Later On

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Archive for July 25th, 2018

Facebook Promises to Bar Advertisers From Targeting Ads by Race or Ethnicity. Again.

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Facebook seems to be a horrible company and Zuckerberg incompetent as a CEO. Ariana Tobin’s report in ProPublica strongly suggests that legislation is need: corporate promises are totally worthless.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it would make “legally binding” changes to its advertising platform, removing some features that allowed discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit ads.

The social networking company’s pledges came in response to an investigation by the state of Washington prompted by a November 2016 ProPublica article. The article disclosed that the company’s software made it possible for marketers to tailor who saw Facebook ads by race, gender, nationality and other characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The housing act bars publication of any advertisement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”

An initial test by ProPublica of Facebook’s automated ad system in 2016 revealed that discriminatory ads for housing sailed through in seconds. That story prompted the company to say that it would institute much stricter controls to prevent advertising that excluded particular groups.

In November 2017, we tested the system again, and found that Facebook had not made any meaningful changes. Third-party advertisers equipped with Facebook’s targeting tools were still able to block users the company identified as belonging to “multicultural affinity” categories like “Hispanic US” or “African American” from seeing ads on their newsfeed for housing, employment and credit opportunities. In some cases, we found specific instances of discrimination, including more than two dozen companies that had taken out job ads exclusively targeting younger job seekers.

Facebook’s advertising portal has since faced legal challenge on multiple fronts, including a lawsuit alleging housing discrimination and a lawsuit arguing against illegal age bias in employment ads. Investigators in Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office expanded upon the ProPublica inquiry by purchasing 20 more fake ads that cleared the approval process and hunting for live ads excluding protected categories of people from opportunities. The office said it found real-world examples of ads that did just that.

“Facebook’s advertising platform allowed unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability and religion,” said Ferguson. “That’s wrong, illegal, and unfair.”

Facebook says changes will apply nationwide, and says many of the required changes have already been rolled out. In a statement late last year, the company promised to make temporary changes preventing advertisers from excluding audiences by race while it studied the use of its advertising system, claiming: “We believe advertising should be safe and civil. It should not divide or discriminate.”

In April, it announced more updates, including the removal of some exclusionary categories advertisers could use to target by ethnicity, disability, and more.

The settlement with Washington requires more permanent fixes, and added legal pressure requiring the company to follow through within the next 90 days. The agreement says Facebook can no longer display drop-down menus allowing advertisers to exclude ethnic groups from advertisements for housing, credit, employment, insurance or “public accommodations” of any kind, ranging from “auto dealers, beauty salons and restaurants to colleges, hospitals and professional sports stadiums.” The social network service also must pay the attorney general’s office $90,000 in costs and fees.

In the settlement, however, Facebook denies that its platform violated anti-discrimination law, citing immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which bars claim against internet companies for content it hosts. The agreement also stipulates that the company will not be held liable for more subtle categories related to protected characteristics — only those that “on their face directly describe a Facebook user as possessing a “Protected Characteristic.” An advertiser can no longer exclude “wheelchair users” or “Chinese people,” for example, but will be able to exclude those interested in “disability rights” or “Chinese literature.” Advertisers can also continue to use Facebook’s tools to target by age and gender.

“I think it’s a really good first step to bind Facebook to many of the prior commitments that Facebook made publicly. There is a real difference between a legal agreement that can be enforceable in court versus a company’s promises it can break without any real consequence,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer with Outten & Golden LLP and the lead attorney on two anti-discrimination lawsuits filed against Facebook. “At the same time, this agreement commits Facebook to not much more than what it already previously committed to doing.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 12:30 pm

Most Trump voters were not working class.

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Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu write in the Washington Post:

Media coverage of the 2016 election often emphasized Donald Trump’s appeal to the working class. The Atlantic said that “the billionaire developer is building a blue-collar foundation.” The Associated Press wondered what “Trump’s success in attracting white, working-class voters” would mean for his general election strategy. On Nov. 9, the New York Times front-page article about Trump’s victory characterized it as “a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters.”

There’s just one problem: this account is wrong. Trump voters were not mostly working-class people.

During the primaries, Trump supporters were mostly affluent people.

The misrepresentation of Trump’s working-class support began in the primaries. In a widely read March 2016 piece, the writer Thomas Frank, for instance, argued at length that “working-class white people … make up the bulk of Trump’s fan base.” Many journalists found colorful examples of working-class Trump supporters at early campaign rallies. But were those anecdotes an accurate representation of the emerging Trump coalition?

There were good reasons to be skeptical. For one, most 2016 polls didn’t include information about how the people surveyed earned a living, that is, their occupations — the preferred measure of social class among scholars. When journalists wrote that Trump was appealing to working-class voters, they didn’t really know whether Trump voters were construction workers or CEOs.

Moreover, according to what is arguably the next-best measure of class, household income, Trump supporters didn’t look overwhelmingly “working class” during the primaries. To the contrary, many polls showed that Trump supporters were mostly affluent Republicans. For example, a March 2016 NBC survey that we analyzed showed that only a third of Trump supporters had household incomes at or below the national median of about $50,000. Another third made $50,000 to $100,000, and another third made $100,000 or more and that was true even when we limited the analysis to only non-Hispanic whites. If being working class means being in the bottom half of the income distribution, the vast majority of Trump supporters during the primaries were not working class.

But what about education? Many pundits noticed early on that Trump’s supporters were mostly people without college degrees. There were two problems with this line of reasoning, however. First, not having a college degree isn’t a guarantee that someone belongs in the working class (think Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg). And, second, although more than 70 percent of Trump supporters didn’t have college degrees, when we looked at the NBC polling data, we noticed something the pundits left out: during the primaries, about 70 percent of all Republicans didn’t have college degrees, close to the national average (71 percent according to the 2013 Census). Far from being a magnet for the less educated, Trump seemed to have about as many people without college degrees in his camp as we would expect any successful Republican candidate to have.

Trump voters weren’t majority working class in the general election, either.

What about the general election? A few weeks ago, the American National Election Study — the longest-running election survey in the United States — released its 2016 survey data. And it showed that in November 2016, the Trump coalition looked a lot like it did during the primaries.

Among people who said they voted for Trump in the general election, 35 percent had household incomes under $50,000 per year (the figure was also 35 percent among non-Hispanic whites), almost exactly the percentage in NBC’s March 2016 survey. Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.

But, again, what about education? Many analysts have argued that the partisan divide between more and less educated people is bigger than ever. During the general election, 69 percent of Trump voters in the election study didn’t have college degrees. Isn’t that evidence that the working class made up most of Trump’s base?

The truth is more complicated: many of the voters without college educations who supported Trump were relatively affluent. The graph below breaks down white non-Hispanic voters by income and education. Among people making under the median household income of $50,000, there was a 15 to 20 percentage-point difference in Trump support between those with a college degree and those without. But the same gap was present — and actually larger — among Americans making more than $50,000 and $100,000 annually.

To look at it another way, among white people without college degrees who voted for Trump, nearly 60 percent were in the top half of the income distribution. In fact, one in five white Trump voters without a college degree had a household income over $100,000.

Observers have often used the education gap to conjure images of poor people flocking to Trump, but the truth is, many of the people without college degrees who voted for Trump were from middle- and high-income households. That’s the basic problem with using education to measure the working class.

In short, the narrative that attributes Trump’s victory to a “coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters” just doesn’t square with the 2016 election data. According to the election study, white non-Hispanic voters without college degrees making below the median household income made up only 25 percent of Trump voters. That’s a far cry from the working-class-fueled victory many journalists have imagined.

Forget the narrative

A recent National Review article about Trump’s alleged support among the working class bordered on a call to arms against the less fortunate, saying that, “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin” and that “the truth about these dysfunctional downscale communities is that they deserve to die.”

This kind of stereotyping and scapegoating is a dismaying consequence of the narrative that working-class Americans swept Trump into the White House. It’s time to let go of that narrative. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 12:23 pm

This 1950 political science report keeps popping up in the news.

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Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of political science at the University of Bristol and author of Whatever Happened to Party Government? Controversies in American Political Sciencewrites in the Washington Post:

A little-known report — written in 1950 for the American Political Science Association, or APSA — keeps popping up in commentary on the state of American politics. Yascha Mounk, a Harvard University political scientist, mentioned the report in the New Yorker recently. Lee Drutman referred to it in Vox this past spring.
Why is an old report still garnering such interest? It’s because the report called for political parties that are more cohesive and nationalized. That has finally come true — but many people don’t like what they see.
Why a report on political parties?
It was 1946 when APSA established its Committee on Political Parties. After the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency, many people — political scientists among them — had the feeling that U.S. political parties were not as effective as they might be. As the federal government became larger and more complex, the two major parties were not adjusting to changing economic, social and political times. They remained localized and disorganized, lacking either enough centralized staff or a clear identity.
Both Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, struggled to get their domestic programs through Congress, partly because of opposition from within their own party. One concern was the manner in which Democrats in the House helped to water down the Full Employment Bill of 1945. They finally passed it, much amended, as the Employment Act of 1946. Many drew a sharp contrast with the United Kingdom. In July 1945, the British Labour Party won a crushing electoral victory with a mandate to implement a radical program — something it subsequently did.
In 1950, the committee published its 99-page report, “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System,” packed with sweeping recommendations. The report urged political parties to become much more tightly organized, nationally oriented and disciplined — which is what we see today.
Why did the report become such a lightning rod for critics?
But on publication, the report bombed badly.
First, the committee’s recommendations immediately ran into trouble within the political science community. Some critics suggested ideological polarization was inherently undesirable. Others argued that the Constitution precluded adoption of many of the report’s ideas (e.g., the strengthening of the executive and the introduction of a more formalized Cabinet). Many of those taking issue with the report were young scholars: A few founded their reputations on critiquing it. Now-renowned political scientists Austin Ranney and Julius Turner both published their first major papers on the report.
Second, the committee ignored advice to make the report accessible, and overloaded the report with recommendations. One page alone suggested making presidential elections a holiday, holding weekend elections, keeping polls open longer hours, removing restrictions on voter registration, extending the vote to the then-disenfranchised inhabitants of D.C. and more.

At the launch, James Pollock, then APSA’s president, distanced the association from the findings, emphasizing it did not endorse the proposals. He complained that the research funds available to political science were piddling compared to those on offer for the physical sciences. Most damning, perhaps, APSA appears to have assumed the authors’ status was so formidable that simply publishing the report would generate national discussion. It did not organize any sustained follow-up about its proposals: no panels and no meetings with politicians, party officials, or other policymakers. It did not disseminate the report around Washington for more than six months. It finally sent out a limited number of copies in late summer 1951.
Fourth, APSA’s timing was very unlucky. The day after the report’s release, Chinese Communist troops crossed the Yalu River, invading North Korea to engage with U.N. forces. The nascent Korean War absorbed all the news media’s attention; relatively few newspapers noted the report.
The report deserves another look
Yet today, critics still target the report — even blaming the committee for today’s polarized U.S. politics. Journalist David Shribman, for example, branded the report’s authors (along with FDR) bluntly as the culprits responsible for political gridlock.
But the report was much more complex than critics let on. In fact, it’s not clear whether the authors of the report intended their work as a plan — or as a broad set of proposals meant to spark debate. That public debate never happened.
The report called for parties to offer much more distinct positions. But it argued such choices should be based on carefully laid out platforms, agreed at conventions held biennially to ensure greater continuity and clarity. The report suggested parties should have more defined and authoritative leadership structures that could offer stability and direction between elections. And parties needed to develop an identifiable role for their grass-roots members. Any polarization, the authors advised, should develop within such a framework.
I am not suggesting “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System” offers anything like a blueprint for changes that might be made to contemporary American political parties. Much has changed since. On some issues, the two major parties now look much more like the parties proposed in the report. In other areas, that’s clearly not the case. For example, the report wanted less emphasis on individual candidates and more on party platforms. And some of its analysis looks dated and misplaced.
But some ideas in the report do merit further discussion, and might improve U.S. political institutions. The report emphasized measures to increase voting (the one issue on which it had some impact on the Truman White House). To encourage party competition across the country, it proposed that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 12:14 pm

A Person Can Instantly Blossom into a Savant—and No One Knows Why

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Darold A. Treffert reports in Scientific American:

Savant syndrome comes in different forms. In congenital savant syndrome the extraordinary savant ability surfaces in early childhood. In acquired savant syndrome astonishing new abilities, typically in music, art or mathematics, appear unexpectedly in ordinary persons after a head injury, stroke or other central nervous system (CNS) incident where no such abilities or interests were present pre-incident.

But in sudden savant syndrome an ordinary person with no such prior interest or ability and no precipitating injury or other CNS incident has an unanticipated, spontaneous epiphanylike moment where the rules and intricacies of music, art or mathematics, for example, are experienced and revealed, producing almost instantaneous giftedness and ability in the affected area of skill sets. Because there is no underlying disability such as that which occurs in congenital or acquired savant syndromes, technically sudden savant syndrome would be better termed sudden genius

The Case of K. A.

A 28-year-old gentleman from Israel, K. A., sent his description of his epiphany moment. He was in a mall where there was a piano. Whereas he could play simple popular songs from rote memory before, “suddenly at age 28 after what I can best describe as a ‘just getting it moment,’ it all seemed so simple. I suddenly was playing like a well-educated pianist.” His friends were astonished as he played and suddenly understood music in an entirely intricate way. “I suddenly realized what the major scale and minor scale were, what their chords were and where to put my fingers in order to play certain parts of the scale. I was instantly able to recognize harmonies of the scales in songs I knew as well as the ability to play melody by interval recognition.” He began to search the internet for information on music theory and to his amazement “most of what they had to teach I already knew, which baffled me as to how could I know something I had never studied.”

K. A. has a high IQ, is now an attorney and has no history of any developmental disorder. He makes part of his living now doing musical performances. He described his musical epiphany in much more detail in a posting in the article section of

The Case of M. F.

This 43-year-old woman woke up one night in December 2016 with what she called “the urgent need to draw a multitude of triangles, which quickly evolved to a web of complex abstract designs. I stayed up into the morning with a compulsive need to draw, which continued over the next three days at an intense level.” She had no prior interest or training in art. By the third day she was working on a piece of art she named “the Mayan,” which took her two weeks to complete. Three months later she had created 15 pieces whose styles were reminiscent of artists including Frida Khalo and Picasso. She presently spends about eight hours a day on her craft in addition to her work as a real estate agent. Incorporated into most of her pieces of art is mandalic style of which she was totally unaware prior to her sudden art ability.

The Case of S. S.

When she was in her mid-40s, S. S. began noticing changes in her perception of the physical world around her. She said when she looked at things like trees and flowers, she started to see colors, textures and shadows in ways she had never seen before. This new way of seeing things compelled her to express her “new vision” on paper. She had never painted before in her life and was not comfortable with a paintbrush, so she bought a cheap set of pastel pencils at Hobby Lobby, found a photograph of a gorilla on the cover of an old National Geographic magazine, and sat down to draw it. The result—a rich, complex pastel painting with uncanny realism—stunned her friends and family, particularly in light of the fact she had never shown an aptitude for art or even an interest for that matter, and she never took an art class growing up.

From that point forward drawing and pastel painting began to consume her every waking moment. Her “new vision” wouldn’t allow her to just sit around and marvel at the beauty of this “new” world. She felt she had to act on it—she must act on it. From the very beginning this gift of seeing things in a new way was inextricably tied to a compulsive desire to reproduce that new world on paper. It became an obsession that all but took over her life. “I found it nearly impossible to put down my pastels and do things I needed to do,” she stated, “I was spending way too much money at Hobby Lobby and art supply stores. I was almost frenzied.”

Even now, when she needs to focus on other more pressing things in her life, S. S. must put the pastels and art aside and store them away in a place where she is not tempted by them, sometimes for months at a time. She worries that “starting a new painting could completely derail her.” In the case of S. S., as with other cases of sudden genius, there is no history of autism or CNS injury.

The Uniqueness of Sudden Genius

Many people pick up a new skill or hobby, especially later in life. So what is different here?

—The skill has an abrupt onset with no prior interest in or talent for the newly acquired ability.

—There is no obvious precipitating event or CNS injury or disease.

—The new skill is automatically coupled with a detailed, epiphany-type knowledge of the underlying rules of music, art or math, for example—none of which the person has studied. They know things without ever having learned them.

—The new skill is accompanied with an obsessive-compulsive (OCD) component; there is the overpowering need to play music, draw or compute. It is as much a force as a gift, as is usually the case with both congenital and acquired savant syndromes.

—There is a fear the gift and OCD is evidence of losing one’s mind, and a tendency to hide the new ability from others rather than display it.

—I have 14 such cases now. Ten are female and four are male. Age of onset of the new skill averages 47.2 years. The new skill was art, painting or drawing in nine cases; mathematics or calendar-calculating in four; music in one.

These cases came to my attention via unsolicited e-mails by people seeking explanation or advice from internet searches. We are in the process of exploring these cases further with a detailed survey instrument.

Daniel Tammet, a prodigious savant, is author of Born on a Blue DayThe way Daniel can describe his inner world so articulately has given scientists a personal, verbal window into the brain that they never had before. In a documentary filmed at the Milwaukee Art Museum he states:  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Trump creates an alternative reality, and he wants you to join him there

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: “Just remember,” President Trump said on Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

He was complaining about the escalating fallout from his trade war. The president is angry that the press is telling the stories of farmers who are facing financial hardship because of the predictable retaliation by other countries to his tariffs. Speaking to a crowd of 4,000 at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Trump specifically cited a package he saw earlier in the day on NBC. “It was heart-throbbing,” he said. “In fact, I wanted to say, ‘I got to do something about this Trump. Terrible.’” He then claimed NBC’s piece was “done by the lobbyists and by the people that they hire” and argued that the time to push for better trade deals is when the economy is growing. “This country is doing better than it’s ever done before,” Trump said.

He asked Americans who are struggling to “just be a little patient.” Pointing to the press riser, Trump attacked what he called “the fake news” media. “Stick with us,” the president said. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people.”

— Trump’s quote reminded many people — including a former CIA case officer — of “1984,” the dystopian novel. “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” wrote George Orwell. “And if all others accepted the lie, which the party imposed, if all records told the same tale, then the lie passed into history and became the truth.”

HuffPost likened Trump’s comment to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” in “Star Wars” and the Wizard of Oz’s admonition, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

— Trump often isolates himself by creating an alternative universe in which he and his policies are beloved. No president enjoys being challenged, but this one avoids people and situations where he might be challenged more than his predecessors. Consider the carefully planned itinerarywhen he visited the U.K. Or his decision to disinvite championship sports teams from the White House because their star players criticized him. Or to cancel the bipartisan congressional picnic at the White House while families were being separated at the border, which meant that he didn’t need to engage with Democratic lawmakers.

Today’s New York Times has a fresh illustration of this reality from last week’s Europe trip: “Melania Trump’s television aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN. President Trump was not pleased. He raged at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox — his preferred network over what he considers the ‘fake news’ CNN — and caused ‘a bit of a stir’ aboard Air Force One,” according to a private email obtained by Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman. “The email, an internal exchange between officials in the White House Military Office and the White House Communications Agency last Thursday, also called for the ordering of two additional televisions to support Beam, a TiVo-like streaming device, to make sure the president and first lady could both watch TV in their separate hotel rooms when they travel. At the end of the email chain, officials confirmed that tuning the TVs to Fox would be standard operating procedure going forward.”

— Another classic Trump move: The president is now trying to flip the script on Russia. After getting hammered from leaders of his own party for being overly cozy with Vladimir Putin, Trump has now begun claiming that the Kremlin will be “pushing very hard for the Democrats” in the midterms because “no president has been tougher on Russian than me.” Eight days ago, Putin acknowledged at their joint news conference in Helsinki that he favored Trump in the 2016 election and the American president cast doubt on the consensus of his own intelligence community. Trump’s official position has shifted repeatedly, but he tweeted his latest stance on Tuesday: “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. … They definitely don’t want Trump!”

— “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” has essentially been an organizing principle of the Trump administration. It was already apparent on the first full day of the Trump presidency, when then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer pushed back on pictures and estimates that showed the crowd for the inauguration was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” Spicer said. “Period.”

Asked about Spicer’s comment on “Meet the Press” the next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Spicer was giving “alternative facts.” Host Chuck Todd replied, “Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods.”

But the “alternative facts” have continued. Other terms like “post-fact” and “truth decay” have also entered the lexicon.

— Some of the Trump administration’s most specious claims get relatively little attention because they’re communicated to the president’s base outside the filter of the mainstream media. For example, the U.S. is headed for trillion-dollar annual deficits as the new normal because of the dangerous mix of big spending increases and massive tax cuts that have characterized the Trump era. But Larry Kudlow, Trump’s director of the National Economic Council, claimed falsely on the Fox Business Network last month that the tax cuts are actually generating such massive growth that “the deficit … is coming down. And it’s coming down rapidly.” In fact, the Congressional Budget Office — led by a GOP appointee — estimates that the new tax law will reduce federal tax revenue by $1.2 trillion over the next decade. Kudlow later clarified he was saying that he hopes deficits come down in future years because of growth. But he didn’t say it on Fox.

— In a new story, The Washington Post Fact Checker dissects 14 false or misleading Trump tweets from just the past four days — ranging from the Russia investigation to NATO funding, North Korea and the price of soybeans. Through the end of May, covering Trump’s first 500 days in office, our in-house team documented 3,251 instances of the president making false or misleading statements.

— The Carter Page FISA warrants that were released over the weekend undercut many of the president’s previous assertions and further undermine the credibility of the partisan memo released in the winter by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). But as I documented in Monday’s Big Idea, Trump falsely insisted that the newly released court filings prove his past claims. He tweeted that they show the FBI “misled the courts” when, in fact, they do the opposite.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that there were “sound reasons” for judges to approve the FISA warrant on Page. “I don’t think I ever expressed that I thought the FISA application came up short,” Burr told CNN, bursting the bubble of Nunes and Trump. Marco Rubio, another Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made similar comments on the Sunday shows.

— This week has also showcased the president’s willingness to erratically change positions: After tweeting yesterday morning that “tariffs are the greatest,” Trump said last night that he’d love to get rid of tariffs altogether.

He also continued to celebrate the success of his summit with Kim Jong Un. While publicly claiming that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat and that the problem has been “largely solved,” he rages privately over the lack of progress and Pyongyang’s failure to follow through on what he believes Kim agreed to in Singapore.

— After the president’s speech in Kansas City yesterday, the nonpartisan VFW rebuked its members for booing the press and distanced itself from the president’s comments. “We were disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press during President Trump’s remarks,” the organization said in a statement. “We rely on the media to spread the VFW message, and CNN, NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, CBS News, and others on site today, were our invited guests. We were happy to have them there.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 11:56 am

Putin’s Russia becomes Trump’s America

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Elaine Kamarck writes at the Brookings Institution:

I was nearing the end of Timothy Snyder’s new book, “Road to Unfreedom,” when the headline came across my iPhone announcing that someone named Maria Butina had been arrested for being a Russian spy. I had to go back to page 250 and check the spelling. Sure enough, it was the same Maria Butina who appears in Snyder’s book in a story so weird that not even Tom Clancy could make it up.

Butina is a founder of a group called The Right to Bear Arms, a Russian gun rights advocacy group. Let’s be clear: Russia is not interested in having its citizens bear arms—never was and never will be. Because of this, the National Rifle Association (NRA) had historically taken a tough line against Russia. But that changed after Butina and one of her financiers, Alexander Torshin, convinced the NRA leadership to visit Moscow and won them over. “Russia’s support of the NRA,” writes Snyder, “resembled its support of right-wing paramilitaries in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.”

Welcome to the weird, eerie world of Russia under Vladimir Putin that is described in Snyder’s book. Even before I got to the story of Maria Butina, I knew I was reading something amazing because I kept asking myself “How does he know that?” and looking at the footnotes, a large number of which were from Russian, Ukranian, French or German sources. Snyder is a prize-winning historian of Central and Eastern Europe at Yale University and reads 11 languages.

Snyder’s foray into modern Russia begins with an obscure Russian philosopher named Ivan Ilyin, who died in 1954. Ilyin was no communist; he was a fascist who was impressed by Adolf Hitler. Ilyin would have faded into obscurity except for the fact that he was rediscovered by the post-Soviet oligarchy, led by Vladimir Putin. By the 1990s he was in vogue again for providing a theory fit for a 21st century authoritarianism, Russian-style.

Hence a world that westerners, schooled in concepts like the marketplace of ideas and objective reality, have had a hard time imagining. In that world, there is no such thing as truth. In Putin’s Russia, according to Snyder, “The ink of political fiction is blood.” Politicians instigate terrorist acts in order to stir up “righteous patriotism.”[i] Masculinity and the demonization of gays and women becomes “an argument against democracy;” libel becomes a criminal offense, and the definition of treason is “expanded to include the provision of information to nongovernmental organizations beyond Russia, which made telling the truth over email a high crime.”[ii] Protesters are dealt with violently and then described as “agents of Europe.”[iii] And a war, the annexation of Crimea, is waged and and simulanteously denied. In Putin’s Russia, writes Snyder, “Factuality was not a constraint.” As one of their leading communications operatives explains, “You can just say anything. Create realities.”[iv] And the head of Russia Today (RT) said “There is no such thing as objective reporting.”[v]

By the second decade of the 21st century, Putin’s Russia turned decidedly against the West, culminating in two enormous successes: the campaign in Britain to leave the European Union (Brexit) and the campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump president. The impetus for this renewed war on the west took place in the previous decade when seven former allies and three former Soviet republics joined the European Union.[vi] Russia was losing out to Europe. But for Putin, the final straw was Ukraine, a country traditionally divided between Europe and Russia, joining the EU. This move was more than Putin could stand. In 2011, he announced “the grand project of Eurasia” which entailed the destruction of the European Union. In 2014, he began the war that he claimed wasn’t a war in Ukraine. In 2014, a British banker with close ties to Russia became the biggest contributor to Nigel Farage’s campaign against the EU,[vii] and in 2015 and 2016, Russian intelligence agencies were funding massive internet hacking and disinformation campaigns in the 2016 American presidential election.[viii]

Putin’s Russia has affected Trump’s America in ways that go beyond their involvement in the 2016 campaign. In Trump’s America, there is no such thing as truth. The most amazing thing about Trump is the way he holds on to his lies in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. Whether it is the size of his inaugural crowds or his words about groping women, factual evidence doesn’t matter. Most recently he declassified materials that he says “prove” that law enforcement misled the courts when they obtained permission to investigate an aide suspected of being a Russian agent, but the actual materials point to just the opposite conclusion.[ix] No allegation is too far-fetched for this world. In Putin’s world, Ukrainian soldiers crucified a three-year-old Russian boy.[x] No such thing ever happened. In the world Putin created for Trump, Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a Washington pizza parlor. It also, of course, never happened.

Reading “The Road to Unfreedom” after Trump’s humiliating performance in Helsinki made chills run down my spine. Of course,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 9:34 am

Why Your Phone Service Is So Expensive

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David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times about how the US government has failed in its anti-trust duties and how that has hurt consumers:

Many Americans pay close to $100 a month for smartphone service. And this pricetag isn’t some natural reflection of the service’s value. In many other countries, smartphone plans cost much less.

The economists Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago and Mara Faccio of Purdue estimate that Americans pay $50 billion per year more than they would if they instead were paying European prices — for the same quality service. That translates into about an additional $30 per month for every American household.

Zingales discusses this research in a Times op-ed and argues — correctly, I believe — that it highlights the problem with antitrust policy in the United States. We have allowed companies to grow too large, to the point that many of them have outsize power. They can raise prices, as they are doing in the cellphone market, as well as hold down wages and unduly influence government policy.

Europe has taken antitrust more seriously and fought back against corporate gigantism. The recent fine against Google, for its behavior in the smartphone market, is just one example.

“The United States invented antitrust and for decades has been the pioneer in its enforcement. Not anymore,” Zingales writes. “A recent paper shows that in the last two decades, enforcement in the United States has been much less strict than in Europe.”

There’s nothing inevitable about corporate consolidation. The United States used to push back against it effectively — and could do so again.

For a piece of good news, see the recent Times story by Rachel Abrams about state attorneys general who’ve taken on the big restaurant companies’ mistreatment of workers through restrictive employment clauses. . . .

Continue reading for his comments on the Georgia governor’s race.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 9:01 am

The Grooming Co. synthetic, Yardley shaving soap, the iKon 101, and Ginger’s Garden Suede

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Just a very fine shave, one of life’s little pleasures that we tend not to fully appreciate until for whatever reason it is removed. Yardley makes a fine lather, and my now-repaired Grooming Co. synthetic is quite nice. I don’t really understand why I didn’t like it previously—probably because I failed to accept it on its own terms.

Three passes with the iKon 101 left my face perfectly smooth, and a little of Ginger’s Garden Suede aftershave finished the job. I really like this aftershave for its fragrance and also for its unusual and very slightly thick consistency. Worth a try.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2018 at 8:54 am

Posted in Shaving

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