The Pundit: Russia, Privatization, Sex Scandals, Hugh Hefner, Free Speech, Violence and Stupidity

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The Pundit's Thoughts on Lefty Critiques of the Trump/Russia Investigations

I agree that trusting the FBI, CIA, NSA et al is unwise. They do not deserve our trust without other verification of their claims. I also agree that reviving the cold war is not a good strategy. But, there is plenty of evidence that Trump is compromised by his association with Russia and other shady actors, and that makes him exceptionally corrupt and dangerous.

I am not worried about Russia as a threat to our safety, security or even democratic process. I expect that they will continue to try to interfere with our politics, just as we have done, and will continue to do, to many other nations ourselves. I am worried that Putin's ideas and style of leadership will be emulated here and elsewhere. Trump shares Putin's bigotry, scapegoating, paranoia, corruption and predisposition to use government oppression and violence to maintain power and control. I find it worrying that many others on the right have also expressed admiration for Putin's policies and style.

I agree with journalist Stephen Cohen (The Nation) and others that Russia's actions make more sense if you look honestly at how the west has pushed at their borders and done everything they can to limit their power. But that doesn't mean we have to be tolerant of Putin's violent and oppressive methods for responding to domestic conflicts. Too many people on the left in the USA have gotten into the habit of reflexively defending Russia/USSR whenever it is criticized. That reflex dates back to the cold war, when claims about Russia and other communist nations were often bogus, exaggerated and/or lacked context. We should continue to be cynical about mainstream criticism of Russia, but that doesn't mean that it is always wrong.

Russia is clearly pretty fucked up, even more than the USA (although it is probably less of a threat to the rest of the world), and moving towards increased totalitarianism, I see no reason to pretend otherwise. Criticizing Russia doesn't mean that we want a return to the cold war or to strengthen the power and reach of our military and intelligence interests. It does mean that we don't want our nation to turn into a theocratic, authoritarian kleptocracy.


Infrastructure and Privatization

I often say that when you hear the phrase "public-private partnership" you better check whether you still have your wallet. Now that infrastructure improvement is being advocated more often by politicians, we need to beware of privatization schemes being covertly imposed on us in the guise of infrastructure improvement. I rarely, if ever, support privatizing services traditionally performed by government, esp. by for-profit businesses.

I would like to see people who profit from public resources or choose to use them extensively pay more for their use. In other words, we should have less socialism benefiting profiteers and those who use public resources excessively than we do now. That would free up government resources to help those who actually need and deserve subsidies.

For example, I would like to see users of public roads pay proportionally to their amount of use, esp. commercial users. That would reduce the amount the general public subsidizes the use of roads by commercial users and those who choose to drive frequently. That is why I'm inclined to support high per gallon taxes on fuel. Higher gas taxes would increase the costs of goods to consumers, but reduce the cost for government (tax payers), which is more fair to low income people and those who consume less. It would also disincentivize road user's harmful behavior of creating more air pollution. The disadvantage is that low income people in rural areas and/or those forced to live on the outskirts of urban areas due to high housing costs would suffer. In that case an equivalent to food stamps for fuel might be needed for low income people.

The same principal should apply to those who graze livestock on public lands, commercial fishers, and those businesses that don't pay a living wage to their employees (requiring tax payer subsidies for underpaid worker's food stamps, medical needs etc.). Now, don't get me started on the billion of dollars lost to unnecessary and sleazy government subsidies for pro sports stadiums and arenas...


A Few More Opinions and Some Highly Recommended Reading

The Pundit: Of course there are many positive aspects of the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment trend, that I will not bother to explain here. But nearly everyone I have talked to has mixed feelings about what has been happening lately. The fact that a person's life can be instantly ruined by accusations without a just process for determining the facts and an appropriate legal response is not a good development. Popular media and gossip have always had the power to ruin lives with accusations, and history has shown that many innocent people are harmed as a result.

The case of Al Franken is especially disturbing. The accusations came up at a very suspicious time, right in the middle of the Roy Moore Scandal. The first accuser was attempting to break into a career in the right wing media and the story first emerged in the right wing media the night before it became officially "public." The "incriminating" photo does not support the accusation. None of the other claims were public until this highly publicized accusation during the Roy Moore campaign. If some of the claims about Franken's actions have any merit (I'm not convinced yet), there should be a transparent public process to determine the known facts and a suitable response adjudicated after consideration of those facts. Instead, a group of Democrats took a self righteous "zero tolerance" position and threw Franken under the bus in exchange for anticipated political advantage. That move overruled the voter's choice for the Senate seat, removed one of the most compassionate, intelligent and effective politicians in Washington, and helped Republicans. Getting rid of Franken may give an advantage to the centrist (corporate) element in the Democratic party since he made them look lame in comparison to his bold, assertive approach to advocacy. However, I won't be surprised if a backlash makes the decision a big mistake for everyone but Republicans. This article (excerpted below) from the Guardian. explains the situation quite well.

"Bad men are tumbling from power. But it's far too soon to celebrate.
Francine Prose

It’s worth repeating that the US is being led by a man who boasted about doing things that have now caused so many men to lose everything.

What makes it harder to be clear about this is the fact that the American public also appears to have lost the power (which our president so clearly lacks) to make simple distinctions – for example, between a crime and an instance of bad behavior.

One reason to have a legal system is that it enables our society to agree on which crimes are worse than others. Murder is worse than shoplifting, arson more serious than driving with a busted tail light. Do we really think that causing a woman terror, injury and pain is the same as making her feel uncomfortable and disrespected?

Both are wrong, but still, they are not the same. Perhaps the problem is partly one of language. “Sexual misconduct” has become the vague and overly capacious phrase used to describe everything from rape to locking women in a room and making them watch a man masturbate to kissing an unwilling woman.

In any case, the legal system no longer seems to matter, since these wrongdoers are being tried solely in the court of the media and public opinion. A friend compared the current climate to the Cultural Revolution in China, when there was no such thing as being innocent until proven guilty.

We’re heartened by the examples of men who have oppressed women and are finally being caught. And yet our satisfaction at seeing justice done appears to be compromising our ability to think logically and clearly...." Read the entire article: Guardian.


The Pundit: Speaking of sex and accusations, a lot of vitriol was directed at Playboy Magazine's Hugh Hefner upon his death (and before). This reflects either an ignorance of the history of 20th century sexual politics or a strong belief that men have no right to openly discuss their sexual interests or enjoy erotic depictions of women or sexual activities. Fortunately, most modern feminists have embraced a more sex positive viewpoint and reject the extremists opinions of a handful of people like 1970s "feminist" Andrea Dworkin, who considered all heterosexual intercourse and all erotica a form of rape that should be prohibited.

There are many legitimate concerns and complaints about the excesses and abuses related to the commercial exploitation of sexuality and images of our bodies. But we feel these issues need to be seen in the broader context of capitalist exploitation and the commodification of every aspect of our lives. We also need to examine our own inner conflicts, embarrassment, dishonesty and discomfort with our sexuality.

These conflicts and discomfort are the inevitable result of our twisted culture which alternately teaches us that sex is either dirty, sinful and disgusting, an expression of love, an exciting thrill ride, or all of the above. Advertising and mainstream media constantly give us the message that sexual enjoyment is a privilege that should only be enjoyed by good looking and/or wealthy people. When older or unattractive people have sex in the media it is usually portrayed as weird, creepy or humorous. The same media outlets also make sure that we remember that we are not nearly as good looking and high status as we should be.

Perhaps Hefner could have been a better feminist in the earlier years of his career, but he was never an anti-feminist. (although he was concerned about the most extreme variations of anti-sex feminism that were highly visible in the 1970s). In fact, he was a feminist by implication since he always supported sexual freedom for both men and women.

The most important message of Playboy magazine was that men should have the freedom to choose the lifestyle of their choice. In particular, Playboy supported the right of men to opt out of the marriage-nuclear family-suburban lifestyle that was virtually mandatory for anyone except the very rich in the early 1950s. His vision for single men's lives included sexual, romantic and intellectual relationships with single women who also had careers and interests besides housekeeping and child reading. Playboy made it clear that access to birth control was a key element to this freedom of choice. Although Playboy was by and for men, Hefner's philosophy always indirectly advocated for women to have more freedom of choice. This article in Politico provides a fair look at Hefner's legacy with plenty of supporting evidence.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thanked Hugh Hefner
By Carrie Pitzulo| 9/30/17

The late founder of Playboy was considered a retrograde chauvinist by many, but his politics and his support for women’s rights were once as radical as his sexual mores.

It is no exaggeration to say that Hugh Hefner, the womanizing hedonist and founder of Playboy magazine who died at 91 on Wednesday, helped to define modern American sexual culture. He was “Hef,” an icon of late 20th-century personal freedom, celebrity and consumerism, albeit one whose silk pajamas and pipe-smoking suavity became a cliché of (mostly white) male heterosexuality. In the universally recognizable Playmate centerfolds, his magazine defined an airbrushed and unattainable standard of feminine attraction and availability. That has made Playboy an irresistible target over the years for its legion of critics—who said it’s a sexist, objectifying rag, led by a creepy old man whose legion of “Bunnies” turned bed partners never seemed to age even as he did.

But what most observers have failed to remember is that Playboy was considered a progressive cultural leader in the 1960s and ’70s...

...The magazine, founded in December 1953, helped to define new standards not only of femininity, but masculinity as well. The companion to the Playmate was an urbane, culturally articulate bachelor. The man idealized in Playboy was a challenge to the postwar standard of the stalwart family man and Cold Warrior. The Playboy bachelor was a happy, swinging single man about town. It’s easy to forget how significant a portrayal that was at the time. That kind of man was usually shunned in the 1950s as neurotic and possibly homosexual. But the carefree bachelor—an aspiration for Hefner himself when he created Playboy—was self-conscious about his looks, his apartment, even his cooking skills. He was the forerunner of the more recent “metrosexual.” And as such, Hefner envisioned masculine and feminine ideals coming into closer alignment, for better or for worse.

For the equally celebrated and maligned Playmate woman, Hefner took the gendered expectations of the postwar era and turned them on their head. Both men and women were expected to channel their sexuality into monogamous marriage. Transgressing those strict parameters could lead to social ostracism, loss of employment or even diagnosis of mental illness. The stakes for women were particularly high. The only available options for feminine sexuality were “good” girl or “bad” girl. Women were expected to marry young, have several children, and follow their husbands’ lead in the bedroom. Anything else risked reputation, social acceptance and marriageability. With the Playmate centerfolds, Hefner rejected this constrained vision of women’s sexuality. He joyously proclaimed that “good” girls liked sex, too.

In a pre-feminist world, this was significant. Traditionally pinup nudes were nameless women in a storyless setting — a body on a bearskin rug. But Hefner wanted something else. Soon after its founding, Hefner established the Playmate formula. The women were photographed in ways that suggested a real, living human being. Highly sexualized, yes — but nonetheless an actual woman with a life outside the magazine’s pages. Props spoke to a situation or setting, like a woman getting ready for an evening out. Biographies (however embellished) rounded out her personality. Secondary photos showed the model in her everyday life, going to school or work, or even, in some cases, having Sunday dinner with her parents. Hefner told his readers that such a girl might be in the next office, sitting near them on the train, or at the grocery store. Ultimately, the images and their accompanying stories insisted that women were as sexual as men. This was a revolutionary idea in the conservative postwar years.

Hefner was motivated by his unwavering support for personal freedom, sexual or otherwise. He believed that American culture was poisoned by religious puritanism, and he railed against sexual repression as damaging and unhealthy. This was a reaction to his conservative upbringing in a devout Methodist family, which he contexualized within a broader cultural critique. Hefner’s politics were progressive, and he supported much of the liberal agenda in the second half of the twentieth century. And nothing appeared in Playboy without Hefner’s approval, so his politics were the politics of the magazine (although most of his editors were also progressive, if not radical). Support for the civil rights, gay rights and antiwar movements, the liberalization of drug laws, and liberal feminism all found their way into the Playboy worldview. Much of this was expressed through The Playboy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the magazine...."

Read the entire article at: Politico


The Pundit: One of our ongoing concerns at More Content Magazine is the right of workers to freely choose their activities and express their opinions without facing employment discrimination or being fired or punished at work. There have been limits on the choices of some workers for a long time, but the internet now makes our lives less private and more vulnerable to being monitored and controlled by employers and potential employers. This article from In These Times discusses the current state of politically active worker's rights.

"Want To Speak Out About Politics at Work? Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know.

By Sam Wheeler and Leo Gertner.

...In all likelihood, political activity at work will only increase throughout the Trump administration, all of which begs the question: How protected are workers who talk politics on the job?

As it turns out, not very, at least legally. Though more than 40 percent of participants in a 2014 YouGov poll believed that the First Amendment protected them from retaliation for their workplace political speech, the truth is that workers have, at best, a patchwork of rights to talk politics at work.

Most private sector workers have no Constitutional protections to engage in political speech at work. However, they do have rights as workers. (Government workers have some limited First Amendment rights because the First Amendment applies to government action, but those rights aren’t always consistently defined.)

Though it can be difficult to navigate the maze of laws that regulates employment, there are some simple things to keep in mind that can help private sector employees ensure they have maximum protection at work. These tips are not foolproof ways to protect your job, but they provide some cover in the face of the risks and challenges ahead. Of course, you’re safest keeping your protests outside of work, but building the resistance against Trump will require shop floor leaders to be vocal and visible. While speaking out at work is inherently risky, the rewards measured in collective strength and tangible gains cannot be overestimated...." Read the entire article: In These Times.


The Pundit: One of the key topics of discussions prohibited in mainstream political discourse is an honest comparison of the violence of terrorists with the violence of governments, especially our own. This article appeared in Jadaliyya "an independent ezine produced by the Arab Studies Institute. Jadaliyya provides a unique source of insight and critical analysis that combines local knowledge, scholarship, and advocacy with an eye to audiences in the United States, the Middle East and beyond..." I originally found this article with the title "Violence: Theirs and Ours." Today, I have not been able to get any links to Jadaliyya's website to work on my browser. Perhaps the CIA, NSA, ATT or Google (pick one or more) is blocking my access. The link to this article on Alternet is working today.

"Why It's So Hard to Understand That the Violence Your Country Exports Is Terrorism
By Vijay Prashad / Jadaliyya April 1, 2017

Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology.

"...There is standard belief amongst reporters—for example—that Western actions are motivated by the highest values and are therefore benevolent. The loftiest values of our time—democracy and human rights—are sequestered inside the concept of the West. The East—bedraggled—is treated as a place without these values. It is bereft, a bad student. There is what Aimé Césaire calls “shy racism,” for it suggests that Easterners cannot be given the benefit of doubt when they act, or that Westerners could not also be malevolent in their objectives. The way this logic runs it is the Eastern bombing of Syria’s Aleppo, conducted by the Oriental despot Bashar al-Asad, that is inhumane, while it is the Western bombing of Iraq’s Mosul (250 to 370 civilians killed in the first week of March) that is humane. It would pierce the armor of Western self-regard to admit that its armed forces could—without sentiment of care—bomb mosques and schoolhouses.

What about Hitler? Is he not the epitome of Western malevolence? Hitler is the madman, much as white terrorists in the West are madmen. They do not define the society or the culture. No one asks after their attacks for Christianity to answer for their crimes or for Western Civilization to stand condemned. They are not compared to Hitler. The modern analogues of Hitler are always to be found in the East—Saddam, Bashar, Kim Jong-un—but not in the West...

...The violence of the rogue state and the rogue non-state actor is always worse than that of those who are deemed to be legitimate states and legitimate non-state actors. The nuclear weapons of India, Israel and Pakistan are acceptable, but Iran’s nuclear energy program is a grave threat to humanity. A ‘knife attack’ by a Palestinian child is horrendous and it is taken to define not only the Palestinian liberation movement, but Palestinian culture in general. The bombing of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach is accidental and not definitive of either Israeli state action or of Israeli culture....

...When news broke of the failed US raid on the village of al-Jineh (Yemen), the Western media concentrated on the death of Ryan Owens who was a Seal Team 6 member. There was a great deal of discussion on his death and little mention of the civilians who were killed by Owens’ comrades in that raid. If they were mentioned it was as a number: twenty-eight or thirty. There were no names in the stories, no way to make these people into human beings. Nothing about Mohammad Khaled Orabi (age 14), Hasan Omar Orabi (age 10), Ahmad Nouri Issa (age 23), Mustapha Nashat Said al-Sheikh (age 23), Ali Mustapha (age 17), Abd al Rahman Hasim (age 17), and not even Nawar al-Awlaki (age 8) whose father and brother had been killed in earlier raids. No mention of the names of the forty-two Somali refugees gunned down by a Saudi helicopter gunship, a weapons system provided by the United States. To offer these names would be to give these people humanity.

When twenty thousand or more people died because an US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal, Michael Utidjian, medical director of American Cyanamid said in 1984, it is sad but needs to be seen in context. What is that context? Indians do not have the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.” They do not mind when people die, it seems. They have a different standard of humanity. Their lives are disposable. They are not precious. Thirty-three dead here, forty-two dead there. Sad yes, but not tragic. Tragedy is only possible if one has the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.”..." Read the entire article: Alternet


The Pundit: We previously provided several reasons Why Hate Speech Laws are a Terrible Idea. This article in Current Affairs provides a unique perspective and several more excellent arguments against restricting freedom of expression.

"People Literally Do Not Understand What Laws Are Or How They Work

A large percentage of people support criminalizing more speech. That’s a horrible idea for dozens of reasons…

by Oren Nimni & Nathan J. Robinson October 10, 2017

A recent survey on attitudes toward free speech shows that an awful lot of people wouldn’t mind criminalizing an awful lot more speech. Well over ? of both Democrats and Republicans would support “a law making it illegal to say offensive or disrespectful things in public about the police.” And over half of Democrats would like a law “requiring people to refer to a transgender person by their preferred gender pronouns and not according to their biological sex.” It’s not just that they’d like to see people be more respectful of the police, or they think it’s unpardonably rude and offensive to misgender someone (which it is). The question was whether these forms of speech should literally be punished by the government. And a frighteningly high number of people don’t just believe that certain acts deserve social sanction, but want the state to step in and do something about it.

There is a widespread lack of appreciation for just what “passing a law against something” actually means. We can see this if we think about the more trivial things we detest. For example: herring in cream is a terrible food. When Current Affairs accidentally used “fake small caps” in our first issue, we received hate mail from graphic designers, who maintain a zealous loathing of it. Much of the stuff that white people like should obviously be made to disappear. Personally, we’d like to see a world without Slavoj Žižek, The New York Times, the Harvard Kennedy School, and Kraft Singles cheese squares.

And yet to say something is bad and you’d prefer it didn’t exist is different from saying it ought to be illegal. There’s a huge difference between hoping people develop better taste in cheese and criminally sanctioning anyone who doesn’t buy cloth-bound Vermont cheddar. That’s because law is a blunt and brutal instrument, one that doesn’t simply abolish things by magic, but through a real-world process of enforcement. No matter how serious (e.g. murder) or silly (e.g. squeegeeing) the offense is, the police are the police. While you can tailor the punishment to fit the crime, and there’s a difference between 30 days in jail and 30 years, to some degree the process is the punishment: everyone who commits a crime will be arrested and have their life disrupted, everyone will have their life disrupted through a costly and tedious court process, everyone will get the mark of a criminal record following them for the rest of their lives

Let’s remember what it means for something to be a crime. It means that there is a statute indicating the elements and penalties. It means that local, state and federal police will start seeking out people doing that crime for arrest. They will sweep broadly and ensnare many people doing nothing at all. It means that people will be jailed and fined for the crime, that some will be sitting in jail for quite a while because they cannot afford bail and that they might die awaiting trial. It means that their jobs, families, housing, and social service benefits will be put in jeopardy. If they are an immigrant it means they may be deported. It means that 95% of people will plead guilty to the crime regardless of whether they did it or not, and that whether or not they are able to defend themselves will depend heavily on whether they can access a lawyer...." Read the entire article: Current Affairs


The Pundit: If there is any one cause for most of the world's problems it is human's greed, violence and stupidity. Current Affairs: proves that this is nothing new in the article excerpted below.

Soldiers trample fields of tulips in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

"Is The Stupidity Of Our Age Unique?

To those worried that the Trump Era represents a unique low point in human rationality, take comfort: we’ve always been like this.

by Brianna Rennix & Nathan J. Robinson November 20, 2017

"...while the ways human beings have shaped their environments have changed over time, human beings themselves, with minor variations, have always been just the same. We are the blundering, dyspeptic, misbegotten wretches that our forefathers were. The décor changes, but the humans remain the humans.

This realization should frighten us, of course, because the history of civilization is largely the history of organized atrocities. But in another sense, it should also encourage us. There is a prevailing, pessimistic view—held by impatient, forward-looking futurists and nostalgic traditionalists alike—that the people of the 21st century are uncommonly stupid. If we don’t keep the wheels of scientific and educational progress rolling—or, alternatively, if we don’t return to the golden age when People Knew How To Think—the human race is doomed, they say. Here comes the “idiocracy”: we are drifting toward an eternity of pudgy torpor, distracted by useless plastic whirligigs and reality television. It is the Age of the Fidget Spinner. Our brains have turned to soft cheese, our culture is decadent and superficial.

This, as it turns out, is all nonsense. There seems to be a vague notion that people used to sit around making star charts and reading edifying books until somebody invented video games and reality television. But the truth is that people of all classes and educational levels have always been highly susceptible to bullshit. They have always enjoyed stupid pastimes and spent money on useless items. They have always talked trash about each other, and taken delight in one another’s misfortunes. They have always been celebrity-obsessed. They have always sought unsavory outlets for their sexual and violent fantasies. Is any of this laudable? Not especially. But is any of it new? Not at all. Nor does our history suggest that these facts of human nature are ever likely to change. The most we can do is just continue to muddle through, and try, day to day, to be the least ghastly versions of ourselves we can...." Read the entire article at Current Affairs


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