The media’s war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can’t it see that?

The media’s war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can’t it see that?
The news media needs to win its war with Trump, and urgently so. But the goal should be more than just reestablishing the old rules of legitimacy
By Thomas Frank
Jul 21 2017

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication.

The people of the respectable east coast press loathe the president with an amazing unanimity. They are obsessed with documenting his bad taste, with finding faults in his stupid tweets, with nailing him and his associates for this Russian scandal and that one. They outwit the simple-minded billionaire. They find the devastating scoops. The op-ed pages come to resemble Democratic fundraising pitches. The news sections are all Trump all the time. They have gone ballistic so many times the public now yawns when it sees their rockets lifting off.

A recent Alternet article I read was composed of nothing but mean quotes about Trump, some of them literary and high-flown, some of them low-down and cruel, most of them drawn from the mainstream media and all of them hilarious. As I write this, four of the five most-read stories on the Washington Post website are about Trump; indeed (if memory serves), he has dominated this particular metric for at least a year.

And why not? Trump certainly has it coming. He is obviously incompetent, innocent of the most basic knowledge about how government functions. His views are repugnant. His advisers are fools. He appears to be dallying with obviously dangerous forces. And thanks to the wipeout of the Democratic party, there is no really powerful institutional check on the president’s power, which means that the press must step up.

But there’s something wrong with it all.

The news media’s alarms about Trump have been shrieking at high C for more than a year. It was in January of 2016 that the Huffington Post began appending a denunciation of Trump as a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully” to every single story about the man. It was last August that the New York Times published an essay approving of the profession’s collective understanding of Trump as a political mutation – an unacceptable deviation from the two-party norm – that journalists must cleanse from the political mainstream.

It hasn’t worked. They correct and denounce; they cluck and deride and Trump seems to bask in it. He reflects this incredible outpouring of disapprobation right back at the press itself. The old “liberal bias” critique, a minor deity in the pantheon of Republican paranoia since the days of Trump’s hero Richard Nixon, has been elevated to first place. Trump and company now use it to explain everything. And the news media’s reputation sinks lower and lower as they advance into their golden age.


On Reddit, Intimate Glimpses of Addicts in Thrall to Opioids

On Reddit, Intimate Glimpses of Addicts in Thrall to Opioids
Jul 20 2017

Every day, thousands of people who are consumed by the nation’s opioid epidemic connect on the popular discussion website Reddit.

They swap advice on getting high and offer encouragement to those who have managed to stay clean or are teetering between recovery and relapse. Addicts lament the deaths of fellow users who have suddenly stopped posting. And until last week, buyers and sellers could easily find each other, relying on coded messages that communicated their intent.

Reddit banned the forum, known as opiaterollcall, last week but would not disclose what led to its closing. Another forum to buy opiates quickly sprang up to replace it; Reddit banned that one, too.

They were just small parts of one of the world’s largest online communities. But the dispatches left behind tell a surprisingly intimate story about the tenacity of the crisis, the trajectory of the addicted and Reddit’s role in facilitating access to drugs tied to the mounting toll across America.

Among the victims was Rachel Frazier, a former nurse and mother of a young son, now 3. Last June, she offered advice about medicine for withdrawals on a Reddit opiate support group that is simply called “opiates.” In September, she posted three times on the now-banned drug-buying forum opiaterollcall. She had recently moved to Mansfield, Ohio, from Texas with her husband, Jason.

“Just moved to 419,” she wrote on Sept. 3, referring to her area code. Signaling that she wanted drugs, she wrote, “Looking for friends.”

Two weeks later, her husband found her dead in their living room, slumped over an ottoman with an unopened can of Diet Coke nearby. Relatives said a medical examiner determined that Ms. Frazier, 35, had overdosed on heroin and carfentanyl.

Rachel Frazier 
Between 2012 and 2016, Rachel Frazier posted on Reddit regularly as rachel1787, occasionally dipping into drug-related communities such as “opiates.” Two weeks before she was found dead of an overdose, she posted in “opiaterollcall” for the first time, apparently hoping to obtain drugs using the forum’s coded language. 
Her death was memorialized on Reddit by someone with the user name UhhImJef, who wrote about having spoken to Ms. Frazier just the day before. “We lost another,” the post read. “We’ll miss you sweets.”

Like others on the Reddit forums, Ms. Frazier had a longstanding addiction, her family said in interviews, and she procured painkillers in a variety of ways, not just online. The relatives said it was not clear when she switched to heroin, who provided the lethal dose, or if she got the drugs that killed her by way of Reddit.

It is just one of many places to find drugs online. In recent years, some of the biggest black markets have been on the so-called dark net, where buyers can place mail orders using Bitcoin and other virtual currency to operate with anonymity. AlphaBay, one of the largest such markets, was shut down two weeks ago, after a law enforcement crackdown.

On the public internet, drug buyers have been able to use sites over the years including Craigslist and Topix, forums on Google Groups and, more recently, mobile apps like Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms.


Intriguing experiment reveals a fundamental conflict in human culture

Intriguing experiment reveals a fundamental conflict in human culture
“Rank-reversal aversion” may be causing more social problems than we realize.
Jul 13 2017

It’s well known among economists that most people don’t like income disparities, especially when they’re on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. This is reflected in polls and scientific studies, but also just everyday common sense. Yet many of our societies suffer from a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. If we hate economic inequality so much, why do humans keep supporting institutions that concentrate wealth in a tiny percentage of the population? A new cross-cultural study led by economists working in China suggests one possible reason: people are not willing to redistribute wealth if they think it will upset the social hierarchy.

Zhejiang University business school professor Zhou Xinyue and his colleagues conducted a simple experiment using a game that allows players to redistribute income between two people. They describe the results in Nature Human Behavior. Players were shown pictures of two people and told that one has randomly been given a large amount of money and the other a small amount. Then players were asked whether they would be willing to allow the money to be redistributed under two basic conditions: one, if the redistribution leaves the “rich” person still richer than the other; and two, if the redistribution reverses the roles and leaves the “rich” person poorer than the other.

Zhou and colleagues did tests on subjects in China and continued their tests with Indian and Caucasian subjects via Mechanical Turk. They found that responses were surprisingly uniform: 76.87% of people were willing to redistribute money if the rich person remained slightly wealthier than the poor person, thus keeping “social ranking” intact. But only 44.8% of people were willing to redistribute the money if it meant reversing the fortunes of the “rich” and “poor” people.

Zhou and his colleagues identify this odd quirk in people’s responses as an artifact of “rank-reversal aversion,” or a fear of upsetting hierarchy. When the researchers tested children, they found that rank-reversal aversion doesn’t develop until children are 6-10 years old, which suggests that this aversion is learned culturally as the child grows up (the urge to redistribute wealth develops around the age of four).

In addition, the Tibetan herders who participated in the study had a markedly higher level of rank-reversal aversion than other subjects. This also suggests the trait is cultural: the Tibetan group came from a culturally distinct, traditional society with far less market integration than other groups, and therefore their answers were different.

Many humans appear to have two deep-seated beliefs that are in fundamental contradiction. We don’t like wealth inequality, but we also don’t like to overturn social rankings. Zhou and his colleagues say this could explain why it’s so hard for people to solve problems with inequality.


New study projects stunning drop in 2018 millennial voter turnout in battleground states

New study projects stunning drop in 2018 millennial voter turnout in battleground states
By Celeste Katz
Jul 20 2017

The 2016 presidential election — and its outcome — may have given plenty of Americans a new sense of urgency when it comes to civics.

But a new study projects that 40 million Americans who voted last year will likely not show up at the polls for the 2018 midterms — and that two-thirds of those “drop-off” voters will be millennials, unmarried women and people of color.

The report, just out from the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners, “Comparing the Voting Electorate in 2012-2016 and Predicting 2018 Drop-off,” notes that many of those expected not to cast a ballot next year live in key battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Ohio.

“Everybody declines in their turnout in off-year elections. But the decline is much, much more dramatic among the ‘Rising American Electorate,’” Democratic strategist and pollster Celinda Lake said in a Thursday conference call about the findings.

According to the report produced for the nonprofit Voter Participation Center, which works to increase civic engagement, “35.1% of those who voted in 2016, or 25.4 million RAE voters, will stay home” in 2018. By comparison, “The predicted drop-off among non-RAE voters is only 22.1%, or 14.4 million voters.”

The study defines the “Rising American Electorate” as unmarried women, millennials ages 18 to 34, African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color as defined by the U.S. Census. 

Together, Lake said, the “RAE” numbers about 133 million people. At 59.2% of the voting-eligible U.S. population in 2016, the 2016 presidential race marked the first election in which this group stood in the majority.

However, “The RAE, while increasing their turnout and increasing in their numbers, still lags behind the non-RAE in its overall turnout,” Lake noted.

The researchers said there are an array of reasons why members of the RAE don’t vote at the same rates as their older, white or married counterparts. 

Among them: RAE voters may have less information about the candidates or the voting process itself. They may feel less engaged in state or local elections than national ones. Particularly in the case of millennials, they tend to move more often, requiring them to re-register to vote each time they do. 

Finally, the study’s creators said, campaign-season messaging may not be targeted at the concerns of RAE voters because of their age or family status. 

All this can contribute to a sense of discouragement about traditional civic engagement, and members of the RAE cohort may opt for alternatives, such as volunteerism or expressing their views via social media.

Of course, this new electorate has plenty of overlap within the groups it comprises; unmarried women and millennials are the biggest part of the equation.


Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ is arriving just when we need it

Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ is arriving just when we need it
New film tells the rollercoaster story of the climate movement and Paris agreement with humor and humanity.
By Joe Romm
Jul 20 2017

A decade ago, former Vice President Al Gore had one of the unlikeliest hit films of all time, An Inconvenient Truth. Now he’s back with a follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which premiered in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert on CBS’s The Late Show Monday night, Gore joked, “And to young people in particular, I really recommend this movie as a date movie… it’s a hot date movie. It’s an amazingly hot date movie.”

But the truth is this movie is a great movie for anyone who cares about humanity and where we are headed. It tells the stories of the ups and downs of the climate movement, the Paris climate negotiations, and Gore’s own life — and it’s an emotional rollercoaster filled with moments of joy and despair.

Gore told the audience he thought the original, a 2006 documentary of a slideshow on climate change that would become one of the most successful documentaries of all time, was a “bad idea” and had to be convinced by Jeff Skoll, former CEO of eBay and founder of Participant Media. Skoll ended up producing the Oscar-winning film that help start a national conversation on climate change.

Gore and Skoll have again partnered to produce the sequel, which takes off where the original ends and tells the story — through Gore’s eyes — of the climate movement leading up to drama of the Paris climate negotiations and, yes, the election of President Donald Trump.

Gore sense of humor and his humanity suffuse the new movie, one of the reasons it’s even better than the original. Indeed, for those who still think of the former vice president in terms of his media stereotype from the 2000 election — “stiff” and “wooden” — the movie will be quite a surprise. He has emerged as a world-class communicator.

The sequel also fixes the biggest flaw in the original, which was criticized for not enough focus on solutions. This film makes the new clean energy revolution a major focus.

The documentary has many unexpected moments, including the behind-the-scenes role Gore played in getting India on board during the Paris negotiations and Gore’s remarkable meeting with a conservative Republican mayor “in the reddest county in the reddest state” who is taking his city 100 percent renewable.

This is a movie to take a date — or kids — to, but it is especially valuable for people who are involved in the climate movement, or any social justice movement.

For many activists, nothing is harder than staying motivated year after year in the face of the inevitable failures along the (too) slow road to social justice. But few progressives have had to face the disappointments and despair that Gore has, most infamously his controversial presidential defeat in 2000.


29 Minutes From New York to Washington? Elon Musk Teases a New Hyperloop

29 Minutes From New York to Washington? Elon Musk Teases a New Hyperloop
Jul 20 2017

With a tweet and very little else by way of detail, the entrepreneur Elon Musk on Thursday raised the prospect of speedy, hassle-free travel along the busy section of the Eastern Seaboard between New York and Washington, D.C.

On Twitter, Mr. Musk said he had been given “verbal” government “approval” for his vision, in which one of his companies, the Boring Company, would build an underground transportation system connecting New York City to Philadelphia to Baltimore and on to the nation’s capital — enabling people to make the trip in the unheard-of time of 29 minutes.

It takes New Yorkers longer than that just to travel from one end of Manhattan to the other by subway.

Mr. Musk’s tweet was enticing enough, even without details, that it prompted a bombardment of follow-up questions and a great deal of skepticism. Who would pay for it? How long would it take to build? How would it be built? There were no answers.

Nor was there any indication of just who in the government had given the plan the “verbal” green light. The Department of Transportation referred a query about the project to the White House, which said in an emailed reply through a spokesman: “We have had promising conversations to date, are committed to transformative infrastructure projects and believe our greatest solutions have often come from the ingenuity and drive of the private sector.”

In his replies, Mr. Musk let slip a few more thoughts.

“City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city,” he wrote.

Mr. Musk’s planned 29-minute trip is considerably shorter than the current options. A drive from Washington to New York can take about five hours. Amtrak’s Acela, its high-speed counterpart to regional train service, cuts the time down to about two hours and 45 minutes. A nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington is currently the fastest option, at one hour and 15 minutes.

Musk watchers have heard this before. Mr. Musk, a serial entrepreneur who was a founder of PayPal and the electric car company Tesla Motors, first unveiled his idea for a similar plan in 2013 when he unveiled a project called the Hyperloop — a high-speed system that would take people to San Francisco from Los Angeles in 30 minutes. That would take a speed of almost 800 miles an hour.


Beijing Wants A.I. to Be Made in China by 2030

Beijing Wants A.I. to Be Made in China by 2030
Jul 20 2017

SHANGHAI — If Beijing has its way, the future of artificial intelligence will be made in China.

The country laid out a development plan on Thursday to become the world leader in A.I. by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion.

Released by the State Council, the policy is a statement of intent from the top rungs of China’s government: The world’s second-largest economy will be investing heavily to ensure its companies, government and military leap to the front of the pack in a technology many think will one day form the basis of computing.

The plan comes with China preparing a multibillion-dollar national investment initiative to support “moonshot” projects, start-ups and academic research in A.I., according to two professors who consulted with the government about the effort.

The United States, meanwhile, has cut back on science funding. In budget proposals, the Trump administration has suggested slashing resources for a number of agencies that have traditionally backed research in A.I. Other cuts, to areas like high-performance computing, would affect the development of the tools that make A.I. work.

China’s capabilities, especially in advanced and new technologies, have long lagged those of its better developed neighbors as well as Europe and America. But a multiple-decade industrial policy to help it catch up has paid dividends.

A.I. is one of a growing number of disciplines in which experts say China is making quick progress.

Yet it was a foreign feat of A.I. prowess that provided one of the greatest impetuses for the new plan.

The two professors who consulted with the government on A.I. both said that the 2016 defeat of Lee Se-dol, a South Korean master of the board game Go, by Google’s AlphaGo had a profound impact on politicians in China. Then in May, Google brought AlphaGo to China, where it defeated the world’s top-ranked player, Ke Jie of China. Live video coverage of the event was blocked at the last minute in China.

As a sort of Sputnik moment for China, the professors said, the event paved the way for a new flow of funds into the discipline.

China’s ambitions with A.I. range from the anodyne to the dystopian, according to the new plan. It calls for support for everything from agriculture and medicine to manufacturing.

Yet it also calls for the technology to work in concert with the country’s homeland security and surveillance efforts. China wants to integrate A.I. into guided missiles, use it to track people on closed-circuit cameras, censor the internet and even predict crimes.