We’re Measuring the Economy All Wrong

The official statistics say that the financial crisis is behind us. It’s not.

David Leonhardt

By David Leonhardt

Opinion Columnist



Protestors hold signs behind Richard S. Fuld Jr., then Chairman and Chief Executive of Lehman Brothers, in October 2008. Ten years later, you can see the lingering effects of the financial crisis just about everywhere.CreditCreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the official economic statistics — the ones that fill news stories, television shows and presidential tweets — say that the American economy is fully recovered.

The unemployment rate is lower than it was before the financial crisis began. The stock market has soared. The total combined output of the American economy, also known as gross domestic product, has risen 20 percent since Lehman collapsed. The crisis is over.

But, of course, it isn’t over. The financial crisis remains the most influential event of the 21st century. It left millions of people — many of whom were already anxious about the economy — feeling much more anxious, if not downright angry. Their frustration has helped create a threat to Western liberal democracy that would have been hard to imagine a decade ago. Far-right political parties are on the rise across Europe, and Britain is leaving the European Union. The United States elected a racist reality-television star who has thrown the presidency into chaos.

Look around, and you can see the lingering effects of the financial crisis just about everywhere — everywhere, that is, except in the most commonly cited economic statistics. So who are you going to believe: Those statistics, or your own eyes?


Over the course of history, financial crises — and the long downturns that follow — have reordered American society in all sorts of ways. One of those ways happens to involve the statistics that the government collects. Crises have often highlighted the need for new measures of human well-being.

The unemployment rate was invented in the 1870s in response to concerns about mass joblessness after the Panic of 1873. The government’s measure of national output, now called G.D.P., began during the Great Depression. Senator Robert La Follette, the progressive hero from Wisconsin, introduced the resolution that later led to the measurement of G.D.P., and the great economist Simon Kuznets, later a Nobel laureate, oversaw the first version.

Almost a century later, it is time for a new set of statistics. It’s time for measures that do a better job of capturing the realities of modern American life.

As a technical matter, the current batch of official numbers are perfectly accurate. They also describe some real and important aspects of the American economy. The trouble is that a handful of statistics dominate the public conversation about the economy despite the fact that they provide a misleading portrait of people’s lives. Even worse, the statistics have become more misleading over time.

The main reason is inequality. A small, affluent segment of the population receives a large and growing share of the economy’s bounty. It was true before Lehman Brothers collapsed on Sept. 15, 2008, and it has become even more so since. As a result, statistics that sound as if they describe the broad American economy — like G.D.P. and the Dow Jones industrial average — end up mostly describing the experiences of the affluent.

The stock market, for example, has completely recovered from the financial crisis, and then some. Stocks are now worth almost 60 percent more than when the crisis began in 2007, according to a inflation-adjusted measure from Moody’s Analytics. But wealthy households own the bulk of stocks. Most Americans are much more dependent on their houses. That’s why the net worth of the median household is still about 20 percent lower than it was in early 2007. When television commentators drone on about the Dow, they’re not talking about a good measure of most people’s wealth.

The unemployment rate has also become less meaningful than it once was. In recent decades, the number of idle working-age adults has surged. They are not working, not looking for work, not going to school and not taking care of children. Many of them would like to work, but they can’t find a decent-paying job and have given up looking. They are not counted in the official unemployment rate.

All the while, the federal government and much of the news media continue to act as if the same economic measures that made sense decades ago still make sense today. Habit comes before accuracy.

Fortunately, there is a nascent movement to change that. A team of academic economists — Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (the best-selling author on inequality) — has begun publishing a version of G.D.P. that separates out the share of national income flowing to rich, middle class and poor. For now, its data is published with a lag; the most recent available year is 2014. But the work is starting to receive attention from other academics and policy experts.

In the Senate, two Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, the party leader, have introduced a bill that would direct the federal government to publish a version of the same data series. Heather Boushey, who runs the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told me that it could be the most important change in economic data collection in decades.

And there is no reason that data reform needs to be limited to G.D.P. The Labor Department could change the monthly jobs report to give more attention to other unemployment numbers. It could also provide more data on wages, rather than only broad averages. The Federal Reserve, for its part, could publish quarterly estimates of household wealth by economic class.

These changes may sound technocratic. They are technocratic. But they can still be important. Over time, they can subtly shift the way that the country talks about the economy.

“As someone who advises policymakers, I can tell you there is often this shock: ‘The economy is growing. Why aren’t people feeling it,’” Boushey says. “The answer is: Because they literally aren’t feeling it.” She argues — rightly, I think — that the government should not focus on creating wholly new statistics. It should instead change and expand the ones that are already followed closely. Doing so could force the media and policymakers to talk about economic well-being at the same time that they are talking about economic indicators.

It’s worth remembering that the current indicators are not a naturally occurring phenomenon. They are political creations, with the flaws, limitations and choices that politics usually involves.

Take the unemployment rate. It dates to 1878, when a former Civil War officer and Massachusetts politician named Carroll D. Wright was running the state’s Bureau of the Statistics of Labor. Wright thought that the public had an exaggerated sense of the extent of unemployment after the Panic of 1873. He called it “industrial hypochondria.”

So Wright asked town assessors and police officers to count the number of people in their area who were out of work. But he added a caveat that he knew would hold down the number, as Alexander Keyssar, a Harvard historian, has written. Wright wanted the count to include only adult men who “really want employment.” He specifically called for the exclusion of the many men who had effectively given up searching for work because they didn’t think that they could find a job that paid as much as their previous job. Not surprisingly, Wright’s count produced a modest number that, he happily announced, had proved the “croakers” wrong.

Several years later, he received a promotion. He was named the first head of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job he would hold for 20 years. His original methods from Massachusetts influenced the way that the federal government began calculating unemployment data, and it still does to this day. The fact that the official rate ignores millions of discouraged workers is — although Wright wouldn’t have used this phrase — a feature not a bug.

There is no mystery about what a better set of indicators would look like. For the most part, the indicators already exist. They tend to be obscure, however. Some are calculated only once a year or less frequently. Others appear monthly or quarterly, but the media and politicians tend to ignore them. These numbers include: the overall share of working-age adults who are actually working; pay at different points on the income distribution; and the same sort of distribution for net worth (which includes stock holdings, home values and other assets and debts).

Adjusted for inflation

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This former Google X exec reverse engineered happiness — here’s what he found

This former Google X exec reverse engineered happiness — here’s what he found

Mo Gawdat, former chief business officer of Google X and the author of “Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy”

Mo Gawdat, former chief business officer of Google X and the author of “Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy”

Mo Gawdat’s LinkedIn profile reads like a how-to playbook for success. He worked for IBM and Microsoft; he was a VP at Google and then chief business officer for Google X, the famously secretive “moonshot” factory known for tackling with innovation some of largest problems affecting the world.

But as quickly as Gawdat, now 51, found success in the tech world, it took him much longer to understand that it was not enough to make him truly happy.

“I am the typical driven businessman engineer who solves problem with his left brain. And that got me to a corner early in my life where I was extremely successful — like scary successful — at age 28. But completely depressed,” Gawdat tells CNBC Make It.

At a high point of his success Gawdat says he had a handsome salary, two company cars and a massive villa with a swimming pool; he traveled first class, “it was incredible,” he says. He was living in Dubai at the time and also had a day-trading side gig. “[I] made double-digit returns every single month of my life. Right? And you know my math skills I developed my own little algorithm and I made a ton of money — market going up, going down, I was just making money, nonstop.

“And I wasn’t happy.”

One night he even bought two vintage Rolls-Royces online. “Why? Because I could. And because I was desperately trying to fill the hole in my soul,” says Gawdat in his 2017 book, “Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy.” “You won’t be surprised to hear that when those beautiful classics of English automotive styling arrived at the curb, they didn’t lift my mood one bit.”

It was a hard realization for Gawdat.

“When you’re unhappy but you haven’t made it yet, you go, like, ‘Yeah, when I make it, I’m going to be happy, right? No, I made it,” Gawdat says, speaking with CNBC Make It at the Northside Music and Innovation Festival in Brooklyn, New York in June. “I had everything that everyone’s dreaming of: I had the wonderful wife, two amazing children, right? And I wasn’t happy.

“So it gave me a wake up call and I had to research the topic.”

What happiness is — and is not

Gawdat approached happiness the way he had approached everything in his life up to that point — with logic.

“I read every book I could find, watched every documentary, spoke to people who seemed constantly happy, to spiritual teachers, and scientists. I also conducted my own little experiments observing my conditions and that of coworkers, friends and family to reformulate what I learned in a scientific engineering way,” Gawdat tells CNBC Make It.

What Gawdat found was that happiness is not something that can be obtained externally.

“It basically starts with a simple assumption — which is incredibly eye-opening — that happiness is not outside you; you don’t strive to attain it. Happiness is … within you,” Gawdat says.

“Until your basic needs are met, your every dollar more that you earn makes you happier of course…. But once you get your basic needs met more money doesn’t make you happier,” Gawdat explains. “There is nothing that you can do to achieve happiness by buying it.”

If you look for it in external sources, says Gawdat, that only results in temporary satisfaction. “The minute you got it, you started to pause and say, ‘OK, where’s the next goal?’ Especially driven entrepreneurs. They will move from goal to goal — it’s almost as if the goal is constant moving.”

The happiness formula

Gawdat also realized something else — in the absence of unhappiness, he was happy. “So I took that and I started to develop the equations that triggered unhappiness, which was really, really eye-opening.”

To do so, Gawdat identified happy moments in his life — his “happy list” — and plotted them on charts. He looked for the trendline relating the happy moments in his life.

“My list is not much different than that of others. It contains simple moments … I feel happy when I have a good cup of coffee. I feel happy when my daughter, Aya, smiles. I feel happy when I learn something new. I feel happy when I achieve something of impact or I feel happy when I am with people I love,” Gawdat says.

Gawdat boiled down what he saw into “one simple equation, which basically says your happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectations of how life should behave,” he says.

For example, says Gawdat, “Rain never made you happy or unhappy on it’s own. Rain in isolation doesn’t have a happiness intrinsic value.” Instead, how wet weather affects what you wanted to do on the day it rained is what makes you happy or unhappy, he says; a farmer who needs to water his field is grateful to see rain, while someone who had hoped to lay by the pool would be unhappy to see rain.

Similarly, “It’s not the events of our life that make us unhappy, it’s the way we think about them,” Gawdat says.

Finding happiness, then, requires changing your perceptions, according to Gawdat.

“See the reality of your life for what it really is. If you are reading a CNBC article online while you sit somewhere in America, your life is likely better than 99 percent of everyone who has ever lived. While all of us have to struggle every now and then, at the end of the day, our lives are still much better than those trying to survive the war in Syria or hunger in Africa,” says Gawdat. “The way we think about the events of our life and compare them to realistic expectations is what makes us happy or unhappy.”

Gawdat uses a thought process flow chart to achieve happiness. When he has a thought that makes him unhappy, he asks himself if it is true.

“If it isn’t I drop it. Why should I let my brain make me unhappy for something that is not even true,” says Gawdat. “If it is true, then I ask myself if I can do something about it. If I can, I do it. Life becomes better and I become happier.

“But if I can’t … I accept it. What’s the point is stressing about something when all the stress in the world would not change it. Then once I learn to accept it as the new baseline of my life, I start to commit and do something to make things better.”

A test, when tragedy strikes

That process was put to the test for Gawdat. Gawat has a daughter, Aya, now 24, and a son, Ali. In 2014, at age 21, Ali died unexpectedly during a routine appendectomy.

Gawdat had the ultimate challenge to his theory: He had to find a way to find happiness after his son’s death. And he did.

Gawdat (right) standing next to a painting of Ali (left)

Gawdat (right) standing next to a painting of Ali (left)

“We need to start by understanding that true happiness is not reflected in the modern world’s view of it being fun, elation or laughter. Happiness is finding peace and being OK with life exactly as it is,” says Gawdat.

“It all starts with … a realization that all the unhappiness in the world would not bring Ali back and so [it’s] making a choice to be peaceful with what you can’t change.”

That requires acknowledgment of the truth, says Gawdat. “We all die. Many parents lose their children. This is just the truth. I will die too. Sooner or later I will be where Ali is. The truth is sometimes harsh, but rejecting it does not change it,” Gawdat says.

“I cry every other day when I remember Ali. But here is another truth: The truth is, if I cry for the rest of my life, it will not bring him back,” Gawdat says. “How wise is that?”

Spreading the love

Ali had often advised his father to do work that was more meaningful. “He said, ‘I know you want to make the world a better place,'” recalls Gawdat. “I want you to start doing things that depend on your heart not your brain,” Ali told Gawdat.

So 17 days after Ali died, Gawdat put his theory of happiness on paper. The writing was the foundation of “Solve for Happy.” The book explains what Gawdat calls his happiness model, instructing readers how to bust their illusions, fix their blind spots and understand certain truths (all of which Gawdat enumerates) to find a state of happiness and peace.

Now, Gawdat also works to spread the message of happiness in homage to his deceased son. He launched One Billion Happy, a non-profit initiative, in September 2017. Its goal, as the name suggests, is to make people 1 billion people happy.

“The initiative is strongly anchored in asking the community to champion the movement by asking people to first prioritize their happiness, second, invest in learning and practicing what would make them happier and third, pay it forward; tell [two] people, who tell two people, who tell two people,” Gawdat explains.

“Our commitment was, and still is, to honor Ali by sharing his model of happiness and peace with the whole world. Millions have received a message of happiness as a result of his departure. And that makes our world today a little better than the day he left,” says Gawdat.

It gives some sort of meaning to Ali’s death, says Gawdat, and that helps.

And though he admits it sounds remarkable, Gawdat and his family now maintain “a steady state of peace — even happiness,” he writes in his book. “We have sad days, but we don’t suffer. Our hearts are content, even joyful. Simply put, our happiness model came through for us.”

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Institutionalizing Intolerance: Bullies Win, Freedom Suffers When We Can’t Agree To Disagree

by Tyler Durden

Wed, 0810812018 – 23:45

Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

 Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”Benjamin Franklin

 What a mess.

As America has become ever more polarized, and those polarized factions have become more militant and less inclined to listen to – or even allow for the existence of – other viewpoints, we are fast becoming a nation of people who just can’t get along.

Here’s the thing : if Americans don’t learn how to get along at the very least, agreeing to disagree and respecting each other’s right to subscribe to beliefs and opinions that may be o ffensi ve, hate ful , intolerant or merely different then we’re going to soon find that we have no rights whatsoever (to speak, assemble, agree, disagree, protest, opt in, opt out, or forge our own paths as individuals).

In such an environment, when we can’t agree to disagree , the bullies (on both sides) win and freedom suffers.

Intolerance, once the domain of the politically correct and self-righteous, has been institutionalized, normalized and politicized.

Even those who dare to defend speech that may be unpopular or hateful as a constitutional right are now accused of “weaponizing the First Amendment .”

On college campuses across the country, speakers whose views are deemed “off ensive”  to  some of  the  student  body  are having their invitations recalled or cancelled , being shouted down by hecklers , or forced to hire costly security details. As The Washington Postconcludes , “College students support free speech-unless it offends them.”

At Hofstra University, half the students in a freshman class boycotted when the professor assigned them to read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Artificial Nigger.” As Professor Arthur Dobrin recounts, ”The boycotters refused to engage a writer who would use such an offensive word . They hadn’t read the story ; they wouldn’t lower themselves to that level. Here is what they missed : The story’s title refers to a lawn jockey, a once common ornament of a black man holding a lante rn . The statue symbolizes the suffering of an entire group of people and looking at it bring a moment of insight to a racist old man.”

It’s not just college students who have lost their taste for diverse viewpoints and free speech.

In Charlottesville, Va. , in the wake of a violent clash between the alt-right and alt-left over whether Confederate statues should remain standing in a community park, City Council meetings were routinely “punctuated with screaming matches, confrontations, calls to order , and even arre sts ,” making it all but impossible for attendees and councilors alike to speak their mind s.

In Maryland, a 90-year-old World War I Peace Cross memorial that pays tribute to the valor, courage and sacrifice of 49 members of the Prince George community who died in battle is under fire because a group of humanists believes the memorial, which evokes the rows of wooden Latin Crosses that mark the graves of WW I servicemen who fell on battlefields far away, is offensive.

On Twi tt er, President Trump has repeatedly called for the NFL to penalize players who take a knee in protest of police brutality during the national anthem , which clearly flies in the face of the First Amendment’s assurance of the right to free speech and protest (especially in light of

the president’s decision to insert himself-an agent of the government-into a private workplace dispute ).

On Facebook, Alex Jones, the majordomo of conspiracy theorists who spawned an empire built on alternative news, has been banned for posting content that violates the social media site’s “Community St andards, ” which prohibit posts that can be construed as bullying or hateful.

Jones is not alone in being censured for content that might be construed as false or off ensive.

Facebook also flagged a Canadian museum for posting abstract nude paintings by Pablo Picasso .

Even the American Civil Liberties Union , once a group known for taking on the most controversial cases, is contemplating stepping back from its full-throated defense of free (at times, hateful) speech .

“What are the defenders of free speech to do ?” asks commentator William Ruger in Time magazine.

”The sad fact is that this fundamental freedom is on its heels across America,” concludes Ruger . “Politi cians of both parties want to use the power of government to silence their foes. Some in the university community seek to drive it from their campuses . And an entire generation of Americans is being taught that free speech should be curtailed as soon as it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. On the current trajectory, our nation’s dynamic marketplace of ideas will soon be replaced by either disengaged intellectual silos or even a stagnant ideological confo rmity . Few things would be so disastrous for our nation and the well-being of our citizenry .”

Disastrous, indeed.

You see, tolerance cuts both ways.

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow, I know, but that’s the way free speech works, especially when it comes to tolerating speech that we hate.

The most controversial issues of our day-gay rights, abortion, race, religion, sexuality, political correctness, police brutality, et a/.- have become battlegrounds for those who claim to believe in freedom of speech but only when it favors the views and positions they support .

“Free speech for me but not for thee” is how my good friend and free speech purist Nat Hentoff used to sum up this double standard.

This haphazard approach to the First Amendment has so muddied the waters that even First Amendment scholars are finding it hard to navigate at times .

It’s really not that hard.

The First Amendment affirms the right of the people to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combatting prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free  speech  is an inalienable  right and those  who believe that free speech is a mere privilege to be granted only under certain conditions, the censors are winning.

We have entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political , religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors (and championed by those who want to suppress speech with which they might disagree) have conspired to corrode our core freedoms, purportedly for our own good.

On paper – at least according to the U.S. Constitution – we are technically free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube may

Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes, ” “bullying, ” “extremism ” and “microaggressions, ” the nation has been whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous .

Free speech is no longer free.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet the Supreme Court ‘ s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security , commerce and speech .

When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, the Supreme Court tends to side with the government.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public-no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be-then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifl e and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self­ censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent  that  has no outlet  but violence .

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world .

When there is no steam valve – when there is no one to hear what the people have to say – frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation. By bottling up dissent , we have created a pressure  cooker of  stifled  misery and discontent that is now bubbling over and fomenting even more hate, distrust and paranoia among portions of the populace.

Silencing unpopular viewpoints with which the majority might disagree-whether it’s by shouting them down, censoring them, muzzling them, or criminalizing them-only empowers the controllers of the Deep St ate.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well- intentioned – dis couraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred-inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism .

It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

We ‘ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we’ ve bought into the idea that we need the government to  shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for oursel ves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own diff erences .

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems with each other and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears of each other.

So where does that leave us?

We ‘ve got to do the hard work of figuring out how to get along again.

Charlottesville, Va., is a good example of this.

It’s been a year since my hometown of Charlottesville  , Va., became the poster child in a heat ed war of words-and actions-over racism, “saniti zing hi story ,” extremism (both right and left), political correctness, hate speech, partisan politics, and a growing fear that violent words would end in violent actions.

Those fears were realized when what should have been an exercise in free speech quickly became a brawl that left one activist dead.

Yet lawful, peaceful, nonviolent First Amendment activity did not kill Heather Heyer. She was killed by a 20-year-old Neo-Nazi who drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians in Charlottesville, Va.

Words, no matter how distasteful or disagreeable, did not turn what should have been an exercise in free speech into a brawl . That was accomplished by militant protesters on both sides of the debate who arrived at what should have been a nonviolent protest armed with sticks and guns, bleach bottles, balloons filled with feces and urine and improvised flamethrowers, and by the law enforcement agencies who stood by and allowed it.

This is what happens when we turn our disagree ments, even about critically and morally important issues, into lines in the sand .

If we can’t agree to disagree-and learn to live with each other in peace and speak with civility in order to change hearts and minds-then we’ve reached an impasse.

That way lies death, destruction and tyranny.

Now, there’s a big difference between civility (treating others with consideration and respect) and civil disobedience (refusing to comply with certain laws as a means of peaceful protest) , both of which Martin Luther King Jr. employed brilliantly, and I’m a champion of both tactics when used wisely.

Frankly, I agree with journalist Bret Stephens when he says that we’re failing at the art of disagreeme nt . As Stephens explains in a 2017 lecture, which should be required reading for every American:

“To say the words, ‘ I agree’- whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith-may be the basis of every community. But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes-ego

nontheseare the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress , make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere . Galileo and Darwin; Mandela , Havel, and Liu Xiaobo ; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky such are the ranks of those who disagree.

 What does it mean to not merely disagree but rather to disagree well?

According to Stephens, “to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect ; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.”

Instead of intelligent discourse, we’ve been saddled with identity politics, “a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space fort hought.”

Safe spaces.

That’s what we’ve been reduced to on college campuses, in government-run forums, and now on public property and on previously open forums such as the internet.

The problem, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves : The Emerging American Police State, is that the creation of so-called safe spaces

-where offensive ideas and speech are prohibited- i s just censorship by another name, and censorship breeds rese nt ment, and resentment breeds conflict, and unresolved, festering conflict gives rise to violence.

Charlottesville is a prime example of this.

Anticipating the one-year anniversary of the riots in Charlottesville on August  12, the local city government,  which bungled its response the first time around, is now attempting to ostensibly create a “safe space ” by shutting the city down for the days surrounding the anniversary , all the while ramping up the presence of militarized police, in the hopes that no one else (meaning activists or protesters) will show up and nothing (meaning  riots and brawls among activists) will happen.

What a mess.


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The Number Of Americans Living In Their Vehicles “Explodes” As The Middle Class Collapses

Authored by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,

If the U.S. economy is really doing so well, then why is homelessness rising so rapidly?

The number of people who live in their vehicles because they can’t find affordable housing is on the rise, even though the practice is illegal in many U.S. cities.

The number of people residing in campers and other vehicles surged 46 percent over the past year, a recent homeless census in Seattle’s King County, Washington found. The problem is “exploding” in cities with expensive housing markets, including Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco, according to Governing magazine.

Amazon, Microsoft and other big tech companies are in the Seattle area.  It is a region that is supposedly “prospering”, and yet this is going on.

Sadly, it isn’t just major urban areas that are seeing more people sleeping in their vehicles.  Over in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, many of the homeless sleep in their vehicles even in the middle of winter

Stephanie Monroe, managing director of Children Youth & Family Services at Volunteers of America, Dakotas, tells a similar story. At least 25 percent of the non-profit’s Sioux Falls clients have lived in their vehicles at some point, even during winter’s sub-freezing temperatures.

“Many of our communities don’t have formal shelter services,” she said in an interview. “It can lead to individuals resorting to living in their cars or other vehicles.”

It is time to admit that we have a problem.  The number of homeless in this country is surging, and we need to start coming up with some better solutions.

But instead, many communities are simply passing laws that make it illegal for people to sleep in their vehicles…

A recent survey by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), which tracks policies in 187 cities, found the number of prohibitions against vehicle residency has more than doubled during the last decade.

Those laws aren’t going to solve anything.

At best, they will just encourage some of the homeless to go somewhere else.

And if our homelessness crisis is escalating this dramatically while the economy is supposedly “growing”, how bad are things going to be once the next recession officially begins?

We live at a time when the cost of living is soaring but our paychecks are not.  As a result, middle class families are being squeezed like never before.

Home prices are completely out of control, but that bubble should soon burst.

However, other elements of our cost of living are only going to become even more painful.  Health care costs rise much faster than the rate of inflation every year, food prices are becoming incredibly ridiculous, and the cost of a college education is off the charts.  According to author Alissa Quart, living a middle class life is “30% more expensive” than it was two decades ago…

“Middle-class life is now 30% more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” Quart writes, citing the costs of housing, education, health care and child care in particular. “In some cases the cost of daily life over the last 20 years has doubled.”

And thanks to the trade war, prices are going to start going up more rapidly than we have seen in a very long time.

On Tuesday, we learned that diaper and toilet paper prices are rising again

Procter & Gamble said on Tuesday that it was in the process of raising Pampers’ prices in North America by 4%. P&G also began notifying retailers this week that it would increase the average prices of Bounty, Charmin, and Puffs by 5%.

P&G is raising prices because commodity and transportation cost pressures are intensifying. The hikes to Bounty and Charmin will go into effect in late October, and Puffs will become more expensive beginning early next year.

I wish that I had better news for you, but I don’t.  We are all going to have to work harder, smarter and more efficiently.  And we are definitely going to have to tighten our belts.

Many middle class families are relying on debt to get them from month to month, and consumer debt in the United States has surged to an all-time high.  But eventually a day of reckoning comes, and we all understand that.

The U.S. economy is not going to be getting any better than it is right now.  So it is time to be a lean, mean saving machine, because it will be important to have a financial cushion for the hard times that are ahead of us.

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Here’s What We’ve Lost In The Last Decade

hored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

The confidence and hubris of those directing the rest of us to race off the cliff while they watch from a safe distance is off the charts.

The past decade of “recovery” and “growth” has actually been a decade of catastrophic losses for our society and nation. Here’s a short list of what we’ve lost:

1. Functioning markets. Free markets discover price and assess risk. What passes for markets now are little more than signaling devices to convince us the economy is doing spectacularly well. It is doing spectacularly well, but only for the top .1% of 1% and the class of managerial/technocrat flunkies and apologists who serve the interests of the top .1%.

2. Genuine Virtue. Parading around a slogan or online accusation, “liking” others in whatever echo-chamber tribe the virtue-signaler is seeking validation in, and other cost-free gestures–now signals virtue. Genuine virtue–sacrificing the support of one’s tribe for principles that require skin in the game–has disappeared from the public sphere and the culture.

3. Civility. As Scientific American reported in its February issue (The Tribalism of Truth), the incentive structure of largely digital “tribes” rewards the most virulent, the most outrageous, the least reasonable and the most vindictive of the tribe with “likes” while offering little to no encouragement of restraint, caution, learning rather than shouting, etc.

The cost of gaining tribal encouragement is essentially zero, while the risk of ostracism from the tribe is high. In a society with so few positive social structures, the self-referentially toxic digital tribe may be the primary social structure for atomized “consumers” in a dysfunctional system dominated by a rigged “market” and a central state that no longer needs the consent of the governed.

Common ground, civility, the willingness to listen and learn–all lost.

4. Trust. Few find reason to trust corporations, the corporate media, the tech monopolies or the government. This distrust is reasonable, given these institutions have squandered the public trust to protect the swag being skimmed by insiders and elites.

Rather than earn our trust with true transparency and accurate reporting of data, these institutions spew a false form of transparency that’s doubly opaque, as it’s rigged to mask the skims of the insiders. Transparency: lost. Accountability: lost.

Do you really trust Facebook, Google, and the agencies that are supposed to provide oversight of these monopolies? If you said, “yes,” you’re joking, right?

Starting your own business was once a ladder of social mobility, but the layers of bureaucratic costs and compliance are now so heavy that few have the resources or appetite for risk to start a business.

The only business model that’s worth trying now is to start a digital company that can be sold for a couple of million dollars to a tech monopoly (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc.) within a matter of months, two years max. By that time, some corporate behemoth will have purchased a competitor and eaten your lunch.

6. Federal law enforcement and national security agencies that were above partisan politics. Now these agencies and their leadership are nothing but political agendas hiding behind a long-extinct reputation for apolitical professionalism. The political impact now guides what’s made public, and how that “information” is gamed, spun or fabricated to drive a political agenda.

7. A democratizing Internet. A handful of corporate cartels and quasi-monopolies now control what we see in web searches, news feeds, our “friends” postings, and what’s available on user-generated content networks such as YouTube. Under the banner of “fake news” and “hate speech,” mass surveillance and censorship are now the status quo.

8. National purpose. Arguably lost long ago, but the loss has become painfully apparent in the past decade. Does anyone still think the Empire is spreading freedom and liberty? Everyone can see that what we’re spreading is destruction and disorder.

The society and culture have degraded to an abject worship of greed and private gain. The “national purpose” is to maximize one’s personal gain by whatever means are available, including fraud, racketeering, embezzlement, lying, cover-ups, punishing whistleblowers, gaming the system to maximize overtime, etc.

The rationalization is always the same: everyone else is doing it.

Here’s a shorthand way to summarize America’s “purpose” now: a medication that costs $8 per vial in Europe costs $38,892 in the U.S.

9. Perspectives on entitlement. Everyone’s entitled to everything now–to sex, a secure income, the “right” to abuse/accuse online without restraint or blowback, the “right” to demand everyone treat you in whatever way you reckon is your “right,” and so on in an infinite expansion of entitlements that require no sacrifice, virtue or even civility of the entitled.

10. Humility. How often do you find someone who publicly expresses caution about their own righteousness, or presents a healthy hesitation about the rightness of their positions, i.e. that they might be wrong? How many are publicly skeptical of their own views and not just of everyone else’s views? How many admit to having a poor understanding of complex issues?

The confidence and hubris of those directing the rest of us to race off the cliff while they watch from a safe distance is off the charts.

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Relax, Boomers: Socialism Is Good Now It’s going to be OK.

uly 29, 2018

Ji Sub Jeong/HuffPost

It’s a shame that Merwin K. Hart’s life has drifted into obscurity, because in his prime he was a real dazzler, one of the brightest stars from the Golden Age of American Paranoia.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hart ran an organization called The National Economic Council. Neither a government agency nor a laboratory for research, the NEC served as a propaganda funnel for the anxieties of the postwar corporate elite. Men of fortune, like the du Ponts (chemical magnates) and the Pews (of Charitable Trust fanfare) would turn over large sums of money to Hart, who would in turn blast out warnings about the “three million” immigrants who had entered the country “illegally” at the close of World War II, causing a “housing shortage.” Or the “deceit” of international Jewry. Or the hidden subversive content in certain college textbooks.

Hart’s favorite freakout was socialism, and how terrifyingly close the United States was to a socialist dystopia. “Our country grew great through freedom,” he warned hundreds of university trustees in 1948. “Do we want the United States to drift into a Socialism like that of Britain ― which many of us feel is only a transitory stop on the road to State Absolutism such as that of Russia?” Once upon a time, England and the Soviet Union were considered comparable evils on the American right.

The Baby Boomers are the worst American generation since Reconstruction, but they had many reasons to turn out this way. The Boomers were raised in a political culture dominated by madmen, their minds warped at an early age. For decades, Boomers saw the term “socialism” deployed not to denote a set of economic policies, but to conjure a vague, foreign horror. Accustomed to this nomenclature, Boomers have reacted with fright or at least confusion to the terminology of today’s American left, which has embraced the “socialist” label more widely than any domestic political movement in living memory. But the Boomers need to relax. Socialism is good now.

Socialism is not a static, concrete ideology. It is a word whose meaning has long been rendered flexible by decades of political bombardment. It was even hard to pin down Karl Marx on a practical definition. For libertarian economist Milton Friedman, progressive taxation was synonymous with socialism. For Hart, socialism was the British National Health Service. The late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), saw socialism and racial integration as inseparable, and denounced the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a celebration of “communism, socialism and sex perversion.”

You get the idea: much of what conservatives decried as “socialist” in the 20th century today enjoys broad support among liberals, leftists and even many conservatives.

This is because conservative thinkers of the time chiefly used the word “socialism” not to prosecute the Cold War, but to attack the Democratic Party. Something Democrats said was good was actually very bad, because it was socialist ― and “socialist” was the second “S” in U.S.S.R., after all. This simple rhetorical trick diverted arguments about popular ideas into a referendum on gulags, thought police and nuclear annihilation.

But socialism lost its sting at the end of the Cold War. In 2009, when Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) told a reporter he had a secret list of 17 “socialists” then working in Congress, the Beltway press and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded not with McCarthy-era outrage but gentle amusement. When Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called same-sex marriage a socialist plot that same year, he couldn’t even convince conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Millennials are the first generation to come of age without all of this Cold War brain baggage. They also entered adulthood around the 2008 financial crisis, a period in which the word “capitalism” was having a rough go: double-digit unemployment, mass foreclosures, unaffordable rent, crushing student debt, deepening economic inequality, bailed-out bankers swallowing six-figure bonuses, tech billionaires who literally can’t figure out how to give away their money.

Plenty of reformers have insisted that these signs of social breakdown were offenses against capitalism rather than products of capitalism. But they are losing the semantic battle. Polling in recent years has consistently shown a majority of millennials are enthusiastic about “socialism,” often preferring it to “capitalism.” For millennials, “capitalism” means “unaccountable rich people ripping off the world,” while “socialism” simply means “not that.”

Indeed, when the newest star on the left, soon-to-be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York discusses her vision for “democratic socialism,” her agenda sounds a lot like old-school New Deal liberalism, or basic, functional, small-d democracy.

“In a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live,” Ocasio-Cortez told NBC’s Chuck Todd earlier this month. “Every working-class American in this country should have access to dignified health care, should actually be able to see a doctor without going broke. It means you should be able to send your kids to college and trade school if they so choose, and no person should feel precarious or unstable in their access to housing.”

No gulags, just dignity. Boomers of the world, calm down. You have nothing to lose but some words.

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Will Our Lack of Humanity Be the END of Humanity?

Posted by Daisy Luther
Date: June 24, 2018
in: Sleuth Journal, Society, US News

Will Our Lack of Humanity Be the END of Humanity? | humanity | Sleuth Journal Society US News

Sometimes I fear for humanity.

Not because I think an asteroid is going to wipe us all out or that Skynet is actually coming to fruition (it is!) or that aliens are going to take over the planet or that a pandemic will kill 99% of us.

But because of the utter lack of ethics, humanity, and compassion that I see every single day. Maybe the end of humanity is just that – we will regress to some animal mentality without that part of the brain that causes us to care for others and will exist only to satiate our need for food, water, and reproduction.

And if that sounds extreme, you haven’t been spending much time on the internet lately.

It seems that I can publish the most heart-wrenching thing and if it doesn’t fall in line with somebody’s political opinion, they can turn it around and say something that makes me doubt they even have a soul.

Or an atrocity is committed and if it’s done by a particular group’s political icon, it’s perfectly okay. It’s justifiable and they’ll provide all sorts of reasons why it isn’t really an atrocity.

But if that same atrocity is committed by “the other side” then suddenly it’s on the cover of Time Magazine.

I’ve received emails asking me how I manage to keep my sense of optimism when I research and write about terrible things every day of the week. Well, here’s the answer. It isn’t those terrible events that get to me.

It’s people’s responses to those events that sometimes shock me to my core.

Generally speaking, the commentary here on my blog isn’t excessively harsh. That’s just not the community we’ve created here, thankfully. You, my dear friends, are wonderful people with big hearts and you make everything I do worthwhile.

And if you aren’t one of those folks with big hearts, you are probably going to sincerely dislike my little rant of the day. There will likely be a surge in unsubscribes from people who think I’ve got a lot of nerve and I’m okay with that because this needs to be said:


Sometimes when my work gets republished on other websites, the comments are a brutal, shocking glimpse at how some people think. People on social media LOVE to drop a nasty one-liner that provides me with solid evidence of what makes them tick. And what’s worse, those people are often busy staking their claim on the moral high ground.

Let me be clear. It’s obvious that I have no problem being controversial. I LOVE controversial things. But can’t we be controversial and still have our ethics and humanity?

Here are some examples.

It never fails when I write about California, a bunch of yahoos pop up and say, “Oh well, it’s California, I hope they all die.” I lived in that beautiful state for 5 years and loved the friends that I made there. Not everyone is an ultra-liberal from LA but the self-reliant libertarian types are greatly outnumbered. And for goodness sakes, not even the people with whom you most stringently disagree deserve to be burned alive in a wildfire or buried in a mudslide. But still, there are folks who chuckle and make a big joke about it. (This is a topic I wrote about previously.)

Or when I write about the misfortunes of someone who has found themselves suffering due to a socialist government in their nation, there are always people who gloat, “I don’t feel one bit sorry for that starving family. They got what they voted for.”

First of all, I’ve never in my life heard of a unanimous election anywhere. To suggest every person suffering under the rule of a bad leader voted for that leader is an assumption so broad as to be idiotic.  Secondly, does anyone ever actually “deserve” to watch their children die of starvation? ANYONE?  I’m not saying you must immediately dig out your wallet and send aid, but would it kill you to have a moment of empathy?

Or when I write about a woman who is a single parent (like me), there never fails to be a chorus of happily married women or smug men who criticize those single moms. They say that we shouldn’t have had children, we should have chosen better spouses, we need to find new husbands, or assume all our children have different fathers. They don’t consider that the children’s fathers may have died (like mine) or that things may have changed at some point in the marriage or that there are dozens of ways for a woman (or man) to have become a single parent and that none of those ways reflects on what that person or those children “deserve.” (This article I wrote about single parent preppers has some of the lovely comments I’m referring to on it.)

When a natural disaster strikes any area, there are always some people who roll their eyes and say, “Well, don’t live near the ocean if you don’t want to die in a tsunami/hurricane/shark attack.” Or they say, “I hope it was nice living there until the wildfire came and destroyed your home. If you live where there are wildfires, don’t complain when you get burned out.” Or, “That’s what you get when you live in a low-lying area. Insurance shouldn’t have to replace your home that was destroyed by a flood.” And on and on, never considering perhaps the person grew up in that area, has elderly family members who don’t wish to leave, or has a job that keeps them there in an economy in which good jobs are increasingly hard to find.

I was absolutely sickened when I read comments on other websites about Jose’s recent article about the mom with diabetes. They ran the gamut from criticizing her for feeding her diabetic son grains (it isn’t like she can just pop over to Whole Foods) to criticizing her for engaging in her pre-collapse profession to suggesting she never run an air conditioner to admonishing her to eat the family pet to proposing she engage in prostitution for some extra money.

I could go on and on about the things that I see here in Internetland but it really all just leads to one question.

What in the hell is wrong with people?

How did we get to this place of ugliness?

Is it just the internet that allows anyone to anonymously air their hateful points of view? Or is it that our society has devolved into something hideous and dark?  We can’t blame this on religion or lack thereof because many of the worst culprits in the examples I listed above consider themselves pious individuals who attend church regularly.

I believe that we have reached this point because we’ve been set up to hate one another. No longer do people just exchange pleasantries with the neighbors. And certainly not if that neighbor had a sign in their yard during the last election that makes you roll your eyes. The fires of moral outrage are stoked every single day on network news and on social media and on websites. And yet the responses are anything but moral.

How is it that at the same time we’ve reached peak absurdity with regard to political correctness we’ve also lost our sense of humanity? How is it that we see people who think differently as “the enemy” and that so many people revel in the misfortunes of others?

Some rules of engagement

Here are some new rules of engagement on social media to consider.

  • You cannot claim moral superiority if you are “glad” when bad things happen to another human being.
  • You are not “the better person” when you are amused by subjugation, starvation, or the horrific death of another human being.
  • If you catch yourself starting a comment with, “Anyone who does X deserves Y” – just stop. Delete it.
  • If you can’t say something kind or helpful, perhaps saying nothing at all is the better choice.
  • While it’s fine to learn from another person’s misfortune and consider it a cautionary tale, it isn’t fine to degrade them for it.
  • People born in other countries are actually also human beings. Even if their country has a different form of government. Even if they are of a different religion. Even if they don’t speak your language.
  • People who are hungry don’t “deserve” it.
  • If an action is wrong, it is wrong whether a Democrat leader does it or a Republican leader does it. Wrong is wrong and you need to stop justifying it just because a party you like is in office or denouncing it only when the party you dislike is in office.

It’s quite simple. Ethics are standard and are not relative based on the political party performing the action.

If you can’t be a decent human being who cares about other human beings, you should realize that YOU are part of this crumbling society you like to complain about.

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Trickle Down Trumpsters and the Debasement of Language

By Timothy Egan

Contributing Opinion Writer

June 22, 2018

On Father’s Day last week, the highest-paid employee of Washington State University tweeted out a video of a 2014 speech by Barack Obama that was altered to make him sound like a one-world-government tyrant.

When called on the fraud, Mike Leach, the head football coach and $3.5 million a year representative of the same school that gave us the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, said, “Prove it.”

It was easily proven as doctored. But instead of apologizing, and owning up to his dissemination of a fake conspiracy video, he then wrote, “What is a fact?” Of all the things President Trump has done to destroy civil norms, his debasement of language is the most chilling and poisonous. For it has now reached down to every level, allowing people who are supposed to be societal pillars, or even role models, to act as if reality has no foundation.

Trump’s frightful legacy is not just the epidemic of everyday incivility in daily life. Nor is it his practice of using dehumanizing language to justify cruelty. The worst of the trickle-down Trump effects is the way he’s opened the door for other public figures to get away with making things up. When a president is applauded for lying, why should a head football coach, or a cabinet secretary, feel any shame for doing the same thing?

To authoritarians, language is a weapon, usually deployed in the service of an emotional half-truth: something you believe to be true even if it isn’t. Truth has to become meaningless — “What is a fact?” — in order for this strategy to work and morality to become a shapeless thing.

We saw it when Vice President Mike Pence called the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio a champion of “the rule of law.” Arpaio is a convicted criminal later pardoned by Trump. You can say he’s a hero to the political right, or a fighter, but by no standard is a sheriff who was repeatedly called out for violating the law a champion of the rule of law.

And we saw it in graphic detail over the last week with the Trump administration policy of ripping migrant children from their parents. The cages holding weeping kids are “essentially summer camps,” in the words of the Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

Worse, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration’s zero tolerance policy that led to 2,300 children being taken from their parents doesn’t exist — “period.” A day after saying this, she defended the policy that doesn’t exist. And on Wednesday, Trump signed an order trying to resolve a crisis that he created, after saying earlier he couldn’t stop it because it was the fault of others, even if it did exist.

After a while, people come to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true,” wrote Hannah Arendt, the German-born philosopher, in describing how truth lost its way in her native land.

Everyone laughed when the North Korean news agency reported that the late Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, scored five holes-in-one while playing a round of golf. But how is this any different from Trump saying this week that crime is “way up” in Germany when it just recorded the lowest year for crime in nearly three decades? Who is left to call him on this? The press, which he’s labeled the “enemy of the American people”?

In North Korea, the masses are forced to believe the lies, something Trump clearly envies. “He speaks and his people sit up in attention,” he said of Kim Jong-un. “I want my people to do the same.”

The constant repetition of the lie is the way to make truth meaningless. You say a falsehood over and over and it takes on the shape of reality. This is the case for many of the 3,200 lies or misleading claims that Trump has uttered since taking office.

My larger concern today is this: How is a fact-based democracy supposed to function when the Trump toxins have gotten deep into the national bloodstream?

When Mike Leach was caught in his video lie, his university did not set the record straight. Washington State issued a meaningless statement backing its coach’s right to his “personal opinions.” And Leach himself said the actual words spoken by Obama are “irrelevant anyway” because “we are discussing ideas.” All of this from an institution of higher learning.

And where did Coach Leach get this mush, an excuse that would be laughed off the field if one of his players tried it with him?

From the top. Remember when Trump retweeted a video purporting to show a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches? After authorities in the Netherlands said the assailant was neither migrant nor Muslim, the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the truth didn’t matter.

“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real,” she said. In other words, “What is a fact?”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

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The Bikini Contest Is Over, but We Are Living Inside the Beauty Pageant

By Bari Weiss
Ms. Weiss is a staff editor and writer for the Opinion section.
June 5, 2018

Miss America contestants in 2017.CreditTom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

On Tuesday morning came the news that the oldest beauty pageant in America is no longer a beauty pageant.

Nearly 100 years after the first Miss America contest took place in Atlantic City — back then, the ladies wore one-pieces closer to burkinis than bikinis — the organization has said so long to the bathing suit competition. “We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” said Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization.

Ms. Carlson is the perfect person to lead Miss America through this transformation. She won the crown herself in 1988 and went on to a career at Fox News, where she laid the groundwork for the #MeToo movement, blowing the whistle on Roger Ailes long before there were headlines about Harvey Weinstein.

Miss America 2.0, as the event has been branded, will be “a competition” — not a pageant, Ms. Carlson said on “Good Morning America.”

“We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country, with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues,” she added.

Only the likes of Piers Morgan would be opposed to a Miss America contest that promises to be more “empowering” and “inclusive.” But saying that women won’t be judged for the way they look is a bit like a Miss Oklahoma or Miss Oregon saying she wishes for world peace.

Getting rid of the bikini contest won’t stop judges — and the rest of the world — from critiquing contestants’ outer beauty. As all women know, that happens even if we are shuffling down the block in old sweats.

The real reason the bikini contest was done away with is that it’s simply too explicit for our euphemistic era, where “strong” is the code word for skinny, and “healthy” for beautiful. Our culture hasn’t stopped objectifying women. We — men and women both — are just getting better at pretending it’s not happening. Ours is the age of Pilates and athleisure, of detoxifying and “wellness,” of organic and biodynamic, of game-ifying weight loss by calling calories points.

Standing up on a stage in stilettos and tiny squares of nylon held up by string is just too gauche for 2018.

Of course, President Trump is the crude outlier here, as he is for so many civilized norms. But far too often when I hear a man describe a woman as “super fit,” my brain substitutes some variation of Mr. Trump’s locker-room talk.

The game is now all about discretion — of insisting you aren’t working hard while you are absolutely gritting your teeth, of telling your date that you just don’t like bread. While men pretend not to judge women for the way they look, we go to great lengths to pretend we don’t care, either.

Contestants in the first Miss America pageant in 1921 lining up in their swimsuits.CreditAssociated Press

And so we blend leaves together and call it “delicious” and “juice” instead of a mealy sludge.

We wear stilts to hike around concrete jungles and lie about how they are anything other than medieval torture devices.

We get the tiny horns on the tips of our fingers and toes painted in shades so subtle that heterosexual men don’t even realize we got them painted at all.

We shell out hundreds of dollars for magic elixirs and oils the size of Theranos Nanotainers that don’t even promise youth but boast that they are “clean.”

We lie under fluorescent lights and hold our thighs open for strips of burning hot wax while we chat about the new season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

We read about the beauty routines and morning routines and nighttime routines and midday routines of women infinitely more wealthy than we are and then study their social media accounts to see how we might approximate their lives.

We spend hundreds of dollars on makeup that makes it look as if we aren’t wearing any makeup at all.

We muss our hair and pout our lips and Google “best angles” and hold our cameras ever so slightly above our faces.

We practice for future careers in STEM: If I burn 450 calories at Soul Cycle I can totally get away with a little sushi at lunch. Or maybe better go for the sashimi and hold out for a second glass of rosé at dinner?

We give ourselves shots in the stomach that make us want to murder everyone at the office so that one day we can become the boss of that office and have a kid alone at 50 with our frozen eggs.

In the meantime, we brutally assess the facial symmetry of potential mates on dating apps without enough vowels and post pictures of ourselves that our friends have approved via group chat.

We are so much more than this. But we can’t help but get distracted by the whole charade. And we are the women who have the luxury of even thinking about having it all! This is what having it all looks like.

I won’t miss the bikini contest a lick. I haven’t watched Miss America since I was in middle school, and I was incredulous even then. The thought of growing up to be like the women on the screen never crossed my mind. It’s not because I wasn’t ambitious: It’s that I looked at them and felt confident I was a different species. I’m sure the bikinis had something to do with it.

But there was also something strangely honest about it. We are being watched and scrutinized and judged. We are watching and scrutinizing and judging. It is, as Ms. Carlson said, a competition.

Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) is a staff editor and writer for the Opinion section.

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Donald Trump’s Magical Fantasy World

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist



President Trump at a rally in Indiana this month.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Americans have always had a tremendous capacity for fantasy. Jay Gatsby is a classic American hero because he constructed a fantasy version of himself and then attempted to live it. John Wayne constructed a fantasy version of the American West, which a lot of people still try to imitate.

As Kurt Andersen writes in his book “Fantasyland,” for roughly three centuries America’s fantasist and realist impulses existed in rough balance. But now fantasy seems to be sweeping the field.

I’d say the crucial pivot was in the early 1960s. Hugh Hefner created a fantasy version of masculinity. Ken Kesey created a fantasy image of an acid-dripping New Age.

The two great writers who died this month tracked the explosion of fantastical thinking. In 1961 Philip Roth wrote an essay for Commentary called “Writing American Fiction,” in which he endorsed Benjamin DeMott’s observation that America was then experiencing a “universal descent into unreality.” Roth would go on to make the most of it. “Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life,” he told The Paris Review.

Tom Wolfe blasted the American berserk into the stratosphere. He tagged along with the Pump House Gang. He chronicled the ESP believers and the Upper East Side aristocrats who imagined they were radical Black Panthers.

Recently we’ve let the fantasy dog out for a romp. “Donald Trump is a pure fantasyland being, its apotheosis,” Andersen writes. Trump is celebrity subsuming governance. Every day he produces great geysers of fantasy — some of which rip the cultural fabric (Mexican rapists), some of which merely tug it (“Obama had my ‘wires tapped’”).

Trump’s fantasies regularly collide with reality, and so far reality has a perfect winning percentage. That’s what happened with North Korea on Thursday. I sympathized with Trump’s efforts to give North Korea an opportunity to change, but his bluster, flattery and commemorative coins amounted to nothing more than pseudo-policy — a verbal meringue buttressed by no analytic substance, no institutional leverage, no real power force.

The dangerous thing about Trump’s fantasy world is not when it dissolves into nothing; it’s when he seduces the rest of us to move into it. It’s not when he ignores the facts; it’s when he replaces them by building an alternate virtual reality and suckering us into co-creating it.

That’s what he’s done with the Mueller investigation. My instinct is that the Trump campaign never really colluded with the Russians because there never was an actual Trump campaign — at least not in any organized sense of that word. It was a bunch of relatives and hangers-on having random meetings with some vague hope of personal and professional enrichment.

But whatever you think of the underlying crime, it’s clear that Trump has flipped the Mueller investigation into the central “me versus the swamp” soap opera of his presidency. There are a bunch of familiar characters in the cast: the “witch hunters,” Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, the media. Trump’s tweets drive the daily plot twists. And sure enough, the American people are addicted. If you want cable ratings or page views, you have to cover it, play your role and pump up the hype.

The first problem is you can’t beat Trump at his own fantasy game. As Daniel Boorstin understood back in 1962, you can’t refute an image with a fact. Every pseudo-event “becomes all the more interesting with our every effort to debunk it.” Trump gets to monopolize attention ever more comprehensively and deepen his credibility as anti-establishment hero.

The second problem is that when you agree to operate within his fantasy, even if you are motivated by the attraction of repulsion, you’ve given the man your brain. Sometimes my Trump-bashing friends and I seem like puppets on his string.

There was a fascinating essay in Literary Hub by the book agent Erik Hane. Hane reads through the slush piles of new novel submissions. These days they are often about Trump. The novelists, he writes, have lost control of their own consciousness: “These authors are not writing the political moment so much as the moment is writing them.”

Hane, who writes at the top of his voice, continues, “It is one of fascism’s goals to monopolize our attention. It would like to shrink our imagination. … Fascism welcomes our attempts to play logical ‘gotcha’ with its inconsistencies because it knows we will lose — not because we won’t find a fallacy but because the fallacy won’t matter.”

Hane says he misses novels that are about someone else’s actual lived experience. I miss people thinking about the world outside the gravity field of Trumpian unreality, and about the world after Trump — the world we should be building.

We’re in the middle of some vast historical transition, and it’s very hard to know what to believe in. The more time we spend on the Trumpian soap opera, the less likely we are to know where we are or what we should do.

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