Monday, February 19, 2018

From Ronald Reagan to Rand Paul: Americanism's Great Failed Notion May Be "Personal Responsibility"

When Reagan intoned that government was the problem, not the solution, he set in motion the modern concept of governance -- less is more. What was truly needed was "personal responsibility." How very American and how, quite likely, dead wrong.

Ronald Reagan, performance artist and inventor of homeless people.

The presidency of Ronald Reagan did mark a change away from government solutions to societal problems and toward individual solutions to societal problems (hope you catch how oxymoronic that is). And the snark in the caption to the above photo is not snark at all. Even during his time as California governor he worked to get the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the streets where, in his view, they belonged.

When you multiply Ronald Reagan's anti-government-as-solution stance by Rand Paul's government-can't-regulate-me dictum you'll likely get a society that doesn't know what the fuck it's doing or is supposed to be doing. And that's the world I see shaping up in American life today, though its roots are back in the Reagan years.

Conservatives might say it represents a victory for their ideology, while liberals will point out you get what you pay -- or don't pay -- for.

If you like what we've got here in America, then maybe the conservatives have a point. But I offer this in rebuttal. (First I want to stipulate that what FDR and LBJ accomplished with their agendas are not all that different from what Eisenhower did or Truman and Nixon would have done for social services and environmental protections. After all, Nixon gave us the E.P.A. and expanded Medicare, and Truman did try to introduce a national healthcare system.)
  • Should we be happy with a healthcare system ranked 37th in the world for quality and close to highest in the world for cost?
  • Should we be happy having far and away the most murderous society in the developed world and yet the highest incarceration rate?
  • Should we be happy getting a D+ grade from the American Society of Engineers for the state of our infrastructure?
  • Should we be happy with a Congress who just massively lowered taxes on the wealthy and corporate interests at a time when income inequality is hitting nosebleed levels?
  • Should we be happy that Congress is making noises that due to our huge deficit -- exacerbated by the recent tax cuts -- we have to make major reductions to our Medicare, Medicaid, and social-safety-net spending?
  • Should we be happy having spent over $4 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only to secure Iranian hegemony in Iraq and Taliban ascendance in Afghanistan?
If you're not happy, you're like me. What's more, there are few reasons why we should be in such predicaments.
  • The cry "we must take responsibility for our own success in life!" is remarkable in the face of near historic levels of employment. Where are the freaking goldbrickers?
  • Corporations are at near-record highs for the amount of uninvested capital they're sitting on, and yet they need a massive tax cut that they can't invest or use to drive up already peaked demand?
  • With the aforementioned low unemployment, the federal government in its wisdom is encouraging states to demand a work requirement from its citizens in need of Medicaid at a time when most of those who qualify are already working, are pregnant, elderly, or disabled?
  • After decades of wage stagnation a modest increase in reported wages (2.9% year-on-year) causes the Fed to raise interest rates in part to drive down wage pressures?
  • At a time when we need to encourage immigration to expand our economy and reinvigorate our workforce (make it younger) in order to underpin Social Security and Medicare, we as a country are trying to cut legal immigration in half?
  • Is it wise to round up undocumented workers by the millions and deport them, leaving major farming and food-production industries with unfillable holes in their workforces?
The spirit that drives these well-documented aspects of our current situation, and the likely outcome of new policy prescriptions, is rooted in nationalism, white supremacy, and fear of the deterioration of the Ozzie-and-Harriet world that disappeared something like a half a century ago.

It's also hilariously ironic that everything that we've done to deregulate our country and promote personal responsibility has been done by or is encouraged by laws and regulations.

Somehow I think government-as-the-problem, deregulation-as-the-solution, and the promulgation of personal-responsibility-as-salvation might have driven our country -- literally -- off the rails. We might want to rethink how important individualism is to a functioning democracy and begin to reshape our country as one that is not afraid to work synergistically for the common good.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Understand Propaganda, and You Understand Fox News (and Russian Bots)

Laying the groundwork for effective propaganda, first one needs to soften the field: create failed epistemologies and muddled thinking. Wreak as much havoc as you can on critical thinking. Undermine established information sources. Then, let the games begin.

A snapshot in time on the road to the apocalypse?
Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Lee Atwater in 1985.

The best way I can put it -- preparing the landscape for a successful propaganda operation -- is to make your "truth" more palatable, believable, by first disturbing as much as possible what people believe to be true. Along the way, destroy public trust in heretofore reliable sources of information.

That, in a nutshell, is what has been going on since the Reagan Era and what has accelerated during the Trump Era. From Lee Atwater to Rush Limbaugh, from Glenn Beck to Sean Hannity, from Donald Trump to the Russian election meddling, the job wasn't so much to promulgate an ideology -- that, too -- but to muddy fucking everything up as much as possible.

Did you ever listen to Glenn Beck? Did you ever notice that he spent a good deal of time making absolutely no sense at all, often while using a blackboard in an ersatz professorial way, occasionally saying things like, "This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is."

It was preposterous to say this about Barack Obama. Whatever anyone thought of Obama, the notion that he hated white people is beyond absurd. His mother was white, the grandparents that helped raise him in Hawaii (Hawaii!) were white. Absolutely absurd. But, when viewed in the context of a narrative that was meant to obscure Obama's (rather stellar) character, it makes total sense, in as much as it serves by making no sense at all.

And so: When you look at all the continual nonsense -- non-sense -- streaming over the years from Fox News, you find that there were a number of levels on which Fox's propaganda could work. First, a viewer could take it at face value (Obama's a racist! I knew it!), or wonder what the viewer is missing (I never liked the guy, maybe he is a racist...) or just be generally bollixed (Wait, that can't be right...). After hearing Beck's remarks, the narrative is hopelessly muddied. Then, let Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Geraldo Rivera run it through the meat grinder night after night, and who knows what to think, except Obama's a racist, Hillary's a criminal, and Trump "makes a lot of sense."

Fast-forward to today. Fox News is best viewed as a conspiracy-theory disinformation unit of the Republican Party, and Donald Trump is best understood as a Russian Twitter bot. Think of him that way, and he doesn't seem crazy. Evil, dissembling, narcissistic, unAmerican, lots of things, but not crazy. Instead, he seems in on the game. And that's frightening. We would be safer if he were a clown.

Note. Three must-read articles that stirred me to write this are from Anne Applebaum revealing that Russian bots are at work muddying the conversation on the Parkland shooting, a college study by Kate Starbird of the University of Washington about how disinformation networks operate, and an article on media literacy in the age of misinformation by noted Internet researcher Danah Boyd. Definitely read them.

Read more here:

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Afghanistan War Has Failed

I've been against American war efforts in the Middle East ever since the Persian Gulf War -- we got in, kicked Saddam out of Kuwait and got out, hard to criticize that -- except for the immediate move into Afghanistan after 9/11, which I assumed, wrongly, would be a police action to get Osam bin Laden.

There's no winning there, never was.

That one moment in time, when bin Laden was holed up in Tora Bora and George W. Bush lost interest and turned instead to Iraq, was the point where we should have gotten out.

Now, sixteen years later, it's too late. We're stuck and can't get out. Still, we should. There's nothing to win there.

For a glimpse at the futility, Google "afghanistan war failed." Something I found was a two-part set of essays detailing the pro and con sides of staying or going. Here's part one; here's part two.

A taste:
If the United States departs, then it must consider how to influence Afghanistan to blunt the most dangerous threats. One option is to emulate the Soviet Union after its departure by backing a client government with money and weapons to enable it to survive. Moscow backed the Najibullah regime which managed to hold on in Afghanistan for several years; The United States could mimic this tactic with anti-Taliban forces. The U.S. might further support these anti-Taliban groups with air power and a far smaller number of trainers and special operators, enabling the Afghan government to survive but hardly to advance. Such an inglorious withdrawal would suggest that the blood and treasure spent in Afghanistan were wasted, but that’s not a reason to stay on.
Remind anyone of Vietnam? A side note: Vietnam could recover because there were no longer competing interests after the U.S. pulled out. In Afghanistan, the old divisions and tribes would remain -- along with the potentially resurgent terrorist groups -- which is why we may never be able to leave.

We broke it, we own it.

Trump and the GOP Are in a DACA Corner

Mainstream media doesn't know how to correctly report this, but the Democrats kicked Trump's ass on DACA. He and the GOP got nothing. All that's left is Trump gets to deport Dreamers? Call that a victory? Daily Kos' Armando knows better. Click on the tweet to read the whole thread. 

Sorry, Trump, you don't get to decide, unless it's to deport Dreamers. Sad!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vox Explains the Unexplainable (that the Trump Infrastructure Plan Isn't a Plan)

Build roads and bridges? Not on my watch!

If you build it, we won't pay for it.

Vox, is good at explaining it. That's good because it's what they do:
The really big question about Trump and infrastructure, ever since he won the election, is whether he actually wants to get something done on this or if it was just a campaign line. This proposal answers that question pretty definitively — by mashing up Trump’s vague rhetoric with his staff’s conventional hard-right politics, they’ve landed on a formula with no bipartisan appeal and no actual path forward.
Final word on Trump's plan? It isn't a thing, and nobody likes it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trump's Infrastructure Hoax Gives with One Hand and Takes with the Other

The words "cruel hoax" sound overly harsh, but they're not harsh enough to expose the flim-flam that is Donald Trump's phony infrastructure "plan."

You'd think that Donald Trump would be smart enough to release his infrastructure plan and the 2019 budget proposal that makes it an insane joke on different days, if only to make it slightly more likely that people who make a living analyzing these things might not notice the contemptible mendacity of the whole affair. But you'd be wrong because today he released them both.

This is at least Donald Trump's third Infrastructure Week, and it's different because he actually said something about infrastructure! And there's a plan! And it's so bad people are stopping in the streets and uttering a collective WTF?! OK, people are not stopping in the streets, but they are dodging potholes left and right.

Imagine the federal government solving the infrastructure problems by selling off federal infrastructure while offering to build or finance bloody nothing. Odd, but that's about what Trump's plan is. If you build it, we will come. Oh, and local governments, you pay for it. That will be easy now that the new tax cut law has capped state and local tax deductions on our federal taxes. It'll be so easy for states to raise taxes now!

Quick take: Trump reverses the usual "Feds pay 80% to 90%" on new infrastructure to "Feds pay 10 to 15%" and state and local governments, strapped as they are for cash, the rest! But don't worry, Trump says let the private sector take over! Soon we'll be paying road tolls just to go to Safeway.

It's bad enough that the plan calls for $200 billion in federal spending. But to make it insanely hoax-worthy, the 2019 budget Trump puts out calls for $178 billion in cuts to transportation spending.

That's not a plan, that's a practical joke.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#MeToo Is Not a Debate Between Trump's #MeNeither Denialism and Hillary Clinton's Acquiesence.

Or at least I'd fucking hope so.

Dicks in their day, and different only by degree. Do they get
to arbitrate the moment? We should hope not.

I don't pretend to know or understand Donald Trump's sex life, as lurid and as grotesque as it's reputed. Bill Clinton's was over-evaluated and should be ancient history by now. The fact that it isn't is because conservatives can't let Hillary off the hook. She's been their go-to scandal for too long, whether she ever deserved to be a scandal at all.

So it's not surprising that Ross Douthat  goes there while trying to get his Catholic little fingers around the #MeToo movement:
Compared to those idealists, the people teaching “porn literacy” have accepted a sweeping pedagogical defeat. They take for granted that the most important sex education may take place on Pornhub, that the purpose of their work is essentially remedial, and that there is no escape from the world that porn has made.
Which at the moment there is not. But we are supposed to be in the midst of a great sexual reassessment, a clearing-out of assumptions that serve misogyny and impose bad sex on semi-willing women. And such a reassessment will be incomplete if it never reconsiders our surrender to the idea that many teenagers, most young men especially, will get their sex education from online smut.
This surrender was not inevitable. It was only a generation ago that the unlikely (or was it?) alliance of feminists and religious conservatives made the regulation of pornography a live political debate. But between the individualistic drift of society, the invention of the internet, and the failure of the Dworkin-Falwell alliance’s predictions that porn would lead to rising rates of rape, the anti-porn case was marginalized — with religious conservatism’s surrender to Donald Trump’s playboy candidacy a seeming coup de grace.
Except it doesn’t have to be. Trump’s grotesqueries have stirred up a feminist reaction that’s more moralistic and less gamely sex-positive than the Clinton-justifying variety, and there’s no necessary reason why its moralistic gaze can’t extend to our porn addiction. And indeed, I think the part of the #MeToo movement that’s interested in discussing sexual unhappiness and not just sexual harassment clearly wants to talk about pornography, even if it doesn’t quite realize that yet.
This bit of malarkey is in the middle of his "ban porn" article reflective of his Catholic canonistic obsessions (read moral backwardness). I'm not suggesting there isn't something degrading about the treatment of women in pornography or that the world may be better off without it or without our twelve-year-olds (or nine-year-olds?) getting their curious little eyes on it. But regardless of what Douthat might think, that horse is out of the barn and, First Amendment rights notwithstanding, banning it is somewhere between impossible and not-gonna-happen.

I'm just wondering two things: From whence cometh Douthat's measure of our "porn addiction," and why do Bill Clinton's ancient sexual peccadilloes -- and Hillary's humiliation -- have anything to do with Donald Trump's 2018 #MeNeither "he says he's innocent, lives are being ruined" focus that extends to only men. The women? They don't get included in Trump's equation.

That's the scandal, and no amount of sloughing it off on yesterday's news will make it -- or should make it -- disappear from today's headlines. It's Donald Trump's degradation we should stay focused on. Sure, Bill Clinton's past is in the mix with the rest of the asshole dicks when it comes to women, but his bill has long since been paid. Trump's has not yet been totaled.

As for porn, turning over that rock is a side story to the #MeToo movement. This is a woman's moment. Men need to buck up and stand aside. We've could use a good dose of shaming. It that Catholic enough for you, Ross?