Why It Can Happen Here

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/27/opinion/trump-republican-party-authoritarianism.html

We’re very close to becoming another Poland or Hungary.

By Paul Krugman
Aug. 27, 2018

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a friend of mine — an expert on international relations — made a joke: “Now that Eastern Europe is free from the alien ideology of Communism, it can return to its true historical path — fascism.” Even at the time, his quip had a real edge.

And as of 2018 it hardly seems like a joke at all. What Freedom House calls illiberalism is on the rise across Eastern Europe. This includes Poland and Hungary, both still members of the European Union, in which democracy as we normally understand it is already dead.

In both countries the ruling parties — Law and Justice in Poland, Fidesz in Hungary — have established regimes that maintain the forms of popular elections, but have destroyed the independence of the judiciary, suppressed freedom of the press, institutionalized large-scale corruption and effectively delegitimized dissent. The result seems likely to be one-party rule for the foreseeable future.

And it could all too easily happen here. There was a time, not long ago, when people used to say that our democratic norms, our proud history of freedom, would protect us from such a slide into tyranny. In fact, some people still say that. But believing such a thing today requires willful blindness. The fact is that the Republican Party is ready, even eager, to become an American version of Law and Justice or Fidesz, exploiting its current political power to lock in permanent rule.

Just look at what has been happening at the state level.

In North Carolina, after a Democrat won the governorship, Republicans used the incumbent’s final days to pass legislation stripping the governor’s office of much of its power.

In Georgia, Republicans tried to use transparently phony concerns about access for disabled voters to close most of the polling places in a mainly black district.

In West Virginia, Republican legislators exploited complaints about excessive spending to impeach the entire State Supreme Court and replace it with party loyalists.

And these are just the cases that have received national attention. There are surely scores if not hundreds of similar stories across the nation. What all of them reflect is the reality that the modern G.O.P. feels no allegiance to democratic ideals; it will do whatever it thinks it can get away with to entrench its power.

What about developments at the national level? That’s where things get really scary. We’re currently sitting on a knife edge. If we fall off it in the wrong direction — specifically, if Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress in November — we will become another Poland or Hungary faster than you can imagine.

This week Axios created a bit of a stir with a scoop about a spreadsheet circulating among Republicans in Congress, listing investigations they think Democrats are likely to carry out if they take the House. The thing about the list is that every item on it — starting with Donald Trump’s tax returns — is something that obviously should be investigated, and would have been investigated under any other president. But the people circulating the document simply take it for granted that Republicans won’t address any of these issues: Party loyalty will prevail over constitutional responsibility.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/27/opinion/trump-republican-party-authoritarianism.html

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How ID laws can put trans people in danger

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Laverne Cox Calls Out Deadnaming, Misgendering Trans People

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Friday Night Fun and Culture: Kitty Flanagan

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Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the US – and that’s scary for some

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/29/socialism-no-longer-dirty-word-us-scary-for-some

Since Trump took power, membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has leapt from 6,000 to 47,000 – and even conservatives are struggling to articulate what is so bad about free education and healthcare

Sun 29 Jul 2018

Here’s a fun game to play with a right-leaning American: say the word “socialism” and count the number of seconds it takes for them to scream “VENEZUELA” in response. It is unclear how many conservative Americans could identify Venezuela on a map but, boy, they all seem keen to inform you that the beleaguered country is a shining example of why socialism will never work, certainly not in the US.

For a recent example of how Republicans go completely Caracas at the mere mention of the S-word, please see Meghan McCain, the daughter of the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain. Last week, Meghan McCain had a meltdown on the daytime television chatshow The View when the subject of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who recently unseated a 10-term New York congressman, came up.

Joy Behar, a co-host on The View, mentioned that Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, which includes outlandish proposals such as paid sick leave and healthcare for everyone, sounded like a pretty good idea. At that point McCain, another co-host (a position she clearly got for her oratorical abilities and not her famous last name) yelled over everyone that this sort of attitude makes her “head explode”. It took McCain, whose parents are worth more than $200m, a fortune that is largely inherited, 20 seconds to bring up Venezuela as an example of why socialism is bad and capitalism is good. To bolster her argument, she quoted Margaret Thatcher, saying: “At a certain point, you run out of spending other people’s money.” McCain, who has benefited from unearned wealth all her life, concluded her rant by stating: “It’s petrifying to me that [socialism] is being normalised! Some of us do not want socialism normalised in this country.”

McCain is right. A lot of people, people so rich they forget how many houses they own (as John McCain once did), don’t want the idea that wealth should be distributed to the many, not the few, to become normalised in the hyper-individualistic, increasingly unequal US. Unfortunately for them, however, there has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards socialism in America; a country that, for a long time, has stood apart from other industrialised democracies in not developing a notable socialist movement. Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the US, certainly not among millennials, anyway, who face a far grimmer economic future than previous generations. It isn’t surprising that a number of recent polls show millennials are increasingly drawn to socialism and wary of capitalism.

The popularisation of what has been termed by some as ‘millennial socialism’ in the US arguably began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign gave it further momentum, and Ocasio-Cortez’s recent win added more fuel to the fire. You can see this trajectory reflected in the membership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Founded in 1982, it had about 6,000 members for most of its history. Shortly after the 2016 election, the organisation saw a boom in membership, reaching 11,000 paying members in December 2016. Since Trump took power, interest in the DSA has grown exponentially. A spokesman said it hit 47,000 members last week, and has “seen the fastest growth in our history following the win of Ocasio-Cortez”.

Perhaps the most significant thing about the rise of millennial socialism in the US is that it is forcing conservatives to articulate what exactly is so bad about a more equal system – often with results that are beyond parody. A writer for the ultra-conservative website the Daily Caller, for example, recently attended an Ocasio-Cortez rally and reported, completely straight-faced: “I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be … as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.” Kids deserving healthcare, imagine that! It’s a slippery slope, it really is. You start with accessible healthcare and pretty soon you end up just like Venezuela.

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Cultural Appropriation Tastes Damn Good: How Immigrants, Commerce, and Fusion Keep Food Delicious

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The cashless society is a con – and big finance is behind it

Every time you use a card insted of cash you are paying a 2-3 percent tax that goes straight to the rich oligarchs who are destroying society.  At the same time every purchase you make is tracked.

Fuck the oligarchs, use cash when possible.

From The Guardian UK: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/19/cashless-society-con-big-finance-banks-closing-atms

Banks are closing ATMs and branches in an attempt to ‘nudge’ users towards digital services – and it’s all for their own benefit

Thu 19 Jul 2018

All over the western world banks are shutting down cash machines and branches. They are trying to push you into using their digital payments and digital banking infrastructure. Just like Google wants everyone to access and navigate the broader internet via its privately controlled search portal, so financial institutions want everyone to access and navigate the broader economy through their systems.

Banks, of course, tell us a different story about why they do this. I recently got a letter from my bank telling me that they are shutting down local branches because “customers are turning to digital”, and they are thus “responding to changing customer preferences”. I am one of the customers they are referring to, but I never asked them to shut down the branches.

There is a feedback loop going on here. In closing down their branches, or withdrawing their cash machines, they make it harder for me to use those services. I am much more likely to “choose” a digital option if the banks deliberately make it harder for me to choose a non-digital option.

In behavioural economics this is referred to as “nudging”. If a powerful institution wants to make people choose a certain thing, the best strategy is to make it difficult to choose the alternative.

We can illustrate this with the example of self-checkout tills at supermarkets. The underlying agenda is to replace checkout staff with self-service machines to cut costs. But supermarkets have to convince their customers. They thus initially present self-checkout as a convenient alternative. When some people then use that alternative, the supermarket can cite that as evidence of a change in customer behaviour, which they then use to justify a reduction in checkout employees. This in turn makes it more inconvenient to use the checkout staff, which in turn makes customers more likely to use the machines. They slowly wean you off staff, and “nudge” you towards self-service.

Financial institutions, likewise, are trying to nudge us towards a cashless society and digital banking. The true motive is corporate profit. Payments companies such as Visa and Mastercard want to increase the volume of digital payments services they sell, while banks want to cut costs. The nudge requires two parts. First, they must increase the inconvenience of cash, ATMs and branches. Second, they must vigorously promote the alternative. They seek to make people “learn” that they want digital, and then “choose” it.

We can learn from the Marxist (Actually many would argue that he was more an anarchist than a Marxist) philosopher Antonio Gramsci in this regard. His concept of hegemony referred to the way in which powerful parties condition the cultural and economic environment in such a way that their interests begin to be perceived as natural and inevitable by the general public. Nobody was on the streets shouting for digital payment 20 years ago, but increasingly it seems obvious and “natural” that it should take over. That belief does not come from nowhere. It is the direct result of a hegemonic project on the part of financial institutions.

We can also learn from Louis Althusser’s concept of interpellation. The basic idea is that you can get people to internalise beliefs by addressing them as if they already had those beliefs. Twenty years ago nobody believed that cash was “inconvenient”, but every time I walk into London Underground I see adverts that address me as if I was a person who finds cash inconvenient. The objective is to reverse-engineer a belief within me that it is inconvenient, and that cashlessness is in my interests. But a cashless society is not in your interest. It is in the interest of banks and payments companies. Their job is to make you believe that it is in your interest too, and they are succeeding in doing that.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/19/cashless-society-con-big-finance-banks-closing-atms

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Is Donald Trump using transphobia — and one judge’s ruling — to launch an attack on women’s rights?

From Salon:  https://www.salon.com/2018/07/27/is-donald-trump-using-transphobia-to-launch-an-attack-on-womens-rights/

Hidden changes on a government website suggest Trump may use anti-trans ruling to gut sex discrimination laws

Amanda Marcotte
July 27, 2018

It’s no secret that President Trump and his administration are hostile to transgender people, even if Caitlyn Jenner only came to that realization after supporting Trump during the campaign. Trump famously decided to ban transgender people from serving in the military by declaring it on Twitter, and has aggressively resisted any effort by the courts to block him.

This administration has also pursued policies that endanger the safety of trans students in public schools and trans people in federal prisons. But now there is reason to believe that Trump isn’t just attacking trans people for who they are — though he is definitely doing that — but also exploiting prejudice against this marginalized minority to launch a broad attack on women’s rights.

Last week, the Sunlight Foundation released an extensive report on changes to the language on the Health and Human Services (HHS) website regarding the issue of sex discrimination. These changes were made in the summer of 2017 and discovered by the National Women’s Law Center, which has filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (yet to be fulfilled), to find out why. But the fear is that soon the administration will release a rule that guts enforcement of a major provision in the Affordable Care Act meant to prohibit sex discrimination.

The provision is called Section 1557, which prohibits discrimination in health care based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. Under Barack Obama, HHS codified the enforcement rules so that sex discrimination was understood as discrimination based not just on gender but also on pregnancy status, gender identity or sex stereotyping. In December 2016, in response to a lawsuit from a a religious hospital, Texas district court judge Reed O’Connor issued an injunction that undid those rules, in effect permitting discrimination based on gender identity or pregnancy termination.

The HHS website was updated shortly after that to reflect this injunction. As the Sunlight Foundation report shows, a few month later the agency took a wrecking ball to the language on the site about sex discrimination, altering far more than the passages that had addressed gender identity and pregnancy termination.

“There was widespread removal on the pages related to Section 1557 simply defining sex discrimination,” Rachel Bergman, who helps run the Web Integrity Project at Sunlight, told Salon. “We were a bit puzzled as to why the language removals were as expansive as they are.”

Specifically, the language regarding discrimination based on sex stereotyping, which is barred by the law, was removed from the website. For instance, an illustrative example of illegal sex stereotyping — in which a male patient is subject to harassment because nursing home staff perceive him as effeminate — was removed. Language explaining that sex stereotyping is “discrimination based on stereotypical ideas about gender” was also removed. Throughout the site, Sunlight’s researchers found, any reference to sex stereotyping — which again, was not an issue covered in O’Connor’s injunction — was taken down.

“When we saw these changes to the website, it was troubling because it was one part of what we expect to see, which is a general rollback” of rules against sex discrimination, explained Kelli Garcia, director of reproductive justice initiatives at the National Women’s Law Center. Her organization opposes the rollback of protections for trans people in itself, but Garcia suggested that the administration may be looking to open the door to other forms of sex discrimination as well.

“The Supreme Court has clearly recognized that you can’t discriminate against someone because they fail to meet your stereotypes about what one’s sex or one’s gender is supposed to be,” Garcia explained, citing a 1989 decision in which the court determined that it was sex discrimination to demand that women dress in a feminine fashion or to hold them to a different standard of behavior than male employees.

Continue reading at:  https://www.salon.com/2018/07/27/is-donald-trump-using-transphobia-to-launch-an-attack-on-womens-rights/