Sunday, June 10, 2018

Last Call For The Rip-Off Artist

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president’s papers back together again.

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law

Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Larkey and his colleagues to reassemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.

Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”

This would be a running gag comedy trope best suited to a season or two of Julia Louis-Dreyfus on HBO's Veep if it wasn't actual reality.  I guarantee you if there were reports of Obama "ripping up papers like confetti" that it would have been a two-year investigation from House Republicans and probably a year from Senate ones, but with Trump?  Nobody cares.

Meanwhile, we're stuck with a "leader" who in the space of a weekend has enraged our closest democratic allies and is now planning to head out to spend time with some of the worst autocrats and dictators on Earth.  As four our reputation, I guess we'll piece it back together after he destroys it and hope for the best.

If that phrase doesn't best describe the last 17 months or so, I don't know what does.

Sunday Long Read: The Negatives Of Body Positive

Journalist Amanda Mull makes the case that the trend of advertisers to use a diverse array of women of different appearances, skin colors, body shapes, and more to advertise isn't "body positivity" at all, but more mass body shaming and manipulation of women to buy crap they don't need and never did.

In the beginning, there was the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. It started innocuously enough, with a 2004 photography show in Toronto, then expanded to billboards, traditional print ads, and videos, all with similar messages: Women often feel bad about themselves and their appearance, and it’s bad that women feel that way.

The campaign first gained wide acclaim simply by showing a time-lapse version of a model in a faux beauty ad being photoshopped to unattainable perfection. The video contained no narration, but it demonstrated the manipulative nature of beauty advertising on both a level that ad giant Ogilvy & Mather intended and one it probably didn’t.

This was more than a decade ago, when the phrase “Facetuned Instagram” was total nonsense on a literal level instead of just a spiritual one, and an admission of photo editing still felt subversive to average consumers. The brands had been naughty, and Dove would gladly accept the praise for noting its own bad behavior.

The problem with using subversion as a corporate marketing tactic, though, is that if the brand is successful at it, the point it’s making becomes immediately non-subversive. And Dove was verysuccessful at it — the beauty industry had always worked so hard to obscure its tactics and encode its negativity that many consumers felt understandably relieved to see the manipulation acknowledged, even if the only solution Dove offered was the opportunity to buy its products.

As the viral campaign helped cultural knowledge of image editing spread rapidly, beyond just people who read the feminist websites that had long been critical of the practice, Dove had to up the ante. It did so by devising a series of ads that put unsuspecting women in various contrived situations — choosing to walk into a building through doors labeled “beautiful” or “average,” for example, or being spontaneously required to describe their faces to a sketch artist.

Those sketches were then compared to others’ descriptions of them, revealing for ad viewers just how much these women hate themselves
. In the case of the door experiment, it’s unclear why anyone with a functional knowledge of how averages work could reasonably expect all women to consider their appearances “above average.”

That these later ads leave out any larger agent responsible for the body image epidemic isn’t a mistake. Dove and its ad agency had picked up on something important in the positive response to its first ad: They didn’t need to take responsibility or propose a solution. While the logical continuation of that thought for anyone who doesn’t work at an ad agency would be that maybe brands should mind their business instead of dabbling in ineffective cultural criticism — that maybe they’re not the institutions we should be looking to on these topics at all — they saw an opportunity.

The cultural narrative about women’s bodies was so bad that simply identifying the problem would get Dove full credit and move plenty of product, but the urge to talk about a broad cultural problem while refusing to name a bad actor left the blame squarely on the shoulders of the women who had the temerity not to love themselves sufficiently.

In the context of advertising, women’s self-perceptions are invented out of whole cloth, with no apparent connection to the circumstances of their lives. And so we have the marketing landscape as we know it now, courtesy of Dove: gentle, millennial pink, and passive-aggressively reproachful of women who have allowed themselves to feel bad about their bodies. On top of all the old, existing insecurities, Dove posited that women might adopt a lucrative new one: shame over feeling bad in the first place. The brands had become self-aware, and an idea broadly known as body positivity hit the big-time.

The enormous public success of Dove’s ads flipped a switch in the minds of other people in the attention business. The Real Beauty campaign launched a thousand imitators, but not because it inspired a wave of genuine self-reflection in the people who make a living inventing things for women to feel bad about. Instead, it taught brands like Aerie and Target, which have both received waves of positive public attention for Photoshop-free campaigns, that they could get exposure for pennies on the advertising dollar if they created content that people felt compelled to share themselves, above and beyond paid placements.

For that, Ogilvy execs should probably be tried at the Hague for war crimes, but I’d settle for the broad acknowledgment that body positivity, as we know it in 2018, is a load of horse shit.

In a way the concept has come full circle.  Instead of "you need our beauty product to look good enough" it's "you look good enough to need our beauty product."  And again, it's come down to generations of telling women that they are unworthy, less than human, undesirable, on a clock and statistically doomed to be alone in love.

Why don't we fix that problem instead?

Short-Term Gains Versus A Second Term For Trump

After 18 months of "only white suburban swing voters matter!" versus "only white working-class voters matter!" being the only argument as to how Dems can win against Trump, somebody finally comes up with the data that in 2018, both suburban and working-class voters are diverse and policies to help them are the key.

Democratic politicians and strategists identify a “suburban revolt” against President Trump and right-wing Republican extremism as the key to victory in the 2018 and 2020 elections. They point to Democratic successes in the off-year 2017 elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and the surprise triumph of Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, as evidence for the party’s plan to target college-educated white women, upper-middle-class moderates and even disillusioned conservatives in the affluent suburbs.

In primary contests last week from California to New Jersey, Democrats pursued that “electability” strategy through the “Red to Blue” project of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which targeted suburban swing voters by clearing candidate fields for moderate and conservative Democrats like Gil Cisneros in Orange County and Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey.

The nomination of centrist candidates may bring Democratic gains in the affluent suburbs in the midterms. But the electoral success of that strategy has previously been modest — and more important, the party has paid insufficient attention to the substantial policy costs of turning moderate and affluent suburbs blue. Democrats cannot cater to white swing voters in affluent suburbs and also promote policies that fundamentally challenge income inequality, exclusionary zoning, housing segregation, school inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration

The political culture of upscale suburbs revolves around resource hoarding of children’s educational advantages, pervasive opposition to economic integration and affordable housing, and the consistent defense of homeowner privileges and taxpayer rights. Indeed, unlike traditional blue-collar Democrats, white-collar professionals across the ideological spectrum — for example, in the high-tech enclaves of California and Northern Virginia, which combined contain eight of the 15 most highly educated congressional districts in the nation — generally endorse tough-on-crime policies, express little interest in protections for unions and sympathize with the economic agenda of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

In these places, the Democratic suburban strategy of targeting affluent white professionals while appealing to nonwhite voters in diverse, fast-growing communities has had some success. In Virginia’s race for governor last fall, the moderate Democrat Ralph Northam followed the playbook and won 69 percent of the vote in the Northern Virginia suburbs and exurbs, 58 percent statewide from white women with college degrees, 54 percent from those with family incomes above $100,000 and overwhelming support from African-Americans and Latinos. But Mr. Northam secured only 26 percent of ballots cast by white Virginians without a college degree, slightly below even Hillary Clinton’s disastrous nationwide showing.

American suburbia today is far more racially and socioeconomically diverse than these upscale communities. In the largest metropolitan regions, more nonwhite and poor residents now live in suburbs than in central cities, and more than 60 percent of adult suburban residents nationwide are not college-educated professionals. Suburban neighborhoods also remain highly segregated by race and income, and therefore operate as engines of social and economic inequality, the consequence of historical policies of housing and school discrimination and their contemporary legacies like exclusionary zoning, unequal educational opportunity and selective law enforcement.

To explain the realignment of American politics and the migration of working-class whites to the Republican Party, observers usually focus on how politicians from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have exploited white backlash against racial and cultural liberalism.

The flip side of this is the deliberate, long-term strategy by the Democratic Party to favor the financial interests and social values of affluent white suburban families and high-tech corporations over the priorities of unions and the economic needs of middle-income and poor residents of all races. It’s no coincidence that the bluer that suburban counties turn, the more unequal and economically stratified they become as well — a dynamic evident along Route 128 outside of Boston, in the once solidly Republican suburbs of Connecticut and New Jersey, in boom regions such as Atlanta and Denver, and along the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego.

The shocking realization that "working-class" doesn't automatically mean "white" is something that Democrats should have figured out 20 years ago, and something Barack Obama was able to win on, but then the Dems ran away from him and back to the Clinton 90's.

No wonder then that over the last decade the GOP gave rise to Trump's virulent racism.  Dems need to remember who their base is and they need to stop chasing "never Trump" Republicans who vote GOP anyway.

Will Dems figure it out?  They making a strong case in 2018 with more women and more diverse candidates across the board.  We'll see if they can win again.
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