Archive for February 3rd, 2017
Melissa Healy has an interesting story in the LA Times:
In an electoral season that has blurred the line between fact and fantasy, a team of UCLA researchers is offering new evidence to support a controversial proposition: that when it comes to telling the difference between truth and fiction, not all potential voters are created equal.
When “alternative facts” allege some kind of danger, people whose political beliefs are more conservative are more likely than those who lean liberal to embrace them, says the team’s soon-to-be-published study.
Conservatives’ vulnerability to accepting untruths didn’t apply equally to all false claims: When lies suggested dangerous or apocalyptic outcomes, more conservative participants were more likely to believe them than when the lie suggested a possible benefit.
Participants whose views fell further left could be plenty credulous. But they were no more likely to buy a scary falsehood than they were to buy one with a positive outcome.
In short, conservatives are more likely to drop their guard against lies when they perceive the possible consequences as being dark. Liberals, less so.
Slated for publication in the journal Psychological Science, the new study offers insight into why many Americans embraced fabricated stories about Clinton that often made outlandish allegations of criminal behavior. And it may shed light on why so many believed a candidate’s assertions that were both grim and demonstrably false.
Finally, the results offer an explanation for why these false claims were more readily embraced by people who endorse conservative political causes than by those whose views are traditionally liberal.
“There are a lot of citizens who are especially vigilant about potential threats but not especially motivated or prepared to process information in a critical, systematic manner,” said John Jost, co-director of New York University’s Center for Social and Political Behavior. For years, Jost said, those Americans “have been presented with terrifying messages that are short on reason and openly contemptuous of scholarly and scientific standards of evidence.”
Jost, who was not involved with the latest research, said the new findings suggest that when dark claims and apocalyptic visions swirl, many of these anxious voters will cast skepticism aside and selectively embrace fearful claims, regardless of whether they’re true. The result may tilt elections toward politicians who stoke those fears.
“We may be witnessing a perfect storm,” Jost said.
The preliminary study, led by UCLA anthropologist Daniel M.T. Fessler, is the first to explore credulity as a function of ideological belief. The pool of participants was not strictly representative of the U.S. electorate, and some of the findings were weakened when the researchers removed questions pertaining to terrorism.
Moreover, some argue that it is not ideological belief but feeling beaten that makes people more credulous. When parties are thrown out of power, or have been out of office for long periods, their adherents are naturally drawn to believe awful things of the other party, says Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami.
Until the new findings have been replicated under the changed circumstances of a Republican victory, said Uscinski, they should be greeted with caution.
But the new results are in line with a picture of partisan differences emerging from an upstart corner of the social sciences. In a wide range of studies, anthropologists, social psychologists and political scientists have found that self-avowed liberals and people who call themselves conservatives simply think differently.
All people range across a spectrum of personality traits and thinking styles. But when compared to liberals, conservatives show a lower tolerance for risk and have a greater need for closure and certainty, on average.
Wired up to monitors that measure physiological changes, people who are more conservative respond to threatening stimuli with more pronounced changes than do their peers on the other end of the political spectrum: On average, their hearts race more, their breathing becomes more shallow and their palms get clammier. . .
But facts seem to have oddly little relevance to Trump.
Kevin Drum explains it well in a brief post, from which this chart:
Conflicts of interest becoming obvious: Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay cost taxpayers $97,830 in hotel bills
So the taxpayers are underwriting the expansion of the Trump business empire. Jason Chaffetz has no shame, no honor, and no spine. Amy Brittain and Drew Hartwell report in the Washington Post:
When the president-elect’s son Eric Trump jetted to Uruguay in early January for a Trump Organization promotional trip, U.S. taxpayers were left footing a bill of nearly $100,000 in hotel rooms for Secret Service and embassy staff.
It was a high-profile jaunt out of the country for Eric, the fresh-faced executive of the Trump Organization who, like his father, pledged to keep the company separate from the presidency. Eric mingled with real estate brokers, dined at an open-air beachfront eatery and spoke to hundreds at an “ultra exclusive” Trump Tower Punta del Este evening party celebrating his visit.
The Uruguayan trip shows how the government is unavoidably entangled with the Trump company as a result of the president’s refusal to divest his ownership stake. In this case, government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself. Though the Trumps have pledged a division of business and government, they will nevertheless depend on the publicly funded protection granted to the first family as they travel the globe promoting their brand.
A spokeswoman for Eric Trump declined to make him available for an interview and did not provide answers to a list of detailed questions about the trip.
Eric Trump’s trip in early January to the coastal resort town appeared to be brief — perhaps as short as two nights, according to a review of local press clips and social media.
The bill for the Secret Service’s hotel rooms in Uruguay totaled $88,320. The U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, paid an additional $9,510 for its staff to stay in hotel rooms to “support” the Secret Service detail for the “VIP visit,” according to purchasing orders reviewed by The Washington Post.
“This is an example of the blurring of the line between the personal interest in the family business and the government,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Despite the use of public funds, government agencies would not provide key details connected to the trip, including the duration of the stay, the name of the hotel or the number of booked rooms. . .
Continue reading. There’s more.
For example, later in the article:
“Having refused to sever his own personal financial interests, [the president] is now sending his emissaries, his sons, out to line his own pockets, and he’s subsidizing that activity with taxpayer dollars,” said Norm Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics adviser who is part of a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating a constitutional provision barring presidents from taking payments from foreign governments.
This stinks to high heaven.
Anita Kumar reports in McClatchy:
Is Donald Trump shutting Americans out of his presidency?
The White House comment line is shut down. New signatures aren’t being counted on petitions posted on the White House’s website. Federal agencies are not allowed to respond to requests.
Americans aren’t just failing to get their voices heard. The administration, too, is failing to provide information to them.
Transcripts, executive orders and news releases aren’t being posted online. Social media accounts, including Flickr, Pinterest and Tumblr, are no longer in use. Sending information to the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government, is delayed.
On Friday, a national research watchdog group condemned the administration for removing thousands of documents relevant to enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act from the Department of Agriculture’s website. The removed documents included reports on fines, official warnings, inspection reports and annual reports.
“This is clearly a calculated move to protect from public scrutiny criminal entities who regularly break federal laws, endangering human health,” said Michael A. Budkie, the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based nonprofit that monitors U.S. research facilities for animal cruelty.
“Even at the height of disagreement this has never happened,” said Maryanne Cottmeyer, 72, a retired federal worker from outside Olympia, Washington, who has called the White House comment line daily since Trump was sworn in, with no success. “They don’t want to hear.”
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) January 30, 2017
Cottmeyer, a self-described moderate Republican who has called the comment line for more than a decade, wants to speak to someone at the White House about Trump’s decision to pull out of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which she thinks will hurt her state’s economy.
But when she calls 202-456-1111 she gets a recording: “Thank you for calling the White House comments line. The comment line is currently closed. But your comment is important to the president.” It then refers her to www.whitehouse.gov/contact – or Facebook, where the White House is accepting comments on its posts, but not messages.
“The more you know the worse it looks,” said Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen. “We have a president contemptuous of democracy. . . . I think the totality of measures you are describing are reflective of a president and administration who are uninterested in public input.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has praised the administration on several occasions for its transparency efforts.
“It’s far too early to sound the alarm bells,” said Ben Marchi, a Trump supporter and longtime Republican operative. “If they are slower to ramp up constituent services in deference to getting straight to work I think the American people will understand that.” . . .
It truly is very much as though the Trump administration does not want the public to know some of what it’s doing—e.g., Bannon cancelling any paper trail of NSC deliberations and decisions. The inside staff don’t even inform staff that are not in the inner circle—e.g., Rex Tillerson had zero advance notice of the travel ban (nor did the DHS, so maybe that is pure incompetence).
We’ll see shortly, but I am not expecting any optimism to turn out to have been justified.
From a post by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:
Constituents in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District are looking forward to a scheduled town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Alpine, on Feb. 9.
Residents in Chaffetz’s district have questions for him, many of which revolve around what they see as a lack of interest in investigating President Donald Trump’s possible conflicts of interest. As the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz helps set the agenda on a committee whose purpose is to investigate waste, fraud and abuse and exercise oversight of the federal government. …
Courtney Marden, an American Fork resident, is among those who feel Chaffetz is not doing all that could be done to investigate the new president’s possible conflicts of interest. Marden started a petition on change.org on Jan. 18 that she intended to hold Chaffetz accountable to investigating the current administration’s possible conflicts of interest. The petition jumped to more than 2,500 supporters in two weeks, with people from all over the country signing their names.
A number of disgruntled voters are quoted as saying that Chaffetz is hypocritical because he has repeatedly investigated Hillary Clinton. Some think he is using his job to angle for higher office. Chaffetz arrogantly suggested, “I’m sure the Democrats will be out in force yelling and screaming.” One wonders whether he has forgotten that he represents all voters or whether he assumes that all Republicans lack principle and concern about good government. He surely sounds like a lawmaker who no longer respects his constituents. . .
I did click the link and sign the petition, and I recommend you do the same.
To commemorate Black History Month, Trump administration decrees that white supremacists can’t be terrorists
Chauncey DeVega writes in Salon:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to “take care of our African-American people.” Given Trump’s embrace of overtly or implicitly racist “law and order” policies, his history of racial discrimination against African-Americans and other people of color at his properties and his vigilante threats to commit a public lynching against the “Central Park Five,” there was always an element of menace to that declaration.
The threat is now confirmed. On Wednesday, Reuters reported as follows (with italics added):
The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters. The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.
Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are two of Donald Trump’s closest advisers. They both admire and are affiliated with white nationalists and white supremacists. Is this policy change a quid pro quo directed at the overt racists and neo-Nazis who supported Trump with enthusiasm? The American public will likely never know the answer. Nevertheless, the implications should be frightening: When the federal government declines to use its counterterrorism resources to combat violent white supremacy, it amounts to the same thing.
This decision by the Trump administration is part of a bigger pattern in which (white) Republicans and conservatives — and their media offshoots — systematically try to suppress information and investigations about the threat posed by right-wing militias and hate groups.
I explored this subject in an earlier article for Salon, following the arrest of three white men in Kansas who called themselves the Crusaders:
On these matters, white privilege also imperils public safety. Since 2002 more Americans have been killed by white Christian right-wing terrorists than by Muslims or Arabs. As reported by Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in 2015, “Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.” In its announcement about the arrest . . . the FBI also referred to the Crusaders as “domestic terrorists.”
But the right-wing media and the Republican Party have chosen to actively suppress that information — as was the case with West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center’s findings about the threat posed by right-wing anti-government groups, which were met with protests, derision and threats to cut research funding. In all, the image of the Muslim-Arab bogeyman with a suicide vest hiding under the beds of white middle America does more political work for conservatives than a mature discussion of the significant dangers posed by white right-wing radicals and terrorists in the “sovereign citizens” and militia movements.
Trump’s decision to ignore the dangers posed by white supremacists comes at a perilous moment. As compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups, since the November election there have been at least 900 documented hate crimes, an almost unprecedented increase. The FBI recently released information suggesting that white supremacist groups are actively trying to infiltrate police and other law enforcement agencies with the goal of targeting nonwhites for harassment and violence. The so-called Sovereign Citizens movement — whose members identify with white nationalism and white supremacy — also represents a major threat to public safety and order.
These are life and death matters. Last week, a white nationalist Trump supporter was arrested after allegedly killing six Muslims at a mosque in Quebec. In 2015, Dylann Roof — who was radicalized online by white supremacists — murdered nine African-Americans during a prayer session at their church in Charleston, South Carolina. These examples do not include the many other domestic terrorism plots by white supremacists and other right-wing groups that have been prevented by law enforcement.
The Trump administration’s decision to shift resources away from investigating white supremacist hate groups and focus exclusively on “radical Islam” leaves America less safe and less secure. . .
It should be totally uncontroversial that a financial professional should act in the best interests of the client, but the GOP is shocked that such a requirement is now on the books and they are moving quickly to get rid of it. Why on earth, they ask, should a financial professional have his or her hands tied like that, when they could possibly make a lot of money by screwing over the client?
Ron Lieber reports in the NY Times:
On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order seeking a review of an Obama-era rule that would have forced financial professionals to act in customers’ best interest when giving them advice about their retirement accounts.
The so-called fiduciary rule, the subject of years of intense debate and industry lobbying, was set to take effect in April, but the order removes that deadline, and the rule will likely disappear. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who is now the director of the National Economic Council, told The Wall Street Journal that he wanted it gone.
Wait, what? My investment professional doesn’t have to act in my best interests already?
Not necessarily. The technical terminology gets confusing, but a financial planner or investment adviser in a stand-alone firm may be required to act in your best interest or may pledge to in all instances. But some stockbrokers and many people who sell life insurance, annuities and other more esoteric investment products merely have to follow what’s known as the “suitability” standard.
That leaves lots of room for shenanigans. Read the column I wrote about the county in the United States with the largest percentage of brokers with black marks on their disciplinary records for more on how badly things can turn out. Or read the Consumer Federation of America’s report on the topic.
What was the Trump administration’s problem with the rule?
Apparently, freedom of choice was paramount, including the ability to invest your life savings in a way that is indisputably risky or even harmful. “This is like putting only health food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good. But you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger,” Mr. Cohn told The Journal.
One concern in the industry was that some consumers would end up paying more for advice if firms responded to the rule by forcing them to pay fees based on the amount of assets they had with the company instead of commissions based on the number of trades their broker made. But companies, including UBS and Edward Jones, did not in fact get rid of commission-based accounts, though certain investors might have had to use other accounts to make more exotic investments.
So what happens now?
Chances are, we’ll go back to where we were, with investors not necessarily knowing what sort of help the friendly professionals intend to provide when we answer the phone to hear their pitch or go to their office for an initial meeting. It’s possible that the Securities and Exchange Commission or certain industry associations will step up with alternative standards or pledges, but there’s a good chance that in the current regulatory environment, these will be limited or watered down.
How are the big brokerage firms responding?
In preparation for the implementation of the fiduciary rule, Merrill Lynch in particular seemed to embrace the changes, seeing them as an opportunity to distinguish itself from firms that had fought hard against the new rules. It ran advertisements that read: “We’re committed to your best interest. Not the status quo.”
Industry trade publications also snickered at gloating executives at UBS who seemed thrilled that they hadn’t made major changes in advance of the presidential election.
Merrill Lynch said on Friday that it would “continue to implement a heightened standard of care for delivering personalized investment advice, especially for investment advice about retirement accounts.” It added that it looked forward to working with the new administration to improve current rules and that some of its planned changes might now be subject to delay.
JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the order.
So how should consumers respond? . . .