Addicted

The world is crashing around us, and all I want to do is watch that old music video, I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On. Not for the pouty models that pretend to play instruments. I love Robert Palmer’s take on (what is almost a Prince) song, and I like the four dancers working it. Nothing about that video seems to relate to the song, but at least he isn’t being chased by a man in a gorilla suit, like Cherrelle.

OK, Congress seems to have an awful choice between leaving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as it is, or passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The ACA has slammed many enrollees with much higher premiums, but all indications are that the AHCA would be much, much worse for everyone except the very wealthy. So far it doesn’t seem that the bill’s supporters have the votes. Of course, having health care isn’t the same thing as having good health care, but the AHCA would cut many preventative care measures, and weaken Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans voted to allow internet providers to monitor and sell their users’ browsing histories. The House has not yet voted on the measure. To some extent the internet already knows my browsing history. If I browse a particular tee shirt, or bike part, or book, I will see ads for exactly those items in popup or sidebar adverts for weeks. I presume that is the result of cookies rather than someone data mining at my browsing history.

We went to a local department store a few weeks ago to find out why they aren’t sending a statement, and found out they no longer have a service office. Brick and mortar retailers like JC Penney, Macy’s and Sears are slowly going under, but online retailers still think we have money to spend. They think if only they can look at our browsing histories that we will buy more of their stuff. They’re wrong. Employers are paying us less and less, and our credit cards are all maxed out. We browse stuff, and think that would be nice, but then we look at our bills and decide to do without. The big treat for us these days is Chipotle; Panera costs too much.

Establishment Democrats feel that the fact that from 2005 to 2009 Paul Manafort secretly lobbied for a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin proves their Russia allegations. But after giving him tens of millions of dollars Oleg Deripaska soon accused Manafort of fraud. There are no signs they were on any sort of terms when Manafort briefly managed President Trump’s campaign from March to August of 2016. But I’m With Her Dems still hope that the Deep State will use Russia to take down Trump.

Way too many of us are addicted to opioids. I was in the ER last year, and got intravenous morphine for a UTI from a big kidney stone. The effect was like a comforting wave of warmth starting in my chest and rolling over my face and arms. For the first time in days I felt good. But in the morning a middle-aged woman was prowling the corridor yelling, “Where is my medicine? You’re supposed to give me my medicine! You’re not doing your jobs!” The nurse told her she wasn’t due for forty-five more minutes, but she couldn’t wait, and just yelled some more. Whenever I looked at my bottle of pills, her voice came back to me.

But we’re addicted to more than opioids. When I ride the light rail I see smartphone addiction. Hell, I see pedestrians walking, and bicyclists riding and motorists driving while looking at their smartphones. I think we’re addicted to easy.

Back to my addiction. Photographer Terence Donovan made Robert Palmer and those five models famous in the music video for Addicted to Love. He dressed up Julie Pankhurst, Patty Kelly, Mak Gilchrist, Julia Bolino and Kathy Davies to look like Patrick Nagel girls, and had them pretend to play guitars and keyboards and drums behind the dapper Mr Palmer. His sex object look was controversial, but the video was an unexpected and iconic hit. Donovan used at least one of the models, Patty Kelly, again in I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On, and added those four dancers wearing what look like bridesmaid dresses.

Donovan went to the well again for Simply Irresistible, with more models, more dancers, water pouring over models in swimsuits, but all kind of a muddle. I’ve read that Palmer began to feel that his singing was being overshadowed by the models, though at a reunion the Addicted girls all said he was very professional during the shoot. I had forgotten that Palmer sang Every Kinda People, one of those songs that doesn’t need a fancy video, and is worth hearing again every so often.

No Absolute Privacy

FBI Director James Comey spoke today at the Clements Center for National Security at UT Austin. PBS News Hour live-streamed it over Youtube, and I caught it 30 minutes in, then watched again from the beginning.

Comey began by stating that the FBI’s primary counter-terrorism concern is Islamic terrorism. Initially, he said, Islamic terrorists had some success attracting people to the caliphate, but those numbers have been dropping, and it seems to be failing. Social Media efforts peaked in Spring 2015.

But, recruiters like Anwar al-Awlaki have tried and are still inspiring people, “who are seeking meaning,” to use violence. How do you spot them? Will people close to them report to the authorities?

Comey says intelligence predicts that after the caliphate is crushed there will be a terrorist diaspora into Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and that they will be bent on continuing global jihad.

In response, the FBI has knitted together agents and analysts. They now assign tasks in a less geographic way, based more on talent. They have “Fly teams” prepared to go anywhere. They’ve established “Cyber task offices” and recruit for Integrity, Physicality, Intelligence, Technical Expertise. They want to shrink the world for the good people and embed analysts around the world.

If this sounds like a millennial TV show, well, Comey is looking to recruit from this student body, and he has to offer something that competes with private sector salaries.

The FBI intends to impose costs on foreign hackers.They urge cyber and media companies to establish relationships with the local FBI office so they can be rescued the way that Sony was rescued from the North Korea hack. He describes a relationship where the FBI would know a companies cyber-footprint the way that a fire marshal would know a building’s exit plan.

Comey assured the audience that he loved encryption, and that he even had a private Instagram account for family only. But now he feels there is a creeping darkness caused by effective encryption as the default. He worried that there are too many messages that the government simply can’t read. The deal, he says, was that there was “no such thing as absolute privacy.” In the past, he said, you had privacy, but your house, accounts, spouse and even your thoughts could always be investigated – with official authorization. He believes that manufacturers should be held responsible for the information on their devices being available for judicial review.

The moderator asked, given that there were hardly any cases right after 9/11, what are the causes and indicators of home-grown domestic radicalization? Comey responded that, “the internet has transformed the way we live.” He said there was no hotspot, but that all around the nation troubled people, who may be drug users, child pornographers, disaffected teens, people with troubled relationships were seeking meaning or a different world without ever leaving their computers. He used that, “seeking meaning,” phrase a lot. He also felt that usually somebody saw something and didn’t speak up.

My first thought was of the local terrorism cases that seemed to clearly be instigated by an FBI plant. My second thought was that like Neil Gorsuch, Comey is a very personable fellow with a scary agenda. He closed with an inspiring talk about the request to wiretap ML King requested by Hoover and approved by Robert F Kennedy. He says he doesn’t want the FBI to make that mistake again, but I didn’t feel reassured by the tenor of the sales pitch.

The Gorsuch Nomination

After President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, my high school posted a brief bio and wished him well:

A Colorado resident, Judge Gorsuch served as Georgetown Prep’s President-of-the-Yard, the student body president, as a senior. He also participated in the forensics and international relations clubs. After graduating from Prep in 1985, …

Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., Georgetown Prep’s president, noted on the occasion of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, “We are proud to have a son of Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded the same year the United States Supreme Court was established, nominated to the nation’s highest court. All of us at Prep send our prayers and best wishes.”

Gorsuch graduated twelve years behind my class, so I can’t tell you that he was a great guy or otherwise. Fewer than five hundred students attend Prep (fewer than four hundred when I was there) so when we voted for President-of-the-Yard we already knew the candidates, or someone on a floor or team or club with them. Gorsuch must have managed to be the right combination of likable and respected. He may have had to do the occasional jug (a Catholic word for detention), or had to take a few laps, but probably never smoked weed in the steam tunnels. Or never got caught.

I watched Judge Gorsuch’s statement to the confirmation committee, and most of Senator Al Franken’s questioning. Like some of my classmates from Prep, he comes from very successful people of humble origins. He made sure to let us know that he and his wife once had a very small apartment, that he is a family man, etc. all of which is good. I’m sure if I met him at a reunion I’d like him well enough. Even if we talked politics.

Senator Franken grilled Gorsuch over his TransAm Trucking dissent against a driver who was fired because he briefly left a trailer with frozen brakes while suffering hypothermia in freezing weather. Gorsuch explained that he had great sympathy for the driver, but that the law simply didn’t support him. Franken might have asked whether Justice Gorsuch would support a new law that would have saved the trucker’s job.

Franken (and Pat Leahy) also asked a version of the question suggested by Cenk Uygur about whether Judge Merrick Garland had been treated fairly, but Gorsuch dodged that by claiming that a judge should not get involved in politics.

Despite all the brave talk about a Democratic filibuster, I can’t imagine that Gorsuch won’t be readily confirmed. But I fear that while he professes great sympathy for the struggling classes, his rulings will favor the entitled. According to Ari Berman at The Nation:

Yet we know enough about Gorsuch to surmise that he was nominated by Donald Trump to be a smooth-talking advocate on the bench for a far-right ideology. He was hand-picked by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. He has close ties to a conservative billionaire and has praised one of the GOP’s most notorious voter-suppression advocates. He’s criticized liberals for challenging gay marriage bans in the courts. During the Bush administration, he praised the Guantánamo prison and defended harsh anti-terror policies. As a judge, he joined the Hobby Lobby decision restricting a woman’s right to choose and ruled against a truck driver who abandoned his trailer in subzero temperatures after it broke down. He’s consistently favored corporate power and corporate influence in the political process. In fact, a review of his opinions suggests he will be more conservative than Roberts and Alito, second only to Justice Thomas.

Purity Politics

Way back in 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt arranged for primary challengers to fellow Democratic incumbents who refused to support his New Deal agenda. The verb, Primarying, goes back to at least 2004, but gained popularity in 2008 as the Tea Party began challenging moderate Republicans. That same year the labor-sponsored, Working For Us PAC was formed to, “encourage Democrats to act like Democrats – and if they don’t – they better get out of the way of Democrats who will.” Working for Us helped elect Donna Edwards, and still exists, but is a minor factor in congressional elections.

Newer progressive groups, such as Justice Democrats working with Brand New Congress, plan to push the Democratic Party to the left by primarying corporate candidates in the next round of elections. Establishment Democrats have responded by accusing said progressives of conducting purity tests.

In response, Caitlin Firestone wrote, Call Me A ‘Purist’ Again:

There’s a new obnoxious buzzword in the corporate Democratic lexicon, and it’s being employed with increasing regularity by rank-and-file Democratic party loyalists. More and more I run up against vagina hat-wearing keyboard warriors of the McResistance dismissing progressive rebels as “purists,” “purity ponies” and “purity progressives,” the idea being that if you don’t want to vote for Democrats who actively facilitate corporatism, warmongering and ecocide, you are somehow being unrealistic and unreasonable.

A few days ago, TYT Politics Reporter Jordan Chariton and producer Emma Vigeland stood outside the TYT office and debated (on youtube) whether there should be a “purity test” for Democratic Party candidates.

In between denying that they were a couple, Jordan claimed the establishment’s accusations were code for, “just look the other way … let us be corrupt,” while Emma thought it was good strategy for a progressive to trade political capital for incremental legislative gains.

The anti-corporate Purity Test is of course, a Slippery Slope Argument, and thus a fallacy. Few progressives will end up supporting only candidates who eschew any contact with the business community (such as the Green Party). Most are simply looking for candidates that respond to their constituents rather than just their donors.

Learning a New Word

In support of friends Charles Murray and Allison Stanger, Andrew Sullivan wrote, Is Intersectionality a Religion? at New York Magazine.

Middlebury College’s American Enterprise Institute Club had invited Murray to speak with Poli Sci and Econ Professor Stanger about his 2012 book, Coming Apart: America’s Growing Cultural Divide, which does for the class divide what The Bell Curve did for racism in 1994.

Given Murray’s reputation for providing a semi-scientific basis for considering blacks to be genetically inferior, and Middlebury’s reputation for liberalism, I would have hoped that students would either stay away or politely challenge his position, but the latest issue of The Middlebury Campus offers a timeline of planning for a significant protest:

By evening on Feb. 24, several months after the AEI had scheduled Murray’s talk, the decision to bring Murray to the College had escalated into a campus-wide controversy. Over the weekend of Feb. 25-26, Middlebury Resistance, College Democrats, Wonderbread, other clubs and ad-hoc organizations were already beginning substantive organization efforts. Some of the first goals that emerged were to get the Department of Political Science to rescind its co-sponsorship in the event, to urge President of Middlebury Laurie L. Patton to not appear at the event and to pressure either the College or AEI to retract the invitation altogether.

On Monday, Feb. 27. Professors and students together led organizing efforts, which soon divided into two different groups: those who wished to carry out non-disruptive protests, and those who wished to shut down the event and prevent Murray from speaking.

There was in fact a loud protest along the lines of an Occupy march (“Racist, Sexist, AntiGay! Charles Murray go away!”), as shown in longer and shorter student videos. You can contrast these videos with the rigid sense of decorum afforded the debate between James Baldwin and William F Buckley fifty-two years earlier at Cambridge, but you should also contrast the relative life expectations of students then and now.

Organizers gave up on the debate in favor of a livestreamed discussion, but afterwards:

When Murray exited the building, escorted by [Middlebury VP] Burger and Stanger, the group was approached by protesters, several with their faces covered and some of whom were non-students. As Stanger and Murray attempted to get inside a car, protesters allegedly placed themselves in their path.

Murray was not physically harmed in the ensuing confrontation, but Stanger suffered from a neck injury following a physical altercation that transpired after she attempted to shield Murray and usher him to their vehicle. Stanger experienced whiplash that evening. On the following Sunday, she was diagnosed with a concussion. She was taken to Porter Hospital on both days.

As in so many protests that go violent, it is tempting to suspect black bloc provocateurs. Sullivan cites statements in the video (which I couldn’t find) and claims that these students are in the thrall of intersectionality. Which is, what?

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

Sullivan’s goal is to portray intersectionality as just a left wing version of Trump-style intolerance, a charge that has been leveled against both the politically correct and social justice warriors. But intersectionality is a fairly straightforward idea, meaning that the challenges facing a person belonging to several traditionally-oppressed groups at once might not be covered by what we think of as racism, sexism, ageism, etc. White people trying to grok oppression is easy to parody, and critics who wish the idea of oppression would simply go away often comedically reduce it to a way of determining who gets to complain the loudest. Sharper critics observe that class differences are often overlooked in discussions of intersectionality.

No Country for Old Parties

On a cold Saturday, I was doing my laundry and browsing the internet, when I saw my old Talking Points Cafe buddy Jason in a Facebook video. Jason has started Artisan Politics, and plans to host interactive videos on Sunday evenings, and perhaps during the week. I skyped to ‘Artisan Politics’, and we had an off-the-cuff discussion – which is harder than it looks on TV – for about forty minutes.

At one point Jason said he thought that Richard Nixon had broken the Republican Party and that Ted Kennedy had broken the Democratic Party when he primaried President Jimmy Carter. That seems like ancient history, but it does roughly correspond with the regime change timeline proposed by Professor Corey Robin, which I summarized in a previous post. I was reminded of Jason’s comment while watching Press the Meat this morning. Chuck Todd introduced John Kasich:

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Even though Governor John Kasich of Ohio won only one primary, Ohio, last year, he developed a reputation as a Republican who was willing to work with Democrats and really say what’s on his mind. And Friday he had an op-ed column in the New York Times arguing that Democrats created Obamacare without Republican support and that Republicans are now trying to repeal and rewrite the law without Democrats. He said Democrats were wrong then and Republicans are wrong now. Governor Kasich joins me now. Not surprising to hear something like that from you.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, it’s not sustainable. If you don’t get both parties together, nothing is sustainable. I mean, if they pass this just by themselves, we’ll be back at this again.

CHUCK TODD:

In three years when Democrats take over or whatever.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, you know, look. The other thing is I was there when we created the CHIP program, the health program for children. It was done on a bipartisan basis. It was sustainable. I was there in ’97 when we did the budget deal. I was one of the architects. It was sustainable. But when you jam something through just one party over another, it’s not sustainable. It becomes a point of attack.

Kasich failed to mention that the Republicans were committed to opposing everything Obama proposed, but sure, he wants to work together now. But back to broken parties:

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

We’re all big boys and girls in this town. I mean, if you really want to be a leader. Look, I believe the political parties are disintegrating before our very eyes. I think more and more people across this country see no purpose for political parties.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Because — I’ll tell you something. You talk to people. There are more and more independents because of the squabbling. What’s at risk here to Democrats is you can’t turn your back on these people. And to Republicans, you need to invite Democrats in because we’re talking about lives.

All this consumption with who gains politically, you know, life is short. And if all you focus on in life is what’s in it for me, you’re a loser. You are a big time loser. And this country better be careful we’re not losing the soul of our country because we play politics and we forget people who are in need.

Unfortunately the moment of candor ended when Todd tried to put Kasich on the spot about his loyalty.

The question I have is whether the parties can be revitalized or whether something will arise to take their place.

Bagel Dems

Many years ago I read about a handful of competent, but older, married women tennis players who could afford to travel around and enter developmental tournaments – only to lose 6-0, 6-0 in the first round (unless they played each other). One might assume that after a certain number of losses they would be denied entry, but it didn’t seem to work that way. As I recall they often got some few ranking points just for competing. They were known as the Bagel Ladies. I understand in other countries there are Bagel Girls from wealthy families that do much the same thing.

Which brings us to the Democrats. And the Russians.

Dagblog founder Michael Wolraich, a published author and very bright guy, took the trouble to publish a timeline of all the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump administration in, TRUMP-PUTIN QUID PRO QUO?. He’s not alone in being concerned about some sort of a deal between Trump and Putin. You can find insinuations of Russian connections from CNN and the Washington Post to The Young Turks. Rachel Maddow is arching eyebrows like Rona Barrett and SNL’s Beck Bennett may never wear a shirt onstage again.

It isn’t hard to imagine Trump engaging in a deal, and his cronies are certainly acting guilty, but a lot former BernieCrats and other progressives just roll their eyes when Democrats mention Russia. Caitlin Johnstone advises, Tell Your Liberal Friends They Can Give Up On Their Russia Conspiracy Theories Now:

The still completely unproven conspiracy theory that Russian hackers stole emails from Democratic insiders with the specific goal of handing Donald Trump the election was initiated by the CIA in December of last year when it anonymously leaked those allegations to the Washington Post, whose owner has received hundreds of millions of dollars directly from the CIA. Later that month this same CIA-funded mainstream publication would then publish an article by a recently-retired CIA operative arguing strongly that the CIA shouldn’t have to provide the American people with any proof of these allegations. This consistent refusal to show the public one shred of proof of the allegations of Russian hacking or Trump’s ties to the Russian government already had the intelligence community in “Saddam has WMDs” territory due to the obvious political implications and the alarming way the corporate media instantly and unquestioningly jumped on board with the unproven allegations in the exact same way as they did in the buildup toward the unforgivable Iraq invasion.

Matt Taibbi urges caution in, Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media:

There is a lot of smoke in the Russia story. The most damning item is General Michael Flynn having improper discussions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak prior to taking office. There is the much-discussed Republican platform change with regard to American assistance to Ukranian rebels, and the unreported contacts between officials like Jeff Sessions (and even Trump himself now) with Kislyak.

Moreover, the case that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee now appears fairly solid. Even Donald Trump thinks so. This of course makes it harder to dismiss stories like the one in which former Trump adviser Roger Stone appeared to know that Wikileaks was about to release the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

But the manner in which these stories are being reported is becoming a story in its own right. Russia has become an obsession, cultural shorthand for a vast range of suspicions about Donald Trump. …

If there’s any truth to the notion that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian state to disrupt the electoral process, then yes, what we’re seeing now are the early outlines of a Watergate-style scandal that could topple a presidency.

But it could also be true that both the Democratic Party and many leading media outlets are making a dangerous gamble, betting their professional and political capital on the promise of future disclosures that may not come.

Let’s face facts. Democratic officeholders are dangerously uninspiring. They make fine speeches about social issues and the resistance, but quietly vote against lower priced drugs and for Trump’s toxic cabinet picks. The DNC’s recent election of Tom Perez was rife with hastily-contrived irregularities. They have co-opted Bernie Sanders for outreach, but refuse to listen to his message. They are doubling down on forcing us to choose between Trump or the establishment.