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Robert E. Lee will no longer be presiding over traffic in New Orleans.

The city council has just voted to remove a statue of the Confederate general from the eponymous Lee Circle, along with three other memorials to the Confederacy, including one of its president, Jefferson Davis. The campaign to remove the statues was spearheaded by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu after July’s massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. “We, the people of New Orleans, have the power and we have the right to correct these historical wrongs,” Landrieu said, according to the Times-Picayune.

The mayor has suggested that the statues be moved to a museum or Civil War park. But opponents equated the move with attempt to erase America’s past: “We cannot hit a delete button for the messy parts of our history,” one man said at the hearing, according to the AP

October 24, 2016

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The marriage of AT&T and Time Warner threatens internet freedom.

On Saturday, AT&T approved an $85.4 billion deal to acquire Time Warner, which, pending the permission of shareholders and federal regulators, could transform the telecommunications company into one of the country’s largest content producers and distributors. Not only would AT&T control the means by which we communicate, like internet and phone service, but also the content we consume on those channels, ranging from entertainment programming on HBO to news on CNN.

Internet scholars from Lawrence Lessig, author of Code, to Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality,” have predicted this kind of media consolidation and believe it will centralize the web at the expense of individual user freedom. In the words of Politico’s Ken Doctor, “My god, has it really come to this: the phone companies running the internet, the supposedly freeing innovation of all time?”

From its inception in 1874, AT&T controlled the entire U.S. telecommunications industry, operating all local and regional telegraph lines. In 1986, the Justice Department finally won a landmark anti-trust suit against the company on the principle that it had misused its “position in the telecommunications market to suppress competition and enhance its monopoly power.” The company was broken up and left as a shadow of its former self.

The federal government, however, may not be able to quash AT&T’s growing information empire as it once did. While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for stricter policies on media consolidation, a controversial provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act allows for “media cross-ownership.” It was originally intended to allow “anyone [to] enter any communications business”—but it may be having the exact opposite effect in permitting a telecom giant like AT&T to produce content that it can prioritize on its own services.

The internet democratized information. As Wu writes in his book Master Switch, it gave “individuals a degree of control, of decision-making power unprecedented in a communications system.” But if AT&T and other companies continue to extend their control over how we consume information, that decision-making power weakens.

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Jack Chick, soul-winner and Catholic-hater, is dead.

Chick, who produced hundreds of fundamentalist Christian tracts over 50 years, passed yesterday at the age of 92. He was initially known for tracts like “This Was Your Life,” which used compelling and sometimes frightening visuals to depict fundamentalist beliefs about hell and salvation. His contribution to the Satanic Panic rightfully earned him public infamy, as did his fear-mongering about feminism, LGBT rights, New Age spirituality, and even Catholicism.

Chick was a true cultural separatist whose doctrinal views were heavily influenced by works like The Fundamentals and Charles Finney’s Power From On High. Only the King James Version of the Bible sufficed; Satan is directly responsible for all other translations. Catholics? They’ve eaten the infamous Death Cookie and are doomed to hell. Infant baptism? Dangerous heresy! Dungeons and Dragons? If you have to ask, you’ve probably got one foot in the lake of fire already.

A few of Chick’s views, specifically on abortion, evolution, and LGBT people, possess a pernicious longevity. He celebrated AIDS as just deserts for anyone who didn’t adhere to his stringent sexual standards—a sentiment 14 percent of Americans still believe:

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But in other respects, his obsessive cultural puritanism has fallen out of vogue. There are still some proponents, found mostly in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches and institutions like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, but they’re a minority, doomed partially by their own separatism. Evangelicalism dominates.

With that domination came the cultural acquiescence Chick so feared. Conservative Catholics and Protestants are now allies in the culture wars, and the targets of that war have shifted a bit. Nobody cares about Dungeons and Dragons these days, and it’s been a long time since anyone publicly burned a Harry Potter book. Young evangelicals (no survey separates evangelicals from fundamentalists) are softer than older generations on issues like evolution and LGBT rights. That’s a strong indication that Chick’s version of Christianity is set to become increasingly obscure.

His tracts therefore provide an interesting perspective on conservative Protestantism’s American mutations: Chick once arguably sat within the movement’s mainstream, only to live long enough to see it leave him behind.

At least he was spared yet another Halloween.

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Edward Snowden is wrong.

The NSA whistleblower tweeted this morning that, “There may never be a safer election in which to vote for a third option.” Attached to the tweet was a New York Times forecast showing that Hillary Clinton has a 93 percent chance of winning the election. The underlying assumption here, also made by others who favor a third-party vote even if they acknowledge Trump is unfit to be president, is that the only real danger is Trump winning. If there is almost no chance of Trump winning or if you live in state where the vote is so lopsided that it won’t influence the election, the logic goes, there’s no dire reason to vote for Clinton.

The problem with this argument is that a Trump victory isn’t the only danger. Trump has been doing his best to gin up a legitimacy crisis, saying that the system is rigged and that he might not accept the results of the election. Further, the better Trump does, the more likely it is that his political movement will have an after-life and be imitated by future Republican candidates. Trump is leading a dangerous racist movement that is mainstreaming all sorts of hate. For that reason, he needs not just to lose, but to lose by a wide margin, to be buried so deeply that Trumpism can never rise again. A vote for a third party is not at all safe, but one way of giving Trumpism a longer lease on life.

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Is Donald Trump the fabled Snake?

In his speeches, Trump often recites the lyrics of the 1968 Al Wilson song “The Snake,” written by Oscar Brown, Jr. A variation of the fable “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the song tells the story of a naive woman who takes in a wounded snake, only to be betrayed by the predator who bites her and says, “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” From the point of view of Trump and his supporters, the meaning of the song is this: The United States can’t let in Muslim refugees because they are irrevocably hostile and will turn on those who help them.

But this weekend, an old Trump tweet was recirculated that offers a new layer of meaning to his use of the story.

In “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the scorpion bites the frog even though the act will lead both to drown. He justifies himself by saying, “It’s my nature.”

The identical phrasing is uncanny. It’s almost as if Trump, in some corner of his brain, is aware that he himself is the snake or the scorpion who was too readily accepted by credulous Republicans. That he knows Republicans were wrong to put their faith in a creature who is by his nature both destructive and self-destructive.

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Evan McMullin is part of the problem.

McMullin, who announced his conservative protest bid in August, has nearly pulled even with Trump in his home state of Utah. His appeal is based largely on the fact that he is not Donald Trump; instead, he is a genuine religious conservative. He’s therefore been upheld as an acceptably sane alternative to Trump by #NeverTrumpers on the hunt for a savior.

This is a mistake. McMullin certainly produces sane soundbites, but he, like Trump, represents the extreme fringe of the GOP.

He is stridently anti-abortion and wants to repeal Obamacare. His platform is broadly anti-public education; he promotes charter schools and school vouchers, and reserves a special shout-out for homeschooling. He also supports a sort of soft privatization of the Veterans Health Administration (something the majority of veterans still oppose):

McMullin also boasts some truly fascinating opinions about federal ownership of western land:

Because this election really needed The Ammon Bundy Candidate.

McMullin, of course, is not going to become president. He might not even win Utah. Even so, #NeverTrumpers should rethink their support for McMullin. Normalizing the party’s fringe is precisely what got them into their current predicament.

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How long will Harvard hold out against its striking dining hall workers?

Seven hundred and fifty workers at one of the nation’s most elite universities have been on strike for higher wages and a revision to their health care plans since October 5. It is the first strike at the school in 33 years. But three weeks in, Harvard’s administration shows no signs of budging. Today, one of the striking workers, Rosa Ines Rivera, penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which she wrote, “While I’ve earned no college credits here, I’ve had a lesson in hypocrisy.” As a worker in the public health school dining hall, Rivera noted the gap between the school’s purported mission to make health care a fundamental right for all and its proposal that its lowest paid workers take on a larger share of their health insurance costs.

That proposal would take nearly 10 percent of the workers’ annual incomes, according to an analysis by Harvard medical students, and isn’t affordable for most of the workers based on state guidelines. Ironically, Harvard faculty protested similar changes in health insurance premiums last year, when their deductible was raised from $0 to $250 a person. The school ultimately conceded to the faculty in that fight, offering them plans without any deductibles or coinsurance costs.

The dining hall workers are also demanding a raise, to $35,000 a year. Currently, according to Rivera, the average salary for a Harvard dining hall worker is $31,193 a year. This wasn’t enough to keep her and her two children in their own apartment in the Boston area. Harvard has countered that this salary is higher than the minimum wage and higher than what other cafeteria workers make in Boston. Yet the sticking point for many is that Harvard is the wealthiest school in the nation, with its $35 billion endowment, far above the next school’s by $10 billion.

As faculty, students, local politicians, and even celebrities join the picketers, it is clear that momentum is building to push the administration to re-negotiate with the striking workers and finalize a contract. But there has been no sign from the administration that any progress has been made. Instead, the school has hired temporary workers and offered boxed lunches, a solution that has resulted in students finding meat in bread pudding, uncooked chicken, and bugs in their food. How long will the nation’s wealthiest school hold out?

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Anti-Semitism isn’t “ironic,” “sly,” “mischievous,” or “dissident.”

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reported Monday that the alt-right is popularizing an old Nazi term used to discredit journalists: “lügenpresse,” German for “lying press.” As upsetting as that is, the more pernicious problem Gray identifies in her piece is the way white nationalists justify this language as “serious … ironic … and with a sly reference to boot.”

This is becoming a pattern. Earlier this year, after National Review editor Jonah Goldberg was bombarded with anti-Semitic messages online, alt-right hero Milo Yiannopoulos told talk-show host Dave Rubin that “it’s not because there’s a spontaneous outpouring of anti-Semitism from 22-year-olds in this country.” “What it is,” Yiannopoulos said, “is it’s a mischievous, dissident, trolly generation who do it because it gets a reaction.”

Words have specific meanings. Using anti-Semitic slurs, however mischievously, does not erase the original meaning of those words, or the very real pain that their usage causes. Trolling with hate speech is no less bigoted than earnest hate speech.


No, Donald Trump is not losing because of “oversampling.”

On Monday morning, Trump flagged a ZeroHedge story (that had been previously flagged by Matt Drudge) alleging that the reason Trump is down in the polls is because the Clinton campaign conspired to rig polls by “oversampling” Democrats.

This is an outstanding tweet. The double “the,” the use of the third person—top shelf stuff. But it’s also bullshit. Here’s the relevant portion of the WikiLeaks email from Tom Mattzie that ZeroHedge claims is about public polling:

I also want to get your Atlas folks to recommend oversamples for our polling before we start in February. By market, regions, etc. I want to get this all compiled into one set of recommendations so we can maximize what we get out of our media polling.

The email is from Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which you may recall did not turn out so well for her. But Mattzie is not talking about the kinds of polls that show Trump is losing big league, to use one of his favorite phrases—those polls are done by pollsters in concert with media outlets. Instead, he’s talking about polling that campaigns do internally to decide how to target voters.

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, who has an excellent explainer on what is (most likely) going on here, writes: “Mattzie’s talking about polling that’s done by campaigns and political action committees to inform media buys. In other words, before campaigns spend $200,000 on a flight of TV spots, they’ll poll on the messages in those ads and figure out what to say to whom and then target that ad to those people as best they can.” The oversampling portion of the email, Bump goes on to explain, refers to the fact that it’s often difficult to get the right sample sizes: “Normal polling in a state will usually have no problem getting enough white people in the mix to evaluate where they stand, but you may need to specifically target more black or Hispanic voters to get a statistically relevant sample size.” In this instance, Mattzie is probably referring to “Native Americans and Democrat-leaning independents and moderate Republican women.”

Could the polls showing Clinton with a sizable lead be wrong? Sure. But not because they’ve been rigged by the Clinton campaign.

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Donald Trump is nearing Act IV of King Lear.

Trump has been in the wilderness ever since the Billy Bush tape knocked his already off-course campaign far, far off-course. Trump has had moments where he seemed like a classic underdog politician, but they’ve been undermined by Trump’s instability. Saturday’s “Gettysburg Address,” for instance, in which he laid out a plan for his first 100 days in office, was overshadowed by the fact that he spent fifteen minutes railing against the women who accused him of sexual assault. (Trump promised to sue his accusers. He won’t.)

On the one hand, his rallies are more venomous than ever, especially now that Trump himself has embraced the “lock her up” mantra. But on the other, Trump has been increasingly reflective (for him), often asking the audience if he did the right thing by running for president. Here’s Jenna Johnson’s Washington Post report from a rare Sunday Trump rally:

Trump has said he plans to campaign as hard as he can because he does not want to look back and regret not holding “one more rally” in a key battleground state. But on Sunday evening, he seemed unsure about his original decision to run, suddenly halting from reading a teleprompter speech to ask the audience.

“When I’m president, if companies want to fire their workers and leave — Are you okay? Listen. When I’m president, this is to me, like, this is why I started. Are we glad that I started? Are we happy?” Trump said, as the crowd encouragingly cheered him on. “Well, I’ll let you know on the evening of Nov. 8 whether I’m glad.”

Trump continues to insist that he’s winning the election, citing increasingly obscure polls in his defense. But he also appears to be trying to wrap his brain around the prospect of losing the presidential election. And more pathos is yet to come. Trump has always been more Regan than Lear (and his children, at least, seem less shrewd and more loyal than Lear’s), but as he lashes out more and more, these pitiful moments are becoming common.

Of course, it’s also possible that losing will change absolutely nothing. On Sunday, Trump told the audience that he wants to continue having rallies for eight more years, no matter who wins on November 8. God help us all.

October 21, 2016

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Chris Christie is screwed.

On Friday, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, testified that Christie knew and approved of a “traffic study” that would close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge at least a month before the lanes were closed. The lane closures were allegedly political payback against a Democratic rival.

This is very bad news for Christie, who has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the lane closures before they went into effect, despite the involvement of his top aides. Over the last several weeks of a federal trial investigating Bridgegate, however, the dots have been connected. Kelly’s testimony has made clear what was already widely assumed, that Christie was aware of, if not behind, this petty and illegal act of political retribution.

Christie still has one year left to serve as governor, but could very well be impeached before that. He’s already essentially a lame duck, and has spent much of the last six months campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump. Christie’s avid support for Trump has been mystifying to some, but it makes perfect sense: Both politicians never give an inch, Christie is enamored with the rich and famous, and, perhaps most importantly, President Trump represents the only possible salvation for Christie. Riding Trump’s coattails, as Mike Pence has proved, can be a good way to escape being an unpopular governor.

But it increasingly looks like Christie has no escape: Trump is going to lose and Bridgegate is slowly but surely undoing his career.