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Booksellers versus Bestsellers

  • Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is having a moving sale!

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is moving from our current location in the back of Bauhaus Coffee at 2001 NW Market to either a location three blocks east of there or one four blocks west of there. We will still be on Market Street. Our lawyer is currently reviewing both leases before we make a decision.

    We've got to be out of here by the end of September, so we need to decide soon! Either location will give us a lot more visibility than the windowless back room we currently occupy.

    So, we're having a moving sale, currently 30% off. It applies to the books on the open shelves, not to the stuff that's cataloged on the internet.

    The next question is, how the hell am I going to move all these books and shelves? Anybody out there willing to help? If so, drop me a line. The shop email is twicesoldtalesud@gmail.com.

  • If Trump stiffs the Russians, what will they do to him?

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Donald Trump has a well-earned reputation for stiffing vendors, creditors, and investors. But what about the Russian money that's been flowing into his business? Could exploiting those investors have far worse consequences?

    Most American banks won't lend to him, according to the Wall Street scuttlebutt.  And, as the Washington Post has reported, Trump has found a new source of financing.

    Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world. "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets," Trump's son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."
    Bayrock, a company that helped finance the Trump SoHo project, was accused of getting its money from some questionable sources. From the New York Times:
    Shortly before the condo buyers' lawsuit was filed, another suit appeared, this one by Jody Kriss, a former finance director of Bayrock. It claimed that by concealing Mr. Sater's criminal record, Bayrock had committed fraud on banks and investors with which it did business. Mr. Trump is not a defendant in that case, which is continuing. Mr. Kriss's lawsuit was filled with unflattering details of how Bayrock operated, including allegations that it had occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia. Now, Donald Trump's finances are fairly opaque, because he has refused to release tax returns either for last year, for which he's being audited, or from any of the years for which he is not being audited.

    But the fact is, there is virtually no clean Russian money. If you are rich, you support Putin, or you won't be rich for long, as some have discovered. For example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, financed parties critical of Vladimir Putin. He was arrested, tried for a series of crimes that were either not illegal when he was alleged to have committed them or were still not illegal, convicted, and imprisoned. He has since been released and lives in exile on a much diminished fortune.

    So, if you are getting much Russian money, it probably has ties to Putin and his ruling clique. This may explain Trump's constant praise of Putin, and his financial interests being tied to Russian sources of finance may have something to do with his heterodox views on foreign policy, like questioning our commitment to NATO.

    But Trump is unlikely to win the presidency, and it is quite likely that his Russian investors will be as disappointed as some of his past investors.

    How will they respond?

    Well, consider what Masha Gessen, who wrote a book (The Man Without a Face)about Putin, described his background, starting with the period in East Germany prior to the fall of the Wall:
    'Everything Putin had worked for was now in doubt,' Gessen writes. 'Everything he had believed was being mocked.' He would not return home until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 'I think a lot of his resentment goes back directly to that period,' Gessen says. 'Having been in the KGB at a bad time, having been outside the country when everything was changing... He's a very vengeful man - that's one of his particular traits of character. And that vengefulness has carried through. He's pursuing a vendetta against everybody who was ever opposed to the Soviet Union.' Putin returned to St Petersburg, where he became assistant to the mayor, while continuing in the KGB. For all the reforms that were taking place in Russia, St Petersburg, Gessen writes, was 'a state within a state': a place where the KGB remained all-powerful, where local politicians and journalists had their phones tapped, and the murder of major political and business players was a regular occurrence.' In other words, very much like Russia itself would become within a few years, once it came to be ruled by the people who ruled St Petersburg in the 1990s.' In other words, Putin.
    I think the nature and extent of his ties to Russia may have a bearing on Trump's business future and even on his own health and that of those close to him. Suppose he were to change his tune, and start to criticize Putin, and stiff his friends who invested with Trump.  Here's some guidance from Gesson:
    'There is a theory that is popular among journalists that to Putin there are enemies and there are traitors. And enemies have a right to exist; he might not like them, but they have a right to exist. Traitors don't have a right to exist. It's a nice theory. I like it because I'm such a clear-cut enemy that I should be safe.'Can Trump afford to have Putin see him as a traitor? He's not going to win the election, and he won't always have the protection of the Secret Service. So I think we can expect to see him continue to toady to the Russian leader.

    Trump is heavily in debt to Deutsche Bank AG, but the Russians seem to have taken equity stakes in his ventures. We don't know how much money is involved, or which Russian oligarchs are involved, or how close all that money is to Putin. We don't know how his Russian investors will react if they suffer as badly as investors in his casinos did, or how dependent the continuation of Trump's empire is on their continued investment.

    I think it's a pretty good bet that he is more financially beholden to foreign investors than any previous presidential candidate, and that it's likely his investors are heavily entangled with the Russian kleptocracy. That, if true, would mean that Trump is himself entangled with a government that has shown a willingness in the past to poison or otherwise kill its critics.

    Now, there is a way for Trump to set our minds at rest, and assure us that he is not entangled with a foreign power. Let's see some transparency on his finances, starting with those pesky tax returns.

  • The science of creating ignorance and the Republican dilemma

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Agnotology, or the science of creating ignorance, is now firmly entrenched in our politics. The Republican Party, which has become associated with the use of this science, is facing a dilemma as a result.

    Once they had used it to undermine the legitimacy of other elites, they discovered that they had also undermined the legitimacy of the Republican Party elite. They have created so much ignorance and distrust, they are not trusted to be informed about what is best for their constituents.

    The name of this science dates from 1995, but its use in public discourse started in the 1960s.

    It started with the tobacco industry, after the Surgeon General's Report tying tobacco use to cancer. The industry responded by trying to undermine the science behind the report.

    First, they said that the research had been done on mice, and did not indicate that humans would suffer similar problems. Then, they engaged in a program of sponsoring studies to put against the science the Surgeon General used. Some of it was to show that other things cause cancer as well, so why blame cigarettes? Some were shaky science to put against more solid studies to argue that "some scientists say one thing, some say another."

    A 1969 memo called the Smoking and Health Proposal, written by an executive of the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, said "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."

    If the notion of "establishing a controversy" after the science has been settled seems familiar, it's because this is the tactic used by climate change deniers to argue that "the science isn't settled" on climate change.

    Agnotology entered the political realm when a corporate lawyer who had represented the tobacco industry laid out the game plan for business interests to take control of public discourse.

    Lewis Powell, who Ronald Reagan later appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote the memo at the request of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1970.

    In it, he suggested a series of steps to take, including founding think tanks, funding seats on university faculties, and using radio and television to spread their message.

    Powell suggested a sort of ideological siege of academia by establishing a staff of friendly faculty, speakers, speaker's bureau, and attacking views they didn't like that were expressed in textbooks. 

    He had a special place for business schools:

    The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.
    In short, business schools were to indoctrinate future business leaders. He also thought there was a neglected opportunity in the courts:

    American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

    Appointing Powell to the Supreme Court can be viewed as one way business took action on this proposal.

    Most of what Powell proposed was to change what people thought they knew about their world.

    Flash forward to the present. The Republican Party, funded to a surprisingly large extent by the fossil fuel industry, contended for years that climate change was a hoax, that the president of the United States wasn't a citizen, that the Affordable Care Act was a socialist job-killer, that President Obama was a Muslim, & etc.

    Every half-baked conspiracy theory could get a hearing from the party elite as long as it stirred up the base and got more Republicans elected.

    But a strange thing happened. One of the conspiracy theorists was a rich man with a need for attention. Donald Trump entered Republican circles through his adherence to the Birther conspiracy theory -- the outlandish notion that our president was born not in the United States, but in Kenya. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, even courted his endorsement.

    The idea was clearly racist, an attempt to delegitimize our first African American president. But party leaders never disowned the theory, or that of President Obama being a Muslim. Instead of ridiculing the conspiracy theories and trying to win based on reality, they allowed the mechanism Lewis Powell had called for -- the radio, news, and now the internet conservative echo chamber -- to spread these theories far and wide.

    Believing this nonsense became a tribal marker for conservatives, adhered to even by seemingly intelligent people who should have known better.

    When Donald Trump came for the Republican Party elites, they had no other elites trusted to speak up for them. The party base of whites without a college degree had no faith in any of the elites, including that of their own party. They had been asked to believe in lies so often that the nature or even possibility of truth seemed to be illusory, as if all that continued to exist was the Republican Party's reptile brain, threat sensitive and emotional, raging against unfairness with no clear notion of how they had been betrayed, but aware that in their lifetimes, they were one group for whom things had gotten worse. For them, there was no longer any real truth, just whose side you were on.

    The party had taught them not to blame the rich, but to blame the people they competed for directly for jobs and prestige -- immigrants, people of other races -- and the people they might have turned to for information -- those intellectuals they had been told time after time not to trust.

    And now, the Republican Party faces the dilemma they have created. The party's base no longer trusts any elite, even their own. They can no longer tell the rank and file, "this guy's a nut, he can't win and shouldn't be nominated." They have unwittingly abdicated the party's role as the gatekeeper who gets them to select a viable candidate.

    The people who thought they were running the party aren't in control any more. They can see the cliff, but they can't reach the wheel, can't press the brake. They know that to save the party, they must get control again, but they have created too much ignorance in the service of temporary goals.

    The base is acting as if it believed all the convenient lies, all the conspiracy theories that were just supposed to be used to manipulate them. They don't even care if they lose, they just want a voice to shout their rage at their supposed enemies.

    They are the beast who shouted hate at the heart of the world.


  • How to buy a used cat

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    In a universe parallel parked just two down from ours, buying a used cat is just like  like buying a used car.

    We will illustrate the pitfalls with the case of Bill.

    One day, Bill's old cat died. We need not dwell on the causes of his old companion's death, and we turn away from Bill's private grief. However, when the tears had fallen, Bill was left with a universal truth. To paraphrase Jane Austen:

    "IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a cat."

    But the search for the cat is like the search for a used car, so this will not exactly be Pride and Prejudice. Not even Pride and Pedigree.

    Bill set out hoping he could afford a new cat. He looked into the exotics, just because a man can dream, even if he can't really afford something fast and dangerous that isn't really suited to his lifestyle.

    The Savannah cat struck his fancy, but it cost about half as much as a hose in flyover country, and he was still renting.

    A brand-new Manx kitten had a muscular, aggressive stance with a sort of Kammback look that enticed him, but after it ran up his pants leg leaving a trail of fresh wounds on his leg, he realized that even if he could afford the sticker price, the insurance on his drapes would be ruinous.

    This is when he fell into the hands of a used-cat salesman.

    "This is your lucky day," said the salesman, clad in cheap, chequered sport coat and polyester pants. "I've got a used cat that will just knock your eyes out."

    It was an old cat, sleeping rather noisily in the back row of the cat lot. Aside from the snoring, it had long, tangled fur and more than a few notches in its ears.

    "This cat looks like it's got a lot of city miles on it," Bill said.

    "Let me tell you about this wonderful feline," the salesman said. "It would never have come on the market at all, were it not for a fortunate accident. I mean, fortunate for you."

    "What's that smell?" Bill asked.

    "This cat was the beloved companion of a large and demonstrative family, the kids carried it everywhere and it never once scratched them," the salesman went on.

    "Is it leaking fluid?"

    "No, no, we had another cat parked here before we sent it to be repaired. Can't sell defective merchandise, can we?"

    "Can't you?"

    "So, anyway, the family so loved this cat, they would never let it out of their sight. They took it to church of Sunday, and the rest of the week, I tell you, they worshiped that cat like ancient Egyptians."

    "So how did it end up here?"

    "Well, one day, the whole family was walking to church, and little Willie, who had fallen in with fell companions on the second-grade playground, said a naughty word. Well, you know how God feels about that, he sent a bus to run them all down and wiped out the whole family."

    "That's terrible, but wouldn't that have killed the cat, too?"

    "God so loved the cat, he spared it. And now, it's your good fortune that the cat is here, before you, ready to begin a new life with you."

    "Um...I kind of swear a lot, is that a problem?"

    "You go to Church every Sunday?"

    "Not so's you'd notice."

    "I wouldn't worry about it."

    "Think I'll pass, anyway."

    "Well, sir, what will it take to put a cat in your arms today?"

    Bill told the salesman his budget.

    "What else have you got in my range?" he asked.

    "Yer lookin' at it."

    So, Bill bought the elderly, flatulent cat and began waking home with it in his arms. It woke, farted again, and began to purr. He began to like it, when suddenly, he stubbed his toe.

    "Fuckshitcuntcockpiss!" he said, before considering the consequences. "Oh, God, that hurts," he amended.

    Just then, a severely depressed neighbor with bad aim tried to kill himself, and instead took off Bill's hat. Bill picked up his ventilated hat and looked reproachfully at the cat.

    "Did you tell God I said that?" he asked.

    The cat yawned hugely, revealing some bad teeth and breath that would make a passable paint stripper.

    "Well, God dammit, I don't believe a word that salesman said," Bill declared. The cat scratched him, causing him to lurch away from the road just as a dump truck ran into a light pole next to him. Bill realized that the truck would have pinned him against the light pole if he hadn't lurched.

    "Cat, are you cursed?" Bill asked.

    The cat avoided his gaze, nonchalantly licking a paw.

    Bill went back to the cat lot, where the salesman showed himself extraordinarily agile, dodging him and locking himself in the office.

    "Open up, you sold me a lemon, dammit," Bill shouted. The salesman dived under a divan just before an eagle dropped a turtle on Bill's head, crushing his battered, bullet-riddled hat and leaving him dazed.

    "Don't curse!" the salesman called from under the divan, "one lightning bolt could wipe out this office!"

    "I want my money back!"

    After a moment's consideration, the salesman said, "You can have your money back if you take the cat with you."

    "Fine."

    The salesman wouldn't open the door. He slid an envelope under it and dived back under the divan.

    Bill checked the amount in the envelope, then put down the cat and walked away. "Serves the S.O.B right," he thought. That only resulted in distant thunder.

    As he neared his home, Bill stepped into the crosswalk without looking, and a car screeched to a halt inches away from him.

    "Watch where you're going, you God-damned idiot!" the driver yelled, and the engine of the car immediately caught fire. That's when Bill looked around, saw that the cat had followed him home, and resigned himself to cleaning up his language.


  • A unified theory of Brexit and Trump

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    One of the puzzles of this election year is why long-standing elements of the Republican platform aren't resonating this year.

    Republicans have long advocated small government and free markets, including free markets in foreign trade. But Donald Trump won the most delegates in the primaries by advocating higher tariffs and promising not to cut Social Security.

    The theory has been that both tariffs and the social safety net are government interfering in the marketplace. But there is now a clear division between the Republican donor class, which believes this, and the white blue-collar base that wants government to protect them from  both foreigners and foreign competition.

    For decades, the donor class of rich Republicans have dictated the economic agenda of the party while working-class whites have provided the votes, based on promises that the economic program would benefit everyone and the exploitation of culture war issues such as "the war on Christmas," gays, and abortion, and guns.

    They've also exploited racial resentment. The Southern strategy Nixon used grew out of the Republican right's rejection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the party at this point has managed to purge itself of the sort of moderate Republicans who voted for that law.

    But the basic economics were always against that strategy. Even prior to World War I, the nations most open to foreign trade have had the largest governments.

    Kevin O'Rourke, in a July 1 post on The Irish Economy blog, explained how this works:


    The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash. We argued this based on late 19th century evidence, but opinion poll evidence (citations here) suggested that something similar was at work in the late 20th century as well, a hunch confirmed in the early 21st century by the 2005 and 2008 French and Irish referenda. What was missing from all this was an analysis of what, if anything, governments can do about this. Which is where Dani Rodrik's finding that more open states had bigger governments in the late 20th century comes in. Dani's interpretation is that markets expose workers to risk, and that government expenditure of various sorts can help protect them from those risks. In a series of articles, and an important book, Michael Huberman showed that this correlation between states and markets was present before 1914 as well: countries with more liberal trade policies tended to have more advanced social protections of various sorts, and this helped maintain political support for openness.

    In short, liberal trade policy requires liberal government policy. One reason Donald Trump became the voice of the white working class was that he was more explicit in exploiting racial resentment, of course, but another reason was that he did not buy into the Republican orthodoxy regarding free trade and small government. He doesn't really favor either.

    Those who favored both free trade and small government tended to be those rich enough to insulate themselves against the risks free trade exposes the economy to. That's the donor class which has always set the economic agenda for the party.

    In Britain, whatever the polls might say, the areas that voted most in favor of leaving the European Union have been those most impacted by competition from competition with Chinese manufacturing. From The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post:

    Regardless of what voters or pundits might be saying, we find that Leave votes were systematically higher in regions more affected by the surge in Chinese imports over the last three decades. And we find no evidence that the presence or influx of immigrants correlates with a region's support for Brexit.So, the solution to problems caused by competition with China is to distance Britain from Europe, where a lot of its exports go. It doesn't make sense on an economic level, but it motivates voters on an emotional level.

    And in America, workers who feel economically insecure because of economic globalization often support Donald Trump, who as Forbes magazine notes, outsources items produced for the Trump brand.

    We are reaching for the wrong solutions because we are misunderstanding the problem. The problem is that if we are to have free trade, we need to provide a reliable safety net for workers, and if we're going to cut the safety net, we need to reduce the risk to workers by having less free trade.

    This is a much bigger problem for Republicans than for Democrats. Most of the supporters for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement are Republicans, not Democrats, and Democrats generally consider it a no-brainer that workers need a good safety net.

    Now, it might seem odd for the party that most supports the safety net to be the one that also is less enthusiastic about free trade. After all, they support what is needed to have free trade without excessive backlash. But both things are part of the Democratic Party's history of supporting working families.

    And Trump is just another stage in the long history of Republican's using cultural and racial issues to get working class whites to vote against their economic interest. For all his bluster, the economic plan he has presented is just designed to make the rich richer.

  • We need better super heroes

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Why are the superpowers of comic book characters so useless? How many of your own problems could be solved by being able to hit someone very hard, or shoot a powerful beam from your eyes that can take out a wall?

    I propose some superheroes with really useful talents:

    Smarty Pants: Once she dons her magic underwear, her intelligence allows her to solve previously intractable engineering problems, like how to render nuclear waste inert.

    The Waiter: Patience is his superpower. No matter how long you need to make up your mind, he will wait patiently and cheerfully. Particularly adept at dealing with bureaucracy, he can accomplish things without blowing up the buildings where the red tape resides.

    The Compromiser: No matter how much two sides hate each other, he can devise a solution that benefits everyone.

    The Comforter: She can take you to a new plateau of peace and contentment, no matter what trauma you've experienced.:

    Any others to suggest?


  • Homosexual panic and the Pulse atrocity

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    On Sunday, June 12, at about 2 a.m., Omar Mateen entered a crowded gay nightclub and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 before being fatally shot by police. He claimed to be an Islamic terrorist, but his father said the incident that set him off was seeing two men kissing.

    The L.A. Times went with a headline Monday that noted the shooter had claimed allegiance to Hezbollah, a Shiite terror organization. CNN and some other outlets went with headlines saying he had claimed allegiance to Islamic State, a Sunni terror organization which is currently fighting Hezbollah in Syria.

    As it happens, both were right, at different times Mateen had claimed allegiance to both organizations. The one he chose the night of his attack was Islamic State. His claims to be aligned with terror organizations was incoherent, probably a cover for what was really going on.

    His claims fit nicely with standard narratives about how Islamic terrorists are a threat to America, and the conservative political correctness that insists on the term "Islamic terrorist" to describe them, even when much more precise terms are available.

    But his father said the incident had nothing to do with religion. From the Tampa Bay Times:

    Mateen's father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News he did not believe the killings had to do with religion and said his son was angered recently when he saw two gay men kissing in Miami. "They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, 'Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that,' " the father said. "And then we were in the men's bathroom and men were kissing each other."
    And a man who claims allegiance to organizations that are sworn enemies and currently actively shooting at each other doesn't know much about those organizations.

    There is a term of art in psychology and law called a homosexual panic, which describes the anxiety and conflicted feelings of a person who is faced with his (this is usually a male phenomenon) repressed homosexual desires. It has been used as a legal defense in assault and murder cases, with lawyers claiming that a defendant panicked when they received a homosexual advance and were temporarily insane.

    That sounds a bit like claiming not to be culpable for a crime because one is bigot, at least to the modern ear. Homosexual panic has fallen out of favor as a psychological diagnosis, as well as a legal defense. But I think it describes something that happens in people who are culturally conditioned to hate homosexuality and repress it in themselves.

    Even those of us who grew up in a society where most homosexuals were closeted didn't have the kind of visceral reaction Mateen did  As I recall, the first time I saw two men kissing (not just Frenchmen greeting each other, but an obvious couple,) I found it unusual, but didn't see it as my problem. Living in a major city, I no longer consider it unusual.

    And talking to other men, some felt a little uncomfortable the first time they saw men kissing, but anger was not the usual response.

    Studies have shown that homophobes often have unresolved homosexual feelings. This is outlined in a study that was conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara. The research was published the April, 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    From Science Daily:
    What I'm talking about here is not a sudden onset of temporary madness, but a slow-burning lump of sulfur in the soul, a sense of panic that won't let go for years and years. Mateen must have known he would die when he went on his rampage. He was killing himself, and killing others who personified the part of himself he wanted dead.

    This is the price of a culture that does not allow people to be themselves. We've had a long series of anti-gay lawmakers eventually turn out to be gay. Such men must have a grinding sense of panic for most of their adult lives, slowly wearing away at their souls while they try to demonstrate their loyalty to traditional sex roles by hounding people who express the sexuality they don't have the courage to reveal.

    Moral cowardice and cruelty are close companions in this hellish world of repressed desire and displaced self-hatred. Mateen tried to portray himself as an Islamic martyr be claiming allegiance to Islamic State during his murderous night at the Pulse, but his father is probably right. This wasn't about religion.

    Edited to add:

    I thought I was kind of out on a limb with this one, but Gawker published something that seems to confirm it. Mateen was a regular at Pulse, and engaged in the un-Islamic practice of getting sloppy drunk on a regular basis.

    http://gawker.com/orlando-shooter-was-reportedly-a-regular-at-pulse-and-h-1781920316

    He also used a gay messaging ap, according to Gawker.


  • When Democrats attack

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Now that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to be the presumptive nominee for president, the question is, how will she and her allies in the Democratic Party attack Donald Trump?

    One possible answer came with the release of an ad by Priorities USA, a political action committee that sides with Clinton. The ad, called "Grace," features the parents of a disabled child discussing the birth of their child and how they felt when they saw Donald Trump ridiculing a journalist for his disability. The journalist, Serge Kovaleski, had done some digging into Trump's claim that Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and found nothing that supported Trump's claim.

    Unable to support his claim about the celebration, or refute Kovaleski's reporting, Trump made fun of how arthrogryposis limits the journalist's movements.

    Here's the "Grace" ad:


    Now, Republican candidates tried attacking Trump in a variety of ways, only to fail. The problem is, there are so many things wrong with him as a candidate, what do you go after? It has to resonate on an emotional level with voters, and it has to make sense of the aspects of Trump that make voters uncomfortable.

    Well, Trump is clearly a bully. He's also a candidate who is trying to persuade voters, with some success, that he cares about their problems.

    One of the standard polling questions is which candidate is better described by the phrase "cares about people like me." One reason Mitt Romney lost to President Obama is that he could never close that empathy gap.

    It's all very well to tell people that Trump's economic proposals would make a shambles of the American economy, that deporting 3 percent of the population (yes, there are that many undocumented aliens in the country) would create enormous problems and enormous costs, that banning all Muslims from coming to America would be a betrayal of everything America stands for, but these things don't really resonate on an emotional level.

    But if you portray him as a cruel man who cares only about himself, who habitually punches down at those less powerful, you give people a narrative that puts all his proposals in perspective. Do you really want to put someone who abuses people less powerful than himself in power over you?

    That's an emotionally resonant answer that gets to the truth of the man's character. Eduardo "Ted" Cruz could not effectively make that argument because he's not exactly Mr. Empathy himself.

    Trump triumphed in the primaries by presenting himself as someone who would bully the people his supporters blame for their problems. Being that guy is how he got this far. Attacking his lack of empathy is a way of attacking his strength. It's a bit of electoral judo that turns his strength against himself.

    Will it work? We'll see.


  • The Bathroom Panic of 2016

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    In the immortal words of Bruce Eric Kaplan, who does New Yorker cartoons as BEK:

    "I used to be innocent. Then I was naive. Now I'm just dumb."

    That's how I feel now that I've seen more stories on the Bathroom Panic of 2016. On April 20, I wrote what I thought was a satire on what enforcement of the North Carolina bathroom laws would look like. Now I learn that people are already facing enforcement that is far beyond a joke.

    A woman was forcibly removed from a women's room by three police officers before I even wrote that piece. They kept demanding identification to prove that she was a woman. Having watched the vid, I don't see why there was any question about her being a woman. Her feathers are feminine, even if her clothing on this occasion was not.

    Another woman was confronted by a man who followed her into the women's room because he mistook her for a man. And no, he did not apologize when he found out he was wrong.

    A security guard at a Washington, D.C. grocery store faces assault charges after physically expelling a transgender woman from the store's women's room.

    Ebony Belcher, the transgender woman in the incident, said the female security guard followed her into the women's room, laid hands on her, called her derogatory names, then said, "You guys cannot keep coming in here and using our women's restroom. They did not pass the law yet."

    The guard apparently felt that she had an obligation to enforce the fact that there was no law regarding which bathroom a transgender woman should use.

    Most of the time, if there is no law, there is no way to break it.

    But apparently, for the 700,000 transgender people in the U.S., there are those who think the law doesn't work that way.  There are about 320 million Americans, give or take. That's a little over two transgender people per 1,000 Americans. So, who should feel threatened? The two, or the 998?

    The transgender people I've met seem more vulnerable than threatening. But maybe that's the point. If they were powerful, they would not be suitable targets for the sort of bullying we're seeing.

  • Donald' Trump, hated loser

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Most liberal punditry about Donald Trump could exist under the headline, "Donald Trump, threat or menace?" But the fact that he's captured the nomination of a major political party shows that his candidacy must mean something.

    Trump will be the most disliked candidate for president since polling on the issue started (yes, even more disliked than Hillary Clinton.) He is hated not just by people outside his party, but by people within it as well. The National Review online produced an entire issue on the theme "Against Trump."

    Trump has channeled the anger of people who feel their place in the world has been diminished, anger against immigrants, racial minorities, professional women, and -- this is the strange part -- the Republican establishment.

    And those are the groups that dislike him most. It's obvious why Hispanics wouldn't like him. He opened his campaign with an attack on Mexican immigrants, and as anyone who's been around bigots knows, there are people who confuse American Hispanics with immigrants. In fact, some have been deported to Mexico despite their American citizenship. In some ways, this is less about immigration than about who is a :real American."

    So, it's not hard to see why these groups would disapprove of Donald Trump. The disapproval of the Republican elite is a little more subtle, but is also related to the way he's campaigned.

    For about the past half century, the Republican Party has relied upon the "southern strategy" that Nixon employed to become president, but which in many ways preceded his 1968 campaign. Republicans gained power by exploiting the discontent stirred up when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To put it bluntly, they absorbed the bigots who left the Democratic Party over its support for civil rights. By the 1990s, they were actively trying to rid themselves of the sort of Republicans who voted for the landmark civil rights legislation, dubbing them RINOs, or, Republicans in Name Only.

    It was in the 1970s that a political movement to increase economic inequality sprang up. It exploited racial divisions by appealing to the racial resentment of some whites, while espousing a doctrine of conservatism and pushing through an economic agenda that served the class of people who financed the party.

    This bait-and-switch political scam worked for a couple generations. At this point, it has become increasingly obvious that the prolefeed -- what the party tells the rank and file to stir them up and get them to vote in support of the party -- bears little resemblance to either reality or to the economic interests of party's blue-collar base.

    Do those voters want Social Security cut or privatized? Of course not, their companies are no longer providing traditional pensions, and they may be more reliant than ever before on Social Security checks in retirement.

    Do they want taxes on the very rich cut even more? Hell, no, they're fine with hedge fund managers paying their fair share.

    Do they believe they should be held personally responsible for the fact that they don't have the security and status their parents did? Of course not, that's why they've embraced Trump's claim that they've been suckered. Which, by the way, has the virtue of being true.

    Is it any surprise that the people doing the suckering are not comfortable with this? Of course not, comments on the emperor's attire are entirely inappropriate, in their view.

    Unfortunately, Trump's trumpery does not address the blue-collar whites' problems, only their resentments. His tax plan, for all his posturing, is yet another giveaway to rich people like himself. He's blaming minorities for taking whites' piece of the pie, when the real problem is that the rich are taking more and more of the pie.

    The absurdity of the situation is that he is essentially telling voters that the poor -- immigrants and working-class minorities -- are taking the money, not the rich. If the poor were taking the money, they wouldn't be poor.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_GDP_per_capita_vs_median_household_income.png

    If income were being redistributed within the working class, we would expect median family income to track real domestic product pretty nearly. What this chart shows is that the median family is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the pie generally. Where has the extra money gone? To those at the top of the income range (if the share of those below the median income were where the money was going, the red line would be above the blue line and income inequality in general would be declining rather than increasing.)

    Trump's message -- you've been losing because you're led by losers, I'm a winner who can lead you to winning -- has everything to do with salesmanship and nothing to do with solving problems. His version of what the problems are is based on the resentments of his followers, not on any deep analysis of the problems themselves. He's advanced "solutions" that would destroy American credibility financially, diplomatically, and militarily. Salesmanship is easy, policy is hard.

    He's just another loser masquerading as a savior.



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