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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – October, 13, 2018 — Voting Rights Edition

The Daily Escape:

St. Basil’s, Red Square, Moscow, RU. It was built in 1561. – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Welcome to Saturday! Forget about Kanye hugging the Orange Overlord, we have bigger fish to fry.

Yesterday, we talked about how state legislatures with help from the courts, have been disenfranchising minorities. This is likely to reduce turnout in the 2018 mid-terms, as studies have shown in the past, and despite encouraging polls, if someone can’t vote, nobody can be sure who will win in the mid-terms.

So today, we take a closer look at how some states have systematically worked to close polling places after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision that stopped federal oversight of election practices in states with a history of Jim Crow practices.

Prior to the Shelby decision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) provided a process to ensure that jurisdictions known to engage in voter discrimination weren’t using budget cuts or voter modernization as arguments to disenfranchise people of color. Under Section 5, jurisdictions had to demonstrate that saving money by making changes to polling places did not disenfranchise voters of color. Now Section 5 is no longer useful for the protection for minority voters.

One reason is that Shelby triggered a fundamental shift in who was responsible for protecting minority voters, from the federal authorities, to the individuals who believed they were wronged. The cost and burden of proof that local election laws are discriminatory, is now borne by those least able to afford it.

This map makes it clear that the states formerly covered by the VRA are engaging in precisely the kind voter suppression that would have been impossible before the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision:

Source

Fewer polling places leads to longer lines, which will dissuade some people from voting, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC think tank found. This means election officials can affect the outcome of an election by manipulating the number and location of polling places.

And these efforts do not only happen in the Deep South. This year, Indiana removed 170, mostly Democratic voting precincts from Lake County, home to the state’s largest Latino and second-largest Black communities. The Secretary of State said they were simply updating the map to reflect new demographic data, while local Democrats said it keeps African Americans and Hispanic voters from the polls.

According to Pew Research, other efforts are underway in counties in Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin to move thousands of voters to new locations: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Some voters in Barton County, Kansas, now will have to drive 18 miles to vote in November’s election because of polling place consolidation. In the past three decades, the county has gone from 40 polling places to 11. The main reason, said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, is cost.

Local election officials responsible for closing polling places often say that the closed locations were too expensive, underused, or inaccessible to people with disabilities. Often, local election officials fly under the radar, sometimes not even notifying voters in their jurisdictions of changes in polling locations.

This year, Georgia put the voter registrations of about 50,000 voters on hold, due to a policy implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor in next month’s election. Of the 53,000 applications in limbo, 70% are from African-Americans, according to the Associated Press, even though Georgia is approximately 32% black.

So the guy running for governor is ALSO overseeing the election. He tried to close 3/4 of polling places in predominantly black Randolph County this summer. Kemp is in a close race with Stacy Abrams, an African-American. You be the judge of what’s really going on.

Americans say we live in a democracy. But, with gerrymandering and vote suppression, we have to remain vigilant if we are to keep both our civil rights, and our Constitution, intact.

Enough for today! Take a step back, unplug, and chill a bit, because it’s Saturday, the Wrongologist’s day for a little Soothing.

Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge cuppa Ethiopia Hambela Natural from Chicago’s Big Shoulders Coffee. It is said to be deeply sweet, with flavors of raspberry, dark chocolate, and cedar, along with a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, go and sit by a large window, and take in the changing fall colors and the nip of cool air. Put on your best headphones and listen to “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy, recorded live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in 1996. Cassidy died far too young at 33, in 2006.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Japan Re-thinks Role of Its Military

The Daily Escape:

Unusual cloud formations, pre-dawn at Mt. Fuji, Japan – photo by Takashi Yasui

Wrongo lived in Japan while working for the big multinational bank, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. During his three-year stay, he learned enough Japanese to navigate in business meetings, and bars. When he was there, it had only been 30 years since the end of WWII, and the nuclear-ravaged parts of Japan still had scars, some of which intentionally remain visible today.

One impact of losing the war was that Japan got a new constitution, helpfully provided by us, the conquerors. Enacted in 1947, it made the Emperor a constitutional monarch, where before the war, the Emperor was an absolute ruler. Japan’s constitution is known to some as the “Peace Constitution“. It is best known for Article 9, by which Japan renounced its right to wage war.

No amendment has been made to it since its adoption, but that could be about to change.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking to revise the constitution in the very near future, including changing Article 9. In May, Abe announced that he wanted to add Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Article 9. The Nikki Asian Review quoted Abe: (brackets by Wrongo)

Over the past year, discussion of [constitutional] revisions has grown much livelier and more specific….The document currently includes absolutely no provision for our self-defense….We must put an end to debate over [the JSDF’s] constitutionality…

This is on top of evolutionary changes to the use of the JSDF over the past two years. Revised laws authorized military action that previously would have been unconstitutional, including actions in response to “an infringement that does not amount to an armed attack”, or actions outside of Japan, such as minesweeping in the Straits of Hormuz, near Iran.

The key point is that the new changes lower the threshold for the use of force outside Japan.

Robert Farley writes in The Diplomat: (brackets by Wrongo)

Nevertheless, even these [recent] changes allow Japan to act more assertively as a coalition partner in its region. This means acting in either a direct or supportive role for allies or coalition partners threatened by China (or some other international actor). The reasons for such a shift lay in both the increasing power of China, and in uncertainty about the United States.

The world’s power balance is changing. It is totally unclear if the US can be counted as a reliable partner in mutual defense for Europe, or in Asia. Our allies fear that moves towards isolation by the current or any future administration, could leave Japan swinging in the wind.

Add to this the looming threat from North Korea. Japan’s total reliance on the US to blunt that threat, means that Japan feels it must look at a more assertive ability to use military force. Japan has recently purchased the Ageis Ashore system from Lockheed Martin to help partially protect it against North Korea.

Another consideration is Japan’s rapidly shrinking population. The birthrate in Japan is just over 1.3. It needs to be 2.1 to maintain its current population. The Japanese skew quite old, but Japan also refuses to allow immigration. Estimates are that its population will drop from 130 million today to 80 million by 2050.

Japan is likely to become very insecure about the declining population and the increasing regional threats. And that insecurity will be reflected in their next-generation military strategies.

In fact, today’s JSDF is sort of legal fiction. It is said to be an extension of the national police force. But the JSDF has several hundred tanks, 26 destroyers and 19 submarines. Since they already have a military, it doesn’t seem like changing the constitution to allow them to have and use its military should really matter.

OTOH, there is a residual fear of a militarized Japan in Asia and in the West. Some think that Japan, like Germany, is among the countries that shouldn’t be taking on expanded military roles. This is why the US has large, permanent bases in both countries.

Wrongo thinks that this is a superficial reading of today’s issues. Obviously Japan hasn’t fully apologized for its actions in WWII, or earlier, and both the Koreans and Chinese work to ensure that we never forget.

In the real world, Japan is an amazingly under-defended country. It has traditionally relied on the US to fund its defense, and make most of the hard choices about its defense.

Well, now that we’re no longer totally reliable, they really have no plan at all.

We shouldn’t have a particular problem if Japan or Germany decide they want to avail themselves of the full range of diplomatic and yes, the military options available to sovereign nation-states.

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Nothing Is More Important Than Voter Turnout

The Daily Escape:

Cau Vang (Golden Bridge) Da Nang, Vietnam. This footbridge opened to the public in 2017 – photo via themindcircle

The next few elections will determine if the US remains a minority-ruled country for the foreseeable future. And is there a significant number of non-voters who are predisposed to vote for Democrats.

Check out Adam Bonica’s article in Sunday’s NYT. Bonica, who is a political scientist at Stanford, says that generational shifts are under way that are more powerful politically than people realize. By 2020, half of eligible voters will be Millennials, or Post-Millennials (Gen Z). They will be two-thirds of voters by 2032, and they skew toward the Democrats:

The bottom chart shows that, while the nation is on the cusp of a generational revolution, Millennials and Gen Z’ers haven’t turned out to vote in the way that their elders do. This negates a 31 point Democrat edge in Millennials.

Bonica says that as they age, Millennials will become more likely to vote. He cites a general rule of thumb that turnout increases by about one percentage point with each year of age. This makes it possible to forecast how the generational advantage will grow over the next decade: By 2026, Millennials are expected to account for 19% of votes cast, up from 12% in 2014, with Democratic-leaning Gen Xers and Gen Zers accounting for an additional 34%.

As this happens, the Republican-leaning Silent Generation is projected to account for only 8% percent of votes cast in 2026, down from 23% in 2014. Their participation is bound to go down, the oldest members of the Silents will be 101 in 2026.

But, getting younger voters to turn out is a problem. Bonica says that among advanced democracies, turnout in national elections is a strong predictor of income inequality. The US has both the lowest turnout and highest share of income going to the top 1 percent. He has a very interesting chart showing turnout graphed against income inequality:

Virtually all other western democracies have higher voter turnout than the US. This is unlikely to be a coincidence. Bonica says:

This makes democracy an issue to campaign on. The Democratic base understands that it is waging a battle for the future of the country….They are also painfully aware that our electoral system is biased against them. A rallying cry to put democracy back on the offensive will get the base to sit up and pay attention. Delivering on the promise will get them to the polls.

This year, the Democrats need to focus with laser-like attention on winning the House. They are unlikely to get the Senate. Possibly, they can limit their losses to few, or maybe zero, net.

The Democratic message, assuming they can get their messaging act together, needs to be about these four points:

  • Better jobs
  • Ensuring democratic elections
  • Healthcare for all
  • Higher taxes on corporations

The Democrats can point at the GOP, saying they are the party of corruption, and of doing the bidding of the rich elites. From the Democrats’ point of view, ensuring democratic elections means: Less hacking, easier registration, more days of early voting, and vote-by-mail. All encourage civic engagement and participation.

The fact that Republicans generally do worse when more people turn out to vote is their own fault. We need to point out that their plan is to use vote suppression to weaken democracy, replacing it with a Trump-branded authoritarianism.

And there’s the issue of the Republican-controlled Supreme Court. It will have a strong conservative majority for the next few decades, and that’s going to mean Citizens United isn’t going away, and the Voting Rights Act won’t be strengthened.

Our only weapon is turnout.

We can’t just sit back and let demographics deliver us to power. Democrats will have to fight for these policies. We shouldn’t care that the odds seem stacked against the people who back these values.

Generational change is coming, and with it an opportunity to fundamentally transform the American government and who it serves.

To help with that, Democrats must insist on making voting easier, and more universal.

Then, hone their message.

Then, do everything in our power to make it happen.

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How Do We Increase Voter Turnout?

The Daily Escape:

Cows grazing in fields near the village of Castelluccio in central Italy. In October 2016, a significant earthquake struck the area, badly damaging the village and roads—but farming still takes place and fields of lentils and poppies bloom every year, carpeting the land – 2018 photo by Maurizio Sartoretto

Ninety-two million eligible American voters failed to vote in the 2016 presidential elections. In the 2014 midterms, 143 million eligible Americans failed to vote. It was the lowest voter participation in 72 years. Is it possible to change this sorry record? We can start by looking at voter registration. From Larry Sabato:

There are 31 states (plus the District of Columbia) with party registration; in the others, such as Virginia, voters register without reference to party. In 19 states and the District, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 12 states, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats. In aggregate, 40% of all voters in party registration states are Democrats, 29% are Republicans, and 28% are independents.

Sabato says that overall, the current Democratic advantage over Republicans in the party registration states approaches 12 million voters. But, they don’t turn out to vote.

There are a number of major states that do not register voters by party, including those in the industrial Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Add to that, Texas, Georgia, and Washington. If they did register by party, Texas, Georgia, and Indiana would certainly add to the Republican total. Sabato’s team produced this map illustrating the breakdown of registered voters (RV) in the table below:

More from Sabato: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Still, Republican Donald Trump found a route to victory in 2016 that went through the party registration states. He scored a near sweep of those where there were more Republicans than Democrats, winning 11 of the 12, while also taking six of the 19 states where there were more Democrats than Republicans — a group that included the pivotal battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

But the message gets worse for Dems, and it’s all about voter turnout. In 2016, falling participation defined the election, as pivotal swing states such as Wisconsin and Ohio saw voter participation drop by approximately 3% and 4% respectively, compared with 2012.

The Center for American Progress says that during the 2016 primaries, only 28.5% of eligible voters cast votes for party candidates, while only 14.5% participated in the 2012 primaries. For local mayoral elections, participation fell below 20% in 15 of the country’s 30 most populous cities.

The latest data available that break down voter turnout for midterm elections by state is for 2014. And it makes a disheartening case for Democrats, particularly in those states with a Democratic voter registration plurality where Trump won. Here is the breakdown of voter turnout by state:

In 2014, there wasn’t a lot of Democratic sentiment in the highest turnout states. And in the six states where Dems have a registration advantage, but the state voted for Trump in 2016, this was their 2014 voter turnout:

STATE                                                    TURNOUT

PA                                                            36.1%

WVA                                                         31.2%

KY                                                            44.2%

NC                                                            40.8%

LA                                                            43.9%

FL                                                            42.8%

This shows their turnout was substantially higher than the national average. If these states repeat the same turnout this November, chances are that the House will stay in Republican hands. Now, the data are from 2014, and the country is more energized politically in 2018 than it was four years ago, so generalizing may not provide us with a correct answer.

For what it’s worth, only five states had turnout over 50%: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

But can we fix turnout? The usual barriers we talk about fixing are:

  • Streamlining voter registration, possibly by automatic voter registration, or same-day voter registration
  • Making the act of voting more convenient by longer periods of early voting, and more liberal absentee voting
  • Adding voting booths in election districts to eliminate long lines
  • Changing election day to election weekend, so more working people can get to the polls

But, a 2017 Pew study found that the most common reasons registered voters gave for not voting in the 2016 elections had little to do with barriers to turnout: theyDidn’t like candidates or campaign issues” (25%); followed by those “Not interested, felt vote wouldn’t make difference” (15%); “Too busy or conflicting schedule” (14)%; and “Illness or disability” (12%).

Registration problems,” were only 4%; while “Transportation problems,” were 3%; and “Inconvenient hours or polling place,” just 2%.

Having charismatic candidates with messages that resonate is the easiest fix, but we are locked into a system in which career politicians work their way up the ladder, trying to be as bland as possible.

People have to become angry enough to force our current system to change.

The real question is: Why aren’t they already angry enough?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 1, 2018

Welcome to Sunday. It’s beastly hot in the Northeast of the US. Three things to help you cool off: Did you realize that the Trump/Putin Summit in Helsinki on July 16, takes place one day after soccer’s World Cup final? We know that Trump doesn’t care about soccer, but since the World Cup is taking place in Russia, Putin wouldn’t meet until after the World Cup was over. They settled on having the meeting the very next day.

Second, everyone should read Cheryl Russell’s blog. She is the former editor-in-chief of American Demographics magazine. She recently wrote about median household income:

Median household income in May 2018 climbed to $61,858, according to Sentier Research. This is a higher median than in any month since January 2000, after adjusting for inflation. The May 2018 median was 1.8% higher than the May 2017 median.

Median household income in May was 3.7% higher than the median of December 2007, when the Great Recession began. It is 13.3% higher than the post-Great Recession low of June 2011. The trend line has been positive for nearly seven years. This should be looked at very carefully by people who think Democrats have an easy path to winning the House of Representatives this fall.

Third, it’s doubtful you knew that the University of Tulsa has an Institute of Bob Dylan Studies. The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa acquired the Bob Dylan Archives, and now is the national hotbed of all things Dylan. Unsurprisingly, Dylan hasn’t visited.

On to cartoons. Mitch is large and in charge:

Republicans treat the Constitution like they do the Bible, picking and choosing parts they like for personal benefit:

Trump picks a surprising nominee:

(And the GOP would probably confirm him.)

Kids need to get their priorities straight:

Trump has new idea for the Wall:

Supreme Court hands public unions a big loss:

Bonus: 2012 Tom Toles cartoon on the Court. Bottom line − we all lost:

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We Need a Real Immigration Policy

The Daily Escape:

George Peabody Library, Baltimore MD – via themindcircle

The immigration issue confounds all the developed countries. People who yearn for a better life hit the road (trail), and try to resettle in a better place. That’s ingrained in human nature, and is unlikely to change. The US has its illegal immigration problems, as does Europe. It is hard to reconcile branding the US as the “shining city on the hill” and then wall America off when people are seduced by the image.

In order to plan for our future, we have to look carefully at forecasts of long term population growth in Central and South America. That’s where the pressure by illegal immigration will most likely come.

According to Worldometers, the current population of Central America is 179.5 million, and it is forecasted to reach 231.6 million by 2050. That means it will be growing at an annual rate of less than .5% by then, down from about 1.3% today. The census bureau forecasts that the US population in 2050 will be 388.4 million.

Importantly, the census bureau says that in 2050, the foreign-born Hispanic origin population will be 6.89% of our total population, up from 6.08% in 2016. If they are correct, we are tearing ourselves apart about what will be an increase of Hispanic origin population of about .8%.

For what it’s worth, the foreign-born white population will grow from 7.91% in 2016 to 9.28% in 2050. It’s growing faster and will be larger than the Hispanic foreign-born population.

All the talk that the majority in the country in 2050 will be minorities is true. However, Whites will still be 47.83% of the population, while Hispanics will be substantially smaller at 25.66%.

We already know that Hispanic immigration isn’t driving the Hispanic percentage of the total, so what problem are we trying to solve? Also, arrests of illegal immigrants at the Southern Border are down significantly in the past couple years. From the WaPo:

But, it appears that the political fallout in 2018 could be immense. Trump paints a picture of societal disintegration if we allow illegal immigrants into the country. He says that Democrats want open borders:

What we have is very simple: We want strong borders, and we want no crime. Strong borders, we want no crime. The Democrats want open borders, and they don’t care about crime, and they don’t care about our military. I care about our military. That’s what we want, and that’s what we’re going to get, and we’re going to get it sooner than people think.

His message is that outsiders sap our strength, they’ll take our jobs, and exploit the freedom and openness of America. Trump is playing politics with people’s lives, and that’s both cruel and immoral. There should be no doubt about his playing politics. He said so in a White House meeting last Friday, as reported by the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…One person close to the president said that he told advisers that separating families at the border was the best deterrent to illegal immigration and that he said that “my people love it.”

Trump is ginning up the same paranoia about ‘the other’ that is prevalent all over Europe. So far, the GOP has allowed this to happen because in the background, they’re making gains in their overall political agenda, and polls show that the Democrat’s 2018 advantage is narrowing.

We need to take a longer view about immigration, both legal and illegal. Congress has to exercise its law-making prerogative over the migrant issue. We need to stop governance by tweet and executive order.

We shouldn’t forget that we are a vast country, with vast resources. We have been defined by migration, wave after wave of it. Despite the current chaos on the Southern Border, we have the resources to process migrants efficiently. We simply need lawmakers with the courage to see the problem for what it is.

Let’s leave the final word to Bobby Cramer:

Long after we’ve forgotten about what jacket Melania Trump wore, where Sara Huckabee Sanders ate dinner, and all the little “oh-look-at-the-kitty” distractions have come and gone, we’re going to be left with the clean-up that comes after a disaster.  No matter where those refugees end up, we will still be confronting not only what was done to them in the real sense, but also the cost to our nation in terms of being able to set an example of morality and democracy for the rest of our civilization.

We are blending chaos with callousness. What’s the fix?

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White People’s Problems

The Daily Escape:

Point Lobos Reserve, CA – 2018 photo by HeroicTaquito

Today we have two linked stories about the often deminimus problems of white people, and how they can take generations to resolve. That’s older, upscale white people.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon at a venerable music venue in Falls Village, CT called Music Mountain. This unique facility has been around since 1929 as a performance space for classical music and jazz, with classical music performed on Sundays, and jazz on Saturdays.

This year, they are staging 16 consecutive Sundays of chamber music, including six by the Shanghai Quartet, in which the Quartet will perform all of the Beethoven string quartets. We saw them perform three, including his Opus 132. It was being performed at Music Mountain for the 23rd time. And it was a blissful experience.

The crowd was about 200 older, white-haired music lovers. We saw just one kid under the age of 15, and very few in their 20’s and 30’s, except those who were a part of the production crew. It isn’t a new question to ask if classical music as we know it today will survive in the next century. City orchestras around the world are financially stressed. The audience is aging, and is not being replaced by younger fans. In fact, even though Music Mountain has been around for 89 years, like most niche venues, they are constantly raising money.

A connected story is about Lime Rock Park (LRP), a track for sports car enthusiasts that is located a few miles away, in the town of Salisbury, CT. If you know about it, it’s probably because Paul Newman’s career as a race car driver started at Lime Rock.

The track has been in a fight with the town and with Music Mountain, since it opened in a reclaimed gravel mine in 1957. Lime Rock has always attracted an overwhelmingly upper-crust clientele. Simply put, the crowd isn’t your average NASCAR bunch. These people are predominantly wealthy country club types, the kind who have room in their garages for multiple (often antique) sports cars.

Salisbury itself isn’t demographically very different from the track’s clients: It is 95% white with a median family income of $69,152. Seven percent live in poverty. Meryl Streep lives here. It is the home of a renowned prep school, Hotchkiss.

Yet the town and the track have been at odds with each other since 1957. The major issue is loud noise from sports car engines. However, since 1959, LRP has been prohibited from hosting racing events on Sundays when the Litchfield Superior Court issued an injunction banning Sunday racing.

That injunction stood until recently, when the track obtained a court decision to allow racing on Sunday afternoons and unmufflered racing as well. The track owner’s argument was that the zoning regulation made the track uncompetitive with others in Connecticut, and the judge agreed.

You would think that the town’s and the track’s interests would align. Wealthy people visit Salisbury every summer to see and be seen, to crash their little cars and live to talk about it. But their interests do not work together. The track employs very few locals, and the taxes it pays don’t amount to much (~$90k).

So, a legal appeal is working its way up the food chain, starting in the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. And later on, probably going on to the state courts. Music Mountain, located close enough to hear the engines, now asks for donations for the costs of appeal, along with funds to underwrite their performance space. How deep can the pockets of classical music lovers be?

This is a fight by and among white people that has been ongoing since 1959. It’s a battle of property rights: The right to quiet enjoyment on the locals’ side, and the right to use your property as you see fit on the other. It’s the dominant culture in America at work, engaged in a decades-long pissing contest.

It doesn’t matter much in the global scheme of things: Putin isn’t involved, and kids aren’t being separated from their parents in this town. People aren’t marching for “Medicare for all”.

This is a high quality problem being fought by only the “best” people, a fight that is characterized as a threat to the American way.

Perspective, people, please!

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No Cake For You, No Democracy For Me

The Daily Escape:

Manhattan, NYC skyline viewed from Brooklyn – 2018 photo by Max Guilani

The gay wedding cake ruling was absurd. If a wedding photographer didn’t want to take photos at the wedding, it would be understandable, because then they’d be present at the ceremony, in some way, participating.

But a person baking and decorating a cake? The baker isn’t participating in the event, and the cake isn’t usually at the ceremony either. The cake can’t represent a religious belief unless it’s actually a religious cake.

There’s a difference between freedom “from” and freedom “to”. This case, and a few others, notably Hobby Lobby, have swung the pendulum in the direction of “freedom to”. That could be the freedom to refuse to serve a customer, to refuse to provide health coverage, to claim an infringement of your religious rights, to say that baking the cake causes undue harm to your right to believe as you do. Much of what the Right touts as freedoms fall under this category, like the freedom to bear arms.

But at the same time, will the court protect those groups who need freedom “from” something, like freedom from discrimination, or harassment?

So, here we are in 21st century America: Stuck, this time by the Supreme Court.

And most of the time, we are stuck by the House and Senate’s inability to move the country forward. The question is: How long will the majority of Americans consent to be governed by the minority?

This, from David Brooks:

Now the two-party system has rigidified and ossified. The two parties no longer bend to the center. They push to the extremes, where the donor bases and their media propaganda arms are. More and more people feel politically homeless, alienated from both parties and without any say in how the country is run.

Our system of democracy must evolve. Under our winner take all rules, the minority can control the country with say, 20 million votes, representing about 6% of the population.

Consider that every state has two senators. The 22 smallest states have a total population less than California.  If the Senate’s filibuster remains in effect, just 21 States can stop any presidential appointment, or any legislation. Even without the filibuster, it takes 26 states to stop legislation.

And the smallest 26 states have a population of about 57 million, less than the population of California and the New York metro area. And today, neither major political party commands more than 30% of the voters.

How long can the country sustain this lack of balance and democratic fairness? The competing interests that the framers tried to balance in 1789 have been overtaken by newer competing interests that they never envisioned.

Maybe it’s time to seriously rethink our electoral processes.

In a recent column in the NYT (quoted above), David Brooks recognizes the problem, and argues for multi-member House districts and for ranked-choice voting (RCV). Russell Berman explained how it works in The Atlantic:

Ranked-choice voting, which cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine, use to elect their mayors, has been likened to an “instant runoff”: Instead of selecting just one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders. That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

Supporters say RCV ensures that candidates with the broadest coalitions of support will win, and that it allows voters to choose the candidate they prefer, without splitting the vote and handing the election to the other party. They also say RCV will inspire more positive campaigning, because candidates will aim to become voter’s second and third choices instead of targeting each other with negative advertisements. Further, they hope that RCV could create room for third-party candidates to succeed.

Wrongo thinks something needs to change. We can’t keep a system that allows the minority to run the country, especially if it is persistently a racist minority, a misogynist minority, a fundamentalist minority, and a cruel minority.

Wrongo grew up believing that having public education, public housing, public transportation (including roads) and human services paid for by the public in proportion to their income or wealth, was what created a civilized nation, an educated populace, a world-class work-force. Now, Wrongo really worries about our current political situation. He worries about his grandchildren. Unless there is political change, their future looks grim.

Herbert Stein said: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

We have to change our electoral process.

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Poll Says 100 million Won’t Vote in Midterms

The Daily Escape:

Mac-Mac Falls, Pilgrim’s Rest, South Africa – 2006 photo by Wrongo

Millions of Americans fail to vote in every election. Yet, despite the historic importance of the 2018 midterms, more than 100 million are unlikely to show up at the polls this November, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. Here is a graphic illustration from USA Today:

Source: Frank Pompa/USA Today

This tells us that many more citizens will be nonvoters in this year’s crucial midterm elections than are likely to be voters. In the 2014 midterm, only about one-third of eligible voters actually voted. We also saw in the 2016 Presidential election that only 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots. That was the lowest turnout in a presidential election since 1996, when 53.5% of voting-age citizens actually voted.

The new Suffolk poll gives us a good sense of the turnout challenge for this November. Here’s what the non-voters say:

  • They have given up on the political parties and a system that they say is beyond reform or repair.
  • They say that the country’s most important problems include: political gridlock, the economy, health care, education and immigration. Those subjects were mentioned more frequently than guns, terrorism, or taxes.
  • They lean left in their political choices. If they were to vote for president, they would favor a Democratic candidate over Trump, 35% to 26%, with the remaining being undecided or choosing “third party” or “other.”
  • In a contradiction, the respondents indicated that they lean right in their political philosophy. More than 29% called themselves conservative, 36% said moderate and 17% said liberal.
  • About three-quarters of respondents say religion plays an important role in their lives — and three-quarters also said the federal government also plays an important role.

55% of the nonvoters and unlikely voters said they viewed Trump unfavorably. A third said they backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, while 28% said they had supported Trump. About 30% said they didn’t vote.

The 2018 midterm prospects for both parties hinge on boosting turnout. How turnout increases, and where it will come from is up in the air, but it will have to include people who do not always vote.

Given the state of American education, it’s no wonder that some non-voters aren’t familiar with the concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. If you don’t vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter, then your vote won’t matter because you didn’t bother to vote.

But, some of the early special elections this year suggest a pattern of unusually high turnout among those without a history of regularly voting.

A final thought: When you don’t vote, your intent might be to say “none of the above,” but your impact is “any of the above“. If we want a better country, then we must be better citizens.

That means participating in government and above all, voting.

Do whatever you can to help drive turnout in November.

(The Suffolk survey polled 800 adults between April 2 and 18, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 %.)

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It’s Past Time To Make Changes To Our Economic System

The Daily Escape:

2011 Art piece by Steven Lambert

Does capitalism work for you? Well, you certainly work for capitalists. The real question is whether capitalism still provides economic security to all of us.

Steve Lambert, the artist who designed the sign, engaged with people across America over a three-year period about whether capitalism was still working. He learned that people were split about 50/50 on the premise:

People usually first react to the piece by falling back on the comfort of abstractions and repeating popular myths. For example, the true/false dilemma is much easier to resolve when the only alternatives to capitalism are presumed to be failed communist dictatorships. It’s also much easier to pretend that the only “true” definition of capitalism is the kind of free-market extreme idolized by thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek

Or thinkers like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Lambert learned that people generally agreed with the concept, assuming “you are willing to work hard, or work smarter”:

I’ve always found the formulation “work hard, work smart” disturbing. When you invert the expression, it implies: if capitalism doesn’t work for you (that is, if you’re poor, out of work or have a demeaning job), it’s your fault. To put it more bluntly, you are lazy and stupid.

If we ignore the fact that until recently, wages have stagnated for decades, and that what most people earn in a lifetime is insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement, maybe you can say that capitalism is working.

We have been told that federal budget deficits impair our ability to grow the economy, or to put food on our individual tables. In fact the opposite is true. This idea makes us believe that our ability to earn a living requires some degree of suffering by other Americans.

As Claire Connelly says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“We can’t afford it” has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days….This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment….If their bottom line is stable.

This lie sets us against each other, implying that the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. And who wins? The beneficiaries of the newly lowered taxes, corporate America and its management teams. More from Connelly:

Do we really want to live in a world….Where most people will be lucky to earn minimum wage, or wait for months to get paid. If at all. A world where we are not entitled either to a job, or an education, or affordable health care or a social safety net?

We are likely to see a $1.3 Trillion budget pass both houses of Congress this week. It is deficit spending run wild. Wrongo knows that both parties believe that deficits don’t matter, and to a great extent, he agrees.

But these deficits are larger than they had to be, due to the massive corporate and wealthy individual tax cuts the Republican House and Senate just passed. And it’s not only the size of the deficits, it’s the mis-allocation of funds by our neo-con overlords.

This is what capitalism has delivered for America: More than 45 million of us (14.5%) live in poverty. In 2016, another 49.5 million Americans were age 65 and older, and half of them (24.75 million) had yearly income of less than $23,394.

That adds up to about 70 million (22%) of Americans.

One idea that is gaining attention is a Jobs Guarantee program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently released a paper arguing for a national jobs guarantee through a national infrastructure bank. The CBPP plan envisions an infrastructure bank that would fund vital projects and ensure that jobs are well-paid. The government would use this job-creating ability to expand jobs in sectors where the market won’t currently invest, like a national high-speed internet network.

Government guarantees of employment aren’t radical. They aren’t communism, or socialism. We did it before with the New Deal. It reinforces traditional American values around work, and it builds the tax base by taxation on the jobs created. Here’s a final quote from Steve Lambert:

My favorite response to the sign was from a 17-year-old high school student in Boston. She said: “Capitalism can’t work for everyone. If it did, it wouldn’t be capitalism.”

This is where the conversation needs to go: We have to change an economic system that fails so many.

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