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The 3 States Best Positioned to Legalize Marijuana in 2018
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Next year should see more legal marijuana states and also the first state to legalize it at the statehouse.

Election Day 2016 was a big day for marijuana. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all supported successful legalization initiatives, doubling the number of states to have done so since 2012 and more than quadrupling the percentage of the national population that now lives in legal marijuana states.

Marijuana momentum was high, national polling kept seeing support go up and up, and 2017 was expected to see even more states jump on the weed bandwagon. That didn't happen.

There are two main reasons 2017 was a dud for pot legalization: First, it's an off-off-year election year, and there were no legalization initiatives on the ballot. Second, it's tough to get a marijuana legalization bill through a state legislature and signed by a governor. In fact, it's so tough it hasn't happened yet.

But that doesn't mean it isn't going to happen next year. Several states where legislative efforts were stalled last year are poised to get over the top in the coming legislative sessions, and it looks like a legalization initiative will be on the ballot in at least one state—maybe more.

There are other states where legalization is getting serious attention, such as Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, but they all have governors who are not interested in going down that path, and that means a successful legalization bill faces the higher hurdle of winning with veto-proof majorities. Similarly, there are other states where legalization initiatives are afoot, such as Arizona, North Dakota and Ohio, but none of those have even completed signature gathering, and all would face an uphill fight. Still, we could be pleasantly surprised.

Barring pleasant surprises, here are the three states that have the best shot at legalizing pot in 2018.

1. Michigan

Michigan voters shouldn't have to wait on the state legislature to act because it looks very likely that a legalization initiative will qualify for the ballot next year. The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already completed a petition campaign and handed in more than 365,000 raw signatures last month for its legalization initiative. It hasn't officially qualified for the ballot yet, but it only needs 250,000 valid voter signatures to do so, meaning it has a rather substantial cushion.

If the measure makes the ballot, it should win. There is the little matter of actually campaigning to pass the initiative, which should require a million or two dollars for TV ad buys and other get-out-the-vote efforts, but with the Marijuana Policy Project on board and some deep-pocketed local interests as well, the money should be there.

The voters already are there: Polling has shown majority support for legalization for several years now, always trending up, and most recently hitting 58% in a May Marketing Resource Group poll.

2. New Jersey

Outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (R) was a huge obstacle to passage of marijuana legalization, but he's on his way out the door, and his replacement, Gov.-Elect Phil Murphy (D), has vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of taking office next month.

Legislators anticipating Christie's exit filed legalization bills earlier this year, Senate Bill 3195 and companion measure Assembly Bill 4872. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has also made promises, vowing to pass the bill within the first three months of the Murphy administration, and hearings are set for both houses between January and March.

But it's not a done deal. There is some opposition in the legislature, and marijuana legalization foes will certainly mobilize to defeat it at the statehouse. It will also be the first time the legislature seriously considers legalization. Still, legalization has some key political players backing it. Other legislators might want to listen to their constituents: A September Quinnipiac poll had support for legalization at 59%.

3. Vermont

A marijuana legalization bill actually passed the legislature last year, a national first, only to be vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott (R) over concerns around drugged driving and youth use. Legislators then amended the bill to assuage Scott's concerns and managed to get the amended bill through the Senate, only to see House Republicans refuse to let it come to a vote during the truncated summer session.

But that measure, House Bill 511, will still be alive in the second year of the biennial session, and Gov. Scott has said he is still willing to sign the bill. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) is also on board, and the rump Republicans won't be able to block action next year.

Johnson said she will be ready for a vote in early January and expects the bill to pass then. Vermont would then become the first state to free the weed through the legislative process. 



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Police Shoot a Lot More People Than Previously Known
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
A new investigation reveals that the number of people being shot—and shot at—by police is troubling.

In major metropolitan areas around the country over the last half-decade, police have shot—and shot at—people in numbers dramatically higher than previous tallies suggest. A new Vice News investigation finds that between 2010-2016, cops in the 50 largest police departments in the country shot more than 3,630 people, nearly double some previous estimates. Of the 4,381 people cops fired upon in that period—including the 700 people they shot at and missed—two-thirds survived those shootings.

Absent a comprehensive federal database of police shootings, the Vice report offers the most complete picture of fatal and nonfatal police shootings available.

The data analysis also found that police shot black people “more often and at higher rates than any other race,” and “two and a half times more often than white people.” Vice found that cops shot no fewer than 1,664 black people in the period studied, comprising “55 percent of the total and more than double the share of the black population in these communities.” Twenty percent of the African Americans tallied were shot following “relatively innocuous pedestrian or traffic stops,” which was true for just 16 percent of whites shot by police. Those figures are of particular importance considering that studies find black drivers are more likely to be stopped by cops based on less evidence, less likely than their white peers to be spoken to respectfully during those stops, and more likely to be ticketed and arrested than white drivers.  

While police narratives of shootings studied by Vice suggest the majority of blacks shot by cops were themselves involved in shootings or robberies, the proliferation of cell phone and body camera footage that contradicts police versions of events brings the trustworthiness of those numbers into question. Many videos made public after the fact have illustrated that shootings initially described by police as being self-defensive were in fact extrajudicial executions of African Americans. Unquestionably, some shootings of black citizens result from actual crimes being committed. But the demonstrated fallibility of police accounts shows that in a disturbing number of cases, police officers “shoot first and come up with reasons later.” The Vice News investigation finds that a significant number of people (20 percent) shot by police were unarmed. Among those, 44 percent were African American.

“It is a complex picture, but what’s clear is that black people are more likely to be unarmed, and that more of these sort of low-level incidents escalate to shootings,” Samuel Sinyangwe, data analyst and co-founder of police reform organization Campaign Zero, told Vice.

America’s problems with gun violence across the board are reflected in its police shooting figures. A 2015 assessment found that 1 out of every 13 people killed by guns every year is killed by police. As the Washington Post notes, that’s roughly one killing “every 9 hours, or 2.5 shootings per day.” Undoubtedly, based on the number of unarmed victims, not every shooting is the result of justifiable safety fears by officers. But few cops are held accountable even for the most extreme mistakes in the field. An investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last year found that between 1995 and 2015, “[f]ederal prosecutors declined to pursue civil rights allegations against law enforcement officers 96 percent of the time.” It’s notoriously difficult to secure a conviction against cops even in unequivocal cases of police abuse.

“There doesn’t have to be a gun involved. We see these cases where somebody has a cell phone or somebody makes the wrong move,” Bruce Franks Jr., a Missouri activist who went from Ferguson protester to state senator, told Vice. “There’s a million reasons they give so it ends up being justified.”

One of the few positive trends in the numbers Vice examined is a 20 percent downturn in police shootings since 2014, the result of Obama-era reforms in response to Department of Justice recommendations. Of the 10 cities that saw the largest drops in police shootings, seven complied with changes proposed by the federal government.

Cities that voluntarily adopted DOJ-recommended reforms saw a 32 percent decline in officer-involved shootings in the first year. The police departments that were forced to take on reforms through binding agreements with the DOJ saw a 25 percent decline that year, including Baltimore, whose agreement began this year. In Chicago, shootings by cops dropped by more than 50 percent after McDonald’s death, an incident that prompted a DOJ investigation and a package of recommended reforms.

That downturn is likely to end. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has characterized the DOJ’s work with local police departments as “federal intrusion,” and ordered a review of all reform agreements aimed at curbing civil rights violations and police abuses. "It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions stated in a two-page memo issued earlier this year.

The Vice investigation of the country’s 50 largest police departments was met with some resistance by the forces being scrutinized. Just 47 departments ultimately responded to Vice's stats request with numbers that offered enough data for proper examination. “Many [law enforcement departments] fought hard to keep the information secret,” Vice claims, “and some responded to our requests only under threat of legal action.”

Despite dozens of high-profile police killings in recent years, the FBI still doesn’t mandate that local police departments around the country report to a centralized data-keeping mechanism. Just 35 of the 18,000 local police departments in the U.S. participate in the Police Data Initiative, an Obama administration program to increase transparency around policing that will likely also be diminished under the Trump administration and the Sessions DOJ. Yet, this is critical information about the state of justice and civil rights in this country.

“We should know about how often it happens, if for no other reason than to simply understand the phenomenon,” David Klinger, an ex-LAPD officer and professor of criminal justice, told Vice. “How often is it that police are putting bullets in people’s bodies or trying to put bullets in people’s bodies?”

[h/t Vice News]


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Republicans Just Made It a Lot Harder for Restaurant Workers to Fight Big Chains
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The ruling also makes it more difficult for employees to unionize.

On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board, led by Trump appointee Philip A. Miscimarra, undid an Obama-era ruling that protected workers, including subcontractors, from labor law violations. In an unsurprising move, all three Republicans on the Board voted together to undo the rule, while the two Democrats opposed them.

“Frankly, it’s shocking,” Wilma B. Liebman, a former Democrat chairwoman of the Board, told the Times of the decision.

Back in 2015, the Board heard the case of an Iowa construction company, whose subcontractors went on strike to protest unsafe conditions and low wages and benefits. Those workers were fired in retaliation.

A local judge ruled the firings illegal, leading the National Labor Relations Board to declare in 2015 that the old joint-employer rule was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances, particularly the recent dramatic growth in contingent employment relationships.” They then changed the law so that a company would be responsible for illegal practices at all levels, including those that affect sub-contractors and employees at franchises.

This week the Board reversed that earlier decision, and the consequences for the fast-food industry could prove dire. For example, the person who makes your sandwiches at your local Subway could now be considered the responsibility of their direct franchise owner— not the Subway Group corporation itself. Now, if that sandwich maker and their coworkers protested an unfair practice at their location, it would be that much easier for the store owner to fire them, without consequence from the corporate higher-ups. The rule effectively protects corporations against any kind of legal action from lower-level employees.

As the Times describes, the vote is politically motivated, as corporations have been lobbying Republicans to reverse the Obama-era worker protection since it was enacted.

At its most fundamental level, the ruling highlights deep differences in philosophy between most Democratic and Republican members of the labor board. During the Obama administration, the board majority believed that the changing structure of the economy — in which employers have steadily pushed workers outside their firms and into a throng of contractors, franchises and staffing agencies — required updating doctrine to stay true to the intent of labor law...

By contrast, the ruling Thursday from the Republican-led board argued that its predecessors had been guilty of “upending decades of labor law precedent and probably centuries of precedent in corporate law” with no mandate from Congress to do so.

It’s worth noting that the National Labor Relations Board was created in 1935 by President Roosevelt with the express intent of protecting American workers from being taken advantage of by their employers. But today’s Republican-dominated Board wants to slow the pace of progress, despite that fact that more corporations are increasingly trying to shirk responsibility for their workers by labelling them as contractors.

The Times also explains that the reversal endangers workers who want to join a union:

The reversal could also affect the ability to unionize in the first place. A company is free to fire a contractor or end a franchise arrangement if it suspects that workers are on the verge of unionizing. But there could be legal liability for doing so if the company is a joint employer of workers with the contractor or franchisee.

This isn’t the only Obama-era worker protection that could be reversed under this Republican-majority labor board. Also on the chopping block are “rulings that made it easier for smaller groups of workers within a company to unionize, that gave workers access to a company’s email network for organizing purposes, and that conferred a federally protected right to unionize on graduate students at private universities.”

H/T The New York Times


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How the Right-Wing Media Totally Distorted Positive News on Climate Change
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Economist Michael Grubb says media climate deniers are at it again.

This interview was originally posted on the blog of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at University College London and a grantee of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, co-authored a recent study showing that what many saw as an overambitious goal to keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius may actually be reachable. Climate change deniers quickly pounced, using the hopeful news as an excuse to blame researchers for updating their models and to downplay the climate crisis. Two years after 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate, Grubb explained what the researchers really found, and shared with INET surprising developments on global warming, the future of nuclear energy and why the rest of the climate community isn’t too worried about President Trump.

Lynn Parramore: Let’s talk about the recent study you co-authored that created a media stir. You found that things might be a little better than we thought in terms of the Earth’s temperature rising. Can you explain your conclusions and how they have been spun in the press?

Michael Grubb: Sure. It turns out that we had a longer period than expected where temperatures didn’t rise as fast as the trend of the previous few decades – though they have jumped in the past couple of years. So we updated estimates that were almost a decade old. I do want to emphasize that the difference between what we found and what was widely understood from previous research is small— it shouldn’t have been a massive deal.

Our study in no way means that we don’t have a climate crisis. But we might be slightly better positioned to meet certain goals, like those set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement, than we thought.

LP: And yet Breitbart and other media outlets shouted that climate scientists 'admit they were wrong about global warming.' How do you respond to that? How can scientists combat the misinformation?

MG: Partly it’s a problem of scientists not communicating effectively what they do. They run big complicated models, and measure the past. Scientists looked at C02 emissions since the Industrial Revolution and made projections based on their findings: For every billion tons of carbon we dump into the atmosphere, the temperature goes up by a certain amount.

Based on those assessments, the people who had been running the big modeling projections, said, OK, if we want to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, then we can have only have so much in emissions — and it looks like we’ve only got a few years left at current emission rates before we pass the limit.

Governments made a deal in Paris based on ‘avoiding dangerous interference’ with the climate system, which included this target of 1.5 degrees Celsius at the ambitious end. A lot of people, including me, were pessimistic about achieving that goal.

The studies had actually presented estimates on temperatures rising within a range, but unfortunately, some in the scientific community succumbed to the demand for a single number. So they chose a number in the middle of the range that the models showed. Where we are today is actually well within the range of the models. We’re just not right in the middle. We have additional information about what’s happened since then and we have slightly different estimates of the way gases other than CO2 contribute to rising temperatures.

LP: So it’s not that scientists got anything wrong. Rather, it’s a matter of previous findings becoming oversimplified in the public discussion and of more information coming to light since then.

MG: Right. Unfortunately, a lot of misleading things have come out in the press, especially Breitbart, which got it all wrong. But this is the basic challenge for science. If you really look at what’s happened in relation to this paper, you see that science is about continually trying to improve your estimates. The political approach being adopted, in contrast, is to say that any attempt to improve anything in your estimation is treated as, “Oh, well, it was all wrong before then!”

How is knowledge supposed to advance if you never improve on what you did before? There’s also a huge challenge about how to effectively communicate uncertainty and complexity.

LP: You actually once stated that the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius was 'incompatible with democracy.'

MG: I did! That was actually my first tweet ever.

LP: That was a doozy. Has anything else happened since that tweet to change your mind?

MG: Yes it has! I was responding to the notion held by many that we could reach the goal technologically if we spent enough quickly enough. Well, of course! But the problem is a political one. It’s a social science problem. Instead of social scientists in this space, we have modelers churning out models with targeted carbon prices and so on, when in reality we can’t get even a small part of it through a political system.

So that tweet was my cri de coeur to say, look, this goal is impossibly ambitious in real countries where people vote and may well object to what we’d have to do. So you’d better start thinking about the social scientific aspects.

Three things have changed since the tweet. First, we now have an approach that indicates we may have about 20 years of current emissions before we blow the 1.5 degree Celsius goal – meaning, for example, if we reduce in a slight line from today for 40 years we might do it.  Second, to everyone’s surprise, Chinese emissions have stopped growing for the previous two years, and global emissions stopped growing, too. I don’t know if that’s enduring, but it looks like China has shifted and that’s a fantastic development. The third thing is that the cost of renewables has collapsed faster than expected.

I put those three things together, and it’s no longer inconceivable — though still really tough! — to reach certain goals. The Paris Agreement said that avoiding dangerous interference means keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial levels) and pursuing efforts towards 1.5 degrees. That range is beginning to look plausible and sensible. Even if we reach 1.6 or 1.8 degrees, at least we’ve not gone over 2 degrees. With a tremendous amount of commitment and work and a lot of luck, maybe we could even get to 1.5 degrees, but I’m not going to hang my mast on that. But within the range set out in the Paris agreement? Yes, if we were willing to try.

LP: If we want to make progress on climate change, do you believe nuclear will be a big part of the future? Are there options for clean, abundant energy other than renewables?

MG: I don’t think the signs point to nuclear as the most important option for the future. In Europe, the costs seem to keep escalating and appetite for this (and the risks) associated with nuclear is decreasing.

We need to see how far the renewables revolution goes. While it remains to see how well it works, this may also unleash potential in hydrogen gas, since we can use surplus renewables to produce hydrogen as a fuel by splitting water. It’s also a good way to store energy, which could make renewables more attractive.

LP: How does this process of splitting water to produce hydrogen help solve the problem of storing energy from wind and solar?

MG: When you have a surplus of renewable energy, you really don’t want the wind farm or the solar cells belting out power that won’t be used for anything. So what do you do with it?

One thing you can do is to simply run an electric current through water, which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. You then channel the hydrogen into gas grids. Typically you mix it in with methane, which is the standard natural gas.

When the hydrogen burns, water is reformed — you’re basically turning it back into water.  It’s just about the cleanest form of energy. And a lot of bang for your buck.

LP: Much of your work has concentrated on practical measures for dealing with climate change. Which countries or regions have done the best in dealing with them? And how successful has the world as a whole been?

MG: The world as a whole not very successful so far, let’s be honest. I would say that the most successful parts of the world have been Scandinavia, then California and northwest Europe. The Californian systems have been pretty good from what I know. Their approach to carbon prices is smarter than the European approach. It sets a price corridor on its emissions trading system that includes border adjustments — that is to say, it takes into account carbon emissions from electricity that comes from out of the state. California might do something similar with imported cement. The state also acknowledges that carbon pricing is only one amongst many elements of its climate change strategy, and that’s dead right.

You can argue about Germany because they have spent a lot of money. They have not gotten emissions down substantially yet, but they have basically broken the back of wind and solar technology, which is of global benefit.

I think Britain has been a bit slower and more cautious but is also doing things more efficiently and getting more results in transforming its power sector, including getting out of coal.

We should also give reasonable credit for the fact that China is storming up the field. I don’t think it’s yet overtaken California or Western Europe, and China is a complicated place with a lot of fights going on. But things look promising.

There are other pockets of interesting places, like some of the Latin American countries — Brazil has been pretty good in a number of areas. In India, Modi seems to be seriously turning the country around in terms of renewable energy ambitions and that could be very big.

LP: What about the situation under Trump? Many are worried that he may bolster older energy sources and fail to commit to renewables. How does the rest of the world react to him in terms of climate?

MG: In the climate change professional community in Europe, there is actually a much more relaxed attitude than you would think because the view is, well, Trump might blather but he can’t stop the demise of coal. It does get worrying if he tries to subsidize coal to keep it alive. But is this his proposition to make American great again? Trying to subsidize coal to stay in the last century’s energy system? That’s a ludicrous position.

We do worry about Trump withdrawing finance from international systems and efforts on climate change — that could be potentially very damaging. These include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, and the various international funds that made agreements under these deals to help developing countries both adapt to the impacts of climate change and to decarbonize their development.

On transport, Trump could do a lot perhaps to slow down electric vehicles or stop the toughening up of car efficiency standards. But generally I think the feeling is that Trump is actually not going to do much to change the American energy system.

There definitely seems to be an increase in interest and engagement on climate at the state and city level, and these initiatives have been moderately successful in communicating the message, at least to Europe, that the president does not represent the entirety of the U.S.

So on all those grounds there’s a more relaxed reaction. Where I think the real worry comes in is that every country has its skeptics: in particular, there are skeptics in developing countries that have been dragged into the Paris Agreement. That deal was largely designed to satisfy U.S. demands, but Trump withdrew from it, and the developing countries think, wait, the developed countries were supposed to be serious and help to drive down the cost of the technologies and stick to their commitments. But if the U.S. is going to walk away, what are you expecting us to do? That’s the real danger: Trump’s withdrawal is used as an excuse by those who really don’t want to do anything.

LP: What’s your view on climate change and its relationship to rising inequality in the world? How do we tackle this problem?

MG: One thing that is not strong enough in the debate is an understanding of how much climate change could make the world a more unequal place. To an important degree, it’s the poor people who die when you have heat waves and major storm events. Understanding that leads you to focus on the urgent need to help economic development and adaptation, which is precisely what developing countries have said all along.

If Trump withdraws finance from the international system, this exacerbates the potential fact that energy becomes a business where the rich world dumps damage on the rest of the world, particularly the poor, and then refuses to accept any responsibility either for helping them or even to stop killing them through environmental damage.

I think the best ameliorating factor, helped enormously by the solar revolution, is the potential to get cheap, clean power baked in as part of economic development in the 21st century. This is a huge opportunity and potentially a leveler as well.


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Trump Praises Putin and Rants Incoherently About the FBI from White House Lawn
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The president was all over the place during an impromptu press conference Friday.

President Donald Trump delivered an angry rant on the White House lawn in front of reporters on Friday in which he ranted about both the Department of Justice and the FBI.

When reporters stopped Trump on the White House lawn Friday morning to ask him questions, the president angrily ranted about the FBI in the wake of text messages that revealed an FBI agent who was part of Robert Mueller’s investigation called Trump an “idiot.”

“You have a lot of angry people,” Trump said of the FBI. “It’s a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that. I am going today on behalf of the FBI, their new building, and when everybody — not me, everybody, the level of anger, and what they have been witnessing with respect to the FBI, it’s certainly very sad.”

The president then fumed about accusations that his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential election.

“There’s been no collusion, that has been proven,” the president falsely asserted, as there has not been any definitive proof that Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia yet. “The Senate and the House, my worst enemies, they walk out and say, ‘There is no collusion but we will continue to look.’ They are spending millions and millions of dollars and there’s absolutely no collusion.”

While Trump had angry words to say about the FBI and members of Congress, he did have warm words for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The call with Vladimir Putin, it was great,” Trump said. “He said very nice things about what I have done for the country in terms of the economy, and he said also some negative things in terms elsewhere, but the primary point was to talk about North Korea, because we would love to have his help on North Korea.”

Finally, Trump said that he was still not sure about whether he would issue a pardon for disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who recently pled guilty to lying to the FBI.

“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet,” he said. “We will see what happens.”



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Small Farmers Voted for Trump in 2016—Now They're Taking Him to Court
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
A new lawsuit aims to preserve an Obama-era protection from predatory tariffs.

For decades now, the Republican Party and people speaking into microphones for the Republican Party have relied on the onerous mythology that somehow conservative politicians believe in farmers and small business more than the liberal “cultural elites” and “city slickers.” Like all Republican Party platforms, this is just a lie to dress their true worship of the golden calf of big business in a populist and racially charged American flag. On the campaign trail Trump promised to protect small farmers from predatory tariffs and general big business overreach, and since becoming president, Trump has staffed the USDA with the same incompetence that he’s staffed the rest of our government departments with. To add insult to injury, Trump’s administration made sure to do away with important Obama-era protections for small farmers.

Obama-era rules that had yet to take effect would have given smaller farmers more power to set the terms of their deals with massive meat companies, empowering the growers to sue and better define abusive practices by processors and distributors under federal law. Trump’s Agriculture Department killed two of the proposed rules, one of which would have taken effect in October.

Major agribusinesses like Cargill and Butterball fought the rules, saying they would lead to endless litigation between farmers and global food companies.

Trump’s deregulatory strike — lauded by big business — has consequences, even for the mom-and-pop turkey farmers who raise free-range, antibiotic-free turkeys that have seen increasing demand as Americans become more socially conscious about the production of their foods.

Now, as NPR reports, those small farmers are getting together and launching a lawsuit to protect themselves from extinction in the new Republican utopia.

The suit, filed on behalf of OCM by the Capitol Hill legal watchdog Democracy Forward, charges U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and his agency with "arbitrary and capricious" behavior in rolling back those two rules. One of them would have made it easier for individual farmers to sue for anti-competitive behavior.

Many of the farmers affected by the rollback supported Donald Trump for president, who promised to look after their interests. Now, the disillusionment is setting in.

West Virginia poultry farmer Mike Weaver voted for Trump, but says the feeling now among small farmers and ranchers is, "Where's the support that you promised us? We voted for you because you were going to make things right, and it's not happening."

It’s hard to not just shake your head and say “I told you so” to the people who voted for a billionaire pig real estate developer of casinos and hotels. What the Republican “base” needs to realize is that you can’t have your bigoted cake and eat it too. You either get your racism and are continually screwed by the rich, or you join ranks with those people you are afraid of but have considerably more in common with. Those are the two choices and they keep making the wrong one.

Poultry farmer Weaver, who also serves as president of the Contract Poultry Growers of the Virginias, says he's one of "the lucky few" who can speak freely. He came to poultry growing after a career as a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is not dependent on his farm income to survive.

Few of his fellow small contract poultry farmers — 71 percent of whom, he points, out, "live beneath the federal poverty level" — enjoy that luxury. "I've had guys in tears on the phone, telling me, 'My farm has been in the family for five generations, and I'm about to lose it,' " Weaver says.

Weaver is selling his farm. 


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What's It Gonna Be, White America? Will You Side with Roy Moore or Those Who Oppose Him?
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The Alabama election has forced the country to make a moral choice.

"What Shall We Do With the White People?" is one of my favorite essays. Written in 1860 by an African-American school teacher and activist named William Wilson (aka "Ethiop"), it is a brilliant response to white supremacy and a white American society that projected pathology and inferiority onto black people as a means of legitimating slavery and all the exploitation, rape, murder and other abuse it entailed.

I read "What Shall We Do With the White People?" several times a year. It always makes me laugh. It also helps me make sense of the social and political insanity of this society, which for all its many positive social changes over the decades and centuries remains fundamentally organized to protect white privilege and the power of white people as a group.

As I watched tens of millions of white Americans elect a racist, sexist con man -- not to mention a carnival barker, professional liar, proud ignoramus and possible traitor -- as president of the United States, I thought back to the themes and questions of Ethiop's essay.

This week, as I watched Tuesday night's tight election contest between Roy Moore and Doug Jones in Alabama, I wondered again what we shall do with the white people.

As the world now knows, former U.S. attorney Jones, a Democrat, defeated former Alabama Supreme Court justice Moore, largely because of overwhelming support from the black community (especially black women). It was not a landslide victory. Jones won by about 20,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, a margin of 1.5 percent.

Moore, who is by the preponderance of the evidence an adult sexual predator who targeted underage girls, won a majority among every category of white voter in Alabama. This was even true among college-educated white women.

Roy Moore, a man who wants to take away women's right to vote as well as control over their own bodies, won the votes of white women by a huge margin, 63 percent to 34 percent.

Roy Moore, a man who can reasonably be described as a Christian fascist -- a man who does not respect the U.S. Constitution and has spoken affectionately about the era of slavery, won every demographic of white voters by a large margin.

Roy Moore, a man whose apparent "godly" and "family values" include being a likely sexual predator and an unapologetic racist, won the self-described white evangelical vote by an overwhelming margin. This of course is no surprise.

Like Donald Trump, Roy Moore is not an aberration or outlier within today's Republican Party and broader conservative movement. The problem for Republican leaders is that both men are simply tactless and unapologetic in their racism, sexism, misogyny and bigotry. Republican voters (and the right-wing political machine) do not find such values abhorrent. They may prefer, however, that such values and beliefs are expressed more politely, through dog whistles and other cues that offer a veil of not-very-plausible deniability. It makes perfect sense that Trump embraced Moore's candidacy, despite the president's effort to walk back his endorsement after the fact.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel explained the toxic allure of sexism and racism for white Republican voters to me by email: "I think that the tradition which Moore represents is one of 'everyone knowing their place.' That is, women in the kitchen and black people subservient to whites. And in that sense, 'making American great again' is returning to that imagined era."

Of course, with Roy Moore, as with Trump, there is an obvious double standard that is one of the grossest examples of white privilege in recent memory. If a black man running for Senate were repeatedly accused of molesting young girls he would at the very least be run out of public life, and quite likely thrown in prison.

Moreover, imagine a scenario where a majority of black people in a given election had voted for a likely serial sexual abuser and pedophile. Both the right-wing and mainstream media would be hysterical, with wall-to-wall coverage and commentary. We would hear about the black community's "pathological" behavior and its "bad culture."

If black Christians cited scripture to make excuses for a man who by all accounts and preyed on underage girls for decades, sober people on television would call for a "national discussion" about whether the "black church" was a public menace. On cue, right-wing bloviators would issue poisonous rhetorical questions: Where are the black fathers? Where are the black leaders? Where do black people learn such values?

But because whiteness is by definition excluded from critical interrogation, these realities will be avoided by too many people.

Several days ago, I spoke be email with a friend who is a mentor to me. Although he would be quick to minimize his role in changing history, he is a brave and heroic person. In 1961, along with dozens of others, he helped black Americans in the Jim Crow South register to vote. My friend also risked his life to defend black Americans' human rights. Our conversations often revolve around an existential question: "What kind of white person do you want to be?" Because he is a philosopher and historian, my friend knows this is one of the most important (and unresolved) questions about the relationship between race and democracy in the United States.

Under Donald Trump this question resonates even more, in ways both familiar and new.

While watching the Alabama special election and reviewing the exit-poll data, I realized that such an existential question need not be directly asked for the answer to be apparent.

Tens of millions of white people voted for Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands voted for Roy Moore. What kind of white people do they want to be? I think we know the answer. There are no good people who voted for Donald Trump and continue to support him. And there most certainly are no good people who voted for Roy Moore last Tuesday.



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Paul Krugman: The GOP Must Detest the Working Class
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The language of Republicans' regressive new tax bill points to one logical conclusion.

In 2012, House Republican leader Eric Cantor managed to wish the country a happy Labor Day without acknowledging a single American laborer. "Today," he tweeted at the time, "we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success." 

If the omission was a snafu, it was an "instructive" one, as Paul Krugman writes in his Thursday column. The GOP despises the working class, routinely seeking to "afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable."

The Trump administration is no exception, despite the Republican nominee's populist posturing on the campaign trail. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which is slowly winding its way to the president's desk, will prove a windfall to multinational corporations and business owners at their employees' expense. 

"While some of this tax cut might trickle down in the form of higher wages, the consensus among tax economists is that most of the break will accrue to shareholders as opposed to workers," Krugman writes. "So it’s mainly a tax cut for investors, not people who work for a living."

Compounding matters, the legislation provides a huge tax break to business owners as opposed to wage earners, meaning a real estate development firm could pay significantly less than a surgeon at a hospital or an attorney employed by a law firm earning the same amount. It's almost as though the legislation were written specifically to enrich the Trump family.

"If this sounds like bad policy, that’s because it is," Krugman continues. "More than that, it opens the doors to an orgy of tax avoidance. Suppose that I could get The Times to stop paying me a salary, and instead to pay the same amount to Krugmanomics LLC, a consulting firm consisting of one person—me—that sells opinion pieces. I would probably get a big tax break as a result."

The Bush tax cuts were broadly popular, at least at first, before the economy tanked. The Trump plan, by contrast, is polling in the low 30s, according to two recent polls from USA Today/Suffolk University and Marist University. Ultimately, Krugman believes Republicans just can't help themselves: "Their disdain for ordinary working Americans as opposed to investors, heirs, and business owners runs so deep that they can’t contain it."

Read Paul Krugman's column at the New York Times.


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Dustin Hoffman Faces Disturbing New Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The Academy Award winner has been accused of exposing himself to a minor and assaulting two others.

New allegations of sexual misconduct have surfaced against the actor Dustin Hoffman, with two women accusing him of sexual assault and a third alleging that he exposed himself to her in a hotel room when she was a teenager.

The playwright Cori Thomas, a high school friend of Hoffman’s daughter Karina, claimed that Hoffman exposed himself to her in a hotel room after a Sunday afternoon outing in Manhattan with the Hoffman family when she was 16 years old, according to an article published in Variety on Thursday.

Hoffman was in the midst of divorcing his first wife, Anne Byrne, and had been staying at a hotel near the house he had shared with Byrne, where Karina still lived. After dinner, Karina, Hoffman and Thomas waited at Hoffman’s hotel room for Thomas’s parents to pick her up but, before they arrived, Karina went home to finish her homework, leaving Thomas alone with Hoffman, Thomas said.

Thomas said she was “sitting there waiting for her parents” when Hoffman emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel, “which he dropped”.

“He was standing there naked,” Thomas said. “I think I almost collapsed, actually. It was the first time I had ever seen a naked man. I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. And he milked it. He milked the fact that he was naked. He stood there. He took his time.”

Hoffman then put on a bathrobe and asked Thomas to massage his feet, Thomas said. “I didn’t know that I could say no, so I did it. And he kept telling me, ‘I’m naked. Do you want to see?’” She said she had been “saved” by the phone ringing to let her know her mother had arrived to pick her up.

A second woman, Melissa Kester, said she “felt like she’d been raped” after Hoffman allegedly assaulted her during a recording session for the songs in the film Ishtar.

Kester, who was dating a man who was working on the music for the film, had accompanied her boyfriend to a number of recording sessions at the Malibu studio. She said that during one of the sessions Hoffman seemed to be struggling with his vocals, and he apparently jokingly insisted she come into the recording booth with him.

“He was like, ‘Send Melissa in here. I’m bored. Send Melissa in here,’” Kester said.

“He may have been being flirtatious, but it wasn’t to the point of being obscene, because my boyfriend’s there. Then they get ready to do another take.

“I’m standing there, and it’s kind of a small room, and he grabs me, so we’re both facing out so we’re both facing the people in the studio. I’m thinking that it’s kind of flirtatious and funny, like he’s holding on to me, because I’m going to help him sing better.

“I felt awkward. It’s a little weird. He’s hugging me while he’s singing. But ha ha ha, it’s all a joke. My boyfriend is right there.”

They were only partly visible to the technicians in the control room. “He literally just stuck his fingers down my pants,” Kester said. “He put his fingers inside me. And the thing I feel most bad about is I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. I just froze in the situation like, ‘Oh my god, what is happening?’ It’s shocking when that happens to you.”

Ketser said she had tried not to react because she didn’t want her boyfriend or the other technicians to know what was happening. She said Hoffman had removed his hand when the take finished and “kind of laughed”.

“Then I just ran out of there, and I sat in the bathroom crying. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt like I’d been raped. There was no warning. I didn’t know he would do that.”

Kester said Hoffman had repeatedly tried to get in touch afterwards but she told him to stop calling her.

A third woman, who remains anonymous, has claimed that Hoffman assaulted her during the making of Ishtar in a non-consensual encounter in the back of a vehicle on the way home from the film’s wrap party, which was later followed by a consensual sexual encounter in Hoffman’s hotel room.

The allegations against the Oscar-winning actor follow those from Anna Graham HunterWendy Riss Gatsiounis and Kathryn Rossetter, who have all accused the now-80-year-old of unwanted sexual advances, with Hunter and Rossetter also accusing the actor of sexual assault. Hoffman initially apologised to Hunter, and later to Rossetter, saying he felt “terribly” and that the allegations were “not reflective of who I am”.

Hoffman has not personally responded to the new allegations but his legal representatives said in a letter to Variety that the accusations were “defamatory falsehoods”.

The allegations against Hoffman are only the latest in a wave of claims about sexual misconduct by Hollywood heavyweights over the past few months, including the producer Harvey Weinstein, the actor Kevin Spacey, and the directors Brett Ratner and James Toback.



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Trump's Popularity Is Plummeting Among Fox News Viewers
December 15th, 2017, 04:44 PM
A new poll finds his net favorability has dropped from 90 to 58 percent since June.

Trump’s Popularity Is Plummeting Among Fox News Fans

President Donald Trump loves Fox News, but fans of the conservative-leaning network are starting to like him a lot less. In June, 90 percent of respondents in a Suffolk University poll who said they trust Fox over other news networks viewed Trump favorably, but by October, approval had fallen to 74 percent and plummeted to 58…


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Seth Meyers Still Isn't Sure What Omarosa Actually Did at the White House
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The "Late Night" host bids hilarious farewell to the former reality television star.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman is out of President Donald Trump's White House, and the media responses have not been kind to the former reality TV villain.

NBC Late Night host Seth Meyers recapped Omarosa's time in the White House by explaining how absurd the whole episode was.

"No one was ever really sure exactly what she did in the White House," Meyers accurately explained.

Omarosa has tried to downplay her reported firing by claiming she resigned.

“I resigned, and I didn’t do that in the residence, as [is] being reported,” Omarosa told Good Morning America, following reports she was fired. “John Kelly and I sat down in the Situation Room, which is a very secure, very quiet room in the White House.”

“Wow, the Situation Room,” Meyers said. “Though I have a feeling any room Omarosa goes into becomes a Situation Room.” 

The host continued, “Seriously, you know it’s bad when they have to fire you in the same place they killed Osama bin Laden.”

Meyers played the amazing media reactions to her firing, including Robin Roberts' meme-worthy, "Bye, Felicia."
Watch the segment below.


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Trump Is Radically Reshaping the American Court System as We Know It
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The president's myriad appointees will be swaying case law for decades to come.

Amid news that two of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees had been summarily rejected by congressional Republicans lies a darker truth — that there are still more than a dozen others who have been confirmed that will likely be on the bench to do the president’s bidding long after he leaves the White House.

As The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery wrote Thursday, Trump has already “reshaped the courts” by successfully confirming 12 circuit court nominees — the most any president has confirmed since circuit courts were created in 1891.

Along with those 12 judges, Trump’s successful confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and six district court judges could spell major trouble for abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Confirmed on Halloween, anti-choice judge Amy Coney Barrett considers the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate “a grave infringement on religious liberty” and has publicly attacked the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. Barrett’s aren’t even the most controversial views of Trump’s district court nominees — another John Bush, was confirmed despite having compared abortion to slavery.

Even one of the four nominees determined “unqualified” by the American Bar Association, Leonard Steven Grasz, was confirmed this week by the Senate. Grasz infamously sat on the board of a nonprofit that promoted “gay conversion therapy.” Despite being quite openly opposed to abortion rights, Bendery noted that Grasz was confirmed by pro-choice GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

District judges, the writer continued, are appointed for life — meaning that these controversial and high-powered federal judges will be swaying case law for years to come.


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Sarah Huckabee Sanders Humiliates Herself Defending the Trump Administration's 'Diversity'
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Omarosa's departure leaves a single African American in the president's Cabinet.

NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker had an incredibly easy question following the downfall of Omarosa Manigault-Newman. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn't answer it.

Welker wanted to know how many African-American senior staffers work for President Donald Trump. Sanders responded that the White House has a "diverse team."

When pressed for a number, the press secretary admitted she didn't have one on hand.

The real answer appears to be that, as of Omarosa's departure, there will only be one senior Trump administration staffer who is African American—Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

Watch Sanders' comments below.


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Jesus Christ's Hometown of Nazareth Just Canceled Christmas Because of Trump
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The Muslim-majority city will be protesting the president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Nazareth, a Muslim-majority city in Israel where Christians believe Jesus was raised, has officially canceled its Christmas celebrations this year.

Mayor Ali Salam cited U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as the reason for the cancellation.

“Our identity and faith aren’t up for debate,” Salam said at a Thursday press conference. “The decision has taken away the joy of the holiday, and we will thus cancel the festivities this year.”

Newsweek reports that the cancellation will impact the local economy "severely," as tens of thousands of people usually travel to the town during the Christmas season for the festivities.

Trump has repeatedly promised that the U.S. would say "Merry Christmas" again, despite the fact that Americans and American leaders have never stopped using the ubiquitous phrase. Yet the president has managed to dampen the Christmas spirit on the other side of the world with his offensive, widely panned decision on Jerusalem.


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Doug Jones Would Have Won by Tens of Thousands More Votes If Participation Hadn't Been Blocked and Undermined
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
An extraordinary Twitter thread explains how GOP Secretary of State John Merrill deprived many of their right to vote.

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones was elected to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by a mere 21,000 votes. That margin would have been much larger if Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a strident partisan Republican, would have taken steps to inform his state’s voters than thousands of ex-felons were eligible to vote under a 2017 state law. But Merrill didn’t do that, as an extraordinary Twitter thread by Danielle Lang explains. Lang is an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, a bipartisan-led Washington-based voting rights law firm that has fought for expanded rights for years, especially across southern states. Her remarkable thread is below.
Steven Rosenfeld


1. Folks, a few thoughts on the extraordinary turnout among black voters in last night's #ALSEN special election and about how much greater it could have been.

2. Here are the numbers on the photo ID law:118,000 registered Alabama voters do not have a photo ID they can use to vote; Black and Latino voters are about twice as likely as white voters to not have ID. Last night's #ALSEN election was decided by under 21,000 votes.

3. While in AL in November, I personally ran into several voters w/o ID who thought there was no point in registering for that reason.

4. And just as the #Alabama legislature put this new ID hurdle in place, it closed down DMVs in the black belt.

5. But not to worry, AL SOS Merrill thinks only voters who try harder should be able to vote: “As long as I’m secretary of state of Alabama, you’re going to have to show some initiative to become a registered voter in this state.” Cool. (But I didn't even come here to talk about the voter ID law. I'm not the expert on that case but @RossDeuel and my friends at @NAACP_LDF are.)

6. I'm here to talk about Alabama's outrageous locking out of people with convictions (disproportionately people of color) from the electoral franchise.

7. Hundreds of thousands of people in Alabama either couldn't vote yesterday in the #ALSEN election or thought they couldn't vote bc of AL SOS's failure to communicate the law.

8. Here's a long but important timeline. In 1901, #alabama created a criminal disenfranchisement law designed to disenfranchise blacks. They said as much right in the record.

9. They chose to disenfranchise ppl with crimes "involving moral turpitude" b/c that standard was mushy enough to let their friends vote while disenfranchising blacks for violations of the "black code" crimes they made up.

10. In 1985, the Supreme Court struck down the moral turpitude phrase as racially discriminatory because duh. But in 1996, the #AL legislature put the "moral turpitude" standard BACK INTO THE LAW.

11. From 1996 to 2017, there was absolutely NO standard for what convictions were disqualifying. There was no set list of crimes that "involved moral turpitude" and individual registrars county to county decided who got to vote. Many treated ALL felonies as disqualifying.

12. Remember how the standard was chosen in the first place because it could be applied to hurt minorities? (And by the way, Alabama is one of only 12 states that still permanently disenfranchises anyone after their convictions are complete and their time is served.)

13. Americans of all political stripes overwhelmingly support letting people vote after they have completed their sentences (although apparently #RoyMoore does not).

14. Since disenfranchisement based on registrars' whims is not constitutional, we sued in September 2016: Thompson v. Alabama

15. In May 2017, Alabama passed a law finally defining what convictions take away your right to vote. And while it's a long list, it excludes some important ones like most nonviolent drug crimes. #progress !

16. But then, for reasons I still can't attribute to anything but indifference to certain voters, the AL SOS refused to take basic steps to inform voters with past convictions of their rights.

17. The current Alabama voter registration form requires people to sign under penalty of perjury that they have not been convicted of a "disqualifying felony" and then NOWHERE describes what felonies are disqualifying.

18. There are likely thousands of voters that were previously told by their registrars that they could not vote b/c of their conviction but under the 2017 law clearly are eligible. The SOS refused to notify these people of their rights.

20. We took them to court and continue to fight that issue but the court did not order them to act for these elections. So we and SO MANY others -- Pastor Glasgow @anvoo2 @ACLUAlabama @LSAlabama -- did Secretary Merrill's job for him the best we could. We've been helping train community leaders on the law so they can register eligible people with past convictions to vote.

21. We created a toolkit for folks to use to navigate the law. Here is one voter that voted for the first time yesterday in the #ALSEN election. He had been blocked for decades from voting because of convictions in his youth.

22. B/c of the hard work of so many advocates, a lot of new voters were able to cast ballots yesterday in the #ALSen election. But this was in spite of Secretary Merrill's failure to clear up the confusion his office created after decades of arbitrary disenfranchisement.

23. Just think of how many more voters he could have reached if he'd used his office to make sure every voter understood her rights. We have a list of over 75k voters that were previously denied the right to vote bc of past convictions. the myth that these individuals arent interested in voting is just false.

24. I'll close by saying that the 2017 law, despite the confusion, was progress but it did not fix the problems in Alabama. Alabama is still one of only a handful of states that permanently disenfranchise people for past convictions. The list of "disqualifying" crimes is still long and includes many low level theft crimes that sweep tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals into its net.

25. Again, this law likely continues to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Alabama citizens. Yesterday's election was decided by less than 21k votes.

Watch Uncounted: America's Silenced Citizens, a stunning video produced by the Campaign Legal Center on felon disenfranchisement:


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Trump Is a Master Game-Changer, but Not the Kind You May Think
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Trump is the perfect cover for the billionares' plan to change the American game.

A game changer is an event, a technology or a cultural shift that changes the game being played. Science was a game changer. A person can be a game changer, too: Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, and Musk, for example.

Then there are people who have the ability to change the game as it suits them; in effect, they are shapeshifters who shift not their shape but the shape of the game board. If they start losing at one game, they know how to replace the game board to one they can win on. To distinguish this kind of game-changing, I'll call these people game shifters.

Cognitive psychology encourages game-shifting. If you feel defeated in your current game, change the game you think you’re playing. Game-shifting can be helpful. I’ve written about how it can help you maintain your mojo, and relax into serious play, rigorously careful yet creatively relaxed effort.

And game-shifting can be a problem: Rationalization that makes us feel like we’re winning, when in reality we’re not, or helping when in fact we’re hurting.

Gaslighters, hypocrites, psychopaths, manipulators, seducers, and persuaders are master game-shifters. The object of their overarching game is to shuffle between game boards so they always seem like they come out on top. They come out on top by changing the board and by keeping others guessing what game is being played.

Gaslighters succeed by giving the impression that the object of the game is facing the real truth when that’s the last thing that interests them. A seducer gives the impression that he loves you when the real object of his game is a quick dip in your pants.

“Look at that village idiot! People keep offering him a choice between a quarter and a dime and laughing when he takes the dime. Hey psst, idiot, tell me, why do you keep doing that?”

“Don’t tell them but if I took the quarter, do you think they’d keep offering me dimes?”

For the village idiot, the game is collecting dimes. He keeps winning by giving the impression that he's losing an intelligence test.

Some believe our national village is being run by idiots. My guess is that they’re master game-shifters. Their short game is game-shifting by any means necessary in the service of their long game, changing America’s most fundamental game.

The object of their real game is not a return to America’s former "we the people" greatness and certainly not providing help for the little guy.

The object of their long game is to remove the burden of what you could call the "basket of unemployables,” Romney’s 47 percent takers, the leeches and freeloaders that the hard-working wealthy are carrying. The wealthy are what make the country great. They earned their money fair and square and should by natural right be allowed to keep it.

For too long, the takers have hamstrung our economy. The rich are being forced to give their takings to the takers who don’t contribute to growth. It's bad for the country and it's bad for the takers who need to be sent to the school of hard knocks. The solution is clear. Eliminate the little man's voice.

In the game, our current leaders aim to overthrow, leaders had to do the people’s bidding even though many people are nothing but a burden, special interests dragging the country down, moochers who get weak-willed leaders to give them handouts by pickpocketing the wealthy.

Democracy is an impediment to capitalism and capitalism is the real name of the game. Time to undermine democracy in the name of economic liberty, a mission as urgent to them as helping the little guy, and restoring traditional Christian values is to the people who believe these leaders’ propaganda. Their shared sense of urgency is just what the leaders want because nothing justifies game-shifting like having a grand, urgent, overarching, existential mission.

All’s fair in war. Illegal activities under normal circumstances become legal in war. That’s how it is with rules and objects of the game. To some extent, the rules of a game are designed to make the game a fair competition to achieve the object of the game and strategy is an attempt to win within the official rules of the game. But when the stakes get high enough, we’re willing to bend and break the rules. Any of us. You’d steal to save your child’s life.

Call my assessment a conspiracy theory if you like, but all the evidence points to it. In case you hadn’t noticed, there really are conspiracies in world history. I don’t want to just be a conspiracy theorist. I want to be a precise conspiracy theorist, spotting the real ones and dismissing the fake ones.

The evidence supporting my conspiracy theory is in leaders' internal correspondence, well-mined in Democracy in Chains, a new book by historian Nancy MacLean, worth reading so you can make your own assessment. I read it back-to-back with Scott Adams' admiring book on Trump's "weapons-grade persuasion," Win Bigly, a useful if disconcerting pairing. 

The history shows that our leaders made several attempts to change the game overtly, trying to sell people on what they euphemistically call “public choice.” The Goldwater campaign and the Reagan presidency failed in our current leaders’ mission because they got cold feet and voters weren’t willing to change the national game.

So our current leaders have gone stealth. To win their game now, they pretend they’re playing a different game, a restoration of democracy, not its elimination.

Trump is a master of short-term game-shifting. No matter what he does, he’s always winning the game by reframing it. Whenever he starts losing, he deftly slips the existing game board out from under his playing pieces, replacing it with a game board on which he can claim to be winning.

The majority sees through him, but that doesn’t matter to the leadership’s long game. So long as he can keep enough red voters believing that he’s winning on their behalf, he, Congress and the public choice billionaire campaign donors will win their long game.

Though the old-guard masterminds (Kochs et al.) were wary of Trump at first, the new-guard masterminds (Mercers et al.) were behind him and largely responsible for his victory. The old and new guard are now behind him all the way. He’s the perfect cover for their plan to change the American game.

We call it hypocrisy, but that’s because we think we’re all playing the old “we the people” game. They’re playing different games and the Koch and Mercer’s long game.

But if your only goal is looking like a winner, being a game-shifter always is the way to go. At least until your hypocrisy catches up with you. It would for Trump if he didn’t have the backing of the most profitable political movement in the country’s history, billionaires who aim to remove the shackles of democracy, a campaign that pays for itself with bountiful returns.

We now have a master game-shifter as our president backed by a Congress paid for by the most profitable game-shifter movement in the country’s history. Now, that’s a game changer. 


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Sexual Harassment Trainings Aren't Protecting Women at Work the Way They Should
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Here are some suggestions.

After a long period of routine compliance, sexual harassment training seems to be on the minds of many organizations. By law, companies must institute at least two mechanisms to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace: first, implement a zero-tolerance policy toward harassment; and second, create procedures to address claims of misconduct.

Though many critics believe these federal compliance standards fall short of dismantling the power dynamics that contribute to sexual harassment, it is important to consider which parts of sexual harassment trainings actually do work. Otherwise, trainings become an empty gesture to meet a business’ compliance standards.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commision recorded 12,860 sex-based harassment allegations in 2016. This number is probably low given the fact that many victims do not report their cases. While harassment trainings are currently mandated in five states, another 22 states require public sector employees to go through them. However, this second step to addressing harassment has often been criticized for being ineffective or outdated, and ill-equipped at addressing workplace prejudices. In some cases, research has even found perceived cases of backlash, where trainings have devolved into scenarios of victim-blaming.

As Justine Tinkler, associate professor of the University of Georgia, explains, trainings have the ability to reinforce men’s perception that women are “emotional and duplicitous in the way that they both want sexual attention, but don’t want sexual harassment.” Tinkler’s comment shows how trainings can resurrect the misguided assumption that those who are sexually harassed “asked for it," effectively blaming the victim before condemning the inappropriate behavior of the harasser.  

There are relatively few studies that look at the effectiveness of sexual harassment trainings, and most studies that have been done exemplify their shortcomings. Many employers are unwilling to allow researchers into company trainings. Yet there are some reasonable guidelines for hosting effective trainings. Here are a few such ways these trainings could be improved.

1. Stop Reproducing Outdated Gender Stereotypes

Research has shown that sexual harassment trainings often reproduce gender stereotypes, and online tutorials are often guilty of reproducing the image of women in the role of secretary and subordinate, and men as the supervisor and abuser. The trainings tend to favor representations that are quickly digestible or recognizable, and as Tinkler says, “resembles a meal at McDonald's,” conjuring the fast, underdeveloped storylines that can glaze over the multiple real-life power dynamics that contribute to sexual harassment. 

Last year, a number of women criticized UC Berkeley after two highly esteemed academics stepped down due to numerous allegations of sexual harassment against them. This criticism was directed both toward the university’s historical attempts to hush up accusations, as well as its outdated sexual harassment trainings, which effectively undermined their cause.

Leslie Selizagar, a professor in Berkeley’s Gender Studies Program, called the trainings “laughable," while Lauren Edelman, a law professor at Berkeley, said the stereotyped scenarios actually caused participants to giggle "in a rather infantile or super sexist way.”

2. Make Sure All Employees of the Company Attend

Federal compliance standards lead some to believe that HR is keeping a record of employee participation in required trainings. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

NPR recently fired its top news editor Michael Oreskes amidst a growing number of sexual harassment allegations against him. While NPR has its own required training for all employees, the news source admitted that Oreskes did not complete his own training.

As Elaine Herskowitz, one-time co-author of the EEOC’s sexual harassment guidelines commented, “It may be obvious, but it's critical that everyone in the organization undergo training, all the way up to the top.” Her comments speak to the double standard some organizations grant their leaders and the harmful implications of turning the blind eye.

3. Incorporate Bystander Intervention

The EEOC’s new guidelines on harassment trainings now include the concept of "bystander intervention,” a term used to describe the collective accountability of all workplace employees to disrupt both harassment and sexism.

While some of the language is vague, there is also much that is valuable in this approach. Take the Harvey Weinstein case. Over the last weeks, former employees and close acquaintances of Weinstein have acknowledged hints of misconduct they perceived all along, raising questions of what makes someone an enabler. Some of these people might have intervened sooner if they had the proper training to support them in that role. 

4. Make Trainings Personal—But Not Too Personal

Some research shows trainings are more effective when they typify forms of sexual harassment (i.e. “this is what harassment looks like”), rather than try to change social attitudes. Less effective are sweeping conversations about the correlation between harassment, misogyny, class power, and white privilege. This sort of knowledge and skills approach has been shown to be effective, as it leaves participants with the sense of empowerment to disrupt or avoid further harassment.

Alongside this, longer trainings and trainings that engage role-play often sit with participants on a deeper level. While some researchers believe online trainings allow the discussion to be personalized according to the varying beliefs of each participant, most research shows longer trainings and participatory trainings have a more lasting impact. One user’s review of a recent online training speaks to the boredom such tutorials conjure. As the participant expressed, “the training was only painful in its superfluity.” Of course, in-person trainings are not without their dangers and triggers and their success largely depends on both the capabilities of the training’s leader and the history of workplace dynamics.


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In Alabama, Black Women Saved America From Itself—as They've Always Tried to Do
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
African-American women came out in droves and voted 98% against Roy Moore, preventing what could have been a huge wrong.

Black women have been trying to save America from itself for generations. So the breakdown of who voted in Alabama’s Senate election this week come as no surprise. Since as far back as the 19th century, African American women have been fighting for civil rights; they have always been front and centre in terms of mobilising support for equality and justice. Though it would not be surprising if you’ve never heard their stories – by and large black female trailblazers have tended to be erased from history.

But that marginalisation has never stopped their continued fight for justice and equality. In Alabama, 98% of them voted against Roy Moore, a man who – among other things – is accused of assaulting teenage girls. And yet 63% of white women voted for a man accused of such things. But there’s form here. Despite allegations of sexual impropriety against Donald Trump during the 2016 election race, 53% of white women voted for him to become president, compared to 3% of black women.

So the figures reflect that in Alabama, overwhelming numbers of white American women opened their arms to an alleged paedophile and gave him their votes. Whereas those black women in Alabama voted for change for their families and themselves in a part of America that has huge numbers of people in poverty (nationally, more than 28% of African-American women live in poverty – higher than the corresponding figures for white or Hispanic women). And to keep out of office a man whose list of alleged sexual misdemeanours is ever growing.

African-American men did that, too. Exit polls show that 6% of black men voted for Moore – compared to 72% of white men.

But it’s African-American women who have largely been ignored in history. It’s their political power that tends to be ignored, and the feminist movement tends to erase. Figures such as Sojourner TruthIda B Wells-Barnett and Mary McLeod Bethune fought for so much, and yet are heard of so little.

What is surprising though is that in the era of the #MeToo movement, white women in Alabama didn’t see the accusations of underage sexual conduct as enough of a reason not to put someone in office. In fact I watched one woman defend her choice with these words: “I’m sure God had forgiven him [Moore] so I forgive him too and will vote for him. Who am I to go against God?”

History will not look favourably on this era in America. In the midst of all this you’ve got black women who are trying to raise families in higher levels of poverty and amid nearly double the unemployment rates of white women. That strength and resilience reminds me of a Malcolm X speech – which Beyoncé actually sampled on her album Lemonade: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. / The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. / The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

Some African-American women would argue that not much has changed since that speech in 1962. But despite being disrespected, unprotected and neglected, they came out in their droves and righted what could have been a huge wrong.



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If the Trump Revolution Is Possible, So Is a Progressive One
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The increased tempo of the GOP's snatch and grab in recent days suggests that they're feeling a certain desperation.

Yes, I know, the United States is a deeply conservative country. Americans don’t engage in periodic attempts to overthrow the system. There is no viable political party that threatens the status quo. When protesters gather in Washington, they have no intention of storming Congress, the White House or the Federal Reserve.

The most radical movements, like Occupy Wall Street, are leaderless and amorphous, and thus toothless.

Americans are so conservative that the revolution that created the country in the 18th century appears in history books as more a break from England than a break from tradition.

So, when a revolution does occur, Americans can’t even recognize what’s in front of their eyes.

The election of Donald Trump last year was revolutionary — even though it took place through established institutions and had all the hallmarks of a reaction (to the Obama “revolution”). Trump supporters thrilled to their candidate’s promises to tear down everything that hitherto represented the establishment: all politicians, Wall Street, the Pentagon, federal institutions, Hollywood — even the international community.

This urge to destroy even carried over to the cultural level, where Trump effectively abolished “political correctness” — a derogatory term for what other folks would just call being respectful. Such a sweeping transformation of social conventions was comparable to French revolutionaries creating their own calendar, replacing the names of the months with such peculiarities as Brumaire and Thermidor.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s own elite cred. Many revolutionaries — George Washington, Lenin — came from the same segment of society that they aimed to overthrow. Also, don’t fall for the “restoration” rhetoric of the Trumpistas. The America of the past that they invoke is imaginary. They are out to construct a bold, new America that combines elements of the past — racism, homophobia, extreme wealth — with a new vision of shrunken government and corporations run amok. It is an overturning of the liberal order that has prevailed for much of the last century.

Of course, the Trump victory resulted from the same kind of improbabilities as most revolutions. His electoral margin was miniscule (a matter of some 80,000 votes in three key states, though he in fact lost the overall popular vote by millions more). He benefited from the huge intervention of unrestricted “dark money” made possible by the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. And he had the twin tailwinds of WikiLeaks and Russian digital skullduggery (which might have been a single tailwind, protestations of Julian Assange notwithstanding).

In other words, Trump didn’t represent an overwhelming urge by a majority of Americans to upend their own society. Ever since Russian revolutionaries called themselves Bolsheviks (the majoritarians) when they were so manifestly the political minority, insurrectionists have made misleading claims about their popular support. Trump is a man of the (ever-diminishing slice of the) people.

There’s another important revolutionary aspect to consider. All revolutions are doomed to eat their own. The insurrectionists have their knives out. The bloody feast has begun.

A Russian Meal

In the old days, when insurrectionists feared a countercoup and had to clear out of the royal palace as soon as possible, they stole whatever they could easily transport — the silverware, a few bottles of fine wine, priceless paintings sliced from their frames and rolled up.

Trump and his cronies always planned a grand looting of the commonwealth. But the increased tempo of their snatch and grab in recent days suggests that they’re feeling a certain desperation as the Russiagate noose tightens. There’s the gerrymandering of the two national monuments in Utah that will open up vast tracts to energy and mineral companies. There’s the tax reform package that will reward America’s wealthiest. There’s the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which is a big giveaway to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his US backers.

Even if they believe that they can escape the Russian probe, the Trump insurrectionists are certainly worried about next year’s mid-term elections. They are checking their watches to see how much longer they can use their positions for maximum personal benefit.

Yes, of course, they all protest loudly that they’re serving their country. But you probably didn’t hear the mumbled end of their sentence. They’re serving their country … to the wolves.

Now, in a fitting turnabout, they are also worried about being served.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to lying about his Russia contacts. The plea also involves cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller. That means that the investigation will acquire more details not only about what took place after the election, but also before the election.

In light of the ongoing revelations, major administration figures have had to recast their earlier stories of their contact with Russia and WikiLeaks, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We used to call such initial statements “perjury.” But revolutionary times demand a new revolutionary language: and thus Kushner and Sessions simply “misremembered.”

The president has already tried to diminish the importance of earlier indictments against former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates, as well as foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous. It won’t be so easy for Trump to diminish the importance of Kushner or Sessions. As we slouch further into this era of implausible deniability, the president himself will be backed against the wall, not by counter-revolutionaries with pitchforks but lawyers with summonses. Imagine all the delicious secrets contained in his tax returns alone.

Of course, it’s not just the Russia probe that’s causing a change of personnel in the Trump administration. Infighting, scandal and sheer incompetence have already claimed Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci and Sebastian Gorka.

As in any revolution, the truly ruthless are waiting in the wings for their chance. Rumors abound of a shake-up at the highest level that would expel Rex Tillerson, a relative vegetarian among the carnivores, and replace him at secretary of state with the truly repellent Mike Pompeo. The new CIA chief, according to The New York Times report that Trump later blasted as “fake news,” would be Tom Cotton. The young Arkansas Republican will soon be the standard-bearer for the new Republican Party, someone who can combine the aggression of the neocons with the social conservativism and “common touch” of the Trump wing.

Look upon 2020 and despair! Cotton is far more dangerous than Trump or even the telegenic evangelist Mike Pence.

Such is the logic of revolution. After Lenin: Stalin.

On the Bright Side

As with all revolutions, the Trump insurrection has opened people’s eyes to the potential instability of all that had previously seemed solid. If the Clinton dynasty could come to an end at the hands of someone so obviously ill equipped to lead the country, then perhaps the institutions of the status quo are not as firmly entrenched as conventional wisdom would make them out to be.

First off, the victory of an outsider has encouraged other outsiders, this time on the progressive side of the spectrum, to get involved in politics, from transgender candidate Danica Roehm snagging a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates to Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins becoming mayor of Helena, Montana. There are two Indivisible chapters in every congressional district, and much of the new electoral energy is coming from women. According to Emily’s List, 20,000 women have thrown their hat into the political ring (including my former IPS colleague Daphne Wysham, who is running for a seat in the Oregon State Legislature).

The resistance is not confined to the electoral arena. The Black Lives Matter movement is mobilizing with renewed energy against the uptick in racism in the Trump era.

Then there’s the widespread resistance to sexual harassment.

At one level, the accusations that continue to take down powerful men in the entertainment industry, politics, commerce and journalism represent the determination by victims to get rid of the “bad eggs.” But such a campaign promises to be much more: a thoroughgoing resistance to the combination of privilege (generally male) and power (also overwhelmingly male).

Replacing a few malefactors is hardly revolutionary. Transforming American institutions so that they no longer reproduce patriarchy — well, that’s a paradigm shift.

Revolution is in the air. Why should the far right have all the fun?


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7 Times Trump Professed His Undying Admiration for Vladimir Putin
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Yet the president's geopolitical bromance goes unrequited.

After a year in office, President Trump’s man-crush on Vladimir Putin is an unrequited love affair, long on lies, legal charges and unfulfilled promises. While unstinting in his admiration for the Russian president, Trump is ineffectual in delivering the policy results desired by his Moscow penpal.

As the advice columnists say, “Can this relationship be saved?”

The Trump-Putin bromance is no casual fling. A cascade of news reports has documented previously undisclosed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election. Last month, the Washington Post cataloged dozens of them. On election day, a Trump spokesperson denied any meetings with Russians. 

The indictments of Trump’s national security adviser, his campaign manager and deputy, and the staffer who facilitated a meeting with Russian officials provide further evidence of illegal activities by his entourage. Trump responded by calling the Russia investigation "fake news."

Now the Post has documented how Trump consistently rejects what U.S. national security agencies are telling him about Russia's capabilities and intentions to manipulate the U.S. electoral process.

It is, as the Post points out, a situation without precedent in American history—a president who refuses to “accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality” about the actions of a foreign adversary.

“Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account,” reporters Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker write.

At the same time, the president has failed to lift sanctions imposed by President Obama and approved of the closing of Russian diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate, reportedly a locus of Moscow’s U.S. spying operations.

Protecting Vlad

According to the Post, President Trump has:

1. Never convened a meeting of his national security advisers about the question of Russian interference.

Told in early January 2017 that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russian election meddling, President-elect Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

2. Rebuked U.S. intelligence officials who provide information on Russia that conflicts with his views.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases not raised verbally, a former senior intelligence official told the Post. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer—a veteran CIA analyst—“adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.”

3. Held a private, unscheduled meeting with Putin, without an adviser or U.S. interpreter present, which is unprecedented.

4. Agreed with Putin about the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan, which Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) described as “pretty close” to “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

5. Reiterated America’s commitment to the defense of NATO allies in Europe only after National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster pushed him to do so.

6. Offered to return two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration on Moscow's terms and only relented when Congress intervened.

7. Spurned Pentagon proposals to provide lethal weaponry to the Ukraine government, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists. While no doubt a favor to Putin, rejecting military aid to Ukraine is also a defensible U.S. policy.

Overall, U.S. officials told the Post that the Kremlin believes it got a huge return on its investment in an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives: destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, whom Putin despises, from reaching the White House.

“Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence,” said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years.”

Alienation of Affection

At the same time, Trump’s failure to lift sanctions has alienated Moscow’s affection.

When Trump reluctantly signed a new set of sanctions overwhelmingly approved by Congress in July, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev posted on Facebook that the president had shown “complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress.”

In early September, Putin mocked the idea he had a special relationship with the U.S. president with a gendered poke at Trump’s masculinity. Trump “is not my bride,” Putin said, “and I am not his groom.”

Coming from a black athlete or a female senator, such a biting remark would no doubt provoke a presidential tweetstorm. Coming from his Slavic man-crush, crickets. 

This Is When You Should Unfriend Someone on Facebook, According to Aristotle
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
The combination of a divisive political climate and widespread controversial posts has many people asking this question.

The nature and ethics of “fake news” has become a subject of widespread concern. But, for many of us, the issue is much more personal: What are we to do when a cranky uncle or an otherwise pleasant old friend persists in populating our news feeds with a stream of posts that can run deeply contrary to our own values?

The Conversation

One option is to unfriend people who share material that conflicts with our values. But a siloed environment where people self-select into echo chambers could also be worrisome. As a researcher working on the ethics of social technologies, I start with what might seem like an unlikely source: Aristotle.

Classical Greece may bear little resemblance to today’s world of smartphones and social media. But Aristotle was no stranger to the struggle to build and maintain social connections in a contentious political climate.

Value of Friendship

The first issue is what should real friendships look like. Aristotle argues that a “perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue."

On the face of it, it would appear then that friendships are essentially about similarities, arising where like-minded people group together. This could be a problem, if you thought that a good friendship involved respecting difference. It would also be a reason for people to unfriend those who disagreed with us politically.

But Aristotle doesn’t say friends should be "alike.” What he says is that best friends can be different and yet share good lives together so long as each is virtuous in his or her own way. In other words, the only similarity necessary is that they both be virtuous.

By “virtuous,” he means the features of excellent people, those character traits like courage and kindness that help individuals be good to others, their own selves and live good lives. Such traits help people flourish as rational, social animals.

Appreciating Differences

Again, if you thought that these characteristics looked the same for every individual, you might worry that this still means that friends should be very similar. But that is not what he says about the nature of virtue.

A virtuous character trait, he says, consists of having the right amount of common human disposition – not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the middle ground between an excess and a deficit of fear. Too much fear would keep people from defending what they valued, while too little would make them vulnerable to unnecessary injury.

But what counts as the middle ground is relative to the individual, not an absolute.

Consider how what counts as the right amount of food is different for an accomplished athlete than a novice. Likewise for courage and other virtues. What counts as the right amount of fear depends on what needs defending, and what resources are available for defense.

So courage can look very different for different people, in different contexts. In other words, each individual could have his or her own moral style. This seems to leave room for appreciating friends’ differences on social media. It should also give individuals reason to be cautious in exercising the “unfriend” option.

Living Together

For Aristotle, shared lives are key to explaining both why friendship matters to us and why good character matters to friendship. Friends, he says,

… do and share in those things which give them the sense of living together. Thus the friendship of bad men turns out an evil thing (for because of their instability they unite in bad pursuits, and besides they become evil by becoming like each other), while the friendship of good men is good, being augmented by their companionship…

For Aristotle, virtues are by definition those traits that help you to flourish as a rational, social animal. Being your best self helps you to live a good life.

The opposite, he says, is true of vices. What he means by a vice is the wrong amount of a characteristic: for example, too much fear or too little concern for others. Vices can make people’s lives worse overall, even if more enjoyable in the short term. The coward cannot stand up for what she values and so harms herself and not just those she ought to protect. The selfish person makes himself incapable of close friendship and deprives himself of an important human good.

Difference isn’t bad, and can even enrich our lives. But having vicious people as friends make us worse off, both because we care about them and want them to live well and because of their influence on us.

How Can We Use Facebook Wisely and Well?

What I take from this is that we ought not to think that friends’ differences, political or otherwise, pose a problem for friendship. But at the same time, character matters. Repeated interactions, even on social media, can shape our character over time.

So, in considering the question, should you disconnect from that Facebook “friend,” the short but unsatisfying answer is, “It depends.”

Facebook connects people, but it imposes both physical and psychological distance. One could argue that this makes it easier both to share our thoughts (even those that many wouldn’t air in person) and to disconnect from others, even when social pressures might make it harder to do so when face to face.

Figuring out when to exercise these different abilities could require individuals to exercise the virtues. But as I have explained, they do not give anyone a uniform guide to action. What counts as a virtue depends on the details of the circumstance.

Landmarks for Navigating

Several factors look relevant. Social media makes people happier when they use it to interact rather than passively observe. Diverse connections and conversations can enrich people’s lives. On Facebook, we have an opportunity to experience “ideologically diverse news and opinions.”

Sure, sometimes unfriending an obnoxious co-worker or relative helps keep the peace… but this can be cowardly. And sometimes arguing with someone online just reinforces our own belligerence, making us worse in the long run. What we want to do is have good conversations that strengthen good connections.

But here, too, we need to remain sensitive to details of context. Some conversations are better had at a distance and others face to face.

In the end, some reasons to connect or disconnect are rooted in concerns about our own character, and some revolve around others’ characters. We have reason to foster a courageous and compassionate willingness to consider others’ worldviews and to be mindful of our own tendency to vilify posts (and people) because we disagree with them. But we also want our friends to be good people.

The ConversationWhat we need to remember is that the devil is in the details. I think the reason we grapple with this issue is that it resists easy or uniform answers. But using the tools Aristotle provided to reflect on where we want to end up, we can find ways to connect that make us better off, both singly and together.

This article was originallypublished onThe Conversation. Read the original article.


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Is Paul Ryan Planning to Step Down as Speaker of the House?
December 14th, 2017, 04:44 PM
A new report suggests he could call it quits if the GOP passes its draconian tax bill.

Since Doug Jones' improbable victory in the Alabama special Senate Election, Democrat Randy Bryce (aka the "Iron Stache") claims he has raised tens of thousands of dollars for his congressional campaign in Wisconsin. But if the GOP succeeds in ramming through its regressive and hugely unpopular tax bill before December 27, when Jones is scheduled to assume office, Bryce may not be running against the Speaker of the House.

According to a new report, Republican lawmakers believe Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) might "step aside" if and when Donald Trump signs the Tax Cuts and Job Act into law. As one member of the House Freedom Caucus observes, it could be a "Boehner-meeting-the-Pope moment." (John Boehner resigned as speaker of the House after watching Pope Francis deliver a joint address to Congress in 2015.) A devotee of the objectivist Ayn Rand, Ryan has made it his life's work to dismantle the so-called welfare state.

Citing multiple anonymous sources, HuffPost's Matt Fuller reveals that Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential election, has never enjoyed the responsibilities of House Speaker, and that he's only grown more disenchanted with the job since Trump was elected president. 

"The speculation over Ryan’s next move has particularly intensified as Republicans negotiate spending deals with Democrats," he writes. "Ryan has repeatedly pushed off the possibility that a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program will be attached to a government spending agreement, but conservatives are worried Republicans could finish their tax bill, have the speaker announce his retirement and then watch Ryan do the same kind of 'barn cleaning' that Boehner did at the end of his speakership."

Does this mean Ryan is plotting a run for higher office? His fellow Republicans remain circumspect.

"It’s unclear whether Ryan has any further political aspirations beyond this job," Fuller continues, "but some Republicans think Ryan would be served well by offering himself as a sacrifice for the completion of an immigration deal, particularly if Ryan’s political aspirations are far off in the future. (Or if he doesn’t have any future political aspirations.)"

Update: A separate report from Politico adds that, "In recent interviews with three dozen people who know the speaker—fellow lawmakers, congressional and administration aides, conservative intellectuals and Republican lobbyists—not a single person believed Ryan will stay in Congress past 2018."

H/T HuffPost.


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Doug Jones' Lesson for Democrats: Voters Want a Vision
December 13th, 2017, 04:44 PM
With a major victory in Alabama, Democrats must utilize their momentum and put forth a message for voters.

The Democrats came away with a historic upset victory in Alabama on Tuesday night, and while it was certainly a devastating blow to the Trump administration and the Republican Party, perspective is important: There's still a long road ahead to achieve lasting progress.

Tuesday's election represented a just loss for a uniquely disgraced candidate more than it represented any significant trend that flipped a deeply red state to blue. There's still plenty of work to be done on that front, if it's achievable at all.

To put it in perspective, Tuesday's write-in vote total was higher than Democrat Doug Jones' margin of victory over accused child abuser Roy Moore.

The Democrats were heavily reliant on a high turnout from black Alabamians, and luckily, they were able to achieve that. But low-income and working-class families — predominantly ones of color — have largely been the ones on the wrong end of the Wall Street-friendly policies that the Democrats have championed in recent decades.

It goes without saying that the Republican Party has been no better when it comes to putting forth policies that benefit working-class Americans, but they've been able to tap into, and have near-fully embraced, the anti-establishment wave that swept the country in the lead up to the 2016 election.

In other words, the Democrats still need to complete their due diligence and provide voters a galvanizing message that offers a forward progressive vision. This is not to necessarily argue that a more progressive candidate would have outperformed Doug Jones; that's quite likely not the case in Alabama. Jones is projected to be a conservative Democrat, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. However, Tuesday night should serve as an awakening for the Democratic Party, and it should realize it sits atop a gold mine: a deeply unpopular ruling party and president.

It's vital that Democrats take advantage of the resentment their counterparts are currently engendering by putting forth candidates that offer something rather than being a lukewarm alternative. With more than 20 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018, and 10 being in states won by Trump in 2016, there is still an uphill battle ahead. Tuesday proved the party can succeed when it's unified against someone, but it needs to be able to succeed while unified against a vision because, agree with it or not, that's what has motivated voters to support candidates like Moore and Trump.

Republicans are already looking for a scapegoat. But whether they place the blame on those who pulled their support for Moore too early, or former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, the Democrats must view it as an opportunity — their counterparts are on shaky ground.

Alabama native and former NBA star Charles Barkley, who campaigned for Jones, shouldn't be viewed as a go-to political commentator, but his words on election night were nonetheless significant and ring true for plenty of Americans.

"This is a wake up call for Democrats," Barkley said. "They've taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. It's time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black votes and people who are poor."

He added, "They've always had our votes and they have abused our votes and this is a wake up call."



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The Right Is Attempting to Roll Back the 20th Century
December 13th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Author Nancy MacLean says Koch brothers and GOP want a new Gilded Age.

The Republican Party's "tax reform" bill has passed both chambers of Congress. After differences between the House and Senate version are worked out, it will likely soon be signed by President Donald Trump. This legislation is more than a grotesque effort to take money from the poor and working class and give it to the very richest Americans and corporations. In reality, it is an effort to wholly remake American society by undoing the social progress of the New Deal, the Great Society and the civil rights movement.

This effort has been met with surprisingly little resistance from the American people.


Unlike the Republicans and movement conservatives, the Democratic Party is terrible at translating complex questions of public policy into simple narratives that evoke emotion and, in turn, action from the American people. Moreover, while the Republican Party systematically works to roll back the 20th century by eliminating programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act -- with the apparent goal of creating a Malthusian dystopia -- many prominent Democrats and other liberals are instead obsessed with enforcing purity tests for sexual harassment within their own party.

The mainstream news media has a very short attention span. The format of the 24/7 cable news cycle is also designed to avoid serious in-depth discussions of complex and important policy matters in favor of simple stories that generate ratings.

To a significant degree, the American people have been exhausted by Trump and the Republican Party's authoritarian and petit-fascist assaults on reality, truth and, yes, even the country's citizens. Many Americans have been driven into a sense of learned helplessness by Trump's presidential victory and the years of civic and cultural rot that enabled that outcome. Consequently, it has become difficult to imagine what a real and sustained resistance against the Republican Party, Donald Trump and the ascendant right would even look like.

How does the Republican tax bill fit into a larger strategy? Who are the "winners" and "losers"? What will the various factions in the right-wing coalition that forced through this bill receive for their machinations? In this radically revanchist effort to remake American society, how far back would the Republican Party and the Koch brothers like to take us? How can the American people fight back?

Ultimately, this assault on American democracy and society should not be a surprise. It has been operating both in the shadows and plain sight for decades. In an effort to understand the true goals and larger context for the Republican Party's tax reform legislation, I recently spoke with Nancy MacLean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. MacLean is also the author of the controversial new book "Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America," which was nominated for the 2017 National Book Award.

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

The Republican "tax reform" bill recently passed the Senate. It will be reconciled with the House version and signed by Donald Trump. This legislation can be described as a blueprint for changing American society in the vision of the most extreme elements of the right wing, including the Koch brothers, Christian fascists, plutocrats and others. You outlined their plan to undermine American society in "Democracy in Chains." How does it feel to be right?

I have a sinking feeling. I can see this thing happening and I can’t stop it. So it’s painful, actually, to be right.

Before we even get to the tax bill, let me point out that there are 30 states which are under the control of the Republican Party and the most extreme right-wing elements in the country. This tax bill, however one labels it, is intended to remake American society and government in order to push through an agenda that its advocates know is wholly unpopular and will only pass if they are dishonest about the goals involved. So instead, the Republican Party and right wing are operating by stealth. They’re moving with secrecy. They are planting things inside the bill that are like time bombs and the public does not seem to be paying any attention.

We have to help the American people understand the stealth dimensions of what the Republicans and the radical right have done with this tax bill, and also their efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act. This legislation is being pushed through at breakneck speed and in violation of normal procedures. There were no public hearings. They did not have cost assessments. They did not allow debate.

In terms of the dishonest approach used to push this bill through, there are many examples. For example, in the near term, people will see tax cuts, but in the long term, they will see tax increases. That is particularly true for people [making less than] $75,000 a year in income. These are people who are probably the most stressed, probably working two jobs, who are not paying a lot of attention to what’s happening in the Senate for those reasons. Yet they are going to be the most hurt by this. This is so much more than a big giveaway of money to the rich. There will be huge automatic cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid that will come directly from the Republican decision to run up the deficit with these tax cuts.

When you combine this with the push for a constitutional convention, at which the No. 1 agenda item will be a balanced budget amendment -- put those things together, and this is a long-term stealth project to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

The Republicans intentionally created a budget "crisis" with this tax bill and then will claim there is an emergency that necessitates destroying Social Security, MedicareandMedicaid. It is obvious and transparent. What role does conservative contempt for poor and working-class people play in the effort to subvert American democracy?

I think that’s crucial. Increasingly, I have started to think about this right-wing cause as being a type of economic eugenics. At the turn of the 20th century, eugenicists thought that you could breed better humans by paying attention to bloodlines, gene pools and the like.

Today they won't use such explicit language. But there are right-wing libertarians who obviously believe that people who have not succeeded in this society always have themselves to blame. As a historian, that conclusion is just astonishing given what we know about structures and how the rules have been rigged to benefit some people and harm others.

This is the ethical system that allows people like Paul Ryan to feel heroic and self-righteous as they inflict harm on other people. At its most basic, this libertarian moral system says that it would be better for people to die than to get health care financed by government from taxes paid for by others. You can die. Period.

Whatarethe transactional politics involved in this tax bill? 

Well, I actually believe that Charles Koch is not in this just for the tax breaks and deregulation. I believe that he is utterly messianic, and that he believes, just as Ayn Rand did, that entrepreneurs and capitalists are the true heroes of the world. I have a feeling that Charles Koch seethes with rage that he does not get the adulation he believes that he deserves. He’s been at this now since the 1960s. That’s a very long time. He’s compared himself to Martin Luther. When Charles Koch launched this project in earnest in the late 1990s, he said, “I want to unleash the kind of force that propelled Columbus to his discoveries.”

He has that deep an ideological commitment. Others have relative degrees of that ideological commitment. Some are just operatives who understand that this is a really good gravy train to ride, that the pockets and the bank accounts are just endless or bottomless.

For the religious right they can get tax breaks for Christian home schooling and for Christian private schools. Ultimately, they can see their enemies humiliated.

Grover Norquist explains this strategy as "one fish, one hook." In other words, they don’t have to tell anybody the whole agenda that they are pushing for. So it is not even clear to me how many of even the upper-level operatives in this right-wing plot actually understand what the ultimate plan is.

How do we fight back against pure ideologues whose beliefs are their religion? The Democrats are a loose coalition of different interest groups. Frankly, they are not equipped to fight back against a Republican Party and broader right-wing movement that operates like a political cult.  

I agree with you in the broad outlines. But it is important to make some key distinctions.  For example, there is the Bernie [Sanders] wing of the Democratic Party. It is pretty astonishing that a Jewish socialist is now the most trusted and respected elected official in America.

There has also been a surge of grassroots activism in the past year in places such as Virginia. So I think there are definitely some places where you can see hope with how people are trying to both reinvent the Democratic Party and also renew the idea of democracy in America for the 21st century.

I can imagine a historian 20 or 30 or 50 years from now, looking back to this moment and coming up with two stories. I can imagine the story of how we didn’t stop this Koch network push to transform our democracy, even when it was so obvious. Instead we just pushed our society, our kids and grandkids, over a cliff.

But I also think on the more positive side. As a historian who studies social movements as being fundamental to significant historical change, I hope that someday people will look back on this moment and say that, right now, in this moment, in December of 2017, we were deep in the churning that was part of our beginning to figure our way out of this. There are people in all kinds of organizations and places who are feeling new urgency, who are coming together in creative ways, who can begin to turn the tide and to churn those larger gears of the sleepy, big organizations to make them change. But is that going to happen? I don’t really know. As you say, how we react to this Republican tax bill is going to be highly predictive of which way the story turns out.

America is an oligarchy, if not just a plutocracy. Could it be that Republicans and other members of theright wingdon't really care how unpopular their ideas and policies are because in practice this country is not a functioning democracy? So what if there’s a mass movement? So what if there are new social movements that are birthed out of this moment? The Republicans have gamed the system to maintain power.

You just pointed out another element of the stealth nature of this tax plan. It is being pushed by people who say they are for limited government. But the Republicans and their allies are actually using the power of national government to prevent voters in more progressive localities and states from being able to choose more progressive policies without being penalized for it.

Consider [economist] Tyler Cowen at George Mason University, who has been working with Charles Koch for 25 years on the Mercatus Center, the main academic outpost of this Koch effort to leverage universities for their political project. Cowen said in a recent book that people on the left keep saying the masses are going to react to this. There’s going to be protest on the streets. There’s going to be revolution and the like. Cowen said, “Ah, I don’t see it. I think the people are pretty happy with their technology. They’re absorbed with Facebook and binge-watching Netflix.” You know what? I think there’s some truth to that. As a historian, I don’t think that’s going to continue forever, but I can see why the Kochs and their operatives have gotten brazen.

In plain terms, if you were speaking to the average American about the dangers posed by this tax bill and the Republican Party andright wingmore generally, what year do they want to return the country to?

James McGill Buchanan, a Nobel-winning economist who devised the playbook that the Koch network is using, was very clear that he liked the constitutional rules of 1900. Consider that the constitutional rules of 1900 had us in a situation of chaos and ever-worsening depression because only the wealthy were doing well and everybody else was screwed.

That was also the period of the Lochner Court, as it was called, which issued a Supreme Court decision that was akin to the Citizens United of our day. That court basically said that workers had no right to organize together collectively, so corporations had all the power. It was a plutocracy. America had these roving battles between labor and capital. We had horrible, almost unimaginable levels of pollution. We had terrible problems with public health care. We had a country that you would not want to live in, and that’s a world that is idealized by the Republicans, the Kochs and the other elements of the extreme right who want to radically remake America in the worst way possible.

Do not forget that this was a period when the Constitution enabled mass voter suppression and racist decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, which argued that "separate was equal."

So these people don't just want to get rid of Obama’s legacy. They want to reverse the whole 20th-century model of citizen-driven government and make it so that property reigns supreme. That’s the beginning and the end of it. The American people need to realize that we’re going to be in ever-deepening trouble.



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Charter School Teachers Are Organizing (and Joining Forces with Public School Counterparts)
December 13th, 2017, 04:44 PM
Unions are the place for millennials looking to make their voices heard.

Non-union charter schools are beloved by billionaire education reformers and school privatization fans, both red and blue. But charter schools also rely upon those same young workers, who as polls indicate, have far more favorable views of unions than previous generations.

In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast, AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire and co-host Jack Schneider explore the intersection of these trends. They’re joined by Mihir Garud, a leader of Chicago’s union of charter school teachers, ChiACTS, who teaches consumer education and financial literacy at Instituto Health Sciences in Chicago. Nearly 25% of teachers in Chicago charter schools are union members vs. just 10% nationwide. Garud expects that figure to grow, as millennials, many of whom are drawn to teach in charter schools by a passion for economic and social justice, look to be part of a movement against Trump and his policies. 

The following is an edited transcript.

Have You Heard: The path you took to the classroom of a charter school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood was pretty unusual. Yet in a lot of ways your story could also stand in for the millennial trajectory writ large.

Mihir Garud: I was an econ major and my first job was as a stockbroker for a big bank. I was basically trading on the accounts of high net worth individuals. It felt like there was something lacking in my life. Also, I was contributing to  income inequality—the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer—and I didn't like that on my conscience. Now I get to teach consumer education and financial literacy to ninth graders, and it's actually a very, very rewarding job. When I see parents at report card pick-up day, they’ll say something like ‘you know, my son or daughter told me not to use a credit card or to watch the interest rates or pay down the debt.’ And that just makes the world of difference.

Have You Heard: You’re also the brand-new treasurer of a union for charter school teachers in Chicago. Here’s your opportunity to make the case for why we still need unions.

MG: I regard unions as one of the last remaining institutions in society that provides the necessary checks and balances needed on free market capital so that our democracy can function effectively. I think what we’re seeing is a battle between democracy and capitalism, and it's no question who has won in that battle and that's capitalism. Look at the way that the education reform debate has been hijacked by corporations and billionaires who now pour millions and millions of dollars into local races for school board. It’s a huge problem because it takes away the collective power of people and the collective power of democracy.

The problem with the education reform debate being dominated by billionaires and corporate CEOs is that most of them don't send their kids to public schools, nor do they know what it’s like to be a public school teacher. Teachers are the original education reformers and we need to take that debate back. There's a dire need for increased teacher voice and representation in a school’s decision making process. Who knows our kids better than the teachers who spend the most time with them?

Have You Heard: Charter schools remain extremely controversial in Chicago, where another round of school closures is underway. The neighborhoods that are now on the cusp of losing their last remaining public schools are also the places where charters have expanded most aggressively. How do you build bridges between teachers in Chicago Public Schools and charter schools when many of the former view the latter as the problem?

MG: I believe that educators are realizing that we're all teaching the same students and striving for the same improvements in the classroom in our schools. With any crisis, in this case the nomination of Betsy DeVos, or the pending Supreme Court decision about public sector unions, or the election of Donald Trump. People are recognizing the need to be part of a larger collective voice. There are many former Chicago Public Schools teachers who now work in charter schools, and lots of charter school teachers who are now CPS teachers. So we're in the same fight. We have the same concerns over issues, whether it be overcrowded classroom or making sure that diverse learners get the support they need.

What I'm noticing in Chicago is that people are getting more educated about the issues and they’re talking to each other. The enemy is not other teachers. In this case it’s charter operators who might not be acting in the best interests of kids or the community. I'm seeing a shift in the focus of that anger or concern away from charter school teachers to the operator or the management organization. And I think that's critical because this issue has been used to divide us for a long time. You know divide and conquer strategy is alive and well in many places especially in Chicago.

Have You Heard: Your work with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is now set to merge with the Chicago Teachers Union, is a good reminder that organizing is still really about talking to people, even when it’s hard.

MG: I think one thing that led to the election of Donald Trump is that people are so in their bubbles. We stop having these important conversations because we think we already know what the other person thinks based on, say, where he lives. Well I think discomfort is necessary. If we're going to move beyond difficult issues then we have to have these kinds of conversations. And it doesn't mean that people who are against charter schools are bad people. We just need to have an honest conversation about the issues that matter and set politics aside.

I also hope that people get inspired, not just to talk to each other, but to be more active. I know that for me my personal inspiration was seeing Barack Obama become President. My inspiration to get more active in union work and in social justice issues was the election of Donald Trump, which got me out from behind the computer. Obama said ‘stop Tweeting, get off of Facebook and get out there and get a petition out and start collecting some signatures.’ It was really a call to action.

Listen to the complete podcast