Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Real Men Are Wallets?



This is a billboard in or near Winston-Salem, North Carolina:





It has been purchased by a company which wishes to remain anonymous.

When I saw the picture, I immediately started adding various words to the end of the first sentence.  I think "sex" would win.*



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

America First? The Gutting of Foreign Aid.


Trump's budget plan includes cutting foreign aid, which is currently about one percent of all federal spending, or one dollar out of each one hundred spent.  Cutting foreign aid to zero wouldn't do much to reduce the federal deficit, but it could weaken the powers of US foreign diplomacy to avert unrest in this world.

Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post speculates that a focus on cutting foreign aid comes about because not even the Republicans are that keen to cut domestic programs, to give more money to the military.  She also describes a recent poll which shows that many people are uninformed of the tiny size of foreign aid in the overall federal spending:




Rampell notes: "In fact, of all the programs included in this survey, “foreign aid” garnered the highest share of responses calling it a major contributor to federal debt."

This is fascinating.  A 2015 survey also noted that people vastly overestimate how much is spent on foreign aid:

A large majority of the public overestimates the amount of the federal budget that is spent on foreign aid. Similar to past Kaiser polls, just 1 in 20 correctly state that 1 percent or less of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. About half say it is more than 10 percent of the budget, and, on average, Americans say that spending on foreign aid makes up roughly a quarter of the federal budget.

Bolds are mine.

I wasn't able to find the size estimates by political affiliation, but more Republicans than Democrats believe that foreign aid contributes to the national debt, and 63% of Trump voters in the recent survey believe that foreign aid greatly contributes to the federal debt, while only 34% of Clinton voters agreed with them.

All this makes me wonder about the confidence of beliefs which are not based on factual data.  This article is worth reading in that context.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Trump:"Nobody Knew That Health Care Could Be So Complicated." Call Me Nobody Then.


I am going to embroider these sentences on the pillow I punch when my red-hot anger gets too much for me:

“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
This is the deep wisdom our Dear Leader shared with us, concerning the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  he promised his flock during the campaign. 

Well, call me Nobody, because I knew how complicated constructing a health insurance system is.  And imagine this: People even study those complications for years and years, and get degrees in that field.

That means there are quite a few of us Nobodies.

Sigh.  Enough Americans voted for a Know-Nothing, and now we are all going to suffer for that.

A small reminder:  The Republicans want to kill the ACA not because the flaws it has but because of the taxes that the wealthier taxpayers must pay to fund it.

Any replacement they might concoct is going to mean less access to good quality health care for low-income individuals.   Otherwise those "tax cuts" can't be funded.



Trump: The US Needs More Weapons.



Trump is going to ask more money for military spending.  It's supposed to come from cuts in the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Because there is no climate change, at all. 

To put that request into perspective, note this:

The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures. World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total.
U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined.

The US already spends as much as the next seven big-spending countries in the world.  Clearly there is no amount that can ever be enough, just as there is no minimum amount that the Republicans would be willing to leave into Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Perhaps that is because the very rich don't see Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security as programs which defend them against premature death, poverty, pain and suffering?  But they do fear imaginary hobgoblins under their beds and want more bombs to keep them away.




Friday, February 24, 2017

Jamies Winston Gives An Inspiring Speech To Fifth-Grade Boys. To Fifth-Grade Girls? Not So Much.



Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston spoke to fifth graders at a Florida school last Wednesday.  His talk was to inspire the children, to give them hope and higher aspirations.

And this is how he inspired them:





That, my sweet readers, is how traditional gender roles are reproduced, only in a much louder voice than usual.

Winston explains his way of inspiring little girls to do great things by digging the hole deeper:



Imagine the calculation behind that!  To make one boy feel better, it's perfectly acceptable to make every girl in the room feel worse and less confident*.  That's some word choice mistake...

Jamies Winston is not only famous for his football skills but also for this:

On December 7, 2012, Erica Kinsman filed a complaint with the Tallahassee Police Department accusing Winston of “sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape.” She was allegedly encouraged to stay quiet, and State Attorney Willie Meggs didn’t open the investigation in to the allegations until 11 months later. Weeks later, Meggs laughed his way through a press conference where he announced that Kinsman’s account of the night wasn’t credible and that no charges would be filed.
More recently, Meggs told reporters that while he didn’t have enough evidence to file charges, he does “think things that happened there that night were not good.”

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* He clearly uses the subtractive model of masculinity, where what the boys are is NOT what the girls are.  Thus, to encourage the boys he must discourage the girls.



President Bannon at the CPAC: The Media Is The Opposition Party


He called the media the opposition party which is always wrong.  Here is a different view about the importance of a free press:

The retired admiral who designed and oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden says President Trump’s superheated charge that the mainstream news media is the “enemy of the American people” is not just wrong, but also could pose a dire threat to American democracy. Reporters, however, must get their facts right, cite reliable sources and be aware of their own biases and pride.
“The president said the news media is the enemy of the American people,” William McRaven said Tuesday. “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.
Bolds are mine.

We know by now democracy is not terribly high on president Bannon's to-do-list, though it does top his to-undo-list.

Comedy From The Trump Reich: Sebastian Gorka, CPAC and Alt-Right



Meet Sebastian Gorka, Trump's deputy assistant and a supposed expert on radical Islam.  Here is the most hilarious quote from the article:

But Gorka, who prior to Trump’s inauguration crowed to Fox News that “the alpha males are back” in charge, isn’t in the White House because of his CV; rather, the available evidence suggests he’s there because of his hard-line beliefs.

I love that image of alpha males*!  It's straight out of the manuals of pickup artists, of course, but I got the instant image of Mr. Gorka clad in a furry loincloth, carrying a club, and ululating while hammering at his chest.  Then he grabs Trump by the famous hair and drags him to some backroom.

So.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

So How Is Our Dear Leader Faring? Deportations, Bathrooms and Sickness


Our Dear Leader is certainly keeping some of his promises. 

1.  While the Obama administration did deport (or try to deport) those undocumented immigrants who were charged with a serious crime, the Trump administration has truly expanded the definition of who may be deported:

“Under this executive order, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” a fact sheet released by the Department of Homeland Security said, using the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “All of those present in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
That includes people convicted of fraud in any official matter before a governmental agency and people who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Given that, it is to be expected that 15,000 extra customs and immigration officers are to be hired, more camps are to be built and so on.  This is interesting when we consider the simultaneous hiring freeze in the Federal government.

It is also to be expected that the kinds of sweeps which are taking place now create cases like this one.

All this is frightening for what it tells us about the priorities of those who hold the real power in the Trump administration and about the chaotic nature of many of its actions. 

Where are these immigrants going to be returned?  Some proposals suggest that our Dear Leader just plans to dump all of them in Mexico, including the ones who are not Mexican citizens.  I am pretty sure that Mexico won't be happy with that.

And what are the consequences of these mass deportations to American industries where many of the undocumented work?

Finally,  does it matter at all to the Trump people that net immigration from Mexico, say, appears to have turned negative by 2015?   Mexico is still the largest source country for immigrants, both documented and undocumented to the US.*

2.   Trump has rescinded the Obama administration's federal guidelines which allowed transgender students in schools to use the bathroom matching their gender identity.  Now it's up to the states to decide. It sounds like Trump's new Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos, wasn't too happy about that.

I would like to know who is behind this change.  It might let me predict what other rights will be left to the states to decide.

3.  Will the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be repealed and replaced, in the very near future, as our Dear Leader has promised? 

I watch the whole farce with some sinister satisfaction**, because it looks like the Republican Congress members are facing some tough questioning on this at their town halls and because I have an inkling about the enormous difficulties taking apart and rebuilding a complex system will create. 

Anything the Republicans might actually offer will leave poorer Americans without access to good quality care in the medically required amounts.  But as the real point of the repeal is to cut the taxes for the wealthy, some type of repeal we will see.

Or maybe not.

The Republicans in Congress are the dog who likes chasing cars but doesn't actually expect to catch up to one.  Well, now it did.

The mess any rapid and drastic changes might cause will kill people.  So will a return to the pre-ACA status quo, which is what the Republican planlets*** I've read would mean.

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*  Depending on the method used,  China might now be the largest source country.  But the 2015 Pew survey suggests that Mexicans are, in any case,  the majority of undocumented immigrants in the US.

**  I'm obviously not satisfied when I think of the patients in the system or of the people who will now struggle. 

***  Little attempts at plans, without proper numbers etc.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Milos We Shall Always Have Among Us


That is from the Bible of Echidne, and the Milos refer to Milo Yiannopoulos*, but also to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing performance artists.  Who knows what their real values are, whether conservative or not,  other than the desire to stand in the glaring limelight of politics and to own several beach properties?  But that type will always be among us, and Milo himself is not gone.

Yes, the CPAC dis-invited him as a keynote speaker,  because of his support for pederasty, even though he was initially invited because of his support of white heterosexual cis-male supremacy and because of his misogyny and open racism.  It's always interesting to find what the unacceptable might be, and pederasty support still qualifies.

Milo also lost his book deal with Simon&Schuster.  I always wondered why Simon&Schuster initially bothered defending the book deal by saying that the book would contain no hate speech.  It's the hate speech its potential market wanted to read, after all.  But never mind.  Once it looked bad for Simon&Schuster, the deal was off.  Probably not enough money now.

And Milo resigned from Breitbart.  But I very much doubt he is gone.  After all, he gets tremendous publicity right now, including from my scaly fingers.  Even if he is gone in this incarnation, another will pop up tomorrow.  Those people are just too much fun as the mouthpiece for festering hatreds, and punching downward is always much the safest form of humor in the society.

Indeed, it's actually the most politically correct form of humor, unlikely to lead to a political assassination with, say, a poisoned umbrella tip.

When I scanned the recent Yiannopoulos headlines I noticed that several of them called him "a provocateur."  That made me imagine what I would be called if I had an act like his but in reverse **.  Probably some much nastier things.  It's always salutary to learn which opinions are called "controversial" and which people are called "provocateurs."

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*  I have discussed Milo, at least in part, in these three blog posts.  The last one links to some of his thoughts on feminism and women.

** Yes, I could easily create one if I was willing to use false generalizations, bad data and call people names and take small isolated incidents and argue that they prevail everywhere. 



Trump's Great Negotiating Skills And the US Trade Policies


High level international politics is like playing simultaneous chess games against dozens of opponents, while blindfolded and on sedatives.  Donald Trump thinks the game is tic-tac-toe, and even in that game he only thinks about his first move.  Hence the way his rallies told us that only he can fix everything, how his extremely simple solutions will fix everything, how he is the smartest yam in the whole wide world.

He cannot see the complexity of the game, or perhaps he doesn't care.  Its agony for all of us who do see that complexity, as we know what could happen after Trump's boisterous first moves.

To give you just one example, Trump's policies toward Mexico cause Mexicans to react:

Some lawmakers were alarmed by reports that Mexico is exploring a deal to buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States to retaliate against Trump’s threats of tariffs on Mexican imports. 
“We’ve got plenty of history of when we do something some country doesn’t like then they retaliate against us,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member of the Finance and Agriculture committees.


Imports from Mexico and exports to Mexico are not independent of each other.  Trump cannot yell at the president of Mexico and expect no negative consequences from that, and what he says to Mexico other countries will also hear.  This changes plans and policies everywhere, and I, for one, would like a president who understands that.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Few More Trump Press Conference Thoughts: The Perfidy of the Media, Hillary Clinton Still The Rival



Now that a day has passed since our Dear Leader spoke to, and admonished, the media, I have these thoughts to offer about what makes Donald Trump tick.

1.  The press conference was largely about the Greatness Of One Donald Trump, and about attacking those who in his view are hampering the general adulation he so rightly deserves.

Thus, he kept returning to Hillary Clinton, he kept telling us how much better he is than Hillary Clinton, and he kept reminding us of his absolutely tremendous election victory.

He can't stop thinking about her, the rival who lost,  and this is not the typical pattern new presidents demonstrate when beginning their administration. But Trump is greatly bothered by her, by some niggling doubt that perhaps his victory wasn't quite that shining, quite that bigly, and so he can't stop addressing the topic.

2.  The most common theme in the press conference, by topic count, was Trump's great dislike of the media.  He returned to that topic several times, he admonished the journalists who were present, he demanded certain types of questions, and he kept telling the journalists that they represented fake news.

This is because the media is not sufficiently adulatory, not sufficiently in the anus kissing business.  Trump needs the crowds to cheer for him, and what is a press conference but a small crowd in front of him?  In short, the reasons for the two topics:  Hillary Clinton's perfidy and the crookedness of the media, have the same root:  Trump's narcissism.

3.  My final thought troubles me greatly, and that is the way Trump works to turn the media into his real opposition.  It smells of the treatment of the press in countries where the rulers are essentially dictators (Russia and Turkey come to mind), and it opens up the very real possibility that facts are whatever the Dear Leader wants them to be.

Trump's tirades against the media exclude the Fox News, because Fox is conservative and pro-Trump.  He likes praise!

But note that Trump's anger is squarely aimed at the most highly rated news organizations in the world:  the New York Times, the BBC and so on.  If he succeeds in making a sufficient number of his supporters into the deniers of those news that are most likely to be based on actual research and multiple sources, how are Americans ever able to agree on even what may have happened?

That is not a bug, but a feature in the plans of the power behind Trump's throne, Stephen Bannon.  Dictatorships require what Trump is trying to achieve here, although the reasons Trump attacks the press are much closer to home and have to do with having to read negative news about His Own Greatness.

The question how to determine what "truth"  might be is complicated and philosophically difficult.*  But Trump's only statement on how he decides what  is fake and what is true is demanding that he be viewed as a credible eye-witness:  "I was there."

The problem is that he is not an impartial observer of the events.  Rather' he is the center of the whirlpool and he is extremely interested in shining a good light on himself. 


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  *  But it's feasible to explain how one might try to establish, say, the truth of an academic study:

Establish the credibility of the individuals who carried the study out (based on their curriculum vitae, academic reputations and earlier studies), and the credibility of the journal that published the study, assuming it is a published study (whether it is peer-reviewed, whether access to publishing is just based on paying money etc., the rejection rate of the journal etc.).

Learn about any public statements of the researchers, their membership in various political organizations, and other opinions they have given in interviews.

But NONE of that means anything, except for being a small additional check.

Most of the verification should be focused on finding what other studies, deemed central in the field have found, and of course what the study itself says.  The methods of the study, the theories it chooses to address or to hide, its sampling method, the size of the sample and its composition, the measures the study uses:  All these must be evaluated.  Does the study have methodological errors, data handling errors or severe omissions of alternative explanations?  Do its conclusions follow from its findings?

And if the evaluator's skills or knowledge are insufficient for all that work, then the study authors and other experts should be used to find the answers to unsolved questions.

Doing all this doesn't guarantee that the final assessment is correct, but the alternatives are much worse.