100-Proof Blogging by Randle Aubrey

Monday, July 31, 2017

WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS



Permit me if you will, Dear Reader, engage in a bit of blog remixing on behalf of my colleague Driftglass in order to worry an itch of mine:
“Well now Trump is here. And the sheer tonnage of the toxic stupid and fascistic crazy that comes belching out of the White House every single fucking day coupled with the sheer, unalloyed, amoral gutlessness of the Republican Party in the leering face of the unhinged lunatic it elected is putting a terrible strain on the rafters and load bearing walls of the High and Holy Church of Both Siderism. Huddled inside, terrified that their long-postponed Day of Judgment may finally be outside, huffing and puffing and getting ready to blow their Church down, the paid-in-full members of the faithful demand that someone step up and do, well, something. […]

And yet, as we stand at the very brink of realizing their dream of blowing it all up and enabling demented bigots to rule by decree on behalf of theocrats, plutocats and Mother Russia, suddenly some of the Republican's most loyal enablers are losing their nerve. It's too late to reverse the engines – to unbrainwash the +60M wingnut zombies that they programmed to Destroy!Destroy!Destroy! and tell them that it has all gone way too far, and there is no longer a Kenyan Communist Muslim Sleeper Cell Usurper on-hand to blame for their sins and crimes against democracy. Which is why the world is suddenly alive with the sound of their lifeboats hitting the water as hordes of newly-minted "independents" row frantically away from the listing hulk of the great ship they worked so hard to wreck.
And they'll probably get away with it. After all, thanks to a mountain of Koch money, relentless marketing by Fox News and the rest of the Hate Media ecosystem and, crucially, the complicity of the Beltway media, they pulled exactly the same stunt eight years ago, and there is no evidence that any of the meatheads and fascists and media quislings who conspired to get the GOP off the hook last time have grown a conscience in the last eight years.”
He’s right: they’ve done this before, and with spectacular fucking success. George W. Bush lied us into an illegal war that bankrupted the nation and set back our global reputation by decades, yet it wasn’t until Trump gave the reprogrammable meat puppets that make up the conservative base permission to forgive themselves for going along with such a massively stupid undertaking that they even deigned to speak Bush’s name aloud again with anything other than rank condescension. That’s how deep and how wide the Memory Hole was built by Bush’s cadre of fake pundits and goons and sycophants: they were able to shove the whole Tea Party into it.

And every. Single. One. Still has a job in the press or the punditocracy or in any number of think-tanks across the country, peddling the same bullshit that they always have been. And if you thought their Tea Party two-step was something, just wait until you see what happens once the Trumpaway 5000 is running at full capacity. There’s every likelihood that the thieves and liars and miscreants that comprise the Republican Party and their bootlicking associates in the mainstream press will be successful in convincing the world that Donald Trump is/was/shall always be a Republican fluke, not the end result of their seventy-year breeding program to create the perfect “Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”

"Remember me? Heheh...they sure as hell don't!"
But then what? Does another right-wing astroturf movement suddenly “materialize” from out of the ether once Trump comes up for reelection? If so, what does it look like? For that matter, what does the popular response look like?

The Memory Hole may be fucking massive, but even it has limits. Recent stress tests have demonstrated that cracks are forming along the edges, as the punditocracy continues to stuff more and more outrageous levels of abject bullshit down its gullet. It will crack eventually, and while everything may not come tumbling out, nothing will ever be able to be placed in it again, either. That will come as a major relief to those of us who, y’know, remember things, and have the audacity to recall those things in front of people who have spent a lifetime pretending to forget them.

What concerns me is how spending all this time (and money; don’t forget how many billions of dollars it costs for Memory Hole maintenance and upkeep) convincing millions of people that history ends after 1960 is continuing to calcify the notion of conservatism as a political religion that cannot fail, but can only be failed by those who fail to live up to its principles. With every failure of conservatism that is foisted onto others, fissures continue to develop within the party, skewing ever-rightward. And it’s happening already, as we speak.

“[T]he Republicans two brands to sell in 2018. The president* will keep the suckers in the tent, while the "responsible" Republicans in the formal party apparatus will convince Thought Leaders that Camp Runamuck is a self-generating freak show as detached from the party as it is from empirical reality. Given the nature of elite political reporting in this country, this might actually work. However, given the nature of the folks in that picture, and the president* at whose erratic pleasure they serve, the odds are that it won't. But there is one thing that will guarantee that it works, and that's the well-known ability of the Democratic Party to stare down the gullet of any gift horse that comes its way.”
It’s Keystone v. Coors Light: no matter who wins, the American public loses, and has to drink shitty beer with no health care.

But sooner or later, the lather/rinse/repeat of Republican chicanery and the complicity of the mainstream press in covering it up are going to create a permanent fissure between ultra-right-wing “establishment” conservatism and the proto-fascist fringe that is continuing to gain momentum in this country under Trump, one that the Republican Party is going to have to respond to in some fashion or another. But if conservatism can only be failed and the party tries to pass the buck, foisting blame onto the “libruls” as is their default setting will they be successful this time?

Chaplin/Keaton 2020, anyone?
They they tried that shit at Tengrain’s 2016 Goat Rodeo, and in response their base named them the failure of conservatism, responding by putting Donald Trump in office because the shit always runs downhill. Now, the party is blaming Trump and Trump is blaming the party for their staggeringly inept bungling of the Obamacare repeal, while the base watches the “system” collapse and begin throwing their weight increasingly behind so-called “outsiders” who claim they can save conservatism from itself.

This is what happens when what passes for “reasonable political discourse” is dragged kicking and screaming to the right for so long: ultra-right wing conservatism becomes centrism, neoliberalism becomes the new rallying point for the Enlightenment, and sheer nationalist lunacy becomes mainstream right-wing thought. In light of that, the question of a bona fide fascist party rising in this country isn’t a matter of if, but when.

Nervous yet?

Friday, July 28, 2017

THINGS THAT KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT

I think it’s safe to assume at this point that the least gullible of the American public (which I sincerely hope includes you, Dear Reader) understands that the danger of “fake news” is not that it convinces people of its own veracity (although it can be extraordinarily effective in that regard), but that it degrades truth as a guiding principle in forming your worldview.

That being said, truth is about to start getting degraded a whole helluva lot faster over the next few years, due to a couple of emerging technologies that are seriously goddamned freaky. WNYC’s Radiolab has the scoop:



I’m hard-pressed to say which one has more insidious implications, so we’ll start with VoCo first. A collaboration between Princeton University and Adobe Research, VoCo is audio editing technology that allows you to not just edit pre-recorded spoken audio, but literally to create new spoken audio from whole cloth simply by adding or removing words using a text-based interface.

VoCo works by taking your recorded speech, which it has broken down into thousands of samples based on the phonetic patterns of your voice, and remixing it into new words. What’s more, the new audio sounds all but completely indistinguishable from the original audio, because it is the original audio.



So much for, “I never said that,” eh? Now, that’s merely a technicality.

I’ll get to the rest in a second, but I just want to say that, when I heard this in actual use for the first time, my blood ran cold. Fox News and Breitbart may suck up all the oxygen when it comes to being the face of American clown fascism, but right-wing hate radio is the glue that holds the conservative movement together. If there’s anywhere this technology could do some real damage – and sooner rather than later – it’s in the hands of someone like Rush Limbaugh or Alex Jones or Sean Hannity or the like, especially because of the nearly impervious social membrane that separates hate radio from the mainstream press.

Doctored audio would be able to bubble up from the swamp with ease, attended by completely fabricated talking points that will have maximum credibility in conservative echo chambers everywhere, counterfactuals be damned. When you play them the actual video, they’ll just say it’s fake one. That’s how this works. That’s how this always works.

Up next is Face2Face, software designed to capture facial movements in real time and apply them over existing video:



Technology similar to this is currently in use for doing motion capture work in Hollywood, but the amount of detail and fine motor movement on display here is truly unprecedented. Human expression is one of the hardest things to reproduce with animation, and the fact that it can now be done in real time, however roughly, should have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up right…about…now.



Radiolab integrated the two technologies together to create this clip, and while the technology is clearly still in its infancy, there’s little doubt as to its incredibly disturbing potential. When you combine that with the ability of technology to consistently, drastically outpace its ability to be legislated, there’s little doubt in my mind that, once VoCo and Face2Face are ready to go to market (a question of when, not if), “fake news” as we know it is about to get a whoooooooole lot faker.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

FAREWELL, FACEBOOK

I’m going to take a break from social media for a little while…as much as I’ve come to depend on sites like Facebook and Twitter for exposing untold numbers of people to my work, carrying on all manner of fascinating and illuminating conversations, organizing all manner of fantastic events, and more, I’ve reached a point where they’re taking a lot more out of me than I’m getting out them, literally and metaphorically.

In addition to the monumental amounts of data that are sucked out from under every keystroke and every mouse click, social media is draining the vitality out of me like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s doing it to all of us, even if we can’t notice it. Like any other garden variety addict, spending the exorbitant amounts of time in social media that I have over the years has made me more sullen, more paranoid, more insecure, and more hostile than I ever was in its absence. The only abatement to those impulses is to lazily scroll or swipe through my feeds, eyes glazed over, watching other people exist in real-time while I pretend to do the same.

Once upon a time, my level of social media consumption was once reserved only for the very geekiest. But we’re all addicts geeks now, and it’s making us meaner, sicker, and poorer than it seems we’ve ever been. And I want out.

Despite what you might think about the people on your “friends” list and how much they like/agree with/support you, social media ultimately comes down to every person for their self. Your lived experience versus everyone else’s. Your ideas versus their ideas. Cultivating “healthy” relationships and communities online really comes down to how well you can cultivate a “brand identity,” and how well you can market that identity to the people on what is essentially your mailing list.

Generally, this all happens pretty smoothly most of the time; any self-respecting social media website strives to guarantee that your experience with their service will fail to ruffle your feathers in any way you don’t prefer. But that’s part of the problem, especially when interactions between fellow Internet travelers inevitably go wrong.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be surrounded by virtual “yes men,” allowing us to agree with each other and disagree with others in more or less perfect harmony. Woe be to those who fail or refuse to sing in key, for many of whom merely being disregarded by their subscribers is a mercy. What happens with far greater frequency is that we turn our perfect harmonies against those who can or will not maintain them, with equal vigor and lack of restraint. It’s easier than ever, when we’re all camped behind the safe anonymity of computer screens. Even when it comes to people we know offline.

Now clearly, this phenomenon hasn’t been without its upsides; I know I’ve benefited plenty from being able to weed most of the bigots and conspiracy weirdos and just-plain-assholes out of my social media spaces, as have untold others. But there is no end to the pursuit and elimination of those people from your presence on social media, especially when doing so feels so damned satisfying. “Friendly fire” isn’t a question of if so much as when. But casualties are inevitable in the Culture War, and you’ll surprise yourself time and again with just how easy it is to justify using emotional violence to quell dissent in the ranks of your mailing list. After all, you’ve got a brand to maintain.

I know that quitting social media isn’t exactly going to do wonders for my already beleaguered blog statistics. I just don’t give a shit. There’s nothing inherently redeemable about social media for me any longer, and I’d rather turn my back and focus on creating the content for my own sake rather than for a bunch of strangers on the Internet. The only reason why I give a shit about most of you is because Facebook told me to.

If that’s not a good reason to take a break, I don’t know what is.

Monday, July 24, 2017

BIPARTISANSHIP, AND OTHER FAIRY TALES


“Bipartisanship” may be the Fool’s Gold of electoral politics, but it’s still nice to see Democrats and Republicans try and turn shit into Shinola every once in a while. From my local rag:
“Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday designed to prod states to reform their bail systems, in an attempt to move forward with criminal justice reform as Congress is caught in partisan gridlock over health care and other issues.

The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a former presidential candidate, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems. […]


“In courtrooms around America, someone is released before their trial based on whether they can afford write a check or not and not necessarily based on whether they present a risk to their community,” Harris said at a criminal justice reform event in D.C. on Tuesday. “That ain’t right. It’s not fair.” […]


Paul has talked for years about reforming the criminal justice system. “Americans should be able to expect fair and equal treatment under the law regardless of how much money is in their pockets or how many connections they have,” he said in a statement.”
 
To paraphrase myself regarding Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea to make an alt-history show about the Confederacy winning the Civil War, there’s one way that this can go right, 856,294,573,495,173,495 that it can go totally wrong. To which I can hear Rand Paul respond in that unholy, Beavis-meets-Forrest-Gump rasp of a drawl: “Never tell me the odds! Y’know, like Han Solo said in Star Wars! You know the Rebellion was started over Imperials nationalizing businesses all over the galaxy, riiiight? I saw it in a cut scene! I bet George Lucas reads Ayn Raaaaaaand. You know that’s where I got my nickname from, riiiiiight? Star Wars is so coooool!”

God, I hate myself for even typing that out loud.

So yeah…this bill will probably sink before it ever learns to swim, given how staggeringly lucrative the prison-industrial complex is and how woefully craven and fetishistic the Republican Party is. Holding people on bail is one of the easiest ways to fill bunks in any for-profit prison; doesn’t matter how long they keep them for, as long as they can keep ‘em long enough to be seen on to the next P&L statement or two. Who gives a shit if they really belong there or not? There’s license plates what need stamping, plantations what need tending, and pockets what need filling, from shareholders to Senators and everyone in between.

Never mind the fact that, to most of the zealots and bigots who make up the base of the Republican Party, “bipartisanship” is tantamount to treason, and is likely to get you shot primaried from the right before the next electoral season. Without some major right-wing support behind this bill in the Republican-controlled legislature, it ain’t goin’ nowhere. And with current Attorney General and former Keebler mascot Jefferson “Soft Batch” Sessions ready to reinstitute “Reefer Madness” across the nation any day now, we can safely forget about this until 2020, at the very earliest.

Which is a damned shame, considering the circumstances. I hate to play “Misery Olympics” when it comes to the ravages of the corporatocracy, because there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, period. But there’s something to be said about the legal, sanctioned, state-subsidized human trafficking operation that is the modern, for profit prison system. It’s like somebody was all, “Hmmm…how can we make legalized, institutionalized slavery even more fucked up and abusive and dehumanizing? Oh, I know! Let’s throw it to the free market!” and all of a sudden, not only was putting (mostly black and brown) people back in chains to work for free self-evidently profitable, but now, whomever crams the most people into their corral makes the most money! It’s a win-win for the aristocracy, where the end justifies nearly any means. Props to Harris and Paul for stepping up and bringing attention to the issue, if nothing else. It may be a token gesture, but it’s better than nothing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

RACE RELATIONS, REVISITED

Malcolm Gladwell: writer, podcaster, Mars Volta stunt double. (H/T The Huffington Post)
If you're not listening to Malcolm Gladwell's new podcast Revisionist History, you're seriously missing out.

The long time New Yorker contributor and five-time New York Times bestseller-listed author's program has an interesting premise: to take seeming inconsequential or uncontroversial moments in history and put them under the microscope in order to demonstrate their consequence, or expose their controversy. Debuting last year with an episode called "The Lady Vanishes," which explored concepts of tokenism, moral licensing, and discrimination in the final moments before the 2016 presidential election through the story of a 19th century painting, Revisionist History has gone on to cover all manner of fascinating subjects, from Wilt Chamberlain's granny shot to the question of, as the website puts it, "whether laughter and social protest are friends or foes." Equal parts funny, achingly poignant, and incredulous, Revisionist History is not a show to be missed, especially now that the second season is well underway.

Gladwell has chosen with this season to focus on race, and the various mythological constructs - both historical and otherwise - that inform American views on the subject today. The first two episodes in this arc examine some pretty spectacular political jiujitsu in the history of the Civil Rights Movement: Brown v. Board Of Education, the landmark legislation that marked the end of segregation, and a famous New York Times photo of racial violence during a protest in Birmingham, Alabama that took the Civil Rights Movement to the national stage.

In "Miss Buchanan's Period Of Adjustment," the language of the Brown is examined and revealed to be based entirely upon false pretext: that segregation was not just unethical, but harmful to the mental development of black children, of which only the former is true. The long-term damage this wrought upon not just upon the education system amongst communities of color, but the nation's perception of black life writ large, has to be heard to be believed.


"The Foot Soldier of Birmingham" examines the story of the iconic photo of a police officer and his dog assaulting a young black man during a protest outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that made international headlines and brought the eyes of the world upon the American South, and how it, too, had its own false pretext: not only was the cop not assaulting that young man, that young man bore a much closer resemblance to Uncle Rufus than Fred Shuttlesworth, if you know what I mean.


Whatever Malcolm Gladwell has up his sleeve next, I guarantee it'll be a total mindfuck. I know I'll be listening.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

GOOD IDEAS FROM BAD PEOPLE

Today in "That's a great idea! Glad I booted it from the liberals and resold it to the rubes after filing off the serial numbers I thought of it!" news:
"Currently, the CTC is a partially refundable tax credit of $1,000 annually paid out to families for each child in the household under the age of 17. Senators Rubio and Lee have proposed a new child tax credit of $2,500 that could be applied against payroll and income taxes.

To be sure, an expanded CTC has many merits. And given the status quo, I’d take a larger CTC over no additional relief for parents struggling to work and raise children in today’s economy.

But in the long run, targeted investments in paid leave, child care, and wage subsidies are likely to bring about better economic outcomes, provide more relief to the families that need it most, and keep federal spending in check."
Wait...what? Since when did the National Review become so anti-freedom?
"The biggest advantage of the CTC is its flexibility. The CTC is not tied to a specific use, such as offsetting child-care expenses. It arrives with tax returns each year and can be used for anything, from offsetting paid-leave expenses, to meals, to toys, to babysitting, to preschool, to bolstering savings accounts, to shopping sprees. [...]

But the broad nature of the CTC comes with several downsides. Because the CTC is spread out over a large population with few restrictions, it’s quite expensive. The CTC costs $550 billion over a 10-year budget window. The Tax Policy Center estimates that a new partially refundable $2,500 child tax credit could cost $1.2 trillion over the next decade — even a fraction of which would be a major line item by any standard. [...]

In aggregate, the CTC appears to simply make it easier for families to do what they were already doing, with the benefit of additional relief."
If I didn't know better, I'd swear I was reading a ThinkProgress article. This is far too reasonable and big-government-y to have ever been written by some neocon standard-bearer, right?
"A universal credit by its very nature is delivered irrespective of need, timing, or expense, and thus limited in its ability to move the needle on these big issues. The majority of Americans support more targeted efforts to change the status quo, such as a paid-leave policy.

Similarly, there are no accompanying economic effects of the CTC in increasing work-force participation, improving upward mobility, or increasing economic growth, the lack of which find some of their roots in the lack of family-friendly policy in the U.S. [...]

Given the economic challenges we face as a country, investments in family policy that carry robust pro-growth benefits should be particularly attractive. Importantly, stay-at-home parents would benefit from these policies also. Remember that in all households, at least one parent must be working. For this parent, higher wages from EITC investments and tax reform could help to offset the cost of the other parent staying at home or to pay for child-related expenses. Paid parental leave would enable all parents to be at home in the early weeks of a child’s life."
Sounds great! Sign me up! Oh, wait...
"Imagine that Republicans pass an expanded CTC this Congress. The price tag of the new CTC would make it difficult to pay for out of cuts to existing spending. It would provide some relief to parents but not fully take the air out of the balloon for paid leave and child-care reform.

This would give Democrats full runway to pursue their extremely expensive and government-heavy paid-leave and child-care proposals on top of an expanded CTC. It is worth pointing out that this is what Democrats have been wanting all along. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton proposed expanding the CTC in addition to paid leave and child-care reforms. This may be a good thing for parents across America, but conservatives should realize that this is the worst outcome from a budget perspective and would significantly constrain resources for other investments.

In this regard too, it may be better to address the issues that working parents are facing with targeted policies. A modest paid-parental-leave program such as that put forward by the Trump administration, combined with an expanded and refundable Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and an expanded wage subsidy, would more clearly address some of the major issues families are facing, bring about significant economic benefits, and slow down the implementation of more expansive policies. Paired with broader tax reform, this would put substantial resources back into families’ pockets and grow the economy at the same time."
So essentially, the idea is to push Ivanka's bullshit paid-parental-leave program ($19 billion for her program over the next decade in exchange for nearly $2 TRILLION IN CUTS to social services) and shout from the rafters, "ARE WE NOT GENEROUS?!?!? ARE WE NOT MERCIFUL, YOU SCURRILOUS MOOCHERS?!?!?!" before the Democrats do something crazy stupid ridiculous like, I dunno...not repeatedly knifing the social safety net in the gut just to watch the faces it makes while bleeding out on the floor.

But then there's that whole thing about Hillary's e-mails...

Just keep shopping, America. Everything is fine. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Monday, July 10, 2017

ICYMI: HEALTH CARE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE

"I would say it was even more rigidly segregated. The doctors were segregated and their patients were segregated. The degree of segregation between indigent patients and private patients was much more extreme than it is today. There were separate wings, separate china. Most medical offices in the South, particularly for primary care doctors, had separate waiting rooms, and black patients would be seen only after the white patients were seen.

One of the things that was strikingly different from today: At that time you talked about racial and ethnic differences in health care and in health. The implication was that there were cultural or even genetic differences that explained the differences in the use of health care and outcomes. Now we don’t talk about differences, we talk about disparities. The implication is that if there are differences, it’s the responsibility of providers and not the patients to correct them. Before, [the difference was attributed to] those ignorant people who don’t know how to use health care or take care of themselves. [...]

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which ended legal segregation in the schools, reinforced the assumption that little would happen because very little progress was being made in desegregating the schools. The decision ordered states to end segregation with “all deliberate speed” but that [meant] no deliberate speed. [So] the hospitals thought they would have to come up with a plan and would proceed very gradually and cautiously with doing this, which would mean it wouldn’t get done. [...]

What’s different is the Title VI enforcement part. The Public Health Service was responsible for enforcing the Medicare nondiscrimination provisions. That created an interesting takeover by the civil rights movement. The three people who were writing the rules were really committed civil rights activists. They wrote the regulations following the direction and pleading of the civil rights organizations: You cannot have “all deliberate speed,” you cannot let anybody in the program unless they’ve complied with some very specific requirements, including no discrimination in  terms of where patients are placed or where people could go to the cafeterias or where they could be employed."
As in most damage reports of American travesty (prospective or otherwise), the specific percentage of black and brown people that stand to lose health care under an ACA repeal doesn't seem to have been accounted for by the CBO. But it doesn't take a genius to know that it's a staggeringly high number, and that far too many people of color stand to be sacrificed to appease Paul Ryan's malevolent tax cut obsession:



I can't help but feel like we're "lucky" in certain respects that Donald Trump screwed the pooch on the Republican Party's quarter-century Presidential breeding program by winning last year's election. A Hillary victory would have undoubtedly put her up against Paul Ryan in 2020, arguably the biggest sociopath Capitol Hill has ever seen; with twice the vile of Donald Trump and none of the brutishness, he would taste great and be less filling for conservative voters, peddling the softest of bigotries in rhetoric and the hardest in policy. His congeniality could very well have signed her death warrant, and reinvigorated neoconservative policies for another quarter century.In the meantime, we'll just have to settle for his repeated efforts at gleefully ripping the entrails of our social safety net to bloody ribbons so the aristocracy can have yet another tax cut.

Lesser of two evils, I guess...