June 16, 2018 in 3,950 words

The Problem of Donald Trump Didn’t Start with Donald Trump

His shocking rise to power was actually 27 years in the making

The arrival of Donald Trump on the political scene has been treated by disbelieving pundits, journalists, and politicos not unlike how the appearance of the Mule was treated by the Encyclopedists in Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series of science fiction novels (and, for the uninitiated, soon to be an Apple-produced TV series). I’m not implying that Trump, like Asimov’s notorious conqueror, has mutant powers that allow him to manipulate the masses’ emotions, making his followers adore him and his enemies to cower in fear. No, the parallel has to do with Trump being president of the United States; this very fact seems inconceivable to many. Like Asimov’s Mule, Trump simply wasn’t supposed to happen; the Founding Fathers didn’t build the system in anticipation of a president such as him.

This disbelief and shock has led to a narrower form of analysis than is perhaps warranted. More reflective members of the media have tried to grapple with the moment by asking, “What is the phenomenon of Trump doing to America?” “How are our hallowed institutions standing up to the unique challenge of his presidency?” “How can we repair the damage left behind, once the Trump presidency is firmly in the rearview mirror?” These are not so much the wrong questions as they are misdirected. Because, while Trump differs from his predecessors in many ways, he is best understood as the culmination of a process that’s been underway in the United States for quite some time.

With talk of impeachment in the air, it can be tempting to compare Trump to Richard Nixon. Nixon’s rise and fall, however, took place in a completely different political context. One can certainly trace today’s situation to a domestic conflict that has its roots in the 1960s, and it’s interesting to juxtapose the reactionary sentiments that powered both Nixon and Trump to the highest office. But the process I’m describing kicked off in 1991.

One of the defining features of this process — of the post–Cold War political context more generally — has been the tendency to delegitimize whoever is the democratically elected president at the time. The persecution of Bill Clinton at the hands of Special Counsel Kenneth Starr that led to the country’s first impeachment in more than 130 years; the lingering questions surrounding George W. Bush’s win in 2000 (“hanging chads” in Florida, the role of the Supreme Court in the recount, and the question of popular vote versus electoral college); the birth certificate talk that accompanied Barack Obama’s two terms in office (driven, notably, by Donald Trump, but taken up by nontrivial numbers of elected Republican politicians); and today, the ongoing Russiagate investigations of the sitting president — all these are of a piece. The intensity of the sentiments driving this process and the ways these sentiments have found expression have varied over the past 27 years. Still, it’s a phenomenon that’s hard to miss once you’ve noticed it.

What is behind this destructive political bloodsport?

Scandal-ridden Cambridge Analytica is gone but its staffers are hard at work again


Don’t be deceived by the empty offices of Cambridge Analytica.

Hang on to your data, dear Facebook friends. Cambridge Analytica—the political consultancy that collapsed into bankruptcy in May after a scandal about its nefarious information-collection methods—is apparently metamorphosing.

The company that Marc Zuckerberg admitted targeted 87 million Facebook users’ data, and whose work could well have influenced elections in the US and UK, may be currently disgraced. But it also appears to be putting a new face on its same old data-gathering gig. The Associated Press (AP) on June 15 reported that top staffers from the fallen consultancy are back on the job at a newly-formed company with a name that’s eerily reminiscent of the last place they worked—Data Propria.

As the name implies, the new company is similarly preoccupied with gathering information, specifically to target voters and consumers. Basically, it’s the same mission that Cambridge Analytica had. Matt Oczkowski—head of product at the predecessor firm—is leading Data Propria, which also employs Cambridge Analytica’s former chief data scientist, David Wilkinson, and others from the scandal-ridden company.

Quartz’s research shows the new company was incorporated in Nevada in February 2018 by Andrew Van Noy, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Cloud Commerce. It happens that Cloud Commerce last year bought out the media marketing company of Donald Trump’s 2020 election campaign manager Brad Parscale, which is all the more reason to be wary of this new entity.

The case for Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law we need today

The case for reviving the Glass-Steagall Act has surprising support across the political spectrum. Here’s why we should listen.

‘The core of the case for Glass-Steagall starts with a broader question: how should the financial sector be structured?’

Eighty-five years ago this weekend, on 16 June 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Banking Act of 1933, better known today as the Glass-Steagall Act. Until it was formally repealed in 1999, the Glass-Steagall Act required a separation between depository banking and investment banking (and later, insurance companies).

In recent years, the idea of resurrecting the law has had surprising support across the political spectrum. Progressive Democrats have advocated for its reinstatement consistently since the financial crash of 2008. The official 2016 Republican party platform embraces bringing back Glass-Steagall. Former heads of Citigroup have said it was a mistake to repeal the law. And, for a time at least, the Trump administration seemed open to the idea of revival.

With such strange bedfellows in favor and federal regulators proposing to water down the Volcker Rule, which had some similar aims, it might seem surprising that there isn’t more energy to pass a new, modernized Glass-Steagall. What seems to be holding back its return is that many of the law’s skeptics fundamentally misunderstand the case for the Depression-era law.

Critics of Glass-Steagall argue that the repeal of the law in 1999 didn’t really matter because it was watered down well before the 1990s. This is true, but hardly a sufficient criticism. Proponents of a modernized bill know that regulators started undermining the regime starting in the 1980s, which is one reason for a “modernized” bill. Advocates don’t seek just to undo the 1999 repeal, they want to both undo the earlier regulations that watered down the regime and to design a new regime that will be more likely to withstand erosion.

Humans Are Driving Other Mammals to Become More Nocturnal

The shift could change which prey animals hunt or make it harder to find food.

European beaver (Castor fiber) in the middle of a French city, Orléans.

Humans dominate the animal world. Whether hunting or competing for limited space and resources, we are the planet’s superpredator. Other animals seem to understand this, avoiding people if they can help it. But as the human population expands, it is getting harder for other creatures to find somewhere to hide during the day. Now new findings indicate mammals around the world have come up with another strategy: They are becoming nocturnal. Exactly what this bizarre shift means for the future of individual species—and entire ecosystems—is unknown.

In a paper published Thursday in Science, researchers analyzed 76 previous scientific studies about human impact on mammal activity. These studies had captured the 24-hour movements of medium- and large-bodied mammals, ranging from opossums to African elephants, encompassing 62 species across six continents. Although these past studies had discovered specific cases in which human disturbance had changed mammals’ behavior, “we set out to see just how widespread the effect was, and to try to quantify [it],” says Kaitlyn Gaynor, a PhD student in wildlife ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead researcher for the new study. Gaynor and her team used the 76 studies to compare animals’ activity during the day and night in areas of high human disturbance (meaning anything from hunting or farming to hiking and other outdoor recreation) and low human disturbance (relatively natural conditions).

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) looking for food near garbage in Barcelona, Spain.

The team’s analysis showed mammals are becoming an average of 1.36 times more nocturnal due to high human disturbance. Gaynor explains what that means: “If you have an animal that typically splits its activity 50–50 between the day and the night, that means it would then become 68 percent nocturnal [due to humans]—so that’s pretty striking.” The effect was particularly large in a number of species typically only active during the day. The results are likely not a huge surprise to researchers working in the field, says Carolyn Mahan, a professor of biology at The Pennsylvania State University Altoona who was not involved in the study. But “you can start to see the pattern across a larger scale—to see these trends are occurring across continents, across different species and across different human activities.”

Amazon is getting ready to crush LaCroix


Amazon is coming after LaCroix with 365 sparkling water at Whole Foods.

Amazon and Whole Foods are about to shake up the US seltzer market.

Whole Foods is currently offering steep discounts on 12-packs of flavored sparkling water by 365 Everyday Value, its private label, at stores in the San Francisco area. The $3.99, buy-one-get-one-free deal is exclusive for Amazon Prime members who download the Whole Foods app and sign in with their Prime accounts. It’s also a clear shot at LaCroix, a popular seltzer brand among American millennials, a 12-pack of which retails for $5.99 at Whole Foods stores in San Francisco.

The deal highlights how Amazon is using Whole Foods, which it bought for $13.7 billion in June 2017, to go after some of the hottest brands in consumer-packaged goods. Whole Foods introduced 365-branded canned sparkling water in September 2017, a month after Amazon closed the acquisition. The drink is available nationally in five flavors—lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and “pure”—with a new ginger flavor set to launch this September, a Whole Foods spokesman told Quartz.

“I’ve got to laugh when they do grapefruit,” said Barry Joseph, author of the forthcoming book, Seltzertopia. “LaCroix made grapefruit a standard flavor for seltzer. If someone’s putting out seltzers that include grapefruit, they’re clearly going after the market that LaCroix developed, even if they don’t call it pamplemousse.”

More Americans are drinking seltzer than ever before. From 2008 to 2017, sales of unflavored carbonated water more than doubled in the US to 770 million gallons, according to data from industry research firm Euromonitor.

Seltzer is just water plus bubbles. It doesn’t really taste like anything, but it’s fizzy. And in the US right now, it’s insanely popular.

But why? Why is seltzer having a moment? Where did seltzer come from? Is seltzer bad for you? It is the same thing as mineral water? And why do so many people call it seltzer instead of sparkling water or fizzy water?

This is the story of how America became obsessed with seltzer.

The Stupid, Stupid Way Scammers Are Ripping Off Amazon

Who still has the time to endlessly read long-ass novels? This isn’t Tsarist Russia, we don’t need Dostoyevsky to stretch it out just so we have something to do during the eight-month winters. Yet for some reason, novels keep getting longer and longer, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of self-publishing, where a surprising number of 3,000-page monsters are popping up in Amazon’s bestseller lists. But if you flip through their many pages, the only story you’ll ever find is one of fraud and deception.

Also, lady porn. Lots and lots of lady porn.

Self-publishing has taken great strides in the last few years. What was once considered career suicide is now a great way to finally tell your tale of two horny extraterrestrial cosplayers falling in love during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. This is mainly due to online platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, where for a monthly fee, you can read over a million indie author titles. But as no books are actually getting sold, Amazon rewards authors for each of their pages being read, paying them half a cent per page from a communal fund of about $21 million, capping off the reward at 3,000 pages. That’s one and a half Moby Dicks, or one-tenth of an L. Ron Hubbard chapter.

But it didn’t take long for the Kindle store to become awash in a new scam: “book stuffing,” or the art of getting your page count as high as possible. Popular book stuffing techniques are copy-pasting previous writing into the new text, increasing the spacing in between paragraphs, and every other kind of jackass padding technique you’d find in the average high school book report on Jane Eyre. But the real book stuffers aren’t even writers, they’re full-time con artists. Many simply pay freelancers to ghostwrite a bunch of stories and then put them all in one massive book. Then, after some heavy promotion, they offer their many readers incentives like bonus material, giveaways, and prize draws to get them to go through their long-ass books cover to cover. Or they just pay click farms to thumb through their shitty prose for a couple of cents per hour. And you know it’s good art when people have to be bribed to read it, like how all of Stephen King’s 1980s novels came with a voucher for free cocaine.


Onstage at the launch of Amazon’s Alexa Prize, a multimillion-dollar competition to build AI that can chat like a human, the winners of last year’s challenge delivered a friendly warning to 2018’s hopefuls: your bot will mess up, it will say something offensive, and it will be taken offline. Elizabeth Clark, a member of last year’s champion Sounding Board team from the University of Washington, was onstage with her fellow researchers to share what they’d learned from their experience. What stuck out, she said, were the bloopers.

“One thing that came up a lot around the holidays was that a lot of people wanted to talk to our bot about Santa,” said Clark. “Unfortunately, the content we had about Santa Claus looked like this: ‘You know what I realized the other day? Santa Claus is the most elaborate lie ever told.’”

The bot chose this line because it had been taught using jokes from Reddit, explained Clark, and while it might be diverting for adults, “as you can imagine, a lot of people who want to talk about Santa Claus … are children.” And telling someone’s curious three-year-old that Santa is a lie, right before Christmas? That’s a conversational faux pas, even if you are just a dumb AI.

This sort of misstep perfectly encapsulates the challenges of the Alexa Prize, a competition that will help shape the future of voice-based computing for years to come. On the face of it, Amazon isn’t asking much: just create a chatbot using Alexa that can talk to a human for 20 minutes without messing up, and you get a $1.5 million prize (with $2 million in other grants and prizes). But as Clark’s anecdote illustrates, this is still beyond the capabilities of current technology. There’s just so much that computers don’t know about the world, and there’s no easy way for us to teach them. “Don’t ruin Christmas for small children” isn’t a lesson that translates easily into code.


Fatal accidents, off-the-books workers, a union once run by a mobster. The rogue world of one of New York’s major trash haulers.

The headquarters of Sanitation Salvage, one of the largest private trash haulers in New York City, is a squat brick building that sits unremarkably amid the garbage dumps and razor wire of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx.

The Squitieri brothers, owners for decades, can be found on the top floor of the house-like structure on Manida Street. The three brothers are men of considerable wealth and fixtures in Bronx politics, and one of them, Steven, has been seen riding to special events in a white chauffeured Rolls Royce. They are also, according to employees, unforgiving bosses, profane taskmasters who push a small army of drivers and off-the-books workers through grueling shifts of 18 hours or longer.

The building’s basement is the domain of the men who work in neon reflective gear. Each night the workers, most of them black or Hispanic, descend the steps to sign in and get their assignments. The supervisors make sure everyone has the printout from the Squitieris: “Do your job or get written up.”

From the basement, the workers head to the trucks out in the yard. Once on their routes, the drivers and their helpers often pick up young men on the street as additional hands, everyone sprinting through fatigue and red lights to finish nightly routes of 1,000 stops or more.

In 2016, Mouctar Diallo, a teenage African immigrant, stepped into the rough-and-tumble world of Sanitation Salvage. He was hired off the streets of the Bronx for a few bucks in cash, then spent 18 months as one of the company’s “third men,” hustling ahead of the trash trucks to grab garbage from the curb and keep the gritty show rolling.

Then, nearing the end of a shift on Nov. 7, 2017, Diallo wound up crushed to death under the wheels of a Sanitation Salvage truck. The men he’d been helping lied to the police, saying their dead colleague was a homeless person who had come out of nowhere. The police took them at their word, and Diallo was buried quietly by his family, the circumstances of his death a cynical fiction.

Homeless people on their pets: ‘She saved me as much as I saved her’

Four people share stories of animal companions as experts say they take better care of pets than those with housing

Heather with her dog Poppy in downtown Seattle, Washington.

Heather, 22, Seattle

Before we found Poppy, I didn’t feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didn’t care about myself. I’d been homeless since my parents told me to leave our family house in June 2016 and was so miserable in my situation. Everywhere I go people shun me and tell me to leave.

Then, last March, I was walking around downtown Seattle with my boyfriend when we saw a group of guys with two dogs. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and obviously scared. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confused. He said to me: “I made a life choice without you; we’re keeping the dog.” He’d paid the guys $5 for her.

It was an eye-opening moment for me to look at her properly. She raised her head with a look that said: “Please don’t hurt me.” She had protruding ribs, fleas, missing patches of fur and couldn’t walk properly. I wrapped her in my jacket like a little baby and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. We named her Poppy after a poppy seed muffin she was trying to eat off the sidewalk.

Heather on Poppy: ‘Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too.’

We moved from sleeping in a doorway to a tent. I stopped stealing food from stores when we were desperate; I didn’t want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. I’ve applied for food stamps and now have a case manager helping me get on a housing list and get Poppy registered as a service animal so that we’re protected from being split up [by the Federal Housing Act].

People comment about how I shouldn’t be on the street with a dog. But they probably have a misconception that she’s not being taken care of. Twice a month the Union Gospel Mission does free pet care. I feed her at specific times with foods that the vet has told me will keep her healthy. I get money for her food from panhandling. She’s literally with me 24–7. She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Lewis Black runs down a few of the extreme security measures that schools are using to protect against shootings, including smoke cannons, backpack shields and nursery rhymes.

Ian Bremmer analyzes the summit with North Korea, laments President Trump’s behavior toward the G7 allies and explains why people are choosing nationalism over globalism.

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

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is denying rumors that she has considered leaving the White House. Just like she denies, well, everything.

An attempt to set a world record for the largest orgy failed and it’s partially Stephen’s fault.

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

Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including a scathing new Justice Department report, legal drama for the president’s former lawyer, and Donald Trump’s meeting with his new best friend.

Bill calls for a review of police hiring practices and demands that good cops stop protecting their abusive peers.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham praises Trump for making geopolitics and diplomacy “fun again,” and Trump compliments Kim Jong-un on his sense of humor.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Opposition with Jordan Klepper for making this program available on YouTube.

跳び箱で使用した箱を使ったので数字が書いてあります。These are the boxes which were used in a vaulting horse.

A few short videos of Max Moments.


Ed. Just as I was finishing up today’s errant ramblings barely uninteresting at all things, my Pandora feed dropped this. Crank it up!


Can there be a “very good dog?” Philosophy has an answer


A sheep in wolf’s clothing?

My dog Mu is very, very good. Obviously. Except of course, when she is a bit bad—or mischievous, say—like last week when she ate a whole chocolate mousse cake I ever-so-briefly left unattended on the counter.

Afterward, she eyed me sheepishly with a milk chocolate stain on her sweet face, and I felt certain Mu knew she did something she wan’t supposed to do. Also, it appeared that she did it deliberately because she waited for me to disappear, which implies that she restrained herself in my presence and could have done the right thing theoretically.

To call her behavior bad, however, assigns it a morality that some philosophers would say Mu doesn’t possess. She can only be bad if she can distinguish this behavior from goodness, which many argue is a capacity that is distinctly human.

Does a dog know right from wrong? It’s a question philosophers have long pondered. coming to a slew of different conclusions.

Dogs reach peak cuteness at about eight weeks old, according to a new study. The age when humans find puppies most adorable could hint at how dogs evolved as pets alongside us. Scientists researching the relationship between humans and dogs had college students rate puppies based on how attractive they were. The researchers discovered that all the dogs rated the cutest were around the same age, and they say it suggests cross-species attraction has been key to their survival.

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