Notes and Comment Blog


Guest post: The only appropriate reaction is to charge at the danger with your hair on fire

Dec 20th, 2016 2:35 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on Somewhat laid-back.

I grew up in a Russian family, Russian was my first language, and I’ve lived in the US since forever, but post-Joe McCarthy. I’ve always thought the “better dead than Red” testerical nonsense in this country to be evidence of softening of the brain.

I mean, the Russians’ idea of a national sport is watching a chess match. Weird, yes. Dangerous, no.

And now this. This, take it from one who knows, is different. There’s a guy who made his bones running the KGB. The KGB, godammit! Americans seem to have no concept what that means. You’ve got to be some kind of intelligent extraterrestrial fungus without a shred of human feeling to rise to the top of that heap. That’s Putin.

And that’s the guy who’s messing with democracies all over the Western world, not just the US, although that’s bad enough.

That’s an existential threat on the order of climate change to the US way of life. The only appropriate reaction is to charge at the danger with your hair on fire.

Instead we have Obama letting us know that he did tell Putin to “cut it out.” Oh, and time for vacay now. Not his problem. So long, suckers.

This is beyond bizarre.



Somewhat laid-back

Dec 20th, 2016 11:37 am | By

I’m still wondering why the official reaction to Putin’s role in the recent US election is so…mellow. The Guardian reports that so is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The former CIA director and defense secretary Robert Gates has criticised the Obama administration and congressional leaders of both parties for a “somewhat laid-back” response to the discovery of Russian interference in the US presidential election.

Not a thing to be laid-back about, wouldn’t you think?

Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Gates said a “thinly disguised” operation by Russia had aimed to undermine the credibility of the American election and was to weaken Hillary Clinton.

“Given the unprecedented nature of it and the magnitude of the effort, I think people seem to have been somewhat laid-back about it,” he said.

Gates said he was unsure if the aim was to swing the election to Trump.

“Whether it was intended to help one or other candidate, I don’t know,” he said. “But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs Clinton.”

If it aimed to weaken Clinton then it necessarily aimed to swing the election to Trump. You can’t do the first without doing the second. You can’t throw a lighted match onto a gasoline-soaked pile of junk without aiming to start a fire.

Gates worked for Republican and Democratic presidents, as CIA director under George HW Bush and secretary of defense under George W Bush and Obama. Asked by NBC host Chuck Todd if the White House, leaders of both parties and Trump had shown enough urgency, he answered flatly: “No.”

On Friday, Obama told a press conference his administration had not acted during the election because it did not want to appear partisan. It has been reported that the White House expected Hillary Clinton to win.

Because it what?

He’s a Democrat! He’s not a Republican! He campaigned for Clinton! Not appearing “partisan” is not an option in that situation.

Gates said Russia had carried out “a thinly disguised, covert operation intended to discredit the American election and to basically allow the Russians to communicate to the rest of the world that our elections are corrupt, incompetent, rigged, whatever, and therefore no more honest than anybody else’s in the world, including theirs”.

And to make us look like pathetic bumbling idiots, and by god he succeeded.



Bailing

Dec 20th, 2016 10:59 am | By

Another item to be filed under “Terrifying”

[Part of me wants to turn my back, ignore the whole thing, maybe revert to being a literature nerd…but the rest of me feels the need to know the truth, if only for planning reasons. Stockpile? Find out the lethal dose of something? These questions don’t answer themselves.]

The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials.

The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart.

The reasons are obvious. It’s not because it’s Republicans, it’s because it’s people who are programmatically opposed to expertise and knowledge and basic competence. It’s people who skip their security briefings. Not that the Guardian says that; I’m assuming it – but it’s not usual for civil servants to leave when an administration changes, so the explanation has to be something other than “wrong party.” The wild disregard for relevant expertise is the one that jumps out at me. In what part of government do you really not want wild-eyed amateurs in charge? National security.

Many are concerned by a proliferation of reports about the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn. On Wednesday the Washington Post reported that Flynn had improperly shared classified information with foreign military officers. On the same day, CNN reported that the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief had this week deleted a tweet he had sent out a few days before the election that linked to a fake news story suggesting Hillary Clinton took part in crimes against children.

Flynn fits the wild-eyed amateur pattern. He’s a military guy, not an intelligence expert, and he’s reckless as fuck. It’s amateurish to put him in that job and he’ll be an amateur in that job.

“Career people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,” said one official.

The official added that the “landing team” sent to the NSC – Trump representatives who are supposed to prepare for the handover to Trump appointees – have been focused on issues of process and how the office functions, rather than issues of substance involving an explanation of current national security threats and the state of the world the new administration will inherit.

There it is again – they don’t know the subject and they don’t care that they don’t know the subject. They’re anti-knowledge pro-business hacks, and they don’t belong there.

The Trump transition team in New York did not respond to a request for comment. The current NSC spokesman, Ned Price, said in an email: “The administration has undertaken its national security transition planning with the utmost rigour and seriousness in order to effect the most seamless and responsible transition.”

Price added: “We have been working since this spring to assemble a broad variety of transition material focused on critical national security challenges as well as NSC organizational issues and the NSC-led interagency policy process. The NSC staff also is offering to the incoming team in-person briefings and discussions with current NSC leadership and staff, and is coordinating statutorily required interagency homeland security exercises that will include both incoming and outgoing national security leadership from departments and agencies, as well as senior career public servants who will provide continuity through the transition.”

You know who Trump’s Ned Price will be? Fox News commentator Monica Crowley.

Yes, really.

It is unclear how much contact there is between the embryonic policy teams in New York and the landing teams in Washington, however.

“Most of the folks I have talked to at the three agencies – DoD (Department of Defense), state and White House – claim they have little or no interaction with these teams to date,” Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice-president Joe Biden, said.

“There are very important substantive handoffs that need to be occurring that are in fact not happening. That is creating added concern about the career civil servants who are in these agencies, wondering what they are in for.”

I think it’s pretty clear what they’re in for. They’re in for being bossed by a group of people who have no clue what they’re doing and don’t care that they have no clue.

Staffers at the State Department are apparently hoping for the best.

Reports from the state department suggest most of its staff are taking a wait-and-see approach to the prospect of having the ExxonMobil oil chief executive, Rex Tillerson, at the helm. On Thursday, most of the Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee wrote to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, offering his staff protection against a “witch-hunt” by the new administration against civil servants who worked on Obama policies Trump wants to reverse. The letter was sent after the energy department refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.

Drip drip drip, the poison enters and spreads.



Government by Twitter

Dec 20th, 2016 10:18 am | By

So another feature of Trump world is that he tweets shit that’s wrong, and that he would know was wrong if he took the security briefings he’s supposed to take. But it’s no biggy, because it’s only China.

Donald Trump launched his Twitter campaign against China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy research submersible last week to great fanfare ― and, as it turns out, hours after the crisis had already been defused.

It’s unclear whether the president-elect or his aides knew that fact ― it would have been included in the intelligence briefing available to him each morning ― before he sent out his misspelled missive of outrage at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters ― rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act,” Trump wrote. He deleted that version and replaced it with “unprecedented” spelled correctly at 8:57 a.m.

But even his first version came four hours after U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus was informed that the Chinese navy had agreed to return the “underwater unmanned vehicle.”

To be fair – the fact that China agreed to give it back didn’t alter the fact that China had taken it.

But all the same – do we want a president who tweets smack about other countries right after he rolls out of bed in the morning and without talking to anyone? Like, the State Department or intelligence officials? No, we don’t.

Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller was quick to take credit for his boss when news broke that China had agreed to return the device. At 11:54 a.m., he tweeted: “@realdonaldtrump gets it done,” and attached a link to an article in The Hill about the resolution of the incident. At 6:52 p.m., Miller tweeted a link to another story in The Hill, this one about his earlier tweet taking credit for Trump’s initial tweet.

Seriously? They claimed Trump had anything to do with it?

The encounter’s resolution, though, resulted not from Trump’s 140-character snippets of anger, but days of traditional diplomacy. The Chinese vessel had taken the submersible on Thursday just as the USNS Bowditch was preparing to retrieve it about 60 miles northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay in the South China Sea.

Baucus, a former Democratic senator from Montana, lodged his first protest that day, as did U.S. military representatives to their Chinese counterparts. Late Saturday afternoon Beijing time ― pre-dawn 3:30 a.m. in Washington ― Baucus relayed word that China had agreed to return the device, according to the State Department. That handover took place Tuesday, near the same location as the original incident.

I wonder how many wars we’ll be involved in by, say, mid-February.



Maximum sleaze

Dec 19th, 2016 4:57 pm | By

Good lord.

Think Progress reports:

The Embassy of Kuwait allegedly cancelled a contract with a Washington, D.C. hotel days after the presidential election, citing political pressure to hold its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel instead.

A source tells ThinkProgress that the Kuwaiti embassy, which has regularly held the event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, abruptly canceled its reservation after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect. The source, who has direct knowledge of the arrangements between the hotels and the embassy, spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly. ThinkProgress was also able to review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account.

In the early fall, the Kuwaiti Embassy signed a contract with the Four Seasons. But after the election, members of the Trump Organization contacted the Ambassador of Kuwait, Salem Al-Sabah, and encouraged him to move his event to Trump’s D.C. hotel, the source said.

After the election. After the election, members of Trump’s company pressured a foreign government to spend money on their product at the expense of a rival company. Jimmy Carter sold his god damn peanut farm, and Trump and his peons do this!

Kuwait has now signed a contract with the Trump International Hotel, the source said, adding that a representative with the embassy described the decision as political. Invitations to the event are typically sent out in January.

Abdulaziz Alqadfan, First Secretary of the Embassy of Kuwait, told ThinkProgress last week that he couldn’t “confirm or deny” that the National Day event would be held at the Trump Hotel. Reached again Monday afternoon, Alqadfan did not offer any comment. An email sent directly to Ambassador Al-Sabah was not immediately returned.

Well, eventually it will be confirmed or denied, because otherwise people won’t know where to go.

The apparent move by the Kuwaiti Embassy appears to be an effort to gain favor with president-elect through his business entanglements, and it appears to show Trump’s company leveraging his position as president-elect to extract payments from a foreign government. The latter, according to top legal experts, would be unconstitutional and could ultimately constitute an impeachable offense.

If the Republicans in Congress have enough integrity. That seems highly unlikely.

The Trump Organization’s pressure campaign has not been limited to Kuwait. The country was targeted as part of a larger effort by the Trump Organization to lure lucrative diplomats to the Trump International Hotel.

It’s working.

Kuwait cancelled with the Four Seasons a few days after the Trump International Hotel held an event for diplomats, reported the Washington Post, encouraging them to patronize the hotel.

I remember blogging that story in the Post. It was a startling news item.

Less than two weeks after that event, Politico reported that Bahrain, another Middle Eastern monarchy, would host its National Day reception at the Trump hotel on December 7.

That is so fucking sleazy. Look at it. The name of the god damn president attached to the hotel where a foreign country is throwing a bash. It’s revolting.

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) harshly criticized the Bahrain event, writing in a letter to Trump that he should “reject all business income from the Bahraini monarchy and all other foreign governments.” McGovern wrote that Trump’s “private commercial dealings with a repressive governments” endanger the fundamental principle that the president will “act solely in our country’s interests.”

The Republic of Azerbaijan also recently co-hosted a Hanukkah party at the Trump hotel, despite the anti-Semitic undertones of the Trump campaign. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, blasted the decision as “tone deaf at best, naked sycophancy at worst.”

Ugh, god, this is making me feel sick.

Trump contributed to the impression that his businesses and administration are intertwined by naming three of his children to his transition team, while also saying that the children will manage his companies.

Trump planned to explain in a press conference this month how his businesses would operate after he assumes office, but he has postponed the announcement indefinitely.

Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr., meanwhile, have all been featured in public transition events. The transition team handed out a photo of Ivanka meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and a summit with a group of top American tech leaders held last week featured all three Trump children perched at the head of the table.

Was that appropriate? Having his children / company managers sitting in on that meeting with the tech people? Of course not. He’s not supposed to share his presidency with his kids, and he’s not supposed to mix his business with his presidency. It’s inappropriate from both directions. It’s grotesque. IT IS GROTESQUE.

They should not have been there.

Although the president is exempt from some conflict-of-interest laws, the Congressional Research Service recently identified nine federal conflict of interest and ethics provisions that could apply to the president.

One looms large over the apparent hotel deal with the Kuwaitis: The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving money from a foreign government or head of state.

According to Democratic and Republican legal experts, such a payment is not only unconstitutional, it’s an impeachable offense.

Putin wanted to make the US a laughing stock. He won.



If you support tolerance you don’t support Trump

Dec 19th, 2016 4:29 pm | By

There will be resistance however.

IBM employees are resisting.

IBM employees are taking a public stand following a personal pitch to Donald Trump from CEO Ginni Rometty and the company’s initial refusal to rule out participating in the creation of a national Muslim registry. In November, Rometty wrote Trump directly, congratulating him on his electoral victory and detailing various services the company could sell his administration. The letter was published on an internal IBM blog along with a personal note from Rometty to her enormous global staff. “As IBMers, we believe that innovation improves the human condition. … We support, tolerance, diversity, the development of expertise, and the open exchange of ideas,” she wrote in the context of lending material support to a man who won the election by rejecting all of those values. Employee comments were a mix of support and horror. Now, some of those who were horrified are going public, denouncing Rometty’s letter and asserting “our right to refuse participation in any U.S. government contracts that violate constitutionally protected civil liberties.” The IBMPetition.org effort has been spearheaded in part by IBM cybersecurity engineer Daniel Hanley, who told The Intercept he started organizing with his coworkers after reading Rometty’s letter. “I was shocked, of course,” Hanley said, “because IBM has purported to espouse diversity and inclusion, and yet here’s Ginni Rometty in an unqualified way reaching out to an admin whose electoral success was based on racist programs.”

I’m somewhat shocked that IBM refused to rule out participating in the creation of a national Muslim registry.

Resist.



This is what happens in a dictatorship, not a democracy

Dec 19th, 2016 3:56 pm | By

Ari Berman makes clear what an outrage the North Carolina coup is.

What began as a special legislative session to help victims of Hurricane Matthew quickly turned into something very different when the GOP-controlled legislature hastily passed a series of bills stripping incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of his constitutional powers. Most noteworthy, Cooper will no longer get to appoint a majority of members to the state board of elections or 100 county boards of elections, and the state board will be chaired by a Republican in all even-numbered years—i.e., any time there’s a major congressional, statewide, or presidential election. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the legislature, this is a guaranteed prelude to future voter-suppression efforts. The bill also makes it harder for the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Democratic majority, to review future challenges to election-law changes. Outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill 48 hours after it was first introduced.

They’re hell-bent on suppressing the black vote in North Carolina, and the Shelby ruling will make it impossible to use the Voting Rights Act to stop them. We’re going fucking backwards.

Ari says they’re turning what was one of the most progressive states in the South into a laboratory for voter suppression.

The legislative coup is merely the latest in a series of outrageous and illegal actions by the North Carolina GOP to undermine democracy in the state.

First, after taking power after the 2010 election for the first time since 1870, North Carolina Republicans gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts by resegregating the state politically in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Federal courts have already struck down two congressional districts for racial gerrymandering and ordered new elections for 28 General Assembly districts next year. In other words, the legislature that stripped power from the next Democratic governor was elected by illegal means.

Second, a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter-suppression law. The “monster” bill required strict voter ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

They made voting as difficult as possible, and guess who is targeted when legislatures do that.

The pattern in North Carolina is clear: When Republicans win, they suppress the Democratic vote to solidify power in future elections. And when they lose, they rig the rules to prevent their opponents from being able to fairly exercise and maintain power. This is what happens in a dictatorship, not a democracy. And it’s a preview of what’s to come in Trump’s America.

I’ve written that Trump is the greatest threat to American democracy in our lifetime because, unlike his Democratic or Republican predecessors, he has little respect for basic democratic institutions like a free press or a fair election. But Trump is also such a threat because his party, as we’re seeing in North Carolina, has displayed the same brazen disregard for the will of the people. And now it will control the White House, the Congress, the courts, and two-thirds of state legislatures.

It’s terrifying.



Breitscheidplatz

Dec 19th, 2016 3:16 pm | By

Update: it’s now 12 people killed.

And Berlin.

An articulated lorry has ploughed into a busy Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing nine people and injuring many more, police say.

Police say they suspect it was deliberate. Video shows stalls knocked over and people lying injured.

A suspicious person was arrested nearby, while what police describe as a passenger was found dead, police say.

The market is at Breitscheidplatz, close to the Kurfuerstendamm, the main shopping street in the city’s west.

It’s also right near the Berlin zoo. I once knew some elephant keepers at the Berlin Zoo.

Here’s the Facebook safety check page, in case you have friends there. I’ve heard from a couple of friends.

According to the DPA news agency, police believe the lorry drove 50-80 metres (54-87 yards) through the market area during the incident, which occurred at 20:14 local time (19:14 GMT).

“We are investigating whether it was a terror attack but do not yet know what was behind it,” a police spokesman told AFP news agency.

“One person was detained. The cab of the truck was found empty.”

That’s a hell of a distance to drive by accident, plus there’s the fact that it happened in Nice as well as other places in France, plus there have been news reports that this is a recommended method for freelance mass murderers. No need to mess with explosives or guns, just get a truck and drive it into a crowded open air spot.

Images of the lorry show it was registered in neighbouring Poland and Polish media are suggesting it may have been stolen earlier on Monday.

The Polish haulage company which uses the vehicle has reportedly been unable to get in touch with the original driver, a Polish national, since 16:00 (15:00 GMT).

So the driver is probably dead.

A British eyewitness, Mike Fox, told The Associated Press at the scene that the large lorry had missed him by only about 3m as it drove into the market, tearing through tables and wooden stands.

“It was definitely deliberate,” said the tourist, visiting from Birmingham.

He said he had helped people who appeared to have broken limbs, and that others were trapped under Christmas stands.

Allahu akbar.



Another irregular verb

Dec 19th, 2016 11:24 am | By

Richard Rothstein points out that social engineering is not just when people try to undo housing segregation – it’s also when people segregate housing in the first place.

President-elect Donald Trump proposes to nominate Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Mr. Carson has expressed opposition to the Obama administration’s new HUD requirement that cities and suburbs develop plans to end their segregation or face possible loss of federal funds. He calls this “social engineering,” and says that such well-intentioned programs have unintended consequences that their proponents later come to regret. Instead, he says, emphasis should be placed on revitalizing distressed minority neighborhoods in central cities.

What Mr. Carson’s view ignores is that the racial segregation of every metropolitan area in the nation is also the result of “social engineering”—the purposeful efforts of federal, state, and local governments to create and enforce the residential separation of the races. What the Obama administration has begun are plans to undo this social engineering. Failing to continue these plans doesn’t avoid social engineering—it perpetuates it.

Carson grew up in Detroit and claims that that gives him insight into depressed neighborhoods, but Rothstein says that knowing how they got that way is crucial. It didn’t just happen; it was made to happen.

In 1948-49, the Detroit City Council held hearings on 12 proposed public housing projects in outlying (predominantly white) areas. Mayor Cobo vetoed all 12; only housing in predominantly black areas was approved. At the time, there was an enormous civilian housing shortage, and both whites and blacks needed public housing. Had the rejected sites been approved, families of both races would have resided in public housing located throughout the city, setting an integrated pattern that might well persist to this day.

But the mayor actively prevented that integration from happening. Social engineering.

During this period, one developer applied to the federal government for financing to construct housing in Detroit that would be restricted to white families only. Fearing possible future integration, the Federal Housing Administration approved his application only on condition that he construct a concrete wall, six feet high and a foot thick, to separate the proposed development from a neighborhood where African Americans lived.

Uh…wow. A wall. An actual wall. Like Trump’s wall to protect us from bad hombres. Like the Berlin wall. President Trump, tear down that wall.

The Feds built a bomber plant in Willow Run during the war, and built housing for the workers there. The housing was restricted to white people, and so were jobs at the bomber plant. That’s your social engineering right there.

The city of Hamtramck basically ethnically cleansed itself of African Americans.

Public officials in Detroit suburbs adopted explicit policies to exclude African Americans, preventing them from leaving the neighborhoods where Ben Carson grew up. In 1956, for example, the mayor of Dearborn, a suburb to the west of Detroit, announced, “Negroes can’t get in here. Every time we hear of a Negro moving in, we respond quicker than you do to a fire. That’s generally known.” One black family that purchased a Dearborn home in defiance of the city policy found its gas turned off and garbage uncollected, and finally moved out. The mayor of Warren, a suburb to the north of Detroit, announced “I won’t tolerate Warren being used as a guinea pig for integration experiments.” Other suburbs maintained similar policies, social engineering the concentration of African Americans in the city itself.

Note the echo of Carson’s thinking: that integration is an “experiment” while segregation is not.

Policies like these not only segregated the Detroit metropolitan area, but every metropolitan area in the nation. Certainly, private prejudice was involved, as well as private discrimination. But without the social engineering of federal, state, and local government, the nation would have a much more integrated landscape than it does today, and the distressed inner city conditions that Ben Carson proposes to address would be, at the least, much less severe.

Is there any chance that Ben Carson will ever pay any attention to Richard Rothstein? Probably not.



In Ankara

Dec 19th, 2016 10:28 am | By

The Russian ambassador in Turkey was killed in Ankara today.

A gunman in Turkey wearing a business suit and tie opened fire Monday on Russia’s ambassador, killing the diplomat and wounding several others at photo exhibit in the Turkish capital, officials said. The gunman was killed as panicked people scattered for cover in the gallery.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. But video posted on social media purported to show a Turkish-speaking attacker decrying violence in Syria, where Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia and Turkey, a foe of Assad, recently joined to broker a deal to evacuate civilians and rebel fighters from the last opposition enclaves in Aleppo, a major Syrian city that has been under relentless attacks from Syrian forces and their allies.

“Allah Akbar! Do not forget Aleppo!” said the gunman, according to the widely circulated video. “Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! As long as our lands are not safe, you will not be safe!

The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand stepped into his car…



Take thy reward

Dec 19th, 2016 9:37 am | By

Trump’s choice for very right-wing ambassador to Israel is a lawyer who helped Trump make out like a bandit from his company that went bankrupt. Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate has the story:

In 1995, a company called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Trump was its chairman and, beginning in 2000, its CEO. The company lost money every year of its existence and went bankrupt in 2004. Its total 1995–2004 losses: $647 million. When it went bankrupt, bondholders had to settle for less than what they were owed. Employees lost their jobs and contractors went unpaid. IPO investors who held on until the end ultimately lost 90 cents for every dollar invested.

Other high-end casino and resort companies did well in the same period. And, bonus, Donald Trump did well from his bankrupt company, even as everyone else took a bath.

His contract kept him well-compensated personally even as he burdened the company itself with unsustainable debt. Like his presidential campaign, meanwhile, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts spent big sums of (other people’s) money on other Trumpworld properties—at one point estimating in a public filing, for example, that it had paid $470,000 for “Trump Ice”-brand bottled water in one year. Fortune estimates that on the whole, Trump Hotels—and its zombie post-bankruptcy successor, Trump Entertainment Resorts, which itself went bankrupt in 2009—paid Donald Trump a total of $82 million.

No doubt he’ll do the same for us!

Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, throughout all of this, was David Friedman. It was Friedman who filed for the bankruptcies in 2004 and 2009 and negotiated with the creditors to whom Trump Hotels had gotten in too deep. Neither Trump nor Friedman, however, was ever accused of doing anything improper or illegal in relation to Trump Hotels. Running a company into the ground and then getting to keep all of the enormous windfall you reaped while doing so, as we all learned after the 2008 bank crashes, is often just the way things are done.

And the way rich people get richer, which is the very essence of a flourishing democracy, right?

In other words, Friedman did a pretty good job on Trump’s behalf. Now, if confirmed, he gets a big reward: Becoming the United States’ ambassador to one of the world’s most explosive geopolitical hot spots despite a total lack of diplomatic experience and a history of making incendiary statements.

If this were a tv serial, it would be fascinating to watch. As reality, it’s more of a nightmare.



Larry Colburn

Dec 19th, 2016 8:43 am | By

Larry Colburn died a week ago. He was the last survivor of the crew that intervened to stop the massacre at My Lai.

Mr. Colburn was the last surviving member of a three-man helicopter crew that was assigned to hover over My Lai on Saturday morning, March 16, 1968, to identify enemy positions by drawing Vietcong fire.

Instead, the men encountered an eerie quiet and a macabre landscape of dead, wounded and weaponless women and children as a platoon of American soldiers, ostensibly hunting elusive Vietcong guerrillas, marauded among defenseless noncombatants.

They dropped smoke flares to mark the wounded so that the soldiers on the ground could find and help them; when they came back around they found all the wounded dead.

Audaciously and on his own initiative, the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr., swooped down and landed the copter.

“Mr. Thompson was just beside himself,” Mr. Colburn recalled in an interview in 2010 for the PBS program “The American Experience.” “He got on the radio and just said, ‘This isn’t right, these are civilians, there’s people killing civilians down here.’ And that’s when he decided to intervene. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this, are you with me?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Mr. Thompson confronted the officer in command of the rampaging platoon, Lt. William L. Calley, but was rebuffed. He then positioned the helicopter between the troops and the surviving villagers and faced off against another lieutenant. Mr. Thompson ordered Mr. Colburn to fire his M-60 machine gun at any soldiers who tried to inflict further harm.

Mr. Thompson, Mr. Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, the copter’s crew chief, found about 10 villagers cowering in a makeshift bomb shelter and coaxed them out, then had them flown to safety by two Huey gunships. They found an 8-year-old boy clinging to his mother’s corpse in an irrigation ditch and plucked him by the back of his shirt and delivered him to a nun in a nearby hospital.

Crucially, they reported what they had witnessed to headquarters, which ordered a cease-fire. By then, as many as 500 villagers had been killed.

To our disgrace. Oradour-sur-Glane, SrebrenicaJallianwala Bagh, My Lai.

Seymour M. Hersh, the independent journalist who later uncovered the My Lai massacre, said of Mr. Colburn in a phone interview on Friday that “for a door gunner in Vietnam to point his machine gun at an American officer” under those circumstances “was in the greatest tradition of American integrity.”

The full extent of the gang rapes, massacre and mutilations by Charlie Company in My Lai and another hamlet, on the South Central Coast, was not exposed until two months after Mr. Colburn was discharged.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning report by Mr. Hersh for The Dispatch News Service in November 1969 provoked international outrage and eventually resulted in charges against more than a dozen officers. Only one, however, was convicted: Lieutenant Calley, for the murder of 22 civilians. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but ended up serving only three and a half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, Ga.

My Lai became a paradigm for unbridled brutality and an object lesson in battlefield ethics, but the crewmen whose audacious intervention prevented even more bloodshed were largely forgotten.

Their heroism was acknowledged with Bronze Stars, which they considered inappropriate recognition: The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery under enemy assault, they reasoned, and they had demonstrated courage in the face of friendly fire.

After the investigations and trial, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Colburn received something else, too: hate mail.

“One of the most infuriating things is being called a whistle-blower, as if we went and ratted someone out,” Mr. Colburn told Vietnam Magazine. “That is completely false; there was no back-stabbing going on. We were right in their face at My Lai. We were ready to confront those people then and there. And we did, the best we could.”

H/t Lady Mondegreen



Kedi

Dec 18th, 2016 5:35 pm | By

Have the cats of Istanbul.

Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame –and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.

Critics and internet cats agree – this cat documentary will charm its way into your heart and home as you fall in love with the cats in Istanbul. This film is a sophisticated take on your typical cat video that will both dazzle and educate.

In Theaters February 10th, 2017

Produced by Ceyda Torun and Charlie Wuppermann
Directed by Ceyda Torun

 



The worst form of censorship

Dec 18th, 2016 11:31 am | By

Outlook India talks to Taslima about censorship.

For noted Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who has faced the ire of fundamentalists on several occasions, self-censorship is the worst form of censorship.

With attacks against writers, minority religious leaders, and atheist bloggers on the rise in Bangladesh, Nasreen says many authors have now been forced to resort to self-censorship to avoid facing fatal consequences.

“In our part of the world we have problems regarding freedom of expression. Many people do not speak what they want to. And, most writers in Bangladesh now self-censor themselves. Otherwise they will be hacked to death. But, for me it is the worst form of censorship,” she said.

“Even when I write for newspapers, editors cut several sentences before printing,” she said.

She points out the truth: no matter what you write, it will always “offend” the “feelings” of someone.

“My sentiments are offended by the death threats I receive from Islamic fundamentalists but that doesn’t mean I want to kill people for that. I have an inbuilt mechanism to face all this. The fundamentalists, however, are so weak that they can’t tolerate what I say,” she said.

Despite being a permanent European citizen and an American resident, the doctor-turned-author refuses to stay anywhere but India.

She’s very passionate about it. She wants to be where she’s needed most, and that’s India (since Bangladesh is out of the question).

Expressing concern over how more and more parts of the globe are becoming autocratic, she said the world was becoming a difficult place for writers to speak their minds.

“When writers like me are attacked here, we go to Europe. Now even Europeans have started having problems (Charlie Hebdo attack), so where do we go now?” she said.

She also called for a consolidated fight against the ‘misogynist’ mindset prevailing in society to “make the world a better place to live in”.

“If we want to change society we have to fight fundamentalists because they want to pull society backwards. I write for human rights, women’s rights and freedom of expression.

“For a change I think we should fight misogyny and religious fundamentalism, otherwise it won’t be a better place to live.”

Let’s do that.



Struggle not submission

Dec 18th, 2016 10:21 am | By

More from One Law for All via Maryam:

More Photos for #OneLawforAllBecause
#StruggleNotSubmission
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One Law for All

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Sloppy analysis of collections of people

Dec 18th, 2016 9:55 am | By

William Easterly also (i.e. like me) has disdain for this habit of making stupid generalizations about massive geographical “groups” – groups in scare quotes because they’re not the groups the generalizers say they are. “Coastal elites” versus “flyover country” – how meaningless can you get?

I was born in West Virginia and spent all of 10 days there as an infant before my family moved to Ohio.  Perhaps that’s a license for me to say why Appalachians are poor, drink too much, and voted for Donald Trump. The best-selling and widely praised “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance, proceeds along those lines. But I shouldn’t single out that book: Sloppy analysis of collections of people — coastal elites, flyover America, Muslims, immigrants, people without college degrees, you name it — has become routine. And it’s killing our politics.

And clogging up our heads with stupid.

Three laws guide this bogus analysis of groups. First, define the group by the outcome you are trying to explain. Second, invoke a stereotype and exaggerate it. Third, endow the group with innate permanent properties, akin to racial characteristics. Together, these errors establish a kind of collective guilt, blaming an entire ill-defined group for the failings of its individuals, even if the offenders are a tiny minority. This is both divisive and false — and all the more toxic because of its flavor of intellectual propriety.

Divisive, and false, and stupid. It’s the love-child of Tom Friedman and David Brooks, and it’s stupid.

First, defining the group by the outcome you are trying to explain:

Vance (who’s actually a third-generation Appalachian immigrant to Middletown, in western Ohio) tells how his grandparents smashed up a pharmacy and threatened a clerk who’d told his son not to play with a toy on display: “If you say another word to my son, I will break your fucking neck.” Hence, the definition: “Destroying store merchandise and threatening a sales clerk were normal to Mamaw and Papaw. That’s what Scots-Irish Appalachians do when people mess with your kid.”

When Appalachians move to western Ohio, Vance notes, “hillbilly values spread widely along with hillbilly people.” How do you know they’re still hillbillies? Because they wreck pharmacies. Defining Appalachians as those who are poor, uneducated, and violent, we find that Appalachian culture causes poverty, lack of education, and violence.

So, using that logic, somebody in Manhattan once ordered a latte at Starbucks while carrying the latest NYRB, therefore the coastal elite is in a bubble out of touch with the pharmacy-smashers in South Dakota. Or something.

The second law of pseudo-analysis of groups says, reinforce stereotypes. In the case of Appalachia, these have a long history — “Deliverance” and all that. Recent fires in the Smoky Mountains aroused suspicions about the “moonshine stills of the poor, ignorant hillbillies.” This takes the badly defined group fully into the realm of caricature. (Note that when Appalachians complain about such accounts, Vance and other analysts see a flawed culture that “makes it hard for Appalachians to look at themselves honestly.” )

You can watch the news media doing this all the time – all those little vignettes where they go out into the world to Talk To Someone, so that we can all then feel we’ve heard a Representative Sample of what people are thinking. I seriously wish they would stop doing that.

Group stereotypes typically have a kernel of truth, reflecting some trait which is over-represented — but the likelihood of the trait’s occurring is then greatly exaggerated. Consider the elderly Floridian. Florida’s proportion of elderly people is indeed above the national average, but not as much as you think — 17 percent are 65 or older, compared to a national average of 13 percent.

You know what that’s like? The finding that men tend to think women dominate conversations far more than they actually do. A number of women in a group approaching half but still short of it will be reported as a large majority; that kind of thing.

In the U.S., we “coastal elites” are likely to condemn stereotypes when they involve immigrants, nonwhites, or religious minorities. But we’re more accepting of stereotypes that portray Southern, Midwestern, uneducated, working class whites as stupid, racist, and homophobic. (You wonder why so many rejected our advice on how to vote?) On the other hand, if you’re thinking, “Speak for yourself” — you’re right! “Coastal elite” is another stereotype. We don’t all disdain Appalachia or flyover America.

The crucial point is that all these stereotypes purport to be findings. In fact, they’re the opposite: a refusal to see vast individual variation within groups.

There’s a slippage from these stereotypes, he says, to thinking the stereotypes are inherent characteristics.

The idea is that all group members have a biological or innate propensity to behave a certain way. Studies suggest instead upsurges of bad or extreme behavior by some members of such groups for historical, changeable, circumstantial reasons. There’s no evidence for innate, permanent traits.

We understand this for some groups, but not for others. We understand Floridians don’t have a biological tendency to be elderly, and that Florida wound up with more old people for reasons of history and climate. But many anti-racist liberals see Appalachians as akin to an inferior race innately prone to racism.

It’s all bogus. Groups don’t have characters or personalities or minds. “Coastal elites” and “flyover country” are equally meaningless.



Those who remember a finer music

Dec 17th, 2016 3:32 pm | By

Zadie Smith wrote a magnificent talk for the occasion of her receipt of the 2016 Welt Literature Prize in Berlin two days after the election of Donnie from Queens. The NYRB shares it.

She is often asked these days about an apparent move in her fiction from optimism to pessimism.

Sometimes it is put far more explicitly, like so: “You were such a champion of ‘multiculturalism.’ Can you admit now that it has failed?” When I hear these questions I am reminded that to have grown up in a homogeneous culture in a corner of rural England, say, or France, or Poland, during the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, is to think of oneself as having been simply alive in the world, untroubled by history, whereas to have been raised in London during the same period, with, say, Pakistani Muslims in the house next door, Indian Hindus downstairs, and Latvian Jews across the street, is thought of, by others, as evidence of a specific historical social experiment, now discredited.

Of course, as a child I did not realize that the life I was living was considered in any way provisional or experimental by others: I thought it was just life. And when I wrote a novel about the London I grew up in, I further did not realize that by describing an environment in which people from different places lived relatively peaceably side by side, I was “championing” a situation that was in fact on trial and whose conditions could suddenly be revoked. This is all to say I was very innocent, aged twenty-one. I thought the historical forces that had taken the black side of my family from the west coast of Africa, through slavery to the Caribbean, through colonialism and postcolonialism to Britain were as solid and real as the historical forces that, say, purged a small Italian village of its Jews and, by virtue of its physical distance from Milan, kept that village largely white and Catholic in the same years my little corner of England turned racially pluralistic and multifaith. I thought my life was as contingent as the lives lived out in a rural Italian village and that in both cases historical time was moving in the only direction it can: forward. I did not understand that I was “championing” multiculturalism by simply depicting it, or by describing it as anything other than incipient tragedy.

But other people understood that for her, and interrogate her about it now.

I find these days that a wistful form of time travel has become a persistent political theme, both on the right and on the left. On November 10 The New York Times reported that nearly seven in ten Republicans prefer America as it was in the 1950s, a nostalgia of course entirely unavailable to a person like me, for in that period I could not vote, marry my husband, have my children, work in the university I work in, or live in my neighborhood. Time travel is a discretionary art: a pleasure trip for some and a horror story for others. Meanwhile some on the left have time travel fancies of their own, imagining that the same rigid ideological principles once applied to the matters of workers’ rights, welfare, and trade can be applied unchanged to a globalized world of fluid capital.

But still the question of a failed project—as it applies to the tiny unreal world of my fiction—is not entirely wrongheaded. It’s true enough that my novels were once sunnier places and now the clouds have rolled in. Part of this I chalk up simply to the experience of middle age: I wrote White Teeth as a child, and have grown up alongside it. The art of midlife is surely always cloudier than the art of youth, as life itself gets cloudier. But it would be disingenuous to pretend it is only that. I am a citizen as well as an individual soul and one of the things citizenship teaches us, over the long stretch, is that there is no perfectibility in human affairs. This fact, still obscure to a twenty-one-year-old, is a little clearer to the woman of forty-one.

As my dear, soon-departing president well understood, in this world there is only incremental progress. Only the willfully blind can ignore that the history of human existence is simultaneously the history of pain: of brutality, murder, mass extinction, every form of venality and cyclical horror. No land is free of it; no people are without their bloodstain; no tribe entirely innocent. But there is still this redeeming matter of incremental progress. It might look small to those with apocalyptic perspectives, but to she who not so long ago could not vote, or drink from the same water fountain as her fellow citizens, or marry the person she chose, or live in a certain neighborhood, such incremental change feels enormous.

It does. Now if only we can hang on to that incremental change during this next swing…

Meanwhile the dream of time travel—for new presidents, literary journalists, and writers alike—is just that: a dream. And one that only makes sense if the rights and privileges you are accorded currently were accorded to you back then, too. If some white men are more sentimental about history than anyone else right now it’s no big surprise: their rights and privileges stretch a long way back. For a black woman the expanse of livable history is so much shorter.

Preeeecisely. Mark Lilla and Nick Kristof please note.

Things have changed, but history is not erased by change, and the examples of the past still hold out new possibilities for all of us, opportunities to remake, for a new generation, the conditions from which we ourselves have benefited. Neither my readers nor I am in the relatively sunlit uplands depicted in White Teeth anymore. But the lesson I take from this is not that the lives in that novel were illusory but rather that progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated, and reimagined if it is to survive. I don’t claim that it’s easy. I do not have the answers. I am by nature not a political person and these are the darkest political times I have ever known. My business, such as it is, concerns the intimate lives of people. The people who ask me about the “failure of multiculturalism” mean to suggest that not only has a political ideology failed but that human beings themselves have changed and are now fundamentally incapable of living peacefully together despite their many differences.

In this argument it is the writer who is meant to be the naive child, but I maintain that people who believe in fundamental and irreversible changes in human nature are themselves ahistorical and naive. If novelists know anything it’s that individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world—and most recently in America—the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.

Play it. Sing along. All together now.



In this together?

Dec 17th, 2016 12:27 pm | By

And then there’s Mark Lilla’s piece from November 28.

He starts by saying the US is diverse, without saying what he means by “diverse.”

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Is that right? So it’s more “unifying” to revert to the idea that straight white men should have all the power and influence and most of the money, while the rest of us just tag along in their wake?

No, I don’t think so. I think these struggles over equality may be disunifying in the short term, but in the long term they lead to better, more stable, more just unity.

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.

That sounds nice, and it might be nice if this were a different country with a different history. But it’s not. It’s this country with this history: the one that started out in life as a slave country, and stayed that way for most of its history, and even after formally ending slavery continued with de facto slavery for nearly another century. That’s not some little detail, it’s a giant scar across the whole face of our history. There’s also the expropriation of the native population and the internment of Japanese citizens only 75 years ago. Given that actual history, claiming we are “a nation of citizens who are in this together” is insulting to the people who were never treated as “in this together” for almost the whole of our history. There’s a lot of work to do before that claim can be honestly made.

So, yeah. I’m still one of those pesky recalcitrant types who think that straight white men shouldn’t be telling us underlings that we are in this together until that’s actually the case. Not yet, Mark Lilla, not yet.



More compassion for trafficked children than for conservative scholars

Dec 17th, 2016 10:48 am | By

So let’s read those two “down with identity politics” pieces written by people who don’t need “identity politics.”

First Kristof May 7.

WE progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

That’s a silly observation. It’s a category mistake. Progressives think women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims and so on shouldn’t be systematically excluded from various societal goods simply on the basis of who they are. That has nothing to do with what kind of people progressives seek out as friends and/or political comrades. No, I don’t have to make a point of befriending conservatives or religious believers on the grounds that belief in equal rights entails it.

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.

That could be true, but the way he phrased it is again a mixing of categories. A point of view isn’t necessarily a stigmatization of the opposed view. “Intellectual diversity” isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it depends. There are standards in intellectual work, and those standards filter out people who don’t meet them. That’s as it should be. You don’t want to include charlatans and buffoons and conspiracy-mongers in your “intellectual diversity.” You don’t want to include hacks, either.

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

Oh, my – that’s an unfortunate set of analogies. Yes, oddly enough, I do have more compassion for war victims and trafficked children than I have for conservative scholars facing purported discrimination. I hope everyone does, including conservative scholars.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

No. Conservatives, yes, but evangelical Christians, no. Practicing evangelical Christians can’t contribute to intellectual or scholarly or educational discussion, because that’s not what they do. Diversity does not demand that they be represented on university faculties.

Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).

In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.

Sigh. Again, this is just silly. What if Marxists are more drawn to the social sciences than Republicans are? This isn’t a question of inborn characteristics, it’s a question of acquired tastes and interests.

He does go on to cite actual studies.

The scarcity of conservatives seems driven in part by discrimination. One peer-reviewed study found that one-third of social psychologists admitted that if choosing between two equally qualified job candidates, they would be inclined to discriminate against the more conservative candidate.

Yancey, the black sociologist, who now teaches at the University of North Texas, conducted a survey in which up to 30 percent of academics said that they would be less likely to support a job seeker if they knew that the person was a Republican.

The discrimination becomes worse if the applicant is an evangelical Christian. According to Yancey’s study, 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors would be less likely to hire someone they found out was an evangelical.

But that’s not discrimination in the pejorative sense. Evangelicals have an extra filter, and it’s a filter that screens out much of what is important to disciplines like anthropology and literature. I don’t think we should be treating literalist religion as a mere arbitrary marker when in fact it’s a very substantive view of the world, which can interfere with more thoughtful views of the world. It’s not ideal for an academic.

“Of course there are biases against evangelicals on campuses,” notes Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard. Walton, a black evangelical, adds that the condescension toward evangelicals echoes the patronizing attitude toward racial minorities: “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor.”

Horseshit. That’s just manipulative. The two are not comparable and we’re not required to treat them as if they were.

Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z. So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.

Should they? Really? Should there be KKK perspectives, Nazi perspectives, ISIS perspectives, Opus Dei perspectives?



Won’t someone please think of the majority?

Dec 17th, 2016 9:40 am | By

A Nature editorial urges us to do the impossible – ” fight discrimination in all its forms” while not “excluding conservative voices from debate.”

How possible or impossible that is of course depends on what is meant by “excluding from debate.” That activity tends to be used in different senses depending on where the user is in the paragraph. It tends to mean one thing in its first appearance and another thing in the next sentence and a third in the one after that. Or, in other words, it tends to be deployed as a nice respectable goal in airy generalizations, without much effort to explain how it actually works.

Nature was prompted by a couple of Times think pieces, one by Nicholas Kristof in May and the other by Mark Lilla days after the election.

The article by Mark Lilla, a researcher at Columbia University in New York City who specializes in the history of Western intellectual, political and religious thought, called for an end to what he described as an overemphasis by liberals on racial, gender and sexual identity politics. He believes that this focus distracts from core fundamental concepts of democracy and so weakens social cohesion and civic responsibility.

That’s an article or book I’ve read many many times over the past twenty years or more. There’s usually something to it; it’s true that identity politics can get obsessive and narrow and unproductively hostile. On the other hand it’s so difficult not to notice that these things are so often written by people who are not in need of “racial, gender and sexual identity politics.” It’s so difficult not to notice that Mark Lilla and Nicholas Kristof are not subject to misogyny or racism or homophobia.

In short, [Lilla] asserted that many progressives live in bubbles; that they are educationally programmed to be attuned to diversity issues, yet have “shockingly little to say” about political and democratic fundamentals such as class, economics, war and policy issues affecting the common good. Of direct relevance to the US election, he argued that the excessive focus on identity politics by urban and academic elites has left many white, religious and rural groups feeling alienated, threatened and ignored in an unwelcoming environment where the issues that matter to them are given little or no attention.

Wait. How is it that class affects the common good but sex and race do not? How could that be the case? Class is about hierarchy, just as sex and race are. Some people benefit from class and others don’t; some people benefit from class by exploiting the people who don’t benefit from class. That’s what “class” is. Talking about it is “divisive” in exactly the same way talking about sex and race is. Economics also works differently for different classes, sexes, and races.

Also, white people and religious people are not the persecuted or neglected minority here. Rural people are to some extent, but that’s also what rural means to more than some extent. Rural means far fewer people around, and that means services much less densely provided. It’s not possible to provide the amenities of a city without the population density of a city. That fact is not the fault of the bubble-dwelling elites with their identity politics. It’s economics – that which Lilla wants the bubble-dwellers to pay more attention to.

Lilla argues, perhaps unconvincingly, that fixating on the concerns of particular groups has been divisive, and he calls instead for a focus on unifying issues that affect the majority of people in the United States, with highly charged narrower issues such as sexuality and race tackled with a more-measured sense of scale. But it need not be a trade-off.

Ah yes, good idea – let’s stop paying attention to the ways the majority can shit on minorities, and go back to treating the majority as all there is. Let’s go back to ignoring sex and race, and letting white men run everything unopposed.

The article comes at a time when many in science and academia are rightly worried that Trump’s odious racist, sexist and anti-intellectual remarks during his campaign risk unacceptably broadening the limits of acceptable discourse — and freeing and normalizing people’s worst base instincts and a rhetoric of hate. Not surprisingly, the column has been controversial and has sparked vigorous debate.

But the discussion echoes points made earlier this year by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, directed at academics. Kristof, who has long championed diversity issues and so can hardly be accused of conservative bias, argued in a column entitled ‘A confession of liberal intolerance’ that academics are often selectively tolerant, but are intolerant when it comes to considering conservative or religious viewpoints.

It’s shocking, isn’t it. All conservative and religious viewpoints have is everything, while the pesky lefty intellectuals have…each other.

Kristof also argued that the low and plunging representation of conservatives and evangelicals on US faculties, and bias against these groups, is itself impoverishing intellectual diversity and discourse. He pointed to an effort to change this state of affairs: the Heterodox Academy, a website set up by centrist social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University to advocate tangible remedies. His column did not go down well with liberals. “You don’t diversify with idiots,” stated one of the most highly recommended comments.

Again, it depends how you define things. But it seems fatuous to me to lament a lack of evangelicals on university faculties. Evangelicals are by definition opposed to the fundamental approach to inquiry that universities are there to teach. People who are wedded to the literal truth of one “holy” book are disqualified from being competent academics. There’s no need for affirmative action to make sure biblical literalists are well represented on university faculties.

Academics must be vigilant and resist normalization of Trump’s crude vision of society, but must also look in the mirror. A significant chunk of the US population voted for Trump. Are some bigots and racists? Yes; but most aren’t, and progressive academic liberals can’t simply dismiss them as retrograde.

Yes they can, and so can we. It may be true that some Trump voters are not bigots and racists, but Trump’s open and insistent sexism and racism did not prevent them from voting for him. So yes, we damn well can dismiss people who voted for him as retrograde, because they are.