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What is Donald Trump doing in Mexico City?

[ 52 ] August 31, 2016 |

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On its face, Donald Trump’s hastily-arranged visit with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto is a bizarre development, even given the extremely high bar established for that category by the Trump scampaign.

To say that Trump is reviled in Mexico all across the ideological spectrum is akin to saying that Mike Trout is a pretty good baseball player. It’s a bit of an understatement, in other words.

The natural suspicion is that Pena Nieto, who is at the moment extremely unpopular, is going to use what appears to be — on the part of both men — a last-minute seat of the pants stunt, to do something to help his own dire political situation. But what? To say that this isn’t going over well so far is like saying Erik Loomis isn’t particularly fond of ketchup:

The predominant feeling here in the Mexican capital is one of betrayal.

“It’s a historic error,” said Enrique Krauze, a well-known historian. “You confront tyrants, you don’t appease them.”

On Mexico’s most popular morning television show on Wednesday, a livid Mr. Krauze likened the president’s meeting with Mr. Trump to the decision by Neville Chamberlain, then the British prime minister, to sit down with Hitler in Munich in 1938.

“It isn’t brave to meet in private with somebody who has insulted and denigrated” Mexicans, Mr. Krauze said. “It isn’t dignified to simply have a dialogue.”

Yes, many Mexicans say, it was Mr. Trump who offended the people of Mexico with his disparaging comments about migrants and his promises to build a border wall paid for by Mexico.

But for many Mexicans, the surprising invitation from Mr. Peña Nieto — who has likened Mr. Trump’s language to that of Hitler and Mussolini in the past — is even worse.

Newspapers, television stations, social media and all manner of national communication were awash in vitriol at the idea of a meeting between the two men.

The invitation has managed to do what has always been a herculean task in this fractious and economically divided nation: unite the masses.

Protests are lined up for the day. Invitations designed like party fliers were fired off through the night, heralding the visit with a handwritten message: “Trump, you are not welcome!”

On top of all this, Trump is flying straight from this meeting to Arizona, to give a major speech on immigration. So what is really going on here? Josh Marshall:

It’s a general rule of politics not to enter into unpredictable situations or cede control of an event or happening to someone who wants to hurt you. President Nieto definitely does not want Donald Trump to become President. He probably assumes he won’t become president, simply by reading the polls. President Nieto is himself quite unpopular at the moment. But no one is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Trump is reviled. Toadying to Trump would be extremely bad politics; standing up to him, good politics.

Put those factors together and Peña Nieto has massive and overlapping reasons to want to embarrass Trump. At a minimum since he’s probably not eager to create a true international incident, he has zero interest in appearing in any way accommodating or helpful. The calculus might be different if Trump seemed likely to be the next US President. Mexico is a minor power with the world colossus on its doorstep. But a Trump presidency seems unlikely. Far likelier, Peña Nieto will need to build a relationship with Hillary Clinton. These factors combined make for an inherently dangerous political situation for Donald Trump, especially since the atmospherics of this meeting will be the backdrop for Trump’s evening speech which is itself an incredibly important moment and one in which he has set for himself what is likely an impossible challenge. . .

Trump’s Razor helps here. It’s tempting to assume that there’s some angle Trump has here, some plan or understanding with Peña Nieto to make this not as silly a decision as it appears to be. I’m tempted because how could they think this was a good idea? Trump’s Razor tells us to resist this temptation. “The stupidest scenario possible that can be reconciled with the available facts.” I think that’s what we have here. It’s as stupid as it looks. Who knows? Maybe Trump will handle this deftly and it’ll be a huge success. But Trump’s Razor has yet to fail me. So I’m going to stick with it.

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Trump Supporters: It’s Both Race and Class

[ 167 ] August 31, 2016 |

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Here is another long essay about Trump supporters and what they see in him. The useful thing in this piece is how it identifies the divide between relatively wealthy Republicans who hate welfare programs and believe in bootstrapism no matter what and poor whites who really need government programs but who associate them with blacks and immigrants and see Trump as a way out of that.

How can we understand this growing gap between male lives at the top and bottom? For Murray, the answer is a loss of moral values. But is sleeping longer and watching television a loss of morals, or a loss of morale? A recent study shows a steep rise in deaths of middle-aged working-class whites—much of it due to drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. These are not signs of abandoned values, but of lost hope. Many are in mourning and see rescue in the phrase “Great Again.”

Trump’s pronouncements have been vague and shifting, but it is striking that he has not called for cuts to Medicaid, or food stamps, or school lunch programs, and that his daughter Ivanka nods to the plight of working moms. He plans to replace Obamacare, he says, with a hazy new program that will be “terrific” and that some pundits playfully dub “Trumpcare.” For the blue-collar white male Republicans Sharon spoke to, and some whom I met, this change was welcome.

Still, it was a difficult thing to reconcile. How wary should a little-bit-higher-up-the-ladder white person now feel about applying for the same benefits that the little-bit-lower-down-the-ladder people had? Shaming the “takers” below had been a precious mark of higher status. What if, as a vulnerable blue-collar white worker, one were now to become a “taker” oneself?

Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he’s hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls “big government handouts,” for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be “high energy” macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, “Why not? Trump’s for that. If you use food stamps because you’re working a low-wage job, you don’t want someone looking down their nose at you.” A lady at an after-church lunch said, “If you have a young dad who’s working full time but can’t make it, if you’re an American-born worker, can’t make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine.”

But in another stroke, Trump adds a key proviso: restrict government help to real Americans. White men are counted in, but undocumented Mexicans and Muslims and Syrian refugees are out. Thus, Trump offers the blue-collar white men relief from a taker’s shame: If you make America great again, how can you not be proud? Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

Yet again, race and class are intertwined here. The white, poor southern men (the linked article profiles Louisiana) who love Trump are racist. There’s no doubt about that. They see their white privilege slipping away at the same time that they feel their class stability collapsing beneath them. How then to get the help you need in a world without good-paying working class jobs? Demonize those you used to demean for getting the programs you now need. Talk about yourself as a real, deserving American and the others as undeserving of Americanness.

There is no simply policy to solve racism. There are however policies that can undermine the class insecurities these people feel. Just because they vote for Trump and are racist doesn’t mean we should not take the precariousness of their lives seriously. Moreover, any class-based program that helps these white people in Louisiana also helps people of color. But sadly, working-class issues really are not on the table in this general election campaign (although arguably there are no issues under any kind of serious discussion right now). Democrats are a little better at recognizing the need to put people to work, but they have struggled mightily to come up with any sort of serious jobs program that would find good work for poor Americans. It’s all education and retraining, which are easy panaceas that make policymakers feel like they are doing something but which do almost nothing for the affected people. That’s what has to change–people of southern Louisiana, black or white or Asian or Latino, all need access to good jobs in the places they live. Racism will never go away. But until good jobs are in place, it will be very easy for fascists like Trump to make the kinds of connections between economic hard times and racial mythology to create very scary political movements in the United States.

Living Wages for Baseball Staffers

[ 105 ] August 31, 2016 |

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I enjoyed reading this profile of Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor, largely because he’s a player in the larger New England music scene and sat in for most of the Drive-By Truckers’ show in Providence last fall, which was super cool. However, one thing about this interview alarmed me greatly:

AVC: You’re doing 81 games a year, plus playoffs?

JK: Yeah, 81 home games, and then hopefully if were lucky there are playoff games in addition to that.

AVC: Are you full-time or are you contract? Are you paid by the Red Sox?

JK: I get paid by the Boston Red Sox. I receive an hourly wage, which is a pretty small hourly wage, but I love the work, so that’s why I keep going back.

AVC: You’re not getting Big Papi money?

JK: Oh, I’m not even getting pay-the-bills money. I work an office job, and I do a ton of freelance music work as well.

What? The Boston Red Sox, an organization raking in endless dollars, does not pay their organist, who works 81 days a year, assuming they don’t make the playoffs, anything even approaching a living wage? Do they really pay him $10 an hour or something? That is absolutely disgraceful. It’s not as if I didn’t already know that professional sports franchises owned by billionaires with gargantuan television deals and endless marketing opportunities take every penny possible from their everyday employees. They’d still be doing the same to the players if they could get away with it. But I would have figured someone as central to the team as its long-time organist would at least be getting something that looks like a living wage. But no. Not even close evidently. Call me a filthy communist if you will, but I think the Red Sox organist should be able to pay his bills on his salary.

Divided Families

[ 33 ] August 31, 2016 |

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One of the many horrible things about the deportations and criminalization at the heart of American immigration policy is that it divides families, with parents sent back to Mexico or Central America while their children, birthright citizens, remain in the U.S. While Obama’s immigration record is pretty mixed, his plan to reduce deportations that was overturned by racist judges would have helped solve this particular problem. Alas. But the problem is very real, unless you don’t want Mexicans in this country at all, which then dividing families is only a problem in that you probably wish you could deport the kids too.

“I understand that I’m unauthorized and I know I did something wrong that went against U.S. law, but I’m not a criminal,” she said. “I haven’t committed any serious offenses such as robbery, murder or prostitution.”

Sanchez entered the United States illegally in 2000. Before that, she had attempted to illegally come through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, but agents turned her away.

She met Paulsen in Vista shortly after arriving. He noticed her at the bus stop in front of the body shop where he worked as a mechanic. Paulsen didn’t know a word of Spanish at the time, and the two used an acquaintance as an interpreter. The couple married just one month after they met, in a civil ceremony in Vista.

Sanchez was filing paperwork for legalization in 2006 when she was summoned out of the country, to an appointment with immigration authorities at the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez. Authorities told her she would be prohibited from returning home to Vista for 10 years, despite the fact that Paulsen, 51, is a U.S. citizen and a Marine veteran.

Immigration law at the time stipulated that applicants seeking legal status must return to their country of origin. But once an applicant who had been living in the United States without permission left the country, they were automatically barred from re-entering for at least three years, sometimes for up to a decade.

“My whole world came crashing down.… You can’t believe that in one minute they’re destroying your life, your family,” Sanchez said in Spanish from her home in Tijuana. She told her husband they should divorce.

“I thought to myself, ‘How are we going to live like this, me in Mexico and my husband in the United States?’ ”

During her first three months in Mexico, Sanchez stayed with her three sons in the popular resort town of Los Cabos, where a brother worked as a physician. Her oldest child, Alex, was 5; Ryan, 3; and Brannon, 2 months.

But Paulsen wanted to be closer to his family, so he rented Sanchez a house in Tijuana. Though Paulsen contemplated moving to Tijuana, he said employment opportunities in Mexico were meager, and crossing the border every day for work would have been too difficult.

In Vista, Paulsen and the boys rent a home with Sanchez’s mother. Paulsen makes the 80-mile drive every weekend to the home in Tijuana.

Clearly, this policy is ridiculous and terrible for millions of Americans who have a family member who is an undocumented immigrant trying to contribute to this country.

A Good Use of the Last Year

[ 44 ] August 31, 2016 |

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Late-period Obama continues to find useful ways to use his constitutional authority:

President Obama shortened the prison sentences of 111 inmates Tuesday, including 35 people who had expected to spend the rest of their lives in federal custody, authorities told NPR.

Word of the new batch of clemency grants came as the second in command at the Justice Department told NPR that lawyers there have worked through an enormous backlog of drug cases and, despite doubts from prisoner advocates, they will be able to consider each of the thousands of applications from drug criminals before Obama leaves office in 2017.

“At our current pace, we are confident that we will be able to review and make a recommendation to the president on every single drug petition we currently have,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said.

The early releases apply to mostly nonviolent drug offenders who would have received lighter punishments if they committed the same crimes today. The new commutations mean this White House has granted 673 commutations, more than the past 10 presidents combined. Tuesday’s grants follow 214 more earlier this month.

There are obvious limitations to this approach to fighting the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs — most of these people have already served lengthy prison terms when they shouldn’t have been incarcerated in the first place, and most of the War is being waged by our benevolent state overlords, not the feds. But it’s much better to be doing this than not be doing this.

Can A Revolution Run By Jeff Weaver Be Effectual?

[ 107 ] August 31, 2016 |

All signs continue to point to no:

The political revolution has let Tim Canova down. Bernie Sanders hasn’t shown up to campaign for his chosen primary challenger to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Heading into a Florida Democratic primary on Tuesday, Canova is behind by double digits in recent polling and looks likely to lose the race.

But that’s only part of the story. Former staffers at Our Revolution, the organization created to act as a successor to the Sanders campaign, believe the group did not do as much as it should have to help Canova in his bid to defeat the veteran Florida congresswoman.

A number of staffers who resigned from Our Revolution in protest over how it has been run say the organization’s 501(c)(4) status made it impossible to coordinate strategy with the Canova campaign, leaving the campaign worse off as a result. At least some departing staffers believe the organization should be set up under a different legal structure so that it can coordinate with candidates it endorses in the future and do more to help them win.

“I would absolutely say the prohibition on coordinating hurt the Canova campaign,” said Paul Schaffer, the former data and analytics director for Our Revolution. “We have an enormous core of dedicated volunteers. But when Our Revolution was set up as a 501(c)(4), that prevented us from mobilizing that big pool of Bernie supporters to work jointly with the campaign to get out the vote.”

Former Our Revolution staffers emphasize that they don’t fault Sanders for the way the organization has been managed. (Sanders has clarified that he will not be controlling or directing the organization.) Instead, many staffers who resigned blame Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s former campaign manager who was recently brought in to run Our Revolution, for the decision to operate the organization as a 501(c)(4).

The set-up appears to have caused organizational challenges and legal headaches. According to former volunteer engagement manager Ceci Hall, since Our Revolution wasn’t able to coordinate voter contact efforts with the campaign, a task that involved directing volunteers to call voters and encourage them to support the Canova campaign and get out to vote, some voters ended up receiving calls from both the campaign and Our Revolution.

I still think it’s entirely possible for Sanders’s supporters to be an effectual force within the party. But it seems enormously unlikely that Our Revolution will amount to anything, and I would continue to suggest that the Mark Penn of the left be kept far away from anything that looks like it might work.

Walk Of Shame

[ 81 ] August 31, 2016 |

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A little buyer’s remorse?

Dissatisfaction with Trump, however, extends within his own party. Republican and Republican-leaning voters say by a 19-point margin, 54 percent to 35 percent, that Donald Trump wasn’t the best option in this year’s pool of candidates. In a June HuffPost/YouGov poll, those voters were evenly split, with 44 percent saying Trump was the best choice and another 44 percent that the party could have done better.

This is because not enough Republican voters are reading the highly convincing National Review analysis that uses specious historical analogies and random anecdotes to show that Trump is totally winning.

Mission Accomplished

[ 40 ] August 30, 2016 |

I love the films produced by the military in World War II. Here is Mission Accomplished, a short 1943 film about the success of the B-17.

Q: “What comes from Texas and goes 1, 2, Oops! 1, 2 Oops!”?

[ 13 ] August 30, 2016 |

A: Rick Perry learning to waltz!

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is preparing to step into the spotlight again, this time as a member of the upcoming season of reality television dance competition “Dancing with the Stars.”

Sure. Why not? Just keep them off Nekkid & Afeared, or whatever that is.

How to Hit on Women Wearing Resting Bitch Face

[ 346 ] August 30, 2016 |

Blink and you missed it, but for 48 or so glorious hours, twitter was a-twitter with hot takes on the Australian doofus who wrote a how-to guide on hitting on women who clearly don’t want to be hit on, specifically women wearing headphones. The offending post has already been removed, which might move me to feel sorry for its author had its content not been so clueless and offensive.

California Farmworker Overtime

[ 12 ] August 30, 2016 |

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Great move by the California legislature to pass a bill granting farmworkers overtime pay. Of course, it’s a travesty that this is something that still has to happen, has not in most states, and is not covered by the federal government. But this is the result of Roosevelt having to compromise heavily to get the Fair Labor Standards Act passed 78 years ago. We have not had a major piece of pro-worker labor legislation be signed into law into this country since except for OSHA. So these sorts of workers are still uncovered.

Weather, Politics, Climate Change

[ 75 ] August 30, 2016 |

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It’s easy to talk about corporate narratives undermining the fight to do something about climate change. But there’s a lot of room for deeper research and more nuanced understanding. That’s why this is pretty interesting.

December of 2015 was the warmest ever recorded in New Hampshire, by far. Indeed, in temperature anomaly terms (degrees above or below average) it was the warmest of any month for at least 121 years. January, February and March of 2016 were less extreme but each still ranked among the top 15, making winter 2015–2016 overall the state’s warmest on record — eclipsing previous records set successively in 1998, 2002 and 2012 (Figure 1).

Seeing in this record a research opportunity, colleagues and I added a question to a statewide telephone survey conducted in February 2016, to ask whether respondents thought that temperatures in the recent December had been warmer, cooler, or about average for the state. Two months later (April), we asked a similar question about the past winter as a whole. Physical signs of the warm winter had been unmistakable, including mostly bare ground, little shoveling or plowing needed, poor skiing, spring-like temperatures on Christmas day, and early blooming in a state where winters often are snowy and springs late. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents correctly recalled the warm season. Their accuracy displayed mild but statistically significant political differences, however. Tea Party supporters, and people who do not think that humans are changing the climate, less often recalled recent warmth (Hamilton & Lemcke-Stampone 2016). Although percentage differences were not large, these patterns echoed greater differences seen in studies that asked about longer-term changes. Our February and April surveys had found counterparts on a much more immediate, tangible scale.

More of this sort of thing would be great. Last winter was ridiculously warm (although the leaves still weren’t on the trees until May so what’s the point) with several weird days in Rhode Island of temps in the upper 60s and thick fog on the ground, as if the Earth was revolting from whatever is happening to it. Of course, I can’t complain about the lack of snow. But that people would identify it differently depending on how they feel about climate change is fascinating and might well mean that they are already see the survey as a political question and are going to deny it regardless of what they actually think about the weather when they are being surveyed on a 60 degree February day in New Hampshire.

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