reported Michael Schmidt at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He made nearly one false claim per minute -- 25 false claims in all.

The Star is keeping track of every false claim Trump makes as president. As of Dec. 22, Trump had already made 978 false claims; adding the Times interview, the tally will pass the 1,000 mark in the next update.

The Star addresses Trump's "no collusion" claims here:

1) "But I think it's all worked out because frankly there is absolutely no collusion, that's been proven by every Democrat is saying it ... Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion."

Democratic members of Congress have not said en masse that they are convinced that there was no collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. Some have acknowledged that they have not seen evidence of collusion, but they have pointed out that the investigation is ongoing. [...]

3) "I saw (Democratic Sen.) Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion."

Trump appeared to be referring, as he has in the past, to a November CNN interview with Feinstein -- in which she did not declare that there is no collusion. Feinstein was specifically asked if she had seen evidence that the Trump campaign was given Democratic emails hacked by Russia. "Not so far," she responded. She was not asked about collusion more broadly, and her specific answer made clear that she was referring only to evidence she has personally seen to date, not issuing a sweeping final judgment.


update (4:04pm)
Ezra Klein's long analysis observes that Trump's interview "begins with a string of falsehoods that make it difficult to tell whether the leader of the free world is lying or delusional:"

It would be comforting, on some level, to believe that Trump is simply lying, that he is trying to convince us of what he knows to be untrue. It is scarier to believe that Trump is delusional, that he has persuaded himself that Democrats have said things they've never said, that his base has strengthened when it has actually weakened, that it's really his opponents under investigation for collusion, that his campaign has been cleared of wrongdoing when the circumstantial case for collusion has only grown stronger. [...]

Read Trump's phrasing carefully: "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department." It's a statement that speaks both to Trump's yearning for authoritarian power and his misunderstanding of the system in which he actually operates.

"Over the course of reporting on the Trump White House," Klein continues, "I have spoken to people who brief Trump and people who have been briefed by him:"

I've talked to policy experts who have sat in the Oval Office explaining their ideas to the president and to members of Congress who have listened to the president sell his ideas to them. I've talked to both Democrats and Republicans who have occupied these roles. In all cases, their judgment of Trump is identical: He is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform -- his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard.

Digby snarks that, "For the layperson, this is called being a "fucking moron."

Back to Klein, who makes more observations:

Whatever Trump is saying [about association health plans], it does not reveal much familiarity with health policy, or even with the status and limits of his own actions. And yet Trump believes himself, on policy, to be the most informed president in American history. As the Dunning-Kruger effect [see http://www.cognitivedissident.org/2010/10/dunning-kruger-effect.html here] suggests, he doesn't know how much he doesn't know, and that, combined with his natural tendency toward narcissism, has left him dangerously overconfident in his own knowledge base.

"This is the president of the United States speaking to the New York Times," Klein continues as a way to stress its import:

His comments are, by turns, incoherent, incorrect, conspiratorial, delusional, self-aggrandizing, and underinformed. This is not a partisan judgment -- indeed, the interview is rarely coherent or specific enough to classify the points Trump makes on a recognizable left-right spectrum. As has been true since he entered American politics, Trump is interested in Trump -- over the course of the interview, he mentions his Electoral College strategy seven times, in each case using it to underscore his political savvy and to suggest that he could easily have won the popular vote if he had tried.

I am not a medical professional, and I will not pretend to know what is truly happening here. It's become a common conversation topic in Washington to muse on whether the president is suffering from some form of cognitive decline or psychological malady. I don't think those hypotheses are necessary or meaningful. Whatever the cause, it is plainly obvious from Trump's words that this is not a man fit to be president, that he is not well or capable in some fundamental way. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, and so many prefer not to say it, but Trump does not occupy a job where such deficiencies can be safely ignored.

Digby concurs:

He's right. They cannot be ignored. But there are serious limits to what we can do about it I'm sorry to say. We have a psychologically deranged president and out system depends upon members of his own party turning on him to restrain his power.

They aren't doing it.


update 2 (10:56pm)
NPR ran its own fact check, and the NYT themselves identifies 10 falsehoods in the interview:

President Trump, in an impromptu interview on Thursday with The New York Times, rattled off at least 10 false or misleading claims about the Russia investigation, wars abroad, health care, immigration and trade.

electric Boulez

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NYRB's Christopher Carroll looks back to the time when Boulez went electric:

Pierre Boulez, the radical modernist composer who later in his career became one of the most sought-after conductors in the world, was famous for his polemics. "I suggested that it was not enough to add a moustache to the Mona Lisa," he once said.
It should simply be destroyed. All I meant was just to urge the public to grow up and once for all to cut the umbilical cord attaching it to the past. The artists I admire--Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, Berlioz--have not followed tradition but have been able to force tradition to follow them. We need to restore the spirit of irreverence in music.

"This was not simply abuse for its own sake," Carroll continues, "but an attempt to underscore what Boulez felt was the urgent need for innovation in the postwar era:"

The musical forms of the twentieth century, he believed, had been creatively exhausted. His search for the new led Boulez to a brief experiment in the early Fifties with total serialism, which applied Schoenberg's technique of serial ordering not just to pitch, but to rhythm, dynamics, tempo, timbre, and even the way in which notes were attacked. Though he soon distanced himself from the technique--later suggesting that excessive devotion to serialism was a form of "frenetic arithmetic masturbation"--for many this is the image of Boulez that has stuck: a bullying, icy modernist whose music was forbidding and academic, full of jagged asperity and rhythms that unfold in what Alex Ross aptly called "a rapid sequence of jabbing gestures, like the squigglings of a seismograph."

"Yet of all his compositions," writes Carroll, "the one that may give the most pleasure on first listening is one that must be heard in person in order to truly appreciate, and that--perhaps unsurprisingly--is hardly ever performed:"

That work is Répons, a late electronic composition for orchestra, six soloists, and an audio-acoustic system that was recently staged at the Park Avenue Armory by the Ensemble Intercontemporain. [...]

The piece, which Boulez revisited several times, ultimately extending it to a length of about forty-five minutes, is written for three separate groups: an orchestra, six soloists, and what the score calls an electro-acoustic system of computers and loudspeakers. The orchestra sits at the center, surrounded by the audience, which is in turn surrounded by six soloists playing percussion instruments--the cimbalom (a kind of Hunagarian zither); harp; vibraphone; xylophone doubled with glockenspiel; and two pianos, one of which is doubled with an electric organ. Each of these solo instruments is hooked up to the electro-acoustic system, which analyzes, transforms, and spatially rearranges their sounds, dispersing them through a set of six loudspeakers.

20171026-repons.jpg
Boulez's Répons at the Park Avenue Armory, 2017 (Stephanie Berger)

Carroll is quite laudatory about both the piece and its performance:

Far from stifling the human element, the use of electronics in Répons helps bring it to life, giving the piece an almost living, breathing mutability. Hearing it live made it clear why Boulez once said that listening to a recording of the piece was the equivalent of looking at a photo of one of Calder's mobiles.

The Federalist's Tyler Bonin purports to analyze Soviet ideology, and suggests ominously that "this ideology has resurfaced in the United States." Bonin writes that "All speech was loosely interpreted as subversive, and thus the Gulags swelled with political prisoners, especially during Stalin's regime:"

Corruption became a mainstay of the Soviet political system, and continues to pervade Russia today. Russia continually scores low on indices of press freedom, and journalists are silenced or disappear frequently. Vladimir Putin continues to consolidate power. Thus, when considering this bit of Soviet history, two elements present themselves in the context of the modern United States.

Would these elements be Trump's totalitarian tendencies and his idolization of Putin? Of course not. When Bonin sees "a single ideology by silencing and ultimately eliminating all competing ideas," he thinks of "U.S. college campuses today:"

Student activist groups are continually attempting to prevent and ultimately eliminate speech from campuses that contradicts their own ideas, as well as speech that serves as a possible hindrance to activists' collective goal of implementing their social justice agenda. Countless cases have occurred... [...]

Granted, this is not on a scale congruent to the Bolshevik revolution. However, the justification of silence for a larger, collective goal is unnerving, both among our government and the growing activist movement in U.S. colleges and universities.

Any effort to infringe on liberty in the name of a collective goal must be viewed with suspicion. History teaches us that liberty truly is a safeguard against violence and a worldview forced upon us.

Historian and activist Paul Le Blanc takes a more sober look at the lessons and legacy of the Russian Revolution:

It is a pleasure to be with you on this hundredth anniversary of the overthrow of Tsarist tyranny. It is a remembrance that can inspire us in our current struggles against the multiple tyrannies of our time: the tyranny of the wealthy multinational corporations and the governments they control and the vicious policies which they carry out, for their immense profit. For their profit, but at our expense: at the expense of our quality of life, our freedoms, our cultural and natural environment, and more. [...]

The revolution had begun when the workers and peasants - some of them in uniform thanks to being conscripted into the Tsar's army and navy during the incredibly bloody and horrific First World War - overthrew the Tsarist regime in February (according to our own calendar it started on March 8th, International Women's Day).

In this the workers and peasants and soldiers and sailors who fought the revolutionary battles had formed their own democratic councils (soviets) to organize and coordinate their efforts.

Le Blanc points out that "the keystone of the whole effort was the notion that the great majority of people - those whose lives and labor keeps society running - are the ones who should run society," and notes that "such a victory could only be secured on a global level, through revolutionary internationalism."

When we look at the actual history of how the revolutionaries actually functioned over the years, we see that this means not simply lecturing to and at people, but especially in listening to them, learning from them, and integrating what we understand with what they understand.

We also see that it means our being involved in actual struggles in which larger numbers of people are involved or are ready to be involved - struggles not for revolutionary socialism, but struggles for bread, for at least a modicum of elemental dignity, for an expansion of at least some limited rights and well-being.

He ends on an optimistic note:

Some of us who are older are running out of time for engaging with such wrestling - but those of you who are younger, with all of your courage and energy and creativity, will have an opportunity to do amazing things in the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin and so many others who represent the traditions of the October Revolution.

NYT's Dan Bilefsky tells us that Proust's letters to be made available online:

Marcel Proust's legions of fans have obsessed about the meaning of his sometimes impenetrable prose, fetishized his tatty fur coat and bed, parsed his manuscripts and, fairly or not, lauded "Remembrance of Things Past" as the greatest literary work of the 20th century.

Now, Proustians the world over are eagerly awaiting two events that may shed new light on the self-consciously eccentric writer and master excavator of memories...

"Some 6,000 letters written by Proust," the piece continues, "will be published online and made available free to scholars and general readers alike:"

The letters show that Proust wrote and collected breathless, adulatory reviews of his own work and then paid for them to be published in newspapers such as Le Figaro.

The letters reveal that the writer had an adeptness for self-promotion and public relations worthy of the future digital age. All the more impressive, perhaps, he orchestrated the P.R. operation from his sickbed. [...]

Proust wrote his fawning letters in longhand and had them typed by his publisher in an apparent attempt to conceal their origin.

Sartre and freedom

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Gary Cox, author of Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean-Paul Sartre, discusses https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/jean-paul-sartre-cox-demands-freedom/ Sartre and the demands of freedom:

Conscripted at the start of the Second World War, Sartre was taken prisoner by the German advance of 1940. He may have been released on medical grounds, he may have escaped, but by spring 1941 he was back in Paris where he founded the resistance movement Socialism and Freedom. All this time, invigorated by the war, he had been writing his major work, Being and Nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology, published in 1943.

Often called "the bible of existentialism", this dense 650-page book was the extraordinary distillation of everything his monumental intellect had read, written, considered, experienced and discussed for more than twenty years. Today it is part of the canon of Western philosophy.

"Sartre's question in Being and Nothingness", Cox continues, "is the same as that of his major influences, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger: what is consciousness?"

What is the nature of a being that has and is a relationship to the world, that is an awareness or consciousness of the world and which acts upon the world? Sartre's answer is that the only kind of being that can exist in this way is one that is, in itself, nothing; a being that is a negation, non-being or nothingness.

Following Husserl, Sartre argues that consciousness is always consciousness of something. Consciousness is not a thing in its own right but entirely a relationship to the world it is conscious of. This is the theory of intentionality. Consciousness always intends its object and is never merely a set of brain states.

"Existentialism," he writes, "is best known as a philosophy of freedom:"

Sartre argues that freedom is limitless. This is often misunderstood. He does not mean we are free to jump to the moon, or that we can radically re-invent ourselves from scratch at any moment - but rather that there is no limit to our obligation to choose who we are through what we do or not do. This is what he means when he says we are "Condemned to be free". [...]

Post-war, Sartre developed his existentialism in an increasingly political direction. He placed his existentialist theory of the individual at the heart of the Marxist theory of the historically defined collective.

America's military won't save us from Trump's fascism, writes Chauncey DeVega:

When fascism comes to America it will arrive in a style and form that fits our country. [...] American fascism will be empowered through racism and sexism and homophobia.

"American fascism," he continues, "will echo throughout the right-wing propaganda machine, including Fox News, Breitbart and talk radio:"

American fascism will empower its foot soldiers by making them feel like "real Americans" who are superior to black and brown people, nonwhite immigrants, those who speak a language other than English, the poor, and gays and lesbians. [...]

American fascism will try to wear a mask of respectability and normality by carrying the banner of the Republican Party.

American fascism will encourage violence against liberals, progressives and Democrats. [...] American fascism will distract the public through the spectacle of entertainment and consumerism.

American fascism will not need internment camps and political street thugs to do its work. Nor will American fascism involve an overt crackdown on free speech and the free press. It will achieve its shock and awe -- first by electing an authoritarian leader -- and then by slowly creating a "new normal" where the heretofore unimaginable is just taken as a dose of daily outrage until it is eclipsed by the next.

"To ignore this reality," he writes, "is to be willfully ignorant, to be in denial or to be drunk on American exceptionalism:"

Militant nationalism is high on this list. Why? Authoritarians surround themselves with generals and wrap themselves in the superficial trappings of patriotism (such as flags and anthems) because they provide a sense of authority and power. This allows the authoritarian leader to intimidate his enemies at home, provides symbolic and material comfort for his base, expands his control over the state and projects power abroad. Militant nationalism also overlaps with fascism and authoritarianism: They are masculine political ideologies that are obsessed with "virility," "strength" and male sexual potency.

A new Military Times survey shows Trump garnering stronger support among members of the military:

President Donald Trump enjoys far stronger support among members of the military than the American public at large, according to the latest scientific Military Times poll. [...] Overall, about 44 percent of all troops surveyed in the Military Times poll have a favorable view of Trump, while roughly 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. That's a stark contrast to opinion polls of the general public, which have shown Trump's popularity at less than 40 percent and an unfavorable rating as high as 56 percent.

DeVega writes that "Trump, his administration, his voters, the right-wing media and the Republican Party in its present form are a clear and present danger to American democracy:"

Those in denial of this fact are relying on an obsolescent and naive assumption that America's "enduring political institutions" will protect the country from authoritarianism and fascism.

Digby calls the meeting of Alt-Right and Christian Right "a marriage made in hell:"

The producers of "The Handmaid's Tale" couldn't have possibly known how timely their TV version of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel would be when they first pitched it. The horrifying misogyny of Donald Trump's presidential campaign was illustrated most vividly by his responses to women coming forward with complaints about his harassment and assaults over the years in the wake of the release of the Access Hollywood tape.

"Despite Trump's long record of immoral behavior," she observes, "white conservative evangelicals are among the most fervent and loyal of his supporters:"

A Reuters poll last month showed more than 60 percent of white evangelicals back him, a far higher number than his overall approval rating, which hovers in the 30s.

The marriage of the Christian right and authoritarian white nationalism looks like a match made in heaven -- or perhaps in the other place, depending on your perspective. "The Handmaid's Tale" seems less and less implausible every day.

Chauncey DeVega sees Trumpism as the birth of a new fascism, particularly regarding the annual Values Voter Summit:

That label leads to a natural question: What values were actually encouraged by the speakers and attendees at this event?

The answer is clear. Bigotry, intolerance, hypocrisy, dishonesty and violence.

Donald Trump, the first sitting president to attend the event, was a featured speaker. He is a man who almost literally embodies the Seven Deadly Sins as explained by the Bible. Yet the so-called Christians at the summit gave him a 20-second ovation and repeatedly interrupted his speech with cheers. He told them, "We don't worship government, we worship God" and proclaimed, "We are stopping all our attacks on Judeo-Christian values."

DeVega observes that "former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka's comments were perhaps the most dangerous:"

In a speech on Saturday, Gorka included the following threat: "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens, as people unfettered." On the surface this comment suggests that right-wing Christian evangelicals do not need the help of the United States government in order to win their war against liberals, Muslims or whoever else they identify as the enemy. But the context of Gorka's speech -- and what is known about his values -- highlights a deeper and more sinister intent.

Gorka is an apparent Nazi sympathizer who has proudly worn a medal given to his father by the Hungarian far-right anti-Semitic group Vitézi Rend. In an interview with the far-right propaganda site World Net Daily, also over the weekend, Gorka said that "radical leftists" were among the three greatest threats to America along with "radical Islamic jihadists" and China.

"When placed in a broader context," DeVega writes, "Gorka's comments -- along with those made by Trump, Bannon, Moore and others -- signal at how white Christian evangelicals are being folded into a broader fascist movement:"

The white supremacist terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan was and is a Christian organization. White Christian evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Jim and Jane Crow and its campaign of racial terrorism against black Americans. White evangelicals have also backed the racist policies of the Republican Party during the post-civil rights era, and have consistently opposed equal rights for women and gays and lesbians, as well as other marginalized groups. Like Republicans and conservatives in general, white evangelicals apparently possess little empathy for poor and working-class people.

Ultimately, the Bible ought not to be a shield -- especially when too many people are willing to wield it as a cudgel against their fellow Americans in a quest to replace the rule of law under a secular constitution with a fascist theocracy.

Trump's tax plan gets skewered by American Prospect for many reasons:

For example, the plan removes taxes on extremely wealthy estates, slashes the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, and abolishes the alternative minimum tax, which ensures that higher-income households--which are often able to take advantage of lucrative deductions and credits--contribute at least some modicum of taxes. It also gives a special low tax rate to owners of pass-through businesses, who are already able to avoid corporate taxes by instead paying personal tax rates on their portion of the businesses' profits, allowing them a lower effective tax rate. All of these provisions would benefit the wealthiest Americans, including Trump himself.

"According to analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center," the piece points out, "the final year of the conventional 10-year budget analysis. Meanwhile, the average household in the top 1 percent would see a tax cut of $207,060 [but] by 2027, 1 in 4 households would actually see their taxes increase under Trump's plan:"

New analysis by the Center for American Progress underscores the sacrifice that could be required in this trade-off. If the bottom 99 percent of households footed the bill for Trump's tax breaks for the top 1 percent, it would cost each household an average of $1,370 more in 2027.*

This is because tax cuts don't pay for themselves--especially cuts of this historic magnitude, which would reduce federal revenues by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. Financing Trump's proposal would require deep cuts to critical benefits and services that all families rely on.

Trump's tax plan, the piece continues, "is a double dose of tired trickle-down economics, delivered on a golden platter to millionaires and wealthy corporations to be paid for on the backs of average Americans." [See the full analysis "An Analysis of Donald Trump's Revised Tax Plan" (PDF).]

Sarah Jones also observes how Trump is reviving the old trickle-down con:

Aren't companies sitting on a lot of money right now? Why, yes, Virginia, they are. Yet wages are not magically rising.

The stock market is doing remarkably well, yet wages are not magically rising. You can see where this is going. [...]

Yeah, it's actually another gift. For the rich. Only don't think this is just a gift for the top 1%, because the middle class and poor will pay for it one way or another.

"It hurts everyone who is not rich," she writes:

Trickle down is an economic theory used to justify giving entitlements to the top, that has been tested and failed.

To Kill a Mockingbird was pulled from Mississippi school district reading list, reports Rolling Stone:

A Mississippi school district recently decided to remove Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from its eighth-grade reading list after receiving complaints that the book's language made people "uncomfortable."

For those who need a refresher:

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction the next year. It follows a series of events loosely based on Lee's own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s, and speaks to themes of racial inequality and discrimination in a small Southern town. The story includes instances of the "N-word" in reflection of the language used at the time, and is listed as the No. 21 most banned books in the last decade by the American Library Association.

As the article continues, "the book will still be available for students to check out in school libraries, but will no longer be used as the core text for eighth-grade ELA, the Common Core state standards for English Language Arts:"

The decision came as an administrative and department decision, a member of the school board told the Herald, and was not voted upon by the school board.

small data

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No one talks about big data any more, says Slate's Will Oremus. "Five years ago," he writes, "an article in the New York Times' Sunday Review heralded the arrival of a new epoch in human affairs: 'The Age of Big Data':"

Society was embarking on a revolution, the article informed us, one in which the collection and analysis of enormous quantities of data would transform almost every facet of life. No longer would data analysis be confined to spreadsheets and regressions: The advent of supercomputing, combined with the proliferation of internet-connected sensors that could record data constantly and send it to the cloud, meant that the sort ¬of advanced statistical analysis described in Michael Lewis' 2003 baseball book Moneyball could be applied to fields ranging from business to academia to medicine to romance. Not only that, but sophisticated data analysis software could help identify utterly unexpected correlations, such as a relationship between a loan recipient's use of all caps and his likelihood of defaulting. This would surely yield novel insights that would change how we think about, well, just about everything.

"Big data," he continues, "helps to power the algorithms behind our news feeds, Netflix recommendations, automated stock trades, autocorrect features, and health trackers, among countless other tools:"

But we're less likely to use the term big data these days--we just call it data. We've begun to take for granted that data sets can contain billions or even trillions of observations and that sophisticated software can detect trends in them.

Oremus cites Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction and Frank Pasquale's The Black Box Society as illustrations of "the fetishization of data, and its uncritical use, that tends to lead to disaster," and suggests "Another possible response to the problems that arise from biases in big data sets:"

Small data refers to data sets that are simple enough to be analyzed and interpreted directly by humans, without recourse to supercomputers or Hadoop jobs. Like "slow food," the term arose as a conscious reaction to the prevalence of its opposite.

Martin Lindstrom's 2016 book Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Big Trends looks intriguing, as Oremus concludes:

There is some hope, then, that in moving away from "big data" as a buzzword, we're moving gradually toward a more nuanced understanding of data's power and pitfalls. In retrospect, it makes sense that the sudden proliferation of data-collecting sensors and data-crunching supercomputers would trigger a sort of gold rush, and that fear of missing out would in many cases trump caution and prudence. It was inevitable that thoughtful people would start to call our collective attention to these cases, and that there would be a backlash, and perhaps ultimately a sort of Hegelian synthesis.

Threepers

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Mother Jones notes that there was another right-wing terrorist incident this weekend:

Early this Saturday, a day most of the country spent watching the violence spilling over from white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, a 23-year-old claiming to be a member of the Three Percenters militia named Jerry Drake Varnell was arrested as he tried to set off a truck bomb outside a bank in Oklahoma City.

Varnell allegedly told an FBI informant that "I'm out for blood," and "I'm going after government officials." He claimed that the bombing "was not an attack on America, it was a retaliation," then said it was "also a call to arms... The time for revolution is now." Where does this come from? Mother Jones explains that "Varnell described himself as holding 'III% ideology,' and wanting to kick off an anti-government revolution:"

Three percenters, as they call themselves, are ideological descendants of radical and conspiracy-minded right-wing groups dating back to the John Birch society of the 1960s, and running up through the militia movements that grew up in the 1990s--but today the groupings are much larger and bolder.

The movement takes its name from an oft-told myth that only three percent of the male population of the American colonies was willing to fight in the Patriot armies during the Revolutionary War, and the idea is of a loose grouping of self-proclaimed Patriots and defenders of the Constitution, ready to do "whatever it takes" to defend the country against what they see as creeping federal tyranny, and to resist in the case of a foreign invasion or a declaration of martial law. The Oath Keepers, which is the largest and best known, once claimed to have 30,000 members (the man who claims to have coined the phrase "three percenter" is also a member of the Oath Keepers) and emerged into national prominence after a string of standoffs in the West, when members either led or helped to lead armed paramilitary protests that succeeded in forcing federal agents to back off enforcement actions in Nevada, Oregon, and Montana.

Noting their growth since last year's election, Mother Jones notes that "Oath Keepers and unaffiliated Three Percenters have appointed themselves something like the armed wing of the Trump revolution:"

Three Percenters and Oath Keepers have become a fixture of alt-right rallies, where they serve as paramilitary "protection" against attacks from counter-demonstrators. Three Percenter groups and Oath Keepers have always claimed to disavow white supremacy--but militiamen wearing full tactical gear, carrying semiautomatic rifles, and wearing prominent "III%" patches were everywhere in Charlottesville, blending the ideologies of anti-federal Constitutionalists with the hardest core of the white supremacist alt-right. The militias came openly ready for battle, with helmets and body armor.

This mentality of paramilitary paranoia is a troubling indicator...

It amuses me to see conservatives complaining about liberal bias--from Republicans. For example,
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) "who is not known for having the keenest intellect on Capitol Hill," wrote on Facebook that "the media was [sic] never this critical to President Obama, the recent Harvard study proves that the media has [sic] applied a completely different standard to President Trump." [The "different standard" in Trump's case was that they puffed up his early candidacy into a newsworthy event with billions of dollars' worth of free publicity, but that's another story.]

"Duncan, like many on the right, sees a recent study of the mainstream coverage of Trump's first 100 days in office," the piece continues, "as solid proof that the media treat Trump unfairly:"

It looked at news reports "in the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC, and three European news outlets," and found that 80 percent of Trump's coverage by those outlets was negative - significantly higher than the shares for Barack Obama (41 percent negative), George W. Bush (57 percent) and Bill Clinton (60 percent) at this point in their presidencies. Conservative publications greeted the report with headlines like, "Harvard Study Confirms Media Bias Against Trump," and "Harvard Report: There Is A Huge Anti-Trump Bias In Corporate Media."

"The obvious response," the piece observes, "is that the vast majority of stories about famine, natural disasters, and genital warts are negative, and that doesn't imply a bias on the part of those writing them:"

Trump's young presidency has been a train wreck, his White House has been mired in largely self-inflicted scandals and his legislative agenda has so far gotten nowhere in Congress. And Trump, unlike his predecessors, has a penchant for impulsively tweeting dubious claims and inflammatory nonsense. [...]

Ironically, the Shorenstein study did find significant bias at one media outlet: Fox News was a lone outlier in that almost half of its Trump coverage was positive. Looking back at 100 days marked by chaos and failure, it's hard to imagine what a truly fair and balanced news outlet possibly could have covered in order to run so many positive segments.

As the study itself notes, "the fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising:"

The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.

What's truly atypical about Trump's coverage is that it's sharply negative despite the fact that he's the source of nearly two-thirds of the sound bites surrounding his coverage.

"Trump's first 100 days were a landmark," the study continues, partly because "Trump did most of the talking:"

He was the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of his coverage. Members of the administration, including his press secretary, accounted for 11 percent of the sound bites. Other Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, accounted for 4 percent. Altogether, Republicans, inside and outside the administration, accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about the Trump presidency. [emphasis added] Democrats did not have a large voice in Trump's coverage, accounting for only 6 percent of the sound bites. Participants in anti-Trump protests and demonstrations accounted for an additional 3 percent.

One can hardly fault the "liberal" media for the fact that quoting Trump and other Republicans is considered to constitute negative news.

The Advocate points out that today's sci-fi is odd in its adherence to strict gender norms. A notable example is "The Wachowski sisters' remarkable Netflix series, Sense8:"

The cluster of eight we follow is diversity itself -- a Kenyan, a German, an Indian, an Icelander, people of color, a Brazilian gay man, and a Bay Area transgender woman. In nearly every episode, a cluster character denounces humanity's unfortunate propensity to fear and oppress those we see as different, as the "Other."

And yet...

Not a single genderqueer person anywhere. Not in this cluster. Not in the others. Not in any character they interact with. [...] Apparently gender difference is the Other that must not speak its name. And this is from a team where not one but both siblings have bravely and publicly transitioned to be trans women. Et tu, Lana and Lilly?

Moreover, all of this occurs in science fiction, a genre invented to let creative imaginations run wild with possibility. Apparently veering from the gender binary is not among the possible. And in this, Sense8 is hardly alone.

Despite citing the example of Jaye Davidson in the Stargate film (1994), the piece expresses no small amount of dismay:

In short, even our best creative minds are simply unable to imagine, under any circumstances, on any world, in any galaxy, in any alien form, a character who is nonbinary and/or profoundly gender-nonconforming (no, please do not feed me Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation). [...] Perhaps for a truly genderqueer sci-fi character we must wait for Taylor on Showtime's series Billions to don a space suit and launch a hedge fund on Tatooine.

Surely all that imaginative power can envision the realm of gender and sexuality as imaginatively as aliens, spaceships, and superpowers?

Captain Hydra?

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So, is anyone familiar with this Captain America cover from a few years back?

20170423-captainamerica.jpg
(Paolo Rivera, 2013)

The current series Captain America: Steve Rogers has taken flak for a plot twist where Cap reveals a secret allegiance to the fascistic organization Hydra. I happened to find a brutally sarcastic comment addressed to writer Nick Spencer:

Thanks a lot, Nick Spencer. You turned captain America into the new symbol of nazism.

I don't care if he's trying to "make a commentary" or some shit like that, he turned an icon that represented hope and what's good about the US, an icon created by JEWISH writers and artists and turned him into a symbol of hatred.

Good. Fucking. Job.

The post contains a disturbing image [no, I'm not going to post it here] wherein some douchenozzle/twatwaffle/Nazi-sympathizing-fucktard on DeviantArt decided to desecrate Cap's iconography from the cover above by replacing the US flag with one from Nazi Germany, and the stars on his uniform and shield with swastikas. It's some really lazy, low-rent bullshit appropriation that's completely inimical to Cap's Nazi-punching origin:

20131030-captainamerica.jpg

[See my posts here and here about Cap's decidedly anti-fascist liberalism--as if there were any other kind!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The video is actually worth watching:

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

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

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

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

Medwed continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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