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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Death in Working Class America

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the cultural and political division between College America and Non-College America.

Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating report at The Washington Post:
Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists. 
Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlinesin 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up. 
The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The White House Is Incompetent at Dealing with Congress

Mike Allen reports at Axios:
When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: 
"Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill." 
Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset. 
One of the members replied: "You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either."
Tim Alberta reports at Politico about Trump's Thursday meeting with the Freedom Caucus
"Forget about the little shit," Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. "Let's focus on the big picture here." 
The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill's defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the "little shit" meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country. 
"We’re talking about one-fifth of our economy," a member told me afterward
On Tuesday, Trump spoke to the entire GOP Conference
Then Trump made a mistake. After singling out Meadows and asking him to stand up in front of his colleagues, Trump joked that he might "come after" the Freedom Caucus boss if he didn't vote yes, and then added, with a more serious tone: "I think Mark Meadows will get on board

It was a crucial misreading of Meadows, who has been determined to please both the White House and his conservatives colleagues on the Hill. Upon assuming the chairmanship of the Freedom Caucus earlier this year, Meadows was viewed suspiciously by some of his members who worried that the North Carolina congressman is too cozy with Trump and would hesitate to defy him. Meadows campaigned extensively with Trump last fall and struck up a relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who communicates with him almost daily by text. Meadows knew the health care fight would be viewed as a test of his independence from Trump, and the moment the president called him out, he was boxed in.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Left and Right Go Secular

Peter Beinart writes at The Atlantic:
Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.
So is the alt-right. Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous Breitbart.com essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative nonattenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal nonattenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thrasymachus on the Hudson

Jonathan Chait writes at New York:
It is remarkable — and perhaps praiseworthy — that Donald Trump gave a long and detailed interview on the subject of his being a pathological liar. The interview, with Time’s Michael Scherer, covers a wide range of Trump’s lies, and features many of his own justifications for them. The truly revealing moment of the interview comes at the end, when Trump gives up the game. “But isn’t there, it strikes me there is still an issue of credibility,” asks Scherer, referencing Trump’s hallucinatory claims to have been surveilled by his predecessor, which his own intelligence officials have refuted. Trump rambles through various talking points, and lands on this conclusion: “I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.” 
This small line is an important historical marker of the bizarre and disconcerting reality into which American politics has plunged. Trump is not merely making an attack on truth here. He is attacking the idea of truth. His statement is a frontal challenge to the notion that objective reality can be separated from power.

Commissars

Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin write at The Washington Post:
The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.
At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.
Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.
This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.
These aides report not to the secretary, but to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by Rick Dearborn, a White House deputy chief of staff, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.
Commissars who enforce loyalty may someday find others questioning them.  From Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
"The undersigned, N. S. Rubashov, former member of the Central Committee of the Party, former Commissar of the People, former Commander of the 2nd Division of the Revolutionary Army, bearer of the Revolutionary Order for Fearlessness before the Enemy of the People, has decided, in consideration of the reasons exposed above, utterly to renounce his oppositional attitude and to denounce publicly his errors."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Russia and Trump

Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day report at AP:
President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. 
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
  Reuters reports:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump downplayed his business ties with Russia. And since taking office as president, he has been even more emphatic.
“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” President Trump said at a news conference last month. “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”
But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings.
A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.
Historian Timothy Snyder writes at The New York Daily News:
In 2011, a Russian information war manual concluded that operations in what Russians like to call the "psychosphere" were more important than conventional military engagements. The chief of staff of the Russian armed forces concurred in 2013. The basic aim of war, he averred, was to get inside the national mind of the enemy, reconfiguring habits of mind and frames of discourse so that Americans would do what the Russian leadership wanted.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the main enemy was the United States.
The information manual very well describes the experience of being an American citizen in 2016: "the population doesn't even feel it is being acted upon. So the state doesn't switch on its self-defense mechanisms." Even though many American citizens had a vague sense that something was uncanny about the presidential campaign, and those who read the newspaper knew that Russia was interfering, few realized the scale of the operation or its significance.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Arrant Nonsense

 Gordon Corera reports at BBC:
The claim that GCHQ carried out surveillance on Donald Trump during the election campaign is "arrant nonsense", Rick Ledgett, the number two at the US National Security Agency (NSA) has told the BBC in an exclusive interview.
A commentator on Fox News had claimed that GCHQ had carried out the activity on America's behalf, but Mr Ledgett said the claim showed "a complete lack of understanding in how the relationship works".
...
"Of course they wouldn't do it. It would be epically stupid," he told me.
...

"Our job in the intelligence community is to be apolitical. Our job is to speak truth to power," he emphasised.
The origins of much of the tension lie in the assessment by the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the presidential election, and the subsequent reaction from Donald Trump.
Mr Ledgett said the evidence of Russian involvement was "extraordinarily strong" and "irrefutable" and that the NSA had played a key role in establishing the case.
Mr Ledgett said he was "dead solid 100% confident" that the Russian state was behind the attempts - although he said it was not for the intelligence community to evaluate the actual impact of those attempts on the vote itself.