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      Reince Priebus, chief of staff to President-elect Donald Trump, issued a stern warning to the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on Sunday. Walter Shaub Jr., who heads the ethics office, has been sounding the alarm about Trump’s decision to turn the management of his business over to his sons instead of setting […]
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      Well, Trump keeps saying stuff, and people keep freaking out.  He said a number of interesting things this weekend, let’s run thru them. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Yeah. Not so clear. BUT, there’s an element of truth here. Among […]
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Proudly Defying Consensus Reality Since 2008

cjsnmttLong time readers know that I started this blog in response to the ridiculous, over-the-top, pre-accomplishments hagiography of Barack Obama during the primaries in 2008. The man could do no wrong. Don’t even get me started, I’ve written War and Peace over that primary season. And what did we learn from his eight years in the White House? We learned that the media and Obama’s fan base will do almost anything to obscure his flaws. That was fatal for us because if we weren’t allowed to be critical, we couldn’t correct when he was on the wrong track or hold him accountable for poor policy making.

For that early assessment of the media and his mysterious well-heeled fanbase propping him up in 2008, many of us were labeled “racists”. I hope that the left has learned a painful lesson from the last election about throwing that word around. Yes, there are racists. Real racism exists but it isn’t all about Barack Obama, who is a class based aspirational president and not John Lewis. But there many voters who were sick to death of having their perceptions invalidated by that cynical accusation. Unfortunately, some of them did not know when they were being played. We’re still trying to figure out what separated the casual Trump supporter from the lefty voter who simply didn’t like Obama but had no problem voting for Hillary. The Nate Silvers of the world who crunch their models can point to surface causes but I think the answer is buried in how labile we are to pressures to conform and adapt to consensus reality. We may need to find new descriptors for that model.

The purpose of this blog is to defy consensus reality. Commenters here feel safe to say what they think is really going on. The way we do this is by avoiding mental short cuts and slogans and buzz words. If you have a problem with out of control capitalism, calling a politician a “corporatist” is not going to cut it here. You need to say exactly what you mean, think it through, choose your words to convey their intent clearly.

Choosing carefully where we get our news and touchpoint with actual reality will also make a difference. Here are my tips for finding reality based news. Do with them what you will:

1.) Avoid any news source that provokes an immediate emotional response, especially if that response is fear or anger. People who are provoked to anger or fear do not make good decisions. It is difficult to reason with someone who is enraged. Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you tried to have a reasonable conversation with someone in a rage state.

2.) Avoid television news. This means ALL television and cable news programs. The combination of audio with visual cues is very powerful. It doesn’t matter which network you choose. Some are worse than others but they all do it. Just don’t watch it. Give it a week and you won’t miss it. Get to know your family again, take up the guitar, go for a walk. Make the TV a special thing where you binge watch Outlander and oogle Jamie Fraser in a kilt.

3.) If you need to get a quick news fix, try radio. Again, some radio is better than others. NPR used to be my go to. Now, I can hear the narratives built into the scripts. So, be careful with this. Again, if you find yourself becoming fearful or angry, stop listening.

4.) Find reliable sources in print journalism. Even this is getting increasingly difficult to do. There are some sources that are more reliable than others. I read a wide variety of sources like the NYTimes, Washington Post, ProPublica, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Conversation, The Guardian. If it seems like my choices are left leaning, that’s because truth does seem to have a strong liberal bias. That being said, the NYTimes and Washington Post have been lax with their standards in the last decade or so. I wouldn’t necessarily call either paper “left”. But occasionally, you can find articles that are less biased and better investigated. Also, read foreign news sources, like Der Spiegel for an outsider’s perspective. Google translate is amazing.

5.) Try alternate sources for news. I like podcasts. In 2016, we saw a bumper crop of good podcasts, some more analytical than others. Among my favorites, The Weeds from Vox, Five Thirty Eight from Nate Silver and his data modelers, and my current favorite, TrumpCast with Jacob Weisberg from Slate.

6.) Apply the Cindy Lu Who test. If you see a green imp in a Santa suit stealing your Christmas Tree and he tells you a story about taking it back to his workshop to fix a broken light, ask yourself why he couldn’t have come by during the day when your parents were awake. In general, the simplest explanation is the most likely. Conspiracies are rare. Most people are motivated by simple things like greed, revenge, arrogance. (I’m looking at you Rudy Giuliani) Those deadly sins can lead them to do a number of unethical things. But if your favorite news reader starts spewing an improbable scenario, and if that scenario makes you mad before you can figure out if it’s true or not, apply the Cindy Lu Who test and start asking questions.

7.) Read non-fiction. Read history, science, paleobotany, it doesn’t much matter. Find a well reviewed non-fiction book and learn from it. It’s especially good for learning to analyze and that can be applied to the here and now. Some of my favorite non-fiction include, A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, anything by Michael Lewis, In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larsen, SPQR- A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard.

Lastly, check out this diagram of where news sources fall on the left-right, reliable-unreliable spectrum. If you are confused and distrustful about what and who to believe, stick to the top layer in the middle. Even the Wall Street Journal, as crazy as its opinion pages are, has a very good news bureau and high quality reporting.

7xhauxf

We’re about to be bombarded by a high volume of issues and controversies all at once. We will be disoriented. We may have a hard time keeping track of what is going on. Many people who have studied authoritarian regimes say that citizens quickly learn to accept the unacceptable so you are encouraged to write down what your beliefs and principles are right now and check them periodically to see if you are slipping.

Hold hands, stick together, look out for one another.

SWAK!

Morning Music 

It’s beautiful today in Pittsburgh. Going for a hike in the cold air. Will have a post up later about news sources. In the meantime, welcome new readers. We don’t care how you voted. We have to get over that. We need each other now. Our motto here is hold hands, stick together, watch out for one another.

Be back later…


More…

Michael Cohen at the Boston Globe writes that the calm before the storm is already disorienting in America Is Off The Tracks. 

Adam Gopnik writes in The New Yorker that it is essential that we find allies in the conservative side who see beyond party and are determined to protect the Constitution in The Music Donald Trump Cannot Hear. Adam gives us some direction: 

There’s no point in studying history if we do not take some lesson from it. The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.

I’m not going to lie and say there is nothing to fear. Our fear is very rational. But we can’t let it overwhelm us. 

The Guardian writes about Trump’s attacks on John Lewis, a genuine hero of the civil rights movement, on Martin Luther King Weekend. It’s a well known political ploy to attack your opponent’s strength. Our nation’s strength for several decades has been its determination to overcome racism. This is not the time to be conciliatory towards the man who would be president. We shouldn’t yield a millimeter on civil rights. 

Esquire writes The Trump Administration May Remove the Press from the White House. I have to bite my tongue here because I can’t think of an entity that deserves punishment more than our “extremely careless” media. But this seems like an effective way to begin to undermine the First Amendment. So as much as I blame it for giving us Trump in the first place, this is where I have to take a stand and demand constitutional protection of the press. 

STrumpets Revisted

Did I tell you this?  The day after the election was a pretty bad day. There was more going on than just political disaster. I won’t get into details but let’s just say that some people can be unnecessarily brutal.  And the weather turned from beautiful mild sunny fall to rainy, damp and cold overnight. I got on the bus and had to stuff a glove in my mouth to keep from sobbing and every black person on the bus looked at me as if to as, “Did you do it? Can I trust you?”.

All through the day, I thought about all that we had lost overnight. We lost our opportunity to kick start the future. Overnight, we had demoted whole swaths of people: women, african americans, LGBT, young college graduates, muslims. We are hamstrung on climate change, health care, reversing the gig economy, social security and medicare. I was upset and angry.

So by the end of the day, I just wanted to go home and catch up on rest from the last four days of GOTV efforts and having hundreds of volunteers passing through my house and trying to make people feel comfortable and upbeat and hydrated. I got to the elevators and  there was a woman there waiting for one. We chit chatted briefly about the election and I told her how disappointed I was after all the work I had done since the primary. She did not look disappointed. Oh, I said, you didn’t vote for Hillary, did you? No, she said, I voted for Trump, I felt the country needed a change. At that moment, the elevator door opened and she stepped in. I stood outside the elevator and just looked at her. She held the doors. No, I said, I just can’t. The feeling of revulsion was so strong I didn’t want to stand anywhere near her. I tried to be polite about it but she couldn’t have missed it.

I was right. Yesterday, I found myself on the elevator with her again. She couldn’t look me in the eyes. I am not imagining things when I say she looked embarrassed. I smiled and felt a lot more dignified than she obviously did.

What a difference 2.5 months and Twitter makes.

So, I was intrigued by the recent article in the NYTimes about the women who voted for Trump and what their reasoning was. I’m no more enlightened now than I was the day after the election. These women have educations but seem to have checked their brains at the door. Some of them claim to be feminists and yet genuinely believe that Donald Trump is a champion of women. It’s almost as if they can’t see who he is or have actually heard what he said. There’s something deeply  unsettling about living in a country with so many people who are incapable of making informed decisions  because someone has confused them with Tversky magic, tapped into some dark archetype and is playing with their emotions.

But at least some of them appear to feel ashamed of what they’ve done. So… There’s that.

Thank god I don’t have to work in her group. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with her.

*****************************

I was planning to write more frequently but my Mac laptop is acting up. The pointer is jumping all over the screen. It’s not the touchpad. I already tried a mouse. Also, the problem seems to go away if the screen goes into power saving mode or if I shut down. So, I’m going to guess that there’s a more expensive problem going on here and I will probably have to visit a genius. The bad thing about that is the prospect of going to the Apple Store where I will be surrounded by shiny new hardware makes me weak in the knees. I have the seven year itch where new laptops are concerned  (no, a windows PC is out of the question. I’m spoiled.)

So if anyone out there knows of a potential fix for my pointer issue, let me know before I give in and buy something. I’m going to try resetting the PRAM. Any other ideas?

Come on Girl, You Got to Get Back Up

Today, I got some unexpected good news on the job front. My days of living under tyranny and oppression have finally come to an end. I almost ran down the sidewalk in Pittsburgh, splashing through puddles and into a strong gust that blew my wrap dress open and my umbrella inside out.

Everything else suddenly seemed surmountable and easily dismissed. I celebrated by spending money to amply make my bed. I have a hard time sleeping in my bedroom, for whatever reason. Maybe the new quilt will make me want to give it another try before I have to bust out another can of paint and sell the sleigh bed.

So, I worked myself into a tizzy yesterday over nothing.

Now, I feel able to focus my attention on what has happened in the last 2.5 months.

When we last tuned in back in November, the most qualified woman was beaten by the least qualified man. They say it’s not sexism. Yeah, right. Anyway, the day fast approacheth when Creamsicle takes the oath, unless we can indict him before the inauguration. But then we would be stuck with Pence and that might be worse because he actually understands government and how to undermine it. It is hard to believe that a nation would voluntarily do this to itself but there you are, we are that nation.

But there are ways to resist. Our own Lady V is chewing off a large bite of activism. Expect her site to go active any day now.

tdraicer, one of our more eloquent commenters has started his own blog called The Journal of Schadenfreude.  Check him out.

And a bunch of congressional staffers have put together a site called Indivisible- A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.

I still think we should copy the Christian Coalition model shamelessly. We need to get serious about organized activism.

So, game on, people. It’s time, passed time, to get serious about what we are facing. If today’s repeal of CHIP is any indication of how heartless and cruel the next four (hopefully only two) years are going to be, we have our work cut out for us.

We’ve got to find that reservoir of resilience and hold on. In the near future, we may have lots of chances of turning back, but we’re not going to. We’re going to keep on going because we are holding on to something.

 

Britney Howard: Great blues guitarist or THE greatest blues guitarist?

I’m just finishing up a bottle of Chez Etters Coastal Red from York County, PA, our friendly neighbors in central PA that gave us Trump. Rico the bartender is on tonight, you can order anything you want. It’s on the house.

 

Windows to Fly Through

I heard there was a lot going on yesterday. The Republicans front loaded the confirmation hearings, Obama gave his last speech the night before warning ominously about how fear can undermine democracy, Twitter had a field day with #goldenshowers (thanks for the levity V. I needed that), and Trump attacked his biggest campaign donor, CNN, for being fake news. 

In real life, someone told me yesterday to not let things stress you out if there’s nothing you can do about them. But there are plenty of things we can do to resist being dragged under the water of careless indifference, corruption and bigotry. I’m going to check my credo. Maybe you can do the same?

And as always, stick together, hold hands, look out for each other. I’ll be back as soon as I fly through some open windows. 


Saw this in the xkcd archives:


All together now: {{Awwwww}}

More stuff: 

Matt Stoller wrote a piece in WaPo about how Obama’s financial and economic policies have hurt the party. He gets it right up until he does the obligatory bash of Clinton at the end. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Clinton kicked it all off in the 1990’s, a premise I’m not completely on board with for various reasons, that was no excuse for Obama to squander the first two years of his first term when he had majorities in the House and Senate. The financial collapse was a perfect opportunity for him to show his quality. Instead, he prolonged the suffering of homeowners and the unemployed in order to save the financiers golden asses. 

Still worth a read. The first part of Matt’s analysis is solid. Also see my series on Karen Ho’s book, Liquidated, for more on “the strategy of no strategy”. It’s there somewhere. Will try to find the links later… 

The Warrior at Work

Vacation is over. Got to get back to work tomorrow. I get to work right about when rosy fingered Dawn is arriving. By the time my first meetings roll around, I’m just so damn perky I can tell my team wants to throw something at me.

Being this f}#%ing cheerful in the morning isn’t easy to pull off. I have a soundtrack. Here it is. See if it makes you want to face the day for the next four years. Let’s start with Madonna:

Here’s the playlist for Standup

That’s Not My Name – The Ting Tings

Wild Child – Iggy Pop 

My Girls – Animal Collective 

The Warrior – Patti Smyth and Scandal 

I Feel Fantastic – Jonathan Coulton

Honky Tonk Woman – Rolling Stones

Tic Tock – Kesha 

Shake It Out – Florence and the Machine

Swim Until You Can’t See Land – Frightened Rabbit
Two other things:

I need a playlist for the treadmill. I kind of fell off the… um… treadmill last summer. It was too hot to run. But after the post holiday rush, I’ll be hitting it again. I’m not taking my clothes off in front of anyone until I burn off the layer of hibernation insulation.

Suggestions welcome. I mean, for the music. So far, I have Jessica by the Allman Brothers.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.29.11 AMAlso, nominations are now open for the annual Lick My Love Pump Award. This highly coveted award goes to the artist with the most infectiously singable tune with the most obscene lyrics. To qualify for this award, this song has to be one you accidentally find yourself singing to in front of your kids as you drive them to school or your elderly aunt (who might actually like that stuff, who knows).

Former recipients include Bruno Mars for Gorilla and Beyonce for Blow.

 

 

Well… It’s here

happy-new-year-2017-images-hdWho list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Americans are spoiled. We haven’t had war pounding on our door for 150 years. If we want to engage in warfare, we have to join someone else’s war or create one of our own somewhere else. Yes, Yes, there was that whole Pearl Harbor thing but you know, it’s not the same when it happens halfway around the world.

Not that there’s going to be a war this year. Or at least not a new one. I hope.

It’s just to say that Americans don’t really know hardship. Well, SOME Americans know hardship rather well. They’ll probably adapt better than the rest of us. It helps to have been laid off in the Great Recession. That will give you a good perspective on things, like when’s the best time to plant your garden.

All this is to say that 2016, as awful as it was, is going to be nothing compared to 2017. In 2017, I expect to see a fire sale of the various working pieces of government as there is a rush to privatize absolutely everything. The Congressional Republicans will try to replace Medicare, which you have paid for all of your working life out of your salary, with scrip that you can only use at the company store for inflated prices.

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

I expect that they will also use generational warfare to stick a shiv deep into the thoracic cavity of Social Security. They will lie about how broke the program is. But it’s not broken if they raise the limit on the payroll tax. Simple, simple fix that will harm almost no one. That’s not how these people roll though. So expect them not to do the simple thing. Expect them to dismantle it piece by piece, giving the elderly Fox News crowd a temporary sense of false security.

There are surely some elderly out there on fixed benefits who use Medicare who are saying, “They would never do that. Why would they do that?! No one would put up with that.” It’s just INCONCEIVABLE that these paragons of Christian virtue would permanently vitiate your future or current retirement or medical benefits. You’re an American, after all. That kind of thing only happens in Greece.

I hate to break it to the Fox News contingent but the people you have been following probably don’t care about your suffering. They’re very good at deflecting blame. But they are in office for a reason. You voted them in or did nothing to prevent it. It’s a little like listening to the seductive whispers of the vampire. Once you invite them in, they get a little blood thirsty and the honeymoon is over.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

As for Obamacare, it was doomed when Obama and the Democrats went all soft and squishy on setting the cost of procedures and prescription drugs just like every other nation with an operating national health care system.

{{banging head on keyboard again and again and again}}

Ok, I’m better now. Where was I?

Who to blame? Well, I’m not going to blame myself or any of the GOTV people I worked with this year who were magnificent and dedicated and took their mission very seriously. I’m sure as hell not going to blame the candidate who performed so brilliantly at the debates that the fog of indecision lifted for millions of voters to such an extent that it had to be brought crashing down again quickly by a poisoned letter.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

There are several culprits in this whole bad thing coming our way. First, there was the unforgiveably long recession brought on by what appeared to be criminally negligent and fraudulent behavior on the part of the finance industry. We were crippled by that and the fact that when we needed the government to work on our behalf, it did a really half-assed job of it. Someone needed to get serious and courageous with the stimulus package. Someone didn’t.

Second, there is the media. There’s just no getting around it. I hope someone has a plan to deal with this problem. Because the good guys are not able to control the message.

Anyway, long winded rambling. We’ve heard it all before.

It only remains to be seen how brazen Trump is going to be. I think we can expect him to go up to the line and cross it – routinely. Expect palace intrigue, a survival of the fittest attitude at the White House as the wealthy and powerful discover with intense self-reflection that they are the most virtuous and deserving. This gives them the responsibility to take whatever they can get so it doesn’t fall into the hands of the unvirtuous and undeserving.

Regrettably, Trump’s supporters may find that without the requisite proof of their virtue, say, $100 Million or so, they will fall into the latter group.

The absence of attention at the top is only going to encourage the courtiers and advisors to fill the vacuum, probably by stepping on the metaphorically dead corpses of their colleagues.

What is bewildering is that we have seen this before and still ended up here. Don’t set your sights too high or climb the ladder too fast in the court of a volatile, self centered king.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Next time, if there is a meaningful next time, don’t sit at home on election day. Vote.

Circa Regna Tonat, “About the Throne the Thunder Roars”, Thomas Wyatt, 1536