Friday, February 03, 2017

What Trump Gives To Those Who Voted For Him, 2/3/17

Great stuff!  The Best Stuff!  Wonderful people, the best white people, are beavering away to destroy the institutions of the state as Bannon wants.

But we are also going to get the usual Republican presents. Here are two fun ones for all those who voted for Republicans:

After a White House meeting with the business executives on Friday, Mr. Trump signed a directive calling for a rewriting of major provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, crafted by the Obama administration and passed by Congress in response to the 2008 meltdown, the White House said. A second directive he signed is expected to halt and possibly require an overhaul of an Obama-era Labor Department rule that requires brokers to act in a client’s best interest, rather than seek the highest profits for themselves, when providing retirement advice.
Taken together, the actions constitute a broad effort to loosen regulations on banks and other major financial companies, put into motion by a president who campaigned as a champion of working Americans and a harsh critic of Wall Street and other global elites.
Sure, Trump campaigned against Wall Street, but that was only so that he could win the presidency.  Things are different now.  So be prepared for another financial markets meltdown if the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act are rewritten, because nothing fundamental has changed in the incentive systems of the financial market actors.* 

The second directive is even more fascinating:  Brokers wouldn't have to act in their clients' best interest!

Compare that to doctors and their patients.  A similar directive in that context would mean that physicians wouldn't have to give their patients the care that is best for the recovery of their health.  Instead, they could simply prescribe on the basis of what raises their own incomes the most.

What are the overall impact of changes like these if they come to pass?  They will strengthen Wall Street's opportunities to make a lot of money, weaken consumer protections, and ultimately increase income inequalities in the United States even more.


*  Or stated better here.   "Insane."

So there you go, you famous white working class voters.  These are the gifts you are getting from Daddy Trump.

But at least there is no email scandal.

From the Handmaid's Tale: The Arkansas Edition

I have an unpleasant feeling that there will be many more Handmaid's Tale posts in our future, because putting women back into their proper place is a big part of Dear Leader's agenda. 

It's an even bigger part of the Vice-President's agenda.  Mike "The Taliban" Pence shares those extremist anti-woman values with the Islamic fundamentalists of the Wahhabist and Salafist sorts.  Isn't that weird?

Never mind.  The Republicans have been doing termite work for nearly fifty years to make sure that women ultimately will not have any choices about becoming pregnant and giving birth.  It's not just abortion that they oppose, but also the types of contraception that women themselves can control*.

As an example of this, Arkansas has a new abortion law aimed at greater socialization of women's bodies.  The Repubicans (sic) are very pro freedom and for privatizations, except when it comes to women's fertility.  Then they are socialists (or traditionalists who believe in the mans' right to control his wife's fertility).

This Arkansas law banning one abortion procedure has a hole big enough in it for a rapist to walk through and demand that any pregnancy caused by his raping the woman must be allowed to continue:

A new Arkansas law bans one of the safest and most common abortion procedures and allows family members to block an abortion by suing the abortion provider.
A clause in the Arkansas law allows a woman’s spouse, parent or guardian, or health care provider to sue an abortion provider for civil damages or injunctive relief that could stop the abortion. And because Act 45 does not provide any exceptions for cases of rape or incest, the clause could allow the fetus’s father to sue an abortion provider even in cases of spousal rape or incest. 
Asked whether the clause would allow a father to sue in cases of spousal rape or incest, Mayberry told The Daily Beast that the “bill wouldn’t affect a woman seeking an abortion by any other method” than dilation and evacuation, and that the bill prohibited the father from winning monetary damages in the event of rape or incest. The bill would not, however, prevent the father from seeking injunctive relief to stop an abortion under these circumstances.

I doubt the legislators behind that law want to strengthen rapists' fatherhood rights.  But they don't really care if that happens, because they don't care about women's civil and human rights, and that not-caring is visible in the way these laws are drafted.


* This description applies to the extremists within the forced-birth movement, those who call the IUD and the contraceptive pill abortifacients and thus something that should be banned. 

But given the extremists stomping all over the White House, it makes sense to be aware of the ultimate goals that motivate them, and those certainly include making sure that women cannot control their own fertility and therefore cannot space their children so that they can participate in the labor market or in politics or in any other field the traditionalists would wish to see all-male.

The latter is the real reason why gender equality crucially depends on good access to contraception and also access to abortion when contraception fails.

As a final irony, the subsidized birth control available via the ACA (Affordable Care Act) could very well have worked to drastically lower abortion rates (which are already falling).  But the Repubicans (sic) want to dismantle it so that, once again, poor women must choose between contraception and paying the rent.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

I Must Admit That Trump Has Been Efficient And Speedy

In getting two countries (Mexico and Australia) to hate the US in just two weeks!*  And those were allies!  It's going to be very interesting to see which ally he pisses off in his third week as emperor of the world.

Whatever else I've written about the man (and most of it very critical), his new foreign policy is certainly taking shape.  It's not just "America First," but "America All Alone."  Well, after he pisses off both Vlad "The Impaler" Putin and Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.

* And the Pentagon comes out and openly blames Trump for the botched operation in Yemen, which suggests a rift between the Pentagon and Trump, too.  Our Dear Leader is very good at pissing people off.

President Stephen Bannon

Or at least co-president Stephen Bannon.  We now live in a country where the truly hateful views of the white-Christian-male supremacist movements are affecting the administration, perhaps even ruling the administration.

For the most recent example, the violence at a demonstration about the speech of one Milo Yiannopoulos provoked Trump into yet another tweet:

It wasn't the U.C. Berkeley which carried out violent acts.  The culprits seem to have been a group of anarchists called Black Bloc.  The idea that the university could be deprived of its federal funds for such a reason is mindbogglingly illogical.  The university canceled the speech to protect that asshat Milo.

I strongly condemn violence in demonstrations, and I believe that asshat Milo should be allowed to do his clown act.  But, to repeat, the U.C. Berkeley didn't cancel his speech to silence him; it was canceled to protect him.

Now consider Trump's Twitter response, the idea that the president of the United States does something like this.  It's hard not to think that the response really comes from Stephen Bannon, who was the editor of Breitbart when Yiannopoulos wrote such deeply interesting articles there as "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy."*  It would be Bannon who wants the opinions of asshat Milo spread all over the country, because the kind of racism and misogyny Milo represents is exactly what Bannon seems to want to see as the basis of the new American state he will create when the current system is destroyed.

So unless I find better evidence, I believe that this little tweet incident is from our real president, Stephen Bannon, and directly from the Breitbart values folder.


* Yiannopoulos has also argued that bringing back patriarchy would stop mass murders committed by young men (because Afghanistan is such a peaceful country, with its strong patriarchy?), and that feminism is a cancer.

Sexists in Russia: Meet Satoshi Kanazawa. Or Why Being Battered Is Supposed to Be An Advantage For Women.

Welcome to the world of the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Actually, welcome to an even more sinister world.  Want to take my hand and wander through its door?

Let's begin with this tweet, having to do with the decriminalization of the "milder" forms of domestic abuse in Russia, the kinds that only leave bruises.  That just happened!  According to one proponent of the decriminalization, this allows parents to beat their children, and that child-beating is part of the Russian cultural tradition.*  Family values.  They often seem to be of that type.

But wait!  There are other reasons for the victims of domestic abuse to feel relieved, as this tweet tells us:

I cannot swear that the contents of that tweet did appear in the science section of a popular Russian newspaper, though that's what Alec Luhn's tweet (that this one links to) seems to suggest, because my Russian is not adequate for the task of searching for the source of Luhn's tweet.

But let's assume that all the above is true.  That tweet tells two things about some opinions about gender equality in Russia:

1.  Men should be allowed to beat women

2.  Boys are more valuable than girls

The year, by the way, is 2017.

Now to the core of the assertion:  If this statement actually was published in the science section of a Russian newspaper, what study was it based on?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Breitbart Contingency in Our Government. And On The Firing of Sally Yates.

If you are not familiar with, aren't you lucky!  It's an extreme right-wing website which gives its readers strong helpings of racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-LGBT bigotry and misogyny.*  Its comments are a cesspool of white supremacists.  Or were, the last time I waded in.

Given that, it's interesting to note that the Trump administration has hired at least three Breitbarn alumni:  The Rasputin behind Trump's throne, Stephen Bannon, who used to be Breitbart editor, as chief strategist (and quite possibly as the real president), Julia Hahn, a writer strongly opposed to all the "wrong" kinds of immigrants, as special assistant, and Sebastian Gorka, who previously advised Hungary's autocratic president Victor Orban,  as deputy assistant to the president.  Notice that Gorka clearly has expertise in counseling dictators!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Bitter Pill: Trump the Weathervane and Big Pharma

This is hilarious:  Trump partly campaigned on cutting drug prices:

Donald Trump, who was revealed as TIME's Person of the Year on Wednesday, is pledging to cut the cost of prescription drugs.
In an interview with TIME ahead of his selection, Trump said he doesn't "like what's happened with drug prices" and that he will "bring down" the cost of prescription medication.
Drug companies have hiked prices exorbitantly over the past several years. Notable examples include Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which spiked costs on two heart medications by 300% and 700%, and Mylan's 548% hike on the price of EpiPens.
The issue has yet to be successfully addressed through legislation. On the campaign trail, Trump called for requiring Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower costs.

And now?  Heh.  Trump is no longer going to force prescription drug prices down or allow Medicare to negotiate prices.  Instead, he is going to reduce regulation in the pharmaceutical industry.  Which is a great idea!  Who cares about thalidomide and similar problems?

Oh, and I almost forgot!  Trump is going to cut taxes to the Big Pharma, because the poor dears (a global oligopolistic industry, by the way), don't already earn sufficiently huge profits.

It's that fact about the oligopolistic nature of the pharmaceutical industry which makes coleslaw about the idea that Medicare price negotiations would amount to some kind of unprecedented price fixing in the markets.  Because oligopolies do not result in competitive prices in the first place.

People have been asking whether Trump is going to carry out all his nutty campaign promises.  The answer seems to be that those Stephen Bannon's white-Christian-male-supremacy base wants to see will be carried out.  The ones that are about business will not be carried out.

The 2016 Global Gender Gap and the Impact of Global Political Patterns on Women's Rights

1.  The World Economic Forum publishes an annual report on the global gender gap.  Their measures are based on an index which can be criticized*, but which still is an acceptable rough indicator of how women are faring in different parts of the world.

The top ten countries in the 2016 report (those countries where women and men have closest to the same rights and life experiences) are, in order of decreasing rankings:  Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand and Nicaragua.

The index treats countries in different income groups somewhat differently, and that explains the presence of Rwanda, the Philippines, Slovenia and Nicaragua in the top ten.  Women's rights are easier to negotiate when a country has lots of money and less competition for jobs and such, which makes the income group divisions meaningful.

The bottom ten countries in the 2016 report (those countries where women and men have very different rights and life experiences and where men's rights are higher) are, in order of increasing rankings (beginning with the lowest ranked country:  Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Iran, Mali, Morocco, Cote d'Ivoire, Lebanon.

The United States ranks 45th in the 2016 report.  My post about the 2015 report  notes that the United States last year ranked 28th in the overall index.  Why the drop?   The 2016 report (p. 29) answers:

The United States (45) sees a drop in its ranking due to a decrease on its Economic Participation and Opportunity score. This is partly due to a revised estimate of the size of the gender gap in estimated earned income; however, the country’s female labour force participation has also been stagnating for a number of years, including among legislators, senior officials and managers. More positively, the United States has reached gender parity in education, highlighting the large latent talent pool in the country’s adult female population.

2.  These two videos about women fighting for wider rights in Saudi Arabia and in Afghanistan are wonderful.  Sadly, I cannot tell if they are real.

3.  I have spent some time thinking how the recent global developments affect the fight for women's rights.  The rise of right-wing populism in the West and Russia and religious extremism in many Middle Eastern countries (as well as a mix of the two in Turkey) are not good news for women, because they all agree on women's proper place which pretty much is in the kitchen and in the bedroom, under male headship.  So there's yet another front for us to fight, sigh.

At the same time, the women's marches attracted at least 4.5 million marchers globally, so I think we are equipped for that fight, and we are going to ultimately win (might be a few centuries later).  So don't lose heart!  But don't lose the urgency, either.

* Somewhere I have a long post on the methodology of the WEF index, but I can't find it.  This 2009 post has a few observations on how the index is calculated.

The Information Colander

Or what you need to fight the disinformation wars of our Dear Leader and his Rasputin, Stephen Bannon:  A way to figure out what might be normal in democratic politics, however, reprehensible, and what might not be that normal.

Mother Jones has a suggestion:

We saw three kinds of developments this week—let's call them normal, normalesque, and definitely not normal. The first kind is simply part of the shift in power to another president and party: changes that could just as easily happen with (just for the sake of argument) a President Warren replacing Trump in 2021. Overhauling the White House website, freezing regulations, and even telling federal workers not to tweet fall, sort of, into this category. 
The second category are policy changes more radical than what we would have seen from other GOP presidents, because today's GOP is more radical. Those changes will in many cases mobilize shock and opposition—even from some in the Republican Party itself. Announcing the border wall, expanding the "global gag rule," repealing Obamacare, banning immigrants for their nationality alone, even nominating cabinet members who disagree with the mission of the agencies they will lead are in this category. They will get, and deserve, a bitter fight on policy grounds, but they are still on the (far end of) the spectrum of what we can expect in a democracy at a time of tectonic political shifts. They are normalesque. 
But then there is a third category—the actions of a man with a temperament and behavior we haven't seen in the White House in modern times, if ever. Trump personally, as near as we can tell, believes in few things except himself; his actions are often precipitated by rumors and stuff on TV that makes him mad; and most significantly he, along with many of his closest advisers, is inclined toward authoritarianism and a retrograde sort of nationalism. The actions that flow from these qualities are the ones that transcend normalcy entirely. Insisting that the constitution doesn't apply when you don't want it to; chastising the press for reporting obvious facts and calling it "the opposition party"; perpetuating a massive smear against the electoral system by claiming that millions voted illegally; and tapping an enabler of white supremacists to set immigration policy in defiance of the agencies charged with implementing it: Those things are not even at the outside edges of normal. Those things draw from another playbook—not that of democracy. *
So. What to do? 
One of the most important things at a turbulent moment like this is to step back: to sift signal from noise and consider which developments rattle the foundations of  of democracy and which are simply the fallout from a change election.

Bolds are mine.  Note that the above classes are not about the pain and suffering or human importance of decisions as such; they try to focus on the long-term effects of the Trump Reich, the kinds of things which would make truly painful and horrible decisions more common, and that in an environment in which we cannot fight back.
I would perhaps add to that the widespread rumor that border agency officers in some places are refusing to obey the decisions of the Federal courts about the stays of Trump's Muslim ban, stating direct orders from higher-ups.   Why?  Because if the executive branch gives the finger to the judiciary branch, what would stop the former doing whatever it feels like, including violating the Constitution, especially in a situation like the current one where the Congress is ruled by the president's party.

Monday, January 30, 2017

And Now Something More Positive

Because I have been the goddess of gloom for far too long.  This is a good piece on all the good things in a fairly bad week. I particularly like this:

I won’t pretend we’re winning right now. We’re not. But we are planting the right seeds. And yesterday’s rapid airport mobilization to protest Trump’s #muslimban tells me we’re on the right track. Those seeds will blossom into a resistance built for the long fight ahead.

A Coup Dress Rehearsal?

That's what this article suggests about the events of the past few days and the first week or two of the Trump era.  For me the most frightening of the many frightening developments is the new National Security Council.

A National Security Council where the head of the national intelligence or the armed forces are NOT permanent members, but a white-Christian-male supremacist  provocateur is?  What does that mean for the safety and security of all Americans?

And what does this mean?

Facing growing criticism for failing to mention Jews in a statement marking the Holocaust, the Trump administration on Sunday doubled down on the controversial decision.
In a statement on Friday, President Donald Trump broke with the bipartisan practice of past presidents by failing to include any mention of the anti-Semitic views that fueled the Holocaust and left 6 million Jews and millions of others dead.
"I don't regret the words," said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus when asked to defend the statement on NBC News' "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
"Everyone's suffering (in) the Holocaust including obviously all of the Jewish people affected and miserable genocide that occurs - it's something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad," Priebus added.

A White  House spokeswoman confirmed that the omission of any mention of anti-Semitic views in the context of the Holocaust was not a mistake but a purposeful move by the Trump administration.

Note, also, that the Muslim ban was timed to roughly coincide with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  What does that mean?

So what do I think?

It is extremely hard to arrive at firm conclusions when everything is chaotic, when every morning the sun rises with some new atrocity that was previously unimaginable, when one desperately tries to choose between pure incompetence and pure evil or greed or all of them, and when the government acts now are more opaque than the kind of morning porridge I make.

But these things I know:  I believe in democracy, in freedom of speech, in equal rights and equal respect for men and women and for individuals in different racial and ethnic groups.  I also believe in equal rights for sexual minorities. 

Democracy, in turn, is not possible without constitutional protections for minorities and the use of basic democratic rules in institutional decision-making.  The different branches of the US government, for instance, are all crucial.  An executive branch which spits in the face of the judicial branch, to pick one example, is a possible symptom of the wheels coming off this democracy experiment.  Finally, a free press is crucial for the functioning of democracies.

Are the signs I fret over caused simply by Trump's incompetence and his inability to actually govern, or are they intentional aspects of a coup attempt by the far-right white nationalists?  Or both?   What is happening to the flawed and limping but still surviving democracy in this country?

Take the timing of the travel ban.  It was timed so that individuals didn't get sufficient warning, so that they were caught by it while already traveling, so that individuals who had left the US to visit, say, family, elsewhere couldn't come back.  In short, it was timed to create the maximum havoc and chaos, and also the maximum negative consequences for the detained individuals.

Was this because of incompetence or because of some vile plan?  I can no longer tell.

Why were the usual steps that are taken in creating such executive orders simply ignored?

The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.
NBC is reporting that the document was not reviewed by DHS, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense, and that National Security Council lawyers were prevented from evaluating it. Moreover, the New York Times writes that Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the agencies tasked with carrying out the policy, were only given a briefing call while Trump was actually signing the order itself. Yesterday, the Department of Justice gave a “no comment” when asked whether the Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed Trump’s executive orders—including the order at hand. (OLC normally reviews every executive order.)
This order reads to me, frankly, as though it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all.

But this could be caused by the boundless arrogance of Donald Trump and his henchmen (and henchwomen). I have learned that Trump believes he innately knows everything worth knowing, and because that is unlikely to include the manner in which presidents make executive orders, he would simply ignore those traditions.

At the same time, this whole debacle can be a sign of the New Way the government will be run from now on:  As a dictatorship, where all old rules are ignored.

This not-knowing leaves me in an awkward place.  But one thing is clear, whether the Trump administration tips toward non-democracy because of cluelessness or because of intent:  We must not normalize this administration and we must continue to resist its efforts.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

1/29/17: Document the Atrocities of the Trump Reich: The Muslim Ban and Bannon in the National Security Council

1.  The ban on citizens of certain countries entering the United States took force on Saturday.  The countries listed were Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Trump defends the ban as an anti-terrorism measure.  But this does not hold water: *

The most famous radical Islamic terrorist act in the United States took place on 9/11/2001.  Fifteen of the men committing the massacres were Saudi Arabians, two came from United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon.  Yet none of those countries are in Trump's ban list.   Neither does the list include Afghanistan or Pakistan, both known as areas with terrorist bases.**

You may have noticed how rapidly Trump has attacked his chosen goal of breaking the world.  He has done more damage in a week than most termites get done in a decade.

But haste makes for not just waste, but errors.  There's a reason for the slow passage of important government decisions, and that reason includes thinking all the consequences through as well as getting information and opinions from all the affected parties.  This does not seem to have happened with the Trump's Muslim ban,*** and the outcome is not only unjust (as it was doomed to be from the beginning), but also chaotic.

2.  Stephen "Hitler" Bannon, the ex-editor of Breitbart, is now a very powerful man in the Trump administration: