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Donald Trump, the dunce cap on America’s pointy head, has been enabled by traditional media, new media and a besieged American middle class, as he’s attempted to become our first Twitter President. Mostly, though, I think he’s been abetted by the large minority of racist citizens who want someone to blame, especially in the wake of our first African-American President and recent myriad examples of social progress.

Trump is no mastermind. He seems to have gotten into the race impetuously to burnish his idiotic brand–you know, Mussolini as an insult comic. His main asset in this campaign season has been an utter shamelessness, a willingness to stoop as low as he needs to go. Whether that’s a prescription for general-election victory, we’ll soon see.

It’s true that in a more centralized media and political climate, the hideous hotelier would have likely been squeezed from the process by gatekeepers, but the more unfettered new normal only gave him opportunity, not the nomination. I don’t think dumb tweets and smartphones made the troll a realistic contender for king. It was we the people.

In a pair of pieces, Nick Bilton of Vanity Fair and Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC see technology as the main cause for the rise of Trump, if in different ways. Excerpts from each follow.


From Bilton:

I’ve heard people say that if it wasn’t for CNN, FOX, and a dozen other television outlets that have “handed Trump the microphone,” there would be no Trump. But with all due respect to the television media, they’re just not that important anymore. Perhaps his popularity is a result of a broken political system, others suggest. But let’s be realistic, people have always believed the system is broken. (It’s that same broken system, it should be noted, that has helped create many of the disruptive unicorns in Silicon Valley.)

The only thing that’s really changed between Trump’s other attempts to run for office and now is the advent of social media. And Trump, who has spent his life offending people, knows exactly how to bend it to his will. Just look at what happens if someone says something even remotely politically incorrect today: the online immune system, known famously as a Twitter mob, sets in to hold that person accountable. These mobs demand results, like seeing someone fired, making them shamefully apologize, or even seeing their life torn to shreds.

Yet someone like Donald Trump doesn’t get fired, or apologize, which only makes the mobs grow more fervent and voluble. And the louder they get, the more the news media covers the backlash. The more the TV shows talk about him, the more we all talk about him. If you want to truly comprehend why Trump is so popular, you just have to behold what people are saying in 140 characters or less. It’s the same thing Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and anyone else who wants attention, understand. If we’re talking about them, they’re winning the war for attention. No one knows this better than Trump. Prod the social-media tiger, you get attention: say Mexicans are rapists, make fun of the disabled, pick a fight with the Pope, attack women, call the media dumb, and social media shines a big, bright spotlight on Donald.

Arianna Huffington may have once famously decided to cover Trump in the entertainment section of the Huffington Post, but the reality is we now live in a world where there is no line between entertainment, politics, and media. And I know Silicon Valley knows this, because they are the ones that helped eviscerate it.•


From Cellan-Jones:

Over the past year we have seen plenty of warnings about the potential impact of robots and artificial intelligence on jobs.

Now one of the leading prophets of this robot revolution has told the BBC he is already seeing another side-effect of automation – the rise of politicians such as Donald Trump and the Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots won all sorts of awards for its compelling account of a wave of automation sweeping through every area of our lives, posing a serious threat to our economic well-being. But there has also been plenty of pushback from economists who reckon his conclusion is wrong and that, as in previous industrial revolutions, the overall impact on jobs will be positive.

In London to speak at a conference on robots held by the Bank of America, he told me that he didn’t think this latest technology upheaval would be as benign as in the past: “The thing is that this time machines are now in some sense beginning to think. And what that means is we’re seeing machines encroach on the kind of capabilities that set humans apart.”

He sees the robots moving up the value chain, threatening any jobs which involve humans sitting in front of screens dealing with information – the kind of work which we used to think offered security to middle-class people with average skills.•

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Whether we’re talking about baseball umpires or long-haul truckers, I’m not so concerned about machines ruining the “romance” of traditional human endeavor, but I am very worried about technological unemployment destabilizing Labor. Perhaps history will repeat itself and more and better jobs will replace the ones likely to be disappeared in the coming decades, but even just the perfection of driverless cars will create a huge pothole in society. The Gig Economy is a diminishing of the workforce, and even those positions are vulnerable to automation. Maybe things will work themselves out, but it would be far better if we’re prepared for a worst-case scenario.

Excerpts from two articles follow: 1) Mark Karlin’s Truthout interview with Robert McChesney, co-author of People Get Ready, and 2) a Manu Saadia Tech Insider piece, “Robots Could Be a Big Problem for the Third World.”


From Truthout:

Question:

Let me start with the grand question raised by your book written with John Nichols. I think it is safe to say that the conventional thinking of the “wisdom class” for decades has been that the more advanced technology becomes (including robots and automated means of production, service and communication), the more beneficial it will be for humans. What is the basic challenge to that concept at the center of the new book by you and John?

Robert W. McChesney:

The conventional wisdom, embraced and propagated by many economists, has been that while new technologies will disrupt and eliminate many jobs and entire industries, they would also create new industries, which would eventually have as many or more new jobs, and that these jobs would generally be much better than the jobs that had been lost to technology.

And that has been more or less true for much of the history of industrial capitalism. Vastly fewer people were needed to work on farms by the 20th century and many ended up in factories; less are now needed in factories and they end up in offices. The new jobs tended to be better than the old jobs.

But we argue the idea that technology will create a new job to replace the one it has destroyed is no longer operative. Nor is the idea that the new job will be better than the old job, in terms of compensation and benefits. Capitalism is in a period of prolonged and arguably indefinite stagnation.•


From Tech Insider:

The danger lies in the transition to an economy where the cost of making stuff—industry—has become more or less like agriculture today (with very few people employed and a very low share of GDP). With appropriate policies in place, developed countries can probably manage that transition. They have in the past, and therefore it is safe to assume they most likely will in the future. It does not mean that we will not experience dislocations and conflicts, but we do have old and established institutions—government, the press, the public sphere— that allow us to resolve such conflicts over time for the greater benefit of all.

The real challenge will be beyond our comfortable borders, in the developing world. In both nineteenth-century Europe and twentieth-century Asia, national development has followed a similar pattern. People moved from the countryside to urban centers to take advantage of higher-paying jobs in factories and services. Again, South Korea offers a startling, fast-forward example of that: it underwent a complete transformation from a poor, rural country to a postindus trial, hyperurban powerhouse in less than fifty years. It was so rapid that most visible traces of the past have been erased and forgotten. The national museum in Seoul has a life-size reconstruction of a Seoul street in the 1950s, just like we have over here, but for the colonial era. And imagine this, China went down that very same path at an even faster clip. Half a billion impoverished people turned into middle-class consumers in three decades.

However, this may not happen again if manufacturing is reduced to the status of agriculture, a highly rationalized activity (read: employing very few people). The historically proven path to economic growth and prosperity taken by Korea and China might no longer be available to the next countries.•

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When Tyler Cowen wrote his provocative 2013 Time cover story about Texas being the future of America, I pushed back a bit, wondering if the swarm of transplants to the state might change it profoundly, whether Texas as we know it–conservative, small-government, uber-capitalist–was even the future of Texas, let alone the rest of us. 

In a wonderfully written article, Manny Fernandez of the New York Times explores this tension between red and blue and old and new, with lifelong Texans making a fierce stand culturally, attempting to turn their home into something of a “superstate.” The new attitude is a blend of official and unofficial initiatives that began, not coincidentally, after the election of the first African-American President. Despite the pride and ardor, it may be a last stand in this digital, multicultural age.

An excerpt:

The idea that Texas is the last place is part of a new phenomenon. People throughout the state say they believe that their way of life is under assault and that they are making a kind of last stand by simply being Texan. It is this fear, anger and sometimes paranoia that lurks beneath the surface of Texas politics and that underlies the expansion of gun rights, the reflexive antagonism toward Washington, and the opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues that seems essential for succeeding in state politics these days. Senator Ted Cruz’s remarks dismissing New York values at a Republican debate should come as no surprise. That’s how people from the last best place talk about other places.

But Texas is not under attack. It is merely changing as America changes with it. It is a majority-minority state that has become increasingly diverse and nonwhite — rural Texas is shrinking while urban and suburban Texas is expanding — and the tension between what Texas is and what it was has come to define the state.

The hard-right domination of Texas politics frustrates the state’s Democrats and plenty of others in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. They are agitated, but they stay put because they view Texas as forever, and Republican Texas as a kind of temporary occupation. It’s hard to know if they’re right, but easy to see why people’s emotional investment in Texas transcends conservative politics.

As the world grows smaller, as technology obliterates the significance of where we live and work, as Americans become more transient, Texas resists. It declares, to itself and the nation: Place matters. America needs a superstate, or to put it another way, an antistate. Sometimes we love it here and sometimes we are disgusted here, but, to twist Gertrude Stein’s line about Oakland, Calif., there is a here here. We tattoo Texas on our arms, buy Texas-built trucks and climb fire escapes with Texas dirt in our pockets. Place, we are unsubtly suggesting, matters.•

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During the darkest days of the second Bush Administration, the comedian Lewis Black had a great joke about hoping for the first time in his life that there would be a military coup in America. The politicians were so bad that the generals were clearly preferable.

At the center of the Army’s appeal stood David Petraeus, a talented commander who was built to mythical proportions out of political expedience, so that a President who’d lost the faith of the people could still operate abroad militarily. But his surge did not last. Like most heroes of convenience, the general was bound for a fall, but the extent of his defeat and surrender was shocking. Scandals personal and professional ended his brilliant career, even if he managed to avoid prison time.

The former CIA Director, now building equity on Wall Street, sat down for lunch with the Financial Times’ Edward Luce, who’s done some of the best writing on American politics during this crazy election year. The journalist finds a subject who doesn’t seem given to deep self-analysis despite his precipitous fall from grace. The opening:

On the dot of noon, as agreed, General David Petraeus strolls into the Four Seasons Restaurant. His arrival causes a flurry among the floor staff. Dressed in a navy blue suit and plain red tie, the former CIA chief is businesslike — in keeping with his new role on Wall Street. When I inquire what keeps him busy nowadays his answer goes on for so long I half regret asking. In addition to a lucrative job in private equity and a clutch of teaching jobs, he is “on the [paid] speaking circuit.” Chuckling, and in an apparent reference to Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Hillary Clinton’s gilded speaking career, he adds: “Many have noted it is the highest form of white-collar crime.” Only when I touch on the scandal that ended his meteoric public career does he assume a crisper tone.

Just four years ago, Petraeus was lionised as the Douglas MacArthur of his generation. Even discounting the hype, he stood head and shoulders above other US generals. In the depths of the Iraq war, when the country was undergoing death by a thousand improvised explosive devices, he was dubbed “King David” of Mosul — a city he cleared and held before it fell back into rebel hands. He was then appointed chief architect of George W Bush’s 2007 Iraq surge and, after a stint as head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, Barack Obama put him in charge of his own surge in Afghanistan. His reward was to be made head of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011. Many thought the CIA was a springboard for Petraeus’s own presidential ambitions. America loves a successful general and his approval ratings were stratospheric. Could anything stand in his way?

The answer was yes — David Petraeus himself. Shortly after Obama’s re-election in 2012, Petraeus abruptly resigned from the CIA when it emerged he had shared eight notebooks of classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. They had also had an affair. Rarely has a fall from grace been so brutal.•

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The Trump campaign, the moral equivalent of Hitler using the N-word, stopped to take a leak in West Virginia. Some locals eagerly drank from that bowl because the hideous hotelier’s lies sound less polished than the ones they’ve heard before, because the promises he would break are different than other politicians’ broken promises. His words have an unfamiliar and angrier and more accusatory tone, placing the blame elsewhere, allowing the worst of our citizens to feel relieved of their flaws and failings.

This election season has shown us there are a surprising number of damaged, racist Americans who want to hold non-white people accountable for their problems, and the idea that all of them are poor, struggling folks is a falsehood. They come from all manner of background and financial situation and are united in that they look at Trump’s ugliness and see themselves.

Ben Jacobs’ of the Guardian has written an excellent account of rockhead visiting coal country. I will only say that I hope to never have Greg Bonecutter Jr. as my nurse. An excerpt:

The rally at the Charleston Civic Center, a brutalist hunk of concrete, started to fill up hours before Trump arrived and an orderly line outside dissolved into a horde of people desperate to make it into the event.

Greg Bonecutter Jr, a former nurse on disability from Letart, West Virginia, was an avid Trump supporter wearing a Make America Great Again hat and a shirt that proclaimed “Hillary sucks but not like Monica”.

He was a longtime Trump supporter who backed the nominee because he was someone with whom “you knew where you stood” and was sick “of politicians, big money scams and cover-up lies”. A registered independent, he said he thought Obama was “sucking Muslim tail and an apologist to terrorist actions” and “if it was up to me we’d bring back public execution and there’d be several trap doors on the White House lawn.” Bonecutter warned darkly that if Clinton was elected there might be another civil war.

Sandra Riddle of North Charleston shared his pessimism. She was worried about the supreme court and that if Clinton was elected “we might lose freedom of speech and assembly” as well as the second amendment. She wasn’t a gun owner but noted “we have to protect guns … because of people coming from Isis”.

Yet others simply liked Trump for his populist appeal.•

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While robots and AI present grand challenges for society, you wouldn’t want to live in a nation that misses out on this wave. Just look at countries left behind by the Industrial Revolution and all the good that era delivered.

Yes, the shift from an agrarian economy to a machine-based one is largely responsible for our climate-induced peril, but technology has also given us the tools to neutralize the threats we’ve created and others we haven’t. The failure to address global warming is really now more a political breakdown than anything else. 

Superintelligent machines eradicating us in the short term is as likely as immortality soon arriving. We should already be considering these existential risks, though they will ultimately have to be addressed by our distant descendants who will better understand them. Let’s hope they choose wisely.

My main objection to the digitalization of the culture is that we’re all being placed inside a machine that measures and maps us, one that will only grow more precise and exacting, and there will be no opt-out switch. I really have no answer for that one.

In an smart Financial Times opinion piece, Andrew McAfee, co-author of The Second Machine Age, argues that shaking off the robot’s embrace makes little sense. An excerpt:

The second and much more important reason that robots are not our foes is that they make us richer overall. By increasing our capabilities and productivity, they create more bounty and abundance. We like to communicate, learn, entertain ourselves, travel and consume goods and services. Technological progress lets us do more of all of these things for a given amount of money (or, increasingly these days, for no money at all), and at higher levels of quality.

It is true that the way most of us gain access to much of this bounty is by getting paid for our labour. It is also true that this “labour bargain” is becoming a tougher one for more and more people as their skills become less valuable, because of both globalisation and technological progress. We need to figure out how to deal with this situation. This will be one of the most important policy arenas over the coming decades.

But we also need to keep in mind that this is a situation brought about by the fact that technology is letting us do and create much more with much less drudgery and toil. If we cannot figure out how to deal with this, and how to make sure that the fruits of robots’ labour are shared in a way that reflects our shared values and protects our most vulnerable, then shame on us. In that case, we will have met the real foe in that case, and it will be us.•

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George Will needs to call out Geroge Stephanopoulos

George Will sucks at math. In 2012, right before he predicted Romney would beat Obama in a landslide, the pundit handicapped Hillary Clinton’s odds of becoming President in 2016. He failed spectacularly. The former Secretary of State may or may not win the general election but regardless of the outcome, Will’s calculations were yikes. He even thought Martin O’Malley had a better chance of reaching the Oval Office. From an appearance that year on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing:

Alec Baldwin:

What do you think [Hillary Clinton’s] political future is?

George Will:

Zero. There’s a whole generation of coming candidates. Andrew Cuomo in New York. Governor O’Malley in Maryland. Countless people. Paul Ryan. All kinds of good people out there.•

 

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Key to making driverless cars a going concern is enabling them to communicate with other vehicles, to receive constant updates, to have maps redrawn in real time. That conversation won’t only be amongst vehicles, however. It will involve all manner of smartphones and sensors and more, utilizing an Internet of Things approach in advance of a truly dense IoT.

In a Detroit News article by Neil Winton, Delphi Automotive executive Jeff Owens believes we may see fleets of driverless taxis popping up in municipalities within five years. Well, who knows? It wouldn’t stun me if someone tried it in that span, though there’ll still be lots of work to do. He touches on the connectivity issue. An excerpt:

Automotive manufacturers have made great strides in automating almost all functions, but it’s the final 5 percent which might be the hardest hurdle to jump. A self-driving car would be able to handle all kinds of physical decisions for braking, steering and avoiding other cars, but how would it handle a situation where a legal decision was required? …

“At the end of the day, technology won’t be the inhibitor, it will be the legal framework,” he said.

Owens said vehicle connectivity which allows cars to talk to each other and share data is building up ahead of full autonomy to improve safety and avoid accidents.

“Vehicle control algorithms will be ready to take on all kinds of problems including that cyclist example. Already cars like the Mercedes S class (its top-of-the-range sedan) and the Audi Q7 (SUV, and the Tesla Model S) allow you to set the auto pilot on the highway which allows hands-off driving. The driver will still be keeping watch, but it helps for a relaxed experience,” Owens said.

“Connectivity used to be just entertainment, now it’s vehicle-to-everything — literally really connected to everything like the infrastructure and providing cloud-based information that will help a safe journey,” he said.•

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The original American revolutionaries sometimes resembled a torch-carrying mob, but they were mostly crazy like foxes. The Tea Party born in 2009 is just plain crazy. A chemtrail of a political movement, it was steeped from the start in extreme paranoia and prejudice.

Many of those Republicans who thought they were creating a big tent when welcoming this sideshow into the center ring are now disgruntled that Donald Trump is their candidate. Funny thing is, Trump is really no different than traditional bigotry merchants Atwater and Rove, who gained power by more subtly selling racism and sexism. The hideous hotelier has merely replaced the dog whistles with dog bites, trading the soft, coded language of Gingrich for graphic soundbites about rape, assassination and genitalia. Funnier still (though not in a ha-ha way), the end result would remain the same should he become President, as Trump would use, as predecessors did, the greatest seat of U.S. power to tilt the game further in favor of the wealthiest.

Ben Howe is just such a conservative Rip Van Winkle, awakened too late to find that his complicity with Birthers and Truthers has ultimately unloosed his nightmare. From his Red State essay:

Allies aren’t friends. They may not even be colleagues. They are simply people that you find enough agreement with on enough issues to not go after each other. You don’t have to overtly support one another but you certainly don’t try to hurt each other.

As more and more people knew who I was and I fostered relationships and allies, I found myself more and more having to look the other way. Moments where I would cringe at something someone said, or quietly roll my eyes at a post they wrote, thinking “Gosh, I can’t believe they think that way” or “I swear that person is one tweet away from saying Obama is from Kenya.”

I justified it quietly to myself the way we had at the beginning of the tea party when such things would happen. People would say outlandish things and I would find myself nodding my head and awkwardly walking away, not calling them out for their silliness.

After all, there were more pressing matters.

And so, as I said, I kept quiet about these allies in new media and in Washington. People who I thought I agreed with only 70% of the time. Which normally is a great reason to consider someone an ally, but not when the other 30% is cringe-inducing paranoia and vapid stupidity.

I chose peace over principle. I chose to go along with those I disagreed with on core matters because I believed we were jointly fighting for other things that were more important.  I ignored my gut and my moral compass.

The result is that, almost to a man, every single person I cringed at or thought twice about, is now a supporter and cheerleader of Donald Trump.

I looked the other way, and I’m sure many others did too, as these people rose to prominence and their microphones got louder.  I ignored it at times because I hate self-righteous liberals who tell anyone they disagree with that they don’t want to be around them and I didn’t want to be like that. At other times because, well, it was easier than standing against foolishness.

I’m done with that now. Albeit a bit too late.•

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From the November 3, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The Univac 1 computer got off to a good start in 1952 when it predicted that Eisenhower would win easily over Stevenson even though the press thought the reverse outcome was a near-certainty. It faltered a bit in the 1954 midterm Senate races and was mocked. (“Tilt!” was hollered in the newsroom by one wiseass when it became clear that the prognostications were errant.) But by the 1956 Presidential election, the computer once more nailed the Eisenhower triumph over Stevenson. No TV broadcast of any major election ever went without a computer again. 

In this 1952 clip, Walter Cronkite cedes the floor the machine which at this early point in the night thought Eisenhower was a 100-1 favorite to win. Nervous CBS brass were so concerned that the “electronic brain” was wrong that they initially pretended it had mechanical difficulties and was being unresponsive.

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In 2011, Foxconn promised a million robots would be installed in its factories within three years. That did not transpire. Overzealous promises by a large corporation, however, shouldn’t be mistaken for epic failure on a national scale. For China, it’s just a dream deferred and likely not by much.

The nation is not only hugely populous but also overwhelmingly graying, desperately needing autonomous machines to take up the slack. Perhaps, as Daniel Kahneman has prophesied, “Robots will show up in China just in time.” That may be so, but some of the country’s younger workers will be destabilized by the transition, and what’s necessary in China may be extremely tumultuous for other countries with markedly different demographics.

In “China’s Robot Revolution,” Ben Bland of the Financial Times looks at the future arriving in a hurry, writing that “the benefits of the robot revolution will not be shared equally across the world.” You wouldn’t want to be living in a country that’s left behind in the Second Machine Age, but progress will have its costs. The opening:

The Ying Ao sink foundry in southern China’s Guangdong province does not look like a factory of the future. The sign over the entrance is faded; inside, the floor is greasy with patches of mud, and a thick metal dust — the by-product of the stainless-steel polishing process — clogs the air. As workers haul trolleys across the factory floor, the cavernous, shed-like building reverberates with a loud clanging.

Guangdong is the growth engine of China’s manufacturing industry, generating $615bn in exports last year — more than a quarter of the country’s total. In this part of the province, the standard wage for workers is about Rmb4,000 ($600) per month. Ying Ao, which manufactures sinks destined for the kitchens of Europe and the US, has to pay double that, according to deputy manager Chen Conghan, because conditions in the factory are so unpleasant. So, four years ago, the company started buying machines to replace the ever more costly humans.

Nine robots now do the job of 140 full-time workers. Robotic arms pick up sinks from a pile, buff them until they gleam and then deposit them on a self-driving trolley that takes them to a computer-linked camera for a final quality check.

The company, which exports 1,500 sinks a day, spent more than $3m on the robots. “These machines are cheaper, more precise and more reliable than people,” says Chen. “I’ve never had a whole batch ruined by robots. I look forward to replacing more humans in the future,” he adds, with a wry smile.•

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Oh good, I can fit both hands.

Julia Ioffe of GQ wrote a very reasonable and well-researched profile of Melania Trump, somehow making the former middling model interesting, no mean feat if you’ve ever heard the QVC peddler speak. The candidate’s spouse is a sun-addled Stepford Wife, her frozen face always staring off into the distance as if she were a statue of a feral cat, seemingly convinced that at any given moment a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photographer might emerge from the sea in need of an expression that could pass for vaguely erotic.

Melania voiced her displeasure over the piece, and some Trump supporters reacted to the journalist with anti-Semitic threats. That’s no surprise because the hideous hotelier’s campaign, for the all the theorizing of Thomas Frank and his ilk, has always been about identity politics, not concerns over trade deals or technological unemployment. The identity happens to be a bigoted, white male. When it comes to Trump’s appeal, which is not mainly socioeconomic, the writing has always been on the wall, the wall he insists Mexico will pay for.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the piece reveals the Slovenian immigrant might have something of a father complex, her dad a portlier, lower-case version of her god-awful groom. An excerpt:

Jelančič remembers Melania’s father, Viktor, spending every Saturday lovingly washing his antique Mercedes, another rarity. “It was like a ritual,” Jelančič tells me. After leaving his job working for the mayor of Hrastnik, Viktor, then a member of the Slovenian Communist Party, became a salesman at a state-owned car company. Police files from the time indicate Viktor aroused suspicion for illicit trade and tax evasion in 1976. (He was charged with a tax offense, though his record was later cleared on account of Slovenia’s statute of limitations, a process the courts described to me as “legal rehabilitations.”) Melania blocked my efforts to speak to Viktor, and she denies that any such investigation took place. “He was never under any investigation, he was never in trouble,” she snaps. “We have a clean past. I don’t have nothing to hide.”

While working for the car company in Ljubljana, Viktor had an apartment there, in one of the city’s first residential high-rises. It was a prestigious address and provided the girls a place to stay in the capital so that they could attend design school—another luxury. Meanwhile, in Sevnica, a place where most people still lived in drab apartments doled out to them by their factories, Viktor managed to build a house situated in what was considered the toniest part of town.

“Trump reminds me of Viktor,” Viktor’s friend and neighbor Tomaž Jeraj tells me. “He’s a salesman. He has business in his veins.” It’s a sentiment unanimous in Sevnica, where Viktor and Amalija still own their house and visit two or three times a year.

Indeed, if you look at photos of Viktor Knavs and Donald Trump side by side, you wouldn’t be surprised at the comparison. Donald is just five years younger than his father-in-law. Both are tall, portly men with blond hair and sharp suits; they’re brash men who like the finer things in life. “He likes quality,” says Melania. “Viki”—as Viktor is known to his friends here—“likes good food,” Jeraj tells me. “He loves cars.” He was one of the many people who would tell me about Viktor’s extensive collection of Mercedes. “You’ll never see him in another car.”

Those who know the Knavses say that Viktor is boisterous and strong-willed. “Jokes come naturally to him,” Ana Jelančič, a neighbor and friend of the Knavses’, tells me. “If he goes into a bar, people pay attention.” Viktor sucks the air out of a room, she says. “He is the strong one in the relationship. Amalija supports him. She is a wonderful mother and wife.”•

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Blue jeans and rock & roll, or something similar, may have won the Cold War, which was ultimately a cultural and economic one for all the rockets and bombs, but robots may be the key to victory in the coming 25 years. 

In Geoff Dyer’s latest insightful Financial Times piece, the Washington-based correspondent writes the Pentagon is investing heavily in robotics and AI in an effort to keep the U.S. ahead of China and Russia as a military power in the next great arms race. I would think bioengineering will also be a part of the gamesmanship, though how far it will unfold in the next quarter century is TBD. The large sums being spent and the competition among different states with varying priorities are the reasons why I believe AI and automation will move into areas that are troubling, even if we promise ourselves something else.

In Dyer’s article, he asks five questions he believes central to the topic. An excerpt:

How far along is the military robotics revolution?

The Pentagon hails its approach as its third great technological surge since the second world war. The first was the development of battlefield nuclear weapons in the 1950s to deter a possible Soviet invasion of western Europe; the second, the development of precision strike weapons, which started in the mid-1970s and came of age during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Saddam Hussein.

Asked how far along the current strategy is, [Pentagon second-in-command Robert] Work says: “We are in 1976 and a period of experimentation. It is not until you see it in battle that anyone really trusts it.” He adds: “Five years from now, we will have some confrontation and we will say: ‘Holy crap, something has happened here,’ and it will start to accelerate more.”•

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Rasputin must have been a complicated dad, huh?

The infamous Russian mystic’s elder daughter, Maria, had a wild and woolly life as you might expect, what with the political revolution and the circus-animal training and all. She died in 1977 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, having spent the final leg of her life collecting Social Security checks and complaining bitterly about communists to Hollywood gossip columnists. Here’s a portrait of her at age 69 from the November 12, 1968 Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia:

We had a pleasant encounter with history last week by taking the daughter of Rasputin, “the mad monk of Russia,” to the Gaslight for a hamburger.

She was in town over the weekend with her friend Patricia Barham, a film and theatre columnist from Los Angeles. While here, they tried and failed to get the apparent Grand Duchess Anastasia to leave her Albemarle County farm for L.A. smog.

The apparent Grand Duchess is, of course, Anna Anderson, the woman who has claimed for 50 years to be the surviving daughter of the last Russian royal family.

If you missed the social news of the summer, Anna moved here from Germany in August and may settle permanently in Albemarle.

Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, has been in the U.S. since 1937 and in Los Angeles since 1965. As was reported during her earlier visit here in August, she came to this country as a circus animal trainer with Ringling Bros.

We learned this trip she was a member of the Hagenbach Brothers animal act, a job she took after several years touring Europe as a Russian folk dancer.

Making a living was a problem for Russian emigres during the 20s and 30s and Maria grabbed at an offer to go on the stage. Girls like Maria who spent their childhood having tea with the Czar’s children every Wednesday weren’t trained to make a living, but Maria had some talent and endless spunk, it appears.

For although Maria was mauled by a bear in Peru, Indiana, she stayed with the circus until the traveling show played Miami, Florida, where she quit and went to work as a riveter in a defense shipyard, she related Saturday night.

She stayed in defense plant work until 1955 when she was laid off because of her age, 66. Since then she has been working in hospitals and baby sitting for friends.

Since credibility gap had yawned intrusively into the conversation, we asked her how she got into the animal training game, and where she got the courage to whip up on lions and tigers. She learned in London, was her unelaborated answer though she noted, ‘After you’ve been the target of a revolution, nothing scares you anymore.’

Gregori Rasputin, her father, was tied in with the Russian royal court as religious advisor.

That lasted until personal enemies decided Rasputin-style religion was going too far and they ended him in a legendary assassination said to involve poisoning, stabbing, and drowning.

Maria said she had it rough in the Bolshevik revolution the year after her father was murdered and eventually left Russia for Berlin, Bucharest, Paris, London, and Miami.

Her English vocabulary isn’t all it might be, she readily admits. She says she speaks Russian best but also German and French. When the time came to write a book – and virtually every notable Russian emigre wrote at least one in the decade 1925-1935 – she dictated her memoirs and the result was, My Father, an anecdotal book on Rasputin published in 1932.

Her friend Pat Barham is in the throws of re-write on a second Rasputin book based on Maria’s recollections. She intends to call it, The Rape of Rasputin and described it as ‘sexsational and exciting’ but not funny.

Maria claims a leaning to be psychic and Pat affirms that on election morning two weeks ago, Maria said that Mrs. Richard Nixon had come to her in a dream and smiled. Maria has ‘signs’ like that often, Pat said.

“Little Mother,” Pat calls Maria for her continual worrying about handbags within reach of strangers in restaurants, suitcases open in hotel rooms, and columnists getting a comfortable chair for interviews.

Since being interviewed is an old game for Rasputin’s only legitimate daughter, she talks willingly and seemingly without reservation. This prompted Gaslight owner John Tuck to volunteer that the father of one of his boyhood chums was one of the band of assassins that did Rasputin in.

‘Why didn’t he like my father?’ Maria asked with genuine curiosity. John didn’t know, or at least didn’t say.

“My father was a kind man,” Maria later said when we returned to her hotel. “Once he was savagely attacked by the most powerful newspaper in Russia. Friends asked why he didn’t close the paper down since he could have done it like this,” she said with a snap of fingers.

“Let them write about me,” her father reportedly said. “Let them make money.” Maria described him as “a kind man who would never have closed the paper.”

Historians may not agree Rasputin was kind but there’s no doubt Maria is thoughtful. “When you leave the hotel, stop at the desk,” she said as the interview closed.

We did and found waiting a pot of white chrysanthemums to carry home through the season’s first snow flurry.•


Footage of Maria as an animal trainer:

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It would seem that convoys of driverless trucks would be far easier to test and perfect than other autonomous vehicles. In the early stages of adoption, you could just put two human drivers in the first truck and have them alternate sitting behind the wheel. The trailing rigs could be programmed to follow suit of the lead vehicle. The destinations are also much easier to execute, as they’re predetermined and not changing and challenging like with taxis.

It’s estimated that eight million American jobs depend on the trucking industry (not only drivers but also support staff and workers at businesses frequented by truckers, like diners and such). Those will likely be gone in a few decades, not offset by savings to consumers realized as automation increases production and reduces prices.

The opening of Ryan Petersen’s Techcrunch article “The Driverless Truck Is Coming, and It’s Going to Automate Millions of Jobs“:

A convoy of self-driving trucks recently drove across Europe and arrived at the Port of Rotterdam. No technology will automate away more jobs — or drive more economic efficiency — than the driverless truck.

Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.

And the savings become even more significant when you account for fuel efficiency gains. The optimal cruising speed from a fuel efficiency standpoint is around 45 miles per hour, whereas truckers who are paid by the mile drive much faster. Further fuel efficiencies will be had as the self-driving fleets adopt platooning technologies, like those from Peloton Technology, allowing trucks to draft behind one another in highway trains.

Trucking represents a considerable portion of the cost of all the goods we buy, so consumers everywhere will experience this change as lower prices and higher standards of living.•

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Donald Trump’s new adviser Paul Manafort wants the cretinous faux conservative to stop waving his penis at America, but the GOP frontrunner, a mix of George Steinbrenner and Ugly Georgerefuses to remove his itchy trigger finger from his fly.

There’s a theory about Trump’s candidacy I’m not convinced is true. Some Republicans, dismayed by the utter moral and pragmatic collapse of the party, are supporting the hideous hotelier’s bid in an effort to enact a mercy killing of the modern GOP, a death in the gutter but a death all the same. They believe a November obliteration of Trump will stop the madness, clean the slate.

Perhaps. But wasn’t it said before Obama’s reelection in 2012 (even by the President himself) that a second term would force Republicans to come to grips and make changes? That didn’t happen, even with issues like immigration reform, one that would have benefited the GOP to settle as quickly as possible. If anything, the firenge mentality became further entrenched, with even a moderate Supreme Court justice appointee unable to get his day in court? 

It’s not a stretch to envision a scenario where Trump is trounced, and members of the party decry how a True Conservative™ would have won. In four years, they might believe, Hillary will be very defeatable, so let’s just stay the course. Even worse, those GOPers setting up Trump for a fall are simultaneously putting him in a position for an upset win. If so, God help us all.

Former Reagan and Bush 41 cabinet member Bruce Bartlett is playing this game, hoping a Trump debacle in 2016 will be a fresh break, a new beginning. The opening of his Salon interview conducted by Simon Maloy:

Question:

I wanted to talk about 2016 and Trump and the future of the GOP. You are a former Reagan official, you worked for George H.W. Bush, and you voted for Donald Trump in the Virginia primary. And I was hoping if you could just explain why.

Bruce Bartlett:

I think the Republican Party is sick. It’s dying, it just doesn’t know it. And I think anything that speeds up its demise is to the good, because then it can reinvent itself and return as something healthy. Or you could use an addiction metaphor, where people have to hit bottom so that they can reach out and ask for help before they can cure themselves. I think that Trump is a symptom of a disease of rampant stupidity, pandering to morons and bigots and racists and all the sort of stuff that defines today’s Republican coalition. And I just think it’s awful. It’s terrible for the country in a great many ways that I don’t need to tell you. And I think that we need to have a healthy two-party system. We need to have a sane, functioning conservative party and a sane, functioning liberal party. And I think that half of that equation, at least, is not working, and it affects the other half.

 
So I think it’s just bad for the country. So I think that giving Trump the nomination is the surest path to complete and total destruction of the Republican Party as we know it. And I look forward to him getting the nomination for that reason. I think he will have a historic loss. I think he may well bring in a Democratic Senate. But more importantly, my hope is, at least, that he will lead to a really serious assessment of the problems of the Republican Party, and lead to some opening of thought, opening of discussion, conversation among groups that have been sidelined for quite a long time. Mainly moderates and people of that sort who have been just pushed to the sidelines in favor of ever more rabid, nonsensical, right-wing authoritarianism.
 
But I also don’t think it really makes all that much difference whether Trump gets the nomination, because he’s already succeeded in destroying the Republican coalition as far as the general election is concerned. Because, look, if he doesn’t get the nomination, he’ll probably do everything in his power to guarantee that whoever does get the nomination is defeated. So either way the party is looking at historic losses, historic defeat. And I think that is really, really a wonderful thing.•

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Image by Gerd Ludwig.

There are good reasons for our fixation on the fall of civilization, on the end of us all, and climate change is at the top of the list. But I think along with valid fears, there is fantasy: We simply would like to imagine society toppling, to shuck it off, to start all over again. There’s just something so heavy about modern life, with its clutter and conditions. The weight is too heavy to bear. That’s why we’re always envisioning the apocalypse, staring at ruins (real and virtual), why we feel like the walking dead. 

In addition to the endless fictional content available for binge-watching is disaster tourism, and you couldn’t pick a better-worse place than Chernobyl, site of the largest nuclear catastrophe in world history. We made that. How clever we are. From photographers to writers to sightseers with an eye for necropoles, it’s become a hot spot since it cooled somewhat. In a smart Spiegel piece, Hilmar Schmundt and Phil Thoma write insightfully of the disaster porn “created” during the Soviet Era and those who like to watch. 

The opening:

Footsteps crunch across shards of glass and cameras chirp as a group of visitors pushes its way through an evacuated school inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Yellowed school books still sit on the desks, Soviet propaganda hangs on the walls and there are several gas masks dangling about. Mobile phone screens glow in the half-light. Time is kept by the ticking of Geiger counters, the hideous heartbeat of gamma rays.

“It’s quite morbid here,” says Alex, from Munich. The well-dressed 20-something takes a few selfies, smiling coolly in front of the backdrop of ruins. “I like offbeat experiences,” he says. Alex works for an online portal and enjoys traveling to exotic places: to the Nyiragongo volcano in Congo, for example, or to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. He has also taken a weightless flight with an Airbus and joined a tour through North Korea.

Alex is in Chernobyl with a few friends from school and, as a specialist in strange destinations, the trip was his idea. Chernobyl is a powerful brand name: It has become a post-apocalyptical product, simple to consume.

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Singapore may not be Disneyland with the death penalty as William’s 1993 Wired article was famously titled, but how about a theme park as a surveillance state?

I’ve posted before about the city-state’s government investing in copious cameras and sensors in an effort to become the world’s first “smart nation.” Everything will be measured, everything monitored. It seems a deeper and wider realization of Stafford Beer’s efforts in the 1970s to centralize all of Chile’s businesses with Project Cybersyn. Difference is, Singapore’s system is about much more than money.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Jane Maxwell Watts and Newley Purnell report that “any decision to use data collected by Smart Nation sensors for law enforcement or surveillance would not, under Singapore law, need court approval or citizen consultation.” The opening:

SINGAPORE—This wealthy financial center is known world-wide for its tidy streets and tight controls on personal behavior, including famous restrictions on the sale of chewing gum to keep the city clean.

Now Singapore may soon be known for something else: the most extensive effort to collect data on daily living ever attempted in a city.

As part of its Smart Nation program, launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in late 2014, Singapore is deploying an undetermined number of sensors and cameras across the island city-state that will allow the government to monitor everything from the cleanliness of public spaces to the density of crowds and the precise movement of every locally registered vehicle.

It is a sweeping effort that will likely touch the lives of every single resident in the country, in ways that aren’t completely clear since many potential applications may not be known until the system is fully implemented.•

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The American military has thus far refused to consider using autonomous weapons system, which is good, but is it our choice alone to make? If one world power (or a smaller, rogue nation aspiring to be one) were to deploy such machines, how would others resist? The technology is trending toward faster, cheaper and more out of control, so it’s not difficult to imagine such a scenario. I think in the long run these systems are inevitable, but hopefully there will be much more time to prepare for what they’ll mean.

In a Financial Times column, John Thornhill writes of fears of LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems), which could fall into the wrong hands, like warlords or tyrants. Of course, it’s easy to make the argument that all hands are the wrong ones. The opening:

Imagine this futuristic scenario: a US-led coalition is closing in on Raqqa determined to eradicate Isis. The international forces unleash a deadly swarm of autonomous, flying robots that buzz around the city tracking down the enemy.

Using face recognition technology, the robots identify and kill top Isis commanders, decapitating the organisation. Dazed and demoralised, the Isis forces collapse with minimal loss of life to allied troops and civilians.

Who would not think that a good use of technology?

As it happens, quite a lot of people, including many experts in the field of artificial intelligence, who know most about the technology needed to develop such weapons.

In an open letter published last July, a group of AI researchers warned that technology had reached such a point that the deployment of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (or Laws as they are incongruously known) was feasible within years, not decades. Unlike nuclear weapons, such systems could be mass produced on the cheap, becoming the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”•

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Donald Trump, America’s resting bitch face, has been elevated to GOP frontrunner status by struggling, uneducated white Americans who’ve been ignored by the “elites.” Pat Buchanan and Thomas Frank alike will tell you that. But is it so?

If the Economist numbers are correct, that narrative has been profoundly overplayed. The hideous hotelier has seemed to me from the start to be buoyed mainly by his white-power salute and cult of personality, qualities which apparently have appealed across financial and educational categories.

An excerpt:

On average, voters with a high-school education or less have made up 16% of the Republican electorate overall and a fifth of Mr Trump’s voting base; but college graduates and postgraduates account for 43% of his support. Looking at income: voters earning under $50,000 have made up 29% of the electorate and 32% of Mr Trump’s support. Those earning over $100,000 have accounted for 37% of the electorate and 34% of his base. In Illinois, for example, he took 46% of the vote among low earners, but they made up only a quarter of the electorate, whereas he attracted 39% of the highest earners, who made up two-fifths of that primary’s voters. 

He does not have a majority of the “rich vote”. The race is split. But the idea that it is mostly poor, less-educated voters who are drawn to Mr Trump is a bit of a myth.•

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Speaking of solid, middle-class jobs being disappeared by technology, Elon Musk has tipped his hand, if just a bit, on a driverless vehicle that he believes can replace much of public transportation. Could be great for congestion and environmentalism, though not so much for bus drivers.

From Marie Mawad at Bloomberg Technology:

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk is working on a self-driving vehicle he says could replace buses and other public transport in order to reduce traffic in cities. But he’s keeping the development a secret.

“We have an idea for something which is not exactly a bus but would solve the density problem for inner city situations,” Musk said Thursday at a transport conference in Norway. “Autonomous vehicles are key,” he said of the project, declining to disclose more. “I don’t want to talk too much about it. I have to be careful what I say.”•

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Aspects of the Gig Economy benefit consumers but are terrible for most workers. An Uberization of Labor has increased in the last few years and seems poised to become a large-scale and entrenched apart of American society. If it is here to stay, what’s even worse is many of those piecemeal positions may eventually also be eliminated by automation. 

Surprisingly, many Gig workers prefer their office-less lives because of the “greater freedom” it affords them, which is odd since most studies find that this new brand of freelancer has to hustle more hours than if trapped in a cubicle. Are bosses and office politics so awful that we would rather surrender security, vacation days and benefits to not be under the thumb of a fellow human being, even if an algorithm runs us ragged? It would seem so. We find each other intolerable enough to be sold on a Libertarian dream that may end up a nightmare.

From Brandon Ambrosino at the Boston Globe:

According to a 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans are independent workers, about 34 percent of the total workforce. A study from Intuit predicts that by 2020, 40 percent of US workers will fall into this category.

While there is considerable disagreement over this projection, what is clear is that “more and more jobs are being moved to independent contractor status,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University. Pfeffer cites a recent paper that found that “the percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements rose from 10.1 percent in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015.” This rise accounts for over 9 million people — more than all of the net employment growth in the US economy over that decade.

To be clear, employers are driving the change. Between 2009 and 2013, the unemployment rate was more than 7 percent, suggesting workers were turning to gigs because they didn’t have a choice. But that’s not to say most independent workers aren’t happy with their job situations. According to the Freelancers Union, a 300,000-plus member nonprofit, nearly nine in 10 of its members surveyed said they would not return to a traditional job if given the chance.•

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Moscow is of two minds. To some extent, the capital of Russia must toe the line for Vladimir Putin, a capo with nuclear capabilities, whose backward thinking has dashed the national economy and threatened a new Cold War. But Moscow also rejects the retrograde big picture. The city openly embraces the future, one that’s not only an explosion of conspicuous consumption but also is liveable and sustainable.

In their Spiegel profile of a city in transition, Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp write that “the avant-garde triumphs on Moscow stages” in reference to cutting-edge theater, but all the world’s a stage. An excerpt about Technopolis:

City officials chose a former industrial ruin as the site of Technopolis, the largest of 19 new high-tech parks. The site once housed the Lenin Komsomol auto plant, which the Soviets built in 1930 in collaboration with Ford. After World War II, the plant produced the Moskvich, a copy of Germany’s Opel Kadett.

A real estate developer is now building a giant shopping mall on the site, and the city government has plans to build housing and offices for tens of thousands of people, skyscrapers included. But the pièce de résistance is Technopolis. Several dozen innovative companies have moved into one of the old factory buildings, including a manufacturer of computer-guided drones that deliver products from medication to pizza. City officials were enthusiastic about the company, while military and intelligence officials have voiced security concerns.

The startups are attracting specialists like nanophysicist Irina Rod. She has returned to Russia from the West, where many of her colleagues had emigrated to, “because, with Technopolis, they have finally established the conditions needed to work properly,” she says. Rod, who conducted research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in western Germany for seven years, has spent the last two years working for a joint venture of the Dutch firm Mapper and Russian high-tech holding company Rosnano.

The city government has rolled out the red carpet for such investors, waiving property taxes, reducing corporate income tax by a quarter, setting rents at below market level and guaranteeing a maximum waiting period of six months from the date a startup files an application for incorporation to the date of registration. “For Russia and our sluggish and often corrupt bureaucracy, that is sensational,” says Rod.

The 35-year-old is standing in a clean room, which has special protective features against contamination. She is wearing a white astronaut suit over a sweater and jeans, and her long, blonde hair is tucked under a white hood. Rod is in charge of quality control for microscopically small electronic lenses, which guide beams inside large 3-D printers.

She originally left the country because Russian microscopes were inadequate for the highly specialized research she does. “But now Moscow has an advantage,” she says. “The elevators for rapid professional advancement move twice as fast here.”

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The shocking, recent findings of economist Anne Case and her husband Angus Deaton in regards to the dying off of white, middle-aged Americans has been questioned, as all such eye-popping results should be, but a study of U.S. suicide rates between 1999 and 2014 seems to support their work, suggesting even that the problem is wider and deeper.

The new report a scarily large spike in citizens taking their own lives, close to 25%, and the surge cuts across most racial, gender and age groups. It could be the result of hollowing out of the middle class or the economic collapse or the opioid epidemic or the shift to a more technological age, but it’s probably a confluence of all those things and others. It may be a mismatch disease of some sort, but a mental one.

From Sabrina Tavernise at the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday. …

The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans. Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.•

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Roy Cohn, who slithered his way through 20th-century American history, had the worst friends.

Senator Joseph McCarthy, who brought the fire and the stake to America’s latter-day Salem Witch Trials during the 1950s, was chief among them. The lawyer was pals with the notorious gossip columnist Walter Winchell, a one-man lynch mob of the media, who enjoyed enormous influence until he didn’t. In his dotage, Cohn also befriended another deeply damaged power seeker, Donald Trump, sharing with the then-young builder his lifetime learning of the dark arts of character assassination and skullduggery. The lessons stuck.

In a Guardian article, Michelle Dean recalls the latter union, an unholy one by any measure. The opening:

Donald Trump is a man who likes to think he has few equals. But once upon a time, he had a mentor: Roy Cohn, a notoriously harsh lawyer who rose to prominence in the mid-1950s alongside the communist-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy. His tactics would often land him in the papers, but Cohn was unafraid of being slimed by the press – he used it to his advantage. A devil-may-care-as-long-as-it-gets-a-headline attitude was Cohn’s trademark in life. Trump, in our time, has made it his.

His careful manipulation of negative attention is something that Trump noticed immediately when the two met in 1973. Trump and his father had just been sued for allegedly discriminating against black people in Trump’s built-and-managed houses in Brooklyn, and sought out Cohn’s counsel. Among other things, Cohn advised that Trump should “tell them to go to hell”. Cohn was hired, and one of his first acts as Trump’s new lawyer was to file a $100m countersuit that was quickly dismissed by the court. But it made the papers.

This was the beginning of a long and close relationship. Trump relied on Cohn for most of the legal matters during a particularly tricky decade. Cohn drew up the pre-nuptial contract between Donald and Ivana when they married in 1977 – a famously stingy contract that only gave Ivana $20,000 a year. Cohn also filed a suit brought by the United States Football League in 1984 against the NFL, seeking to break up the monopoly held over American football. Trump owned a USFL team and was widely seen as the force behind the suit; the initial press conference about it was a tag-team show performed by Cohn and Trump.

“I don’t kid myself about Roy. He was no Boy Scout. He once told me that he’d spent more than two-thirds of his adult life under indictment on one charge or another. That amazed me,” Trump wrote in The Art of the Deal. The unabashed pursuit of power, quick resort to threats, a love of being in the tabloid spotlight – all of these are things Trump took from his mentor.

In fact, if you’re familiar with Cohn’s history at all, their friendship starts to seem an even greater influence on Trump than any other.•

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