Friday, October 27, 2017

This Happened. Matt Taibbi and the Ames-Taibbi book on Russia.

Garance tweets about something Matt Taibbi recently told us: That the misogynistic stories in the book he co-authored with Mark Ames were a giant cosmic joke, sarcasm, and not true at all:

I recommend the third (last) section of my 2016 post (under the title Mark Ames) on wounded young heroes if you want to understand the context of that tweet better.

As Garance mentions in another tweet, the book has been marketed as non-fiction and:

My 2016 post asks what  wounded young heroines could get away with, in terms of their future careers, and concludes that it wouldn't be much, even if written as a sarcastic giant joke on the world.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Georgia Election Server Wiped Clean After Suit Filed

This is worth reading.  I have read so many outrageous things today, but this is still the most outrageous thing.

A snippet from the article:

The server data could have revealed whether Georgia’s most recent elections were compromised by hackers. The plaintiffs contend results of both last November’s election and a special June 20 congressional runoff— won by Kemp’s predecessor, Karen Handel — cannot be trusted.
Possible Russian interference in U.S. politics, including attempts to penetrate voting systems, has been an acute national preoccupation since the Obama administration sounded the alarm more than a year ago.
Kemp and his GOP allies insist Georgia’s elections system is secure. But Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff, believes server data was erased precisely because the system isn’t secure.
“I don’t think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious,” she said.

Where is the national movement for elections integrity?  After all, without that there can be no democracy.  None.

Added later:  More information can be found here.  Note that the server and two backups were all wiped clean, on purpose.

On The Latest Steele Dossier "Scandal"

Here's the interesting fact about this latest "Hillary Clinton scandal:"

I have known for a very long time* that the so-called Steele dossier was acquired in the form of opposition research.  The project was first paid for by a Republican anti-Trump donor, during the Republican primaries.  Once Trump won the Republican candidacy, that person withdrew his or her funding (for obvious reasons) and from that point onward the funding of the project was by Democrats.

So if I, a mere blogger, have had this knowledge from reading easily available published material, then surely the same is true of all those journalists?  It doesn't really seem to make any difference if that opposition research was paid by the Clinton campaign or the DNC, as opposed to having been paid by "Democrats."  And it doesn't make any difference if some Democratic operatives deny their involvement or if the expenses were incorrectly classified as legal expenses.

Those are not good things, of course.  But they have nothing to do with the question of how to judge the contents of the dossier (which should be done carefully, critically and objectively), and they certainly don't prove, even in some bizarre  right-wing world, that it was Hillary Clinton who was helped by all those Russian connections.  After all, it's hard to argue that she would have paid for the clearly pro-Trump Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The object of the current "scandal" is, of course, to cause doubt on the validity of whatever the Mueller investigation might find.

This might be one of the earliest pieces on that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Today's Pictures Of The Powerful Share One Characteristic

I should make this into a series, from all over the globe, to make it clearer how power is distributed.

First, this is the picture attached to one story about the powerful oil interests in the New York Times:

Second, this is the picture attached to another story in the New York Times, about the seven powerful people who will be running China:

Third, here's one glimpse of the powers in North Korea:

Now, what might be the common missing aspect in all those pictures?

We get a few sprinkles of that missing aspect in this one, from two days ago:

The framework for judging these is that half the people in this world are female.

Meet The Republican Party. Or Echidne's View Of It.

I rarely write posts based on nothing but my own opinions.  Here is one, just because this is my blog:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How To Write In The Trump Reich?

John Thomas Peele:  The Young Scholar (1871)

Writing about politics in the Trump Reich is a fraught enterprise.  So much that needs to be covered, so little time!  Besides, we now live in the post-rational era, which means that rational arguments are soooo 2016 and of no interest whatsoever.  Files nails, bats eyelashes. 

The one great talent Trump has is to direct our attention to his own peccadilloes:  The most recent one is his petulant attack on Myeshia Johnson, a Gold Star widow!  How does one NOT write about that, especially when her husband may have died because of Trump's incompetence, and when Trump extends his temper tantrum to two women of color:  Ms. Johnson and Rep. Frederica S. Wilson?

But then this is how he always acts, unable to take any criticism in a mature way, unable to feel empathy, unable to put any value above the picture he sees in his mirror, and if we always focus on such outrages (in this case tinged with his racism and sexism), then we never get to talk about the other things which are happening behind the curtain:

The great tax cuts for the rich.

-  The expiration of the Children's Health Insurance Program.  

-  The clearly clientelist state his administration is creating:

Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a reported $300 million for the restoration of its power grid to a tiny utility company which is primarily financed by a private equity firm founded and run by a man who contributed large sums of money to President Trump, an investigation conducted by The Daily Beast has found.
Whitefish Energy Holdings, which had a reported staff of only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria touched down, appears ill-equipped to handle the daunting task of restoring electricity to Puerto Rico’s over 3 million residents.

-  Trump's militaristic boasting and threats, combined with his eagerness to see how nuclear bombs explode.

-  The secret and unelected powers who are financing what is happening to us.

-  And — in particular for someone who writes about women's issues — the apparent intensification in the Republican war against abortion and reproductive choice in general:  Cases like this one, and the new battle front that has opened up on contraception.

Sigh.  So what would work?  We need a more optimistic approach to the whole question of resistance, and probably a better division of labor in how to tackle Trumpology.  He shouldn't be allowed to determine what we talk about the way he currently does.  He plays with us, like a cat plays with a mouse, and much of our writing is just so much squeaking.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The State of The Media Address, 2017. By Echidne

1.  Most news web pages now won't let me read an article without white-listing the page or pausing my Ad Blocker.  This means that I cannot read those sites without being exposed to their ads.

I get the reason: The free rider problem is enormous in journalism, and the development of Craig's List and other similar web markets have largely destroyed the old way newspapers used to fund their activities: By selling ads.  Indeed, the whole industry is dying a painful death, because most everything can now be obtained without paying for it, so why pay?*

But if few are willing to pay for news, then very few journalists will be able to make a living, foreign news bureaus will no longer exist, and ultimately we will all be stuck with trying to guess which rumors on Twitter or Facebook might be news and which might be fake news**.  Besides, money will be available for propaganda (which is at least biased news if not fake news) for much longer than it will be available for news, and the Republicans have a lot more money.

That makes subscribing to mainstream news important, even if they do a less than perfect job, and I do subscribe to all the major news sources I use for my blogging (thanks, nice donors).  But I can't afford to subscribe or donate to every single site I might need to read when I research a topic.  Instead, I read the allowed free articles and use an Ad Blocker.

Why block the ads?  Because moving GIFs and videos performing at a certain frequency give me an almost instant 24-hour migraine.  The sites I have contacted have not been willing to guarantee that their ads won't use those frequencies.  If I want to read that free article, I must take a health risk.  It's only fair.

So it goes.

2.  A recent Politico / Morning Consult survey found that 46 percent*** of the registered voters in the survey believe that the nation's major news organizations (p.146) fabricate**** stories about Donald Trump and his flying circus (administration).  How sad that they did not list those major news organizations!

It makes quite a bit difference if, say, Fox News is listed among them or not listed among them.

Republican men and women are the most likely to believe that the media lie about Trump, however, so it's probably the case that the findings reflect this new world where Republicans and Democrats sit inside their own information bubbles and simply refuse to believe anything from outside that bubble.

Republicans have long decided that the so-called mainstream news are not neutral at all, so it doesn't come as a great surprise that when the weird stuff about Trump's escapades comes out it's simply rejected as "fake news."

After all, that's what he tells his acolytes in plentiful tweets.  Though the weird stuff is also in his tweets and easily available to those acolytes!  Now think of those two facts together inside someone's head,  and your own head will start feeling dizzy.  Mine did, in any case.

Why didn't the survey ask if the respondents think Trump himself fabricates stories?  That's a lot more likely than some kind of a vast conspiracy where all the major news media secretly collaborate with each other.  Besides, it would have been fun to see if the political tribalism is equally fervent when the question is put that way.

What's troublesome about this trend is that I see no easy way to correct the tribal refusal to interrogate news sources of all kinds or to learn, more generally,  how facts can be established.


*  The free rider problem is an example of the kind of economic behavior which is individually optimal and rational (you get stuff for nothing), but which is destructive from a wider angle:  Ultimately the news we are able to read without paying will no longer be produced as the people working to produce them will not be paid.

Potential readers often argue that the news media would be paid if they worked in a more objective and better way, and cancelling subscriptions is a fun way to show our disapproval.

But even if the media was perfect (which will never be the case), the free rider problem would remain, as its basis is technological.  We really must think of some other way of paying for news, because a free press IS indispensable for democracy.

**  The problem is not limited to the fact that propagandists have a great incentive to disseminate biased or fake news.  It also includes the fact that becoming a good reporter takes skill, practice and learning, and producing news takes money.  Volunteer laypeople can provide anecdotal evidence and their private experiences, but they cannot replace professional news production.

***  Thirty-seven percent of the respondents don't think that the media fabricates such news, seventeen percent don't know.

As a complete aside, the same survey also tells us 66% of the respondents support the provision of contraceptives in health insurance, either strongly or somewhat.  Even the plurality of Republican men (the group which tends to oppose such things) supports that, and so do the majority of Catholic respondents.  This suggests that the current war against contraception is based on some desire by one of the shadowy figures behind Trump (either the white supremacy boyz or some billionaire with a particular pet hatred).

But what's fascinating about the answers to the question are the very large differences  (pp.119-120) between male and female respondents, both overall and within each party.  Contraception benefits both participants in a heterosexual intercourse when no pregnancy is desired, so heterosexual men, too, benefit from contraception used by heterosexual women for the purposes of preventing pregnancy (and without any side-effects to them).  Yet more men than women oppose the idea altogether.

The interesting question is whether the same men who express opposition in these answers would also oppose the coverage of a safe and effective male contraceptive pill in health insurance.  The answers to that would tell us if the opposition is about not wanting to pay for other people's sex or about something quite different.

****  This footnote was added later, because it occurred to me later:  The question actually has "fabricated" in it.  It's not a good word to use, and it's just possible that some respondents didn't realize it's the same as lying.  Why not call it lying?