Republicans Are Coming for Your Benefits Paul Krugman ~ NYT

05KRUGMAN-master768.jpg

Senator Orrin Hatch wants steep tax cuts that will benefit corporations and the wealthy. But he says the Children’s Health Insurance Program is in trouble because “we don’t have money anymore.”Credit J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

~~~

Oh, they’ll find euphemisms to describe what they’re doing, talking solemnly about the need for “entitlement reform” as an act of fiscal responsibility — while their huge budget-busting tax cut for the rich gets shoved down the memory hole. But whatever words they use to cloak the reality of the situation, Republicans have given their donors what they wanted — and now they’re coming for your benefits.

~~~

Republicans don’t care about budget deficits, and never did. They only pretend to care about deficits when one of two things is true: a Democrat is in the White House, and deficit rhetoric can be used to block his agenda, or they see an opportunity to slash social programs that help needy Americans, and can invoke deficits as an excuse. All of this has been obvious for years to anyone paying attention.

So it’s not at all surprising that they were willing to enact a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy even though all independent estimates said this would add more than $1 trillion to the national debt. And it was also predictable that they would return to deficit posturing as soon as the deed was done, citing the red ink they themselves produced as a reason to cut social spending.

Yet even the most cynical among us are startled both by how quickly the bait-and-switch is proceeding and by the contempt Republicans are showing for the public’s intelligence.

In fact, the switch began even before the marks swallowed the bait.

FINISH THE PIECE

Lyndon Johnson’s War Propaganda

21vietnamWeb-master768.jpg

General William Westmoreland presented an optimistic view of the Vietnam War in November 1967Credit Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

In 1967, the expensive and bloody war in Vietnam was not obviously producing an American victory. Journalists and politicians began to speak of a stalemate. President Lyndon Johnson, and the men leading the American effort in Vietnam, found this intolerable. They felt that maintaining public support for the war required persuading the press and the public that the war was being won. And so, that fall, they undertook what has sometimes been called the “Optimism Campaign.”

Walt Rostow, the national security adviser, coordinated efforts in Washington through an office called the Vietnam Information Group. Once a week, representatives of several relevant agencies met, with Rostow as chairman, to consider how American successes in Vietnam could be publicized. George Allen, who sometimes represented the C.I.A., later commented that in the group’s efforts “to manipulate public opinion,” there was “no consideration of objective truth, honesty or integrity” and “surprisingly little concern about credibility.” (George Carver, the regular representative from the C.I.A., sometimes managed to introduce some realism, but he had a difficult task.)

The core of the Optimism Campaign was the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, which ran the war effort in South Vietnam. Headed by Gen. William Westmoreland, it used its voluminous battlefield data to persuade the media that the Communist forces were declining in strength. The MACV leadership put heavy pressure on intelligence officers at MACV to make even their classified estimates of enemy strength conform to the optimistic picture that their superiors were presenting to the media. On Aug. 15, Brig. Gen. Phillip Davidson, chief of intelligence for MACV, issued a directive: “The figure of combat strength and particularly of guerrillas must take a steady and significant downward trend as I am convinced this reflects true enemy status.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Women Who Covered Vietnam

This year Australia put the journalist Kate Webb on a stamp to commemorate the country’s Veterans Day. It is a reproduction of a famous photo of Kate wearing a safari shirt, holding open her notebook while looking intently at the subject of an interview.

18vietnam-beckerWeb-blog427.jpg

Kate Webb earned a reputation as a fearless reporter during the Vietnam War. Credit  Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

By recognizing Kate, who covered the Vietnam War for United Press International, as a “woman in war,” the stamp quietly acknowledges what has been glossed over in the annals of the conflict. Female reporters covered that war, rewriting the rules so that the phrase “woman war correspondent” would never again be an oxymoron.

Reporters like Kate and me didn’t go to Vietnam because of enlightened decisions by newsrooms; in the 1960s, news organizations weren’t sending women to cover the most important story of our generation. Instead, we had to find our own way to the battle zone. Kate quit her newspaper job and flew to Saigon from Sydney; U.P.I. hired her only later. Jurate Kazickas went on the quiz show “Password” to win the $500 she needed for her ticket to Saigon. The French photojournalist Catherine Leroy, inspired by photos of the war she had seen in Paris Match, arrived in Vietnam as a freelancer. I used money from a fellowship grant to buy a one-way ticket from Seattle to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It seemed almost natural, since the women’s movement was helping us imagine we could have the same opportunities as men.

Once we got to Indochina, we had to seek out news organizations so desperate for reporters on the spot that they would employ a woman. Then again, it’s not as if we were better off at home; if we had stayed in America or Europe or Australia, we would have been confined to covering society, food, fashion and the home.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

How Media Obsession With Body Counts Could Actually Motivate the Next Mass Shooter

20171116_assault-rifle-tallys.jpg

The day after the gun massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, filmmaker Michael Moore—whose 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine” tackled that watershed mass shooting—took note of a particular fact. “As of yesterday,” he told his millions of Twitter followers, “Columbine is no longer one of the 10 worst mass shootings in US history.”

CNN had already published the full scorecard: “2 of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history happened in the last 35 days,” announced the headline. The CNN list of “the 10 deadliest single-day mass shootings in modern US history” was subdivided by tallies of the dead.

The Texas attack came just a month after the one at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip—widely declared “the worst mass shooting in modern US history,”which was true, by an order of magnitude, in terms of the overall number of people wounded and killed. An NBC News report on the church massacre opened by noting that it was “the worst mass murder in Texas history.” Other outlets observed that the crime committed by a former airman with a record of violent domestic abuse had finally outdone the infamous clock tower mass shooting at the University of Texas-Austin in 1966.

But it’s time to stop emphasizing body counts. It adds nothing significant to the coverage—and it may actually exacerbate the problem.

I say this as a journalist who built the first open-source database of mass shootingsand who has studied and reported in-depth on this phenomenon for the past five years. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about the problem—including what can help inspire potentially dangerous people to conceive, plan, and then carry out these heinous acts. One key factor is a fascination with high-profile mass shootings, and an explicit desire to top their death tolls. It’s part of a broader goal seen among many perpetrators: the desire for lasting infamy.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Why Xi Jinping’s (Airbrushed) Face Is Plastered All Over China ~ NYT

President Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful leader in decades. Not since the days of Mao Zedong has one figure so dominated Chinese life. Mr. Xi, who welcomed President Trump to China on Wednesday, cannot yet match Mao’s grandeur. But he has inspired a devout following that some critics describe as the early stages of a personality cult.

Here’s how Mr. Xi has used the tried-and-true strategies of autocrats to present himself as a transformative figure.

Putting Himself on a Pedestal

Perhaps the most telling sign of Mr. Xi’s dominance came last month, when he was awarded a second five-year term as China’s leader.

The layouts of Communist Party newspapers are carefully designed to signal the relative power of top officials after leadership reshuffles every five years. For decades, the front page of People’s Daily embodied a “collective leadership” model as the party sought to spread power more evenly after Mao’s death in 1976.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.02.26 AM.png

But Mr. Xi was awarded a different layout. His beaming face evoked the days of one-man rule and unmistakably placed him on a pedestal with Mao.

2017

The faces of the other six members of China’s most powerful body are barely visible.

 

During his decades in power, Mao exerted virtually unchecked authority over the government. Even as Mao’s decisions led to violence across China during the Cultural Revolution, splitting families and engulfing the country in chaos, the media depicted him as a generous leader motivated only by his love of country.

poster.jpg

This poster of Mao, circa 1968, calls for unity against “class enemies.”Chinese Posters Foundation

 

Mr. Xi is far from cultivating Mao’s sort of following. And historians said creating and maintaining the image of a cult figure is trickier than it was in the days of Mao, when the novelty of loudspeakers and television were able to reach a more receptive and captive audience.

“Nowadays, there’s a certain cynicism,” said Daniel Leese, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Freiburg. “At the time, it was brand new.”

But Mr. Xi has consolidated power at a remarkable pace for a man who was virtually unknown outside China when he rose to power in 2012.

By elevating himself to the status of Mao, Mr. Xi is sending a message that he is not to be challenged, and that now is the time for China to unite behind a singular force to push forward an ambitious agenda. He has so far avoided designating a successor, prompting speculation that he will seek to extend his power beyond the end of his term in 2023.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Tears of the Sun ~ The New Yorker

la-rincondada-peru.jpg

Rinconada Peru the highest city in the world. Located in the southeast Peruvian Andes that run into Bolivia.  sets at 5,100m (16,732.28 feet) above sea level.

From almost anywhere in La Rinconada, you look up and you see her: La Bella Durmiente, Sleeping Beauty, an enormous glacier beetling above the town. “Look, there are her eyes, her face, her arm, her hip, there,” Josmell Ilasaca said, his hand drawing and caressing the glacier’s snowy features against a deep-blue sky. We were standing at the precipice of a trail, known as the Second Compuerta, that tumbles into a narrow valley north of town. Yes, now I could see the feminine outline, a mile long, possibly two. It was magnificent. And when the snow melts, exposing more rock, I said, the glacier turns into a skinny old hag called Awicha.

Ilasaca gave me a look, slightly surprised, unimpressed. He grunted something that I took to be Quechua, or Aymara, for “Where the hell did you hear that?”

I’d heard it from a sociologist in Puno, down on the Peruvian altiplano. Really, I was just trying to buy time. I was out of breath, and the steep trail below us was full of miners, descending and ascending. I doubted my ability to join the traffic flow and keep up—down slippery rocks, through icy mud, between frozen piles of garbage. But the gold mines I had said I wanted to see were all down this trail, in the valley between town and glacier.

Vamos,” Ilasaca said. He set off, hands in pockets.

La Rinconada, population roughly fifty thousand, is a ramshackle pueblo clinging to a mountainside at the end of a long, bad road in southeastern Peru. The town is seventeen thousand feet above sea level—the highest-elevation human settlement in the world. (The next highest is in Tibet.) Above it rises the Cordillera Apolobamba, an ice-capped Andean range that runs southeast into Bolivia. The Incas mined gold in these mountains, as did many people before them, and the Spanish after them. Gold-bearing quartz veins—quijo, in Quechua—were first exposed by Pleistocene glaciation, and signs of ancient hard-rock gold mining have been revealed by the retreat of the glaciers.

“When I first came to work here, this was all ice and snow,” Ilasaca said. We had reached the bottom of the Compuerta, I was sucking wind, and he was indicating the south wall of the upper valley, which is now bare rock pierced by mine shafts and pocked by slopes of scree. “In fifty years, all this may be gone, too.” He meant La Bella Durmiente, and the whole network of tropical glaciers above it.

150420_r26398.jpg

The mines at La Rinconada, a bitter-cold, mercury-contaminated pueblo clinging to the glaciered mountainside, are “artisanal”: small, unregulated, and grossly unsafe. To stave off disaster, the miners propitiate the mountain deities with tiny liquor bottles.

Photographs by Moises Saman / Magnum

Ilasaca, who is thirty, was twelve when he began working in the mines, alongside his father. Like almost everyone in La Rinconada, they came from somewhere else—in their case, Azángaro, an altiplano farm town to the southwest. When the price of gold is high, people flock to La Rinconada from every corner of Peru and beyond. Between 2001 and 2012, the world gold price increased sixfold, and the town’s population boomed with it. Both have dropped slightly in the past two or three years, but the town still fizzes with gold fever and the constant churn of new arrivals determined to try their luck—if not in the mines, then in the gaudy constellation of businesses that service the tens of thousands of miners.

Many mining towns are company towns. La Rinconada is the opposite. Nearly all the mines and miners here are “informal,” a term that critics consider a euphemism for illegal. Ilasaca prefers “artisanal.” The mines, whatever you call them, are small, numerous, unregulated, and, as a rule, grossly unsafe. Most don’t pay salaries, let alone benefits, but run on an ancient labor system called cachorreo. This system is usually described as thirty days of unpaid work followed by a single frantic day in which workers get to keep whatever gold they can haul out for themselves. I found so many variants of the scheme, however—and so many miners passionately attached to their variant—that the traditional description of cachorreo seems to me inadequate. It’s a lottery, but, because of pilfering, it runs every day, not once a month.

La-Rincolada.jpg

“This way.” I followed Ilasaca past many tiny huts of shiny corrugated tin—dirt-floored worker housing in a bare-bones encampment known as Barrio Rit’ipata. The dark mouths of mines now hove into view, in all sizes and states of dilapidation. Some were big enough to drive a truck into, with guard shacks and fat electrical cables and compressed-air hoses. Others were smaller than I am, crumbling, trash-strewn. All looked forbidding. One had a few multicolored balloons strung across it. “Carnaval,” Ilasaca said. He pointed out, above us, the blue mouth of a shaft in the lowest wall of the glacier. “They dug through fifty metres of ice before they hit rock,” he said.

Clouds and mist had swallowed La Bella Durmiente. The sky began to spit little snow pellets. From where we stood, thick black hoses ran like wiring up across a snowfield, snaking in the distance over makeshift supports. The hoses carried water from the glacier down to La Rinconada. Like nearly everything here, they were a private, unregulated business. Some, Ilasaca said, went to wells high enough on the glacier that the water they carried was clean. Others didn’t go high enough, and their water was contaminated with mercury. Mercury is the main element used to process gold in La Rinconada. The ground, air, water, and snow in town, along with pretty much anything immediately downstream,are all said to be contaminated. Mercury poisoning can affect the central nervous system, causing tremors, excitability, insomnia, and a grim range of psychotic reactions. Crime and violence in La Rinconada are often attributed, on no medical basis, to mercury poisoning.

~~~  KEEP READING  ~~~

Who is Tulsi Gabbard?

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 7.30.15 AM.png

An Iraq veteran and the first Hindu in Congress, Gabbard is a compelling figure. When she was elected, Rachel Maddow said, “She is on the fast track to being very famous.”

Photograph by Peter Bohler for The New Yorker

~~~~~~~~

When Tulsi Gabbard arrived at Lihue Airport, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, she was greeted with a lei made of vibrant plumeria flowers, a small bottle of coconut water, a bagful of mangoes, and a profusion of alerts on her phone. It was Memorial Day, and Gabbard had agreed to speak at a ceremony honoring veterans at a local military cemetery. Many of the people there would be her brothers and sisters in arms: Gabbard has served, since 2003, in the Army National Guard, in which capacity she completed a tour of duty in Iraq. And almost all the people there would be her constituents—in 2012, Gabbard was elected to the United States Congress, representing Hawaii’s Second District, which includes all of the Hawaiian archipelago outside Honolulu, the capital. Gabbard found her local field representative, Kaulana Finn, gave her a hug, and climbed into her car. “As soon as I land here, I get text messages from people saying, ‘I heard you’re on Kauai—what are you doing?’ ” Gabbard said, grinning. “I don’t think it’s possible to do anything here without everybody knowing about it.”

All politicians must act as if they enjoy patriotic ceremonies, but Gabbard is one of the few who seem as if they were not acting. She is thirty-six, and has a knack for projecting both youthful joy and grownup gravitas. Her political profile is similarly hybrid. She is a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter with equally fervent bipartisan tendencies—known, roughly equally, for her concern for the treatment of veterans and her opposition to U.S. intervention abroad. She is also a vegetarian and a practicing Hindu—the first Hindu ever elected to Congress—as well as a lifelong surfer and an accomplished athlete. On Capitol Hill, she is often regarded as a glamorous anomaly: a Hawaiian action figure, fabulously out of place among her besuited colleagues. “She’s almost straight from central casting, if you need a heroine,” Van Jones, the progressive activist, says. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican, is one of her closest friends in Congress. He first spied her on the House floor, sitting on the Republican side of the aisle. “This sounds terrible to say, but it’s also true—you know, she’s cute,” he says. “So if you’re sitting on that side, and it’s a boring speech, you’re going to notice.” The night after Gabbard was elected, Rachel Maddow made a prediction on MSNBC: “She is on the fast track to being very famous.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Robert Mueller introduced the world to Sam Clovis. “You’ve got to read this for a good laugh!” Washington Post

Unknown.jpeg

Robert Mueller brought to light a huge scandal this week, and it has nothing to do with Russia.

He has introduced the world to Sam Clovis.

Clovis, we now know, was the Trump campaign official who oversaw George Papadopoulos and encouraged his efforts to meet with Russian officials. But what’s more interesting than what Clovis is is what Clovis isn’t.

For those who had not heard of Clovis before (which is pretty much everybody), he has been nominated to be the chief scientist at the Agriculture Department, a position that by law must go to “distinguished scientists,” even though he is, well, not a scientist. He is a talk-radio host, economics professor (though not actually an economist, either) and, most importantly, a Trump campaign adviser.

President Trump promised to “hire the best people.” And, as scientists go, Clovis is an excellent talk-show host. Among his scientific breakthroughs: being “extremely skeptical” of climate change, calling homosexuality “a choice,” suggesting gay rights would lead to legalized pedophilia, pushing the Obama birther allegation, and calling Eric Holder a “racist bigot” and Tom Perez a “racist Latino.”

Trump may want “extreme vetting” of immigrants, but he’s rather more lenient with his appointees. On Wednesday, he named Robin Bernstein to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Bernstein speaks only “basic Spanish” (it’s so hard to find Americans who speak Spanish), but she does have this — membership at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.

A group called American Oversight had the foresight to make records requests for résumés of those hired by the Trump administration, and the group searched for those who worked on the Trump campaign. Among the “best” Trump hires American Oversight found:

●Sid Bowdidge, assistant to the secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Before working for the Trump campaign, Bowdidge, from 2013 to 2015, was manager of the Meineke Car Care branch in Seabrook, N.H. He previously was service and branch manager for tire shops. I don’t know what qualified Bowdidge for his position, but I do know this: He is not going to pay a lot for that muffler. (He had to hit the road, losing his job after it was discovered he had called Muslims “maggots.”)

●Victoria Barton, congressional relations for Regions II, V and VI, Department of Housing and Urban Development. Prior to working for the Trump campaign, Barton was an office manager and, between 2013 and 2015, a “bartender/bar manager.” The expertise in housing policy possessed by Barton is no doubt invaluable to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon.

~~~  CONTINUE LAUGHING  ~~~

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~`

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 3.06.19 PM.png

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist nominee, Sam Clovis, withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday amid revelations that he was among top officials on the Trump campaign who was aware of efforts by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a relationship between the campaign and Russian officials.

Court documents unsealed Monday revealed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in early October to making false statement to FBI investigators about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections. In August 2016, Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to organize an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials, according to court documents. “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the campaign to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote. The meeting did not ultimately take place.

In a letter to the president Wednesday, Clovis explained that he did not think he could get a fair consideration from the Senate, which was slated to hold a hearing on his appointment on Nov. 9.

~~~  MORE  ~~~