Monday, December 26, 2016

The Yearly Sift 2016

The past is never where you think you left it.
The opening quotes of the Weekly Sifts of 2016 are collected in "Sift Quotes of 2016"

One of the things I like best about writing the Sift is that it keeps me focused in the present, with an eye to the future. But once a year I try to take a broader perspective on where we've been.
2016 was the most dismal year I've had to look back on since this blog started -- leading, as it did, to the present moment, in which President-elect Trump is assembling his henchmen and deciding which aspects of the world order to screw up first. Not only was I very consistently wrong about what would happen next in 2016, but looking back at the plausible arguments and scenarios I laid out only emphasizes how many times and in how many ways events could have taken a turn for the better, but didn't -- right up to election night, when shifting a handful of votes from one state to another would have changed the outcome.

But prognostication has never been the primary purpose of the Weekly Sift. (In fact, one of my major criticisms of mainstream media is that it spends too much time on speculation, rather than telling us what is happening and why.) Primarily, I'm trying to cut through the hype and propaganda to focus my readers' attention on what is real and give them tools to think about it effectively. But that doesn't mean you're going to know what will happen next, because I certainly don't.

The themes

I've broken the primary theme out into its own article "The Year of This-can't-be-happening". It covers my repeated attempts -- from the beginning of the year to the end -- to understand how anyone could support Donald Trump and what could be done to persuade them not to.

A second theme of the year was also Trump-related: The decline of Truth as a political value, and a corresponding rise in propaganda. Those posts were: "No facts? What does that mean?", "The Big Lie in Trump's Speech", "The Skittles Analogy", and "Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump". (The most insightful article I linked to on this theme was David Roberts' "The question of what Trump 'really believes' has no answer".)

And finally, there were a number of posts about the Bernie/Hillary split in the Democratic Party. Early in the year, I had to decide who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary. Bernie better expressed my ideals, but I had more faith in Hillary as a candidate. (I still think Bernie's supporters underestimate how vulnerable he would have been if Republicans had ever taken him seriously, a position I laid out in "Smearing Bernie: a preview" and "Do we still have to worry about the McGovern problem?") My decision process -- ultimately resulting in a Bernie vote -- played out in "Undecided with 8 days to go" and "Imperfections".

Late in the year, I tried to persuade Bernie supporters to unite around Hillary -- a position in line with the one Bernie ultimately took himself (which I explained in "Why Bernie Backed Hillary".)
And finally, one long-term theme of the Sift is the decline of democratic norms and institutions. In March, I updated that with "Tick, Tick, Tick ... the Augustus Countdown Continues". As Democrats have to decide just how obstructionist to be during the Trump years, I'm sure I'll have many opportunities to update it further. Another perennial theme is race and privilege, which led to  "My Racial Blind Spots", "Sexism and the Clinton Candidacy", "The Asterisk in the Bill of Rights", "What Should 'Racism' Mean? Part II", and "A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault".

Themes for 2017

In general, I never saw the Bernie/Hillary argument as being about goals. Rather, it seemed to me to revolve around methods and tactics: Is it better to push for big, revolutionary changes or to head in the same direction in incremental steps? And I was skeptical that electing a progressive president could actually bring about that revolution without a more fundamental re-education of the electorate, as I spelled out in "Say -- You Want a Revolution?"

That's an argument that continues into the future, even if neither Hillary nor Bernie runs again. I'm not sure why it has been so hard for candidates to straddle the difference: This is where we want to go ultimately, and this is the next step we want to take to get there. Preserving and patching up ObamaCare is not an end in itself, but we're also not going to pass single-payer any time soon.
A theme I announced after the election, which I hope to continue into 2017, is that liberals have to begin re-arguing issues we used to think were long decided, but which the Trump victory proves are still open. The first of those posts was "Should I Have White Pride?".

The numbers

The blog's traffic statistics tell two contrasting stories. On the one hand, this year the Sift had no breakout viral posts, or posts from previous years that went on a viral second run. As a result, the overall page view numbers are down: from 782,000 in 2015 and even 415K in 2014 to somewhere around 350K this year (with a few days to go).

On the other hand, all the signs of regular readership are up. The number of people following the blog (according to WordPress; I have no idea exactly what they're counting, but I assume it's comparable from year to year) rose from 3820 to 4269. Hits on the home page,, held the gains of 2015: from 44K in 2014 to 100K in 2015 to 101K this year. (I interpret that as views from people who are not looking for any particular post, but have the site bookmarked and want to see what's new.)

Two years ago, a 1000-view post seemed like a big deal; sometimes I'd go a whole month without one. This year, the featured post each week almost always topped 1000.
Most encouragingly, the number of comments continued its upward trend: from 879 in 2014 to 1432 in 2015 to 1751 so far in 2016.

So what happened to the total page views? In 2015, a post from 2014, "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party", had a second run bigger than its original run, getting 302K views. Another golden oldie, "The Distress of the Privileged" from 2012, added 52K. 2015 had its own viral post, "You Don't Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot" at 102K.

By contrast, "Not a Tea Party" and "Distress" put together garnered about 45K hits for 2016, and the most popular posts written in 2016 were "Why Bernie Backed Hillary" (17K), "Tick, Tick, Tick ... the Augustus Countdown Continues" (11K), and last week's "How Will They Change Their Minds?" (7K and counting).

Viral posts, as I point out every year, are unpredictable. Some years they happen, some years they don't. Hall of Fame baseball player George Brett used to claim that most of his home runs were mistakes: He was trying to hit line drives, but sometimes he swung just slightly under a pitch and it went up and out of the park. If he tried to do that, he knew, he might hit a few more home runs, but he'd also wind up with a lot more pop-ups and strikeouts.

That's how I feel about viral posts. Every week, I'm trying to serve the needs of my regular readers. If once in a while that intention produces something that gets the attention of a larger public, that's great. But if I tried to swing for those home runs, I think the overall quality of the blog would decline.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Exhaustive Methods

The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.

- Garry Kasparov, Russian dissident and former world chess champion

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

- Hannah Arendt

This week's featured post is "How will they change their minds?" The "they" refers to Trump supporters.

You also might be interested in the talk I gave last week.

This week everybody was talking about Russian manipulation

The FBI and CIA now seem to be in agreement: Russia hacked Democratic emails and gave them to WikiLeaks because Putin wanted Trump to win. The NYT did an extensive article about how it happened.

It's no mystery why Putin would favor Trump. I was describing that motive already back in August. Steve Benen gives the story a broader perspective by reviewing Trump and Putin's comments about each other over the past year. Basically, Trump has surrounded himself with pro-Russian advisers (including people like Paul Manafort who took large sums of money from the now-overthrown pro-Russian government of Ukraine), and has consistently spoken highly of Putin and defended Russia's point of view whenever it became an issue.

The Russian interference ought to horrify any American, independent of party, but of course Democrats seem much more concerned about it than Republicans. But several Republican senators have a long history of hostility to Russia and Putin -- McCain and Graham, most obviously -- and they don't seem inclined to reverse themselves that easily. So some kind of hearings will be held, and we'll see what comes out.

Masha Gessen at The New York Review of Books has an insightful article about the stylistic similarities between Trump and Putin. For example:

Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.

In an interview with RT, a Russian state-funded news source, WikiLeaks' Julian Assange claimed the leaked Democratic emails did not come from the Russian government. Given the partisan role WikiLeaks played in the election -- they didn't just dump the Clinton emails on the public, they attempted to raise as much anti-Clinton buzz as possible in the way they released and tweeted about them -- I have doubts about Assange's objectivity.

and the Electoral College

It votes today. Theoretically, the electors could defect from Trump and throw the election into the House, where he might win anyway. But probably they'll just elect him.

and the near-completion of Trump's cabinet

CNN and the NYT are both keeping a running lists of who has been nominated. A few trends:

  • lots of white guys. Nominees for all the top positions -- State, Defense, Treasury, Attorney General, and Homeland Security -- are white men. Carson, Chao, and Haley are the only appointees of non-European ethnicity. Chao, Haley, DeVos, and McMahon are the only women.
  • lots of rich people. Republican cabinet choices (and some Democrats as well) are usually fairly well-to-do, but the Trump cabinet is off the scale. Betsy DeVos' family is worth over $5 billion. Wilbur Ross has $2.5 billion. Rex Tillerson made $27 million as CEO of Exxon Mobil in 2015, and Andrew Puzder has made as much as $10 million in a year from CKE Restaurants.
  • lots of generals. Mattis at Defense, Kelly at Homeland Security, and Flynn as National Security Adviser.
  • not a lot of relevant education or experience. The poster boy for this is Rick Perry at the Department of Energy. DoE's primary mission is overseeing everything nuclear, from power plants to nuclear weapon stockpiles to radioactive waste disposal. Obama's energy secretaries were two distinguished Ph.D. physicists: Nobel-prize winner Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz. Perry majored in Animal Science and generally got bad grades. Similarly, Education Secretary DeVos has never studied education or worked in a school, Secretary of State Tillerson has no foreign policy experience, and neither does U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Ben Carson is educated -- he's a doctor -- but it's not clear he knows anything about Housing and Urban Development.
  • no draining the swamp. Tillerson at State is from Exxon Mobil and Mnuchin at Treasury is from Goldman Sachs. DeVos, Ross, Puzder, and McMahon at SBA were all big donors to the Trump campaign.

We also know Trump's choice for ambassador to Israel: David Friedman, who would be considered a right-winger among Israelis. He has described the two-state solution as "a con" and wrote in 2015:

Judea and Samaria historically have deep Jewish roots and were validly captured 48 years ago in a defensive war – far more legitimately than through the atrocious acts that today dictate the borders of most countries. ... As a general rule, we should expand a community in Judea and Samaria where the land is legally available and a residential or commercial need is present – just like in any other neighborhood anywhere in the world. Until that becomes the primary consideration for development, how can we expect to be taken seriously that this is our land?

In general, I worry about any ambassador who uses "we" and "our" when talking about the country he will be posted to.

and Trump's conflicts of interest

Trump cancelled a press conference in which he was going to announce his plans for handling his businesses while in office. Originally scheduled for last Thursday, it's been put off until some unspecified date in January. (NPR lists seven questions it would have liked to ask.) Many are speculating that it will never happen; at some point we'll just get a statement about what the arrangements are, and he will never answer questions about them.

During the campaign, Trump proposed turning management of his businesses over to his children, who presumably would not be part of the government. Now, even that separation is becoming tenuous. Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner apparently will have roles in the Trump administration. Eric and Donald Jr. might be slated to take over the business, but they also have been involved in the transition, including the selection of the Interior Secretary. So even if there is to be some kind of line between the Trump administration and the Trump Organization, everybody seems to already be on both sides of that line.

The issue that is likely to arise first concerns the new Trump International Hotel located in D.C.'s Old Post Office building, which is owned by the U.S. government and leased to the Trump Organization. The lease explicitly prohibits "any elected official of the Government of the United States" from "any benefit that may arise" from the lease.

The Brookings Institution published a scholarly assessment of the various ways President Trump "would arrive in office as a walking, talking violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution", which prohibits officials of the U.S. government from accepting gifts from foreign governments or making other profitable arrangements with them. The document is a clear exposition of the history motivating the Clause and how it has been interpreted. The authors (Norman Eisen, Richard Painter, and Lawrence Tribe) conclude that no solution proposed or hinted at by Trump or his campaign comes close to eliminating the conflicts of interest the Clause prohibits. Unfortunately, the only recourses they propose involve action by either the Electoral College (today) or the Republican-controlled Congress.

One silly way that Trump's conflict-of-interests surface is how personally he takes any attack on his businesses. Recently, Vanity Fair published a damning review of Trump Grill, the steakhouse in the lobby of Trump Tower. Our President-Elect then felt compelled to tweet back an attack on how badly the magazine is doing under its current editor. And that naturally made headlines and resulted in a huge jump in Vanity Fair subscriptions. Thanks, Donald! Could you go after The New Yorker next?

Washington Monthly believes Trump will face resistance from Republicans in Congress.

Time proclaimed Trump "Person of the Year". That really isn't an honor, it's an answer to the question: "Who was most central to the news this year?" They couldn't have chosen anybody else. Trump's story drove the campaign, which dominated the year. If you could go back in time and tell yourself who you should keep your eye on in 2016, how could it be anybody but Trump?

and you might also be interested in ...

To no one's great surprise, Dylann Roof was found guilty of killing nine members of Charleston's Mother Emanuel Church. The death penalty is still a possibility. Most coverage of the story still makes him sound like a disturbed individual, rather than a terrorist radicalized by the white-supremacist movement. This is typical; I've been writing about the same phenomenon for more than four years.

Another example of the norms of fair play being tossed aside: After losing the governorship in North Carolina, Republicans in the legislature changed the law to drastically limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor. It's entirely legal, but they're not even pretending to respect the will of the voters any more.

I could do a long rant on the importance of norms to democracy, but I've already done it. Paul Waldman points out how the illegitimacy cascades:

In this closely divided swing state, Republicans enjoy supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature because of aggressively gerrymandered legislative districts that pack African-Americans together in order to dilute their power. The districts were declared unconstitutional by a federal court earlier this year, and the state has been ordered to redraw them and hold special elections next year.

So while they still have that ill-gotten supermajority, they're using it to change the rules further in their favor.

Josh Marshall acknowledges that you can blame Hillary Clinton's loss on Clinton herself, or that you can blame it on external factors like Russia or the FBI or the Electoral College. (Any close election has many difference-making factors.) But since neither Clinton nor Bernie Sanders is likely to run again in 2020, we could probably find a better use of our time than trying to refight the primary battle.

Fake news is a real problem. But if we don't use the term carefully, it won't mean anything. Already, it's starting to become an insult rather than a description.

There was a sort-of-happy ending to an otherwise disturbing story out of the University of Minnesota: The football team backed off of its threat not to play the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 27. They were defending 10 of their teammates suspended after an alleged sexual assault on September 2.

Police had decided not to charge the players with a crime, but the University's internal process has a lower standard of proof (preponderance-of-evidence rather than beyond-reasonable-doubt). The University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action has recommended expulsion for five of the players, and either suspension from the University or probation for the other five. A hearing on that report is scheduled for January. In the meantime, the Athletic Director has suspended all ten from the football team.

Thursday, the team assembled as a group in uniform and read a statement demanding that the players be reinstated. They wanted a private meeting with the regents (i.e., without either the athletic director or the University president) about "how to make our program great again". (It's hard not to interpret that as a political statement: Trump has been elected, so the country is done with all this political correctness about sexual assault.)

The players' case is that the sex was consensual, and a 90-second video of part of the 90-minute encounter has been offered as proof. (Think about that: The players' defense is that they were involved in a group sex act where people videoed each other, but that it was all consensual. That may be a fine legal defense, but does the University want these guys representing the school?) The team's coaches seemed to be supporting them rather than the administration.

Big money was at stake for the University. Last year's Holiday Bowl paid $2.83 million to the participating schools, and additional advertising and ticketing revenue is at risk, not to mention the fund-raising bump a school gets when it's alumni watch its team on national TV.

Fortunately, the administration didn't back down. The team got its meeting with the regents and the president and athletic director, during which "it became clear that our original request of having the 10 suspensions overturned was not going to happen." If it had, how could anyone justify sending a daughter to the University of Minnesota?

One of the things I said I'd be watching for in the Trump administration is "Taking credit for averting dangers that never existed." Well, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has proclaimed victory in the War on Christmas.

Merry Christmas, which you can say again because Donald Trump is now the president. You can say it again! It’s okay to say—it’s not a pejorative word anymore.

If Trump wants to declare an imaginary victory in an imaginary war, how can you argue with him?

Wisconsin conservative talk-radio host Charlie Sykes is retiring. A never-Trump Republican to the end, Sykes' farewell message is blistering:

We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

This was not mere naïveté. It was also a moral failure, one that now lies at the heart of the conservative movement even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph. Now that the election is over, don’t expect any profiles in courage from the Republican Party pushing back against those trends; the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong.

I've been resisting covering speculation about what the Trump administration might do, because there's just too much of it and I think reality already gives us enough to worry about. But the alternatives for repealing ObamaCare are starting to sound fairly solid, so let's talk about them.

To start with, it seems unlikely that Republicans in the Senate can unify around eliminating the filibuster, and they have only 52 votes rather than 60, so just a straight repeal can't pass the Senate unless they come up with a way to start rolling Democrats, which so far they're not doing.

The way around the filibuster is a process called "reconciliation", which is complicated, but basically requires a bill to be entirely fiscal. However, there are also non-fiscal aspects to ObamaCare, and leaving them in place while repealing the taxes and subsidies would make a huge mess:

What the health care policy experts consulting with GOP staff have been arguing is that repealing Obamacare's subsidies and individual mandate – but leaving market regulations that require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions (which the 2015 reconciliation model would do) – would have catastrophic effects for the insurance market.

Exactly what is and isn't fiscal is outlined here.

The alternative would be to repeal the whole thing through reconciliation, but that requires a way to work around the Senate parliamentarian, who is likely to rule against such a move. In other words, it requires tossing aside another democratic norm: We're the majority, so we get to say what the rules mean, even if a good-faith interpretation says they mean something else.

The one thing still missing from either approach -- nearly seven years after ObamaCare became law -- is the "replace" part of repeal-and-replace. There is still no official Trump administration or congressional Republican plan for replacement. Repeal-without-replace takes healthcare coverage away from about 20 million people.

and let's close with something that goes all the way

If we're in a post-truth world, maybe it's flat.

Monday, December 5, 2016

News War

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear December 19.

If the president of the United States declares war on journalism, journalists are not obliged to just record his words and publish them. They are obliged to take a side – the side of freedom.

- Dan Gillmor, "Trump, Free Speech, and Why Journalists Must Be Activists"
November, 2016

This week's featured posts are "Fake news is like Jessica Rabbit" and "No facts? What does that mean?"

I'm cancelling the December 12 Sift because I'm traveling this week. If you're anywhere near Palo Alto this Sunday, I'll be speaking at the UU church there at 9:30 and 11 on the topic "Season of Darkness, Season of Hope". It's about how the symbolism of the Winter Solstice might apply to our dark political times.

This week everybody was talking about China

One of the scary things about Donald Trump as president is that when he causes an international incident, everybody's first thought is "Did he mean to do that?" Because it's entirely plausible that he just didn't think about it; he so often appears not to think about the consequences of what he does.

This time, though, in spite of Trump and numerous spokespeople portraying his phone conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen as no big deal, it looks like it really was an attempt to begin his relationship with China with a shot across the bow. He followed up Sunday with a pair of aggressive tweets:

Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!

Actually the U.S. does tax Chinese imports, but since there are no facts anymore, who cares?

The WaPo summarizes why the call was such a big deal to the Chinese. Vox has a general exploration of Trump's foreign policy.

and those manufacturing jobs at Carrier

One of the interesting things to watch in the early days of the Trump administration will be which conservatives stick to their previous principles, and which ones think it's fine for Trump to do things they would have condemned Obama for.

In a nutshell, the deal Trump and Pence worked out to keep some Carrier jobs in Indiana while letting others move to Mexico is not at all the kind of thing he was describing during the campaign, and also counter to the usual Republican free-market principles.

During the campaign, Trump specifically called out Carrier's plan to close a plant in Indianapolis and open one in Mexico. He made it sound like he would get tough with businesses like that, threatening them with tariffs until they knuckled under. Well, that's not at all what happened. Carrier got at least $7 million in Indiana tax breaks. (Pence is still governor, remember?) Plus, who knows what else its parent company, United Technologies, was promised in terms of its defense businesses? In exchange, they agreed not to move as many jobs as they had planned, at least not right away.

Bernie Sanders wrote that the people whose jobs were saved should be happy, but "the rest of our nation’s workers should be very nervous." In essence, the deal establishes that corporations can extort goodies from Trump by threatening to move.

Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America.

OK, you didn't really expect Bernie to side with Trump. But a number of conservatives also raised their voices against the deal, for a different reason: It's exactly the kind of "industrial policy" they hate when Democrats try it. Sarah Palin called it "crony capitalism".  National Review called it "a rejection of economic reality".

and the PizzaGate shooting

I had the bad timing to write a somewhat whimsical piece about fake news at the same time that fake news was having a serious consequence: A guy armed with an assault rifle walked into a D.C. pizza place and started shooting, because he was "investigating" a fake-news story that "Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms". Because that's so incredibly plausible, I guess.

A sidebar on that story: So a guy believes a ridiculous piece of fake news, takes an assault rifle into a crowded restaurant and fires. Police take him into custody without finding it necessary to kill him first.

He's white, right? How did I know?

and Trump's cabinet picks

More announcements from the High Castle (a.k.a. Trump Tower).

Mattis at Defense. I can't decide whether to be glass-half-empty or glass-half-full about General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. On the downside, it's never good to have a SecDef whose nickname is "Mad Dog". That Trump compares him to General Patton (from World War II, or maybe from the George C. Scott movie) also makes me uneasy: Patton was a tactical genius who was also a political and interpersonal loose cannon. He did well for us in World War II largely because wise, unflappable men like Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall stood between him and the president, who was the masterful Franklin Roosevelt. Show me anybody in the Trump administration like those guys, and I'll feel a lot better about having another Patton.

On the upside, he is a real general who actually knows something about military affairs. He didn't just play a general on TV or give a bunch of defense-related speeches or something. People who know their fields are rarities in the Trump cabinet, so I don't want to complain too much. Also, he apparently told Trump that torture doesn't work very well, and he wants to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, so he gets credit for that.

On the downside, he pairs with National Security Advisor (and former General) Michael Flynn to virtually eliminate civilian oversight of the military. (A third general is rumored to be Trump's choice to head Homeland Security.) By law, a general has be out of the military for seven years before taking the SecDef job, a provision that Congress would have to waive for Mattis. That opens his nomination to filibuster.

Mnuchin at Treasury. I'm trying to imagine the response if President Hillary Clinton had nominated a hedge-fund founder and former Goldman Sachs partner, who made billions off the housing crisis. Way to drain the swamp, dude.

and the protesters won one

The Army announced that it won't allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under a dammed section of the Missouri River. Alternate routes are being explored.

and the ongoing corruption issue

The NYT illustrates the problems in a series of circular diagrams that include both government agencies and Trump business interests. The gist is that Trump will frequently be in the position of deciding as president whether he should make more or less money.

Trump's business empire, and its dealings in foreign countries and with foreign governments, seems to set up clear violations of the Emoluments Clause, a part of the Constitution that you never hear about because no president previously thought he could get away with violating it:

So, for example, any loan the Trump Organization gets from the Bank of China would need to be examined to make sure its terms aren't more favorable than it might have gotten if Donald Trump weren't president. Otherwise the deal might include a  gift, which the Clause bans. Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, elaborates:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses.

However, think about how to enforce this, if Congress decides to let it slide. Conceivably a court could step in, but courts can't just take something up because it sounds wrong. Someone has to come to court claiming to have suffered an injury that the court has the power to correct. (That's what's meant by the legal term standing. You have to have standing before you can sue.)

Who could do that? Maybe a competing business that suffers from foreign-government favoritism towards the Trump Organization? Law professor Jonathan H. Adler doesn't even offer that possibility:

the underlying controversy is almost certainly non-justiciable. It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which someone would have standing to challenge Trump’s arrangements, and even harder to think what sort of remedy could be ordered by a court.

And Painter agrees:

The only remedy for a serious violation of the Emoluments Clause is impeachment.

and you might also be interested in

As absentee and provisional ballots get counted in various states, Hillary Clinton's lead in the national popular vote continues to grow: currently more than 2.6 million votes, or 2%.

One thing this means is that the polls were not actually that far off. Going into election day, most pollsters were called for a 3-4% margin. She also did not run much behind Obama's 2012 pace, when he won by 3.9%.

Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin are putting together a bipartisan effort to protect the DREAMers from deportation. We'll see if Graham is by himself on this, or if a few other Republicans (Flake? McCain?) are willing to join. I have a hard time picturing the House backing this, but that's a battle I really want the public to see. The DREAMers are the most sympathetic of the undocumented immigrants, because they broke no laws and most of them know no other country than the United States. If we can't find a place for them, America really has become a hard-hearted country.

A good description of one of the big problems our democracy is facing: "Conservative media needs a scared, paranoid audience, while democracy needs reasonable voters."

Not sure why Trump tweeted about flag-burning. I haven't heard of anybody doing it lately; maybe he's just anticipating that somebody will. Anyway, it's a pretty clear First Amendment issue: The reason people object to it is that burning a flag expresses an opinion they don't like. Nobody objects if you burn a flag that is worn out; that's actually the preferred method of disposal. Nobody cares if you have flags on your 4th of July napkins and then throw them in the campfire. The only time people object to burning a flag is if you're doing it to make a point.

In religious terms, laws to protect the flag from burning constitute idolatry: The symbol has been elevated above the thing it's supposed to symbolize. The flag symbolizes our American freedom, but idolators want to protect the flag at the expense of our freedom.

and let's close with a sex video

A very tiny one, that is. Science Alert provides video of tardigrade (a.k.a. water bear) mating, and even explains what's kinky about it.

fertilisation actually occurs outside the female's body - although the researchers still aren't entirely sure how the semen gets to her eggs.

Presumably that will be in Tardigrade Mating II.

Monday, November 28, 2016

America Was

America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance. And it belongs to us.

- Richard Spencer, "Long Live the Emperor!" (11-21-2016)

This week's featured post is "Should I Have White Pride?"

This week everybody was talking about more cabinet picks

This batch was discouraging in a new way. Last week's appointments were all from the Trump campaign's inner circle, suggesting that he was looking for loyalty rather than competence. They were also all white men. This week's appointments -- Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Ben Carson at HUD (apparently; there's been no formal announcement yet), and Betsy DeVos as Education secretary -- included women and non-whites, but also suggested that knowledge and experience were not high values.

Not to dis Nikki Haley; she's the up-and-coming Republican governor of South Carolina who (like Reince Preibus) might have shown up somewhere in a Bush or Rubio administration. But not at the UN, because her complete lack of experience in foreign policy or diplomacy would have mattered to Jeb or Marco. I wouldn't have wanted Ben Carson as, say, Surgeon General, but at least it would have made some kind of sense, given that he's a doctor. But when Fox News' Neil Cavuto asked about his qualifications to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, Carson could come up with nothing better than "I grew up in the inner city." (So did Kanye West; why wasn't he considered?)

To me, this process looks more like casting a TV show than staffing an administration: Let's put the black guy in charge of HUD and send the Indian woman to the UN. According to the NYT, Mitt Romney may benefit from the same factor:

Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.

DeVos (the sister of Blackwater founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince) similarly has no experience in the educational system, either as a teacher or an administrator. Her degree is in business administration. She and her husband founded Windquest Group, which describes itself as "a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm". She has chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

But at least DeVos has shown an interest in education: She has been the leader of the political movement in Michigan to shift public funding of education away from public schools and towards vouchers that could be used in private schools. To imagine a comparable pick from the left, picture President Bernie Sanders naming the head of a disarmament group (who had never been in the military in any capacity, but clearly had studied military issues) as Defense Secretary.

DeVos is a fan of vouchers even for religious schools, which challenges the separation of church and state. Many Christians like religious-school vouchers, because they picture only Christian schools getting the money. The way to shut this down is to start Muslim schools, pagan schools, and so on. The fundamentalists are fine with tax dollars paying to promote Jesus, but paying to promote Allah or Buddha or Gaia is an abomination.

I predicted last week that Mitt Romney "won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first." The argument among Trump's inner circle about whether to make him Secretary of State seems to be coming down to exactly how much groveling that is.

Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State - almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle.

If Mitt submits to this, he will have only himself to blame for all future humiliations.

My prediction last week that the Trump administration would not prosecute Hillary Clinton also panned out. Josh Marshall objects to the way Trump makes this sound like a personal favor he's doing the Clintons. "This is how dictators talk."

In truth, he never had the goods on Clinton, and his threat to prosecute was always just something he said for effect. He doesn't need that effect any more, so he can say something else instead.

Democrats got excited this week about a claim that the election might have been rigged, and that an audit in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might still reverse the outcome. I'm skeptical, for the same reasons as Nate Silver. I think the close states Clinton lost show the same trends as the close states Clinton won: Virginia, for example. On Election Night, I knew we were in trouble when Virginia was so close. Losing Wisconsin didn't then seem like the kind of shock that requires an extraordinary explanation.

I've been searching online for a blue "Are We Great Again Yet?" hat. Still haven't found one. #AWGAY

German intelligence officials are worried that Russia plans to interfere in their elections the same way it did in America's.

and the media's inadequacy to the occasion

One of the most important articles about Trump -- and I'm going to keep linking to it until it's message catches on -- was written in September by Vox' David Roberts: "The question of what Donald Trump "really believes" has no answer".

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, "views" that reflect his assessment of the facts, "positions" that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

The media just doesn't know how to cover a man who uses language this way. We saw another example this week after Trump met with The New York Times staff on Tuesday. Asked about the Paris Climate Change agreement that Obama signed and Trump repeated promised to reject, he said "I have an open mind" about it. This pleased people in the room and committed him to nothing. But it got covered as if it marked a real policy change, or at least the possibility of one.

Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor on the subject referred to NASA's climate-change research as "highly politicized" and indicated that it will be discontinued. No substantive step Trump has taken should give any hope to environmentalists, but he got some nice headlines out of suggesting that he might be reasonable.

Similarly, when pressed by the NYT people about the Nazis who celebrated his victory with "Hail Trump!" (more about them in the featured post), he said: "I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group."

But Steve Bannon, who they look on as an ally, is still his chief strategist. Next week, Trump might be using the alt-Right's coded language again, or retweeting something from WhiteGenocideTM or some similar online source. Vox explains what the alt-Right wants from the Trump administration, and why they're not upset by his toothless disavowal.

Now Trump is claiming that he really won the popular vote -- which in the real world Clinton won by more than 2.2 million votes -- "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally". He offers no evidence to back this claim, which is widely being reported as "false" rather than just a he-said/she-said claim.

Again, the factual content is not the point. He is not trying to say something, he's trying to do something. This requires a whole new kind of journalism. James Fallows outlines some small steps in that direction.

and corruption

Last week I listed "profiteering" as one of the things I'd be watching for in the new Trump administration. I had no idea how fast examples would start mounting up. The New York Times listed half a dozen countries where Trump's business interests now compete with the national interest for his attention.

In Turkey, for example

officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, after Mr. Trump came to the defense of Mr. Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Mr. Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.

A Trump business partner in Manila has become the Philippines' special envoy to the United States. In a post-election meeting with United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged UKIP to fight against wind farms like the one that he feels blights the neighborhood of his golf course in Scotland. In China, Trump just won a trademark dispute that had been raging for years -- not for the country, for himself. In several countries, Trump construction projects have seen regulatory barriers come down since his election. Is that the normal pace of bureaucracy, or an attempt to curry favor? How would we know?

Paul Krugman makes an astute observation: To the extent that such deals become outright bribery, they will tilt American foreign policy in favor of dictatorships:

What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.

Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

That policy tilt will be far more important than the money Trump will manage to rake off while president.

E. J. Dionne attempts to shame Republicans in Congress by reminding them of their objections to the much less serious conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation. This is a test of my theory that Republicans are shameless.

In Scotland, Trump made a bunch of promises in exchange for local approval to build a golf course. Most of them haven't been fulfilled.

The question of whether Republican senators will get in line behind the Trump administration is one of the most interesting things we'll find out in the next few months. Nate Silver whipped up a model to predict who was most likely to give Trump trouble, and came up with Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote an article that appeared to protest against his low-likelihood-of-rebellion score, claiming that

Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government.

It all sounds very idealistic, but I'll believe it when I see it.

and the Dakota pipeline protest

The LA Times lists the competing claims of demonstrators and the police. I wish they would try to adjudicate who is telling the truth.

and you might also be interested in ...

James Fallows is reporting that China has become much more repressive in the last few years. This seems like a very important trend, and points to another way our media culture dis-serves us: Something that happens gradually over a period of years might not be "news" on any particular day.

Fidel Castro is dead.

Here's your annual dose of humility: The NYT's 100 Notable Books of 2016. I read four this year: Steven King's End of Watch and three non-fiction books. Two of them I read for a book review: Nancy Isenberg's White Trash and J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. The final book, Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land, was buyer's remorse for writing my book review before it came out. The other 96, I know nothing about.

The annual War on Christmas is about to flare up again.

Whenever I feel tempted to believe the claims that Christians face discrimination in America, I look into the details of a case and that cures me. Here's one: A New York science teacher covered her classroom walls with posters featuring Bible verses, and sued after the administration made her take them down.

Friendly Atheist makes the same comment I often make about the Christians who see religious discrimination in such cases: They "would go batshit crazy if a non-Christian teacher ever did anything remotely similar to what Silver did."

The abortion rate per woman in the 15-44 age group has dropped to half of its 1980 level, and is lower than at any time since Roe v Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Next year, expect this stat to get much more attention, and Trump to take credit for it. Just one more way America is becoming great again.

The world chess championship has come down to one game, without me even noticing until just now. We've come a long way from Fischer-Spassky.

Tim O'Reily of geek publishing house O'Reily Media has some good observations on how to spot fake news: mismatch between headline and content, lack of sources, mismatch between article text and the referenced source, unreliable sources, no independent accounts of the same events, misuse of data.

In general, I continue to be surprised by the number of people I think of as relatively intelligent who post fake news articles on Facebook. Still, we liberals seem to have higher standards than the other side. NPR tracked down a fake-news creator, who has learned to focus on fake-news that appeals to conservatives.

We've tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You'll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

and let's close with something awe-inspiring

massive flock of starlings, filmed by Jan van Ijken and presented by National Geographic.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times.

- reputed to be a Chinese curse

This week's featured post is "The Trump Administration: What I'm watching for". Last week there was no weekly summary and I hadn't expected to post at all, but "How did my hometown become Trumpland?" just leaped out. In the meantime, I was giving a talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois about the longer-term problem in our democracy that the Trump campaign is just a symptom of.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump administration

Nothing we've seen so far is reassuring. During the campaign I often heard Trump supporters claim that his inexperience in government and his lack of depth on the issues didn't really matter, because he would surround himself with the best people. So far, there's no indication that's happening.

Reince Priebus as chief of staff is, I suppose, the least worrying of the announcements. (If you want a mental picture of what a chief of staff does, that was Leo's job in The West Wing.) He is a standard Republican who might have gotten a lesser position in a Romney administration.

But Steve Bannon in the newly-invented position of chief strategist is deeply troubling. He turned Breitbart into the go-to news source for white nationalists. You can argue about whether he himself is a white nationalist or an anti-Semite -- some people who know him personally say no -- but he panders to those who are, so I'm not sure that what's in his heart matters. Someone like Bannon would have been beyond the pale in any previous Republican administration.

General Michael Flynn as national security adviser ... here's something from The Economist:

In a book published earlier this year, General Flynn writes: “We’re in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam. But we are not permitted to write those two words, which is potentially fatal to our culture.” In another passage, he declares that there is “no escape from this war” and asks: “Do you want to be ruled by men who eagerly drink the blood of their dying enemies...there’s no doubt that they [Islamic State] are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

This is what worries me: If top American officials go around talking about a world war with Islam, they can make that prediction come true. I've often said on this blog that the crucial battlefield in the war on terror lies inside the minds of 15-year-old Muslims. Do they see a future for themselves in the current world order, or not? If they live in the United States, do they see Muslim-American as a viable identity, or not? Trump's election tilts that decision in a bad direction; Flynn as his top security adviser tilts it further.

So does the selection of Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Pompeo is an advocate of torture and of expanding the prison at Guantanamo. In Congress, he was one of the most partisan members of the Benghazi Committee.

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General means that the federal government is getting out of the business of defending civil rights. (Actually that's not true, his Civil Rights Division is likely to be quite busy: Sessions takes seriously the myth that Christians are persecuted, so he'll defend their right to discriminate against gays or women who want birth control. Also expect to see more reverse-discrimination cases against affirmative action programs.) I expect deep-Confederacy states like Mississippi or Alabama to pass laws blatantly suppressing the black vote, and Sessions' Justice Department to do nothing. (That's why it's suddenly much more important to support private groups like the ACLU or NAACP.)

He is also an opponent of privacy rights. Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez says:

When it comes to surveillance powers, he’s more catholic than the Pope. He wants to grant more authorities with fewer limitations than even the law enforcement or intelligence communities are asking for.

But beyond the problems with any particular choice, the pattern is disturbing: So far, Trump is valuing loyalty over expertise. Bannon was his campaign CEO. Priebus brought the RNC to heel after Trump's nomination. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Flynn was a campaign adviser.

Trump-critic Eliot Cohen initially urged his fellow conservatives to put aside their differences and go work for the new administration, but then changed his mind after hearing reports from inside the transition process.

Cohen, who last week had urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration, said in an interview that a longtime friend and senior transition team official had asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees. After he suggested several people, Cohen said, his friend emailed him back in terms he described as “very weird, very disturbing.”

“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend.

Compare this to the team-of-rivals Obama assembled. His chief Democratic rival became secretary of state, he kept on a Republican defense secretary, and he also nominated Republicans to head the departments of transportation and commerce.

Trump critics like Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney have been called to Trump Tower and had their names floated for posts, but I'll believe that when I see it. I think their attendance signifies nothing more than their submission. They won't be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.

The flap over Hamilton revealed another disturbing tendency in the new administration. In case you missed it, Vice President-elect Pence went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton Friday night. During the curtain call, one of the actors read a statement written by the show's author, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing to boo. We're all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, we hope that you will hear us out.

And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

As you can see, the statement was respectful and not an attack of any kind. I would summarize it as a request for reassurance.

It would have been easy for Trump to either ignore this or respond to it gracefully, with something like: "Of course we'll protect all Americans and defend American values." If he wanted to score some political points, he could have blamed the hostile media for inspiring such baseless fears of his administration.

He didn't do that. Instead, he launched a series of tweets Saturday and Sunday, calling Hamilton "overrated" and demanding that the cast "apologize" for their "terrible behavior".

Here's how I read the incident: Trump wants people to be afraid of him. Why else do you slap down people who come to you asking for reassurance?

and how on Earth Trump got elected

The first thing I should acknowledge is that my returns-watching guide didn't foresee the Trump victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I hope it was useful anyway, in the sense that as reality diverged from my predictions, you saw how the night was going. Some of my early warning signs of a bad night -- the Indiana senate race getting called for the Republicans right away, Virginia taking a long time to come in -- were indeed early warnings.

I'm seeing a lot of finger-pointing among Democrats: Democrats who didn't vote for Clinton are to blame; the Party is to blame for nominating Clinton in the first place; Clinton should have known the upper Midwest was vulnerable; Bernie should never have validated those bogus Republican trustworthiness issues by raising them in the primaries; black turnout should have been higher; and so on.

To me, none of this seems like a good use of our time and energy. If your psychology is wired in such a way that you need to blame somebody, I offer these five candidates:

  • The Founders and their bleeping Electoral College. Anybody who goes on a rant about what a bad candidate Clinton was and how unpopular she is needs to be reminded of the fact that she got something like 1.7 million more votes than Trump did. The Electoral College never worked according to the hare-brained scheme the Founders had in mind, and it should have been junked in 1801 after the Aaron Burr fiasco. The net effect of the College in recent elections has been to disenfranchise Californians. Clinton lost because her million-vote plurality included a more-than-two-million-vote margin in California. Similarly in 2000, Al Gore had the misfortune of locating 1.3 million of his 500,000-vote plurality in California and 1.7 million in New York. Unfortunately, since Republicans owe two of their last three victories to the College, it has become a partisan advantage, so we'll never get rid of it now.
  • The Russians. Without the constant drip-drip of pseudo-scandalous headlines from Democratic emails hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks, the Clinton campaign could have done a much better job of controlling its message in the final month of the campaign. The biggest scandal of the 2016 campaign is that the winning candidate owes his victory to the meddling of a foreign power, and that Republicans seem not at all bothered by this.
  • The FBI. James Comey violated the Justice Department rules about not interfering in elections, derailing the momentum that Clinton seemed to have going into the home stretch of the campaign. Similarly, lower-level sources inside the FBI kept on feeding the right-wing media leaks about ongoing investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which I suspect we will never hear about again now that these "investigations" have served their partisan purposes.
  • The media. The fact that low-information voters -- and a lot of people who pay more attention -- got the idea that Clinton and Trump were equally flawed candidates is due to a gross distortion of election coverage.
  • Voter suppression. Vox makes a good case that Republican moves to suppress minority turnout didn't make the difference by itself. But it was definitely a factor in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.

I continue to believe that Clinton would have been a good president, but Trump won and the Republic is in real danger now.

There's a legitimate argument to be had within the Democratic Party about whether to put forward a sweeping agenda for radical change, or to stand for the reasonable center against the radical Trump administration. But both messages will be out there in the next few months, and they will either gain traction with the public or they won't. Arguing over how 2016 was lost isn't a worthwhile use of our energy.

and you might also be interested in

A comment on the NYT Facebook page:

Huyên Phương Lê I am considering many grad schools in the US for my master course next fall. Before the election, I only looked at the ranking, the alumni's feedback, the requirements and the fee and campus life. Now, I really have to think about the safety. As an Asian woman, I don't expect anyone to stop me in the street and tell me to get back to China (which I am not from). So now, although I was so sure about some schools in Texas and Wisconsin, I have to sit down once again, and closely look at the cities, and hope that they are not too red. This election changed my mind about America.

Does this surprise anyone? Now that the election is over, Donald I-never-settle Trump is paying $25 million to settle the Trump University lawsuits. Part of the agreement is that he admits no wrong-doing, but who pays $25 million to people they haven't wronged? Especially if it's a "phony lawsuit" and an "easy win", as he claimed earlier this year.

Donald Trump committed fraud against thousands of ordinary Americans. That isn't some partisan fantasy, like the charges against the Clinton Foundation. It's a fact.

An amusing bit of satire: Andrea Grimes isn't ready yet to deal with all the Trump supporters who want to talk to her so that they can understand why their candidate lost the popular vote.

Interesting story in the NYT about the widespread falsehood that the protests against Trump were fake, with paid protestors bused in. A guy with 40 Twitter followers saw some buses in Austin at about the same time protests were happening, jumped to a conclusion, and tweeted a picture. That fake "news" filled a psychological need, so it got shared hundreds of thousands of times before anyone checked it out.

The one encouraging thing in Trump's proposals was supposed to be his infrastructure plan. Obama has been proposing infrastructure programs for years, hoping to create jobs by doing stuff that needs to get done anyway, but Republicans in Congress have blocked him.

So is this something Democrats should get behind for the good of the country, rejecting the kind of if-he's-for-it-I'm-against-it obstruction that Republicans directed at Obama? Well, they should take a good hard look at the details first. Ron Klein writes:

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. ... Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway. Contractors have no obligation to hire new workers, or expand workers’ hours, to collect their $85 billion.

And Paul Krugman gets more specific:

For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 billion while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

... why do it this way? Why not just have the government do the spending, the way it did when, for example, we built the Interstate Highway System? It’s not as if the feds are having trouble borrowing. And while involving private investors may create less upfront government debt than a more straightforward scheme, the eventual burden on taxpayers will be every bit as high if not higher.

What was talked about during the campaign may not be exactly what gets proposed. But whatever gets proposed needs to be closely examined.

Here's a graph of the area covered by sea ice, world-wide, with the (red) 2016 falling well below previous years. There's some debate about what it means, because it lumps together Arctic and Antarctic ice, which are two very different situations. But it can't be good.

but here are some previews of coming attractions

One of the weird consequences of the election for me personally (after a couple days of depression) was the energizing thought: There is so much that needs to be written now. For example, up until now I've taken it for granted that certain kinds of white racism didn't really need to be addressed, because they were already taboo for serious conversation. That's not true any more, so sometime soon I'll be writing about the difference between my own sense of pride in where I come from and "white pride", as well as addressing the question of why there's no White History Month. As I say, that didn't used to be necessary, but it is now. We used to be able to just scoff at this stuff, but now we need an articulate response.

In general, there's a lot about race that is well understood academically, but hasn't been sufficiently popularized. Posts on that theme will come out fairly often, I expect.

Another thing I'll write about at some point is a basic difference in moral viewpoints between Trumpists and liberals like myself. That sounds like an esoteric topic, but it turns out to be very illuminating. Several people have already written about the difference between a universal view of morality and an us/them view, but I think the topic needs a more popular touch. (In the meantime, check out this presentation.)

An ongoing theme of the coming months is likely to be the typical progress of authoritarian/fascist governments, and whether or not we're seeing that in the Trump administration. One important article in this regard is Jason Stanley's "Beyond Lying: Trump's authoritarian reality".

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Donald Trump is trying to define a simple reality as a means to express his power. The goal is to define a reality that justifies his value system, thereby changing the value systems of his audience.

In other words, if Trump says 2+2 is 5, that's not necessarily a mistake. He might be demonstrating that he can say this and get away with it. If he can get his previous enemies to repeat "2+2 is 5", that shows his followers just how irresistible his power is. (There's a lot to unpack here, so more later.)

and let's close with something musical

I think I'm going to listen to this a lot in the next four years: "Your Racist Friend" by They Might Be Giants. We might all be having conversations like this soon.