Some Fantasies Really Ought to Be Grounded in Some Reality


In a recent Curbed newsletter, I came across an item titled “Three Gilded Age Berkshire Retreats for Sale Right Now.”

The author of the article, Robert Khederian, notes that as a summer destination for the very affluent of the “Gilded Age,” the Berkshires never quite had the cache of Newport, Rhode Island, as a place to build a “summer cottage.” There is no equivalent in the Berkshires of the Vanderbilts’ “summer cottage” in Newport, the Breakers:

It is worth noting that the Vanderbilts lived in the Breakers in July and August of each year. That’s it.

Nonetheless, the Berkshires “summer cottages” are nothing to sneeze at. Khederian notes that a builder constructed 75 of these “cottages” in Lennox, Massachusetts, in the last quarter of the 19th century. The three currently for sale may or may not be representative, but they are listed at $7.9 million, $3.95 million, and a…

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It Really Isn’t Even a Choice between Music and Missiles


The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has posted a video showing how little the Department of Defense can purchase if all of the federal funding for arts programs is eliminated, as President Trump has proposed. The video is illuminating and suggests a great deal not only about our national priorities but also about how ideology fashions its own reality:

If arts funding is a waste of taxpayers’ money, then it is very far back in the line in terms of both the total allocation and the waste that can be demonstrated.

The Department of Defense, on the other hand, would be at the front of the line. In fact, the Pentagon’s bookkeeping is so bad that it would be close to impossible to track the waste in its spending. Consider these opening paragraphs from an article written by Jamie Crawford for CNN in late August 2016:


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PEN America: Writers and Artists Interrogated Because of Travel Ban


On its website, PEN America has published an item on writers and artists detained and interrogated as a result of the Trump administration’s travel ban. The article includes the following anecdotes, the second of which involves a distinguished historian invited to speak at Texas A&M University:

“The bestselling children’s book author Mem Fox, an Australian citizen, was detained in late February at the Los Angeles International Airport while en route to a conference in Milwaukee. She was detained for nearly two hours by Customs and Border Patrol officials who reportedly believed she was traveling on the wrong visa, although Fox says she has traveled to the U.S. over 100 times before without any incident. Her interrogation was so aggressive that she said she “felt like I had been physically assaulted.” Fox, whose most recent book I’m Australian, Too is a celebration of immigration and Australia’s multicultural heritage, eventually received an…

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A Week in Review: A Window on 2016 and 2017


Each week TheHill distributes a newsletter called Sunday Show Wrap-Up.

Ahead of this week’s shows, I think that it is instructive to review the headlines and summaries from last week, collectively gathered under the heading “Spotlight Shines on Trump Travel Ban.” Please skim the list, which sets up some extended commentary in the second half of this post:

McConnell: ‘Best to Avoid Criticizing Judges Individually’

By Alexander Bolton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R­Ky.) on Sunday tacitly criticized President Trump for blasting a federal judge for ruling against an executive order barring visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it is “best to avoid criticizing judges individually.”

GOP Senator: “We Don’t Have Any So­Called Judges”

By Mallory Shelbourne

Sen. Ben Sasse (R­Neb.) on Sunday rejected President Donald Trump’s attack on the federal judge who halted his travel ban, saying there are…

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Lakoff on Selecting Language to Contest Trumpism


If you have not seen Tavis Smiley’s interview with the linguist George Lakoff, it is very much worth watching. Lakoff offers much insight into how progressives need to frame issues in order to reach the broadest possible spectrum of voters:

Here are the opening paragraphs of Lakoff’s blog post “Understanding Trump,” written and then updated before Trump was elected president. It provides the baseline for understanding what Lakoff has to say in the interview with Tavis Smiley about what progressives need to do now and going forward:

“There is a lot being written and spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown. More than half a million people have read my books, and Google…

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Letting Voters Decide, Then Deciding Differently



We are getting used to seeing this sort of thing in states in which, largely because of gerrymandering, the GOP control of state government is all out of proportion to their actual share of voters.

But, what is significant about this story, reported in the Daily Kos Elections: Voting Rights Roundup newsletter, is that it is occurring in South Dakota, one of the most solidly Republican states in the nation:

On Thursday, South Dakota’s Republican-dominated state government literally declared a “state of emergency” to repeal a voter-approved ethics reform law, in essence saying their burning desire to override the will of the public and trash ethics reform was a crisis equivalent to a hurricane or earthquake. Stunning.

Particularly infuriating is that lawmakers’ use of this emergency provision means that repeal will take effect immediately and is immune to a voter-referendum veto. And it 

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Elizabeth Warren’s Speech to the Progressive Caucus


The speech was provided by Elizabeth Warren’s office and published below an article written by David Marans for Huffington Post, highlighting her key points [].

I’m going to cut to the chase: We’re gathered today in Baltimore during a moment of crisis – for us as progressives, for us as Democrats, for us as Americans.

We’re in a moment of crisis, and I want to talk honestly about it.

Let’s start with a simple fact: Our moment of crisis didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump.

We were already in crisis.

We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else.

We were already in a moment of crisis because for years and years and years, the economy has worked just great for…

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Visualizing a Billion and a Trillion Dollars


Any budget number can be made to sound exorbitant if doing so serves a political purpose. But the scope of our governmental budgets, as well as the scope of our economy, has long exceeded the ability of most of us to grasp the numbers—both viscerally and intellectually—in any meaningful way. Given the new administration’s penchant for making large numbers sound negligible and small numbers sound huge, it seems especially important for everyone to appreciate the differences between millions, billions, and trillions of dollars.

For instance the total spending on the NEA and the NEH in 2016 amount to just under $296 million, which sound like an enormous amount of money. But it is just .18% of the $4.1 trillion federal budget (that is, less than one fifth of one percent), and 1.97% to 1.18% of the projected $15 to $25 billion projected cost of constructing a wall along the border…

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