December 6, 2017 in 4,080 words

God’s plan for Mike Pence was to be an ambitious stooge who’d rat out his friends over a keg


The Atlantic has a lengthy, must-read profile on Mike Pence, the boil-in-bag politician who has found his greatest career calling as the soothingly banal evil to Donald Trump’s more unhinged variety, like the warm milk chaser to eating broken glass. Titled “God’s Plan For Mike Pence,” it pivots around a familiar question: How could this butter sculpture of Ronald Reagan—a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal topped with crumbled communion wafers, a man who lives his life devoutly afraid of being condemned to a hell where he’s forced to dine on his own entrails across from women who aren’t Mother, forever—possibly reconcile that Christian, cornfed decency with his loyal, unflappable support of a twice-divorced, adulterous, pussy-grabbing New Yorker?

Naturally, it reaches a familiar conclusion. As White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short fairly sums it up, “Mike believes strongly in the sovereignty of God, and knowing that the Lord has a plan for him.” And God’s plan, as the article lays out, is this: Making Pence the kind of sycophant who would sell out his own friends if it helped him curry the smallest favor from the nearest authority. Glory be to Him and to His creation, the squinty-eyed milk-toad.

Amid a litany of pastors who compare him to Mordechai, Daniel, and even Jesus himself, the most telling parable from the Book of Pence (soon be the only text taught in our charter schools) comes from Pence’s college days. According to his old frat brother at Hanover College, Dan Murphy, Pence became president of their Phi Gamma Delta house in his sophomore year, at a time when their brothers were constantly trying to ape the antics of the just-released Animal House—including their sneaking booze onto the school’s dry campus. And while Pence “gamely presided over these efforts,” Murphy says, the second it became politically advantageous to screw everyone over, Pence took this as another, divinely ordained opportunity.

“The silence breakers” who gave power to the #metoo movement are named Time Person of the Year 2017

#METOO


Rose McGowan, silence breaker.

Time magazine has named the “silence breakers”—mainly women who kickstarted the #metoo movement—as its Person of The Year.

The win for the #metoo movement marks the 91st time the magazine has named a person, group or a concept that has had the greatest impact on the world that year. As the magazine is keen to stress, this impact can be either positive or negative. (The magazine’s long list of controversial choices include Adolf Hilter, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini).

The #metoo movement won for a “reckoning” that has rapidly spread across the globe. As Time explains:


The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.

The magazine names a number of prominent women who helped kickstart the movement, including movie stars Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, as well as activist Tarana Burke. Burke is the founder of a non-profit which helps survivors and she called on women to show solidarity with each other as early as 2006. The Plaza Hotel Plaintiffs (a group of seven women who filed a sexual-harassment suit against the hotel) were also named by the magazine as “silence breakers.”

No credible forecasts say the Republican tax cuts will pay for themselves

Consensus


Wishful thinking.

Reading the news, you might think there is a debate about whether the Republican tax cuts will pay for themselves via higher economic growth. In reality, there isn’t.

All of the four widely respected organizations that have estimated the effects of the tax plan passed by the senate believe the it will lead to a large increase in the national debt over the next decade. The estimates range from a loss of $500 billion in government revenue from the Tax Foundation to some $1.4 trillion according to the Penn-Wharton budget model. (These are the most recent estimates from each group’s assessments; the bill will change a little as it passes into law.) In addition, every one of 38 esteemed economists surveyed on the impact of the Republican tax bill thought it would add to the national debt.

The reason is simple. The only way a tax cut would increase revenues would be if the taxes were so onerous that they discouraged work or investment. And while there are problems in the US tax code, that isn’t the case.

For example, cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% is likely to increase investment, but not in a meaningful way versus the current rate of 35%. If the government were cutting from a corporate tax rate like 75%, it would be a different story. So while all financial models agree that the tax cuts will stimulate the economy, all of the forecasts also acknowledge that the cuts won’t make the economy so much bigger that added revenue will replace what was lost.

The US senate accidentally killed the key R&D tax credit for businesses

No Breaks


No tax breaks for developing a vaccine for Zika.

In their scramble to get a tax cut bill over the line, Republican senators have accidentally repealed one of the most beloved tax breaks, a credit for research and development.

The popular credit lowers taxes on companies that spend money developing new technologies or processes to make their businesses—and the economy at large—more productive. It was not terminated outright, but rather through a bit of fuzzy thinking about how different parts of tax law interact.

One compromise that won the senate bill more votes was deeper tax cuts on business income that is “passed through” to the personal income tax by sole proprietors or partners. To help make up the difference, the senate kept in place the corporate alternate minimum tax, or AMT.

Currently, businesses must calculate their taxes in two different ways: under a 35% top rate, and also under the stricter AMT, which ignores most breaks and has a top rate of 20%. The business pays whichever is higher. This is designed to ensure that profitable firms can’t use creative accounting to avoid all of their tax obligations.

Because of the wide gap between the current rates, the corporate AMT rarely effects business today. However, the senate bill reduced the top, regular corporate tax rate to 20%. Because that is the same level as the AMT, any attempts to use the R&D tax credit—or many others—will be void, since it will be difficult to wind up with a regular tax bill that is lower than the AMT.

The Incredible Tale of a Reckless, Partisan FBI Agent and Our Partisan Bureaucracy

Peter Strzok’s story will hurt public trust in the federal government at the worst possible time.

If the story hadn’t been verified by virtually every mainstream-media outlet in the country, you’d think it came straight from conspiratorial fever dreams of the alt-right. Yesterday, news broke that Robert Mueller had months ago asked a senior FBI agent to step down from his role investigating the Trump administration. This prince of a man was caught in an extramarital affair with an FBI lawyer. The affair itself was problematic, but so was the fact that the two were found to have exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages.

Here’s where the story gets downright bizarre. This agent, Peter Strzok, also worked with FBI director James Comey on the Clinton email investigation. In fact, he was so deeply involved in the Clinton investigation that he is said to have interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and to have been present when the FBI interviewed Clinton. According to CNN, he was part of the team responsible for altering the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton was “grossly negligent” in handling classified emails (a finding that could have triggered criminal liability) to “extremely careless” — a determination that allowed her to escape prosecution entirely.

After the Clinton investigation concluded, Strzok signed the documents opening the investigation into Russian election interference and actually helped interview former national-security adviser Michael Flynn.

In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.

The three ultra-rich families battling for control of the Republican party

American Oligarchs


Rebekah, Robert, and Diana Mercer in 2014.

This week, the House and Senate will work to reconcile their different versions of the tax bill into something that president Donald Trump can sign into law. As they do, dozens of protests and rallies against the bill are being planned from California to Chicago to Staten Island, New York. Citizens are frantically organizing to try to shut down the only major legislative success of a president who ran on a platform of populism, and Democrats are growing optimistic about flipping one or both houses of Congress. How did the country get here just a year after Donald Trump’s historic win?

To understand that, you need to look back to the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision in 2010, which opened the floodgates for wealthy donors in political races. Since then, corporations and the rich have plowed money into both parties. Three extremely wealthy families, the Mercers, the Kochs, and the Adelsons, all prominent donors to the Republican party, now seem locked in a struggle over the future of the GOP.

As campaigning for the midterm elections in November 2018 gets under way, the three families are facing off against each other in battleground states. They’re lighting a fire under Republican politicians who are now determined to get something, anything, passed in Washington—even if it’s a last-minute tax bill that most voters don’t agree with and legislators barely had time to read.

But Republicans who fail to pass tax reform risk losing donor support, and getting wiped out by a rival Republican candidate. As Lindsay Graham, the veteran Republican senator from South Carolina, told an NBC news reporter early last month, a failed tax reform will look a lot like a failed party.

The Dark Side Of Crowdfunding (Nobody Talks About)

If the worst should ever happen to your health, there’s a good chance that you’ll turn to a crowdfunding website, such as GoFundMe or JustGiving, to fill the gap left by our night-terror-inducing healthcare system. The reason for this is simple: There are no insurance brokers or complicated paperwork, just a group of people desperate to throw their money at good causes for the sheer humanity of it all. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. In little under a decade, crowdfunding campaigns for medical expenses have brought in over $1 billion in donations.

When such campaigns go viral, the media often reports them as heartwarming stories of human altruism, proof that although the world might appear to be losing its mind, there are still helpers out there. That’s … a good angle.

It certainly makes us feel better about the fact that these sites are taking a cut of everyone’s donations. There’s a darker narrative, however, which both the media and us are ignoring: the fact that these sites are failing, albeit unintentionally, the vast majority of their users.

These might seem like wildly different things at face value, but launching a crowdfunding campaign is exactly like launching a new business. It’s not enough to have a donations page for your condition; you need to know how to sell yourself to potential donors (something your mom was pretty good at, or so we’ve heard). When it comes to crowdfunding, that involves providing constant updates, writing good copy, producing and editing video, promoting your campaign everywhere, and a whole other bunch of skills and connections. This isn’t something we dreamt up, by the way. It comes courtesy of Indiegogo, and holy shit, it’s so far beyond the abilities of the average healthy and able-bodied person, never mind someone with a long-term, painful, time-and-energy-consuming medical problem. It isn’t even funny.

Dreamers Are Not Safe Online

After the Department of Homeland Security rescinded DACA in September, some dreamers are trying to balance digital privacy with a desire to connect with others.

On September 5, the Trump administration released a memorandum effectively ending DACA, a federal program protecting certain undocumented people who immigrated to the United States as children from deportation. DACA’s deportation protections could start to disappear in as little as four months, according to Homeland Security officials.

The “Succeed Act,” DACA’s possible replacement proposed by Republican Senators, would make it much harder for dreamers—a term for people who qualify for the DREAM Act or who immigrated to the US undocumented as a child—to gain legal status. In addition to paying off all unpaid taxes (or making a repayment plan), it also requires dreamers to agree to increased surveillance: they would be required to submit biometric data, such as fingerprints, to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

It’s unclear what’s next for undocumented immigrants who planned their future with DACA in mind. Their natural instinct is often to seek emotional safety with other dreamers, especially online. But since the DHS monitors public social media information, the places they look for comfort could also put them at risk.

The DHS uses social media to monitor “applicants for immigration benefits” and work visas, as well as to gather “information for intelligence purposes” (the document doesn’t clarify how this intelligence is used). On September 18, the agency announced the “Extreme Vetting Initiative.” As reported by The Intercept, this expands monitoring of potential immigrants and visitors to include all digital, televised, and broadcasted media. The new initiative has been denounced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which both monitor threats to personal freedom and privacy.

Dreamers know the risks of social media and a public life, but faced with increased stress and uncertainty in recent months, many are exploring their boundaries and talking about their documentation status.

How to fight work bullshit (while keeping your job and your dignity)

After getting lost in the conference hotel, I finally located the ‘creativity workshop’. Joining the others, I sat cross-legged on the floor. Soon, an aging hippie was on his feet. ‘Just walk around the room and introduce yourself,’ he said. ‘But don’t use words.’ After a few minutes of people acting like demented mimes, the hippie stopped us. ‘Now grab a mandala,’ he said, pointing to a pile of what looked like pages from a mindfulness coloring book. ‘And use those to bring your mandala to life,’ he said pointing at a pile of magic markers. After 30 minutes of coloring, he told us to share our mandalas. A woman described how her red mandala represented her passionate nature. A man explained how his black mandala expressed the negative emotions haunting his life. A third person found words too constraining, so she danced about her mandala. Leaving the room after the session, a participant turned to me and quietly said: ‘What a load of bullshit.’

All over the world, organizations encourage kooky activities unrelated to employees’ work. I have attended workplace retreats where I learned beat-boxing and African drumming. I have heard about organizations that encourage employees to walk across hot coals, take military assault courses, and guide a raft down dangerous rapids. There are organizations that force their employees to stage a lingerie show, take part in a ‘bush-tucker trial’ by eating insects, and dress up in giant animal costumes to act out fairy tales.

My cynical fellow participant in the mandala-coloring workshop described it as ‘bullshit’. She had chosen her words wisely. The philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Princeton University defined bullshit as talk that has no relationship to the truth. Lying covers up the truth, while bullshit is empty, and bears no relationship to the truth.

The mandala workshop bore many of the tell-tale signs of bullshit. The session was empty of facts and full of abstractions. Participants skipped between buzzwords such as ‘authenticity’, ‘self-actualization’ and ‘creativity’. I found it impossible to attribute meaning to this empty talk. The harder I tried, the less sense it made. So, during the event, I politely played along.

Bitcoin could cost us our clean-energy future

Currency Manipulation

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been ignoring the bitcoin phenomenon for years — because it seemed too complex, far-fetched, or maybe even too libertarian. But if you have any interest in a future where the world moves beyond fossil fuels, you and I should both start paying attention now.

Last week, the value of a single bitcoin broke the $10,000 barrier for the first time. Over the weekend, the price nearly hit $12,000. At the beginning of this year, it was less than $1,000.

If you had bought $100 in bitcoin back in 2011, your investment would be worth nearly $4 million today. All over the internet there are stories of people who treated their friends to lunch a few years ago and, as a novelty, paid with bitcoin. Those same people are now realizing that if they’d just paid in cash and held onto their digital currency, they’d now have enough money to buy a house.

That sort of precipitous rise is stunning, of course, but bitcoin wasn’t intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself — a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people.

But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. What’s more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it’s getting worse.

The material that built the modern world is also destroying it. Here’s a fix

Concrete Thoughts


The right thing to do.

Remarkably, the material that built the first modern civilization remains key to building today’s global economy. The cement we use in 2017 is not so different from the stuff used to build the concrete dome of the Roman Pantheon in 125 AD.

What has changed is that today we use vastly greater quantities of the grey powder: more than 4.2 trillion kg annually. To put that in perspective, you could build 1,000 Hoover Dams each year with the amount of concrete that much cement would make.

That’d be all well and good except for the fact that 1 kg of cement releases more than than 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, the cement industry is currently responsible for about 5% of global CO2 emissions—more than double the aviation industry. Worse still, unlike the electricity industry, which one day might be comprised of entirely clean, renewable energy, the chemistry of conventional cement dictates that the process will continue to produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Unless, that is, Nicholas DeCristofaro’s plans work out. Since 2008, Solidia Technologies, where DeCristofaro is chief technology officer, has been quietly developing a new cement-making process that produces up to 70% fewer CO2 emissions at a cost that DeCristofaro claims is on par with or better than conventional cement.

The psychological trick that makes even your fiercest opponents respect you

Listen Up

The degree of polarization in American society has become impossible to ignore. People don’t just disagree with one another about politics, guns, taxes, and freedom of speech; they also disrespect those with whom they disagree.

Consider what happens when you enter “gun advocates are” into Google. The first autofill option is “gun advocates are idiots.” The second? “Gun control advocates are idiots.” When we disagree with others, we reliably assume that the opposition is more than just wrong. We assume they are stupid.

This intuitive tendency stems, in part, from the fact that we’re unable to directly experience another person’s mind compared to our own. Instead, we have to work backwards from another person’s known belief (say, “Gun control is bad”) to his or her unknown thinking or reasoning. A seemingly nonsensical belief, the inference process goes, comes from a nonsensical mind.

Psychologists argue that derogating another person’s mind in this way is a subtle form of dehumanization. That’s a problem—because when we see the opposition as an unthinking, unfeeling animal or object, instead of a thoughtful human being, we perpetuate a cycle of conflict, fueling further disagreement, hatred, and misunderstanding.

Fortunately, the psychological processes that create dehumanizing perceptions also suggest a way to reduce them: listen, very literally, to the opposition’s voice.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Politicians have been redrawing districts to benefit their own political parties—a tactic known as Gerrymandering—since the 1970s. But recently, data aggregation technology has enabled politicians to choose their voters more strategically than ever before.

On this episode of “Actually Me,” Noel Gallagher goes undercover on the Internet and responds to real comments from Twitter, Reddit, Quora, YouTube, Wikipedia, and more.

Just ahead of the Alabama Senate race, accused pedophile Roy Moore gets an endorsement from President Trump and regains financial funding from the RNC.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Roy Moore’s campaign staff and supporters perform logistical gymnastics to justify the accusations against their candidate.

‘Nice Lady’ star Michelle Wolf takes an unpopular stance: Wonderwoman is lame.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth checks in on Rick Perry, the man President Trump chose to lead the Department of Energy, an agency that Perry once wanted to abolish.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

A part of our heritage for how long?

THANKS to The Comedy Network and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

Max decided he didn’t want to play he would rather have birdie butt rubs.

FINALLY . . .

7,500 Strangers Just Bought A Crumbling French Chateau Together


The ruined castle of La Mothe-Chandeniers in central western France. The crowdfunding site Dartagnans organized an effort to buy the chateau for 500,000 euros.


It’s late 2017. By now, crowdfunding has been used to finance films, board games, classical music, scientific research and infertility treatments.

Add this to the list of things bought with collective purchasing power: A chateau in the French countryside, complete with moat.

Mais oui!

The platform used to raise the funds announced on Friday that the castle had been purchased by milliers d’internautes – that is, thousands of Internet users, who each paid at least 50 euros (about $60) to “adopt” the chateau and help restore it. In just 40 days, the site raised the 500,000 euros it needed to buy it.

“It’s done, it’s historic!” it said. “The Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers now belongs to thousands of Internet users. Through this collective purchase, we believe in the preservation and development of the heritage of tomorrow and prove that civic strength is always the greatest.”

According to the campaign’s organizers, the chateau dates to the 13th century, and it was looted and abandoned during the French Revolution. In 1809, a rich Parisian entrepreneur bought and restored it; later, a squire of Emperor Napoleon III undertook a massive, Romantic-style reconstruction. In March 1932, a fire broke out, destroying the roof and causing the chateau to be abandoned once more.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?