Later On

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Archive for November 2018

Trump Lied About His Very Legal and Very Cool Russia Deals for No Reason

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Jonathan Chait nails it. Again.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 3:42 pm

Home-Alone stew, recipe, backstory, photo

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The above is the finished stew. Here’s the recipe:

2 bunches scallions as thick as your little finger, chopped (including all green part)
2 jalapeños, quartered lengthwise and chopped (with seeds and core)
2 red Fresno peppers, core removed, cut into strips lengthwise and chopped
2 Anaheim peppers, quartered lengthwise, cored, and chopped
2 Tbsp expeller-pressed canola oil
Salt
Black pepper

I used my 4-qt wide-diameter pan, All-Clad Copper Core, and it was a good size. The wide diameter helps with sautéing.

After onions have cooked for a while, add:

8 cloves Russian red garlic, minced
1″ very fresh ginger root (shiny), grated

Sauté that for a minute or so, then add:

1 Japanese eggplant halved lengthwise and sliced
2 good-size zucchini, quartered unevenly and sliced
1 cup chopped celery, chopped somewhat small
2 cups, more or less, baby arugula leaves (I just got a couple of handfuls)
12-16 oz oyster mushrooms, caps and most of the stems
8-10 San Marzano (2-chambered) grape tomatoes
juice of 1 rather juicy lemon
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce

Cover pan and simmer 15 minutes. Add:

1.5 lb sockeye salmon fillet, skin on, cut into chunks

Stir, cover, simmer 11 minutes. Total recipe is 8 points. It makes close to 4 qts—say 7 pints. I just had a one-pint serving (two cups) and it was plenty. And it was one WW point.

***

Backstory When The Wife travels, I do my usual practice of ensuring that I enjoy what I’m to do—thus Nordic-walkiing poles, thus the shaving book, and so on: if you’re going to do it anyway, work out a way so that you look forward to it.

For me it’s the food. I buy and prepare the foods I like a lot and she not at all—your beef liver, your kidney, your beef tendon, and the like. Now that I have encountered gout, beef liver, kidney, and sweetbreads are off the menu, as is beer (small loss), canned sardines, herring, and mackerel, and so on.

So I’ll comment on the Home-Alone aspects of this (delicious) recipe.

***

I’ll go through the recipe from the top:

I got a bottle of canola oil to make mayo with a friend (in case she doesn’t like the pure olive-oil version) and because I’ve been tempted by its superb omega-6 to omega-3 ratio: 2:1, plus 62% monounsaturated, 32% polyunsaturated. (More info here on cooking oils.)

I know that rapeseed is almost all GMO, but that really doesn’t matter to me. All our domesticated fruits and vegetables and meat animals are greatly genetically modified (as you can see comparing the wild and domesticated versions), but in that case the genetic modification was done over thousands of years through selective breeding (i.e., artificial selection rather than natural selection: harnessing evolution to our own purposes).

I like to use scallions rather than regular onions because scallions have so many more micronutrients—presumably the phytochemicals in the leaves. I think all the alliums are good fiber (i.e., the good kind of fiber).

The Wife cannot eat spicy, so using these fresh peppers in a recipe is very much a home-alone treat. Result was an excellent level of spice: gets your attention but is quite tolerable.

I know you probably can’t get the Red Russian garlic I enjoy here (but only in the fall: unavailable winter through summer). It’s a hard-neck garlic with enormous and rather mild cloves, easy to peel. The amount that resulted in this case was about a cup—3/4 cup at least.

I tend to overdo the freshly grated ginger, so I held back.

Japanese eggplant and eggplant in general is a home-alone treat. The Wife will eat it, but without enthusiasm.

I halved the zucchinis lengthwise, then halved each half lengthwise (giving quarters), and then sliced into chunks. I noticed that my cuts were erratic—some quarters thick, some thin. I recall the strong admonition that your cut vegetables must be all the same size so they will all reach the desired state of doneness at the same time, and I thought: Wait a minute! Vegetables in general are perfectly edible over a wide range of “done,” and with edible bands of “raw” and “burned” just either side of the “done” band.

And who wants every piece to have the same texture and doneness. Who even wants them to be all the same size? I like variety. My way is better.

Celery is purely for fiber and flavor, so far as I know: no real nutritional value.

The baby arugula I got for salad, but I like to include some leafy green. Spinach would be good. Big bunch of Italian parsley would do it, or baby kale. But I had baby arugula, so that’s what I used.

In my diet advice post I talk about the benefits of oyster mushrooms (caps, mainly). The Wife is not all that fond of mushrooms, so having them in the stew is a home-alone treat.

The San Marzano variety (2 chambered) long small tomatoes are very nice. I cut them in half across. Included partly for the liquid, but also cooking the tomato releases the lycopene (of which watermelons have a lot more than tomatoes, and you don’t have to cook it to release it).

Lemon and Worcestershire sauce for liquid and flavor. The Worcestershire sauce I buy here is made real with sugar rather than High Fructose Corn Syrup, and with malt vinegar rather than white vinegar.

Leaving the skin on the salmon is sort of home-alone: I have the fishmonger remove the skin, but I keep it and cook and eat it. The home-alone novelty here is that each little bite had its own skin.

So a very nice meal, and very nice too that its a special occasion. And returning to our usual dishes will be nice, too. I like variety, did I say?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 3:26 pm

The Making of Elizabeth Warren

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Michael Kruse has an excellent profile of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Politico:

The Harvard Law professor had just turned in what she thought was a mostly finished manuscript of her first mass-market book. But her editor had one major criticism. Elizabeth Warren, Jo Ann Miller worried, had spent more than 160 pages of text and a further 50-plus pages of endnotes delineating a litany of data-backed reasons that bankruptcies and debt were going up and the middle class was going down. She had described what was happening, and had diagnosed why, and had presented possible solutions for legislators, regulators and wonks. Nowhere, though, had Warren offered the actual people who were bearing the brunt of these crushing economic forces anything approaching practical advice. This, her editor thought, was a missing piece.

“There was no how-to in the book,” Miller told me recently. “I encouraged her to add a chapter of what to do about it.”

This suggestion led to Chapter 7 of The Two-Income Trap, which was published in 2003, and it was those 18, tacked-on pages, “The Financial Fire Drill,” that caught the eye of one Phil McGraw, better known to his millions of viewers as Dr. Phil—the daytime-television shrink who has made a big-bucks career of healing America’s middle class in front of a live studio audience. He even cribbed the language. And on March 10, 2004, on an episode titled “Going for Broke,” McGraw introduced Warren and her daughter and co-author, Amelia Warren Tyagi, and asked them to give advice to debt-troubled couples. At this point, Warren was a pre-eminent bankruptcy scholar, widely respected by her peers but possessing the sort of public profile one might expect of someone in such a field—low. That was about to change.

She told Jessica and Nate they shouldn’t have taken out a second mortgage on their house. It was like “playing roulette,” she said. “It’s the worst single move that homeowners can make.” McGraw said that’s not what lenders say. “Dr. Phil,” Warren responded, “that’s how they make money. They make money by getting families like this to get into debt. They don’t make money unless you borrow more money.” She told Amy and Jeff to stop worrying about the credit card companies. “They’re still making big, big profits.”

With a smile and a neat brown bob, merging the stature of her perch at the nation’s most elite institution of higher education with some of its most pedestrian popular culture, and marrying traditionally conservative tenets of personal fiscal responsibility with a more liberal view of rapacious corporations run amok, Warren’s appearance was sufficiently well-received that it led to two others (“A Family in Crisis,” “Money Makeover”) over the course of 2004 and 2005. All of it led to a second book, All Your Worth, also co-written with her daughter, that was even more popular and accessible than the first because it spoke directly and in full to an audience McGraw’s show had helped train her to connect with—by taking the complicated topics she had studied her entire adult life and distilling them into TV-ready bits. In All Your Worth, the first person thanked in the acknowledgments is Dr. Phil. “Without Dr. Phil,” wrote Warren and her daughter, “there would be no All Your Worth.”

One afternoon earlier this week, in her spacious office on the third floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, Warren sat across from a stately couch that used to belong to Senator Ted Kennedy. She angled her chair to stare straight at me to start our 20 minutes of scheduled talk time. I reminded her of the mention of Dr. Phil in those acknowledgements—and posited that she now perhaps could take it a step further. “Without Dr. Phil,” I proposed, “there would be no Senator Warren.”

She sat back and laughed.

“Look,” Warren said. “All of my work has been about solving the problem of what’s happening to America’s middle class.” And then she talked about that, as she has, essentially without pause, for more than a generation, really, but in a squarely political context since at least 2011, when she started running for the Senate.

Ten minutes later, though, I asked her again.

“Without Dr. Phil, would there be a you right now?”

This time there were 11 seconds of silence.

“Yes,” she finally said. “There would be.”

“But would you be sitting here?”

“I think I still have to say yes,” she said. “Dr. Phil gave me one more way to fight for America’s families. I was looking for every tool I could lay my hands on.” Doing research. Writing books. Pestering lawmakers. Going on radio and TV. “Everything,” she said, “that I could do to try to help as many families as possible. And Dr. Phil opened up another door.”

Fair enough. Who would be so dense as to insist a woman with Warren’s manifest intellect and (ahem) persistence wouldn’t have found an alternate route to this position of prominence on Capitol Hill without the help of an avuncular talk show host?

But still, it is this odd, unexpected window, highlighted by these books and that show, in which she leveraged her decades-earned expertise in an otherwise eye-glazing subject to earn not only increased public renown but more and more attention from some of the most powerful people in Washington, turbocharging her transformation into what she is today—a viral-ready progressive crusader, a likely presidential candidate, and the person some see as potentially the most formidable challenge to Donald Trump’s stubborn populist sway. Warren is Warren because she’s an unusual amalgam of a “ragged edge” Oklahoma upbringing and a rich, East Coast Ivy League tenure. If, though, her mantra of a message carries her to the Democratic nomination in 2020, its roots will reach back, too, to the spotlit Hollywood studio of “Dr. Phil.”

***

Warren’s ticket to the show landed in September of 2003 with a catchy title and a counterintuitive hook. The Two-Income Trap reads now like her proto political platform.

Second paychecks from working women made effectively no difference to families’ financial bottom lines, she explained, using reams of federal statistics and more than two decades of her empirical research that included thousands of interviews with bankrupt people. Furthermore, she said, a one-income family had a built-in safety net—the mother could go to work, if need be, to make ends meet. (Hers did.) No more. The numbers in the book were shocking: The foreclosure rate was up 255 percent. Bankruptcy filings were up 430 percent. Credit card debt was up 570 percent. The middle class was shriveling, and it had been for a good while, and it wasn’t mainly because of reckless spending but rather drastic increases in prices of housing and health care and preschool and college. At base the book was a shift in blame. These economic straits, Warren argued, were not the fault of the people who were suffering, nor was it the moral failure of a growing share of spendthrifts. No—a deregulated credit industry preyed the most on the stressed and the strained. The game was rigged.

The book was not the work of some ivory-tower theorist. She wrote it because she wanted people to read it—“and deliberately went to a publisher that was not an academic house,” she told me, “that would give it a broader audience, I hoped.” Warren, a dozen former students and colleagues told me, always had been a comparatively approachable, even breezy writer in her academic work, as well as a demanding but simultaneously unstuffy presence in the classroom—a function, they thought, of her financially volatile childhood, her degrees from the University of Houston and Rutgers Law rather than pricier private schools, and her climb to Harvard through less hallowed halls. But The Two-Income Trap was easily more pop than anything she had attempted to that point.

Nor was it the work of a political naif. Warren was an independent and then a registered Republican until 1996. But the more Republicans sided with Wall Street, the less Republican she felt. She registered as a Democrat. And by the time she wrote The Two-Income Trap, she knew the policies, and she knew the players. And while whacking myths—“The Over-Consumption Myth,” “The Myth of the Immoral Debtor”—she also minced no words. She delivered sharp critiques irrespective of party. She called out Senator Orrin Hatch. She called out Senator Joe Biden. And she told for the first time a story she’s told more since—the one about her first meeting with Hillary Clinton. The book’s release party, said Miller, her editor, was hosted by Elena Kagan, at the time the dean of Harvard Law. Ted Kennedy was there.

The Two-Income Trap earned Warren a new level of attention—and a new kind of platform. The Los Angeles Times called it “important,” the Washington Post called it “eye-opening,” and the Dallas Morning Newscalled it “the best explanation to date” for why Americans felt like they were working more and making less. Newsweek proclaimed it “provocative.” In short order, Warren went on NBC, CBS, CNN and NPR. And it turned out she didn’t just know the material. She was also a really good quote.

“The family is like a race car that has just hit a huge rock in the road, and it can’t get itself stabilized,” she said on NPR. “It’s headed for a crash.”

“The time to think about finances and financial trouble is not when the house is already filled with smoke,” she said on CBS.

“Any family in trouble,” she said on CNN, “needs to think like a family at war.”

But she also made it clear that there were bigger, more systemic influences at work than simply spiking numbers of citizens with raging cases of “affluenza.” “Americans are not going broke over lattes!” she exclaimed in an interview with Salon. She said “deregulation” in the 1980s had created “a monster” that was ravaging the middle class. She all but called the country’s biggest financial institutions mobsters and loan sharks. “They’re making profits that would make Jimmy the Leg Breaker drool.”

It wasn’t long before she got a call from a scheduler at “Dr. Phil.”

For Warren, that first go-around with Dr. Phil was an epiphany. She was not being asked to talk to a reader on the other side of a printed page but to counsel actual people sitting right there in the same studio. “I had done interviews about the book,” she told me, “but never had someone turn directly to me and say, ‘Here’s a family, here’s their problem. Give them some advice, Elizabeth.’ And that’s what I did.” Perhaps more important, she realized viscerally the disproportionate but equally undeniable reach of TV—that “by spending a few minutes talking to the family on Dr. Phil’s show,” she would write in her 2014 memoir, she “might have done more good than in an entire year” on campus.

Off air, though, Dr. Phil had some advice for Warren. He told her The Two-Income Trap was good but “too technically intense.” He told her she needed to write even more “for people who can use it.”

She needed, he said, to write another book.

***

She would. But the first book (and the resultant buzz) was more than enough to pave the path for Warren from her life as an academic to an increasingly political existence.

“That is definitely,” Warren biographer Antonia Felix told me, “a big turning point.”

At the end of April 2004,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 2:24 pm

‘We will be in Moscow’: The story of Trump’s 30-year quest to expand his brand to Russia

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This seems to explain the great care Trump takes to please Vladimir Putin and why Trump will do anything to avoid pissing Putin off. It seems obvious that Trump and Putin’s private talk was along the lines of “If I do this for you, will you do that for me?” Trump knows he’s not going to be president forever and almost certainly not for a second term. So Trump must make hay while the sun shines and squeeze as much as he can from being president before he’s an ex-president—and one way to do that is get a rock-solid agreement that Trump Tower in Moscow will at last be a reality. So what would Putin get in return for that?

Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger report in the Washington Post:

It was a dream born in the 1980s: a gleaming Trump Tower in the heart of Soviet Moscow. For Donald Trump, that vision never died, even as he launched a presidential campaign and moved toward clinching the Republican Party nomination in 2016.

On Thursday, his former attorney Michael Cohen told a federal judge that Trump was pursuing a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow throughout the first half of 2016 — the very time the candidate was stepping out on the world stage as a political figure and breaking with the GOP by praising Russia and its president, Vladi­mir Putin.

Trump’s attempt that year to expand his brand into Moscow capped a 30-year-long effort by the celebrity mogul to do business in Russia. His refusal to give up that ambition as he was campaigning for the White House now colors his public embrace of Putin, whose help Cohen sought for the project.

Again and again Trump pursued his Russia project, traveling to Moscow and unveiling four ultimately unsuccessful plans to put his name on a building in the Russian capital before he announced he would run for president.

“Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” Trump said in a 2007 deposition. “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

While running for president, Trump spoke highly of Putin and criticized the Russian president’s adversaries, including international organizations such as NATO and the European Union. His rhetoric seldom wavered, even as evidence began to emerge that Russia was interfering in the 2016 campaign to boost Trump’s effort.

At the time, Trump repeatedly insisted that he did not have financial ties to Russia. “How many times do I have to say that?” he said at a news conference in July 2016, just after WikiLeaks published thousands of Democratic Party emails hacked by Russian operatives. “I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia.”

He added in a tweet: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

But his assertions belied years of Trump’s failed efforts in Russia. The final attempt led by Cohen began in September 2015 and apparently ended on June 14, 2016, according to court documents — the same day The Washington Post broke the news that Russia was suspected to be behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Repeat visits

Trump traveled to Russia for the first time in 1987, as the Soviet Union began to open to more Western investment but many Americans remained wary of the communist leadership. According to his memoir “The Art of the Deal,” he and his then-wife, Ivana Trump, scoped out possible sites for a luxury hotel that he wanted to build in a joint venture with the Kremlin’s hotel and tourism agency.

In 1996, Trump was back, this time promising to build in the heart of post-Soviet Moscow in partnership with a group of U.S. tobacco executives. The group drew up architectural plans and had meetings with city leaders. But, again, it fizzled.

By 2005, Trump had found a new partner: a company called the Bayrock Group that had opened offices in Trump Tower two floors below his executive suite and had clinched deals to build Trump-branded properties in several U.S. cities.

The company’s point person on the project was Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman with a checkered past. He had served a year in prison after a 1991 bar fight. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in a $40 million Mafia-linked stock fraud case.

But Sater had cooperated with the government in various criminal and national security matters, allowing him to keep his plea under seal and remake himself as a respectable Trump business partner.

The Trump Organization gave Bayrock a one-year exclusive deal to hunt for land in Moscow for a development, according to documents obtained by The Post.

Sater said in a 2008 deposition that he found a group of interested Russian investors, as well as a possible site for the project — a shuttered pencil factory that had been named for American radicals Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were convicted of murder and executed during the “Red Scare” that swept the United States after World War I.

“I showed him photos, I showed him the site, showed him the view from the site. It’s pretty spectacular,” Sater said of Trump in the depositions. “It was more of verbal updates when I’d come back, pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say, ‘All right.’ ”

That deal fell apart, as well, but it did not rupture Sater’s relationship with the Trump Organization. A year later, Sater testified, Trump asked him to accompany his adult children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. on a trip to Moscow.

By 2007, Donald Trump had hired Cohen to serve as one of his top lawyers. Cohen and Sater had attended high school together and were close.

‘A different world’

The failures in Russia were a source of frustration for the Trump Organization at a time it was otherwise expanding around the world, buoyed by the success of Trump’s reality television show “The Apprentice.” He signed deals to build Trump Towers in Istanbul and Panama in 2006 and the Dominican Republic in 2007.

Speaking to a real estate conference in 2008, Trump Jr. explained that building in Russia was tricky.

“As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world,” he said. “It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who. . . . It really is a scary place.”

But the younger Trump insisted that the company was determined to make it work. He had traveled to Russia six times in the previous 18 months, he told the investors. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he said, explaining that Russians found the Trump name appealing and were buying units in the company’s buildings around the world.

Donald Trump finally made it to Moscow in 2013, bringing his Miss Universe beauty pageant to the Russian capital.

Costs for the elaborate event were borne by a Russian billionaire developer, Aras Agalarov, and his pop-star son, Emin Agalarov — often called the Trumps of Russia for their tendency to put their name on projects.

Trump spent 36 hours in Moscow in November 2013, meeting with Russian business leaders and hoping for a sit-down with the Russian president. Putin declined, citing a delayed meeting with the king of Holland.

As the event concluded, Trump announced he had once again reached a preliminary deal to build in Moscow — this time with the Agalarovs as partners. “I had a great weekend with you and your family,” Trump tweeted to Aras Agalarov as he left Russia. “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

The deal did not advance beyond preliminary talks, hampered by a cooling Russian economy and then Trump’s busy campaign schedule, the Agalarovs told The Post in a joint interview in spring 2016.

But the billionaire and his son remained in contact with Trump, and in June 2016, they helped arrange for Trump Jr. to take a meeting with a Russian lawyer as his father pursued the presidency.

The candidate’s son was told the lawyer would bring dirt about Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump. “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.

Pursuing the big deal

By then, Cohen had been working with Sater for months to once again get a Trump development in Moscow off the ground. A person close to Cohen said he knew how badly Trump wanted a Moscow project and believed he would score a major coup with his boss if he could get it done. . .

Continue reading.

There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 11:47 am

How Donald Trump appeals to men secretly insecure about their manhood

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I thought the Washington Post report, by Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio, was worth blogging as well. It begins:

From boasting about the size of his penis on national television to releasing records of his high testosterone levels, President Trump’s rhetoric and behavior exude machismo. His behavior also seems to have struck a chord with some male voters. See, for example, the “Donald Trump: Finally Someone With Balls” T-shirts common at Trump rallies.

But our research suggests that Trump is not necessarily attracting male supporters who are as confidently masculine as the president presents himself to be. Instead, Trump appears to appeal more to men who are secretly insecure about their manhood. We call this the “fragile masculinity hypothesis.” Here is some of our evidence.

What is ‘fragile masculinity’?

Research shows that many men feel pressure to look and behave in stereotypically masculine ways — or risk losing their status as “real men.” Masculine expectations are socialized from early childhood and can motivate men to embrace traditional male behaviors while avoiding even the hint of femininity. This unforgiving standard of maleness makes some men worry that they’re falling short. These men are said to experience “fragile masculinity.”

The political process provides a way that fragile men can reaffirm their masculinity. By supporting tough politicians and policies, men can reassure others (and themselves) of their own manliness. For example, sociologist Robb Willer has shown that men whose sense of masculinity was threatened increased their support for aggressive foreign policy.

We wanted to see whether fragile masculinity was associated with how Americans vote — and specifically whether it was associated with greater support for Trump in the 2016 general election and for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

How we measured fragile masculinity

Measuring fragile masculinity poses a challenge. We could not simply do a poll of men, who might not honestly answer questions about their deepest insecurities. Instead we relied on Google Trends, which measures the popularity of Google search terms. As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has argued, people are often at their least guarded when they seek answers from the Internet. Researchers have already used Google search patterns to estimate levels of racial prejudice in different parts of the country. We sought to do the same with fragile masculinity.

We began by selecting a set of search topics that we believed might be especially common among men concerned about living up to the ideals of manhood: “erectile dysfunction,” “hair loss,” “how to get girls,” “penis enlargement,” “penis size,” “steroids,” “testosterone” and “Viagra.” (With the exception of “how to get girls,” these are Google “topics” rather than individual search terms. For instance, the topic “erectile dysfunction” includes searches for “erectile dysfunction,” “ED” and “impotence.”)

To validate this list of topics, we asked a sample of 300 men on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform whether they ever had or ever would search for them online. We found that scoring high on a questionnaire measuring “masculine gender-role discrepancy stress” — concern that they aren’t as manly as their male friends — was strongly associated with interest in these search topics. Although these men were not a representative sample of American men, their responses suggest that these search terms are a valid way to capture fragile masculinity.

How fragile masculinity was related to voting behavior

We measured the popularity of these search topics in every media market in the country during the years preceding the past three presidential elections. In the map [shown in the previous post – LG], darker colors show where these searches were most prevalent in 2016.

We found that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.” Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as “breast augmentation” and “menopause.”

In contrast, fragile masculinity was not associated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or support for John McCain in 2008 — suggesting that the correlation of fragile masculinity and voting in presidential elections was distinctively stronger in 2016.

The same finding emerged in 2018. We estimated levels of fragile masculinity in every U.S. congressional district based on levels in the media markets with which districts overlap. Before the election, we preregisteredour expectations, including the other factors that we would account for.

In the more than 390 House elections pitting a Republican candidate against a Democratic candidate, support for the Republican candidate was higher in districts that, based on Google search data, had higher levels of fragile masculinity. However, there was no significant relationship between fragile masculinity and voting in the 2014 or 2016 congressional elections. This suggests that fragile masculinity has now become a stronger predictor of voting behavior.

Notably, fragile masculinity was unrelated to support for female candidates in the 2018 elections, once we accounted for the fact that female candidates are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. It therefore appears that fragile masculinity doesn’t reduce support for female candidates but rather increases support for Republican candidates of any gender.

Here’s the takeaway

Our data suggests that fragile masculinity is a critical feature of our current politics. Nonetheless, points of caution are in order.

First, the research reported here is correlational. We can’t be entirely sure that fragile masculinity is causing people to vote in a certain way. However, given that experimental work has identified a causal connection between masculinity concerns and political beliefs, we think the correlations we’ve identified are important.

Second, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 10:19 am

Insecure Men Were a Big Trump Demographic in 2016

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This post by Kevin Drum is just fascinating (and illuminating—I think it explains a lot):

This map from the Washington Post made the gleeful rounds of liberal Twitter yesterday:

What’s not to like? It shows that all those supposedly manly Southern men aren’t so manly after all. In fact, they’re desperately searching Google for ways to make themselves more manly, and it’s hard for us lefties not to get a chuckle out of that. To make it even better, the accompanying study also showed that all these insecure men voted for Donald Trump in large numbers.

But it seemed sort of dumb to me and I had no plans to write about it: the fact that Southern men voted for Trump in large numbers is hardly news, after all. But then, thanks to the Evil Dex, I had lots of time on my hand and I read the whole piece. It’s written by Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio, who conducted the research:

We found that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.” Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as “breast augmentation” and “menopause.”

OK. Not surprising so far. Tell me more.

In contrast, fragile masculinity was not associated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or support for John McCain in 2008 — suggesting that the correlation of fragile masculinity and voting in presidential elections was distinctively stronger in 2016.

The same finding emerged in 2018….In the more than 390 House elections pitting a Republican candidate against a Democratic candidate, support for the Republican candidate was higher in districts that, based on Google search data, had higher levels of fragile masculinity. However, there was no significant relationship between fragile masculinity and voting in the 2014 or 2016 congressional elections. This suggests that fragile masculinity has now become a stronger predictor of voting behavior.

Huh. I was uninterested at first because I figured the Trump effect was really just a Republican effect. But no. Insecure men voted in unusually large numbers for the Republican candidate only when that candidate was Trump. And two years later, the effect was still there in a midterm election that was heavily dominated by Trump’s presence.

If this holds up, it suggests that Trump really did appeal to a kind of toxic masculinity in a way that other Republicans haven’t. I suppose that’s not entirely surprising either, but it was just something we all assumed. We’ve not had real evidence of it before.

And it’s interesting in a non-snarky way, too. There’s something about it that’s sort of a mirror image of this whole “deaths of despair” theory, which is mostly driven by rural whites.¹ If it’s true, it’s quite possible that it’s galvanized mostly by factors that affect the self-image of men who have grown up thinking that stereotypical manliness was a core part of who they had to be. Inability to be a good breadwinner would certainly be part of that. Being the “losers” of the feminist movement would be part of it. Being forced to give up their traditional control of family and sex—no more demands, no more casual harassment—would be part of it. A candidate who explicitly appealed to this frustration and promised to fix it—which neither Romney nor McCain did—would attract their votes. Especially if he were running against that shrill harpy Hillary Clinton.

Long story short, this is interesting to the extent that it shows who Trump specifically appealed to above and beyond normal Republican candidates. It’s also something for Democrats to give some serious thought to, even if, like Trump, they currently have few real solutions to offer. I’m not sure what a “real” solution might be, but it’s worth noting that one thing it’s not is an insistence on nominating a man in 2020. Although the authors found that insecure men might like Trump, they held no grudge against women running for office: “Notably, fragile masculinity was unrelated to support for female candidates in the 2018 elections.” That means we can feel free to nominate anyone we want. It just needs to be someone who knows how to talk to insecure men.

¹I’m not entirely sold on the deaths-of-depair theory, but there’s certainly some evidence for it

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 10:11 am

When Fox News staffers break ethics rules, discipline follows — or does it?

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Margaret Sullivan wonders just exactly what ethics rules Fox News enforces—and how. She writes in the Washington Post:

There are ethical standards at Fox News, we’re told.

But just what they are, or how they’re enforced, is an enduring mystery.

When Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro appeared onstage with President Trump at a Missouri campaign rally, the network publicly acknowledged that this ran counter to its practices.

“Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the network said in a statement. “This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”

Or take what happened this week.

When the staff of “Fox & Friends” was found to have provided a pre-interview script for Scott Pruitt, then the Environmental Protection Agency head, the network frowned: “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.”

“Not standard practice” is putting it mildly, as the Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani — who broke the story — noted, quoting David Hawkins, formerly of CBS News and CNN, who teaches journalism at Fordham University:

“Every American journalist knows that to provide scripts or articles to the government for review before publication or broadcast is a cardinal sin. It’s Journalism 101. This is worse than that. It would and should get you fired from any news organization with integrity.”

Some news organizations publish their standards and ethics guidelines for all to see.
In 2015, for example, BuzzFeed News published its policy with a note from a top editor, Shani O. Hilton, that said the purpose was “to provide context and support for BuzzFeed News staffers in making smart, responsible, and ethical choices” — and to keep staff accountable to readers.

The Washington Post and the New York Times make their policies readily available to the public, as does NPR. The idea — the right one — is that transparency and clarity are crucially important when it comes to enforcing ethics.

That concept is not universally accepted at media companies: As my colleague Erik Wemple wrote last spring, CNN not only doesn’t publish its guidelines but also has fought in court to keep them private. (And like every media organization, CNN has had its share of standards problems, most recently letting guests and commentators lie about climate scientists without disclosing their financial ties to the fossil-fuel industry, as Media Matters reported.)

The broadcast TV networks mostly have standards editors and written policies but don’t make them public.

As for Fox News, it’s hard to know what network standards have been breached, whether written rules exist, or who — if anyone — is in charge of that fraught subject.

On Wednesday, I asked two high-ranking Fox News executives about this: John Stack, senior vice president for news coverage, whom I had met at a recent gathering of standards editors and media ombudsmen, past and present; and Irena Briganti, executive vice president of corporate communications for Fox News and Fox Business.

Does Fox News have a written ethics policy, I asked.

If so, is it published anywhere?

Is there a Fox News standards editor, even if he or she doesn’t have that specific title?

What Fox News standard or practice, exactly, was breached in the way the Pruitt appearance was handled, and what is the nature of the disciplinary measures being taken?

Neither Stack nor Briganti responded at all.

That’s no surprise, really.

The network can’t seem to figure out whether it’s an arm of the Trump administration or a news network — or somehow, impossibly, both.

It boasts of its traditional journalists such as Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier but never seems to come down hard on its blatant propagandists and bad actors. After Fox personality Laura Ingraham mocked 17-year-old David Hogg last spring, following the massacre at his high school in Parkland, Fla., the network backed her up, despite the public outcry and an advertiser boycott.

Alisyn Camerota, a former Fox News anchor now at CNN, said on air recently that members of Fox brass ‘‘know vaguely’’ that their high-profile employees aren’t supposed to be actively campaigning or helping the Trump administration with its agenda.

‘‘They’re having a schizophrenic moment over there trying to figure out what their role is going to be with the Trump presidency,’’ Boston.com quoted Camerota.

The Trump administration and Fox News are so deeply intertwined that it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 9:43 am

Posted in Media

I have a bee in my bonnet on altering a Lodge 12″ cast-iron skillet

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Lodge cast-iron cookware does not come with a smooth cooking surface. The iron is cast using sand molds and the skillet’s cooking surface is not ground or polished so the roughness from the sand mold remains. That is one reason older cast-iron such as Griswold is sought out: vintage skillets such as Griswold have a perfectly smooth cooking surface.

In fairness, one reason Lodge sells at a low price is that they skip the finishing work. Their 12″ cast-iron skillet currently is available from Amazon for $30. It includes a red silicone hot handle holder, which I would immediately remove and discard. I use oven mitts, so I don’t need the handle cover, and quite often I use cast iron skillets in the oven, as for cooking a steak (where I heat the skillet in a 500ºF oven).

People have learned, though, that you can take a Lodge skillet and smooth the rough bottom by grinding and sanding and give the cooking surface a completely polished smooth finish, which of course then must be seasoned. For seasoning cast iron and carbon steel cookware, I favor an unscented Larbee puck. The Field Company recommends grapeseed oil, which also works. (In seasoning, you apply the oil or the puck and then you wipe out all the oil you can before heating the pan.)

I am an apartment dweller with a paucity of power tools, so I called a local machine shop and learned that they would indeed do a small job like polishing the skillet’s cooking surface smooth (and they certainly have the tools). Minimum charge was US$40, not bad.

OTOH, I really don’t need another cast-iron skillet and in fact just passed along my 12″ Griswold to my niece. But I am entranced by the idea of turning a rough new Lodge cast-iron skillet into a perfectly smooth and wonderful cast-iron skillet. So I thought if I passed the idea along, it would free the bee from my bonnet. (See my cast-iron skillet reviews.)

And in looking on Amazon for the prices, what should I discover but this very fine looking 12″ cast-iron skillet with smooth finish for $17.50. I like the larger handles, and this looks as though it has a smooth finish already—and of course, you can polish this one as well, with less work, to the glassy smooth cooking surface that I had in mind (followed by seasoning). Update: I just watched this video reviewing some modern cast-iron skillets with smooth bottoms, and he brought up an interesting point regarding cheap cast iron from countries less encumbered by regulations: we don’t really know what metals were smelted to make that cast-iron pan. Iron, surely, and also carbon—but who knows what other metals from a junkyard may have been used. I think that’s a valid point. In addition, he mentions in passing that Lodge cast-iron is not so fine-grained as some vintage cast-iron. /update

Ah. I think the bee is gone.

Update: Here’s what it would take:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 9:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Rose is a great fragrance for shaving

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Vie-Long’s horsehair brushes are worth trying, and IMO a shaving brush collection should have at least one. I do wet the knot well and let it sit while I shower, just as I do boar brushes.

JabonMan’s Rosa Bourbon shaving soap (sold under his Eufros label) is excellent and has a very nice rose fragrance. Three passes with the Maggard V3A, quite a nice razor, and my face was smooth and undamaged, and a splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave finished the job.

The weekend in effect starts today, with The Wife’s departure for Edinburgh (pronounced, I learned, “Edin-braw”).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 6:59 am

Posted in Shaving

Another example of total lack of self-awareness: Incels

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Just read this answer.

UPDATE: A comment reveals that I perhaps have read more about this group than have others. Let me offer some context:

Incel = involuntary celibate (i.e., can’t get laid). Wikipedia has quite a good article on incels. Probably the most famous incel, and one that brought the group to public attention, was Elliott Rodger.

I thought it was interesting to read their struggles to understand why women reject them, showing that they are totally unconscious (so far as one can tell) that their attitude and beliefs about women might have something to do with it—thus my title regarding self-awareness.

This perhaps is a good time to point out Daniel Goleman’s excellent (and fascinating) book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. It provides similar examples of self-deception (which results in a lack of self-awareness).

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

If Trump Didn’t Collude, Why Does He Keep Obstructing Justice?

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Jonathan Chait asks some good questions in his column in New York, questions that I think would be dynamite for Fox News to discuss:

Earlier this summer, President Trump asked his lawyers about pardoning his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Giuliani told the president such a maneuver would be inadvisable and could expose Trump to a possible obstruction of justice charge. “We sat [Trump] down and said you’re not considering these other pardons with anybody involved in the investigation. He said yes, absolutely, I understand,” Giuliani told the Washington Post, “The real concern is whether [Robert] Mueller would turn any pardon into an obstruction charge.”

Yesterday, Trump went ahead and dangled a pardon for Manafort anyway. “It was never discussed,” he told the New York Post, falsely, before continuing, “but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?”

Dangling a pardon like this is an extremely serious offense. It was one of the very crimes for which Nixon was going to be impeached. This naturally raises the question of why Trump would obstruct justice so blatantly.

Trump’s explanation is that he feels badly for Manafort, who he believes is being treated unfairly by the Department of Justice. So, by this account, Trump is putting himself at risk of an obstruction charge just so he can defend his former campaign manager (who he has dismissed as someone who “came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time.” That doesn’t sound like something Trump would do.

Yet Trump has taken this risk over and over. From the moment he learned about the Russia investigation, he asked the FBI director to go easy on its principal subject, Michael Flynn. He hasn’t stopped obstructing justice since. He fired Comey for failing to show loyalty, fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the same reason — and admitted in public he hired Sessions only because he expected loyalty — and replaced him with a hack who had already indicated agreement with his views of the case.

Trump’s lawyers have formed joint defense agreements with Jerome Corsi, who Mueller appears to have dead to rights on both perjury and attempts to collude with Wikileaks. More recently, Trump’s legal team got Manafort to brief them on his interactions with Robert Mueller, a violation that could also expose Trump to obstruction of justice charges, reports NBC. This is an extremely risky legal strategy that, as lawyers such as Harry Litman and Ken White have observed, may allow Mueller “to delve into the Trump lawyers’ conversations with Mr. Manafort’s lawyers.”

A common theory of the Russia scandal is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 5:20 pm

Republicans Senators Who Tried to Kill Yemen War Resolution Were Paid by Saudi Lobbyists

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Cristina Maza reports in Newsweek:

On Wednesday, senators delivered a historic blow to the country’s relationship with ally Saudi Arabia, a country whose leadership has committed notable human rights violations, by voting to move forward a resolution that would end all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

But at least five of the Republican Senators who voted against the bill have received funding from lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia, a fact that illustrates how the kingdom uses its vast wealth to influence U.S. foreign policy.

Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Tim Scott of South Carolina received financial contributions from lobbying firms that worked for Saudi Arabia, according to a report by the Center for International Policy released last month.

The report names Blunt as one of the top 10 recipients of campaign contributions from firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2017, along with Democratic lawmakers like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Blunt’s campaign allegedly received $19,250 in campaign contributions from Saudi-linked firms last year.

Senators Boozman and Crapo received $1,000 contributions from Squire Patton Boggs PAC, which was working for Saudi Arabia at the time, according to the report. And Boozman, Crapo, Burr and Scott all allegedly received donations of around $2,000 on days when they were contacted by Saudi lobbyists.

None of the senators immediately responded to requests for comment.

Saudi Arabia spent around $27 million on lobbying in 2017, according to some estimates. Department of Justice filings show that the Saudi government has spent almost $7 million on foreign agents in 2018.

The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey has put unprecedented pressure on the traditionally friendly relationship between the two countries and helped bolster efforts to stop the Saudi-led war, which has led to a cholera outbreak in Yemen and one of the largest famines in decades. Some lobbying firms, such as the Glover Park Group and BRG Group, have dropped their Saudi clients in the wake of the backlash over Khashoggi’s killing.

Senators voted 63 in favor and 37 against to move the resolution forward on Tuesday. The vote was a procedural step that will see the bill move forward in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has yet to act on Yemen. . .

Continue reading.

Congress is for sale, obviously—as lobbyists well know.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

Jennifer Rubin: Trump should be freaked out right about now

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From her column in the Washington Post:

. . . First, Trump recently turned in his written answers to Mueller. If Mueller asked about the Moscow Trump Tower deal and Trump lied, saying that it had ended in January, that would be a strong basis for a perjury charge. Trump might say that he didn’t know Cohen was continuing in talks with Russia, but the tantalizing detail from the indictment, namely that Cohen communicated with Individual 1 (presumably Trump) three times, suggests that Mueller may have some definitive evidence of the conversations. (Did Cohen tape them?) The Post reports: “Prosecutors seemed to make a point in the document of emphasizing how Cohen had talked with Trump himself — whom they didn’t name — about the project. The document said Cohen lied because he hoped his testimony would limit the ongoing Russia investigations.” In other words, both Cohen and Trump tried to disguise the extent of Trump’s ties with Russia, which, in the context of the campaign, may have been part of a conspiracy to help get him elected.

Second, Trump appears to be conducting foreign policy to avoid implicating himself in wrongdoing, it seems, and therefore has to cancel a meeting to avoid underscoring the appearance that he is under Putin’s thumb. The idea that Trump would meet with Putin and read him the riot act appears to be out of the question.

Third, Cohen plainly is cooperating with Mueller — and not communicating with Trump. Unlike the situation with Manafort, Trump has no way of seeing inside the Cohen-Mueller talks. That creates enormous uncertainty and risk. Trump may already have contradicted himself under oath.

Fourth, if it weren’t obvious already, Cohen’s plea agreement shows that the Mueller probe is not a “witch hunt.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), in line to chair the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement, which read in part:

The Special Counsel has now secured guilty pleas from President Trump’s personal attorney, his campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, a foreign policy advisor to his campaign, and his National Security Advisor. He has filed 191 charges against more than thirty individuals—almost all of whom are in President Trump’s orbit, Vladimir Putin’s orbit, or both. The President can pretend that this investigation has nothing to do with him and nothing to do with Russia, but these indictments speak for themselves. We must allow this investigation to run its course without interference from the President or his allies on Capitol Hill. As the new Congress begins, these developments make clear that my colleagues and I must step in and provide accountability. No one is above the law, not even the President, and our job will be to check his impulse to abuse his office to protect himself. We will do everything in our power to allow the Special Counsel to finish his work and follow the facts and the law to their conclusion.

Fifth, the Cohen revelations emphasize the need for legislation to protect Mueller. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored his colleagues to do just that: “It’s a reminder that there has been a remarkable volume of criminal activity uncovered by the special counsel’s investigation. No one — especially not the president — can credibly claim that the investigation is a fishing expedition. Calling Mueller’s investigation a ‘witch hunt’ is just a lie. Plain and simple. A lie.” He continued, “The president’s actions clearly show he has a lot to hide, but he is afraid of the truth and doesn’t want Mueller or anyone else to uncover it. . . . Let’s not forget, President Trump has already fired the attorney general and replaced him with a lackey, without Senate approval, a nominee whose only qualification seems to be that he has a history of criticizing the special counsel.”

Finally, if Cohen is telling the truth, Trump lied during the campaign in flatly denying any deals in Russia. That in itself is a big deal. Trump took a bizarrely pro-Putin stance during the campaign and in the debates specifically. The notion that a candidate would take the side of a foreign foe of the United States while negotiating business deals in that country should be seen as wholly unacceptable, perhaps even an attempt to defraud voters. If he was doing it to assist his own economic interests, it can be seen as a quid pro quo.

But was it illegal or impeachable? If lying about the Trump Tower deal was part of a scheme to conspire/collude with Russia, the latest revelation will be one more fact in a conspiracy charge (or campaign finance violation against Trump). Trump’s shocking insistence Thursday that he was “allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign” seems to leave open the possibility that he did not comprehend the ramifications of working with the Russians to feather his own nest and get him elected.

Lying about Russia deals also might be considered one in a series of impeachable acts. Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe told me, “The only pre-election lying (or other misconduct) that becomes impeachable if and when the candidate wins office is conduct that contributes materially to a fraudulent victory, which much of Trump’s activity with Russia during the 2016 campaign may well have done.” Remember, Article One of Richard Nixon’s impeachment included “making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States.”

Cohen is helping Mueller to tie Trump — financially, personally, politically — to the highest levels of the Russian government. Whether that amounts to crimes (apart from efforts to obstruct justice) remains to be seen. It does, however, mean that Trump lied his way into the presidency, in part, to protect financial interests in Russia and perhaps to get Russian assistance (e.g., in disclosing dirt on Hillary Clinton). Trump has every reason to panic.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 12:11 pm

The Curse of Bigness: Monopoly power in the US today

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Ganesh Sitaraman writes in the New Republic:

The last forty years have seen a transformation in American business. Three major airlines dominate the skies. About ten pharmaceutical companies make up the lion’s share of the industry. Three major companies constitute the seed and pesticide industry. And 70 percent of beer is sold to one of two conglomerates. Scholars have shown that this wave of consolidation has depressed wages, increased inequality, and arrested small business formation. The decline in competition is so plain that even centrist organizations like The Economist and the Brookings Institution have called for a reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement.

Antitrust law today is, however, very narrowly construed. The currently reigning paradigm originated in the 1970s with Robert Bork—the same Bork whom the Senate would later block from the Supreme Court. Bork’s book The Antitrust Paradox argued that the only goal of the antitrust laws was consumer welfare. This eagle-eyed focus was not only economically efficient, Bork and his followers pointed out, but easy for courts to administer, because consumer welfare could be measured in terms of prices: If prices are going down, the system is working. To abandon this standard, former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright, a Republican, has said, “would be a monumental shift,” and “a dangerous one.”

Wright’s comments were largely directed at the insurgent neo-Brandeisian school of antitrust—a group of scholars, activists, lawyers, and economists who want to rethink the current approach. The neo-Brandeisians (whom Wright derisively calls the “hipster antitrust movement”) believe that the antitrust laws were written not solely to deal with consumer welfare or purely for economic purposes, but also to ensure competitive markets, break up vast and powerful private entities, and, in the process, preserve democracy. When economic power is concentrated, it destroys not only economic freedom but also political freedom, as the wealthy and powerful use their resources to capture the government and rig it in their favor.

In the midst of this debate over the future of antitrust comes Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. In this concise and accessible history, Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, takes us from the great merger movement of the late nineteenth century to the antitrust legislation and prosecutions in the Progressive Era to “peak antitrust” in the mid-twentieth century. He judiciously describes how the “Chicago School” of antitrust, with its narrow focus on consumer welfare, came to dominate antitrust law and ushered in our new era of monopoly capitalism. As he briskly narrates the origins and evolution of antitrust law in America, he makes the case that the narrow economic approach is a betrayal of its purposes and historic understanding. The central goals of antitrust law and policy, he argues, have always included preserving the conditions for democracy.

Whether it was Senator John Sherman, author of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, Theodore Roosevelt in his trust-busting prosecutions of Standard Oil and J.P. Morgan’s railroad trust, or Woodrow Wilson, who created the Federal Trade Commission in 1914, the founders of antitrust law saw its work as both political and economic. No problem “is more threatening than the inequality of condition, of wealth, and opportunity,” Sherman said in the debates leading to his eponymous bill. “If the concerted powers of this combination,” he continued, “are entrusted to a single man, it is a kingly prerogative, inconsistent with our form of government.”

What the framers of the antitrust laws understood is that concentrated private power poses a threat to freedom, to our constitutional republic. When a small number of people wield unchecked power, they can oppress their workers and employees, crush the opportunity of any entrepreneur or small business, and even control the government. The result is not a republican form of government, in which representatives of the people rule. The result is an oligarchy or a plutocracy, in which freedom exists only for those with wealth and power. As the celebrated historian Richard Hofstadter once commented of the antitrust movement of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: “Nothing less was at stake than the entire organization of American business and American politics, the very question of who was to control the country.”

While Wu describes this divide fairly, and firmly sides with Brandeis on the question of nationalism versus decentralization, he gives Roosevelt equal consideration and portrays him as a hero in the saga of antitrust—as the president who used his bully pulpit and the sheer force of his personality to bring antitrust prosecutions into the public conversation. Many of Roosevelt’s detractors point out that his successor William Howard Taft initiated more cases. But it was Roosevelt’s prosecutions of Standard Oil and the Morgan railroad trust that became the marquee fights, featuring the most powerful men in America. It was thus Roosevelt who set an example that has echoed through history, serving to bolster the efforts of Thurman Arnold in the 1930s and early 1940s and Joel Klein (who prosecuted Microsoft) in the 1990s. This reading of Roosevelt is insightful: Because antitrust is not a technical enterprise, it cannot be left to faceless, nameless economists and technocrats. Like politics more broadly, it requires leaders with the courage to take on the powerful and the charisma to build public support for reform.

Antitrust also played an important role in the greatest battle of the twentieth century—between fascism and democracy—though this is largely forgotten today. During the 1930s and 1940s, the New Dealers and their allies recognized that monopolists and cartels had helped bring the authoritarian regimes of Germany and Japan to power and had kept them in power. German monopolies and cartels in a range of industries—railroads, armaments, chemicals—supported Hitler and the Nazis when they had comparatively few backers, and then cooperated with the Nazi regime, sustaining it during the war.

The New Dealers saw that economic power and political power were intrinsically linked. In Germany, an unequal economy had enabled tyranny. “Here was arbitrary power without public control,” Thurman Arnold, head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, wrote in a 1940 book. The country “became [economically] organized to such an extent that it needed a general and Hitler leaped into power; had it not been Hitler it would have been someone else.” After the war, Arnold’s lieutenants joined teams working on the Marshall Plan and pushed Germany to adopt antitrust laws. The aggressive competition laws of today’s European Union thus have the New Dealers as one of their ancestors. Democratizing Europe required democratizing the economy in Europe.

This principle is, however, often overlooked in analysis of crises today: A stream of books and commentary on the return of authoritarianism around the world—Fascism: A Warning; How Democracies Die—largely undervalues the relationship between economics and politics. While their authors fear the breakdown of constitutional norms and a loss of faith in democratic institutions, they have far too little to say about widening inequality and the rising concentration of economic power. In today’s global contest between democracy and nationalist oligarchy, economic power is a critical element and, as a result, antitrust law is an essential tool.


The author of The Attention Merchants and The Master Switch, Wu weaves his considerable knowledge of the technology and communications industries seamlessly into the arc of antitrust history—and to good effect. We learn how the breakup of AT&T in 1984 accelerated the rise of home internet connections: Whereas the telecommunications giant previously had a monopoly on equipment like phones that used its phone jacks, more people now began to buy their own phones, as well as new devices such as answering machines and modems. We see how the case against IBM in the 1970s kept Big Blue from tying its hardware and software together, and so allowed the computer hardware industry of the 1980s to flourish. And we see how prosecuting Microsoft’s practice of bundling its products together facilitated a more open software industry, one that helped foster tech innovation in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Yet even as these victories were being won, the paradigm was shifting. With the demise of a three-decade liberal era in the 1970s and the rising power of neoliberal ideology, Bork’s book found a ready audience. His approach, which came to be associated with the Chicago School of law and economics, took hold of the entire field over the ensuing decades, though its power derived more from simplicity than accuracy. The Chicago School approach turned theoretical assumptions (there is always a threat of possible competition) into broad assertions about the world (companies never raise prices for fear of this competition). The effect was to reframe monopolists: Rather than being predators and oppressors, these “gentle giants” lived in fear of competition, while seeking only to make the economy more efficient. They thus posed no threat to consumer welfare.

To call the logic questionable would be charitable, as predatory corporate behavior captures the headlines year after year. But the consumer welfare approach was gaining favor. “During the [George W.] Bush years, the anti-monopoly provisions of the Sherman Act went into a deep freeze from which they have never really recovered,” Wu writes. With the Microsoft case settled, the Bush Justice Department didn’t bring any serious anti-monopoly antitrust cases and didn’t block any major mergers. And since Microsoft—some twenty years ago—there have been no big cases “targeting an industry-spanning monopolist or super-monopolist, seeking the goal of breakup.” By 2004, in the case of Verizon v. Trinko, Justice Antonin Scalia could write for the Supreme Court that the “mere possession of monopoly power, and the concomitant charging of monopoly prices, is not only not unlawful; it is an important element of the free-market system.” In other words, antitrust laws were far from being anti-monopoly in motivation; they recognized and accepted the value of monopolies.

Of course, Scalia’s and Bork’s positions were political, despite their claims of neutrality. It is a political choice to argue for a policy that includes some factors (consumer prices) and excludes others (size, influence, political power). Just as it is a political choice to put a thumb on the scale in favor of mergers, against enforcement, and for consolidation. And it is a political choice to believe in monopolists when they claim they are simply trying to make the world a better place.

Wu also seeks to point the way forward for a neo-Brandeisian approach to antitrust law. The Curse of Bigness is neither an academic book nor a policy brief, so his prescriptions are more a sketch of an agenda than a blueprint for reform. But they include most of the main components that must accompany an antitrust revival: reforms to merger policy, more big prosecutions, breakups of existing conglomerates, industrywide investigations, and a rethinking of the consumer welfare standard.

One omission is surprising. When compared to most areas of domestic regulation, antitrust is exceptional because the courts—not regulatory agencies—are the central policymakers. This makes little sense, as judges are not experts in economic policy-making, nor are they meant to have a leading policy- making role in our constitutional system. Taking antitrust policy-making away from the courts and rooting it back in Congress and regulatory agencies must also be a core part of neo-Brandeisian reforms.

“We must decide very quickly what sort of country we want to live in,”  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 10:20 am

Trump’s rules of engagement: Boasting, spinning, and running out the clock

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Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey write in the Washington Post:

The question to President Trump was straightforward: Why does he seem to accept the Saudi Arabian crown prince’s denials that he ordered the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi over the intelligence his own CIA has gathered?

Trump began his answer by equivocating about Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement. Then he bragged about badgering the Saudi leader over oil prices this summer. Next he claimed personal credit for a sharp drop in prices. And then he complained the Palm Beach Post published a story last week blaming him for the traffic jams caused by cheap gas.

The only catch: The Florida newspaper’s front-page story last week about Thanksgiving travel did not attribute holiday traffic to the president. In fact, it did not mention Trump’s name.

This single meandering exchange in an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post neatly encapsulated Trump’s standard rules of engagement. He responds to questions with a torrent of words, digressions and self-congratulatory boasts. He makes humorous asides. He brushes away facts to spin his own reality. He sells his own accomplishments, no matter the question. And he tries to run out the clock with long-winded answers.

The pattern continued as Trump answered questions on climate change, the economy, Russia, his proposed border wall and the Justice Department.

However, he would only answer questions about new developments in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort off the record. He argued he did not want to be in the middle of that story. Yet in tweets later Tuesday and Wednesday, the president accused the “disgusting fake news” of not printing criticism of the probe and proclaimed, “This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!” A White House spokeswoman did not respond to requests Wednesday to put his interview answers on the record.

Continue reading.

Later:

When asked whether he was nervous about a recession considering recent stock market declines and the planned closures of some General Motors plants, Trump immediately launched an attack on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. “Jay” Powell.

But his discussion of the economy was rife with inconsistencies. Asked who should be held responsible for the economy — and reminded that former president Harry Truman kept a sign at his desk that read, “The buck stops here” — Trump shirked personal responsibility.

When pressed on why the buck never seems to stop with him, Trump ignored the prompt for self-reflection and instead pointed his finger at the central bank chairman. The president simultaneously insisted he was not assigning blame to anyone while assigning blame to Powell.

“I’m not blaming anybody,” Trump said. “But I will tell you, at this moment in time I am not at all happy with the Fed.”

He hammered the point a second time: “I’m not blaming anybody. I’m just saying, I’m not happy with the Fed. So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay.”

And a third time: “I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is wayoff-base with what they’re doing.”

The exchange on the economy underscored two Trump attributes: He plows through questions he does not want to answer without engaging them substantively. And for every problem, he finds someone to blame — and that scapegoat is never himself.

Another Trump feature is his elastic relationship with the truth. He routinely makes false or misleading claims, and Tuesday’s interview was no different.

The president falsely claimed the nation’s air and water are “right now at a record clean,” when in fact U.S. carbon emissions are only the lowest since 1996. They were considerably lower before then, according to the World Bank.

Trump also incorrectly claimed Saudi Arabia “could very easily invest $110 billion, $450 billion overall” in U.S. arms sales in “a fairly short period of time.” But the commercial agreements announced last year were mostly smoke and mirrors, with few if any signed contracts. Many of the memorandums of intent for military sales agreements contain no delivery date, according to an analysis by The Post’s Fact Checker.

Another pattern from Tuesday’s interview was Trump’s varying use of experts. He relied on them to justify things he does not want associated with him, such as his explanation that he was continuing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for the 17th straight year on the advice of experts.

“We’re there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here. And I’ve heard it over and over again.”

But on other subjects, Trump was quick to dismiss experts. For instance, he said he did not believe the climate change assessment of his own administration’s experts, as well as the dire warnings of most scientists around the world.

The president also equated Mohammed’s denials about Khashoggi’s killing with the information gathered by intelligence experts at the CIA suggesting the crown prince was behind it — reminiscent of his resistance to U.S. conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said of the Saudi heir apparent. “But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.”

Trump seemed happy to continue to hold forth, even as his aides tried to wrap up the interview. At the end, Trump called out to his personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, who presented each reporter with handouts — including a two-page list titled, “TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS.”

“Our accomplishments!” Westerhout said. “Our economic  accomplishments!”

The document contains 61 bullet-point items, including “4.5 million jobs created since election” and “We have begun BUILDING THE WALL and support STRONG BORDERS and NO CRIME.”

Trump was pleased. “That’s good, you’re getting better at this,” he told his assistant. Then, he called her “beautiful” and said everyone loved Westerhout.

“This is not a paper towel,” Conway jokingly interjected about the accomplishments. “This is real stuff.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 9:35 am

Someone is lying—either Mattis and Pompeo or the CIA

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From the “Daily 202” in the Washington Post:

— The Senate advanced a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a decisive rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy. Karoun Demirjian, Carol Morello and John Hudson report: “The 63-to-37 vote is only an initial procedural step, but it nonetheless represents an unprecedented challenge to the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The vote was prompted by lawmakers’ growing frustration with Trump for defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denials of culpability in [the death of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi], despite the CIA’s finding that he had almost certainly ordered the killing. Their frustration peaked shortly before Wednesday’s vote, when senators met behind closed doors to discuss Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi and Yemen with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — but not CIA Director Gina Haspel, who did not attend the briefing.

Her absence so incensed lawmakers that one of the president’s closest congressional allies threatened not only to vote for the Yemen resolution but also to withhold his support from ‘any key vote’ — including a government funding bill — until Haspel was sent to Capitol Hill for a briefing. ‘I am not going to blow past this,’ said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). ‘Anything that you need me for to get out of town — I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.’ … The pressure is now squarely on Trump not just to dispatch Haspel to the Hill but also to take concerted steps to hold Mohammed accountable before the Senate makes its next move, which is likely to come next week.”

— Pompeo and Mattis told senators the White House had blocked Haspel from attending, a claim that was denied by the CIA. “While Director Haspel did not attend today’s Yemen policy briefing, the Agency has already briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Congressional leadership on the totality of the compartmented, classified intelligence and will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress,” CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said in a statement. “The notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today’s briefing is false.” (Daily Beast)

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 9:27 am

U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I

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Lenny Bernstein reports in the Washington Post:

Life expectancy in the United States declined again in 2017, the government said Thursday in a bleak series of reports that showed a nation still in the grip of escalating drug and suicide crises.

The data continued the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918. That four-year period included World War I and a flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in the United States and perhaps 50 million worldwide.

Public health and demographic experts reacted with alarm to the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual statistics, which are considered a reliable barometer of a society’s health. In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades.

“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

“After three years of stagnation and decline, what do we do now?” asked S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Do we say this is the new normal? Or can we say this is a tractable problem?”

Overall, Americans could expect to live 78.6 years at birth in 2017, down a tenth of a year from the 2016 estimate, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Men could anticipate a life span of 76.1 years, down a tenth of a year from 2016. Life expectancy for women in 2017 was 81.1 years, unchanged from the previous year.

Drug overdoses set another annual record in 2017, cresting at 70,237 — up from 63,632 the year before, the government said in a companion report. The opioid epidemic continued to take a relentless toll, with 47,600 deaths in 2017 from drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics. That was also a record number, driven largely by an increase in fentanyl deaths.

Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled. Deaths attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999. . .

Continue reading.

President Trump put Kellyanne Conway in charge of combating the opioid epidemic, but other than her recommendation that opioid addicts should eat junk food instead of using opioids, I cannot think of anything she has done. But this is a real crisis. What is she doing?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 9:05 am

Both the collusion and obstruction cases get stronger

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Jennifer Rubin has an interesting column in the Washington Post today. From the column:

Disclosures over the past few days in the Russia investigation suggest that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has improved his case concerning obstruction of justice and collusion, both of which President Trump continues to deny. . . [skipping the collusion part – LG]

In short, the case for collusion, at least in part, posits that Russia hacked the emails and gave them to WikiLeaks to release at an advantageous time, and that “Corsi got information on how WikiLeaks planned to use the emails and passed it to Stone, who he knew was in regular contact with the Trump campaign.”

Corsi and Stone are denying the allegations, but if proved by documentary evidence, we have at least the basic outline for how a conspiracy would have operated. Trump, in his answers to Mueller, claims he never spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks, and did not know about the Trump Tower meeting. (The Post reports that Trump and Stone had ongoing middle-of-the-night conversations throughout the campaign, but the content of those discussions is not yet known.)

Then there is the obstruction case. We already know about a whole series of events pointing to Trump’s desire to derail the Russia investigation (e.g., asking then-FBI Director James B. Comey to take it easy on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn; later firing Comey and coming up with a false cover story to explain the firing; badgering then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself; ordering that Mueller be fired; drafting a false account of the Trump Tower meeting; spreading false conspiracy theories attempting to implicate President Barack Obama; working with the House Intelligence Committee to allow release of a misleading document that falsely claimed the warrant authorizing the surveillance of Carter Page was improperly obtained; and threatening to release classified information about the investigation). Previous reports suggested that Trump’s counsel also dangled possible pardons for Manafort and Flynn.

This week, Manafort’s plea deal with prosecutors blew up over alleged lies about a variety of topics. It came to light that, despite entering into a plea deal pledging to cooperate fully with the special counsel, Manafort, through his attorney, was feeding information to Trump’s attorneys about the Mueller inquiry. That is likely not a privileged conversation and is quite possibly another instance of attempted obstruction or even bribery (offering a pardon in exchange for information on Mueller and Manafort’s silence). “The open pipeline between cooperator Manafort and suspect Trump may have been not only extraordinary but also criminal,” former federal prosecutor Harry Litman wrote in a Post op-ed. “On Manafort and [Manafort lawyer Kevin] Downing’s end, there is a circumstantial case for obstruction of justice.”

Litman continued: “What purpose other than an attempt to ‘influence, obstruct, or impede’ the investigation of the president can be discerned from Manafort’s service as a double agent? And on the Trump side, the communications emit a strong scent of illegal witness tampering (and possibly obstruction as well).” Any lawyers involved in this harebrained scheme face possible professional sanction and even criminal prosecution.

It is noteworthy that all this came to light after Trump submitted written answers to Mueller’s questions. Part of the proof here might come from Trump’s answers, and whether they sync with Manafort’s story.

And then to top all this off, in an interview with the New York Post, Trump declared that a pardon for Manafort was still on the table. Whether made in private or public, an offer of clemency to a convicted felon cooperating in an investigation of the president smacks of obstruction and certainly flies in the face of the president’s constitutional obligations to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

Norman Eisen, former White House ethics counsel, tells me that “this week’s revelations are the latest part of a substantial pattern of evidence pointing in that direction that began with Trump’s first loyalty demand to Comey and continues to accumulate to this day.” Collectively, these “individual pieces of a mosaic . . .  form a giant red arrow pointing to Trump’s corrupt intent.”

The arrangement between Manafort, his lawyers and Trump’s lawyers is unprecedented. “I have no doubt that serving as a mole or double agent inside the office charged with investigating the president, and feeding to the president and to witnesses like Corsi or Stone key information about the investigator’s plans — and about what others are telling the grand jury — after gaining the special counsel’s confidence by ‘flipping’ in order to get a better plea deal meets even the narrowest statutory definition of criminal obstruction of justice and could also constitute still more witness tampering on the part of practiced witness tamperer Paul Manafort,” says constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe. Other legal experts agree with his take.

“Equally significant, if not more so, Trump’s agreement to engage in such an arrangement is strong evidence that he conspired corruptly with Manafort and others to obstruct justice,” Tribe added. “The Corsi and Stone emails provide powerful evidence of that conspiracy, and it would be amazing if Mueller didn’t have plenty of other evidence as well.”

No wonder Trump has been especially unhinged this week. The Mueller tide is rolling in, and the president is barely holding his head above water. A few more waves of pleas or indictments might sweep Trump under.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 9:01 am

Pilots say they were ‘in the dark’ about Boeing’s 737 safety update

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Boeing failed big time.  Craig Timberg, Aaron Gregg, and Ashley Halsey III report in the Washington Post:

Boeing’s latest airliners lack a common override feature that, in some dangerous circumstances, allows pilots to reliably pull planes out of nosedives and avert crashes such as last month’s fatal plunge by Lion Air Flight 610, aeronautics experts and pilot groups say.

The state-of-the-art 737 MAX 8 airplanes do not have this feature, yet the company failed to prominently warn pilots of the change even as airlines worldwide began taking delivery of the new jets last year, pilots say.

“We were completely in the dark,” said Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, representing American Airlines pilots.

Questions surrounding the crash have turned a harsh spotlight on Boeing’s latest update to its workhorse 737 line, the world’s most popular commercial airliner. Boeing’s stock is down nearly 12 percent since the Oct. 29 crash, even after a slight uptick on Wednesday amid a broad market upswing.

Revelations about the doomed Lion Air flight, released Wednesday in a preliminary report by Indonesian investigators, also exacerbated long-standing debates over what degree of automation is safest for airplanes — and how human pilots should be able to take full control.

“Automation is there to make us safer and more productive in the cockpit,” said Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, a union representing pilots at Southwest Airlines. “But that never replaces the overriding commandment that the pilot has to fly the airplane and know what the aircraft is doing.”

Boeing said in a statement Wednesday that it had addressed the “flight control functionality” of its updated automated system with more than 60 airlines worldwide and at regional conferences since 2016.

“We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX,” the company said. “Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing. We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved. While we can’t discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation, we have provided two updates for our operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures for these situations.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 8:46 am

Researchers built a smart dress to show how often women are groped at clubs

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Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz reports in Quartz:

For a campaign on behalf of beverage company Schweppes, advertising agency Ogilvy created a touch-sensitive dress that tracked how often—and with what degree of intensity—women in Brazil were groped on an average night out. The goal was to elevate the issue to men, who expressed in preliminary interviews that harassment was not a major issue for club-going women.

For the project, titled “The Dress for Respect,” researchers built a dress embedded with sensor technology that tracked touch and pressure. The information was then relayed to a visual system so that researchers could essentially track harassment in real time.

To test the dress, researchers sent three women to a party wearing it. Throughout the night, we see a heat-map version of it steadily light up in the areas where the women are being grabbed: mostly the lower back, backside, and arms. The visual is imposed over footage of the women brushing off the men and asking not to be touched.

In just under four hours, the women are touched a combined 157 times.

Later, men from the party are brought in to review the experiment. For the most part, they express shock and surprise at the now-bruised image of the dress.

Watch the entire experiment here: . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link is worth watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2018 at 8:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

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