Category Archives: Politics

Men: don’t be bullied into protecting predators

I was, to put it mildly, in shock. Here, sitting comfortably before me, leaning out from the detention room cubbie next to me, was… Nick.

Nick was an asshole. Nick was what I called at the time a CPA: a Certified, Public Asshole. He ran with a lot of kids and was liked by none. He frequently influenced events around him, but lacked the ability or the social juice to affect them alone. Instead he sat like a parrot on the shoulders of stronger kids, whispering into their ears and taking what scraps fell from their mouths. He knew the easy meat when he saw it. He took more than his share. Nick was an asshole.

Nick was also a victim. I would learn later that Nick’s dad was in jail for the umpteenth time and his mom was.. ill-prepared, to be charitable. Nick was a child not without his reasons to be angry and to seek easy victories. This excused absolutely nothing but explained quite a bit.

And anyway: here he was. Docile – chatty, even – in a detention room alone with me. Where he could have done anything.  Like the meanest dog in your neighborhood, off the chain and rolling on his back, looking for belly rubs. What the everloving fuck was this?

What the everloving fuck it was

It wouldn’t be until my thirties, long after my bully had disappeared into the landscape, before I recognized the truth: bullies never bully alone. Ever. They pick out the weakest defenses and shatter those walls in full view of their shared social circle. Gym class was always a good choice, if they could manage it, but the lunch room always worked in a pinch. They would find one person to make squeal while everybody else watched.

No. Nobody did anything about it. Yes. A few of his lunkhead friends laughed. But it wasn’t until my adulthood that I would understand that most of the audience were just as terrified to be next. Or at least, uncomfortable enough not to want to change their own lanes in the Darwinist supercollider that is High School. How could they risk it? There are no rules for bullies.

All of which is to say: bullies aren’t just bullying their victims, they’re also forcing the group to cede to their demands. The group itself is bullied. Some go along willingly. Others might be ashamed to see their behavior. But one way or another, all bend to his will because it’s just easier than resisting. Group behavior – the tendency of individuals to act in concert with the group around them – is being hacked by a single sadist. And as soon as things break up, he says, “everybody laughed! It was great fun for all of us!”

But it wasn’t fun for all of us.

Our bullies live among us

In the year 2018, the #MeToo movement has swept through Hollywood like a wildfire, now ready to raze the halls of the Senate, and white men like me are… jumpy. Some of us are belligerent and defensive; some of us have our eyes on our own papers, hoping not to be noticed. Some of us have centered our man buns to achieve the elite yoga pose that is the “woke bro.” But whether by dint of special wokeness, a guilty conscience or generalized anxiety, most of us feel like we need to profess our innocence.

We do so because we’re afraid to be the next under scrutiny. We do it because, in the back of our minds, we worry that being innocent won’t be enough, this time. Or that something we thought was innocent at the time might have crossed some line we won’t be able to defend now. How can we know? The rules have changed.

But be honest with yourself: you’re not a rapist. Awkward? Nervous? Out on a limb?.. An idiot? Quite possibly. But not a predator. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Dating is like that. But awkwardness isn’t a crime.

Neither are the things Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of innocent mistakes. Even in isolation, any of the three accusations is a clear crime according to the law at the time. And your stomach probably would have turned at the thought of his behavior in 1982 as much as it does in 2018.  The rules have not, in fact, changed. The willingness to prosecute the law is what has changed.

You’re getting bullied, but not by women

Don’t explain to the women in your life that “wouldn’t do that.” They’ve got your number. It isn’t them and it isn’t Alissa Milano that’s making you feel like shit.

The person that’s bullying you is every asshole who says, “everybody laughed, and we all had fun.” “Boys will be boys,” and anyway, if it happened, it couldn’t have been that bad. It is the men who insist “anyone can get caught” and “you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

It is people like Brett Kavanaugh, accused by three women. Its people like President Donald J Trump, credibly accused by no less than 19 women. It’s the actual bullies. Same as they ever were, riding the shoulders of more ethical men, whispering in their ears and looking for cover in numbers.

These are the men who are the self-appointed arbiters of who among us are the “winners” and who are the “losers.” In Brett’s case, of which private schools’ girls deserve victimhood and which do not. Of which girls are “fuckable” and which are “dateable.” No doubt, the stone-faced Misses Kavanaugh had a very different experience of Brett Kavanaugh than did Miss Blasey-Ford.

Brett Kavanaugh can take care of himself

In fact, not only is Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior not “normal” in any era – not only is Donald Trump not “an innocent man” – these are exactly the kinds of rich kid, private school bully-boys that invariably got fucked at the end of every 80’s college movie, ever. Because nobody really likes those motherfuckers. We’re all quite happy to see them in a movie, covered in mud, their girls gone to hang with the nerds, with some unspeakable thing wrong with their private parts. Yet we’re expected to defend them in real life? Why?

Don’t be bullied. Don’t get conned into thinking that, just because you’re the same sex as an accuser, that makes you the same. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women in your life and demand the law be enforced evenly.

Political Cravenness Cannot be Patriotic Selflessness

Who wrote that anonymous OpEd in the New York Times? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. Why didn’t they come forward publicly? Why didn’t they sound the alarm sooner? And again: who could it possibly be?

All of this evades the obvious issue the editorial itself points to, over and over: whomsoever wrote this article and whomsoever they implicate in their cabal to “save the presidency” took pains to tell us all the good that they’re doing:

  1. Their policies have made us all “safer and more prosperous.”
  2. “Effective deregulation,”
  3. “Historic tax reform”
  4. “A more robust military”

Sound familiar? That’s basically every speech at the Republican National Convention for 100 years. Every wishlist item in the Republican play book, checked off. Not, we are told, because of Trump: in spite of him.

You cannot spend your days whistling past the grave yard that is our Oval Office for the sake of your political score-settling, then cry patriotism because you didn’t let him do “the really bad things.” Whomever this article represents has been criminally derelict in their duty to serve the office of the presidency. They have deliberately taken advantage of their positions serving the man who is the president for the benefit of their patrons.

In fact, depending on how you read this para, it almost amounts to elder abuse:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

If you stole your grandmother’s welfare checks, would the explanation be any better? No one wanted to be the one to say something, so they just quietly kept doing what they were doing.

Other Republicans like those in the leadership in the House and Senate have not written similar letters. Yet. But we should expect at least that much honesty. If we won’t get it out of their mouths, they should expect us to take it out of their asses come November.

Feckless, Feckless

A few weeks ago (or was it years? Who can tell?), Samantha Bee got herself into hot water by calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” I’ve said my peace on the cunt part. But what I find interesting is that mere weeks later, Steve Schmidt, a long-time Republican operative and former chair of the John McCain presidential campaign, renounced his party membership by using the word “feckless” to describe his former party fellows:

I couldn’t help thinking that this transference of the word could not be accidental. That in fact, Sam Bee may have introduced a word into our common lexicon that has stuck to the Party of Trump. So I took a look at Google Trends, and what do you know?

We may presume that the solid red line which represents the searches for “cunt” probably represent a lot of porn searches. At least, let’s hope so. But once the phrase “feckless cunt” enters into the lexicon, you can see the word feckless far outperforms the word cunt. And indeed, continues to show interest. The mutual rise in searches indicates the phrase “feckless cunt” became a popular search term. But the fact that feckless outperforms cunt indicates that the word itself was of interest. People are searching for the term, which we may presume means they’re seeking to define it.

Even if we can’t all define it, the word “feckless” seems to resonate: it sound right.

It sounds right because it gets to the heart of the matter. After all, the suffix “less” indicates a loss or a lacking. And we certainly expect more out of our government, in this moment. Something seems lacking. Our train seems to be careening off the rails and those in charge don’t seem to just be complicit. Worse than that, they just seem incapable. We are left wanting something we can’t find in Congress, at all.

We expect the three branches of government to work independently, but that’s not happening. Republicans are supposed to be a party of fiscal responsibility, but even when Trump threatens our economy with trade war, that party remains mum. Republicans are supposed to be the standard-bearers for Christianity (in an explicitly non-denominational government, but still). Yet even as we watch children pressed into the service of their own continuing psychological troubles – psychological troubles voluntarily pushed upon them by our government and in our name – they complain and preen, but do nothing. They accomplish nothing. Not because they agree with the policy. Simply because they cannot rise to this moment.

In the past, Americans have been willing to believe that having a Republican in the White House and a Democratic majority in Congress (or vice versa) was a net benefit to our government. We believe that because we believe in the balance and separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution, and assume the conflicting ambitions of the two parties will guarantee that separation.

Whether having an opposing majority in Congress will help with our present situation remains to be seen. But one thing can be said for certain, which is that as bad as Trump may be, this moment in history will be remembered for how far wrong our democracy can go wrong when one branch of our government pointedly refuses to check another. When one branch of our government chooses the path of least resistance in the face of so much wrongdoing from another. When one branch of our government, given the opportunity to right the wrong of another, simply punts. When our leaders are, in a word, feckless.

Miss America isn’t a beauty contest, anymore

Well, so there. Miss America will no longer judge women on the basis of their physical appearance. Because Miss America is evolving!

I’m all for modernity and evolution, but how does Miss America get away with this kind of “evolution?” After decades of parading women around in swim suits, now they’re going to take a deep dive into contestants’ minds? To the exclusion of judging contestants’ physical appearance?

I don’t mean this as a “woke” insult. It’s just that this plan is terribly off-brand. Like Old Spice feminine hygiene products: it’s not that you’re not allowed, it’s just that you really, really shouldn’t.

Miss America is THE beauty pageant, its garish materialism known world-wide, for better or worse. It’s got its own song. It has it’s own swag. Every teenage girl who wins the Insert-Local-Agricultural-Product-Here Festival gets asked the same question: “does this mean you’re gonna be the next Miss America?” Very few brands achieve the collective-conscience market saturation that the Miss American pageant has.

It doesn’t feel like a wise move to attempt to completely reinvent the pageant. Not only unwise, but likely to disappoint: going from beauty pageant to pageant-of-the-mind – all while still publicly judging women and only women – doesn’t seem like a reachable goal.

I’m also all for lovely women who like to wear pretty things (or not) and get their pictures taken. I’m nobody’s prude, as readers well know. If the Miss America pageant has been a paragon of body-shaming in a culture that left woman no alternative role models, objecting to that fact need not include the belief that woman cannot use their physical attractiveness to their advantage. Lots of people, male and female, find work using their physical comeliness.

Instead, allow me to propose that the problem is that the Miss America Pageant is adopting a definition of evolution that doesn’t match the evidence. Species do not evolve. Evolution happens through the production of new species, often to the doom of the previous species. We don’t need Miss America to evolve: we need evolution to present us with it’s alternative.

I just can’t get that upset by Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. is not the first of my comedy heroes to disappoint me. Bill Cosby’s early comedy was so a part of my life and way of thinking that I still catch myself launching into a sketch of his by way of conversation every once in a while. It was and remains a painful revelation to find that, off stage, Bill Cosby’s darker habits made him a monster.

Since the dozens of charges levied against Cosby became the stuff of Internet justice legend, there has been an avalanche of revelations about powerful men with horrific, predatory habits. So many are the stories – and so drearily repetitive – that I feel like any discussion I’ve had about sexual assault in the past was about some completely different, more innocent topic.

And perhaps I’m still in the thrall of that naive concept when I say I just don’t see any reason to get that upset by Louis C.K.’s transgressions. Right and wrong is not a spectrum and we don’t give out points for good intentions. But even the least upsetting story from Harvey Weinstein’s trove of horrors makes Louis jerking off in a hotel room look like a scene from Home Alone.

Home Alone child's face, "It's a wiener!"
Home Alone child’s face, “It’s a wiener!”

Let’s stipulate that what Louis C.K. did was wrong by way of his being a professional and a mentor to fellow comedians. More importantly, making sexual advances on people who work ostensibly for you, like the women on the set of his TV show, is dead wrong. It’s a reckless risk that anyone in a position of authority has to do their best to resist.

But absent that professional prohibition, the dude took his dick out. He took it out.

You or I might choose a different opening move. A woman could be forgiven for never wanting to hang out with the dude again. Then again, maybe another woman would find it fascinating. That’s not for us to judge. But even kissing someone presupposes violating their personal space; you’re not really expected or even encouraged to ask for permission first. If masturbating is your thing, that’s even tougher ice to break.

Louis’s got a kink, in other words. That’s not a crime. It’s not disgusting or morally reprehensible or unhealthy, nor attestation of some deeper insufficiency. It’s a kink.

Let’s hope none of us ever has to live in a world where our kink is on display. Where we’re judged to be in the same bad company as rapists and woman dopers because of a few awkward or cringe-worthy attempts at satisfaction. Let’s hope our world is kinder and more forgiving than that one.

Rothization: Peter? Meet Paul.

The Republicans are proposing massive tax cuts, including a 15-point decrease in the Corporate tax rate from 35 down to 20, in their new tax code “reform” bill. But to do so, they need to at least have the veneer of those tax cuts being paid for.

There have been a few proposals to do this, but one that has gained steam in the Senate is what is euphemistically being called “Rothization.” In short order, this means capping the amount of pre-tax money you’re allowed to invest in your 401k. You can invest more, but that money will be taxable.

Trump, in his predictably self-harming way, has thrown cold water on this idea. But Trump being Trump, that’s far from saying the idea is dead. So what is Rothization? Like everything else about taxes and tax policy, it’s goddamned confusing. Here’s the basics as I see them:

What is Rothization?

What this really means is a cap on the amount of pre-tax deduction a private individual can invest in their 401k. The cap has been proposed at $2,400. After you’ve invested that $2,400, the rest of your 401k money would move into an investment that is called a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs are investments of post-tax money, meaning you’ll be paying taxes on anything above $2,400. The advantage of Roth IRAs, such as they are, is that when it comes time to withdraw your money, you won’t be required to pay taxes on it.

That doesn’t sound bad to me?

It’s not. Roth IRAs are an excellent investment tool if you have the money to contribute to your retirement above and beyond what your 401k will produce. But they’re not a substitute for 401k investments.

So… what’s the problem?

401k was created specifically to incentivize investment in our futures. By making contributions tax-exempt, 401k investments can reduce your taxable income quite a bit, making them an excellent way to both save for the future and also provide a short-term gain for your family’s pocketbook. Taking this tax incentive away deincentivizes investment and raises your taxes. It’s a double hit on your economic health.

This is a very-specifically targeted Middle Class tax hike

Actually, if your employer matches at 5% and you make 30k a year, you’ll only invest about $1,500 a year. You’re fine.

But if you’re in the middle of our tax brackets, this is going to hit you hard. Anyone making over $48k and contributing at 5% is going to see a tax increase. If you’ve been aggressive until now about saving for retirement, investing more than your employer’s match, you’ll see an even bigger tax increase.

Also, it’s unclear if this $2,400 cap holds for dual-income families. If so, even lower-income families could see a tax hike.

This disincentivizes retirement investment

I guess I thought Republicans were always scolding me about not investing my income. I guess I always thought I heard them justify tax cuts because they “could be invested.” But now, Republicans are telling us that, in order to pay for a corporate tax rate cut, we’re going to need to either invest less or pay more taxes. We have those two choices, under their tax plan. That doesn’t seem like a very good deal to me.

In the sport of White House leaks, The Mooch gives a master class

Have you read this article? Of course you have.

What’s weird to me is this: after almost a week of discussion on Twitter, on television and at water coolers everywhere, I have yet to hear anyone state the obvious: in pissing to a reporter about “leaks,” The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci gave a master class in how leaks work. And without the benefit of speaking on background.

Think about it: regardless of what he’s bent out of shape about, he’s bent. And rather than just vent his frustrations to a friend, he goes after a reporter to find the source of the leaks. In doing so, he unloads a gusher of insider gossip, dinging Reince Preibus and even the Dark Lord, himself: Steve Bannon. That he didn’t ask to speak on the condition of anonymity is just icing on the cake for us spectators; his dick-tripping buffoonery is on display for all to see. But absent that one fact, everything else proceeds exactly as it does every time people leak internal dramas to the media.

The upshot here for us spectators is as follows: leaks are caused by internal frustrations. Whether those frustrations come in the form of one Secretary or one page who feels jilted by the overall Administration, or in the form of a deluge of freaked-out functionaries, the result is the same. And the results are probably not quantifiable in any exact sense, but it’s safe to assume the more and greater the leaks, the worse the situation in the White House.

All of which is to say: this White House easily the least-functional White House in recent memory. That supposition is bearing itself out in the dismay of Congressional Republicans whose own dysfunctions could easily have been overcome with proper leadership.

Those of us who value the health and well-being of our fellow Americans – to say nothing of our own aging relations – can be glad of the dysfunction for now. But as things heat up in the Korean Peninsula, the time to enjoy the opposition’s collective fatuity seems to be fast closing.

Top 5 Things That Don’t Last as Long as James Sheppard’s non-Voting Record

James Sheppard
James Sheppard, photo courtesy City Magazine on SmugMug.

I’m sure I’ve been slow-on-the-stick on this score, but it’s only just been made clear to me that James Sheppard, the former Rochester City Police Chief and current candidate for the Democratic nomination to Mayor of Rochester, didn’t vote for 32 consecutive years. Thirty-two years, between 1982 and 2013. Now, he’s asking for your vote. That strikes me as a profoundly cynical political move. He’s asking Rochester residents to exercise their franchise in favour of a man that, for all intents and purposes, has never demonstrated much regard for his own.

To be clear: it’s ok if you vote. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s even ok if, like I suspect a lot of Americans, you vote some years and not others. All of these decisions are yours to make as citizens of these United States. Entering public life however means making a commitment to work on behalf of voters. Having spent three decades of your life not voting for yourself doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. In fact, it seems openly galling.

But how long is 30 years, anyway? Just how much time did he spend not exercising his sovereignty, leaving it for others to decide the issues of the day? Here, then, is an exploration of that span of time, set against other benchmarks. 5 things that won’t last as long as James Sheppard’s non-voting record:

5. All of your pets (except maybe your bird)

Your dog
Via the University of Liverpool on Flickr.

Sorry, Fido. But if you were waiting for James Sheppard to vote for stronger protections for your stray brethren, it won’t happen in your lifetime. In fact, not you, nor that asshole cat, nor the weirdo lizard in the cage nor even the damned bird will last long enough to see James Sheppard exercise his right to vote. The average lifespan of a household cat is around 20 years. For a dog, it’s more like 15. So, James might have owned two very healthy dogs that never saw him wear his I Voted sticker.

Maybe an particularly sagacious African Grey Parrot could have seen James Sheppard vote in their wizened latter years. But rumors of the longevity of pet birds is largely overblown, too. Most are dead in plenty of time to miss James’ suffrage.

4. One Saturnian Year

Saturn
Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/CalTech on Flickr.

Our Solar System’s sixth planet lies 9.5 AU (Astronomical Units) from the Sun. That’s nine and a half times the distance between the Sun and Earth, or about 883 million miles (1420km) from the Sun. That’s a long way, and as you might expect, it takes quite a long time for the Kronian giant to make a single trip around the Sun. Twenty nine and a half Earth years, to be exact.

But as long as a year on Saturn is, it’s merely a large fraction of the time since James Sheppard engaged in our national plebiscite. Nor any other election. For a representative. For a County Executive. For County Dog Catcher or even – wait for it – Rochester City Mayor.

3. Your mortgage

Old, tumbled down house
House image courtesy Bambe1964 on Fickr.

I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember the cold, dread fear that overcame me when I realized I was signing up for 30 years of payments for a home. “My god,” I thought, “What an insane risk I’m taking here. Am I ready,” I wondered?

Had I known there would be a candidate for the Mayorship of Rochester that spent more than thirty years not voting, perhaps I might have rested easier. Surely, if a man can spend that much time ignoring the call to the ballot box and still ask his neighbors for their vote, then thirty years can’t possibly be that big of a deal.

Right?

2. An entire human generation

Newborn Baby
Newborn photo courtesy Josua Rappeneker on Flickr.

Ecologically speaking, a “generation” is the time it takes for an individual of a given species to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. The length of a human generation has increased as the needs of our societies dictate. Currently, a human generation stands at 25 years.

But plenty of women have pumped out a rugrat or two in the time it’s taken James Sheppard to decide to give birth to an act of citizenship. Women born in 1982 have grown old enough to have had their own children. And then some. In fact, a woman born in 1982 and conforming to the generational gap would have a ten year old kid. And perhaps more.

Kinda makes you wonder at what point James decided that the futures of those 1982 babies or the futures of his prospective constituents mattered enough to him to pull a lever for any candidate, anywhere?

1. Twelve consecutive NFL careers

NFL Football game
Football game photo courtesy April Spreeman on Flickr.

We see superstar athletes in the NFL with long careers and think that of course, players last a long time in the game. But it’s simply not true at all. In fact, according to Sports Illustrated, the average span of a career across all positions in the NFL is a paltry 2.66 years. Given the sheer time, effort and parental income it takes to rise to the level of an NFL star, it makes you wonder why anybody anywhere even bothers. You’d be better off finding an indoor football league to play on and stay the hell out of what is obviously an incredibly hot, halcyon spotlight.

Regardless, James Sheppard’s non-voting record actually exceeds the careers of an entire NFL offensive team, consecutively. Twelve professional football players entered the NFL, played a few games and had their hopes and dreams crushed under the grinding boot of corporate indifference. Their jerseys are not available at any NFL outlet. Their names are barely remembered by any but those who know them.

But then, it’s no shame to not be famous. So go we all, but for a few exceptions. Will voters add James Sheppard’s name to the list of Rochester Mayors?

The House GOP’s AHCA Health Care Bill is Cruel. Because it Had to Be.

Let’s all remember how we got here.

Before Obamacare, before the Tea Party, before the election of Barack Obama, we had a healthcare crisis. Premiums were skyrocketing. Insurance companies were cutting off access to expensive procedures. The bottom line was: health insurance as we’d enjoyed it for decades was going away with nothing left in it’s wake. Nobody disagreed with this assessment.

Ross Perot once famously quipped of Social Security, “Social Security made sense when the age to collect ws 65 and the average person lived to be 60.” Whatever you think of his or anyone else’s policy prescriptions for SS, the truth of this statement was pretty undeniable. As our lifespans lengthen, it gets more and more expensive to take care of each other.

And as people lost insurance, they didn’t lose their diseases. Which meant people ended up in the most expensive part of the hospital – the Emergency Room – instead of taking care of issues early with a primary care physician. Because hospitals have an ethical responsibility to fix broken people, the cost of those emergency visits was necessarily passed on to the rest of us.

Neither are cost and advanced age the only issues. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a shocking rise in the rate of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and heart disease. It isn’t just that we’re getting older: we’re getting sicker when we’re young. All of this adds up to a pretty incredible burden on a health insurance system. Especially one that is market- and profit-driven.

Obamacare

Obamacare sought to address the fundamental issues of the health insurance industry by bringing more people into the system. Similar to Social Security, the more participants are paying into the system, the more money there is to pay for the more expensive needs of other members. Better still, by bringing people into the health insurance system and giving them access to preventative care, Obamacare sought to lower the overall cost of taking care of sick people.

In exchange for new business and more profit, Obamacare required insurers to adhere to a list of demands like insuring people regardless of their “pre-existing conditions,” which is just a way of saying you know they have potentially expensive issues, but you’re going to cover them anyway. In fact, Obamacare eliminated “insurance underwriting,” which means insurance companies are not allowed to demand a complete medical history to cover you.

Much of what Obamacare was meant to address did work. We got 24m more Americans covered by health care. Insurance companies honored the commitment to cover all comers. But the largest concern of most Middle Americans, the cost, didn’t stop rising. It rose at a much slower pace, but that’s cold comfort to someone already feeling the pinch of rising costs.

I would argue that, given that a big component of Obamacare was wrestling with pre-existing conditions and lack of preventative care, there probably was never a chance that the cost curve could be reversed overnight. Or even in seven years. Sick people don’t stop being sick. A lifetime lack of care doesn’t get that much better right away. Nevertheless, Obamacare promised lower healthcare costs and didn’t deliver fast enough for America’s patience, it seems.

Because if President Obama ran on the promise of Obamacare, to the extent that President Trump’s campaign was “about” anything, it was once again the promise of way better healthcare.

The AHCA

So Republicans are tasked with reversing Obamacare. And they’re tasked with creating a new system that allows health insurance to be a profitable business at a lower cost, because the one thing Obamacare didn’t deliver on was lowered premiums.

Go back and reread the first few paras of this article. Our healthcare crisis is a logical conclusion of living longer and getting sicker as a species. It wasn’t an institutional crisis – it wasn’t that insurance companies were changing policy without reason. We have a genuine crisis of a demand for coverage that drives costs through the roof. Lowering costs, then, can only mean one thing: lowering demand by cutting off access.

If we’re not going to stick it out with Obamacare, then as harsh and cruel as the AHCA is, it is exactly what is necessary. If we’re not going to do our best to increase participation, our only other alternative is to make what insurance companies previously tried to do quietly a matter of national health care policy. We need to decrease demand.

Cruelty isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.

The cruelty of the AHCA is hard to take in. The expansive ways in which Republicans chose – completely on their own – to take a sledgehammer to the very idea of health insurance is breathtaking. As the ACLU points out, the AHCA basically makes being a woman a pre-existing condition. VoteVets points out that it bumps millions of veterans out of the health insurance markets by denying them the tax credits “granted” to the rest of us and shunts them into an already overwhelmed VA system.

Cruel though these things may be, supply and demand economics requires that either there is way more supply or way less demand. No other thing will reduce costs. Democrats essentially tried to buoy supply by increasing participation and in so doing, raise the capital required to expand the supply side. Republicans have now fully bought into the idea that slashing demand will work.

And the worst part of all this is, again, that sick people don’t stop being sick because they don’t have health care. They’re going right back to the emergency rooms. And they’re going to jack up the price of health care. And – brace yourselves – there will be no cost savings. There will be no lowered premiums. And we know this, because we already lived through this once.

But Republicans have spent eight years decrying Obamacare. They can’t just walk away now. And there is absolutely no way of “improving” this bill. The Senate will not be our saviors. Because to alter this bill is self-defeating. The only thing to do is let it die. Do we believe Republicans have the strength to do that alone? Or should we help them come to the logical conclusion?

Fake News: 5 Ways to Not Become an Online News Luddite

The fake news got to us. And I suppose the result was obvious.

A wellspring has bubbled up through the blogosphere and is now producing blog articles sounding the alarm: other blogs might be “fake news.” Some of those articles are focused on the left, some on the right. All of them, I’m sure, propose to improve blogging. But as the reality of the Russian hack on our democracy sinks in across the internet, these posts are a symptom of our suspicions, grown louder. Loud enough that bloggers are telling other bloggers not to link to bloggers because credibility.

Wasn’t the great leap forward back in the Web2.0 days the democratization of media? Didn’t RSS, and blogging, and social media, and “sharing,” mean that the analysis, emphasis and direction of news would no longer be dominated by corporate profit motives? Far more importantly, the democratization of media always meant that as bloggers and as news consumers, we asserted credibility in the democratic fashion: collective assent.

That collective assent has been plundered. We as a nation have been had. And as that reality looms larger and larger – as jeers and jabs turn to stunned silence – we’re falling back on the instincts that allow authoritarians to rise to power. Our confidence shrinks and doubt prompts us to “follow the leader.”

So this is how freedom of the press dies: the moment when we decide that certain press is more free than other press. Because it’s safer. Because we have been attacked once. Because the news seems to hit independent media particularly harshly. Because we relent.

Let’s not go quite so gently into that good night. Democracy survives when the good and the wise steel themselves against fear. To that end, I present for you five good ways to protect your democratic franchise in the modern online world and avoid fake news:

5. Understand what happened

The full scope of the Russia’s interference in our elections is still being tallied, at least publicly. But one thing it is important to understand is that much of the hack was on search engines. A user – perhaps you, perhaps someone else – searches Google or Bing for a topic and scans the results. What he finds are links to sources that are intentionally conning him. They arrived in those top few spaces in the search engine’s results because Russian hackers coaxed search engines into paying them undue attention.

All of which is to say that your favourite independent news source didn’t change. Daily Kos didn’t get any more or less credible. Instead, the search engines you use got changed, and as alleged by the Intelligence Community, perhaps your vote as well.

More importantly, the change to search results was targeted. Services like Google use your location to determine the best sources of content. On average, a Rochesterian would probably prefer to read the D&C’s article on Russian hacking than one from the NBC 7 in San Diego. But the hack also took advantage of this fact and, based on the below comments of Senator Mark Warner, may have concentrated their activities on the “firewall states” of Michigan and Pennsylvania. (emphasis mine):

1,000 Paid Russian Trolls Spread Fake News On Hillary Clinton, Senate Intelligence Heads Told || HuffingtonPost.com:

“What really concerns me [are reports] there were upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, … that can generate news down to specific areas,”

In other words: you may never have seen so much as a scrap of fake news, depending on where you live.

4. Verify Your “Fake News”

There is no “exclusive news” anymore and things break quickly. They ricochet across the Internet, getting picked up by a wide variety of sources. Even those of us who spend a significant amount of our time monitoring news and social sometimes find that we’re way behind on a developing story, from time to time.

If the source you’re reading from claims to have content no one else has, chances are better than good that it’s crap. Move on.

There are exceptions to this rule all the time. Momentarily being “exclusive” doesn’t make news “fake news.” But until others verify what your source says it has, there’s no reason to jump to any conclusions. Most of us are not in a position, from moment to moment, to verify someone else’s work as it arrives on the Internet. Rely on the “collective assent” in your network.

Fake news tends to do it’s own ricochet, of course. But it doesn’t last long in reputable sources. See tip #2 for more on that.

3. Ask Yourself: “Are Facts or Opinions In Dispute?”

The great New York State Senator Patrick Moynihan once famously intoned, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The same holds true for the Internet, and dovetails with tip #4: lots of different news sources and opinion makers differ on the interpretation of facts, but very few legitimate news sources will hold forth “facts” of which they are the exclusive source.

Liberal news sources will interpret news one way, Conservatives the next. Industry insiders or people on the ground will interpret news based on informed, practical knowledge that differs from political takes altogether. And those may still differ from policy makers for whom other priorities are higher. But they all agree on what’s happening.

When a source introduces “facts” for which you can find no other corroborating stories, it might be fake news. If they continue to press ideas for which there is no other evidence, chances are pretty good they’re full of shit. Move on.

2. Be Clear on Your Sources

As wonderful as Google and Bing and other search engines can be, you are always at the mercy of someone else’s algorithms to get your news. Search engines have learned a harsh lesson and will doubtless change as a result of the hack. But they won’t change what they fundamentally are, and what they are is always subject to manipulation.

Learn to recognize your sources. Your favourite websites, Twitter accounts, and journalists. Judge them based on their successes as defined in the last few tips. Do they confirm stories that end up being true? Do they propose ideas you can’t confirm anywhere else? Do they confirm stories with any other sources? And are those sources credible? Are your sources “insiders,” giving you insight you couldn’t have expected anywhere else, or just imaginative frauds, filling your time with “fake news?”

It’s worth having sources you fundamentally disagree with as well. Again: left and right may disagree on the interpretation of facts, but not on the facts. If there’s a difference between your opposing viewpoint sources, is it factual or interpretive?

If you’re not letting the news just fly at you randomly, from the search results on Bing or the most recent tweets in your feed, you’re starting to curate a useful information stream. It won’t be 100%, but it’ll be better than leaving yourself prone before an endless barrage of media.

1. Support What’s Right

This part is really important. Remember that the modern social media news landscape requires our collective, informed assent for its authority and credibility. We need each other for any of us to have either of those two things. The unwritten compact of those early days needs to be restored: that bloggers and the audiences they serve can filter and vet information just as well as people with communications degrees.

We need to be referees. We need to call balls and strikes. We need to allow ourselves to be checked by our audiences and by our peers. Most of all, we need to reform the networks we once had. More and more, social media networks feel less like networks and more like point-to-point noise protocols. They feel like unassociated beams of information, no unifying direction and no point of reference, no particular trust and no special loyalty. We need to rebuild that trust and loyalty by being the worthy readers and bloggers we’ve always been.

A Fundamental Question: what did the Russian hack look like?

Senator Al Franken was just on This Week with Martha Radditz, talking about the Russian hack into our elections and the Trump Campaign’s strange relationship with said. In discussing the hack itself, Franken pointed out that one means of hacking the system was to “mess with Google’s algorithms” to make reports from Russian state-controlled RT or Sputnik show up higher in the rankings.

What he’s referring to, if I understand him correctly, isn’t “messing with” Google’s search ranking algorithms directly. Instead, he’s referring to what most of us call “black hat search engine optimization“: the intentional manipulation of the way setearch engines work to get an illegitimate source to the top of the search results.

Regardless, it seems like our discussion of Russian hacking, collusion with US interests and the rest is greatly confused by not knowing what the “hack” actually was. Right now, we have an idea of Russian hacking, allegations of Trump Camp collusion, discoveries of conversations between principals in this story, potential perjury of our nation’s Attorney General… anything but hard fact on which to base a reasonable decision.

With any other type of crime, there’s a dead body, a missing item, a victim. There is physical proof that something happened, if not what happened or who did it. And for better or worse, our sense of the importance and severity of the crime reflects the physical proof of the act. Here, we have nothing.

It’s hard to imagine the American public continuing to be interested in this story long-term without a lot firmer proof of what went wrong in the first place. What exactly did the Russian hack of our elections look like?

Errors in Execution

The rolling window of “Trump could have done this better” excuses for the Trump White House’s dick-tripping incompetence is getting tiresome. Three weeks in, and I think everybody could use a vacation, but let’s please not entertain these “simple answers” as the logical choice when describing what we’ve seen so far. Most recently, we now have this Politico puff piece on the putative “gold standard” of White House Chiefs of Staff, James Baker, in which Baker firmly chides Trump on how to be more Republican.

It is a fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban could easily have been implemented with more care and consequently less resistance. The president has pretty wide latitude in deciding who comes in or out of this country. This has been the case since the 70’s. Yes, he can cut off immigration from one, a group or all nations for whatever time he chooses, at least in theory.

Doing so would cause quite a bit of panic no matter the timing, leading to inevitable law suits. Liberals like myself would absolutely argue the constitutionality of ban like Trump’s. It wouldn’t be smooth sailing however they did it. But it could have been done.

It’s also true that, as a rule, Republicans aren’t that into Russia. That certainly describes the attitude of the Reagan White House in which Baker served. American foreign policy has, since early in the Cold War, been built largely on the lead Republicans set. And that lead was very anti-Russia. Even after Glasnost, very few Republicans I’ve ever known have thought highly of or trusted Russia.

A different relationship with Russia, even in present context, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. A more trusting relationship with Russia is not objectively worse than a less trusting one.

But for chrissakes, come on! Let’s please stop listening to people patiently tell us that what we’re seeing isn’t real.

Trump’s Muslim ban was not badly-planned. It was meant to cause chaos and panic. It was meant to trap the foreign-born at airports. It was meant to put the “enemies” of Trump’s agenda “on notice.” And those enemies were the foreign-born. That was the point. That’s why Trump said the ban was “going very well. You can see it at the airports.” The “news junkie” president did not fail to notice the chaos roiling the airports.

Trump’s ties to Russia aren’t accidental and neither are those shared by an incredible number of his lieutenants. Calls between his National Security Advisor Flynn and the Russian Ambassador before, during and after the election were not innocent even if they contained no relevant information. Throwing him under the bus will change nothing fundamental about the situation in the White House. It is a persistent fact of this administration that they have openly and not-so-openly had ties to the very same nation that our intelligence agencies confirm were responsible for the hacking of our nation’s democratic institutions.

Baker presumably expects these ties to be disappeared by a simple, grandfatherly “tut-tut.” He gravely intones about the need for sanctions against Russia in a way that clearly says “that’s the Republican Way.”

“Come along now, son,” he seems to say, “Let’s get you a flag pin and some photo time at West Point.”

Don’t let Republicans weave this narrative. Everybody in the party wants their Conservative Christmas, and they’ll wait till the tanks roll on Bowling Green to get it. They’ll say anything to stall, to cover, to explain away. Some of them might even believe it. But you can see what is happening. There is nothing subtle about Trump, there is nothing accidental about the chaos he’s created and there is absolutely nothing sincere in Republican pleas for patience.

This, after all, might be the very last election Republicans ever win. Jim Baker’s just trying to get the most out of it.