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Political reporting in the US has been very bad for a long time: A trip down memory lane

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Kevin Drum points out this post by Bob Somersby:

When “Trump before Trump” took us down: The role of The Crazy has been substantial in modern American discourse.

Crazy people advance crazy claims; millions of people believe them. American discourse bows beneath the weight of this widespread crackpot behavior.

In yesterday’s report, we tracked this phenomenon back to the pious Reverend Falwell and the endless crazy claims about all the people Bill and Hillary Clinton had murdered. The syndrome extends to more recent claims by radio crackpot Alex Jones, and by the disordered Donald J. Trump himself.

That doesn’t mean that this destructive syndrome only exists “on the right.” The mainstream press corps has been mired in this type of conduct too.

Future scholars are now calling such conduct “Trump before Trump.” They sometimes refer to this mental erosion within the press as “The Rise of Leadership Down.”

The Crazy flourished within the mainstream press during the era of Falwell. Consider a crazy statement which appeared in Marc Fisher’s weekly column in the Washington Post magazine.

The crazy statement to which we refer concerned a White House candidate’s clothes. The candidate in question was also the sitting vice president. He was the odds-on favorite to receive the Democratic nomination in Campaign 2000.

In late November 1999, Fisher wrote a highly peculiar essay about Candidate Gore. His crazy claim was lodged among a raft of other peculiar and unfortunate statements. Here’s how his essay ended:

FISHER (11/28/99): So when Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book jackets, we have two choices: We can say Gore’s a good man who’s been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.

A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, “Okay.”

To call him unreadable is to be charitable.

Just for the record—back in those days, we pseudo-liberals slept in the woods when people like Wolf were savaged in such identifiable ways. We let that kind of thing go.

That said, did Naomi Wolf “make her living by writing pop philosophy about sex?” It’s pretty much as you like it! For the record, two of the three books she’d written by that time had been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

One of the books, The Beauty Myth, had been chosen as one of the top hundred books of the century. But now, the disordered men and women of the upper-end mainstream press were spreading a web of noxious claims about Wolf, a campaign adviser to Gore.

These slanders included the noxious claim that Candidate Gore had “hired a woman to teach him how to be a man.” Candidate Gore was “today’s man-woman,” Chris Matthews loudly proclaimed on his crackpot TV show, Hardball.

These disordered figures were also convinced that Wolf had instructed Gore to wear “earth tones” on the campaign trail. This unfounded assertion helped lead to months of disordered claims about this targeted candidate’s clothes.

By Sunday, November 28, this ordered discussion had been underway for more than a month. This apparently forced Fisher to bump his roving band’s craziness up a notch.

Does Donald J. Trump make crazy claims? Yes he does, quite often. But on this day, Fisher was making crazy claims too. The craziest of his crazy claims may been this crazy statement:

Naomi Wolf had told Candidate Gore that “he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American.”

Truly, that was a crazy claim. As such, it was an example of the phenomenon known as Trump before Trump.

Had Naomi Wolf advised Gore about wardrobe? Like Fisher, we have no idea.

Candidates do take wardrobe advice, and Wolf was a campaign adviser. (With a crackpot press corps like the one we’re now describing, a targeted candidate must pay substantial attention to both wardrobe and hair.)

Wolf and Gore had both denied the claim that Wolf had offered wardrobe advice, but denizens of the upper-end press enjoyed the tale they were telling. In this case, Fisher seemed to be referring to a brown or perhaps olive suit Gore had worn to his first Democratic debate with Candidate Bradley, his only campaign opponent.

More than a month had passed since that time. But manifest crackpots of the press were still obsessed by the choice.

In fact, there was nothing outrageous about Gore’s suit, except in the mind of the crackpots. New Hampshire voters who watched that first Democratic debate had scored the event a draw. No one seemed troubled by Gore’s choice of clothes, and conservative icon Kate O’Beirne had praised the two candidates for the erudition each had displayed in discussing health care that night.

But alas! Inside the press room at Dartmouth College, three hundred journalists were hissing, booing and jeering every time Gore spoke. (On the record sources: Slate’s Jake Tapper, the Hotline’s Howard Mortman, Time’s Eric Pooley. We heard about this astounding conduct in a phone call from the site that very night.)

The children had been hissing and jeering every time Gore spoke! At the Washington Post, a Pulitzer winner decided to tell the world this:

MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—”I am not a well-dressed man.” It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation’s earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.

Mary McGrory, a veteran columnist and a Pulitzer winner, was writing live and direct from the realm of The Crazy.

She never mentioned the health care discussion whose erudition O’Beirne had praised. Instead, she chose to savage one candidate’s clothes in a pre-Trump manifestation.

McGrory was typing at the start of the war against Gore’s wardrobe. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2019 at 6:32 pm

Facebook and agnotology

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From Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View newsletter this morning:

Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, says with great clarity what so many now believe: Facebook should be broken up.

Facebook’s dominance is not an accident of history. The company’s strategy was to beat every competitor in plain view, and regulators and the government tacitly — and at times explicitly — approved.

I don’t blame Mark for his quest for domination. He has demonstrated nothing more nefarious than the virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur. Yet he has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice. It’s on our government to ensure that we never lose the magic of the invisible hand. How did we allow this to happen?

This is more than simply restricting consumer choice. Facebook’s quest for growth has also spread Zuckerberg’s dorm room cultural values across the globe. It has become an interface between people as citizens (not merely as “consumers”) and the resources they need to access. Facebook has also been instrumental in the growth of agnotology as a business and societal disease.

🕳️ danah boyd on how social media fosters agnotology, the ‘strategic and purposeful production of ignorance’ and is a ‘tool of oppression by the powerful.

What’s at stake right now is not simply about hate speech vs. free speech or the role of state-sponsored bots in political activity. It’s much more basic. It’s about purposefully and intentionally seeding doubt to fragment society. To fragment epistemologies. This is a tactic that was well-honed by propagandists.

One nuance I would add is that while actors within these platforms may act to purposefully spread ignorance, I think the platforms themselves have apathetic positions on epistemologies. Rather this emerges as a result of chasing engagement and the ad-supported business model. (We first covered agnotology in EV#24.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2019 at 6:14 am

Inside Facebook, the second-class workers who do the hardest job are waging a quiet battle

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Facebook is really wearing out its welcome by showing a very ugly side. Elizabeth Dwoskin reports in the Washington Post:

The thousands of people who do the bulk of Facebook’s work keeping the site free of suicides, massacres and other graphic posts are not Facebook employees. As contractors employed by outsourcing firms, these content moderators don’t get Facebook’s cushy six-month maternity leave, aren’t allowed to invite friends or family to the company cafeteria, and earn a starting wage that is 14 percent of the median Facebook salary.

But for the past seven months, roughly a dozen moderators in the United States have been spearheading a quiet campaign inside the social media giant to air their grievances about unsatisfactory working conditions and their status as second-class citizens. The contractors, who have not previously spoken publicly about their efforts, are using their access to Facebook Workplace, the social network’s internal communication system, to wage their battle. The moderators, who work for Facebook through their employer, Accenture, have also been having heated conversations with Accenture management over working conditions.

In the posts and conversations, the contractors have protested micromanagement, pay cuts and inadequate counseling support while doing some of Facebook’s most psychologically taxing jobs. Thousands of employees have seen or commented on the Workplace messages, according to a Washington Post review of them.

A counselor in Austin, who is one of five on staff for roughly 450 moderators spread across several offices in the Texas capital, said the job could cause a form of post-traumatic stress disorder known as vicarious trauma.

“I mean this non-facetiously: why do we contract out work that’s obviously vital to the health of the company and the products we build?” a full-time Facebook product manager who read one of the letters on Workplace asked his colleagues in a chat thread.

In becoming more vocal, moderators are starting to recognize their centrality to the reputations of some of the world’s wealthiest companies — and expanding a conversation about labor rights to a workforce that has historically operated in the shadows. Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, and Twitter uphold content moderation as a key component in the fight against abuse of their services by actors such as Russian operatives and violent extremists. In the past couple years, the companies have hired through outsourcing firms thousands of moderators, who watch or read traumatic posts about suicides, mass murders and child pornography, and must quickly make a decision about whether to leave them up or take them down based on whether they violate the companies’ policies.

“[Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg talks about us all the time, but then we’re not even on his payroll,” one moderator involved in posting the letters said in an interview.

Tech giants don’t include moderators or other contractors such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers in their official headcounts, though all contractors make up at least 40 percent of the workforce at companies such as Google and Facebook. And until recently, operations involving moderation were so secretive that none of the companies that use these workers disclosed site locations and names of outsourcing firms. That secrecy, also enforced through strict confidentiality agreements that prevent workers from talking about the job, posting about work locations or inviting visitors to the office, increases the sense of isolation among moderators — though companies say it is for their own safety because the decisions they make are controversial.

Among Silicon Valley firms, Facebook in particular has recently made efforts to improve conditions for moderators, including guaranteeing access to counseling services for workers worldwide, allowing unlimited “wellness time” during which workers can receive counseling, and instructing outsourcing firms not to pressure moderators to meet quotas. (The moderators interviewed by The Post say that in practice, their wellness time is far more restricted and that constant measurement for accuracy is as pressurizing as a quota.) The company employs four psychologists globally who design “resilience” programs for moderator mental health.

“Finding the right balance between content reviewer well-being and resiliency, quality, and productivity to ensure that we are getting to reports as quickly as possible for our community that is reporting content or might need help is very challenging at the scale we operate in,” Facebook spokeswoman Carolyn Glanville said. “We are continually working to get this balance right and improving our operations.”

Accenture said in a statement that it regularly offers content moderators opportunities to advance and wage increases. “We proactively take input from our people and use that input to help shape their experience — and we work closely with Facebook to address,” Accenture said. “As a talent and innovation-led organization, helping our people achieve their aspirations is a priority.”

Facebook is under pressure to

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2019 at 9:10 am

Prologue to “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World”

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Anand Giridharadas has written an important book for the present moment, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. To get a better understanding of why I write that, here is the prologue to the book. Read and see what you think.

PROLOGUE

All around us in America is the clank-clank-clank of the new—in our companies and economy, our neighborhoods and schools, our technologies and social fabric. But these novelties have failed to translate into broadly shared progress and the betterment of our overall civilization. American scientists make the most important discoveries in medicine and genetics and publish more biomedical research than those of any other country—but the average American’s health remains worse and slower-improving than that of peers in other rich countries, and in certain years life expectancy actually declines. American inventors create astonishing new ways to learn thanks to the power of video and the Internet, many of them free of charge—but the average twelfth grader tests more poorly in reading today than in 1992. The country has had a “culinary renaissance,” as one publication puts it, one farmers’ market and Whole Foods at a time—but it has failed to improve the nutrition of most people, with the incidence of obesity and related conditions rising over time. The tools for becoming an entrepreneur appear to be more accessible than ever, for the student who learns coding online or the Uber driver—but the share of young people who own a business has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s. America has birthed a wildly successful online book superstore called Amazon, and another company, Google, has scanned more than twenty-five million books for public use—but illiteracy has remained stubbornly in place and the fraction of Americans who read at least one work of literature a year has dropped by almost a quarter in recent decades. The government has more data at its disposal and more ways of talking and listening to citizens—but only one-quarter as many people find it trustworthy as did in the tempestuous 1960s.

A successful society is a progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and produces broad human advancement. America’s machine is broken. When the fruits of change have fallen on the United States in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them. For instance, the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold—even as the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same. These familiar figures amount to three and a half decades’ worth of wondrous, head-spinning change with zero impact on the average pay of 117 million Americans. Meanwhile, the opportunity to get ahead has been transformed from a shared reality to a perquisite of already being ahead. Among Americans born in 1940, those raised at the top of the upper middle class and the bottom of the lower middle class shared a roughly 90 percent chance of realizing the so-called American dream of ending up better off than their parents. Among Americans born in 1984 and maturing into adulthood today, the new reality is split-screen. Those raised near the top of the income ladder now have a 70 percent chance of realizing the dream. Meanwhile, those close to the bottom, more in need of elevation, have a 35 percent chance of climbing above their parents’ station. And it is not only progress and money that the fortunate monopolize: Rich American men, who tend to live longer than the average citizens of any other country, now live fifteen years longer than poor American men, who endure only as long as men in Sudan and Pakistan.

Thus many millions of Americans, on the left and right, feel one thing in common: that the game is rigged against people like them. Perhaps this is why we hear constant condemnation of “the system,” for it is the system that people expect to turn fortuitous developments into societal progress. Instead, the system—in America and around the world—has been organized to siphon the gains from innovation upward, such that the fortunes of the world’s billionaires now grow at more than double the pace of everyone else’s, and the top 10 percent of humanity have come to hold 90 percent of the planet’s wealth. It is no wonder that the American voting public—like other publics around the world—has turned more resentful and suspicious in recent years, embracing populist movements on the left and right, bringing socialism and nationalism into the center of political life in a way that once seemed unthinkable, and succumbing to all manner of conspiracy theory and fake news. There is a spreading recognition, on both sides of the ideological divide, that the system is broken and has to change.

Some elites faced with this kind of gathering anger have hidden behind walls and gates and on landed estates, emerging only to try to seize even greater political power to protect themselves against the mob. But in recent years a great many fortunate people have also tried something else, something both laudable and self-serving: They have tried to help by taking ownership of the problem.

All around us, the winners in our highly inequitable status quo declare themselves partisans of change. They know the problem, and they want to be part of the solution. Actually, they want to lead the search for solutions. They believe that their solutions deserve to be at the forefront of social change. They may join or support movements initiated by ordinary people looking to fix aspects of their society. More often, though, these elites start initiatives of their own, taking on social change as though it were just another stock in their portfolio or corporation to restructure. Because they are in charge of these attempts at social change, the attempts naturally reflect their biases.

The initiatives mostly aren’t democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo—and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them win—are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality. Socially minded financiers at Goldman Sachs seek to change the world through “win-win” initiatives like “green bonds” and “impact investing.” Tech companies like Uber and Airbnb cast themselves as empowering the poor by allowing them to chauffeur people around or rent out spare rooms. Management consultants and Wall Street brains seek to convince the social sector that they should guide its pursuit of greater equality by assuming board seats and leadership positions. Conferences and idea festivals sponsored by plutocrats and big business host panels on injustice and promote “thought leaders” who are willing to confine their thinking to improving lives within the faulty system rather than tackling the faults. Profitable companies built in questionable ways and employing reckless means engage in corporate social responsibility, and some rich people make a splash by “giving back”—regardless of the fact that they may have caused serious societal problems as they built their fortunes. Elite networking forums like the Aspen Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative groom the rich to be self-appointed leaders of social change, taking on the problems people like them have been instrumental in creating or sustaining. A new breed of community-minded so-called B Corporations has been born, reflecting a faith that more enlightened corporate self-interest—rather than, say, public regulation—is the surest guarantor of the public welfare. A pair of Silicon Valley billionaires fund an initiative to rethink the Democratic Party, and one of them can claim, without a hint of irony, that their goals are to amplify the voices of the powerless and reduce the political influence of rich people like them.

The elites behind efforts like these often speak in a language of “changing the world” and “making the world a better place” more typically associated with barricades than ski resorts. Yet we are left with the inescapable fact that in the very era in which these elites have done so much to help, they have continued to hoard the overwhelming share of progress, the average American’s life has scarcely improved, and virtually all of the nation’s institutions, with the exception of the military, have lost the public’s trust.

Are we ready to hand over our future to the elite, one supposedly world-changing initiative at a time? Are we ready to call participatory democracy a failure, and to declare these other, private forms of change-making the new way forward? Is the decrepit state of American self-government an excuse to work around it and let it further atrophy? Or is meaningful democracy, in which we all potentially have a voice, worth fighting for?

There is no denying that today’s elite may be among the more socially concerned elites in history. But it is also, by the cold logic of numbers, among the more predatory in history. By refusing to risk its way of life, by rejecting the idea that the powerful might have to sacrifice for the common good, it clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolize progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken—many of whom wouldn’t need the scraps if the society were working right. This book is an attempt to understand the connection between these elites’ social concern and predation, between the extraordinary helping and the extraordinary hoarding, between the milking—and perhaps abetting—of an unjust status quo and the attempts by the milkers to repair a small part of it. It is also an attempt to offer a view of how the elite see the world, so that we might better assess the merits and limitations of their world-changing campaigns.

There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation. One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.

But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are. After all, it takes the edge off of some of the public’s anger at being excluded from progress. It improves the image of the winners. With its private and voluntary half-measures, it crowds out public solutions that would solve problems for everyone, and do so with or without the elite’s blessing. There is no question that the outpouring of elite-led social change in our era does great good and soothes pain and saves lives. But we should also recall Oscar Wilde’s words about such elite helpfulness being “not a solution” but “an aggravation of the difficulty.” More than a century ago, in an age of churn like our own, he wrote, “Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

Wilde’s formulation may sound extreme to modern ears. How can there be anything wrong with trying to do good? The answer may be: when the good is an accomplice to even greater, if more invisible, harm. In our era that harm is the concentration of money and power among a small few, who reap from that concentration a near monopoly on the benefits of change. And do-gooding pursued by elites tends not only to leave this concentration untouched, but actually to shore it up. For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is—above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners. In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations. The society should be changed in ways that do not change the underlying economic system that has allowed the winners to win and fostered many of the problems they seek to solve. The broad fidelity to this law helps make sense of what we observe all around: the powerful fighting to “change the world” in ways that essentially keep it the same, and “giving back” in ways that sustain an indefensible distribution of influence, resources, and tools. Is there a better way?

The secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a research and policy organization that works on behalf of the world’s richest countries, recently compared the prevailing elite posture to that of the fictional Italian aristocrat Tancredi Falconeri, who declared, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” If this view is correct, then much of the charity and social innovation and give-one-get-one marketing around us may not be reform measures so much as forms of conservative self-defense—measures that protect elites from more menacing change. Among the kinds of issues being sidelined, the OECD leader, Ángel Gurría, wrote, are “rising inequalities of income, wealth and opportunities; the growing disconnect between finance and the real economy; mounting divergence in productivity levels between workers, firms and regions; winner-take-most dynamics in many markets; limited progressivity of our tax systems; corruption and capture of politics and institutions by vested interests; lack of transparency and participation by ordinary citizens in decision-making; the soundness of the education and of the values we transmit to future generations.” Elites, Gurría writes, have found myriad ways to “change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.” The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change, often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.

It is fitting that an era marked by these tendencies should culminate in the election of Donald Trump. Trump is at once an exposer, an exploiter, and an embodiment of the cult of elite-led social change. He tapped, as few before him successfully had, into a widespread intuition that elites were phonily claiming to be doing what was best for most Americans. He exploited that intuition by whipping it into frenzied anger and then directing most of that anger not at elites but at the most marginalized and vulnerable Americans. And he came to incarnate the very fraud that had fueled his rise and that he had exploited. He became, like the elites he assailed, the establishment figure who falsely casts himself as a renegade. He became the rich, educated man who styles himself as the ablest protector of the poor and uneducated—and who insists, against all evidence, that his interests have nothing to do with the change he seeks. He became the chief salesman for the theory, rife among plutocratic change agents, that what is best for powerful him is best for the powerless, too. Trump is the reductio ad absurdum of a culture that tasks elites with reforming the very systems that have made them and left others in the dust.

One thing that unites those who voted for Trump and those who despaired at his being elected is a sense that the country requires transformational reform. The question we confront is whether moneyed elites, who already rule the roost in the economy and exert enormous influence in the corridors of political power, should be allowed to continue their conquest of social change and of the pursuit of greater equality. The only thing better than controlling money and power is to control the efforts to question the distribution of money and power. The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over hens.

What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests. We must decide whether, in the name of ascendant values such as efficiency and scale, we are willing to allow democratic purpose to be usurped by private actors who often genuinely aspire to improve things but, first things first, seek to protect themselves. Yes, government is dysfunctional at present. But that is all the more reason to treat its repair as our foremost national priority. Pursuing workarounds of our troubled democracy makes democracy even more troubled. We must ask ourselves why we have so easily lost faith in the engines of progress that got us where we are today—in the democratic efforts to outlaw slavery, end child labor, limit the workday, keep drugs safe, protect collective bargaining, create public schools, battle the Great Depression, electrify rural America, weave a nation together by road, pursue a Great Society free of poverty, extend civil and political rights to women and African Americans and other minorities, and give our fellow citizens health, security, and dignity in old age.

This book offers a series of portraits of this elite-led, market-friendly, winner-safe social change. In these pages, you will meet people who ardently believe in this form of change and people who are beginning to question it. You will meet a start-up employee who believes her for-profit company has the solution to the woes of the working poor, and a billionaire investor in her company who believes that only vigorous public action can stem the rising tide of public rage. You will meet a thinker who grapples with how much she can challenge the rich and powerful if she wants to keep getting their invitations and patronage. You will meet a campaigner for economic equality whose previous employers include Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, and who wonders about his complicity in what he calls “the Trying-to-Solve-the-Problem-with-the-Tools-That-Caused-It issue.” You will meet one of the most powerful figures in the philanthropy world, who stuns his rich admirers by refusing to honor the taboo against speaking of how they make their money. You will meet a former American president who launched his career with a belief in changing the world through political action, and then, as he began to spend time with plutocrats in his post-presidential life, gravitated toward private methods of change that benefit rather than scare them. You will meet a widely lionized “social innovator” who quietly nurses doubts about whether his commercial approach to world-changing is what it is cracked up to be. You will meet an Italian philosopher who reminds us what gets sidelined when the moneyed take over change.

What these various figures have in common is that they are grappling with certain powerful myths—the myths that have fostered an age of extraordinary power concentration; that have allowed the elite’s private, partial, and self-preservational deeds to pass for real change; that have let many decent winners convince themselves, and much of the world, that their plan to “do well by doing good” is an adequate answer to an age of exclusion; that put a gloss of selflessness on the protection of one’s privileges; and that cast more meaningful change as wide-eyed, radical, and vague.

It is my hope in writing what follows to reveal these myths to be exactly that. Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2019 at 11:18 am

“Get Out While You Can”

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Rosie Gray reports in BuzzFeed News:

If you remember Katie McHugh, it’s probably because of the tweets.

A short selection: “British settlers built the USA. ‘Slaves’ built the country much as cows ‘built’ McDonald’s. Amateur…”

“The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

“Funny how Europeans assimilated, unlike Third Worlders demanding welfare while raping, killing Americans.”

There are many more examples, but this is the big one, the one that ultimately triggered her firing from her job as a writer and editor at Breitbart News in 2017: “There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.”

If you look at her Twitter feed now, you’ll see that it’s changed. It’s locked, and her bio is blank. Where is McHugh? I can’t tell you, but I’ve seen her lately. The first time we met was late last summer, on the stoop of a house where she was then living in Washington, DC. She looked gaunt and anxious. When I shook her hand, it felt tiny and frail. We sat facing each other across a patio table on a hot, sticky day. She smoked.

I didn’t know what to make of her. This was someone whom I’d known to be a bigot, someone who freely threw around the “cuck” slur and who represented the kind of ideology I have devoted much of my career so far to explaining and exposing. It was a little over a year after Charlottesville. The bad things from the internet had started to come to life, with terrible, violent, and real consequences. It was bizarre to see in person someone who had existed for me only as an online symbol of the very worst parts of contemporary politics.

She was saying she wanted to leave it all behind: her years as a far-right media figure and tweeter, and someone who close observers of right-wing media knew was one of Breitbart’s most obvious connections to the white supremacist core of the alt-right. McHugh had dated Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct right-wing campus youth group that billed itself as promoting “the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage,” but was entwined with the white nationalist movement; Jared Taylor, the self-described “white advocate” founder of American Renaissance, once fundraised for the group. Her disparaging tweets about people of color and Muslims made her stand out even at Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, which had launched Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, had featured a “black crime” tag for stories, and had been described by Bannon himself as a “platform for the alt-right.”

After McHugh’s public dismissal, she had gone on to briefly contract for infamous troll Charles C. Johnson’s GotNews site. That didn’t work out, either. A difficult relationship had left her isolated, and she was on the outs with her former friends. She was going broke and could barely afford the expenses incurred by her Type 1 diabetes. Her time in Washington had ruined her life, and not in just a bump-in-the-road kind of way. She had been to a place you couldn’t really come back from.

She wasn’t sure about going on the record but later decided to. I met her again in September in a town a few hours outside of Washington where she was staying. As I approached her in a coffee shop on a Monday morning, she looked well enough. Her makeup was neatly applied, her nails were painted, and she was wearing a navy-and-white dress with coordinating white cardigan and loafers. Her skin had previously looked mottled and gray but now shone with a new vitality. She shook my hand with a firm grip and we started talking.

Her story is fascinating, and sometimes frustrating. She wishes she had never said the things she’s said or did the things she’s done, but when I first met her, she still insisted that they were often jokes gone wrong, and that, on some level, she’d said these things because she’d been egged on by others. She seemed unable to face her full complicity in her own behavior. Unlike Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black and to date one of the most significant defectors from the white nationalist movement — he’s even the subject of a recent book by the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow — McHugh wasn’t raised in the movement. Although Black represented the old guard of white nationalism — his godfather is David Duke — McHugh was part of the vanguard. Her set took the emerging own-the-libs ethos that animated the online right and combined it with the new iteration of white nationalism, which called itself the alt-right.

Where was McHugh radicalized? Her story is about support systems and pipelines. It’s about how an angry young conservative with reactionary views got herself involved with a small coterie of ideologues in Washington and prepped for a conservative media career in the crucial years before the rise of Donald Trump, as extremism became more popular on the right and as people could optimize themselves for success through attention on social media. It’s about how the organizations she worked for either turned a blind eye to or were genuinely ignorant of the fact that one of their young stars was leading a double life among hardcore racist activists. And it’s about how the cultlike atmosphere of the so-called alt-right helped people make more and more harmful decisions.

Her story is also about something that has ended. The events she described to me took place mostly between 2013 and 2017, a span of time in which the alt-right rose and fell dramatically as it attempted to go mainstream. “There was a move to have people in the system who were our guys, so to speak,” said Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader who has made himself the poster boy for the alt-right. “I think that’s failed on a number of levels.” All they’d gotten, he said, were “just a lot of people who just hang out in the conservative movement and don’t accomplish anything.”

But the legacy of this period — the racism, the spread of white nationalist ideas online, and the murder in Charlottesville — will affect American politics for a long time to come.

“I take responsibility for all my actions,” McHugh says now. “Everything I said that was terrible was my fault.” She says she knows she was a racist. She says that she has changed. And she’s ready to tell everything she knows.

In the spring of 2011, Katie McHugh was a student at Allegheny College. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and was attending the region’s oldest private college but wanted to make it to Washington and join the conservative movement. She was a quiet young woman who hadn’t ventured very far from where she’d grown up. Her reading had taken her to some unusual places, however, for a young person.

She’d become a devotee of Joe Sobran, the late Catholic columnist who was firedfrom National Review after falling out with William F. Buckley and whose writings deeply influenced the paleoconservative movement, which emphasizes nationalism and noninterventionism. Over the course of his career, Sobran’s writing on Israel and Jews became extreme, and he associated with Holocaust deniers and questioned Holocaust history. McHugh had liked Ron Paul, for whom she was slightly too young to vote in 2008, so a friend at church had told her to read Sobran’s “The Reluctant Anarchist.” In the piece, written in 2002, Sobran describes how he moved away from the ideology of mainstream conservatism and toward becoming a “philosophical anarchist.” Sobran opposed the concept of the state as a unifying force of government; he opposed the very idea of so-called constitutional government. The argument made sense to the budding young libertarian in Pennsylvania. “That was my step into the right,” she said. “I think I’ve read every single thing Sobran’s ever written.” Sobran’s death was also her introduction to even farther-right media; when he died in 2010, her online search for obituaries led her to the VDare and American Renaissance websites, she said.

By the time she arrived at Allegheny, things were changing on the right. The victory of the first black president — an unapologetic liberal with roots in the community organizing so hated by conservatives — had catalyzed a shift on the right toward conspiracy theories, a penchant for victimhood, and an increasing emphasis on winning at all costs. On Allegheny’s small 2,000-student campus, McHugh said, “I made it more difficult on myself by being a raging conservative.”

She felt herself on the wrong side of a class divide. Allegheny’s students seemed wealthy; she wasn’t. She couldn’t join a sorority because she couldn’t afford the dues, she said. Her sense of outsiderness gave her a bold pen, and she was already going to extremes. She published reactionary opinion pieces for the campus newspaper, such as one arguing that the “homosexual movement, a liberal sub–faction, proliferates like melanoma.” “I could have tempered my message, things like that,” she told me. But she didn’t.

In 2011 she applied for an internship with the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), a nonprofit connected to George Mason University that promotes “classical liberalism” and libertarianism on college campuses and grants fellowships to students.

“I reviewed your application,” wrote John Elliott, the program’s director at the time, in an email to her in February of that year. “You are the first applicant to ever list Joe Sobran as an influence. Joe was a friend. He had the same influence on me. I was delighted to find a young journalist who has profited from his work.”

Elliott wrote that he had moved her to the second round and that they would arrange a phone interview. He also offered some advice: “Reporting on student council meetings or power outages may not be as ‘fun’ as a column. But it will teach you the skills to find a job in journalism and eventually write the columns.” Elliott placed McHugh in an internship at the Daily Caller. It was under this aegis that McHugh went to Washington as a cub reporter for the first time.

“John essentially selected me to come to DC as part of the libertarian–alt-right pipeline,” McHugh said of Elliott.

“I chose Katie to mentor as a libertarian, not as a member of the ‘alt-right,’” Elliott said in an email. “The ‘alt-right’ didn’t exist in 2011, and I’ve had no connection with the ‘alt-right’ since it was invented. I tried to be a mentor and a friend to Katie for a decade, even as she went down some of the dark paths of those fringe groups. But her decision to go down those paths had nothing to do with me. I truly feel bad for her.”

When she returned to school, she successfully made some noise as a campus journalist, getting her first taste of the conflict and controversy that would define her career. In 2013 she wrote a story for the College Fix, a campus conservative site, about how a sex-education seminar titled “I Heart the Female Orgasm” had been held in the school’s chapel. The story caused a stir and briefly entered the bloodstream of the conservative media.

So she was well prepared for the kind of work that was the coin of the realm for a young journalist trying to make it on the right during Barack Obama’s second term. She couldn’t wait to leave college. “Andrew Breitbart described his undergraduate degree as his release papers from prison,” she said. “That’s how I looked at my degree.”

McHugh already had a job waiting for her. According to her, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a college conservative group, gave her a $20,000 fellowship to work at the Daily Caller, the then-fledgling conservative news site founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel. The Caller added $10,000. Famously, Carlson had given a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2009 about how conservatives needed to create a true alternative to the mainstream media by producing accurate journalism and modeling themselves after the New York Times. Carlson had a polyglot vision for his outlet, and the leadership of the Daily Caller cultivated a laissez-faire attitude toward its culture, which helped the Caller produce journalists from all over the spectrum; some have gone on to well-regarded mainstream or conservative outlets and launched successful careers. But others have veered much further toward the fringe.

McHugh was at the Caller for about 10 months. This kind of arrangement has for decades been a common way of launching a career in Washington. Nonprofits all over the ideological spectrum fund journalism internships and fellowships for a variety of outlets. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it at all, which contributed to McHugh’s ability to fly under the radar.

Concurrently, she began dating Kevin DeAnna. The two met in July 2013, according to McHugh, at a going-away party in Alexandria, Virginia, for a mutual friend leaving a conservative group. Her double life was already developing because of her relationship with DeAnna and her connection to Elliott, who invited her to a dinner with the British Holocaust denier David Irving in 2013.

“David irving is in Washington. I had lunch with him in the Archives. He is speaking at 6:30 near Du Pont Circle. Are you interested?” Elliott wrote to her in an email in November 2013. (It was the first of three dinners she would attend with Irving over the course of her time in DC, though she claims she did not know who he was before the first one. Elliott, in an email, said he’d met Irving when he worked as a researcher and attended dinner with him because he’s “interesting and controversial,” not because Elliott endorses his views.) A group of committed fans attended these dinners, held at the Nage restaurant, when Irving passed through DC. People would ask pop history–type questions about Hitler, like whether he had one testicle, was gay, or had syphilis. McHugh says she mostly wanted to ask about Irving’s research into Nazi Germany’s attempt to develop the atom bomb.

“I was a white nationalist,” McHugh told me in a recent text message. “I wasn’t completely aligned with Irving’s anti-Semitism, but I was compelled to his ideas for the wrong reasons. Ideas which now horrify me.”

In December 2013, she corresponded with Chuck Ross, a blogger who freelanced at the Caller and later went on to a staff job at the Caller. At the time, Ross mused on his blog about politics and current affairs; years later, he apologized for the blog’s racism and misogyny. The exchange with Ross that McHugh provided me shows how brazen she was at the time. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

An interesting passage late in the article:

. . . McHugh thinks of her time in the alt-right like St. Augustine’s famous story about stealing pears in his Confessions — driven by seeking what others hated, alone in the world, but together. Augustine wrote: “A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night … and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them.”

Augustine confesses to God that he had been “gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself”: “It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction: not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!”

This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.

“They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.” Like the Wolves of Vinland, carrying on their bizarre playacting in the Virginia woods, the members of the alt-right are bound to one another in ways that make walking away daunting.

No one can be totally alone. Even if you’re hated by the majority of people, if you have kindred spirits cheering you on in the minority, you can survive. McHugh might have gone on longer if she hadn’t become toxic not only to the wider world but also to her alt-right former friends. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes about the way the lonely deduce the worst, and the way that totalitarian government “bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man. …What makes loneliness so unbearable is the loss of one’s own self which can be realized in solitude, but confirmed in its identity only by the trusting and trustworthy company of my equals.” White nationalism thrives on the loneliness of the disaffected; McHugh’s own loneliness aided her escape — but with the help of the two friends. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2019 at 10:03 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media, Politics

What if Fox News covered Trump the way it covered Obama? It would look like this

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Watch the video. Spot-on.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2019 at 8:48 am

Memo to the Press: How Not to Screw Up on the Mueller Report

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Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes write at Lawfare:

Back in February, writing with Susan Hennessey and Mikhaila Fogel, we laid out “Four Principles for Reading the Mueller Report.” The report was then still vapor, a document whose preparation was widely hypothesized by most analysts and in some form required by regulation. Its expected arrival at the Justice Department had been reported by a number of news outlets, but about its content, no solid information was available. While we were still self-consciously behind the veil of ignorance about what Special Counsel Robert Mueller had concluded, it seemed like a good time to lay out some ground rules for how to read it fairly. Our proposals were simple:

  • People should be prepared to accept Mueller’s prosecutorial judgments, we argued.
  • They should accept the factual record described in the report.
  • They should not assume the report covers more than it, in fact, conveys—there being a lot of legal questions about President Trump’s behavior that lie outside the scope of the Mueller investigation.
  • Nonprosecution decisions do not necessarily resolve questions of morality, ethics or impeachability—in other words, the judgments of history, journalism and Congress are not determined by whether Mueller finds the president’s conduct indictably criminal.

When we made these suggestions, we were candidly not anticipating what turned out to be an important intervening event: the release of Attorney General William Barr’s letter describing the top-line prosecutorial judgments Mueller had reached without releasing any of the underlying factual or analytic work product. The lag between the Barr letter and the still-impending release of the report itself has been a period in which the press has no capacity to apply the principles we laid out—or any others—because it has no capacity to read the document at all. Yet it is nonetheless awash in an aggressive spin campaign by the president and his allies as to what Mueller supposedly found, and an aggressive push as well from congressional Democrats to focus on procedural demands for the report’s release. Lost in the shadow boxing of this period is, well, the report itself.

The press, to put it mildly, has not handled the confusion well. News reporting initially dramatically overstated what Barr had actually said about the report—to the point that Barr himself clarified in a second letter to Congress that he hadn’t been summarizing its content. The reporting also frequently confused prosecutorial judgments with normative judgments and presumed factual conclusions from declinations in a fashion that may well be incorrect.

The problem began immediately on the delivery of the Mueller report, when news outlets reported on Mueller’s declination of any additional prosecutions relating to conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government by declaring that Mueller had found “no evidence” of such an agreement. Some blasted out the president’s claims of “Complete and Total EXONERATION” without immediately noting that Barr’s letter specifically stated Mueller had not exonerated the president on obstruction. Others reported incorrectly that there had been no obstruction, pointing to Barr’s independent conclusion that Mueller’s evidence was not enough to bring an obstruction case. The New York Times and the Washington Post both described Barr’s letter as lifting a “cloud” over Trump’s presidency. In many cases, reporters and publications trumpeted Barr’s top-line descriptions without giving adequate attention to both the more complicated facts of what Barr had actually described—the difference between no evidence of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt and “no collusion,” for example—and the information that remained hidden from public view. The letter “provided [Trump] with a powerful boost for the final 22 months of his term,” the Times’s Peter Baker wrote, before noting that “no one outside the Justice Department has actually read the report.”

It is rare that life offers a true opportunity for a do-over, but this is one of those times for the press. Testifying before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on April 10, Barr said that the report will be out next week. So the press will imminently have another chance to cover this document—this time the real thing—in a thoughtful and serious manner. To avoid needless errors, both factual and analytic, here are nine suggestions for writing about the document—things to do, and things not to do.

First, focus on what the report actually says. It is far less important to give your pithy account of what Mueller did—that, in your words, he “cleared” the president or that “he gave a devastating account” of Trump’s or his campaign’s conduct—than it is to report what Mueller actually said. Report what facts Mueller found. Report what prosecutorial judgments he made. Report how he described his analysis of the facts against the law. Don’t impose onto the substantive reporting of the document some political meta-story that goes beyond the four corners of the report. Your first job here is to tell readers what Mueller did and concluded in 400 pages of text.

Second, the idea that the big story is the contents of the report has an important corollary: The big story, at least initially, is not how people are reacting to the report. Unless you’re a congressional reporter or analyst, it makes little sense to focus on how congressional Democrats are reacting to the document’s release or even whether Congress will take this as an invitation to begin impeachment proceedings. Likewise, it’s also premature to zero in first thing on how the report will affect the race for president in 2020. Do not rush to get reaction from commentators or members of Congress who plainly will not have read or digested the document yet. Do not let the story or stories Mueller tells get overtaken by the many spins that will vie to overtake it.

Third, accept that there could be more than one story to tell about the report’s contents. There may be several—and they may cut in very different directions. Barr’s initial letter flags at least two largely distinct inquiries, noting that Mueller examined possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and also examined possible obstruction of justice by the president. But even within these areas, particularly the Russia prong, there are almost certainly important subsidiary threads, and the merits of these threads might be very different from one another. It’s perfectly possible that the report will “totally clear the President” on some points and describe deeply disturbing conclusions and new facts on others.

Fourth, this also means that the press should be careful not to confuse prosecutorial judgment with facts. This was a huge problem at the time of the original Barr letter. A decision not to prosecute someone provides important information about whether a prosecutor believes that a federal offense has been committed and the admissible evidence of that offense is “sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction,” as our colleague Paul Rosenzweig has detailed. A 400-page report will contain plenty of other information beyond the top-line conclusion, however. That additional material does not erase the overarching prosecutorial judgment, but neither does the prosecutorial judgment erase whatever additional material the report sets out. The press, in other words, would do well to keep as separate as possible the task of explaining Mueller’s prosecutorial judgment from the task of analyzing and describing the factual record he found.

Fifth, an important corollary to the previous point is that the decision not to prosecute a person for some alleged conduct is not a historical judgment that the conduct didn’t happen. The absence of a conspiracy indictment may mean there was “no collusion,” but it may not mean that. It may mean, rather, that the specific form of “collusion” (whatever that means) doesn’t happen to violate the law or that the evidence of misconduct, while compelling, is insufficient for a criminal case. And even if it does mean “no collusion,” it doesn’t erase the factual record that we already know to exist. The Trump Tower meeting still happened, after all; and the Trump Tower Moscow effort still went on, and Michael Cohen still lied about it.

Sixth and relatedly, keep in mind that the decision not to prosecute someone based on the factual record does not end the analysis of that record. It just ends the prosecutorial analysis. Mueller’s job as a prosecutor was to investigate and reach decisions about whether or not to bring cases based on that evidence (which is exactly why his apparent decision to hold back on reaching a conclusion as to evidence of obstruction has caused many former prosecutors to scratch their heads). But indictability is not the only legitimate standard of evaluation. It may be perfectly appropriate for Mueller to decline a case and yet for observers to conclude that the conduct at issue merits the opprobrium of all decent people. Congress and the public have a different set of responsibilities. With the evidence Mueller has obtained on the table, it will now be for Congress to decide whether and how the report suggests new avenues for oversight or legislation or even if it merits the beginning of impeachment proceedings. It will also be for the public to determine whether the conduct described on the part of the president and those around him is befitting of the office of the president. These are not prosecutorial judgments, and the declination of prosecutions does not answer them.

This may well prove to be particularly important with regard to the obstruction inquiry, given the absence of a charging decision on Mueller’s part. As we wrote along with our colleagues after the initial release of the Barr letter, this may mean that “the Mueller report has teed up the question of presidential obstruction for evaluation by a different actor—to wit, by Congress—on a decidedly noncriminal basis.”

Seventh, in particular, keep in mind that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2019 at 12:45 pm

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