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Gary Kasparov has a nice article on chess and the new 8-year-old US champion—an immigrant who lives in a homeless shelter

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Gary Kasparov writes in the Washington Post:

Garry Kasparov is the chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative and author of “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.
The victory of 8-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi in the New York State K-3 championship this month has received more attention than any chess story in a long time. His circumstances, a Nigerian refugee living in a family shelter, were the key ingredient, even more than his dazzling smile next to a trophy taller than he is.
According to reports, “Tani” had learned to play only a year earlier, while most of his rivals had been playing in tournaments for several years. It’s an irresistible underdog story, well-deserving of going viral and generating an outpouring of donations to aid him and his family.
This heart-warming tale is also a quintessentially American one. Despite his family’s conditions, Tani learned to play at a good chess program in an excellent Manhattan public school. His mother took the initiative of getting him into the school chess club, reminding any true chess fan of a similar letter written by the mother of future U.S. world champion Bobby Fischer. (All praise to assertive chess mothers like my own!)
The United States is where the world’s talent comes to flourish. Since its inception, one of America’s greatest strengths has been its ability to attract and channel the energy of wave after wave of striving immigrants. It’s a machine that turns that vigor and diversity into economic growth. It may mean opening a dry-cleaners or a start-up that becomes Google. It could mean studying medicine, law or physics, or — as Tani says he would like to do — becoming the world’s youngest chess champion.
Many of the questions I received as world champion centered on why the Soviet Union produced so many great chess players. After the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., these questions were asked again along new national borders. Why did Russia, or Armenia, or my native Azerbaijan have so many grandmasters? Was there something in the water, the genes or the schools? And why weren’t there more chess prodigies from the United States (or wherever the questioner was from)?
My answer was always the same: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and talent cannot thrive in a vacuum. Finding talent is a numbers game — the more players there are, the more excellent ones will be found. (This same math applies to the gender disparity in chess. There are so few elite female players because there are still far fewer girls in a traditionally male pastime. Addressing that imbalance is why my foundation sponsors the All-Girls Scholastic Championship.)
The Soviet leadership always looked at chess as an opportunity to tout the superiority of the communist system. The leadership invested heavily in the game and promoted it at every level, for kids and professionals. I benefited directly from this aggressive farm system, receiving good coaching at a very young age in Baku and quickly being placed into a special chess school under the direction of former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik.
I was lucky to find chess, which was like a native language to me, but it wasn’t luck that chess found me. With that in mind, I have worked since 2002 to bring chess into education systems around the world. Chess is excellent for boosting children’s cognitive development and academic skills, but growing the base also means finding more top-level talent.
America’s recognition of chess’s benefits may help explain a development that merits wider recognition: This is a golden age for chess in the United States. The . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 4:33 pm

A Democratic Firm Is Shaking Up the World of Political Fundraising.

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The report I blogged in the previous post is probably a response in part to this innovation, reported in the Intercept by Rachel Cohen:

WHEN KARA EASTMAN pulled off a primary upset this past spring in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, a swing seat in the Omaha metro region, she did so with no help from the national Democratic party. Eastman, a social worker and first-time candidate running on an unapologetic left-wing platform, was competing against former Rep. Brad Ashford, who served for years in the Nebraska legislature and one term in Congress between 2014 and 2016.

Despite Ashford’s long track record of supporting abortion restrictions, pro-choice groups like EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL Pro-Choice America opted to stay out of the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, elevated Ashford to their “Red to Blue” list, a signal of official party support for competitive races, and political action committees controlled by House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., kicked in over $28,000 to Ashford’s bid.

Eastman, who embraced not only reproductive freedom but also policies like “Medicare for All,” tuition-free college, a $15 minimum wage, and increased gun control, struggled early on to compete. While her proposals and personal story were popular, finding donors was hard.

Yet by the time her primary rolled around, Eastman emerged the winner, raising close to $400,000  and benefitting from a flurry of late-stage media coverage. Using a new digital fundraising company to target customized groups of donors across the country — such as all Democrats who identify as social workers or those who back “Medicare for All” — Eastman’s team was able to change the trajectory of the race.

Her campaign credits Grassroots Analytics, an obscure tech startup that’s quietly shaking up the Democratic campaign finance world. Not a single article has ever been written about or even mentioned it, despite the company having aided some of the biggest upsets of the 2018 cycle, including Joe Cunningham in South Carolina, Lucy McBath in Georgia, and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

“Grassroots Analytics absolutely was what allowed us to be competitive in the primary and get on TV, otherwise there is no way we would have won,” said Dave Pantos, the finance director for Eastman’s campaign. “We were definitely not the mainstream candidate, and we didn’t have access to donor lists that more establishment candidates have.” Eastman ended up losing the general election, earning 49 percent of the vote, but has already announced that she’s jumping back in the fray for 2020.

Grassroots Analytics says it wants to level the playing field and to make it easier for candidates to run who don’t already have a built-in network of wealthy family, friends, and co-workers. Using an algorithm to clean and sort publicly available data spread across the internet, the company provides campaigns with customized lists of donors who they believe are most likely to support them. If you’re involved in the world of political fundraising, a thought has probably occurred to you just now: Wait, isn’t that illegal? Hold that thought.

Establishment groups like the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, and EMILY’s List have largely given the firm the cold shoulder, despite its goals and the fact that it worked with 137 campaigns in the last cycle. Not even mainstream progressive organizations like Our Revolution or Justice Democrats would return Grassroots Analytics’s entreaties to work together.

DANNY HOGENKAMP, THE 24-year-old founder and director of Grassroots Analytics, wasn’t expecting to end up in this kind of business. He had no background in politics; he studied Arabic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and assumed he’d end up doing foreign policy or refugee resettlement work after college.

But after graduating in 2016, with no job yet to speak of, he decided to go crash with some relatives in Syracuse, New York, where he was born, and try his hand in a congressional campaign. He enlisted with first-time candidate Colleen Deacon, a 39-year-old single mother who had worked as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s regional aide in upstate New York. Deacon, who previously lived on Medicaid and food stamps, campaigned on putting herself through college with minimum wage jobs and student loans.

Hogenkamp was placed on the finance team, where he was charged with raising money and managing a team of 20 unpaid interns. It was there that he first encountered the opaque world of political fundraising — a world that even many organizers, pundits, and journalists can hardly grasp.

“I had no idea what campaigns were like, and it turns out that literally what candidates actually do to raise money, unless you’re really well-connected and famous, is sit in a room and call rich, old people to beg for $1,500, $2,000, or preferably [the federal maximum] of $2,700,” he said.

To run a competitive House race, Deacon’s campaign knew it needed to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million. Syracuse is one of the poorer metropolitan areas in New York, and after the campaign exhausted all the local prospective donors it could think of, the next step was the big open secret in political campaigning: finding similar candidates in other states and races and then researching who donated to their campaigns. So, for example, Deacon staffers would search for similar candidates — like Monica Vernon, who was running for Congress at the same time in Iowa — and then try and track down the contact information for the donors listed on their Federal Election Commission reports.

“Our interns would literally just Google people and try to find their phone numbers,” Hogenkamp said. “But donors change their numbers all the time, and they’re hard to find.”

The whole thing was invariably slow and disorganized. “It was the stupidest process,” he said. “It’s not digitized; there’s no math; it’s just random and stupid.”

Hogenkamp, still pretty much an idealistic novice, was convinced that there had to be a better way, some obvious step he was missing. So, from his perch as a relatively high-level finance staffer on Deacon’s team, he reached out to everyone he could think of — like the DCCC, EMILY’s List, liberal consulting firms, and other politicians — to find out how to make this fundraising process easier. “No one had any good answers; they said, ‘Well, this is just how you do it,’” he said. Hogenkamp recalled Gillibrand’s team telling him about its personal wealthy contacts in New York and how fundraising for the campaign meant going to those people and asking each of them to go out and find 10 more donors within their own networks.

Eventually, Hogenkamp connected with David Chase, a Democratic political operative who was then managing the campaign for Rubén Kihuen in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Chase offered a bit of help: He had developed a very rudimentary tool to aid his team’s fundraising efforts.

“Using OpenSecrets, I built some product that allowed you to search through all the federal and state contributions,” Chase told The Intercept. “It was very simple — I don’t have any advanced technological skills — but I wrote a script that allowed you to upload a list and it spit back the stats on the amount of times someone had given to state races and their average contributions.” In other words, for someone looking to discover who had given $500 or so to multiple candidates, Chase’s tool provided a way to more quickly glean that information.

Chase explained his tool, and Hogenkamp realized that there was a lot more he could do with an idea like that. During college, he had interned at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he learned to model how likely students were to default on their student loans. “I just randomly had a background in R and Python and zero-inflated negative binomial regressions from my time at the CFPB, so it was really just serendipitous that I actually knew what to do,” he said. Following that conversation, Hogenkamp went back and recruited a bunch of Syracuse University computer science students to help him build out his vision.

The result was effectively what he calls a “cleaner” of publicly available data, scraped from across the internet, that analyzes and sorts information for more than 14.5 million Democratic donors over the last 15 years. The tool would generate lists of individuals most likely to support a candidate given shared characteristics and shared views — ranging from race and ethnicity to a passion for yoga or universal health care. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:46 am

Texas Republicans Dismiss Research as They Move to Further Defund Planned Parenthood

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I find it common for Republicans to ignore research in favor of sticking with their already-established beliefs and biases. From a newsletter sent out by the Texas Observer:

For years, Texas lawmakers have prioritized defunding Planned Parenthood and boosting anti-abortion organizations over ensuring access to care. The results have been stark: Tens of thousands of poor Texans lost access to care, more than 80 family planning clinics closed and the state scrambled to create a replacement network of providers that its own data shows hasn’t been able to fill in the gap. Yet Republican state senators flatly denied these impacts this week while offering support for a new bill that further limits funds for Planned Parenthood. Instead, some GOP members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs said that the state’s women’s health network is more robust than ever, and data showing otherwise is simply “not accurate.” Meanwhile, it’s estimated that less than a quarter of women in Texas who need publicly funded contraception are getting those services.

Sophie Novack reports in the Texas Observer:

Reproductive health advocates have long pointed to Texas as a cautionary tale of what happens when lawmakers prioritize defunding Planned Parenthood and boosting anti-abortion organizations over ensuring access to care. In 2011, Texas lawmakers slashed the family planning budget by two-thirds. Two years later, they kicked Planned Parenthood out of the state’s women’s health program. The results have been stark: Tens of thousands of poor Texans lost access to care, more than 80 family planning clinics closed and the state scrambled to create a replacement network of providers that its own data shows hasn’t been able to fill inthe gap.

Yet Republican state senators flatly denied these impacts on Monday while offering support for a new bill that further limits funds for Planned Parenthood. Instead, some GOP members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs said that the state’s women’s health network is more robust than ever, and data showing otherwise is simply “not accurate.”

“This Legislature has invested more money in women’s health to provide more services to more women than we ever have in the history of this state, and we have more providers than we ever had,” said state Senator Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who has served as the upper chamber’s top budget writer for the last three sessions. That “it’s not flowing through an organization that some people would prefer is their problem,” she said of cutting funds to Planned Parenthood. “My problem — our problem — is making sure women get the appropriate health care that they need. And we are doing that.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:28 am

Meet Q, The Electronic Assistant That Challenges Binary Gender

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Rae Alexandra writes for KQED:

For the last couple of years, the smart devices we’re increasingly leaving in charge of our lives have given us pause on a number of occasions. Like when Alexa started laughing at people for no reason in the middle of the night, or when Siri just flat out ignored us for days, or when the world figured out that Google Home can both fart and swear like a sailor. Then there’s Cortana, who seems hell-bent on scuppering gaming sessions.

What we ponder a little bit less is why all of our electronic assistants have feminine voices by default. There are a number of theories around this; research suggests people just expect all administrative assistants to be female, and there’s also the suggestion that feminine voices will make this major tech influx seem less threatening. Either way, when the voices we bark demands at all day sound like women, it can’t help but double down on traditional gender stereotypes that have no place in technology this futuristic.

Enter Q, the first gender-neutral electronic assistant, and a breath of fresh air in a world which is increasingly less and less interested in a strict gender binary. Q is “neither male nor female,” and has been “created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s another video at the link that explains how the voice was developed.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:20 am

“How True Crime Helped Me Deal With a Real-Life Monster”

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Rae Alexandra writes at KQED:

A few years ago, after 17 years of friendship, a man I adored and thought I knew very well was sentenced to three decades in prison for charges related to pedophilia. His case included acts on children so young, I hadn’t realized prior to his arrest that such crimes even existed.

Due to there being a mountain of video evidence (he had recorded himself), he admitted his guilt on the first day of his trial, and it was over almost before it had begun. Selfishly, I felt relieved that none of us would have to hear the minutiae of everything he’d done, but, reeling and in a state of shock, I decided to read the judge’s sentencing remarks online. I thought they might provide some catharsis. Instead, even the cursory details wound up making me physically sick. The vomiting went on for days until my parents finally summoned me home. I don’t recall any other point in my adult life where I needed to be next to my mother so badly.

In the days and weeks that followed, there were long phone conversations with friends, as everyone tried to process the hows and the whens and the whys. At one point, my sister, in another country and not privy to the same news coverage, called me, convinced that he had been set up and somehow tricked into pleading guilty. “What must they have done to him?” she asked, audibly distressed. It was a testament to how good he had been at pretending to be someone else.

After a while, you have to stop talking about it. The need to move on becomes palpable. You don’t want to keep loudly dissecting the details in case it prevents other people from healing. So about a month in, still unable to reconcile the person I knew with the person in prison, and tired of going around in mental circles, I made the decision to tell myself he was dead. Doing so allowed me to mourn the friend I had lost—the person I thought he was, the inside jokes we shared, the teenage history—and put the whole thing behind me.

Except it’s not really that easy. I was never actually convinced that the root cause of his criminality was a sexual attraction to children. He did not fit the classic profile of a pedophile at all. He was outgoing with other adults, had a lot of friends and a steady stream of age-appropriate girlfriends, and was fiercely protective of his nieces and nephews. Compounding matters was the fact that it was a high-profile case; now and again, new stories about him would emerge. One summer, at a wedding, a stranger made a joke about him, unaware that I had known him. To this day, when people find out where I’m from, some of them ask if I ever met him in a manner that suggests he’s halfway to becoming an urban myth.

The longer I tried to ignore it, the more my need to figure out why he did what he did increased. So I started researching in earnest. Books about psychopathy and psychology and mental illness. Checklists of various personality disorders to see which one made the most sense. I read papers written by criminal psychologists and, at one point, even consulted with one directly because she’d had a lot of experience treating pedophiles. There were breadcrumbs and clues, but a clear answer evaded me.

Then a colleague gave me a gift: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. Not only had Rule been good friends with Ted Bundy, she’d also been working in the police department during the manhunt to find him, so she wrote about it all in agonizing detail. Rule’s predicament was comfortingly familiar, and the way she described Bundy sounded a lot like my friend—charming, handsome, intelligent, vain, never lacking in female attention. The book was far and away the most helpful thing I had read so far. So I kept going.

Next, I chose Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper by Gordon Burn, because it focused not only on Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes but the relationships he had maintained with his family and friends too. Those closest to Sutcliffe suspected nothing at all, even as he murdered 13 women, right under their noses.

After that came Killing For Company about Dennis Nilsen, a mild-mannered civil servant who murdered, dissected and disposed of at least 12 men while living in the heart of London. I had a hard time putting Brian Masters’ book down and plowed through it in a matter of days. One of the final chapters offered me a real turning point. In it, Masters breaks down, in great detail, the personality traits of serial killers—and my friend had almost all of them, down to bizarrely specific details. I stayed up all night with a highlighter. Later on, someone quietly confessed that he believed our friend would have “definitely” killed someone if he hadn’t been caught when he was. When I agreed and told him about the details in Killing For Company, he looked relieved that someone else shared this theory.

In recent months, I have had three separate people ask me why the media I consume is so dark in subject matter. It didn’t use to be. Now, every other book I read is about serial killers (my current choice is Fatal Vision, about Dr. Jeffrey McDonald who was imprisoned in 1979 for slaughtering his wife and children). When I watch TV and movies, I am mostly focused on true crime documentaries or dramatizations. (Lifetime’s Monster in My Family is a current favorite, thanks to the series’ process of putting the families of criminals in the same room as those of victims, allowing connections to take place). When I run out of episodes to stream, I find myself listening to the Casefile podcast.

The only time I have any objection to consuming true crime anything these days is when lines of decency get crossed. Allowing extended interviews with killers to air, for example—as The Ted Bundy Tapes and The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All recently did—is, to me, both an affront to victims and a reward to killers. I don’t want . . .

Continue reading.

There are monsters in our midst.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 9:59 am

Americans, pessimistic about what life will be like in 2050, fear these things most

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This is a grim column by James Hohmann in the Washington Post, and it puts into words (and illustrates with data) a growing feeling I have that the US will not recover: the decline is now leading into the fall because the US can no longer get the job done. Maybe I’m just being pessimistic—I certainly hope so—but read the column and see whether it matches your own thoughts and feelings:

THE BIG IDEA: Americans, collectively, appear to be in a deeper funk about the future than Beto O’Rourke was after he lost his Senate race.

When adults are asked to think about what the United States will be like in 2050, they see the country declining in stature on the world stage, a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and growing political polarization. They think health care will be less affordable, public education will be lower quality and retiring will be harder.

They fear the growing national debt, the likelihood of an attack that’s as bad or worse than 9/11 and another 1970s-style energy crisis. Many people also think robots will take their jobs.

Few folks in either party believe the political class is up to the task of addressing the most pressing challenges. Part of the problem is that there is less agreement about what the biggest problems even are than there once was, let alone the best ways to tackle them.

A Pew Research Center study published Thursday is full of sobering data points that underscore the level of unease in the body politic and help explain why every two years brings another change election. The comprehensive poll, released with a 58-page report, paints a grim portrait of Americans who feel trepidation about the day-to-day lives that they and their children will be forced to live in 30 years. The numbers bear out what I’ve heard for years now from voters across the country and across the ideological spectrum.

Seven in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country right now, higher than at any time in the past year, but there is a more atmospheric crisis of confidence that transcends the daily news cycle or even the Trump presidency. Overall, 56 percent of people say they are somewhat or even “very” optimistic about the future while 44 percent say they are pessimistic. But asking specific questions reveals a deeper, more systemic anxiety.

— The economy: We’re a decade removed from the Great Recession, yet 62 percent of Americans expect the lower class will increase as a relative share of the U.S. population by 2050. Only 20 percent expect that average families will fare better financially in the future than they do today. Another 44 percent predict that their standard of living to be worse three decades from now.

The poll shows that 73 percent expect the gap between the rich and the poor to grow, including majorities across demographic and political groups. Overall, 54 percent predict that the U.S. economy as a whole will be weaker in 2050 than it is today. And 63 percent worry the national debt will be larger in 2050 than it is now.

These numbers are startling considering the relative strength of the economy. If people are this pessimistic when times are pretty good, what’s going to happen as this economy continues to slow and inevitably dips into a recession?

— People fear the future of work: 37 percent of all currently employed Americans see automation as a direct threat to their current occupation. Exactly half of workers with no more than a high school diploma think robots and computers will take over the work that they currently do. While many of the highly educated and affluent think artificial intelligence and automation are great, a majority of Americans believe that it will worsen inequality. They don’t see the advantages.

— There’s growing anxiety about retirement security: Among those who are currently in the workforce, 42 percent expect to receive no Social Security benefits when they eventually retire. Another 42 percent anticipate that benefits will be reduced from what they are today.

Overall, 3 in 4 Americans expect older adults will be less prepared financially for retirement in 2050 than they are today; 83 percent predict that most people will have to work into their 70s to be able to afford to stop working; and 57 percent think people over 65 will have a worse standard of living in 2050 than they do today.

— More expect the quality of public schools to get worse than better by 2050, and 77 percent of Americans worry about their ability to provide a quality education for the students of tomorrow. This concern is shared across party lines.

— Six in 10 Americans predict that health care will be less affordable in 2050 than it is today.

— The same share of people thinks the condition of the planet will be worse in 2050. Only 16 percent think the environment will be better. Meanwhile, 2 in 3 Americans predict a major worldwide energy crisis that will hamper our economy sometime in the next 30 years.

— About half of Americans believe that a majority nonwhite population will lead to more racial and ethnic conflicts. Many white people especially fear demographic change. By 2050, the Census Bureau predicts the United States will be a majority-minority country. The Pew poll shows that 35 percent believe that’s good, 23 percent say it will be bad and the rest don’t think it’s good or bad. Overall, 40 percent believe race relations will be worse in 2050 than they are now.

— Six in 10 Americans believe that the United States will be less important in the world in 2050 than it is now.And 53 percent expect that China definitely or probably will overtake us as the world’s main superpower within the next three decades.

— There are also deep worries about the future of faith, marriage and family: Overall, 43 percent say they are “very” worried about the nation’s moral values while another 34 percent are “fairly” worried. Half the country sees religion being less important to American life in 2050. A 46 percent plurality expects that fewer people will have children. And a 53 percent majority thinks people in 2050 will be less likely to get married than they are today. Only 7 percent predict that people will be more likely to marry in the future.

— That finding comes amid fresh evidence that America is suffering epidemic levels of aloneness. Another major poll published this week, the General Social Survey, shows that just over half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 do not have a steady romantic partner. That’s up dramatically from 33 percent in 2004, which was the lowest figure since the question was first posed in 1986, and it’s up from 45 percent in 2016.

“The shift has helped drive singledom to a record high among the overall public, among whom 35 percent say they have no steady partner,” Lisa Bonos and Emily Guskin report. “There are several other trends that go along with the increase in young single Americans. Women are having fewer children, and they’re having them later in life. The median age of first marriage is increasing. … According to the General Social Survey data, 41 percent of Democrats are without a steady partner, compared with only 29 percent of Republicans.”

— Tribalism alert: Back to the Pew poll, 2 in 3 Americans predict that the country will be more politically divided in 2050 than it is now, including 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats.Only 26 percent of adults think we will be less polarized in 30 years than we are now.

Other surveys have shown similar levels of pessimism about polarization. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll in 2017 found that 36 percent of Americans were “not proud” of U.S. democracy, for example, at least twice as many as said this in both 2014 and 1996. That survey also found 71 percent saying they think partisan disagreements have reached a dangerous new normal. Most of this group (39 percent) thought this was the new normal, rather than temporary. Seven in 10 respondents thought divisions in this era are at least as big as during the Vietnam War, including 77 percent of people who were adults in the 1970s.

— Finally, most Americans don’t think solutions to our problems will come from Washington. In fact, 55 percent in the Pew poll said Washington will have a more negative impact than a positive one. The country continues to be divided over the role of government: Six in 10 fear the government will do too little to solve problems, while 39 percent worry that the feds will be too involved in issues that are better left to businesses and individuals. These people are counting on scientists, entrepreneurs and educators to get us out of the malaise. . .

Continue reading. And do read the entire column: there’s a lot more and it’s overwhelming.

In this connection, Andrew Sullivan’s column “Trump Is a Massive Failure — and Getting Exactly What He Wants,” in New York is sobering:

Every day, the evidence piles up that Trump’s presidency is a failure on its own terms, let alone anyone else’s. And every day, it becomes clearer that this really doesn’t matter at all.

A politically successful policy catastrophe? That’s one way of putting it. Let us count the ways. On trade, we have a record deficit in goods — precisely the opposite of what Trump promised. On immigration, we are facing the biggest crisis since the Bush years — a huge jump in migrants from Central America that is now overwhelming the system. Trump, for his part, is now enabling what he calls “catch and release” on a massive scale. On economic growth, the huge tax cut for the rich has failed. It will not boost growth to levels of 4 or 5 percent — even the president’s own advisers think it’s likely to be a shade less than 3 percent this year and will decline thereafter. The Fed thinks we’ll be lucky to get a little more than 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the budget deficit now looks likely to be more than a trillion dollars annually for the indefinite future, and public debt is hitting new, stratospheric levels. Trump pledged he’d balance the budget. On entitlements, Trump is beginning to backtrack on his promises to protect the safety net. On climate, the denial of reality is exposed almost daily. In just the last week, we’ve seen catastrophic flooding in the Midwest and what could become the Southern Hemisphere’s deadliest cyclone on record.

And what consequences do we see for these massive failures? Staggeringly stable polling numbers. A year ago, Trump’s approval-to-disapproval rateswere 40.6 to 53.4; today they’re 41.6 to 53.1 percent. Nothing seems to move them. A new survey of Fox News viewers shows that 78 percent of them think that Trump has accomplished more than any other president in history. More than Lincoln, FDR, or Washington, for Pete’s sake. And the enthusiasm of Trump’s base now exceeds that of the Democrats. The usual reassurance — that he’s still underwater, widely unpopular, and easy to defeat next year — is getting less reassuring. When you actually break out the head-to-head polls, you find Trump remains highly competitive. Bernie bests him by just two points right now — and that’s before the GOP attack machine has even gotten started. Everyone else is also neck and neck, although a new poll shows Biden with a ten-point lead. Maybe Biden will save us. I think he would have in 2016. But he failed at both his previous presidential runs, has a huge message-discipline problem, will have a hard time inspiring the grassroots, and looks to be a little too handsy with women for comfort. I’m not saying he cannot win. I’m just saying it’s obviously going to be tough.

And the cult is deepening. For me, the grimmest reality is Congress’s likely inability to override Trump’s veto on wall spending. Here you have a bedrock principle of constitutional conservatism — separation of powers, Congress’s sole power of the purse — and it has been tossed out the window. This is not some minor development. Handing the president the ability to make up national emergencies in order to appropriate funds for purposes Congress has explicitly ruled out — well, it’s textbook authoritarianism. It makes Obama’s attempt to juggle priorities in who gets deported look positively meek.

There is also a collapse in a functioning, accountable government outside the small royal court that has effectively replaced the cabinet. Foreign policy has become a matter of authoritarian whim, or family connection. Yesterday, Trump tweeted — yes, tweeted — an attack on the basis of international law: He recognized Israel’s seizure of the Golan Heights as legitimate and permanent. That piece of land is now, for the U.S., part of “Israel’s Sovereignty.” Reversing decades of policy only took a few seconds.

Trump’s rationale is the idea that the Heights are of “critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” So if a state decides to annex the territory of a neighboring state, because such an occupation helps the strategy and security of the aggressor nation, the U.S. has no problem with that. What principle is left to oppose Putin’s annexation of Crimea? Why did Trump do this? No one really knows, as is usually the case with monarchs of old. Probably he was trying to please evangelicals, support Bibi’s reelection, and nudge along the son-in-law’s harebrained Mideast scheme. (Yes, the mute dauphin who uses his WhatsApp for official business, and hangs out with the Saudi torturer, MBS.)

Trump’s dominance routine has also become more effective the longer it has gone on. Look at the miserable examples of Lindsey Graham or Ben Sasse, eunuchs at the Royal Court. Or think of Trump’s Twitter assaults on George Conway, a man pointing out the bleeding obvious — that Trump is so mentally and psychologically sick that he is unfit to run a lemonade stand. And, for her part, Conway defends Trump rather than her husband! This is Stalinesque. Or think of the insane indecency of Trump’s continued flaying of the ghost of John McCain. Yes, some Republicans have demurred. But primarily those whose own careers are over, time-limited, or beyond accountability because their seats are so safe. Mitt Romney is reduced to saying he cannot “understand” why Trump would do this. Again: the former nominee, safe Senate seat, Mormon rectitude, long Republican loyalist. And he pretends merely to be baffled?

Talk about “ripe for tyranny”! And that, it seems to me, is the real salience of the tweets. Trump is showing his foes and friends that he can say anything, abuse anyone, lie about anything, break every norm of decency, propriety and prudence — and suffer no consequences at all. It’s all a dominance ritual. And just think about what he has actually claimed: that the heads of the FBI and DOJ engaged in treasonous and illegal activity; that Russia, despite the unanimous judgment of U.S. and Western intelligence, did not attempt to intervene in the 2016 election; and that the opposition party cannot “legitimately” win an election. The latter — repeated over the years — is a direct assault on liberal democracy, and on the integrity and legitimacy of the entire system. It opens up the very real possibility that Trump will not concede an election he loses. In any functioning democracy, such statements would end any politician’s career. They merely burnish Trump’s hold.

In this post-truth world, where Trump has allied with social media to create an alternate reality, lies work. This week, he approached the press corps simply repeating, “No Collusion! No Collusion!” And he will continue to say this regardless of what the Mueller report may reveal, because it doesn’t matter what actually happened. Whatever Trump says will become the truth for 40 percent of the country, while the expectations of the opposition, troubled by pesky empiricism, may well be deflated. Fox, a de facto state propaganda channel, will do the rest.

This remains a surreal state of affairs, does it not? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 4:28 pm

This seems insane to me: Indiana Teachers Say They Were Mock Executed With a Pellet Gun During a School-Shooter Drill

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Sarah Jones writes in New York:

For educators, school-shooter drills have become a grim ritual. But teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, say one recent drill went much too far. As reported by the Indianapolis Star, law-enforcement officers lined teachers up and then shot them execution-style with an airsoft rifle. Pellets left bloody welts and caused panic; teachers had not been warned that officers would use a training weapon during the drill. “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” one anonymous teacher told the Star. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad.”

White County Sheriff Bill Brooks, whose department conducted the training, says that his officers stopped using the rifle after they were “made aware that one teacher was upset.” But multiple teachers complained to the Star, and the state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, has asked legislators to amend a pending school-safety bill so that it would prohibit safety-drill instructors from launching projectiles at teachers. During a Wednesday hearing, ISTA members vividly described hearing screams from shot teachers:

Brooks opposes the amendment. “We don’t need legislation in White County,” he told the Star. “We’re just not going to do it.” But Keith Gambill, the vice-president of ISTA and a music teacher based in Evansville, Indiana, told New York on Thursday that the union remains committed to legislative change anyway. “We want employees and students to be in a safe environment even if there has to be a training,” he said. “But the training should not involve shooting a projectile.” Gambill said the union had not received reports of similar incidents at other schools.

But while the Meadowlawn case is unusual, it has a legible genealogy. The sheriff’s intransigence, the drill’s traumatic conclusion, even the simple existence of the drill, all stem from the same basic reality — America refuses to pass any meaningful gun-control legislation. There’s no point, legislators say. Mass shooters are evil, and no law can strip evil from the hearts of men. And so mass shootings become symptoms of something other than legislative malpractice. They become sins, or “a random force of nature,” as the writer Patrick Blanchfield once put it. We can’t prevent mass shootings, this logic insists, so we can only prepare for them. As Blanchfield noted, the proliferation of gun violence has spawned a lucrative cottage industry — bulletproof whiteboards and bulletproof backpacks and training programs that script extreme school-shooting drills.

There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs. Liberals look at New Zealand, which banned military-grade guns within ten days of the Christchurch shootings, and draw up a short list of reasons to explain why they acted, and we do not: American gun culture, the particularities of our legislative system. But our intransigence is not just about our political system or some buried nostalgia for a mythical cowboy past: it is also about money. Guns make certain people very rich — people like gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists, though they aren’t the only beneficiaries of America’s reluctance to restrict its firearms.

The White County Sheriff’s Department shot teachers during an exercise designed by the for-profit ALICE Training Institute. The Ohio-based, for-profit organization did not return emailed requests for comment before press time, but its website is instructive. Though there’s no evidence that it has encouraged law-enforcement officials to assault teachers with pellet guns during trainings, it does promote a proactive response to active shooters. Each letter in its name corresponds to a different step in its safety protocol. “ALERT is when . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 3:35 pm

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