Browsing the archives for the big picture stuff category.


Obey the Disobedience!

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big picture stuff

MIT is now accepting nominations for the first-ever MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award, which carries a $250,000 cash prize, no strings attached. The award will go to somebody engaged in an “extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.” So who better to nominate than Our Doug? I nominated him already, in fact, but maybe more nominations would help.

Here’s the MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award page. And here is Doug’s Wikipedia page if you need to refresh your memory.

Doug, let us know in the comments what contact information for you people might use.

Update: Here is the nomination form.

 

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What to Do Now

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big picture stuff

Well, I’m back. My PC forgot how to do wifi — the problem is not with the wifi, since all the other wifi thingies in the house are all fine. So naturally the quick fix is to connect the laptop to the router with an ethernet cable. But the laptop has no ethernet port, and it took me awhile to get my hands on a USB ethernet adapter. So I’m back online, but some day I’m going to have to try to get the wifi function fixed.

Anyway — the question at hand is, what should we do now? I started out to write about what the Democrats should do, and I still wrote a lot about that. But there’s also the individual dimension — what should each of us do?

I do urge that people engage with the Democratic Party. There are a lot of (naive, inexperienced, mostly young) people out there who question why we need parties at all. Maybe I’ll write about that some time. The short answer is republican government doesn’t function without them. Without the organizing function of party, government becomes every politician for himself. So they always form. And because of the way we run elections in the U.S., we are pretty much stuck with two dominant national parties, like it or not. However, explaining why that’s true will need to be the point of another post.

There’s a battle royale going on for the DNC chair; the main contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Perez and his supporters have made it a nasty fight. It got so bad that members of the California DNC issued a statement denouncing the mud slinging. “Now more than ever, the Democratic Party needs to have a principled debate about its future that is based on issues and organizing strategy,” they said.

Well, yes. So the first thing the Democrats need to do is stop with the internal character assassination. I have no reason to dislike Perez, and he might be good in the job, but the dirty in-fighting thing makes me want him to lose.

Along those lines, this was spotted on Facebook, to the question of “What the Democrats should do now”: “Clean house. Be done with the Clintons. Get some new blood. Don’t cry so much. Put forward new ideas not just slam the other side. No more name calling. Appeal more broadly. Listen to middle America. Stop starting/continuing war abroad.”

Matt Taibbi wrote last June,

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

Again, more good advice. But from what I’ve seen so far, the old leadership that got it so wrong is putting him a massive fight to stay in control. And if they do, we’re sunk.

If the Democrats are a brand, what does that brand stand for? A big part of the problem is that I don’t think it stands for anything any more. It is the party that is somewhat less awful than the other party. It is the party that generally doesn’t stand in the way of cultural progress, but you can’t trust it with economic progress. It is the party that pays lip service to being for working people, but usually isn’t.

Duncan Black wrote an awesome post a short time back that I recommend. Here is just a bit:

We’re sort of reaching the breaking point of the decades long battle between the party that promises to kick those other people, and the party that promises not to kick them quite so hard. I think there have been some signs of Dems recognizing it, but they’re still largely locked into that way of thinking. ACA, for all its benefits, just couldn’t be implemented without making it fucking hard for people. That the subsidies aren’t generous enough makes it too expensive for people, and that’s a problem, but it’s one thing to be forced to buy a car you can’t really afford, another to buy a car that you can’t afford that you have to take in for repairs every other week. The government can’t just provide the nice things it once provided because reasons. Hell, once upon a time they built community pools and golf courses. Now your HOA might have a pool.

We’re the richest damn country in the history of the world (close enough, anyway). Life shouldn’t be so hard. Not against The Data, but the data doesn’t really capture what’s going on for “the middle class.” It isn’t that wages are stagnant or shrinking – though that’s an issue too! – It’s that doing the right thing and having a tiny bit of luck is no longer enough to achieve economic security anymore. Life’s a crap shoot from 18-67 (soon to be longer, if Republicans get their way). We’re all one medium sized economic hit (including medical) away from the downward spiral. And thanks to that glorious bankruptcy bill, once you get into a hole you’re probably trapped there. Bipartisany goodness to make David Broder swoon. 74-25 in the Senate, 302-126 in the House. But the Dems are the good guys! Yah, well, not enough of them and not consistently enough. Vote for Dems and the share of them voting for horrible things will shrink slightly!

And it isn’t complicated. Thinking that it is complicated is the problem. There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them. And, really, given how small the nice things budget is who cares?

“There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them.” To, you know, actually do stuff. And if you manage to do stuff that will be good for working folks, be sure to follow through and let working folks know about it. IMO part of the opposition to Obamacare comes from the fact that lots of folks have yet to figure out what it is and how it works. That makes it easy to lie about.

For years, Democrats have made promises that they will Fight For You! if you send them to Washington. So we send them to Washington, and with the rare exception of the problematic ACA, nothing much changes. So along with stopping the nasty infighting, we need leadership that has a clue. No more wishy-washy centrism. No more “interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community,” to quote Matt Yglesias.

No more selling us out, Democrats. No more assuming that we have to vote for you because we’ve got no other choice. Be for something, stick to it, do it. Deliver.

The rift between the coastal liberal college-educated Democrats and working class people will have to be mended, and that won’t be easy.  I’ll have more thoughts on that in coming posts.

Of course, this assumes that our representative democracy survives as such for a few more election cycles. We are in danger of slipping into totalitarianism. The next couple of years could be critical.

How to resist? What is the best course? First, I suggest that further ridiculing the dumb hillbillies who voted for Trump is counterproductive. They are not the enemy.

I’m going to copy and paste something I found on Facebook.  The author is Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

–Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University,
15 November 2016.

And with that — Merry Christmas.

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Hacked to Pieces

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big picture stuff

This has been the week that Russian hacking finally was mostly taken seriously. If you missed the New York Times’s long expose on how our political system was hacked, please take the time to read it. Since that piece was published, unnamed senior intelligence officials told NBC and ABC that Vladimir Putin was personally involved, and that Putin did intend to tilt the election to Trump.

Lots of people continue to believe this news is just propaganda, and not all of those people are Trump supporters. Some die-hards on the Left are certain the stories are being circulated by Clinton supporters trying to sway the Electoral College. But I think the hacking stories need to be taken seriously.

Because I think the Russian hacking issue needs to be taken seriously, I think it needs to be separated from the issue of whether Trump legitimately won the election. As long as it’s about the election, partisans will continue to fight over what’s true and what isn’t based on how it reflects on their candidate.

People will be arguing until the end of time whether the hacking really made that much difference in the election. My opinion is that of all the things that soured Clinton’s campaign, the revelations from Wikileaks were very low on the list. The actual revelations may have been embarrassing to the people involved, but none seemed to me to be devastating. The worse of them merely reinforced what many of us already believed, that Clinton really was isolated from the bread-and-butter issues that mattered to most Americans and that the DNC had its thumb on the scale for her throughout the primaries. But those things were apparent without the leaks.

However, in the unlikely event the electors use the hacks as a reason to deny Trump the presidency, I’m not going to argue with them.

Even so, too many people are not moving on from the election, seems to me. Clinton supporters are still moaning all over social media that She Wuz Robbed and the election was rigged and Comey letter and hacking and fake news and it wasn’t fair, and probably the election was rigged and it’s all Bernie Sanders’s fault. In other words, they’re a lot like the Sanders supporters who still believe Sanders really won the primaries and Clinton somehow stole it from him.

I endorse what Josh Marshall says here:

Just to put my cards on the table, I believe there is a good likelihood, probably even a probability, that if the Russian subversion campaign had never happened and James Comey had never released his letter, Hillary Clinton would be prepping to become our new President. My own guess is that Comey’s letter had the bigger impact. These were both profoundly damaging events in the race and Clinton lost by very tight margins in most of the newly (hopefully temporarily) red states. I see little way to challenge this assertion.

But the tiny margins are only one side of the story. Let’s take Wisconsin. The final tally puts Trump ahead by .8%, or 22,748 votes. That’s a tiny margin. Any number of things could have shifted the balance. Spending the final week of the campaign talking about a new investigation of Clinton’s emails was more than enough to tip the balance. Spending not just a single trip but more concerted time in the state could have too. But now look at the shift from 2012. The shift in the direction of the GOP was 7.7%. That is a huge shift over four years. Huge. There’s no getting around that. If you step back from Wisconsin to the larger Upper Midwest region and indeed the United States you see something more fundamental. Donald Trump did what we all remember Barack Obama doing in 2008: He changed the shape of the electorate.

What all of this comes down to is that something very big happened in this election that was quite separate from Comey and Putin.

And if Clinton had squeaked out the Electoral College win, by now that very big something would have been completely brushed aside. The one silver lining to her loss is that maybe Democrats will be forced to confront their failures as a party. But many of them are still in denial that Clinton or the Democratic Party are in any way at fault.

Right now the Dems are dividing up into pro- and anti-Keith Ellison factions. Rep. Keith Ellison is campaigning to be the next DNC chair, and I endorse him wholeheartedly. I think he’s just the guy we need. But yesterday I heard someone who wants a centrist chair say that we have to be careful about moving too far Left and getting McGoverned.

After the debacle that was November 8, they’re still worried about being McGoverned? And not concerned about continuing to be Clintoned?  Unreal.

People are also still arguing about whether the Democrats need to win back working-class whites. Some still think that demographic trends will lead the Dems to glory some day without having to deal with working-class white voters. Someday minorities will be a majority, and younger voters tend to be more liberal, so Dems will rule. Some day. And then a guy actually said this:

“Demographically, the Electoral College is heading in the right direction” for Democrats, Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to Mr. Obama, said. What Mr. Trump pulled off, he added, “would be hard to replicate.”

What would be hard to replicate is the fact that younger voters clearly wanted somebody else entirely to vote for, and The Establishment is still in denial about it. But let’s move on …

One of the smartest commentaries I’ve seen yet is by Matt Bai, who says — correctly, IMO — that Trump was made possible by the fact that hardly anyone trusts our civil institutions any more.

There was a time, not long ago, when it was possible to believe that no one would pay a very steep price for that cascade of failure during the Bush years, when just about every trusted institution in American life seemed to collapse of its own dereliction.

Disgraced pundits kept on pontificating. The CIA kept right on stonewalling — successfully — to keep its history of torture sealed off from public view. The parties in Washington kept on fighting like spoiled brats. The bankers kept on making money and loaning it out.

A decade passed, and American voters seemed to have settled into their cynicism, in the same way baseball fans still filled the stadiums after the steroid debacle and Catholic parishioners still lined the pews after coming to terms with chronic abuse.

No wonder we’ve become a post truth society. If the Bush years taught us anything, the “experts” on the teevee are all idiots, and “truth” can be whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone says it is. And he’s probably lying.

Trump had figured out that no one really believed the elite media anymore — the same media that said Iraq was an existential threat, that the banks had to be saved, that Obama would transform our dysfunctional politics. The same media that nightly featured a cavalcade of smug morons whose only qualification to opine on TV was an almost pathological shamelessness.

Who is the arbiter of truth these days? We have no Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. Frankly, we get better information from John Oliver than from the Network Evening News. So, why not pick whatever smug moron you want to believe and ignore the rest of them? Truth is whatever you want it to be.

Something big has happened in our civil life, and it is a lot bigger than James Comey or Vladimir Putin or pizzagate or emails. It is bigger than Clinton or Trump. It’s that our civil life has lost all cohesiveness. There appears to be nothing real there; it’s all smoke and mirrors. Facts don’t matter. History is fungible. Believe what you like.

Trump’s victory not replicable?  Seriously?

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Why People Turn to Dictators

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big picture stuff

Michael Kruse writes in Politico that Trump voters have high expectations.

“I think you’ll start seeing improvements in six months,” Bill Polacek said in his corner office at JWF Industries, where he’s one of the owners of one of Johnstown’s last manufacturing plants.

Dave Kirsch stood in the parking lot of Himmel’s Coal Yard in Carrolltown, where he drives a truck, and expressed optimism and preached patience—not, though, that much patience. “My boss, he’s a pretty smart man,” Kirsch told me, “and he said it can’t change overnight, but he said give it six months to a year.”

Maggie Frear, a retired nurse, told me toward the end of our meeting one evening in her home that the changes Trump pledged would “take him at least a couple months.”

Now, you and I know that Trump ain’t gonna do squat for these people in six months to a year. Or two years. Or four years. Or twenty years. You know that by the cabinet he’s putting together. The signals so far are that he’s going to give Republicans a free hand to carry out their most regressive agenda, including gutting Medicare and Social Security.

Even Trump’s infrastructure plan is a scam, according to Bernie Sanders:

“During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump correctly talked about rebuilding our country’s infrastructure,” Sanders said. “But the plan he offered is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires on Wall Street who are already doing phenomenally well. Trump would allow corporations that have stashed their profits overseas to pay just a fraction of what the companies owe in federal taxes. And then he would allow the companies to “invest” in infrastructure projects in exchange for even more tax breaks.”

It was Sanders’ strongest rebuke of Trump’s plan, which incentivizes companies to invest in infrastructure projects through tax breaks rather than direct spending. He has proposed an approximately $1 trillion plan to invest in rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, though it has seen backlash from both sides of the aisle.

“Trump’s plan is corporate welfare coming and going,” Sanders wrote.

(Even if they got a tax break, why would companies invest in public infrastructure, anyway? Why would they spend money on projects that don’t benefit them exclusively, or that will never give them a profit? That makes no sense to me.)

Kruse writes that those Trump voters will turn on Trump if he doesn’t deliver. And he’s not going to deliver. Indeed, if you go back and take apart Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it doesn’t add up to much but slogans. People heard what they wanted to hear.

But the value in reading the Politico piece is that it does give a sense of how these voters in Pennsylvania saw the election, and themselves. They’ve been ignored for a long time. The system doesn’t work for them. Their communities are deteriorating; their sons are being lost to drugs. Clinton-style Democrats offered nothing but platitudes for decades. Trump became the object of their hopes.

Charles Pierce said, “Explain to me how what’s being described here is not people indulging an addiction to the political opioids.”  He also said:

And we finally come to the nub of it. In the campaign just passed, racism and xenophobia and sexism were not “the only reasons” Trump won. That’s stupid. There is genuine economic anxiety and despair in the country. But they were the accelerant. They might not have been the biggest reason why he won, but they damn sure were a big part of filling his rally halls and getting his voters to the polls, and not just in the South, either. All American populism falls into the trap of scapegoating The Other eventually; if it didn’t, Bernie Sanders would be picking his Cabinet right now.

This is something I keep trying to emphasize. Some portion of Trump supporters are flat-out white supremacists, sure. But a lot of them are people who would be much less racist now had their culturally induced racism not been fed and nurtured for years by scapegoating.

“For most U.S. workers, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been flat or even falling for decades, regardless of whether the economy has been adding or subtracting jobs,” Pew says. Real wages peaked in January 1973 and have been falling ever since. That was the beginning of the end, and it happened shortly after the the point at which affirmative action was finally being enforced. I graduated college in 1973, and as I remember mine was the first graduating class that was really impacted by it. I have no reason to think that affirmative action caused real wages to decline — there were a whole lot of other causes for that — but it was what people saw.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s it was common for people to scapegoat affirmative action for their deteriorating economic conditions. Now they’re scapegoating immigrants. Politicians and right-wing bobbleheads openly have encouraged this. It’s easier than explaining the real reasons.

But the deteriorating economic conditions were what opened the door to the scapegoating. And we are dealing with long-range deterioration; most of the workforce today doesn’t remember the good old days, but they heard about them from Dad. Or Grandpa. It makes me crazy when someone points to a “good” quarterly jobs report and says, “See? There’s no problem. I don’t know what those people are complaining about.”

Ian Welsh wrote recently,

It is nice that you don’t think that racism and racists get stronger when times are bad, and that people who don’t see a pay raise in 40 years are likely to turn to nasty politics, and it is even important that you think so, since your sheer stupidity and blindness makes it harder to stop, but you are wrong. You are, in fact, part of the problem, because problems happen and we need to be able to fix them, and you and your type are making it harder to do anything by muddying the water.

The inability to separate partisanship from a clear understanding of the world is at the heart of why we are where we are today. Clear consequences of action and non-action are dismissed wholesale until it is too late to do anything about it.

There’s all kinds of scapegoating going on. I’m still seeing people blaming the third-party vote for Clinton’s loss, which rather ignores the larger issues of why it was so damn close to the likes of Donald Trump. The Clinton supporters who demanded we vote for Clinton because Supreme Court picks! had a point in a very narrow sense, but they were ignoring a whole lot of big, festering problems that already had been ignored for too long.

And those were what cost her the election.

Ian Welsh continues,

The warnings on climate change and about the rise of the racist right go as far back as the 80s, in my memory. Why? Because the evidence was already there for people to see. By the late 80s, we could see that the inequality data was going in a radically bad direction, for example, and people were already saying, “This will lead to the rise of bad people, like fascists.”

This was not hard to predict. It was obvious. You did not need to be some sort of special genius, you just had to ask yourself “What happened last time?”

What you had to be “special” to do was to ignore it, to hand wave it away, to spend your life (and many, many lives were dedicated to the project) saying, “Oh, no, inequality is no big deal. They aren’t really poor, they have TVs!”

And history repeats itself:

Right after the Versailles treaty, Keynes was able to predict the gross outlines of history right through to World War II. He said, “Well if you do this to the Germans, they aren’t going to put up with it forever, and it will enable the rise of really nasty people.”

You had to be a special sort of idiot, or a partisan fool, not to see it coming once someone like Keynes had explained it to you (and many others knew it as well).

The fact that Trump, for all his instinctual salesmanship and ruthlessness, is pathologically un-self aware and not the sharpest tack in the box may save us. But we may have a relatively narrow window of opportunity, because more intelligent would-be dictators no doubt are lining up behind him.

And if we want to escape this noose, we must not simply dismiss Trump voters as being deluded idiots. We need to take them seriously, which is not the same thing as agreeing with them. If Trump fails to deliver as spectacularly as I suspect he will, we need to be ready to step in and offer them something besides the wonky little tweaks to the status quo they’ve been getting from Democrats for far too long.

But the other thing we need to keep in mind is that people are drawn into authoritarianism by feelings of alienation and helplessness. The psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm, who escaped Nazi Germany, saw this first hand:

“We have seen, then, that certain socioeconomic changes, notably the decline of the middle class and the rising power of monopolistic capital, had a deep psychological effect… Nazism resurrected the lower middle class psychologically while participating in the destruction of its old socioeconomic position. It mobilized its emotional energies to become an important force in the struggle for the economic and political aims of German imperialism.”

“It was the irrational doubt which springs from the isolation and powerlessness of an individual whose attitude toward the world is one of anxiety and hatred. This irrational doubt can never be cured by rational answers; it can only disappear if the individual becomes an integral part of a meaningful world.”

We all have a deep need for a sense of connection to others and belonging to whatever society we are planted in, Fromm said. People who are jerked around and treated as disposable cogs for too long are likely to lose that sense of connection or belonging. And then they are likely to give themselves to an authoritarian dictator, because through him they think they will find power. That’s really what Trump was promising — stick with me, and you’ll share in my power. The system won’t kick you around any more.

There’s no question there’s a lot of racism and sexism and nativism and a lot of other things going on with Trump voters that cannot be tolerated or overlooked. My argument is that those isms are symptoms, not causes, but to deal with those symptoms requires making changes than enable alienated people to become integral parts of a meaningful world. And that won’t begin until we address their economic concerns a lot more seriously and aggressively than we have since Franklin Roosevelt’s day.

But we are reaping the consequences of non-action, and both political parties are to blame for it.

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Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

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big picture stuff, entertainment and popular culture

I can relate, bro.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

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Stuff to Read While We Wait

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big picture stuff

The Trump Who Stole Christmas by Andrew O’Hehir.

Media critic Jay Rosen on 2016 campaign coverage and the rise of Trump: “That’s the way authoritarian societies work” by Paul Rosenberg.

We Have Never Resolved the Fight Over What This Country Is Meant to Be by Charles Pierce.

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All the World Is Staged?

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big picture stuff

This morning I saw an ABC News report that al Qaeda is planning terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Monday. Seriously, al Qaeda.

CBS News has learned about a potential terror threat for the day before the election.

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday. …

… U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

And it would be the FBI leaking this, wouldn’t it? It’s like the fake terror alert the Bush Administration put out just before the 2004 election, which is credited with tipping the election to Bush. Somebody wants to mess with our heads.

The Guardian reported today,

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”

And are these the same people telling us about an increased terrorist threat? By al Qaeda, of all groups? What happened to ISIS? Never mind; I suppose one boogeyman is as good as another.

But now everything in the news is suspect. Google is running a tribute to Walter Cronkite today. We need a Cronkite now; someone who can speak with authority to the nation about what’s really going on.

Kurt Eichenwald has a new article up at Newsweek about the many connections between Moscow and the Trump campaign. The evidence may be circumstantial, but there’s boatloads of it. Many scoundrels have been convicted on less. Yet I see people on the Right and Left dismissing the possibility of a Trump-Putin connection as just Clinton propaganda. When we read something that doesn’t jibe with our views, we assume we’re just being manipulated.

We can’t run a democracy this way.

Stuff to read: An American in a Strange Land and Pain, anger and fear: US voters deprived of a serious presidential election.

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End Times

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big picture stuff

What about those Cubbies, eh? I don’t know whether to be happy for Chicago or worried that the Unusual Event in Cleveland is somehow a harbinger of more weirdness to come.

At least, it’s all be over soon … one way or another …

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Why Certainty Is Killing Us

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big picture stuff, Obama Administration

There’s a great article/short video at the New York Times‘s site that I urge everyone to check out. Here’s the video by itself:

From the article:

Dr. Kruglanski is best known for his theory of “cognitive closure,” a term he coined in 1989 to describe how we make decisions. “Closure” is the moment that you make a decision or form a judgment. You literally close your mind to new information.

If you have high “need for closure,” you tend to make decisions quickly and see the world in black and white. If you have a low need for closure, you tolerate ambiguity, but often have difficulty making decisions. All of us fall naturally somewhere on this spectrum.

But during times of fear and anxiety — like, for example, right now — everybody’s need for closure increases. We tend to make judgments more quickly, regardless of the facts. We’re also drawn to leaders who are decisive and paint solutions in simple terms. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Kruglanski and his team of researchers found that as the color-coded terrorism threat system increased, support for President George W. Bush went up accordingly. The more uncertain our world seems, the more we compensate by seeking out certainty.

In my talk in Brooklyn a few days ago, I argued that moral absolutism, which appears to offer clear, simple answers to moral questions, doesn’t really work. And then I touched on the problem of ambiguity in making moral decisions.

I realize people often are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They want clear rules and sharply defined boundaries. They want all phenomena to be properly sorted into their socially acceptable conceptual boxes. That’s why some people prize moral absolutism. That’s a mostly workable strategy for getting through life, but it’s not real. It’s an artificial order superimposed on the messiness of reality. And sometimes failing to accept reality causes more trouble than it solves.

One of the great humanistic philosophers of the 20th century, Erich Fromm, wrote that people often escape into authoritarian mass movements because they fear freedom. A lot of that fear of freedom is a fear of ambiguity, a lack of clear, bright lines that make your choices for you.

I think we see a lot of that fear in America today. And notice that some of the same people who talk about how they want to protect their freedom seem hell bent on destroying everybody’s freedom to do that. It’s like they’re protecting their freedom to be not free. But those clear, bright lines are not likely to come back, so this is a situation we’re going to have to deal with for a while.

It seems to me that vast numbers of people across the political spectrum have seized upon simplistic, black-white visions of the world instead of dealing with the messiness and ambiguity of reality. Political leaders, for example, are seen as absolutely good or absolutely evil. Your hero’s opponent is hell bent on getting us into war and bringing on a New World Order under corporate control, and probably eats puppies for breakfast, while your favored political leader is pure and holy and above criticism, and electing him/her will take away all the frightening things and make the world behave as you wish it would. Fill in the names of any politicians into that last sentence; you can find plenty of people who think that way.

In this fevered environment the most absurd conspiracy theories are accepted as holy truth, and those who don’t accept them as gospel are derided as “sheeple” and dupes of the system. It doesn’t help that people are making money with clickbait sites running fake news stories that appear to confirm the worst of the nonsense.

But certainty is very comforting psychologically. In the words of the great Eric Hoffer,

To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without wonder and hesitation. … The true doctrine is the master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together. [The True Believer, p. 82]

Getting back to Erich Fromm — one of his seminal works is the book Escape From Freedom (1941), in which he argued that many people simply cannot function within the ambiguities of a truly free society. Such people tend to “escape” in three ways. One, they seek to become part of an authoritarian system, handing their moral and political agency over to an authoritarian leader; two, they become destructive and just want to destroy everything they don’t like; three, they become hyper-conformist, adapting to the opinions and moral values of whatever group he associates with.

We’re seeing all of that now. The terrible irony is that many of the people trying to escape freedom are screaming that they are fighting for their freedom.  But it’s not freedom they seek, but its opposite.

American politicians have been stoking the fires of fear as far back as I can remember.  It used to be fear of Communism. Then it was fear of racial desegregation. Then it was anti-war hippies, women’s libbers, liberals and gay people. It’s always something. But now a large part of the American electorate are fear junkies. They’re like horror movie fans; they want to be frightened, and they want a big, strong hero to come along and save them from the monsters. And as many keep pointing out, this is exactly how totalitarian regimes take hold.

I like the way the video closes:

How do we know the difference between extremism and fighting for a just cause? There’s no easy answer to the question. That’s what makes certainty so dangerous. When you dismiss other points of view, when you ignore information that is critically relevant to making a good judgment. That’s why we should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. The alternative is the abyss.

We should be suspicious of our own sense of righteousness. Amen. Righteousness is intoxicating; it makes us feel powerful, especially against that thing we’re afraid of. But it does nothing to help us think clearly or make sensible judgments. It makes us blind to the abyss.

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The Winds of Change Are, Unfortunately, Blowing Over a Garbage Dump

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American History, Bad Hair, big picture stuff, Hillary Clinton, Republican Party

Matt Taibbi:

The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne. After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings. Which brings us to this year’s Republican field.

There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.

There’s a lot of talk about whether the Republicans can survive. Clearly, it’s not on its deathbed yet. But reading more of Taibbi, I do wonder what it will survive as. Here he’s describing the Paul Ryan-led rally in Wisconsin from which Trump was dis-invited:

The party schism burst open in the middle of a speech by Wisconsin’s speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos. Vos is the Billy Mays of state budget hawks. He’s a mean-spirited little ball of energy who leaped onto the stage reminding the crowd that he wanted to eliminate the office of the treasurer to SAVE YOU MONEY!

Vos went on to brag about having wiped out tenure for University of Wisconsin professors, before dismounting with yet another superawkward Trumpless call for Republicans to turn out to vote.

“I have no doubt that with all of you standing behind us,” he shouted, “and with the fantastic record of achievement that we have, we’re going to go on to an even bigger and better victory than before!”

There was scattered applause, then someone from the crowd called out:

“You uninvited Donald Trump!”

Boos and catcalls, both for and against Vos and the Republicans. Most in the crowd were Trump supporters, but others were angry with Trump for perhaps saddling them with four years of Hillary Clinton. These camps now battled it out across the field. A competing chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” started on the opposite end of the stands, only to be met by chants from the pro-Trumpers.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Ryan, the last speaker, tried to cut the tension with a leaden joke about the “elephant in the room.” But he still refused to speak Trump’s name, or do more than refer the crowd to a written statement. He just smiled like it was all OK, and talked about what a beautiful day it was.

The threat of a Trump insurgency to the GOP might be mitigated if the GOP had even one strong, respected figurehead for the party to rally around. Alas, all they’ve got is Paul Ryan and John McCain.

My guess is that the Trump faithful might very well split off and form their own party, which in the U.S. is usually the first step toward political irrelevance. But if the worst of the whackjobs follow Trump into eventual oblivion, taking the red-meat-only base with them, it could allow the remaining Republican mainstream to move back toward the center again. Which would be a good thing, in the long run. Maybe they’ll even taken an interest in the governing thing.

 But then you’ve got the Democratic Party, which also is being run by out-of-touch aristocrats. The Wikileaks emails show us that even Clinton’s campaign staff worried their candidate had no compelling reason to run.

The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters.

A month before Clinton launched her campaign, her aides worked to corral her well-known love for granular policy details into a message that would both capture her agenda and present a forward-looking, aspirational vision for her presidency.

Nearly a year later, a similar struggle cropped up as they attempted to revise her core campaign message.

“Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson. . . .

. . . .Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.

“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”

The electorate is roiling with a desire for change, and the Democratic nominee had no clue.

In our alarm and loathing of Donald Trump, we must not lose sight of how Hillary Clinton came to be the Democratic nominee.

The answer: we live in a moribund democracy, not a thriving one.  A conjunction of corporate political power and immense wealth is forcibly installing a president.  We haven’t confronted this before, either.  We will cast our ritual ballots in November, but not in a free election: the Democratic nominee was imposed upon us by the corporate and the wealthy.

That’s a strong charge, but as I’ve written in the past, that’s pretty much what happened. The Democratic Party itself made sure there was  no real contest. The Clinton nomination was a done deal long before the primaries even began. But why was it so important to her to run, given that she has no real central message or agenda other than “I am competent”? That’s the part that remains baffling to me. Personal ambition is the only answer I can think of, and that’s not a good answer. It wouldn’t be a good answer for a male candidate, either.

Anyway, in short, the Democratic Party itself doesn’t trust its voters to choose the “right” nominee. The GOP has the opposite problem; it lost all control of the nomination process. Neither development is healthy.

IMO the Dems are roughly in the same place the GOP came to be in the 1990s and 2000, when the party was able to dictate who the nominee would be, and got away with knocking down the competition without too much grumbling. The Powers That Be in the GOP obviously had settled on George W. Bush as the standard bearer shortly after Bob Dole’s defeat in 1996, and they spent the next four years skillfully puffing Dubya up. And during the primaries, you could practically see the RNC’s thumb on the scale to be sure Dubya was the one left standing. (And how did Bob Dole get to be the nominee? I can’t believe that was a popular choice.) Well, now it’s the DNC forcing the pre-ordained candidate on the rest of us.

Eventually, people do notice when they’re being used. I heard a talking head on MSNBC this morning say that about 40 percent of Americans don’t think the presidential election process is legitimate, and this sentiment is spread across the political spectrum. Distrusting the legitimacy of elections has been a problem for a while, though. Republicans tried their best to delegitimize Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, in part by blaming Ross Perot. They tried to delegitimize Barack Obama by claiming he only won because he was black — he was the cute novelty candidate, apparently.

Of course, in 2000 when George W. Bush was selected rather than elected, Democrats went along for the sake of tradition, or to keep Democracy alive, or something. That was a mistake.

Once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, the old myths and buzzwords lose their force. As much as I look forward to seeing the Great Orange Sleazebag have his ass handed to him on election night, I’m not kidding myself that Hillary Clinton will be the president we need right now. She might surprise me, but I don’t think she’s got it in her to surprise me. The best we can hope for is that she’ll not completely renege on trying to pass the Democratic platform.

Going back to the Republicans — I believe the party will survive, but the Trump insurgency will force it to change. The mob of Faux Nooz viewers and Rusho dittoheads they have counted on to believe their bullshit and vote R will likely desert them for a long time, or at least a couple of election cycles. This might well force them to have to broaden their base, which means they will have to offer something besides hate. They might even have to start making sense. Radical, I know, but stranger things have happened.

But if Republicans change, Democrats will have to change also. They might have to stop being The Party That Isn’t as Awful as That Other Party and actually stand for something. Imagine.

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