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This Is Real

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I felt like I needed to stipulate right in the headline that this is not "fake news," because, well, it may be difficult to believe that this is where we are.

Following Betsy DeVos' confirmation as Secretary of Education, Republican Representative from Kentucky Thomas Massie introduced legislation to abolish the federal Department of Education.

Really.

The legislation, H.R. 899, is one sentence long: "The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

Really.

It already has at least seven co-sponsors: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).

Really.

In a press release, which you can read in its entirety at Massie's House website, Massie says: "Neither Congress nor the President, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn."

Really.

And: "Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children's intellectual and moral development."

Really.

And: "It is time that we get the feds out of the classroom, and terminate the Department of Education."

Really.

You might imagine that Massie's legislation is some sort of critical commentary on the selection of DeVos, but that would be wrong. Because DeVos almost certainly shares his opinion about the department she was just confirmed to run.

After all, as I have been observing since the day Trump selected her, DeVos' only qualification is her willingness to destroy the Department of Education.

She was chosen specifically to be the perfect partner for Trump, who has said he wants to break up the "government-run education monopoly," and for Pence, who has been destroying public education in Indiana for quite some time, and for Bannon, whose exploitation of ignorance is significantly aided by subverting public education.

The GOP has spent decades shouting at poor and/or marginalized people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and now they want to take away their best opportunity to access a pair of boots.
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Fidtz
229 days ago
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superiphi
226 days ago
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There's a serious difficulty trying to make a country work without national standards. Especially education, which relies on the assumption that people can move from one state to another....
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
kazriko
226 days ago
National standards can be agreed upon between the states without having a free-standing bureaucracy to trump the local initiatives. The Common Core initiative actually began as a state-run cooperative (And was actually popular... Until the DoE tried to force it.) We had minimal federal oversight of education as part of one of the other bureaucracies for decades before the Department of Education was formed in the late 70's.
wreichard
229 days ago
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"It already has at least seven co-sponsors."

Trying to do this really ought to be considered as bad as actually doing it.
Earth

Team Chat

8 Comments and 28 Shares
2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.
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Fidtz
263 days ago
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2051, solid 1960's style future prediction there!
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stsquad
258 days ago
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Truth
Cambridge, UK
hooges
262 days ago
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IRC, never die!
Topeka, KS
encolpe
263 days ago
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Si true
Lyon, France
emdeesee
263 days ago
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OK, fine. When the galactic singularity becomes an option, I'll consider switching from IRC.
Lincoln, NE
beowuff
263 days ago
Don't worry. It'll still run irc as it's back end, so you can still connect.
Covarr
263 days ago
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What if I'm only still on IRC because the rest of my groups are?
Moses Lake, WA
alt_text_bot
263 days ago
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2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.

The Future of Democratic Values

1 Comment

Hey, did you know we are having an election here in the United States? I think I saw it mentioned on TV. Whatever your preferences may be, everyone eligible should try to get out and vote.

This election has, without a doubt, been somewhat unique. I’m cautiously optimistic that Hillary Clinton will win, that we will celebrate the election of the first female President in the history of the republic, and that she will do a relatively good job — although as a good Bayesian I know that empirical predictions are never certain, and in an atmosphere like this uncertainty runs relatively high.

Even if Clinton wins and the U.S. avoids complete embarrassment, I’m still very worried about what this election has revealed about the state of the country. No matter who our next President might be, there are real reasons to be concerned that the U.S. is veering away from some of the foundational principles that are necessary to a functioning democracy. That may sound alarmist, but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. Historically, democracies don’t always last forever; we’d be foolish to think that it can’t happen here.

This isn’t a worry about the specific horrible wrongness of Donald Trump — it’s a worry about the forces that propelled him to the nomination of one of our two major political parties, and the fires he so willingly stoked along the way. Just as a quick and hopelessly incomplete recap:

  • Trump built his early political notoriety via “birtherism,” explicitly working to undermine the legitimacy of our elected President.
  • He has continually vilified immigrants and foreigners generally, promoting an us-against-them mentality between people of different races and ethnicities.
  • He has pledged to violate the Constitutional principle of freedom of religion, from banning Muslims from entering the country to tracking ones that are here.
  • His campaign, and the Republican party more generally, has openly engaged in suppressing the vote from groups unlikely to support him. (“‘We have three major voter suppression operations underway,’ says a senior [Trump] official.”)
  • He has glorified violence against protesters who disagree with him.
  • He has lied at an unprecedented, astonishing rate, secure in the knowledge that his statements will be taken as true by a large fraction of his intended audience.
  • He has presented himself as a uniquely powerful strongman who can solve problems through his personal force of will, and spoke admiringly of dictators from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un to Saddam Hussein.
  • He has vowed that if he wins the election, he will seek vengeance on those who opposed him, including throwing his opponent into prison.
  • He has repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election outcome, implying that he would refuse to accept the result if he lost.
  • He has pointed fingers at a shadowy global conspiracy in charge of world finance, often with explicitly anti-Semitic overtones.
  • Several Republican politicians have broached the prospect of refusing to confirm any Supreme Court nominees from a Democratic President.
  • A government agency, the FBI, has interfered in a Presidential election.
  • Republicans have accused Democratic officeholders of being traitors.
  • A number of Trump supporters have spoken of the prospect of violent resistance if Clinton is elected.

This is not a list of “why Donald Trump is a bad person who is disastrously unqualified for the Presidency”; that would be much longer. Rather, I wanted to highlight features of the campaign that are specifically attacks on (small-“d”) democratic norms and values. The assumptions, often unspoken, by which legitimate political opponents have generally agreed to operate by over the course of the last two centuries and more. Not all of them, of course; there are glaring exceptions, authoritarians who have run roughshod over one or more of these norms in the name of personal glory. History generally looks down upon them, and we consider ourselves fortunate that they didn’t have greater success. But fortune can run out.

The most worrisome aspect of the situation is the very real prospect that these attacks on the foundations of liberal democracy will not simply disappear once Donald Trump rides off into the gold-plated sunset; that they will be seized upon and deployed by other politicians who couldn’t help but notice Trump’s success. If that’s the case, we will have a real reason to be concerned that American democracy will stop working, perhaps sooner rather than later. I don’t think it’s likely that such a disastrous scenario would come to pass, but one has to balance the small likelihood against the devastating consequences — and right now the probability seems closer to 0.05 than to 10-5.

Democracy is a curious and fragile thing. It’s not just “majority rules”; crucial to the project are the ideas that (1) minority rights are still respected, and (2) in return, losing minorities respect electoral outcomes. It’s the second of these that is under siege at the moment. Since the time of the Federalist Papers, it’s been understood that democracy is an attempt to provide common self-rule for people who don’t agree on everything, but who at least share the common values of democracy itself. Having strong, even extremely passionate, political disagreements is inevitable in a democratic system. The question is whether we cast those with whom we disagree as enemies, traitors, and cheaters who must be opposed in every measure at every turn; or as partners in a grand project with whom we can fiercely disagree and yet still work with.

I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of how we got to this precarious point, though there are a number of factors that certainly have contributed. Arguments have raged over whether Trump’s support among the less well-off should be attributed to the economic anxieties of a class that sees their way of life eroding, or whether we should point the finger at racist and nativist sentiments that have been so ostentatiously on display at his rallies and on the internet. The answer is surely some combination of both; the economic anxieties are very real, and in many cases that anxiety has been channeled into distrust and outright hatred for people with different skin colors or nationalities. A lot of the blame for that channeling has to lie with the politicians who find “stroking resentment” to be a cheap and effective road to electoral success; it’s an old, familiar strategy.

But there are other causes, which can arguably be traced to specifics of our system of government. A politician whose goal is “attain and preserve political power” might have a very different game-theoretic calculation of how to behave while campaigning and in office than one whose goal is “make the country and the world a better place.” It’s not that hard, from a somewhat Darwinian point of view, to see how the former type might prosper in the struggle for political survival. Suppose you propose a certain system for dealing with health-care costs. But then your political opponent begins advocating an essentially similar system. Do you congratulate them on finally seeing the light, or change your mind about the system because it gives you a convenient issue with which to criticize your opponent?

My personal suspicion — quickly acknowledging that there are people out there who are much more expert than I am on these matters — is that the Trump phenomenon is a logical outgrowth of the Tea Party movement. When Barack Obama came into office in 2009, the economy was in shambles, and the government had to navigate a tricky course of promoting job growth, rescuing the financial system and industry, and not blowing the federal deficit too high. Seeking a weapon with which to oppose the newly-elected Democratic administration, Republican officials seized on simmering resentments about taxation and government interference, and flamed them into a full-scale “movement.” Hard-core Tea Partiers, however, went well beyond boilerplate Republican platform items about cutting taxes, and pushed hard on a politics of resentment, often to extremes. One of the arrows in the movement’s quiver was to mount primary campaigns against Republican officeholders who were deemed insufficiently committed to the cause. This had the effect of shifting the GOP uniformly away from the political center, and placed a very high emphasis on obstructing anything remotely associated with the Democratic party. Many in the Republican establishment didn’t subscribe to Tea Party extremism themselves; they just wanted to fire people up to get their votes. They didn’t imagine that those same people would prevent good establishment soldiers like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio from being nominated, in favor of an anti-establishment buffoon with zero loyalty to the party apparatus. It’s often hard to put the genie back into the bottle.

What they don’t tell you in school is that democracy is really hard. Voting is easy; the difficult part is to accept the outcome and work with your opponents for the common good. To think of those with whom you disagree as honest people with different opinions, rather than corrupt hell-beasts who should be thrown in jail. Our psychology tempts us into less lofty ways of thinking. In The Big Picture I talked about a concept in social psychology called the “Pyramid of Choice.” Two people with almost exactly the same views and preferences face a close decision, and the two of them end up choosing different alternatives. Over time, our brains work to justify these decisions; we forget it was a close call, and convince ourselves that the choice we made was the obviously correct one from the start. By this process, the two people who started out from nearly identical beliefs are driven ever further apart. You can see how this plays out in political contexts. People get nudged toward one side of the spectrum or the other, start thinking about all the reasons why it’s correct, listening to news that confirms their beliefs, and prop up their self-esteem by looking at their opponents as haters and losers. Tribal identity is a hell of a drug.

Democratic values, including most especially the ability to disagree without demonizing, are certainly not dead yet. Here’s an example of such values in action, when Barack Obama chides his own audience for behaving disrespectfully toward a protester:

Nor are such values confined to the Democratic side of our two-party system. Everyone remembers John McCain, politely disagreeing with his own supporters who wanted to paint Obama as a frightening foreigner:

We can disagree with each other and still work together. It’s happened, with some bumps in the road, for more than two centuries now. But it’s far from certain that we will continue to succeed.

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Fidtz
322 days ago
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Good point to focus on
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I'm With Her

6 Comments and 20 Shares
We can do this.
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Fidtz
322 days ago
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MaryEllenCG
322 days ago
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I unabashedly love this. I love it. Thank you, Randall.
Greater Bostonia
satadru
322 days ago
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Hell^Yeah.
New York, NY
chriscrouch
322 days ago
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Yay
FNUPP
322 days ago
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Do not feed the trolls
Cthulhux
323 days ago
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I didn't know Randall is pro-War. Saddening, actually.
Fledermausland
dukeofwulf
323 days ago
No, it's saddening that both parties put pro-war candidates on the ballot. I'm voting Johnson, but if you insist in propping up the two-party duopoly, then Clinton is the least bad choice.
wreichard
323 days ago
Politics aside, I'm surprised to see him do politics. These are extraordinary times.
stevetursi
323 days ago
It was cool when she said, "I would bomb the shit out of 'em. I would just bomb those suckers. That's right. I'd blow up the pipes. ... I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left."
bluegecko
323 days ago
You surely don't actually believe that Hillary is pro-war and Trump is pro-peace, right? So are you disappointed that he's not supporting Stein or Johnson, or what? (And stevetursi: I have given up on people this election figuring out sarcasm, so for others in this thread, he's quoting Trump.)
dukeofwulf
322 days ago
@wreichard Yes. This is an artist truly putting his money where his mouth is. Even though I disagree with him (and am not a fan of interrupting comedy with a serious political PSA) I still respect his courage in speaking out in a truly extraordinary political cycle.
Cthulhux
322 days ago
As a German, I couldn't care less which of the two fascist idiots will start the next war. I'm stunned about the weird American politics, suggesting that one of those two fascists "must" be the next President. That's all. But yes, if I had the right to vote in the U.S., I'd surely vote for Stein.
stevetursi
322 days ago
That's admirable, and since I'm not a swing state voter I can do something like that. I'm not a fan of Clinton, but my priority right now is to send Trump back to the shit-infested hellhole he came from, and if that means making her president for the next four years, so be it.
NordicNinja
322 days ago
It's not about being pro-War, it's about being anti-Trump. An actual, literal fascist augmented by dangerous libertarian rhetoric.
Cthulhux
322 days ago
Being "anti-Trump" is a bad excuse to vote for the war.
NordicNinja
322 days ago
No, it isn't. It's not an excuse, it's a logical choice. Trump is demonstrably unstable and his election will rally all those who listen to his dog-whistles as being acceptable. There is literally no reason to vote for Trump unless you are a misinformed, (un)willingly bigoted, culturally- and economically-protected white person. And the latter goes for Johnson, as your votes will do nothing but pat your own back at the expense of those who would be killed under a Trump regime.
Cthulhux
322 days ago
At least Trump was not an alleged (?!) part of a certain child sex ring. -- What makes you think President Trump would be responsible for deaths and President Clinton would not?
bluegecko
322 days ago
You are German. If you do not understand the difference between Trump, who is stoking xenophobia and racism as a scapegoat for a working class that feels disenfranchised and is moved to violence, and Hillary, all I can tell you is your knowledge of your own post-WWI history is sadly lacking. (And Trump *is* actually accused of raping a 13-year-old, so you appear to have your child sex stories backwards.)
stevetursi
322 days ago
Point of correction: Trump is not libertarian, and neither is his rhetoric. He's more closely resembles an authoritarian, which is the opposite of libertarian.
NordicNinja
322 days ago
Trump is literally going to pretrial in December for child rape. There is nothing substantial to the Clinton version. Trump is loudly and enthusiastically fanning the violent flames of racism. Disenfranchised Americans will die.
stevetursi
322 days ago
I think at this point it's clear that our German friend is demonstrably ill-informed and would be advised to have him do his homework before continuing to engage.
NordicNinja
322 days ago
@stevetursi Trump's libertarian enough to get Peter Thiel's endorsement. And I was just pondering if he was actually a Troll For Hire.
Cthulhux
322 days ago
Clinton already showed her will to lie in order to justify a war when she was a Minister. Trump never was a Minister. Where and when exactly did Trump suggest to send military anywhere to solve a problem?
Cthulhux
322 days ago
I get it, you're Clinton fans. Because she's a woman or something. Child rape, lies and lust for military intervention are only bad when you're Trump. Yes, I fail to see the logic here - and that's not because I'm German.
stevetursi
322 days ago
Nordic: Having Thiel's backing does not a libertarian make. Cthu: Again, suggest you do your homework. Answers to all your questions are easy to find.
NordicNinja
322 days ago
Steve: My point is that he has overlap. :)
stevetursi
322 days ago
I wouldn't dispute that. It's called nuance. Everybody has a little nuance. (:
joffline
322 days ago
And here goes my trust in the newsblur comment sections.
kyounger
322 days ago
Just came here to say this is all crap. Thanks, Randall, for ruining one of the few last bastions of apolitics.
CarlEdman
322 days ago
This is saddening. I too consider Him to be so contemptible that even Her is the lesser evil. But this is not a place for electioneering.
MaryEllenCG
322 days ago
Yes, how very dare Randall express his opinion in his comic, that he draws, and you read for free. What a monster he is. Allow me to clutch my pearls in shock.
sfrazer
322 days ago
"suggesting that one of those two fascists "must" be the next President. That's all. But yes, if I had the right to vote in the U.S., I'd surely vote for Stein." You'd do well to study the electoral college a bit. The US system pretty much enforces a two-party race for President because any prospective candidate _must_ get more than half the electoral college votes. There are 538 of them, so the winner must get 270. Third parties, when they get enough support to be meaningful, siphon off votes from the party they most closely resemble. Not everyone who votes for Clinton this year will be a "fan" but we recognize the mathematics of the electoral process. One of those two people WILL be president next January. Jill Stein will not. Given that choice, I'm With Her, just like Randall
alt_text_bot
323 days ago
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We can do this.

Full-Width Justification

11 Comments and 20 Shares
Gonna start bugging the Unicode consortium to add snake segment characters that can be combined into an arbitrary-length non-breaking snake.
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Fidtz
510 days ago
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Ragged4ever
emdot
502 days ago
A to the MEN!
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Brentwahn
504 days ago
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Who said they're little things?
Sydney, Australia
hansolosays
509 days ago
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going straight on the cube wall...
Norfolk, Virginia
jimwise
510 days ago
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No, this is clearly a breaking snake.
reconbot
510 days ago
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I hope we get Unicode snakes
New York City
Cthulhux
510 days ago
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I wonder if there is an NPM package for that.
Fledermausland
KTamas
510 days ago
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&nbsnake;
Budapest, Hungary
alt_text_bot
510 days ago
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Gonna start bugging the Unicode consortium to add snake segment characters that can be combined into an arbitrary-length non-breaking snake.
Lythimus
510 days ago
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Someone should write a LaTeX package to randomly insert an xkcd comic to commemorate the few dozen comics he's written about typography.
tdarby
510 days ago
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Hmm--a non-breaking snake part.

Feel like we should be able to repurpose an old HTML entity for this one.
Baltimore, MD
kyounger
510 days ago
marquee?
denubis
510 days ago
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Me. Today.
Sydney, Australia
kazriko
510 days ago
Snaaaakes.

A heavier lifting Android app

5 Comments and 8 Shares

As performance updates go, this month’s upgrade to v4.8.0 of the NewsBlur Android app is a doozy. This one’s specifically made for those users with a heavier load of feeds.

If you have over a hundred feeds, everything will suddenly feel smooth, just like it already does for those with only a few dozen subscriptions. And if you find yourself climbing up to several hundred feeds from only a dozen, you’ll be in good company.

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Fidtz
533 days ago
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Seems a lot more consistent in speed and it was the variation in response that was annoying before, sometimes fast, sometimes jerky.

I have around 150 feeds, with about 60 highly active ones. I don't have the BBC news or other mega updated feeds.

(On Shield K1 and HTC M9)
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ameel
533 days ago
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Yay!
Melbourne, Australia
Technicalleigh
534 days ago
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...a hundred feeds is supposed to be a lot? :-P
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
tuck
534 days ago
Exactly. It's a bit better, but it still chokes on scrolling through the unread items, returning to the beginning and not marking read items as read.
RedSonja
534 days ago
Ugh. That's why I gave up on the Android app in the first place. It was well-nigh unusable.
satadru
534 days ago
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Hello to "The Snappy"...
New York, NY
wreichard
534 days ago
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Yay!
Earth
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