Month: December 2017

My Holiday reading list suggestions

I took the final revision class at the University, wished the students good luck, and came out thinking what a year it had been! My PhD is halfway through, all the theoretical chapters are done, and now I’m moving on to the empirical chapters. I almost got back to full-time column writing for so many different publications as well! Not quite my old journalism life, but close enough.

So what now? A month of peace, to say the least. No teaching, but focusing on research, writing, and some casual reading as well. Bliss.

I was talking to a friend of mine across the pond, and showed her my reading list suggestions for the holidays, and she was a tad surprised that there were no fiction in it. Had me questioning, do we need fiction anymore in life, after the last couple of years or is life already strange enough?

I’m a prosaic man almost reaching my mid-thirties, stiff upper lip and all that, but in light of the trend lines in our planet, here’s my Holiday reading list suggestions for the readers. You lot be the judge!

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Just a reminder: Trump is unhinged

Donald Trump went off on another gibberish-filled rant at 5 am EST today, as he does most days. I would like to say this is “bad even by Trump’s standards,” but that would be a cliche and not true. His ordinary level of discourse is extremely coarse.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore reality just because some of the press that covers Trump wants us to define down deviancy. If you saw this message and didn’t know who wrote it, you would think that person was an extremely thin-skinned, ill-tempered, vain man with no self-control.

He doesn’t respond to the charges. He doesn’t sound original or unaffected. His message contains precisely no useful information to reflect poorly on his presumed target (and no truthful information whatsoever). The only person who would be moved to support the message is someone who values the power of emotional charisma, the low-brow “dominance” politics of a tyrant, and “loyalty” to a political leader.

Trump’s attacks on the foundational tenets of republican democracy are important. The health of our republican form of democracy is not trivial. The American system is based on rational-legal authority. Revolutionary systems like fascism and communism are often based on the charismatic authority of a Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Chavez or Duterte. The megalomaniac in charge asserts someone hasn’t been “loyal” to him personally, and that is taken as a criticism–and grounds to rise up in fury–by the leader’s cultish followers.

Trump’s purposeful divide strategy is contributing to the biggest partisan division Pew has found on record. The president attacking the legitimacy of his political opponents–who make up a majority of the country–and acting in a manner undignified of his office, or of anyone speaking in society, really, is a recipe for creating social strife.

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A solution to sexual assault

The epidemic* of men being fired for sexual harassment and assault has laid bare the scale of men abusing their power at the highest levels—and the depths to which their depravity extends.

Pundits, journalists, reformers and the public are talking about what can be done to solve the problem. For some men, solving the problem doesn’t so much mean decreasing the incidence of sexual assault as it does protecting themselves from getting fired for allegedly committing sexual assault.

Proposals have included refusing private meetings with women (i.e. students, coworkers, and partners in deals) and invoking US Vice President Mike Pence’s personal policy. If I don’t meet with women, I will never be accused of assault!, the thinking goes.

One obvious problem at the start is that men often have to meet with women to correct papers or discuss topics relating to their work. Shutting women out could deny women opportunities—simply because of improprieties committed by other men.

I would propose what might be a better idea: not sexually assaulting women. Reading the cases from Harvey Weinstein, Louie CK, and Matt Lauer to Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Donald Trump, it’s amazing how many of these controversies could have been avoided if only they didn’t sexually assault people in the first place.

Louie masturbated in front of women in his office. Lauer locked women in his office and attempted to seduce and/or coerce them. Weinstein allegedly raped a dozen women.

The Washington Times paraphrases Jay Richards of the Catholic University of America:

The entry of women into the workforce since World War II, followed by the sexual revolution and the erasure of well-established sexual mores, has left men and women with little guidance as to how to interact in the workplace, Mr. Richards said.

Don’t give women sex toys, like Lauer did, for starters. Don’t make passes at every woman in the office, particularly employees in low-level jobs, and use appurtances of power to pressure them. Don’t meet your subordinates in a hotel room, as Weinstein and Trump made a practice of doing.

Basically, not doing things against someone’s will is a pretty easy and universal rule.

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When will conservatives admit that sometimes a Democrat is better than a Republican?

If you want to vote for the lesser of two evils, then you would vote for the Democrat in Alabama, for the US presidency.

The Federalist published an article by a Christian studies professor at Ouachita Baptist University arguing for Alabama voters to vote for “the lesser of two evils”–by which he meant Roy Moore. Christians supporting a corrupt liar and sexual degenerate guilty of assault? Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done it in the past two years.

After both questioning the heavily-substantiated allegations and stating that the allegations are probably true, he eventually gets to the meat of his argument:

If one can’t vote for someone who is better (that is, less bad or less evil) or who is equally bad but has better policies, then one should opt out of politics and the voting process altogether!

That sentence, itself, is absolutely true! So why do conservatives and Republicans–including the writer himself–never follow it? To wit, why, if he thinks we should vote for the lesser of two evils, did he write an article expressly advocating for voting for the most evil candidate (“Why Alabamans Should Vote for Roy Moore,” it is titled).

A lot of conservative Republicans are so extremely partisan that they think the very fact of one being a Democrat is the worst thing anyone can do in the world.

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Michael Flynn plea explains a lot

From Trump’s transition, his demands for loyalty, to his recent unhinged tweets, Mike Flynn’s plea deal brings things into focus.

The news that former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI is a bombshell that opens up uncertainties and rumors to clearer interpretations.

The one single charge appears small when compared to news reports detailing Michael Flynn’s alleged actions as a foreign influence-peddler, his failures to disclosure Russian-sourced income, and even his possible consideration of a scheme to kidnap a Turkish disident living in America and send him to Erdogan in exchange for $5 million dollars. As others have pointed out, including David French, Lawfare’s team, and David A. Graham, intense prosecutors, like the one who threw the books at Manafort, don’t give away sweet plea deals for nothing (Flynn is recommended to face no more than 6 months). This points to Flynn likely cooperating nicely with Mueller and offering useful testimony.

Lawfare noted that Flynn’s deal doesn’t absolve him from all potential charges. Again, another reasonable interpretation is that if Flynn doesn’t deliver he might be facing much worse.

What could the promised testimony be? Already there is a flood of articles reporting that high-level Trump administration officials directed him to communicate with the Russian government, with Jared Kushner being named personally. ABC News reports that Flynn is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to talk to Russia about ISIS. Eli Lake reports that Kushner told him to contact Russia. BuzzFeed reports that Kushner also told him to call foreign countries to lobby them on the controversial UN resolution on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory that the Obama administration refused to veto. Kushner had previously been reported to have tried to set up a backchannel to Russia.

All three reports, or some variation, could be simultaneously be true; if Trump personally mentioned ISIS, whether as a pretext or otherwise, when telling Flynn to contact Russia, Kushner could have given more specifics. Also worth emphasizing is that the ABC story refers to things Flynn is allegedly prepared to testify to, while the other two refer to things that reportedly happened, the difference between a reporter substantiating a story enough to say it probably happened and investigators substantiating something enough to convince a witness he has no choice but to admit it happened.

The documents reveal what had been reported in the first two months of the Trump administration: that Flynn lied about discussion sanctions with Russian officials. The documents state that Flynn then informed Trump transition team officials stationed in Mar-a-lago about his communications. At the time, Russia abstained from ratcheting up its response, and Trump praised Putin for his “smart” decision. Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, made public statements denying that Flynn had discussed sanctions. Flynn was then fired on the pretense that he had lied to Pence.

At the very least this is reignites the political problem for Trump that it seems that he and his leading deputies likely intentionally misled about Flynn, even after having been warned by Sally Yates.

Furthermore, it makes Trump’s attempts to get the stiffle the Flynn investigation even more suspect. At the time, the Flynn was the particular individual mentioned specifically to Comey in the Oval Office. That he wanted Comey to “see to it” to drop the investigation, and then fired him on pretenses that he would let slip days later were unreliable, suggests with a very high degree of likelihood that he knew something that reflected poorly on him or his administration would be uncovered.

Reports from late in the campaign through the transition up until now about the nature of Russian meddling and the investigation are being confirmed or corroborated with each new indictment that comes out.

Trump Tweets Mirror Flynn Cooperation

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