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Narcissism works

It appears to be generally agreed that the most likely diagnosis on the DSM for Trump is narcissistic personality disorder. In the world of Social Security we would agree that he has several “marked” impairments. The fact is, however, that it’s worked for him, and it will probably continue to work. Latest example: Trump has taken credit for a Japanese Bank’s pre-election decision to invest here in the U.S. We can expect this sort of thing throughout his time in office. We can also expect that he will inflate any actual accomplishments he may have (e.g., the Carrier deal) and will routinely claim success were none exists.

This will work because there will be no pushback. According to the rules of the game, when Trump makes claims like this they are merely reported, with, perhaps a paragraph toward the end (the paragraph no one ever gets to) noting that there’s no basis for his claim. The net effect will be that the American people, particularly the Trumpites out there, will be mostly unaware that Trump is scamming them. It goes without saying that the Democrats, with a few exceptions who will be marginalized, will mount no coherent pushback. So, Trump’s narcissism will work.

This sort of thing would never have worked for Obama. Not only would the Republicans have mounted sustained and coordinated attacks on him, but the media would have covered him completely differently than they have and will cover Trump. Sad.

Uber uber alles?

There is nothing I like more than having my own preconceptions validated, so I direct your attention to a series of articles (now concluded) at Naked Capitalism about Uber.

I’ve always detested Uber, because every fiber of my being believed it was simply a device to shift money from the bottom to the top. Taxi drivers don’t get rich, but they generally make decent money. Uber, I’ve always believed, is designed to impoverish the drivers while enriching a few billionaires.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that I was right. It also turns out that the only way Uber can make money is if it becomes a monopoly, something it is trying to do by heavily subsidizing its service right now, against the day when it will have destroyed the competition, at which time it must raise rates dramatically, while continuing to keep its employees independent contractors in poverty. This is because at the moment, Uber is losing money at a phenomenal rate. It survives only because it is being funded by predatory billionaires, who are drooling at the prospect of having a stake in an unregulated monopoly.

At least according to Hubert Horan, the author of the series of articles at Naked Capitalism, we can take solace from the fact that it likely won’t work, for the reasons he outlines. But I suppose that really depends on whether Uber is able to steamroll local opposition and state regulations. You can probably buy that kind of protection from Congress in the worst of times (for monopolists), but these are the best of times for their ilk, so who knows.

Anyway, the articles make good reading, not just about Uber, but about the realities of the “sharing” economy. The first article is here.

Sanity Down East

In these parlous times, one must take satisfaction where one can find it. So I was happy to see that sanity prevailed in more ways than one in the great state of Maine, home of my alma mater:

“Maine has changed how it will choose most officeholders, becoming the first state in the country to adopt ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting,” the New York Times reports.

“Ranked-choice voting allows voters to list candidates in order of preference so that if in the first round no one wins a majority, officials can recount the ballots immediately until someone does.”

“In Maine, this type of voting will apply to races for Congress, governor and the State Legislature, but not to municipal offices or president. It is to go into effect starting with the primary races in June 2018. Ranked-choice voting had been under consideration for some time in Maine, where independents often mount strong third-party bids. The winner in nine of the state’s past 11 elections for governor won with less than a majority. The goal is to keep that from happening again.”

via Political Wire

Maine currently has one of the most brain dead governors in the United States, and that’s saying something, because I’m not excluding the governors in the Southland. Hopefully, that will not happen again. So, a little, tiny bit of good news from an otherwise bleak election. Probably too little, too late, for the nation as a whole. The imperfections in the constitution have caught up with us, and there’s little chance, given the present state of our politics, that we’ll do anything to correct those imperfections.

Speaking of Maine, I got a catalog from LL Bean today, and saw to my surprise that they are selling “imported” knock offs of their own Made in Maine Bean boots. You know, the ones for which they have a huge waiting list. By the way, at least in the Bean catalog, I believe it is still the case that if something is made in, say, Denmark, they will say “Made in Denmark”. If it’s made in China, it’s “imported”.

It’s a post post post truth world

Years ago, Stephen Colbert coined a new word: truthiness. I’m not sure he ever precisely defined it, but I took it to mean that something was truthy if one wanted to believe it. At the time, truthiness was a part of our discourse, but it was still fairly peripheral. Now, we are swimming in truthiness. In fact, truthiness is really so 2008. We are truly (does the word “truly” mean anything anymore?) in a post-truth world. Here’s a couple of data points demonstrating that the concepts of truth and fact have become totally outdated.

My Facebook feed is mostly free of fake news stories, and when they do cross my feed I usually ignore them. I think I have a fairly advanced built in bullshit detector. But some people don’t, and it would be amazingly helpful if such people were offered a little guidance; at least a warning that the unbelievable story they are reading is, in fact, something they should not believe. Zuckerburg claims there’s no way for Facebook to filter out the bullshit, or even warn it’s users that they may be consuming bullshit. What he probably means is that he can’t make any money doing that, and he might anger some folks on the right, and particularly with Donald Trump looming, that might affect his bottom line.

Well, it turns out that it’s not at all impossible to warn users to beware:

Last night, TechCrunch ran a story purporting that Facebook was showing certain users red warning labels above fake news links. But as it happens, this wasn’t Facebook’s doing at all, but rather the work of a Chrome plugin called B.S. Detector, made by activist and independent journalist Daniel Sieradski.

If that irony wasn’t interview-worthy enough, with the backdrop of an ongoing public crisis over Facebook’s involvement in fake news, the social network appears to have just actually just banned the plugin, according to Sieradski.

via Motherboard

For those who aren’t total computer fanatics, a plug in is a piece of software that the user can, at his or her option, install into a software program such as a browser. It’s totally voluntary, so Sieradski wasn’t messing with anyone’s computer or with Facebook. He was actually quite conservative in terms of his warning system; Fox News stories get a pass. The conspiracy sites, however, don’t. They may be truthy, but they don’t tell the truth. It is hard for the rational mind to see why Facebook won’t let people voluntarily elect to get a warning when they are fed a suspect news story, but maybe Zuckerburg agrees with the Republicans that it’s important to keep the populace as ignorant and deluded as possible.

But is there such a thing as truth? Apparently not, according to Trumper Scottie Nell Hughes:

And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.

via Daily Kos

I’m not quite sure why he put the word “unfortunately” in there, since it’s a condition he helped to create. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I still believe in facts, and I believe they are stubborn things. For instance, global warming is a real thing, whether Scottie wants to believe it or not. I do so hope he owns shorefront property in Florida.

Grifting the USA

Blogging has been sparse lately, as I’m still getting over the shock. It’s not easy facing up to the fact that I will quite likely witness the end of a republican (small “r”, you’ll notice) government in the United States. Sooner or later everything put together falls apart, but I figured we had at least several more decades.

On that cheery note, a few observations. I am just beginning to get back into reading the newspapers and my blogs, as I couldn’t face them for a while. Something has struck me, and while I’m sure I’m not alone in this observation, I’ll still pass it along.

It’s an odd thing that while Trump is the man in the middle of the forces that are destroying the American experiment, it is totally unclear whether he has any significant role in what is being done in his name, other than the corruption that is his stock in trade. Just to remark on one thing, consider the Trump tweets.

Recently Trump tweeted something to the effect that flag burners should be imprisoned or lose their citizenship. This was a brilliant move, or at least it was if it was a strategic move. But it’s impossible to tell. It is perfectly possible that Trump is just exhibiting the symptoms of his mental illness, and is not at all aware of the political function served by these tweets.

Why are they brilliant? Because they serve admirably to distract attention from the actual harm he and his handlers/minions are doing. At around the same time he tweeted about flag burning, he signaled, in a far less attention grabbing way, that he was on board with Paul Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare.

So, what do we hear about? My wife tells me that the New London Day devoted an entire article today to flag burning, a form of protest that is both rare and self defeating. The press is like that. It may hint at the fact, or even come right out and say, that Trump’s tweets are absurd and full of lies, but like dogs following a scent, they will keep to the trail that he lays down. Meanwhile, the actual harm that he is doing is pretty much ignored. Has the Day covered the fact that he wants to destroy Medicare with the same thoroughness that it covered the flag burning non-issue? Not likely. Are the American people being made aware of the fact that the nominee for Secretary of Education wants to destroy public education, and that she makes even Obama’s charter school loving appointee look like a public school fanatic. Are they being made aware that his nominee for Attorney General is a racist, or that his nominee for Secretary of the Treasury is a Goldman Sachs alum, the same Goldman Sachs that he trashed on the campaign trail. I’m not saying that these facts cannot be discovered; I’m merely saying they aren’t getting anywhere near the attention that his seemingly mindless tweets are getting. Distraction is a useful tool if you want to manipulate people into not just accepting, but embracing, policies that cause them harm. Trump is a grifter, and, whether deliberately or through pure instinct, he’s bringing those skills to bear on the presidency. It won’t work if the grift is exposed, but the chance of that are slim to none.

Ten years too late

Sometimes late is not better than never, and this may be one of those times:

A panel of three federal judges said on Monday that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts to favor Republicans was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the first such ruling in three decades of pitched legal battles over the issue.

Federal courts have struck down gerrymanders on racial grounds, but not on grounds that they unfairly give advantage to a political party — the more common form of gerrymandering. The case could now go directly to the Supreme Court, where its fate may rest with a single justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, who has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it.

Should the court affirm the ruling, it could upend the next round of state redistricting, in 2021, for congressional and state elections nationwide, most of which is likely to be conducted by Republican-controlled legislatures that have swept into power in recent years.

“It is a huge deal,” said Heather Gerken, a Yale Law School professor and an expert on election law. “For years, everyone has waited for the Supreme Court to do something on this front. Now one of the lower courts has jump-started the debate.

“If this were to be a nationwide standard, 2021 would look quite different,” she said, “especially for the Democrats.”

via The New York Times

There is a slim possibility that this case will survive appeal in the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy may be so appalled at the prospect of Trump that he’ll accept the mathematical approach advocated by the plaintiffs. But the fact is that by the year 2020 we will likely also have at least one more Trump appointee in addition to the Scalia vacancy. I won’t mention names, but there are some people who don’t know when to retire, so we have to hope, and it may be a vain one, that the person(s) in question can live out the next four years. Even if that were to happen, there’s a good to excellent possibility that massive voter suppression will be massively legalized by the present court. By 2020 there’s a good chance that there will be only a few state legislatures that are not wholly owned subsidiaries of Koch Industries.

Had this happened ten years ago, it would have made a huge difference, but the vote suppressors and the autocrats are now far too firmly in control. Even if the case is still the law of the land in 2020, it will be up to a horde of right wing judges, along with a right wing justice department, to enforce it. Good luck with that.

Impeachable Offense, #2

Using his office for personal enrichment:

A stalled building project in Argentina bearing President-elect Donald Trump’s name reportedly picked up steam days after he spoke with Argentina’s president.

According to Quartz, three days after Trump spoke with President Mauricio Macri, one of his real estate projects in Buenos Aires made headway after years of delays. That report was based on a story out of the Argentina-based La Nacion.

The report noted that there is no substantive indication that Trump’s conversation with Macri had anything to do with the project getting a green light, but is just the latest in a series of questions about possible conflicts posed by Trump’s efforts to serve as president while maintaining a global business portfolio.

Construction on that $100 million building is set to begin in June 2017, but still has to be permitted by the government.

Earlier, La Nacion had reported comments from an Argentine journalist claiming that Trump had raised the building project — a massive office building in the heart of Buenos Aires — in a congratulatory phone call with Macri. A spokesperson for Macri later denied that the project came up in that conversation, and noted that the two have a longstanding relationship predating Trump’s political career.

via The Hill

Take it as a given that the subject did come up in the telephone conversation, and the Argentine president got the message. Only an idiot or a Republican apologist (and I know they’re often the same thing) would pass this off as coincidence.

Impeachable offense, #1

Today I am going to begin what I believe will be the first in a long series of posts, within each of which I will take note of the commission of impeachable offenses by the person who is going to get the most votes when the electoral college next month, as opposed to the person who got the most votes by far from the American people. I am morally certain that I’ll miss a lot of impeachable offenses, but I’ll try my best. As Krugman has pointed out, this administration bids fair to be the most corrupt in American history, and it should be noted that, for the most part, in previously corrupt administrations, it has been the underlings, and not the top man who have been corrupt. Not so with our soon to be Grifter in Chief.

I am going to define impeachable offenses in two ways. The first is any offense which does in fact constitute a high crime or misdemeanor. The second is any offense which, by the Clinton rules, would be perceived by Republicans as grounds to launch an endless investigation. A caveat here is that I will count in the second category only those examples in which wrongdoing is actually clear or proven and which are analogous to an actual Clinton “scandal”.

For the moment, I will assume that a person can be impeached for crimes committed before taking the oath of office, since otherwise I’d have to wait until January 21st to start this series.

So, it happens that the first offense (of which I’ve become aware) is impeachable both as a matter of law and under the Clinton rules:

About 100 foreign diplomats, from Brazil to Turkey, gathered at the Trump International Hotel this week to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.

The event for the diplomatic community, held one week after the election, was in the Lincoln Library, a junior ballroom with 16-foot ceilings and velvet drapes that is also available for rent.

In interviews with a dozen diplomats, many of whom declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak about anything related to the next U.S. president, some said spending money at Trump’s hotel is an easy, friendly gesture to the new president.

“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’?” said one Asian diplomat.

First, let’s take a look at the Clinton rules. There never was any evidence of a “pay to play” arrangement so far as the Clinton Foundation went. The best the AP’s in depth investigation could do is allege that Hillary met with a Nobel Peace Prize winner who had also donated to the foundation. Here, we have Trump soliciting members of the diplomatic community to line his pockets, and isn’t it clear from what the unnamed Asian diplomat has to say that they’ve gotten the message loud and clear. This would be good for at least a five year investigation were the Clintons involved. It will be forgotten tomorrow.

I call it soliciting a bribe. The Supreme Court might not, having recently legalized bribery, so long as the person being bribed is a Republican, but I still call it that. So there’s your high crime.

I should say, parenthetically, that if this administration was merely corrupt, I would be much more sanguine about the future. Democracies can bounce back from corruption.

We’ve done it before. Once autocracies are entrenched, they’re very hard to uproot.

New London Anti-Trump vigil

There will be an anti-Trump candle light vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in New London from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, Friday. It’s hard not to be down after the election, but we have to fight back if we have any chance of fending off the dark side of the force.

In that vein, I expect that sooner or later I’ll be able to get back to blogging. I am slowly but surely getting to the point where I can look at the blogs and newspapers again. Starting slowly-comics first, reliable blogs and local news second. Still can’t face up to the normalization process going on in the mainstream, but even that will come.

Anyway, if you live in the area, come to New London tomorrow night.

Everything put together, sooner or later falls apart

I’m slowly unwinding from the fetal position, but it’s still the case that I wake with a jolt every day when I realize that the unthinkable has happened. I’m under orders from my better half not to be too doom-and-gloomy, so I won’t burden this blog, at least right now, with specific predictions. But, I’ve read a lot of history. There have been republics in the past. Demagogues arise, and republics cease to be. For the moment, I’ve stopped reading the papers and even my blogs, as I can’t tolerate the process by which Donald Trump will be normalized. At least I can’t right now. Anyway, as I’ve said, I’ve read a lot of history. I don’t really need to watch. I know how this movie ends.

UPDATE: This sort of sums it up