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Sunday, September 24, 2017
  • Open Thread - The Belly Button Song
    by Frances Langum on September 24, 2017 at 3:30 am

    Rhett and Link sing the Belly Button Song and "raise awareness" (?) about greenhouse gasses. Open thread below... […]

  • C&L's Saturday Night Chiller Theater: Deadline U.S.A. (1952)
    by driftglass on September 24, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Organized crime. Political corruption. Rigged elections. And the great metropolitan newspaper that is the last line of defense against the bad guys is on the verge of collapse. Yeah, they're pretty much screwed. Except the crusading editor of the doomed paper is Humphrey Bogart. Enjoy! […]

  • Joy Reid: Republicans Are Trying To Repeal ACA For Their Donors
    by Susie Madrak on September 23, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    We're not used to them coming right out and admitting it like that, so I wanted to make sure people saw this AMJoy clip of Joy Reid talking about why Republicans are trying to repeal Obamacare: "Cory Gardner, the Colorado senator running the reelect committee, the Republican senator committee to reelect senators in 2018, admitted that what happened was, senators went home and rather than, you know, meet with their constituents and have town halls, they met with the donors --and the donors are livid," she said. "The donors are demanding that Republican senators and Republican member of the House deliver on two things. They want their tax cuts and they want them now, and they want Obamacare gone." They have their marching orders. Now we have ours. […]

  • ‘Objective’ Fox Anchor Swipes At McCain After He Opposed Graham-Cassidy Bill
    by News Hound Ellen on September 23, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Harris Faulkner was supposedly wearing her “objective anchor” hat this afternoon but she was clearly peeved after news broke that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) would not support the Graham-Cassidy bill version of Trumpcare. McCain’s “no” vote means the bill will not likely pass by the September 30, 2017 deadline (but don’t count it out yet). Faulkner made her displeasure very clear from the start. She prefaced the first comment from liberal guest Emily Tisch Sussman, of the Center for American Progress, by announcing that a Graham-Cassidy loss was “not necessarily a win for Democrats” because “the American people” “don’t win” if Obamacare problems are not fixed. Tisch Sussman pointed out that there had been a bipartisan effort to fix Obamacare that was ditched by Republicans in order to pass Graham-Cassidy. “It’s more about getting a win than actually have good coverage,” she added. Notably absent from Faulkner’s remarks was any explanation of how Graham-Cassidy would fix any Obamacare problems. However, she did suggest that maybe McCain and others could be persuaded to vote for the bill if the process of passage could be expanded within the confines of the September 30 deadline. Conservative guest Bre Payton, of The Federalist, didn’t think so. read mor […]

  • Cavuto Compares Tom Price To Al Gore To Excuse Price's Travelgate
    by Heather on September 23, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Leave it to one of the talking heads on Fox to find a way to get another cheap shot in on Al Gore -- while also downplaying Tom Price wasting taxpayer dollars on extravagant private jet travel. As we discussed here already, HHS Sec. Tom Price, who once railed against government waste and who wants to slash the social safety nets for everyday Americans, has already spent about $300,000 flying around the country on private jets on our dime. So what to do if you're a Republican apologist on GOP-TV? Why, play the "both sides do it" card, of course. Which is exactly what the audience was treated to at the end of his show from Fox's Neil Cavuto this Friday, where he conflated Price's problems with Republicans' constant harping on Al Gore for (heaven forbid) ever taking private jets on his own dime while ringing the alarm bell on climate change. So nice of Cavuto to admit here that none of them actually ever gave a hoot about how Gore got around and that it was all a big distraction to keep anyone from discussing the issue of climate change at all. Now he wants you to believe that's all the complaints about Price are, as well. read mor […]

  • Clinton: Americans Should Be 'Terrified' Over Russian Interference
    by Susie Madrak on September 23, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    In her interview with Joy Reid today, Hillary Clinton responded to Reid's question: Did she think any crimes were committed by the Trump campaign? There was "certainly an attempt by many of the Trump associates to hide the connections that they had with representatives of the Russian government and people close to Putin," she said. "We know that Putin was intent upon helping Trump. That's no longer subject to debate. We knew that he wanted to defeat me. That's also accepted. Now what we're finding out is how some of that happened. "The interference with the election included everything from what we now know about Facebook ads and posting. I was so amused when Senator Mark Warner pointed out the Facebook ads were paid for with rubles. We now know that without a doubt that the DNC had materials stolen through Russian intelligence efforts, through cyber attacks, which then migrated to Wikileaks. "We know a lot, but I'm going to leave it to the investigators in both the Congress and the special counsel to actually come up with whatever legal conclusions: were there laws broken, what more do we need to know? read mor […]

  • Clapper: Intelligence Assessment 'Cast Doubt' On Legitimacy Of Trump's Election
    by Susie Madrak on September 23, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    On CNN last night, Erin Burnett questioned former Director of National Intelligence director James Clapper about Russian interference in the election. She asked him about Trump's reaction to those intelligence briefings. "When we briefed him, if you're speak of the briefing on the 6th of January, he was very curious, complimentary and he did listen," Clapper said. "And frankly, the evidence that we provided in detail --which of course we couldn't expose publicly-- was pretty overwhelming. It's why we had such a high confidence level in what we said in that assessment. And so I thought it was a good discussion. He had some doubts about some things, but that's fine to be skeptical about some things. But on balance, I thought we successfully conveyed the message because the substantiating evidence was quite compelling and we didn't hear anything about the 400 pound guy in his bed in New Jersey." "Which is and I think very important, as you said, because I think obviously when he says publicly is different than what you're describing, which is sort of the way you want an incoming president to respond, courteous and receptive and listen," Burnett said. But Clapper wanted to point out the ultimate result of that meeting.read mor […]

  • Mr. President, A Word About Obamacare And That Electoral Map You Like So Much...
    by Steve M. on September 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    The Kaiser Family Foundation has a new report on the likely winning and losing states if the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill is passed. Something jumped out at me in this Talking Points Memo story about the Kaiser report: Overall, the report estimates, states would see $160 billion less in federal health care funding over the next decade under the proposed law, with 35 states and D.C. losing federal dollars. But Medicaid expansion states would bear the heaviest burden by far, losing 11 percent of federal support on average. Republican-controlled states that did not expand Medicaid, however, would get an average increase of 12 percent. The biggest losers under the bill would be high population, progressive states. California, New York, and Pennsylvania would lose $56 billion, $52 billion and $11 billion dollars respectively. California and New York, sure -- it's no surprise that President Trump and congressional Republicans would want to punish those bastions of liberal depravity. But Pennsylvania? One of the beacons of glowing red on the president's much-beloved electoral map?read mor […]

  • Mike's Blog Round Up
    by M. Bouffant on September 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Saturday ... time to relax. Juanita Jean's Friday Toons. Ant Farmer's Almanac: Nambia Invites Trump To Be Its "President-for-Life". Feline Friends: First Draft's Della, tiger kittens from Mad Biologist Mike, Yastreblyansky rectifies David Brooks's perpetual & incessant avoidance of the reality of the right, the conservative movement, the Republican Party or whatever you may want to call the loud-mouthed & over-represented minority of opinion in this great nation of ours. Relaxed yet? I am. Stay chill until tomorrow. […]

  • Open Thread: Must Love Dogs
    by Frances Langum on September 23, 2017 at 3:30 am

    pic.twitter.com/TIr7Ih4hJa — Paul Rugg (@pkrugg) September 20, 2017 The Chive: Paul Rugg is a writer and voice over actor behind characters such as Freakazoid, Animaniacs, and Pinky and The Brain. His dog is a piece of work. Open thread below... […]

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  • Open thread for night owls: Tariff plan on solar panels could kneecap the industry and kill demand
    by rss@dailykos.com (Meteor Blades) on September 24, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Rebecca Leber at Mother Jones writes—Trump’s Job-Killing Plan to Kneecap the Solar Industry: If President Trump were honest about which industries are the biggest job-creation powerhouses, it wouldn’t be the sluggish coal industry. It’s solar. More than twice the size of the wind industry and roughly five times bigger than the coal industry, solar accounted for one in every 50 jobs created in 2016, according to an annual census by the Solar Foundation. But Trump will soon have the chance to cut off US solar from the cheap foreign panels that have led to the industry’s booming success the past few years. “An improper remedy will devastate the burgeoning American solar economy and ultimately harm America’s manufacturers,” said one expert. The US International Trade Commission on Friday decided 4-0 that foreign imports of solar panels and cells have damaged the business of two domestic solar manufactures, Suniva and SolarWorld. Now that the ITC has found injury, it will likely suggest a price floor or tariffs. The decision on whether to regulate these imports will ultimately fall to Trump, and evidence suggests he’s likely to do it. “I would place the odds of the president agreeing to some type of remedy at 90 percent,” an anonymous Trump administration official told the news site Axios. Suniva has already proposed a price floor of 78 cents per watt and a tariff that would more than double the current panel costs. Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper’s statement Friday warned that such a proposal could hobble the industry. “Analysts say Suniva’s remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018,” Hopper said. “An improper remedy will devastate the burgeoning American solar economy and ultimately harm America’s manufacturers and 36,000 people currently engaged in solar manufacturing that don’t make cells and panels.” And according to Greentech Media, a tariff on imported panels wouldn’t necessarily lead to more domestic manufacturing [...] • An Activists’ Calendar of Resistance Events • Indivisible’s list of Resistance Events & Groups TOP COMMENTS • HIGH IMPACT STORIES TWEET OF THE DAY x#TakeAKnee on the right side of history with @Kaepernick7. Post a selfie taking a knee ahead of Sunday's @NFL games. pic.twitter.com/m6bQIdF8TO— Resistance Revival (@ResistanceRev) September 23, 2017 BLAST FROM THE PAST At Daily Kos on this date in 2011—Republican debate reaction: It was bad. Really, really bad: The more pressing issue for Republicans might just be that their own conservative viewers are watching the debate and firing off emails lamenting, as above, "WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" Well, yes. Yes you do. The tea party wing of the party has such tight control over the agenda that, as usual, any deviance from the hardest of hardline positions is tantamount to apostasy. That's why the most applauded attacks on Perry were over him being insufficiently pro-cancer, or not being sufficiently punishing of the children of illegal immigrants, and why the most rebroadcast snippets of each of the last three debates were the moments when the conservative audience (1) applauded the death penalty, (2) demanded that a hypothetical uninsured American be left to die rather than be treated, and (3) booed an active-duty soldier because he was gay. It looks like the general GOP reactions are going to go in two different directions. A great number of Republican leaders and pundits (e.g. Mitch Daniels and the like) are still seeking an imaginary "better" candidate, someone who will save them from the current crop of ridiculous figures. Another large segment (Fox News and allies) seems to be heavily pressing for Romney to be accepted as that non-ridiculous candidate, hopefully before these debates damage his credibility beyond repair. Indeed, even the tea party seems to be begrudgingly willing to give Romney a chance, ironically because Perry is, of all things, being too moderate for them. Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio.&rdquo […]

  • Fall has fallen in the northern hemisphere
    by rss@dailykos.com (DarkSyde) on September 24, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Fall officially fell on Friday, at 4:02 PM EDT to be precise. That’s when the sun crossed the celestial equator, an annual event called the autumn equinox, heading south for the next three months until the winter solstice, which will happen in the U.S. on Thursday morning, Dec. 21. Nights will quickly get longer and days shorter. Arctic ice reached its seasonal minimum several days ago and will now begin rebuilding through the long polar night. Which means that colds and flu will be making their annual debut. The nasty little bugs never really go away, and it’s not completely clear why they usually peak in late autumn. But infectious disease experts suspect at least two factors are at play: the greater number of people crammed into smaller volumes in cold months passing the germs around, and since the tiny microbes travel in tiny droplets expelled by those already infected, the drier, colder air associated with fall and winter allows those droplets to persist, giving them more time to find a viable host. For now, summer-like conditions still linger in much of the northern hemisphere, and more hurricanes are certainly possible, as the final named storm back in the record-shattering 2005 season lasted into early 2006! But stores are already loading up on items for Halloween. Pumpkin festivals, fall harvests, and the first snowfalls are just around the corner. The holidays will be here before you know it. And in no time clowns like James Inhofe and his fossil-fueled buddies will be tossing snowballs onto the floor of the House and Senate as irrefutable evidence that global warming is a hoax. […]

  • Nuts & Bolts: A guide to Democratic campaigns—Next generation tools
    by rss@dailykos.com (Chris Reeves) on September 24, 2017 at 1:01 am

    Welcome back, Saturday Campaign D.I.Y.ers! For those who tune in, welcome to the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. Each week we discuss issues that help drive successful campaigns. If you’ve missed prior diaries, please visit our group or follow Nuts & Bolts Guide. This weekend I’m in North Carolina at the Data & Democracy summit, and we’re going to be talking about the role of data and next-generation tools in your advocacy work. We have to face facts, things are changing quickly, and new tools provide ways to talk to your members and fellow activists. With so many tools available and so many different vendors, how can you make sure you are making the right choices with the money you raise and the man hours you are prepared to put in.  No, we’re not going to do a tools showdown—instead, let’s talk about how you evaluate new technology to determine what will work for you! […]

  • This week in science: Hot towers over warm seas
    by rss@dailykos.com (DarkSyde) on September 24, 2017 at 12:01 am

    While the global impact of 8 billion people and growing is severe, the chances of a full-on human extinction in the foreseeable future are tiny—or so I’ve often argued. But a new study by a mathematician comes with a less than cheerful forecast about mass extinction events in general: In a paper published in Science Advances, he proposes that mass extinction occurs if one of two thresholds are crossed: For changes in the carbon cycle that occur over long timescales, extinctions will follow if those changes occur at rates faster than global ecosystems can adapt. For carbon perturbations that take place over shorter timescales ... the size or magnitude of the change will determine the likelihood of an extinction event. Rothman predicts that, given the recent rise in carbon dioxide emissions over a relatively short timescale, a sixth extinction will depend on whether a critical amount of carbon is added to the oceans. That amount, he calculates, is about 310 gigatons ... Under a business-as-usual scenario, we hit that 310 gig threshold around the turn of this century. Mark your calendars: 2100 could be the start of an environmental singularity.   You’ve heard about eye walls, eye wall replacement cycles, the Coriolis effect that sets storms spinning, and lots of other storm lingo lately. But have you ever heard of another key feature in hurricane intensification called hot towers? Two big quakes and dozens of aftershocks in Mexico killed and injured hundreds over the last few weeks, dwarfing the casualties from Hurricanes Irma and Maria combined. Part of the reason is because Mexico City sits on the worst kind of geological foundation for quakes: The downtown of Mexico City is notoriously vulnerable to earthquakes because of the very soft and wet ground underneath. Its soil amplifies shaking like Jell-O on a plate, and is prone to liquefaction, which is the ability to transform dirt into a dense liquid when sufficiently churned Some friends and colleagues in Austin at the non-profit Texas Freedom Network, which does some great progressive work in the Lone Star State preserving science/edu standards and among many other important issues, are looking to bring on a full time deputy development director. Check the job description here if you or someone you know is interested. First there was Hubble, and soon there will be the James Webb Space Telescope. But one day, hopefully soon, there may be LUVOIR: With a coronagraph ... coupled with its one-of-a-kind size and location in space, it should be able to find and image hundreds of star systems for candidate exoplanets with the potential for life on them. With the spectra it will obtain, LUVOIR can do what no other current or planned observatory will be able to: search for molecular biosignatures around hundreds of Earth-sized, potentially habitable worlds. […]

  • While Trump golfs, Pruitt works hard to find out what corporations desire and delivers it to them
    by rss@dailykos.com (Meteor Blades) on September 23, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Environmental Protection Agency-hating EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been meeting regularly behind closed doors with executives of the fossil fuel, mining, and automobile industries. Soon afterwards, he makes decisions favorable to those corporate interests, according to an analysis of his April-September schedule by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post.  For instance, in the second week of May: ...he met at EPA headquarters with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the nation’s largest manufacturer of commercial truck “gliders,” which are truck bodies without an engine or transmission. On Aug. 17, a little more than two months after meeting with Fitzgerald, Pruitt announced that he would revisit an October 2016 decision to apply greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to gliders and trailers,  saying he was making the decision following “the significant issues” raised by those in the industry. Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said that the manufacturers of gliders have been using their products’ lack of engines to evade stricter air pollution standards, which is why EPA issued its 2016 rule in the first place. “It is a classic special-interest loophole- one that would mean dirtier air and public health damage,” he said. And that’s just one of many examples. Liz Bowman, spokeswoman for the EPA, claims that all Pruitt is doing is reversing the previous administration’s “regulatory overreach” by gathering the points of view of corporate leaders whom Obama appointees ignored in establishing rules on fuel efficiency, polluting emissions, coal ash, etc. In fact, those corporate views weren’t ignored. The Obama administration simply disagreed with them. The idea that Pruitt is eager only to inject balance among competing interests is belied by the fact that during the four-month period covered in the schedule he met with two environmental advocacy groups and one public health group.&nbs […]

  • This week in the war on workers: Unions fight to protect immigrant workers
    by rss@dailykos.com (Laura Clawson) on September 23, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    Unions are stepping up dramatically in the fight against Donald Trump’s bigoted, brutal immigration policies. Unite Here, the hotel workers’ union, is training workers to face down immigration raids and using contract negotiations to protect workers from ICE: Hotel workers in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York have been gathering for training sessions recently on how to handle visits from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The sessions, organized by the labor union Unite Here!, teach workers how to effectively stonewall ICE agents, emphasizing employees’ right to refuse to answer questions or show identification. [...] Unions also are trying to use collective bargaining to tie companies’ hands. Unite Here says curbing collaboration with ICE will be a priority in bargaining for the 270,000 hotel, casino, and food-service workers it represents, almost half of whose contracts expire within the next year. In New York, after the deportation of one of their workers—a deportation they fought hard—a Teamsters regional council declared itself a sanctuary union. The regional council’s president, George Miranda, told Sarah Jaffe that: Immigrants’’ rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together, and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants. It seems to us that we need to protect our members. We are all immigrants, but we need to protect our members now more than ever, since this administration has taken the position that they have taken on immigrants. So we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever. We are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members. We are going to indoctrinate our members and help them with attorneys and whatever other expertise they need in order to protect them and their families and, hopefully, get them out of the mess that they may find themselves in. That is what sanctuary unions mean. We are going to indoctrinate all of our members, all our stewards, as to exactly what that means. Miranda’s union will also be using contract negotiations to try to establish workplace protections for immigrant workers. […]

  • Pyongyang says quake not a nuclear test, as U.S. flies warplanes near North Korea as show of force
    by rss@dailykos.com (Meteor Blades) on September 23, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    For now—and we should all cross our fingers in hopes it stays this way—there is only a war of words between the leaders of the United States and North Korea. This has all the juvenile resonance of playground bravado. Donald Trump refers to Kim Jong-un as a “madman” and a “rocketman on a suicide mission,” and he threatens to obliterate the entire nation of 26 million. Kim calls Trump "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country" and describes him as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."  On Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho adds kindling when he labels Trump "mentally deranged and full of megalomania" and describes his insults of Kim an "irreversible mistake making it inevitable" that North Korean missiles will hit the U.S. mainland. This crescendo of tough-guy talk makes it easy to imagine the guy on this side of the Pacific Ocean tweeting to the guys on the other side: “Go ahead, make my day!”  It’s not the words that give pause, however. If this duo were two guys in a bar calling each other rabid dogs and getting ready to crack heads with beer bottles, what would it matter? Thirty days in the slam for both of them and little harm done. Words have a way of escalating, however. And the antagonists aren’t on the playground or in a tavern. The weapons at hand aren’t dirt clods or empty bottles of brew. They’re city killers. There was one small bit of good news today. North Korean authorities said that the 3.4 earthquake detected by China and other nations was natural and not the result of another underground test of Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities as some observers had speculated after seismographs picked up the temblor. Not that there is any reason to believe Kim plans to stop such tests. In fact, some experts hinted that the latest quake could be an aftershock of the one detected after the Sept. 3 nuclear test that North Korea claimed was triggered by the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. Many scientists were highly skeptical that the bomb tested actually was an H-bomb, but even if not, it showed that North Korea is making progress toward one. […]

  • This week at progressive state blogs: Bernstein on economic inequality; rape investigation dawdles
    by rss@dailykos.com (Meteor Blades) on September 23, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    This week at progressive state blogs is designed specifically to focus attention on the writing and analysis of people focused on their home turf. Here is the Sept. 16 edition. Inclusion of a blog post does not necessarily indicate my agreement with—or endorsement of—its contents. At Capital and Main of Los Angeles, Danny Feingold conducts an interview with—Former White House Economist Jared Bernstein: Incomes Are Up, But It’s Still Inequality, Stupid: Capital & Main spoke to Bernstein, now a senior fellow at Washington DC’s Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, to get his take on how rising income, persistent inequality and populist politics all fit together. (See the second part of the interview here.) [...] Capital & Main: Inequality and economic insecurity played a huge role in the 2016 election, yet the new census report shows big gains in income for the middle class, drops in poverty and higher rates of health insurance last year. How do we make sense of this? Jared Bernstein: One of the most important things to realize is that with these gains, middle-income families are back to where they were in about 2007, which is about where they were in 2000. So, if you abstract from a few good years — and we celebrate them and we want to make sure that they keep going — and you ask how are you doing relative to seven years ago or 10 years ago or 15 years ago, there you don’t see nearly enough progress. [...] Given the income gains for 2015 and 2016, is it fair to conclude that Trump’s victory had less to do with the economic woes of the white working class and more to do with his race-based attacks on immigrants and other minorities? Bernstein: You cannot conclude that from these or from other data that I’ve looked at. I don’t discount for a second the role of racism, xenophobia, nationalism, gender politics in Trump’s victory — that was all there, in levels that were extremely disturbing [and] bad for our country. That said, if you look at median family income growth by race, the growth of incomes for African Americans and Hispanics actually outpaced that of whites, and by a few percentage points. One of the reasons for that is that as the economy strengthens, and you start moving closer to full employment, the folks who disproportionately get a bump from that tend to be those in more economically vulnerable circumstances. So it’s not surprising that in year seven or eight of an economic expansion you’d start to see income growth of blacks, for example, outpace that of whites, and this is actually of course a positive development in the sense that you’re closing some racial gaps. Prior to this census I’ve looked at the earnings of non-college educated white guys, 25-54 — economists call them “prime age workers” — and sure enough, their earnings have looked pretty terrible for a pretty long time. So there really is something there. While the census report shows the biggest earnings increase is among blacks, Latinos and Asians, at the same time we know that the wealth gap between blacks and Latinos on the one hand, and whites on the other, remains enormous in this country. Which of these should we pay more attention to? Bernstein: We have to keep all the variables in our head but it’s important to raise that question because there you really have a legacy effect. Even if you believed — and you’d be crazy to believe this — that somehow we’ve banished discrimination, you’d have to accept that the legacy effects of discrimination have meant that African-American communities simply haven’t been able to accumulate the wealth of other communities, particularly [of] whites. So yes, that gap remains as wide as ever. […]

  • Trump disrespects the flag, the Constitution, and patriotic dissent in rancid blast at Kaepernick
    by rss@dailykos.com (Meteor Blades) on September 23, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    The trouble with so many of the terms being used to describe the man squatting in the Oval Office these days is that they wear out so quickly. After his latest performance in Huntville, Alabama, “unhinged” can now be included in the pile of words that have to be retired because they just aren’t strong enough to do the job anymore.  If you haven’t yet heard, Pr*sident Trump epitomized himself Friday night when he blasted NFL players who protest institutional racism by refusing to stand for the national anthem before games. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out, you’re fired!” That was specifically directed at Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback whose silent peaceful protests cost him his job. Trump employed stronger language against someone exercising his First Amendment rights against injustice than he used against the Charlottesville Nazis and other white supremacists, one of whom murdered another person exercising her First Amendment rights.  For this latest spew, Trump has caught a boatload of flak from many quarters. For instance, Bill Maher and Bob Kostas trashed him Friday night. But Kaepernick’s mother took top honors on Trump’s favorite venue: […]

  • View from the Left: Trump, awash in Russia, pledges his undying commitment to U.S. sovereignty
    by rss@dailykos.com (Kerry Eleveld) on September 23, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Who could have guessed it? Amid a week of daily revelations detailing the tangled web of connections between Donald Trump's associates and Russian operatives, Trump used the world stage at the United Nations to profess his undying dedication to U.S. sovereignty. “I will always put America first," he told attendees during his speech. “As long as I hold this office, I will defend America’s interest above all else." How quaint. While Trump was planting his flag of independence at the New York gathering, back in Washington White House aides have been frantically trying to fulfill investigators' requests for what appear to be reams of records detailing Trump's peculiar devotion to his bilateral relations with Russia. In particular, Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort emerged as a central link between the Trump camp and Russia operatives. Manafort, who was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Oleg Deripaska, reportedly offered to brief him on the election just two weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination in 2016. But the linchpin to this prong of the collusion probe could be Manafort's query on how his high-profile role in the Trump campaign might be used to benefit him financially. In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?” “How do we use to get whole?” That's likely the link—the nexus—between Trump associates offering something to Russian operatives in exchange for something back: the proverbial quid pro quo. And while it doesn't prove that exchange took place, it certainly demonstrates the intent, not to mention that Manafort reportedly used his campaign email during the correspondence. Looking back, Manafort's March-to-August reign over the campaign proved to be a very frenetic time in regard to Russia. Here's a quick snapshot: April 27: Trump delivers a Russian-friendly foreign policy speech at the Mayflower hotel; Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attends, as does Trump foreign policy adviser Jeff Sessions. June 7: Trump promises to give a "major speech" the following week "discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons." June 9: Trump Tower meeting where Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort solicit "dirt" on Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin-linked lawyer. July 7: Manafort offers to brief Putin ally/Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. July 12: Trump's team quietly changes GOP platform to Russian-friendly position on Ukraine. July 22: First batch of 20,000 DNC hacked emails are released, just in time to disrupt the opening days of the Democratic National Convention. July 27: Trump holds his last press conference of the year and implores Russia, if they're "listening," to hack and release 30,000 of Clinton's emails. "They probably have them," he says. […]

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  • Independence Day
    by Joshua Keating on September 24, 2017 at 1:52 am

    There’s a popular saying in Kurdistan that the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains, meaning that when they need to fight back against occupiers or invaders, the only support they can count on is their forbidding terrain. This isn’t quite fair: the United States has been a pretty good friend to the Kurds of Iraq for the past 25 years. But as we’re likely about to see as Kurdish voters head to the polls for a controversial independence referendum on Monday, that friendship has limits. […]

  • The Donald Trump Election Brag Tracker
    by Grace Ballenger on September 23, 2017 at 2:28 am

    When Donald Trump chatted with three Reuters reporters in April, he handed each of them a map memorializing his win over Hillary Clinton. “It’s pretty good, right?” the president asked before adding, “The red is obviously us.” This was not an outlier. Trump also bragged about his election victory at a Republican Party retreat in Philadelphia days after the inauguration, during an appearance with the president of Romania, and in response to a question about anti-Semitism. […]

  • No Truth, No Consequences
    by Jamelle Bouie on September 21, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    On Wednesday, in a discussion of the latest Republican health care bill, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told the truth. “You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.” More blunt was Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts who, earlier in the week, told a Vox reporter that “If we do nothing [on health care], I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.&rdquo […]

  • It Wasn’t Gridlock
    by Jim Newell on September 20, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    On Tuesday evening, Sen. Lamar Alexander—chairman of the Senate HELP Committee—released a statement declaring that his bipartisan negotiations on a narrow Obamacare stabilization bill had failed. […]

  • Our Demagogue
    by William Saletan on September 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice. […]

  • Why Democrats Should Love the GOP Health Care Plan
    by Reihan Salam on September 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice. […]

  • The Real Political Correctness
    by Jamelle Bouie on September 19, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice. […]

  • All Tribes Are Not Equal
    by Isaac Chotiner on September 19, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    In a thought-provoking new essay in New York magazine titled “America Wasn’t Built for Humans,” Andrew Sullivan takes account of our tribal moment, seeking to explain how the country became divided into two, warning of the grave dangers division represents, and offering a solution for reuniting us. Sullivan’s piece is better-argued and more coherent than Mark Lilla’s recent attempt to offer a shared vision for bringing America together, which roughly called for our politicians to embrace a common ethos. But like Lilla, Sullivan is ultimately undone by failing to distinguish between the different strands of tribalism that ail us and refusing to reckon with the depths of right-wing pathology. […]

  • “I Am a Working-Class Guy”
    by David Freedlander on September 18, 2017 at 9:50 am

    It’s a hot July evening in downtown Manhattan, and Von, a dimly lit cocktail bar, is packed. Three executives from Uber drink gin and tonics at the bar. A volunteer checks people in after a day spent working at a New York publishing house. Downstairs, the basement is a sea of Brooklyn hipsters, national political operatives, and crusty old labor leftists. Also, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon is here. […]

  • The Wealth Gap Between Whites and Blacks Is Widening
    by Jamelle Bouie on September 18, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice. […]

  • Watch the stunning contrast between how Trump and Obama talk about Colin Kaepernick
    by Ryan Koronowski on September 23, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    The gaping chasm between the approach of the 44th and 45th presidents is hard to miss. But sometimes it’s easy to forget how different things were just a year ago. If you need a refresher, just listen to the two presidents discuss Colin Kaepernick. Donald Trump built his campaign by exploiting racial grievances and has continued […]

  • NFL and NBA players are responding to Trump — and they aren’t mincing words
    by Addy Baird on September 23, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    It’s September 23, 2017, and the president of the United States has gotten himself into a Twitter war with LeBron James. At a rally in Alabama Friday night—purportedly to support Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in Tuesday’s special election—President Trump criticized Colin Kaepernick and other players who have taken a knee during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t […]

  • UPDATED: Goodell forced to respond after Trump launches vicious attack on NFL players
    by Rebekah Entralg on September 23, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    During a speech in Alabama to support Sen. Luther Strange, who faces a special primary election next Tuesday, President Donald Trump veered into an extended rant on the NFL, largely targeting football player Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality. “Wouldn’t you love to see one […]

  • Trump disinvites Stephen Curry from the White House after he already decided he would not go
    by Rebekah Entralg on September 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Less than 24 hours after he called NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” who should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, President Donald Trump rescinded two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s invitation to the White House via Saturday morning tweet. Seemingly triggered by a Fox & Friends headline that read “Curry […]

  • Trump gets his facts about health care wrong in Saturday morning tweetstorm
    by Addy Baird on September 23, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    President Trump criticized Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and misrepresented the latest attempt by Republicans in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Twitter Saturday morning. Trump claimed, in a tweetstorm mostly about health care, that premiums in Arizona and Alaska had skyrocketed, 116 and 200 plus percent, respectively. Arizona had a […]

  • ‘Alt-right Catholics’ are getting faith leaders disinvited from speaking at colleges
    by Jack Jenkins on September 23, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    A small group of right-wing Christian websites are attacking Catholic leaders who encourage the Church to build bridges with LGBTQ people, sparking online campaigns that push schools and Catholic institutions to disinvite them from speaking. The latest example came earlier this week, when Shawn Copeland, a Catholic theologian who teaches at Boston College, was scheduled […]

  • The United States is unprepared for the next major earthquake
    by E.A. Crunden on September 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Two devastating earthquakes recently rocked Mexico in the short span of 12 days, killing nearly 300 people and leaving many more in need of aid and assistance. The dual tragedies, largely worsened by geography, left the country struggling to recover and rebuild. But as outside nations flocked to send their condolences, many experts warned that […]

  • Trump delivers unhinged rant on NFL, calls Colin Kaepernick a ‘son of a bitch’
    by Judd Legum on September 23, 2017 at 2:17 am

    During a 90-minute speech in Alabama, purportedly to support Senator Luther Strange who faces a special primary election next Tuesday, Trump diverted into an extended rant on the NFL. His ire was focused primarily on Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have participated in silent protests during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to […]

  • Facebook’s Russian ads may just be the tip of the iceberg
    by Luke Barnes on September 22, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    After previously saying it was “crazy” to suggest Facebook helped Donald Trump become president, Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday that the social media giant will hand over 3,000 Russia-linked ads to Congress to help with their investigation into the Kremlin’s election interference. “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” he said in […]

  • Solar industry braces for giant blow, as Trump gets his opportunity for tariffs
    by Samantha Page on September 22, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    “I want someone to bring me some tariffs,” President Donald Trump reportedly said in an April meeting. His demand looks poised to come to fruition, after the International Trade Commission (ITC) voted Friday in favor of two solar cell companies that claim there has been “injury” to the solar industry from low-priced Chinese solar imports. […]

  • Trump’s rally for Alabama’s Luther Strange segued into a rant about kneeling football players
    by Brian Resnick on September 23, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    President Donald Trump’s rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Friday night was supposed to gin up support for Senator Luther Strange, who’s running to permanently fill the Senate seat he was appointed to after Jeff Sessions ascended to Attorney General. Trump ended up complaining about football. As is often typical for a Trump rally, the event Friday was structured more like a Fox News opinion show: a little politics, a little current events, a little culture war. At one point, Trump referenced the recent trend — started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — of black football players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field?’ ” Trump said to roaring applause. Trump said if owners fired a player for protesting the anthem, they would become “the most popular person in the country. Because that is a total disrespect of our heritage.” (Kaepernick, after leaving his contract with the 49ers, has not been able to secure a position on another team.) Trump said these players are “ruining the game.” On Saturday, he reiterated these comments on Twitter. And in a week when a former NFL player who had been convicted of murder and committed suicide was found to have brain damage, adding to the evidence that concussions are severely affecting players’ brains, Trump argued that focusing on athletes’ brain injuries is also “ruining the game.” Football players, he said, “want to hit.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded Saturday morning, but didn’t specifically mention Trump or the anthem protests. “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” he said. The president’s entire rally was, in keeping with his rallies since the campaign, wide-ranging and often rambling: Trump said it might be better to build a “see-through” wall on the Southern border with Mexico to better monitor drug traffickers coming from Mexico. Trump said he’s endorsing Strange out of loyalty. But “I might have made a mistake,” and “Luther will definitely win.” The electoral college — which Trump won in November, despite failing to win the popular vote — “is a very special thing,” he said. "I've never really been in favor of it, but now I appreciate it." "Just in case you were curious: No, Russia did not help me," Trump said at one point. Then he asked, “Are there any Russians in the audience?” On the most recent failed efforts to repeal Obamacare, Trump said, “It’s like a boxer. Get knocked down. And [it] gets up.&rdquo […]

  • The entire island of Puerto Rico may be without electricity for months
    by Brian Resnick on September 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    It’s been less than a week since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, bisecting the entire island, bringing 150 mph winds and torrential rains to some of its most populated areas. But the crisis in Puerto Rico, a US territory whose residents are citizens of the United States, is just beginning, and will likely last months or years. Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm. The New York Times reports it could be four to six months before power is restored on the island. That’s half a year relying on generators, half a year without air conditioning in the tropical climate, half a year where even the most basic tasks of modern life are made difficult. And remember: 3.4 million people live there. Making life even harder: Cell service is out on almost the entire island, and communications are generally strained. Thousands of people living in the mainland United States with relatives in Puerto Rico have yet to make contact. At least six people died during the storm, but this number could rise due to the fact that news is moving slowly on the communications-choked island. Meanwhile, new crises keep forming in the wake of the storm. On Friday, the National Weather Service issued a dire warning about the Guajataca Dam in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico, which is reported to be near the point of breaking, threatening downstream areas with deadly floods. Seventy thousand people — enough to fill a small city — have been asked to evacuate areas that could be flooded by the nearly 11 billion gallons of water the dam holds back. Puerto Rican officials believe the dam’s failure is imminent. “It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it could be in the next few days, but it’s very likely [the dam will break] soon,” Christina Villalba, a spokesperson with Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, told Reuters. Direct hits from hurricanes always cause damage. But Puerto Rico was especially vulnerable. Aerial photo of the flood in the costal town of Loiza, Puerto Rico.Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images Relief efforts are underway: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo led a flight to the island that brought 34,000 water bottles, 9,600 meals, and electrical generators to power hospitals and other relief centers. But this also illustrates one reason the recovery will be long and hard for Puerto Rico — it will need supplies and building material shipped from overseas. Getting the power back on in Puerto Rico “will be daunting and expensive,” the New York Times explains. “Transformers, poles and power lines snake from coastal areas across hard-to-access mountains. In some cases, the poles have to be maneuvered in place with helicopters.” Before Maria hit, around 60,000 people on the island were still without power from Hurricane Irma. And any power outage in Puerto Rico is a serious issue, as Vox’s Alexia Fernandez Campbell explains, because the government is broke. Its infrastructure is aging and in disrepair on a good day. And it can’t borrow money to fix these problems. Campbell writes: It all comes down to money, and the government of Puerto Rico doesn't have it. The island, which is a US territory, filed for bankruptcy-like protection earlier this summer, and is in the process of restructuring its debt. Now the public utility company is in a severe state of financial distress, unable to modernize its system and facing a shortage of high-skilled workers. Even FEMA relief money that Congress will likely authorize will be of limited help in such an environment. When it made landfall, Maria bisected the island from the Southeast to the Northwest. “It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,” Jeff Weber, a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says. “It’s almost as strong as a hurricane can get in a direct hit.” Here’s how you can donate to the relief efforts. […]

  • Donald Trump has picked a Twitter fight with the superstars of the NBA
    by Brian Resnick on September 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    The day after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem, he moved onto another target: the NBA. In what has got to be an unprecedented move, Trump announced on Twitter Saturday morning that he was no longer inviting the Golden State Warriors (or possibly just not inviting the team’s star player Steph Curry) to attending an event celebrating their victory in the NBA finals. “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” Trump tweeted. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” This did not go over well — particularly on the heels of Trump’s comments Friday night that players who kneel during the National Anthem and attempts to prevent concussions are “ruining the game” of football. The result was a barrage of tweets at Trump from some of basketball’s biggest stars, and not just from the Warriors. Kobe Bryant even weighed in from retirement: Typically, championship-winning teams — victors from the the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, the World Series, and Stanley Cup, plus NCAA champions in college sports — are invited to the White House for a photo opportunity during their off-season. These are usually pretty boring events: The president says something nice about the team, something nice about the city they represent, something cheeky (if the president is a fan of a rival team), and then everyone poses for a picture. But with Trump in the White House, the decision of whether to visit has suddenly become more fraught. (When the New England Patriots visited the White House in May after winning the Super Bowl, quarterback Tom Brady skipped the event.) Curry, as well as NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, has made clear he has no desire to attend any such event at the White House. The Warriors had planned on making a collective decision on whether to attend, the Associated Press reports, and hadn’t yet come to a conclusion. Nor had the White House formally invited them. Curry himself has been firm. As he told reporters Friday, by not going “hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.&rdquo […]

  • What the Constitution says Berkeley can do when controversial speakers come knocking
    by Mark Tushnet on September 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    As of Saturday, it was unclear whether Free Speech week would be happening. Still, UC Berkeley, the proposed site, is bracing for the event: “This coming week is “Free Speech Week” at the University of California Berkeley. Conservative speakers, some very incendiary, are scheduled to appear in public spaces — the storied Sproul Plaza, the nearby Mario Savio Steps — offering their views on feminism, Islam, and more. Maybe the organizers really want to gather an audience that will listen to what the speakers have to say — the list seems quite fluid, but the names of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, anti-Islamic polemicist Pamela Geller, and former White House strategist Steve Bannon have been bandied about — and exit with changed minds. Mostly, though, they want to lay down a marker at what they regard as a center of intolerance for conservative views. And they probably expect some disruptions that will, they hope, discredit their opponents. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what public universities and cities can do when faced with requests to use their facilities for demonstrations, particularly when officials reasonably think the events might turn violent. People offer simple-minded answers to what are, in fact, difficult questions: “Time, place, and manner regulations are okay — but not restrictions based on speech content.” Or: “You can’t give the counterdemonstrators a heckler’s veto” (that is, you can’t let them make it impossible for the demonstrators to get their message across to people who want to hear it). The former statement is true, but it’s too short on details to be a useful guide to action. The latter is debatable. Amid the confusion, there’s room for people to cry “censorship” when none has occurred. My prediction: The odds are slim that there will be real violations of the speakers’ constitutional rights next week, but chances are high that conservatives will say that the university has violated the First Amendment, confirming its reputation as a hotbed of liberal intolerance. Universities have considerable leeway in deciding when, and where, speakers may appear When you walk through the First Amendment rules, things get complicated very fast. Sophisticated lawyers like those Berkeley and larger cities have can usually work their way through the constitutional maze, though sometimes even they will be blindsided by unexpected developments. Smaller campuses and towns are more likely to misstep — largely unintentionally, I think — and provide fuel for conservative attacks on the purported “suppression” of free speech. So let’s walk through those rules. Suppose a public university gets a “request” from a group that the group wants to invite a speaker on a specific date, to appear at a particular auditorium, or a city gets a request to hold a demonstration in a specific city park. (Concerning universities, the rules only apply to public institutions, as private colleges can set their own policies, although many say they try to do what the First Amendment requires of public institutions.) The first reaction to the request has to be, “Sure, in principle. But we have to think about some things before we can sign off on this.” If a public university allows student groups to invite outside speakers, it can’t pick and choose based on how offensive the speaker is perceived to be. Likewise, all demonstrators have a (presumptive) right to use the streets, park, or auditorium — which is why they aren’t really making a request. What sorts of things do officials who get the request have to think about? Suppose the demonstrators say they want to hold a fairly large demonstration on Main Street during rush hour. The officials can say, “Sorry, that’s going to be too disruptive. If you want Main Street, you’ve got to clear out by 3 pm. And if you want rush hour, you have to use a street a couple of blocks over.” Same for using heavily trafficked areas of the university, or — of course — auditoriums in which classes are already scheduled. Milo Yiannopoulos has announced a return to Berkeley, with other controversial speakers, to force a showdown over “free speech.”Stephanie Keith/Getty Notice two things about this. The officials telling the organizers to move or reschedule their event aren’t basing their decision on what the demonstrators are going to say. In the jargon, their approach is “content neutral.” As far as they’re concerned, they’d say the same thing to Black Lives Matter, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and Richard Spencer, the white supremacist leader. Large universities and cities with lots of experience probably have content-neutral rules in place about when and where demonstrations can occur. Other places might not, but will say that they’ve come up with rules on the spot that are good enough. Of course, were he denied permission to demonstrate where and when he wants, Spencer might be suspicious about the officials’ claim that they would say no to the Democratic Party too. Fair enough. That’s what hearings before a judge are for; the officials will testify, and a judge will decide whether she believes them. The second thing about the officials’ response is that if they say no regarding a proposed time and venue, they have to offer a reasonable alternative. Of course the demonstrators will think —correctly, from their point of view — that the alternative isn’t quite as good: Fewer people will see a demonstration at a plaza outside the engineering school than at Sproul Plaza, for example. Still, if the city’s alternative is a reasonable one, that’s fine by the Constitution. (Again, “reasonable” is up to judges. Every four years the cities where national political conventions are held set aside specific areas for demonstrations against the parties, often not all that close to the convention site, and courts have routinely found these alternatives reasonable.) Berkeley has the right to set rules that minimize the risk of violence Avoiding violence has become an important concern for universities and cities. If there’s time, officials can ask organizers to provide a list of invited speakers and a guess about the number of people the organizers expect to attend — not to say yes to one speaker and no to another, but to figure out how many police officers to deploy. There are two wrinkles here. With events planned in advance, like Free Speech Week, the university can ask for a fair amount of information. But sometimes demonstrations are more spontaneous, as we saw in St. Louis recently, after a white former police officer was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a black man. Advance planning is impossible, and the First Amendment requires cities and universities to be more flexible. The other wrinkle involves paying for the security. In principle, the First Amendment allows the university to charge the organizers for additional security such as police overtime pay — if they can afford to. It would be silly to say that a city can’t charge Al Gore and his friends for the costs of cleaning up after a demonstration supporting the Paris climate accord. Courts have been pretty careful, though, to insist that cities do a good job of figuring out what those additional costs are, because the courts are correctly concerned that cities will manipulate the charges to make it too expensive for the organizers to hold a controversial demonstration. If the organizers can’t pay the additional costs, most students of the First Amendment think that the city or the university has to eat the costs. The University of California has decided not to charge the organizers of Free Speech Week anything, more a pricey formula for avoiding litigation than a constitutional requirement. One implication of security considerations is that someone who wants to use the auditorium on a specific Tuesday in October can’t complain about a violation of constitutional rights if the university says, “Sorry, we can’t organize security fast enough for that, but four weeks later is fine with us.” It doesn’t matter if the new date doesn’t coincide with the speaker’s book tour. (But, again, the speaker can challenge the claim that it’s really too difficult to set up security on her preferred date.) So content neutrality and reasonable alternatives are the starting point in discussions about controversial speakers and demonstrations. It would be really nice if the city or the university had rules in place about such matters before the requests came in, so observers could have confidence that the rules weren’t jerry-rigged simply to get rid of this particular demonstration. But the world changes, and lawyers for cities and universities can’t anticipate every variation that might pop up. So it’s not a conclusive argument against moving a speech that the decision didn’t come from some rule that was in place before the request was made. And, again, places with more experience are likely to do better on this score — though even Berkeley had to revise its already reasonably good rules over the summer. There has already been skirmishing over scheduling and the supplying of speakers’ names at Berkeley: The organizers wanted to rent several auditoriums, but they missed the deadlines the university set. And as of this week, the university said they hadn’t confirmed the exact lineup of speakers, which Berkeley says is important so it can make security plans. If events on the ground change, Berkeley can change the rules on the fly too The recent deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, revealed another potential complication: Events don’t always play out as predicted. Suppose the speaker says, “We expect that there will be a couple of hundred people at the demonstration.” Taking the applicant at his word, the city replies, “Okay, you can hold the demonstration where you want to.” Then it becomes apparent that lots more people are going to attend. Maybe a few of the new ones are unexpected supporters, but suppose most of them are going to disagree with the speaker. Content neutrality means that the city can’t make its regulation of the demonstration dependent on distinguishing between people who support the speaker and those who oppose him. The opponents might swell the crowd and listen respectfully, or boo only occasionally. From the city’s point of view, all it cares about is size and its implications for security. The protest in Charlottesville turned out to be larger and more unruly than officials had expected. The police were criticized for inaction.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Maybe a small demonstration would be fine in a small park but a larger one wouldn’t. The Constitution lets the city adjust its regulation if circumstances change. (When Charlottesville tried to switch its permission from one park to another, a federal judge held a hearing and found — probably mistakenly, as things turned out — that the city hadn’t shown that circumstances had changed.) The city can probably tell the demonstrators and the counterprotesters that they can’t carry weapons in or near the demonstration’s site, although that’s more a question of Second Amendment law and state law than First Amendment law. All this is pretty basic, at least to those familiar with First Amendment law. Problems come up at the next stage, though. Suppose the speaker is going to say things that are going to anger a lot of listeners — whom we now can call counterdemonstrators rather than attendees. We’re now outside of “content neutrality land.” But we have to move carefully here. What speakers can and cannot say Begin with two easy cases. If the speaker shouts to his supporters, “Beat that motherfucker up!” the police can move in and arrest him. He’s “inciting imminent lawless action,” as the First Amendment rule puts it. (A federal judge recently held that candidate Donald Trump might have done just that when he said at a rally, “Get ’em out of here” — referring to protesters.) But if the speaker says only, “Beat up every black man you see after you leave this demonstration,” the police can’t do anything to him. There’s a threat of violence, but it’s not imminent. (The Supreme Court held that the government couldn’t punish a speaker who shouted to a crowd being pushed off the street by the police, “We’ll take the fucking street later,” because the word “later” took the case out of the imminence category.) The theory is twofold: Someone who’s inclined to go along might change his mind before he runs across a black man. And if someone does beat up a black man, the government should punish the actual assailant, not the speaker. There’s another case that I think is easy one way, although I know lots of people who think it’s easy in just the opposite way: when a raucous crowd shouts down the speaker. A report from the Brookings Institution last week describes as troubling the fact that a narrow majority of students think that’s okay. As far as I’m concerned — and, I think, as far as the First Amendment is concerned — it is okay. The jeerers are simply people attending the rally, no different from the supporters who cheer the speaker. It just so happens that the opponents vastly outnumber, or at least outshout, the supporters. The opponents aren’t the government, so even if they prevent the speaker from getting his message across, that’s just too bad — or it’s speech countering speech. I suppose you could say that the First Amendment gives the government a duty to make sure that the speaker is able to get his message across. But that’s implausible as a general principle. I have a lot of things I’d like to have lots of people hear, but I can’t dragoon the government into helping me get my message to them. Maybe you can figure out why the government has a duty in the context of demonstrations but not in the context of my political views, but I haven’t yet seen anyone do so effectively. That’s not to say that shouting down a speaker is a good idea. I think it’s sometimes worth doing, but not often, and maybe universities should have unenforceable “civility” guidelines counseling against it. The First Amendment, though, doesn’t say anything either way about heckling. The police must target lawbreakers first, but they can shut down a speaker to stop violence There is one government duty, though: The government has to protect speakers against violence directed at them. This is the real problem when people talk about a “heckler’s veto,” but it’s not a problem about heckling. It’s a problem about violence. Oddly, the few relevant Supreme Court decisions — relatively old ones — suggest that the government can “protect” speakers against violence by arresting them, not the people who are threatening them. Since they were decided in the middle of the last century, though, a strong consensus among First Amendment scholars has developed that points the other way: If a speaker is likely to say things that will provoke listeners to attack him, the government’s (or Berkeley administrators’) first response has to be to put the police between the speaker and the angry crowd. The response if violence erupts will be shaped partly by whether the government has properly gauged the size and unruliness of the protest, and sent enough officers. Even if it has, there are limits to what the police can do. A small public college’s police force might be overwhelmed by a large, angry crowd. So might Berkeley’s. Even getting support from city police and state police agencies might not be enough, since every officer devoted to protecting the speaker is an officer who isn’t patrolling the city to prevent crime or make sure traffic is flowing freely elsewhere in the city. If violence breaks out, the job of the police is to stop it. And the first way to stop it is by arresting the lawbreakers, whether they are counterdemonstrators or people supporting the speaker. What if the police are overwhelmed and can’t stop the violence by arresting everyone who’s throwing stones or pointing guns? If it turns out that the police are overwhelmed by the violence, they can shut down the demonstration. If the speaker resists, the police can arrest the speaker as well as violent demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. “Can” here means: without violating the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, the priority is stopping the violence, not stopping the speakers, which should be viewed in this context as an unwanted side effect. At some point, however, violent clashes in the street — of the sort that we’ve seen in Berkeley already, and in Charlottesville — threaten to render legalistic discussion of the First Amendment beside the point. When the arrival of controversial speakers provokes large-scale violent conflict, beyond the capacity of the police to control — and the speakers themselves aren’t even “inciting” this violence — we’re in pretty bad shape as a society. We probably should be worrying about more than free speech. Mark Tushnet, a leading scholar of constitutional law and legal history, is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of law at Harvard Law School. He contributes to the blog Balkinization. The Big Idea is Vox’s home for smart discussion of the most important issues and ideas in politics, science, and culture — typically by outside contributors. If you have an idea for a piece, pitch us at thebigidea@vox.com. […]

  • Why “fake news” is an antitrust problem
    by Sean Illing on September 23, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Five of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization are tech companies. In the past 10 years, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all joined Microsoft at the top of the list. Each of these companies dominates its primary market, and is gradually expanding its reach into secondary markets. Have they become too big? Are they full-fledged monopolies at this point? And if so, should we rein them in? To get answers to these questions, I reached out to Sally Hubbard, a senior editor of tech antitrust enforcement at the Capitol Forum, a nonpartisan legal investigative company that offers analysis to policymakers and industry stakeholders. I asked her to walk me through the case for using antitrust laws to regulate the major tech companies. Antitrust laws exist in order prevent monopolization, which occurs when a company so dominates a market that it effectively eliminates the possibility of competition. This is tricky when it comes to a tech company like, say, Google, which has a monopoly in the search market but not in the digital advertising market. Antitrust enforcement, at least in the past 40 years or so, has focused on protecting consumers from high prices due to a lack of competition. But the problems created by tech monopolies are different: Consumers aren’t paying higher prices to use these platforms, but they are handing over massive amounts of personal data and allowing companies like Facebook and Google to disproportionately influence the news and information Americans consume. We don’t need to bust up these companies, Hubbard says, but there are very good reasons to use antitrust law to promote more competition in this space. “Fake news,” she told me, “is partly an antitrust problem” because the dominant algorithms of Facebook and Google control the flow of information. If there were more competition, purveyors of fake news would have to figure out how to game more algorithms. Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below. Are the big tech companies monopolies? Sean Illing Can you make the case to me for why big tech companies like Facebook or Amazon or Google should be treated like monopolies? Sally Hubbard Monopoly enforcement is often about ensuring fair competition. One of the main arguments is that these platforms have gotten so large that they actually compete with companies that depend on their platforms to exist in the marketplace. This is what I call “platform privilege,” which is really the ability to prioritize their own products over those of competitors. We're seeing that in the Google Shopping case that the European Union has brought, where Google allegedly gave priority to its own comparison shopping services on its dominant search engine, so that its own Google Shopping comparison shopping service showed up first and other competitors that had comparison shopping services got put on page four. Sean Illing So these companies have gotten so large, so influential, that they’ve distorted competition in the markets they touch? Sally Hubbard That’s certainly one argument. I do think a privileged platform is a distortion of competition. You don't have a level playing field when you're competing against the company that determines whether you even reach the universe. What we ideally want is a marketplace where these products can come and they can compete on their merits against a huge company like Google, but if Google has the power to squeeze out competitors by placing their results at the bottom of search engines, that’s a problem for innovation, for a robust marketplace that is supposed to thrive on competition. The promise of the internet was that it was going to be a level playing field where someone could start their business in their garage and there would be opportunities for them to enter the market. If these platforms have the ability to bury a competitor, that promise is dead. Sean Illing Then there’s also the enormous impact these companies are having in the marketplace of ideas. Sally Hubbard Absolutely, and I’ve written about this recently. Companies like Facebook and Google have had an outsize effect on political discourse because of the ways their algorithms help to promote and spread fake news and propaganda. Even if it’s not their intent, their business model invariably contributes to this problem. “Amazon is shopping around for a second headquarters. They’re literally playing local governments like pawns, and why wouldn’t they? Amazon has all the power.” Sean Illing All of the big five tech companies — Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple — dominate huge percentages of their markets. Are they not monopolies in classical economic terms? Sally Hubbard It depends on what specific market you're looking at, because these companies are all so large. For instance, you might say that Google has a monopoly in search, but it also participates in digital advertising and it doesn’t have a monopoly in that market. It forms half of a duopoly with Facebook in digital advertising. In order to identify whether a firm is a monopoly, you have to actually define what the relevant market is that you're talking about. If you're talking about the relevant market being just search, yes, Google has a clear monopoly. However, under the antitrust laws, having a monopoly is not itself illegal. What is illegal is monopolization. Monopolization is both the possession of the monopoly power in the relevant market and the willful acquisition or maintenance of that power, which is different from growing as a consequence of just being the best. Sean Illing Does a company like Google meet the monopolization threshold? Sally Hubbard Google is a monopoly in the search market. Whether it has acquired that monopoly as a result of anti-competitive conduct is something that is a much bigger question. My bigger concern is not actually about Google's monopoly on search but rather the different type of case that is called monopoly leveraging. That's what we're seeing with a lot of these companies. They may have built their first monopoly by being the best, but then what they do is they leverage that monopoly power to take over other product markets, other lines of business that are related to that product market. Sean Illing For the non-economists out there, can you clarify what you mean by “monopoly leveraging?” Sally Hubbard Monopoly leveraging is taking your monopoly power in one market and using that power in an anti-competitive manner to create a dangerous probability of monopolizing a second market. So Google, for example, according to the EU at least, has been found to have used its monopoly power in the search market in an anti-competitive way by pushing the comparison shopping competitors down to page four of the search results in order to create a dangerous probability that its shopping service will monopolize that second market. Why we have antitrust laws Sean Illing You referenced antitrust laws earlier, and obviously those are central to any debate about regulating monopolies. Why do we have antirust laws? What are they designed to facilitate or prevent? Sally Hubbard The current thinking is that it's all about making sure that consumers don't pay high prices as a result of lack of competition, or that lack of competition can reduce output. That's been the mode of thinking of the last, say, 40 years, which was largely influenced by the Chicago School of Economics. If you actually look at the passage of antitrust law, which was in 1890, you find that it also has a political origin. Sen. John Sherman, after whom the Sherman Antitrust Law was named, said, "If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of the necessities of life.” But the influence of the Chicago School has driven out the political roots of antitrust law. Most of the focus now is on economic factors like prices, competition, and output, all of which are important, but there are other reasons to restrain large companies. Sean Illing It seems to me that this is one reason why we haven’t seen any antitrust enforcement on tech companies. Because while they undoubtedly hold monopoly power in various markets and wield immense influence over our culture and politics, they haven’t put the economic squeeze on consumers. We may be drowning in fake news, but we’re not paying higher prices to use these internet platforms. Sally Hubbard That’s absolutely right. The recent focus on always having to prove a price effect is a reason why a lot of these techs companies have really flown under the radar and not been subject to antitrust enforcement, because the consumer side of the market at least is arguably free. In reality, it's not free. In reality, users are paying with their data or they're paying with their attention, but it's much harder to quantify these things. Because you haven't been able to show that Google is charging high prices or Amazon is charging high prices, they've largely evaded any kind of meaningful antitrust enforcement. Sean Illing Do we need antitrust law to focus on more than high prices due to anti-competitive behavior? Sally Hubbard The purpose of the antitrust laws is to protect competition, and a price effect is not required for a monopolization case. Monopoly power is defined as the power to control prices or exclude competition. In addition to monopoly power, a monopolization case requires exclusionary conduct. The last major US monopolization case was Microsoft, 18 years ago. DOJ did not allege that Microsoft’s exclusion of the Netscape browser caused higher prices. DOJ alleged that Microsoft was able to use its dominant position in the operating systems market to exclude other software developers and to prevent computer manufacturers from installing competing browsers. The EU is currently investigating Google for similar alleged conduct regarding the Android operating system. So while there hasn’t been much monopolization enforcement, price is not the only consideration of antitrust law. Sean Illing We touched on the sociopolitical impact that these companies are having, and you seem to think that a problem like “fake news” is at least partly an antitrust issue. Can you explain? Sally Hubbard The sociopolitical concerns that people have about tech platforms having too much power and serving as information gatekeepers could actually be addressed by enforcement and policymaking that promotes competition. The first part of the problem is that Google and Facebook compete against news publishers for user attention, data, and ad dollars. They both have business incentives to keep users within their digital walls. The second part is that because Google and Facebook lack competition, two dominant algorithms control the flow of information. So purveyors of fake news only have to exploit the weaknesses of one algorithm to potentially deceive hundreds of millions of people. Facebook has 2 billion active monthly users. Google accounts for 80 percent of internet searches worldwide. Sean Illing So we don’t need to bust up these companies in order to solve the fake news problem, but if we use antitrust law to promote more competition in this space, it would make it much harder to game the system. Sally Hubbard Right. Imagine there were five Facebooks and five Googles, all with different algorithms that competed against each other to be the best. A purveyor of fake news perhaps couldn’t have as much of an impact if it had to figure out how to game many more algorithms. Consumers could have the option of choosing the social network or search engine that put the articles that were true at the top of the newsfeed or search results (rather than the articles that got the most clicks, likes, or comments, as in the case of Facebook). If there were robust competition in social networks and internet search engines, legitimate news publishers would have bargaining power to demand compensation or traffic in exchange for their content, giving publishers the resources that journalism requires. “So just as we shouldn’t submit to an emperor, neither should we submit to an autocrat in trade with the power to prevent competition” Too big to regulate? Sean Illing We appear to be in a legal gray area, in part because technology develops faster than law, so there’s always this lag period. But the root danger of monopolies, I’d argue, is massive centers of unaccountable private power. Sally Hubbard People have definitely talked about how tech platforms get so large as to be unregulatable. For instance, you can see in the news now that Amazon is shopping around for a second headquarters. They’re literally playing local governments like pawns, and why wouldn’t they? Amazon has all the power. Recently, Spain attempted to regulate Google and say, "You have to pay for the news that you use in the Google News service." Google just said to Spain, "You know what? We're just not going to have Google News in Spain." You do get to a point where it seems as if these tech companies can get so large and so powerful that even governments can't regulate them. Sean Illing Aren’t we there already? Sally Hubbard Europe is doing it right now. Europe has some very robust antitrust enforcement happening against Google at the moment. It came out with this large decision against Google for the EU shopping case, but the fine is largely inconsequential. People or antitrust lawyers will try to argue that European antitrust laws are so vastly different from US antitrust laws, but I think that's overstated. I think a lot of what these tech companies are doing that's anti-competitive now is not that different from what happened in the Microsoft antitrust case in 2001, and that US antitrust laws could cover that conduct. We just haven't seen any kind of aggressive enforcement from the agencies. Sean Illing Why do you suppose that is? Are prosecutors worried about the lack of precedents? Sally Hubbard That’s part of it. There is definitely some bad case law. In that monopoly leveraging claim I was referencing earlier, you have to show not only that the company has monopoly power in one market but also that it’s using that in an exclusionary manner to try to take over a second market. In order to show that it's actually going to have a dangerous probability of monopolizing that second market, courts have required that you show that they already have at least a 50 percent market share in that second market, which largely renders that claim useless, because by the time Google has more than a 50 percent share in a market that it's trying to go into, the problem has already happened. It's too late. I also just think there’s a lack of political will. It's really only been very recently that people even think the tech platforms are a problem. I only started writing about the tech platforms and antitrust a year and a half ago, and everyone kept asking, why would I be writing that? Should we treat tech companies like public utilities? Sean Illing Should we think of tech companies as natural monopolies like public utility companies, which are basically allowed to dominate the market but the government still imposes certain conditions on their operation? Sally Hubbard As a former antitrust enforcer, I prefer competition over utility regulation. Some argue that Google and Facebook are natural monopolies because of network effects — where a service gains value as more people use it — but competition is still possible in my opinion. Wireless phone networks also have the advantage of network effects but still face robust competition, in part due to antitrust enforcement like the blocked AT&T/T-Mobile deal. One way to promote competition in big tech is through stronger merger enforcement. Instagram built a thriving social network, but then Facebook bought it. The big tech platforms have collectively bought hundreds of companies, including competitive threats. Stronger enforcement against anticompetitive conduct could also promote competition without having to resort to utility regulation. The EU's recent decision that requires Google to give equal treatment to competing comparison shopping services in Google search results is an example. The EU is also creating rules to make it easier for new entrants to compete against big tech, such as data portability requirements. Without increased competition, I believe that utility regulation — in the form of a nondiscrimination or neutrality regime — is very likely. Governments tend not to tolerate unregulated dominance for long. Oddly, antitrust enforcement could actually be a good thing for tech platforms because it sure beats utility regulation. “The promise of the internet was that it was going to be a level playing field where someone could start their business in their garage and there would be opportunities for them to enter the market. If these platforms have the ability to bury a competitor, that promise is dead.” Is greater regulation inevitable? Sean Illing Do you think it’s inevitable that at some point, we’ll have no choice but to restrict the growth of these tech empires? Sally Hubbard I think it is inevitable unless we get some more robust competition. If we don’t actively police these companies, the only alternative is to promote competition, and there are different ways to do that, like lowering the entry barriers for competitors. This is something the EU is also experimenting with. If you're not going to regulate them at all, or do anything to enforce against anti-competitive conduct, or to lower barriers, then you're going to end up with a nondiscrimination standard. If you're just going to assume they're monopolies, you're going to end up with a nondiscrimination standard, which is like utility regulations. If you want to avoid that, then the option is to do a combination of enforcement and regulation to promote competition and reduce entry barriers. Sean Illing What are the risks of breaking up these companies or otherwise imposing serious regulations on their conduct? Sally Hubbard In terms of breaking the companies up, that has not been done since AT&T in the ’80s, so that would be highly unusual. In terms of trying to impose some sort of a nondiscrimination remedy or neutrality standard, the main argument you hear is that it would negatively impact investment. There are a lot of concerns from defense attorneys and from antitrust enforcers who do not want to be aggressive that when you interfere with dynamic markets, you invariably produce bad outcomes and undercut innovation. So they’d argue it’s preferable to just allow the natural disruptions that are always going to happen in the market. That, at least, is the argument. […]

  • Paris, Texas gave Harry Dean Stanton his first lead role. It's a masterpiece.
    by Alissa Wilkinson on September 23, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for September 24 through 30 is Paris, Texas (1984), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon and iTunes. Movie lovers have spent the week mourning Harry Dean Stanton, who died last weekend at the age of 91 after a long, fruitful career working with some of the world’s best directors. Many had finished watching him reprise the role of trailer park owner Carl Rodd in Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return. Many more are now anticipating the Friday, September 29, release of Lucky with a poignant sense of urgency; Vanity Fair has called the upcoming film — which boasts Stanton in the lead as a 90-year-old atheist experiencing a sort of reverse crisis of faith — “a thinly veiled glimpse into what is essentially Stanton’s own life.” For the first few decades of his career, Stanton was always cast as a supporting character. But that all changed when he was 58, and Sam Shepard discovered Stanton in a crowded bar and gave him the lead role in the 1984 film Paris, Texas, one of the greatest American road movies ever made, written by Shepard and directed by Wim Wenders. Paris, Texas is the sort of film you can’t shake after you watch it. Reviewing the film after its 1984 release, Roger Ebert called it a “story of loss upon loss” and referred to the “miracle” of Stanton’s performance, a standout among strong showings from his co-stars Nastassja Kinski and Hunter Carson. In the Guardian in 2015, Guy Lodge described Stanton’s turn as “permanently, ever-retrievably embedded in my sense memory.” Stanton was exactly the right choice for the lead role, a man named Travis Henderson who up and wanders out of the desert one day after having been missing for years. The movie isn’t about the mystery of his reappearance, though — or at least not exactly. After being revived from his travels and examined by a doctor, Travis is reunited with his brother and sister-in-law, who adopted his son Hunter after the boy’s mother Jane (Kinski) also went missing. Natassja Kinski in Paris, Texas. Travis and Hunter eventually set off for Texas on a quest to find Jane, having lots of conversations along the way about both their own family and the bigger meaning of family and life. That makes Paris, Texas a road movie, the most quintessentially American genre of filmmaking and one that almost always concerns characters who are on the hunt for some version of paradise, whether it’s real or imagined. The genre is rooted deep in our national psyche, echoing decades of Westward expansion and the belief that the good life lies “out there,” somewhere. For Travis, that paradise is all Jane, a much younger and beautiful woman with whom he was, and still is, fantastically in love. But like most road movies, Paris, Texas both is and isn’t a tragedy. Paradise is never what we’re expecting it to be, and the resulting disappointment inevitably changes those who embark on the quest to find it. Yet there remains a measure of goodness in how the trip, and its end, affects those who undertake it. In his aforementioned review of the film, Ebert wrote that Paris, Texas was “not for the desert and against the city,” like a Western might be, but “about a journey which leads from one to the other and ends in a form of happiness.” And as its star, Stanton — with his long face and heartbreaking delivery — embodies that longing. He is a man who has loved and lost and lost again, a journeyer whose fate doesn’t ever really involve rest. It’s not a performance that tears up the screen, but rather sucks you in: You are Travis, and his journey is yours. At the end of that journey is something wonderful you can’t recapture, but that got you where you are today — something that simultaneously inspires both bitterness and joy. Watch the trailer for Paris, Texas: […]

  • The fascinating history of the word “hobbit”
    by Constance Grady on September 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated collection of the best writing on the web about books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of September 17, 2017. Following the premiere of Carrie Pilby, it seems most people I talk to are still curious about the whole money aspect. The fact is, book authors rarely become wealthy from movie deals. When the screen rights are sold (or when the option is “exercised”), the writer often gets a sum equal to about 2.5 percent of the budget. Keep in mind indie films are only made for a few million dollars. There are sometimes monetary bonuses if a big studio signs on, but after 10 to 15 percent agent fees and then taxes, the resulting sum is often less than six figures. However, I am now quite rich in inspiration, which helps as I put the last touches on that teen novel and a funny memoir. What’s fascinating to me about this lawsuit is that, essentially the accusation boils down to “he did it better* than me.” Which I realize is unfair and reductive, because there are real and legal definitions of intellectual property that I am not personally educated in, and it’s hard to say at what level a plot point is more “baseball novel cliché” than “stolen baseball novel cliché.” Plot points don’t usually make the book! Except when they do, of course. And reading the list of accusations feels fairly damning. When you read this lawsuit, you might think, as I did, “yeah, that sounds pretty bad!” But who in their right mind would lift elements from an unsuccessful manuscript in order to magically (yes, the claim uses the phrase “magic wand”) make a successful one? J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit turned 80 this week! Here’s C.S. Lewis’s 1937 review:For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic. Having as far as he knew invented the word, Tolkien provided an imaginary etymology for hobbit, in order to fit the word into the linguistic landscape of Middle-earth. This was a remarkable feat of reverse engineering, not quite like any of his other etymological exploits amongst the tongues of Middle-earth. On encountering the Rohirrim, the hobbits notice that their speech contains many words that sound like Shire words but have a more archaic form. The prime example is their word for the hobbits themselves: holbytla. This is a well-formed Old English compound (because Tolkien represents the language of the Rohirrim as Old English). It is made up of hol ‘hole’ and bytla ‘builder’; it just happens, as far as we know, never to have existed in Old English, and if hobbit turned out to be a genuine word from folklore it is most unlikely that this would be its actual etymology. But now I’ve avoided writing this piece long enough, so let me confess: At night, feeling I should be quiet because of aforementioned husband, I try to avoid writing in my favorite time period by assembling — is there any way I can make this sound more dignified? — tableaux of found objects from within my own house, so that something funny will await the unsuspecting. (We have guests, too — my life is not just a prolonged prank pulled on my husband.) Happy reading! […]

  • Transparent season 4 is a mess, but a very human one
    by Todd VanDerWerff on September 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Again and again, the fourth season of Transparent returns to the music of Jesus Christ Superstar, especially the song “Everything’s Alright.” The musical, first released as a concept album in 1970, tells the story of Jesus’s last week on Earth, but through the alternating perspectives of Judas Iscariot and Jesus himself. Rating vox-mark vox-mark vox-mark vox-mark vox-mark It was, for many years, derided by some Christians as blasphemous for the way it underlined the humanity of Jesus and for how it elevated Judas to Jesus’s equal in terms of perspective. But it’s nonetheless become an enduring work with many fans, who apparently include at least one person in the Transparent production chain. “Everything’s Alright,” meanwhile, might be one of the most Transparent songs ever written. Sung by Mary Magdalene as she anoints Jesus’s feet, it paints her as someone trying to keep Jesus calm and relaxed while Judas scowls about how the money spent on the ointment could have been better spent to help the poor. In the Bible, Judas is painted as ungrateful for the time he gets to spend with Christ; in the musical, his point of view is much more sympathetic. The idea that there are many stories hidden inside any one story, depending on whose perspective you prioritize, is at the center of Transparent. Though it started out as a series about Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), a trans woman coming out late in life, it’s since evolved to be about essentially everyone in her circle trying to realize their most honest selves, even as the systems they were born into — whether familial or societal — stand in their way. But honesty, by necessity, is messy and not always coherent. It sometimes bursts out in bits and pieces, with emotional shrapnel embedding itself in others’ skins. To be true to yourself sometimes means hurting others, even if you didn’t intend to. In a family, especially, when one person is honest, everyone else might start being honest too. And there’s no guarantee of what happens next. As such, Transparent has gradually gotten messier and more incoherent over its four-season run — but I’m not sure that’s a problem. Beware: Spoilers for the full fourth season follow! Transparent’s fourth season is the flip side of the show’s third season Transparent season one is an exquisitely crafted little gem, where every single piece of every single storyline adds up to something larger than the sum of its parts. Season two was messier, but in its sprawling attempt to pull all of the Pfefferman family’s history into its field of vision, it became one of the best TV seasons I’ve ever seen. Season three was still messier, and now season four is too, as if the show is slowly atomizing while its characters struggle to better understand each other and themselves. Season three contained beautiful arcs — in that each character had a lovely storyline of their own — but there was no cohesive whole in the manner you might expect. Season four flips that around; the whole is much more cohesive, but the individual stories take some shortcuts. Some — like eldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) finding herself drawn into a polyamorous triad — work very well. Others, less so. Characters blurt out their secrets in a way that feels like they’re doing so mostly to advance the plot. Internal emotional journeys, usually what Transparent excels at above all else, are elided or left murky. And the season introduces a huge revelation — Maura’s presumed-dead father is alive and living in Israel — only to largely set it aside in favor of focusing on the existing characters’ stories. Maura and Ali travel to Israel.Amazon This scatteredness is particularly apparent in the season’s midsection, which brings the entire Pfefferman family to Israel, and then has them drive around in a bus, taking in the sights. Yes, there’s more happening than just a family vacation — much more. But at the same time, it’s hard to escape the idea that Transparent itself is going in for some of the tourism that it’s simultaneously attempting to undercut via exploring the complicated reality of both modern Israel and Palestine. (Mercifully, the show doesn’t opine on the Middle East so much as depict some of the realities of living on the ground.) This shaggy, unforced quality is an asset whenever Transparent’s story revelations come about in the same shaggy, unforced fashion. But in season four, the show struggles more than it has in previous seasons to unite past and present, even though so much of it is set in Israel, which has enormous spiritual and historical significance for the Pfefferman clan. In particular, the season doesn’t always seem to know what to do with Shelly Pfefferman (Judith Light), who moves in with her son, Josh (Jay Duplass), and seems to be constantly circling the pain at the center of her life. (Fans of the show will recall that its third season revealed to us that Shelly was molested as a girl, but her children, especially, don’t know this secret.) When she finally reveals that pain deep in season four, it mars an otherwise good episode, one that sends the Pfeffermans into the wilderness to confront themselves. Nature imagery is especially replete in season four — the very next episode after the wilderness one has the Pfeffermans find a kind of healing in the Dead Sea, as if they’re following in the steps of Christ, despite being Jewish. Later, another character tells Ali that we’ve all got a sort of messianic self, that we can all be our own saviors and our own damnation. It’s moments like these that salvage the season’s clunky middle portions by pushing the Pfeffermans to a point of self-actualization not as a family, but as a collection of individuals. Can you ever be yourself if other people depend on you? The negotiation between self and community is Transparent’s preeminent theme, as Maura’s coming out kicks into motion a reckoning in everyone around her, forcing them to ask if they’re living their best, most authentic lives. And yet honestly weighing that question and acting accordingly isn’t the same as being cruel. Transparent has always been very clear on the difference. In some ways, this resonates with season four’s choice to make God — or some sort of divine presence — an unseen character. Maybe God exists and maybe not, but invoking the divine is an awfully good way to force your will onto others or even yourself. (One heartbreaking revelation in particular details how Maura, when she was still living as a man, made a deal with what she perceived to be God to preserve the life of her youngest child, Ali, after a risky birth left the baby in danger.) The space between better understanding yourself and still allowing your community (in all senses of that word) to define you is one that Transparent thrives in, and creator Jill Soloway and their directorial cohorts use that framing, which is always just a little off-kilter, to capture the idea that while communal spaces are constantly evolving, they’re also in tension with the self, which can adapt to or resist that evolution much more quickly. Sarah and Len find themselves reconfiguring their marriage to allow for a third person.Amazon At the end of season four, the various Pfeffermans (except for Maura and Shelly, who share a friendly meal with other friends and lovers) are scattered across the globe, all looking for their own reassurance. They feel closer than ever before to finding that reassurance, but also farther apart from finding their way back together as a family. It’s not that they hate each other or anything — it’s just that their individual journeys are taking them in different directions. Transparent has always resisted easy categorization as a comedy or drama. It can be very funny, but its primary goal isn’t to make you laugh. And yet the show doesn’t have the tighter plotting generally associated with dramas, because it’s far more interested in the ideas of self-improvement and social betterment that are traditionally associated with more comedic storytelling. Still, season four was the show’s first where I could really see the argument for the show as a family drama more than a comedy, a story about disintegration and how sometimes we can love someone but know we’re only getting in the way of their journey. The season concludes with the strains of “Everything’s Alright” all the same; there are dark days on the horizon, and the crucifixion is coming. But for now, the night is warm, and loved ones are near. We might do our best grappling with our private selves when we’re all alone, but when we’re ready to be done, to come back inside, someone will be waiting to open the door. Transparent is streaming on Amazon. […]