UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Can America Learn From France’s Yellow Vest Movement?

The Daily Escape:

Turtlehead Pond, Groton State Forest, VT – October 2018 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

The Yellow Vests have thrown France into turmoil with their protests in recent weeks. They say they want lower taxes, higher salaries, freedom from gnawing financial fear, and a better life.

It’s a uniquely French phenomenon. Every automobile in France is supposed to be equipped with a yellow vest, so that in case of car accident or breakdown, the driver can put it on to ensure visibility and avoid getting run over.

That enabled the wearing of a yellow vest to demonstrate against unpopular government measures to catch on quickly. Most people had one. The symbolism was fitting: in case of an income inequality emergency, show people that you don’t want to be run over.

What set off the protests was a rise in gasoline taxes. But it became immediately clear that much more was driving the protests, that the gasoline tax was the last straw in a long series of measures favoring the rich at the expense of the majority of the population.

That’s why the movement achieved almost instant popularity and support.

The Yellow Vests held their first demonstrations on Saturday, November 17 on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Most French trade union demonstrations are well organized. People carry banners and listen to speeches from leaders at the end. But, the Yellow Vests showed up without any organization, and no leaders to tell them where to go, or to speak for the crowd’s demands.

They were just there in yellow vests, angry and ready to explain their anger to any listener. Their message was:

We can’t make ends meet. The cost of living keeps going up, and our incomes keep going down. We just can’t take it anymore. The government must stop what it’s doing and change course.

This is another example that income disparity between the rich and rest of us is out of control on a global basis.

The Yellow Vest protesters know that our political systems are controlled by the rich, and by their captured politicians. They are enriching themselves on the backs of the working and middle classes. Interestingly, it was the French economist, Thomas Piketty, who has researched and publicized the fact that the US has the largest income gap of any Western nation.

We should be paying closer attention both to Piketty and the Yellow Vests.

Global corporations and their fellow traveler politicians know that this sort of discontent is infectious, so politicians always try to quell it quickly. If the American 90% got the idea from France, revolution might migrate, as our revolution in 1776 migrated to France in 1789.

It is interesting that the NYT reports that in France, the Yellow Vest protests were totally unanticipated by the government.

We all know that income inequality is a growing global problem, so how can it be that the suffering of a country’s citizens and their protest against the French government’s plan to increase gas taxes would be “totally unanticipated by the parties’’?  Are the powers that be in France completely tone-deaf to the needs of their constituents?

So, are there lessons for America in the Yellow Vest movement? There should be, because the issue here is similar to the issue in France, and elsewhere in Europe. That issue is economic insecurity.

There’s no political will to deal with job insecurity. There’s no mechanism in place for those who can’t pay their bills. Soon, given automation and AI, there will not be enough work available for everyone to support themselves and their families. Underemployed people will still need food, shelter, and health care, so they might start by demonstrating in order to get them.

The sooner our corporate and political leaders decide to work on these problems, the better we all will sleep at night. But, no one in the top 10% of our economic strata has any idea what it is like to go without the necessities; it is simply inconceivable to them.

Many think that there are no consequences to the inequality that has developed in America since 1980, but there certainly will be consequences. We are in the midst of economic class warfare. The politicians, bought by the corporate plutocrats, are pushing their corporatist agenda down the throats of the middle and working classes.

We can either engage in a slow reform of Capitalism, or we can wait another generation, and participate in an urgent, rapid destruction of Capitalism as we know it today.

If we opt to go slow, let’s not kid ourselves. You don’t close a deep wound with a Band-Aid. It takes surgery.

Facebooklinkedinrss

We’re Too Short to be on This Ride

The Daily Escape:

Lion’s Head, Capetown South Africa, viewed from Tabletop Mountain – 2012 photo by Wrongo

A WaPo report said that Donald Trump discussed giving Janet Yellen another term as head of the Federal Reserve, but was concerned that she was too short. He thought that at 5 feet, 3 inches, she just wasn’t tall enough to get the job done.

Wrongo thinks Yellen’s performance was about the same as her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, and her successor, Jerome Powell. Shouldn’t the real question be: Do we know what’s wrong with our economy, and do we have people in place with enough strength and/or courage to fix it? They can also be short, as long as they have ability and vision.

And it isn’t only in the US: (brackets by Wrongo)

Income inequality has increased in nearly all regions of the world over the past four decades, according to the World Inequality Report 2018. Since 1980, the global top 1% of earners have…[garnered] twice as much of the global growth as have the poorest 50%.

More from the World Inequality Report: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Such acute economic imbalances can lead to political, economic, and social catastrophes if they are not properly monitored and addressed….Governments need to do more to keep society fair…Public services, taxation, social safety nets – all of these have a role to play.

We’re seeing a slow-rolling social catastrophe in the US. We’re seeing alienation across class, race, age and gender. We’re divided as never before, with the possible exception of the pre-Civil War period.

Aren’t we all too short to be on this ride?

Central banks play an integral part in the global economy, and their performance (including the Fed’s) during the 2008 Great Recession was for the most part, admirable.

But central banks can only use monetary policy to partially solve issues of economic inequality. The most robust solutions lie in fiscal policy. Fiscal policy is how Congress and other elected officials influence the economy using spending, taxation and regulation.

Take student loans. Many of our university students are simply being led to the debt gallows. Currently, 44.5 million student loan borrowers in the US owe a total of $1.5 trillion. Student loans are the fastest growing segment of US household debt, seeing almost 157% growth since the Great Recession.

From Bloomberg:

Student loans are being issued at unprecedented rates as more American students pursue higher education. But the cost of tuition at both private and public institutions is touching all-time highs, while interest rates on student loans are also rising. Students are spending more time working instead of studying. (Some 85% of current students now work paid jobs while enrolled.)

Student loan debt has the highest “over 90 days” delinquency rate of all household debt. More than 10% of student borrowers are at least 90 days delinquent. Mortgages and auto loans have a 1.1% and 4% 90-day delinquency rate, respectively,

And if the student loan can’t be repaid, it isn’t expunged by bankruptcy. In fact, students can’t outlive their debt. The feds can garnish social security payments to repay a student’s outstanding debt.

As young adults struggle to pay back their loans, they’re forced to make financial choices that create a drag on the economy. Student debt has delayed marriages. It has led to a decline in home ownership. Sixteen percent of young workers aged 25 to 35 lived with their parents in 2017, up 4% from 10 years earlier.

We are only beginning to understand the social costs of our politics. We are in the midst of a brewing social disaster. And these are self-inflicted wounds, fixable with different government policies. But, most of today’s politicians are too short to get on that ride.

So, how to solve the simultaneous equations of high poverty rates, income inequality and an impending social disaster?

It won’t be easy, and it starts with politicians admitting that our economy doesn’t work for everyone, and that it must be reformed. Then, we can move beyond the tired rallying cries of “more tax cuts” to a capitalism which incorporates a social consciousness that can get people on the track to better paying, and more secure jobs.

An April 2018 study of survey data from 16 European countries found that economic deprivation increased right-wing populist tendencies. Sam van Noort, a co-author of the report said:

Individuals who “feel economically less well-off” were more likely to be attracted by the far right…and radical right respondents are more likely to be male, subjectively poorer, less educated [and] younger.

This will also happen here, unless the voters have determination, and even the short politicians have courage.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – December 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Yukon Grizzly before hibernation – 2014 photo by Paul Nicklen

Quite the week. We had barely digested Thanksgiving dinner when we heard about Russia seizing three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea. We learned that Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller, and that his lawyer reported everything that occurred between Manafort and Mueller to the White House. Then, we heard that Trump’s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Who knows what it all means?

But, the big story this week was that we learned that life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years, a 0.3 year decline from our peak. From CNN:

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.

We are witnessing social decay in America. This is consistent with what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” in 2017. The WSJ has a detailed breakdown, and also points out how other countries are continuing to show progress:

Data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday show life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a percent, to 78.6 years, pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl. Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase.

From Yves Smith:

Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers.

The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the US, reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. In addition, diseases are plaguing people with limited access to health care.

In the late part of the last century, and the early years of this century, there was a steady decline in heart-disease deaths. That offset a rising number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Now, we’re not seeing those heart-related declines, while drug and suicide deaths occur earlier in life, accounting for more years of life lost.

The worst aspect is that it never had to be this way. These drug and suicide deaths are “collateral damage” caused by the social and economic changes in America since the 1970s.

And we made most of those changes by choice.

Wrongo is reminded that last month, he learned that something similar had happened in Russia under Gorbachev. Under Perestroika, millions of Russians lost jobs. The government’s budget deficits grew. The death rate exceeded the birth rate. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

Are we in a slow motion disaster that could be similar to what Russia went through back in the 1990s?

We’ve become hardened. These American deaths are largely anonymous. When AIDS was ravishing the gay community in the 1980s, people were able to appreciate the huge number of deaths by seeing, or adding to, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which eventually weighed more than 50 tons.

There is no equivalent recognition for these deaths of despair.

A traitorous American ruling class has sold out its middle and lower classes. If you doubt that, think about Wal-Mart. The Walton’s fortune was made by acting as an agent of Chinese manufacturers, in direct competition with US manufacturers. Doesn’t that seem like treason?

Relax, there’s nothing you can do about all of this today, the first day of December. Time to get what solace you can from a few minutes having a coffee, and a listen to a piece of soothing music.

Start by brewing a cup of Kona Mele Extra Fancy coffee from Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($64.94/lb.). It has an aroma of dark chocolate, fruit and flowers. And shipping is free.

Now settle back and listen to a few minutes of George Winston’s “December”. Here are Part 1: Snow, Part 2: Midnight, and Part 3: Minstrels:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 11, 2018

Possibly the best news about the mid-terms was that the long-promised youth vote was finally real.  A study by Tufts University found that: (brackets by Wrongo)

Approximately 31% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms, an extraordinary increase over the CIRCLE estimate in 2014 [when 21% voted] and the highest rate of turnout in at least 25 years.

Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that, in 2014, approximately 10.8 million young Americans voted, with Democrats preferred 54%-43%, compared to 14.7 million in 2018 (Democrats preferred 67%-32%). So the Dem’s share of the youth vote increased by 13 percentage points in four years.

The actual number of Republican votes cast by those under 30 remained stable from 2014 to 2018. So, nearly all of the 4 million increase in turnout came from those supporting Democrats.

Wrongo tried to stay away from Jim Acosta and Jeff Sessions for today’s cartoons. It wasn’t easy.

Another place where thoughts and prayers are really needed:

After the CA shooting, there was a fire, followed by a shower for the GOP:

2020 is right around the corner:

From the cartoonist, Clay Jones: After the 2014 midterms, the first major candidate to announce a presidential bid, not an exploratory committee, was Ted Cruz in March 2015. Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll have an announcement in four months…but we don’t have long.

Media madness starts on Monday:

We wouldn’t need to throw the TV out the window if the media actually covered ISSUES. You didn’t hear that last Tuesday, HHS published Final Regulations that will allow employers and universities to deny health insurance coverage of contraception to any woman based on the company’s “moral” or “religious” belief. Did anyone see coverage of this issue before it happened? Which news organizations are covering it now?

Florida, same as it ever was:

Back to the usual totally repellent ads next week:

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – Voter Turnout Edition

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, Blue Ridge Mountains, near Asheville, NC – 2018 photo by RedWhiteTruee

Wrongo guesses that we’ll know Tuesday night whether being an A-hole is a winning strategy for the Donald.

While traveling in Russia, Wrongo finished reading (and recommends) Amor Towle’s “A Gentleman in Moscow”. If you haven’t read it, the story is about a Russian nobleman who is sentenced in 1922 by the Bolsheviks to the equivalent of permanent house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. He spends 30+ years living there.

Doesn’t it seem that we have been locked up for the past two years, waiting on the mid-terms? Let’s hope that on Tuesday, the doors will fly open, because we want out. We want a world with fewer lies, with fewer insults, maybe even a return to sanity.

Here’s a thought to launch you into the weekend. Despite Friday’s news about brisk new jobs creation, and the headline unemployment rate being at a 50-year low, MarketWatch reported that just 28% of Americans are financially healthy:

Some 44% of people said their expenses exceeded their income in the past year and they used credit to make ends meet. Another 42% said they have no retirement savings at all.

That’s despite a nine-year-long bull(ish) stock market, and consumer confidence levels nearing record highs. And, there’s more:

The median American household currently holds just $11,700 in savings, according to a recent analysis of Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data by personal-finance site Magnify Money. The top 1% of households in the U.S. by income have a median savings of $1.1 million….The bottom 20% by income have no savings accounts and the second lowest 20% income earners have just $26,450 saved.

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans in a recent survey said their finances have not improved since the 2016 elections. Market Watch quotes Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate:

All of this is a call to action: We need to make savings, both for retirement and for emergencies a higher priority, so that they aren’t the source of financial regret later in life.

So, all of you politicians who are running on the great economy ought to study up on a few facts, and find a few solutions.

A good start for the rest of us is showing up to vote on, or before next Tuesday.

But Wrongo senses that you’ve had enough, that you need to check out of the news feeds, to stop being carpet-bombed by political ads, and contemplate…nothing. To help you get started on your Saturday Soothing, brew up a large, hot steaming cup of Kenya Konyu coffee, with its sweet, tart and savory notes of dried berries and richly bittersweet flowers ($16.25 for 10 oz.). It comes from Branch Street Coffee Roasters in Youngstown, in the swing state of Ohio.

Since it’s another rainy Saturday in the Northeast, stay indoors and listen to English composer Sir Michael Tippett’s “Concerto for Double String Orchestra”. Here, the Adagio, the middle movement of the Concerto, is played by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

America’s Divided by Illegal Immigration

The Daily Escape:

Fall at Mount Assiniboine, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC, Canada – photo by Daniel Kodan

Happy Halloween! The spooky caravan of migrants heading northward to the US-Mexico border has sparked much debate. We’ve always heard that the US is “a nation of immigrants,” and that we’re a better country because of migrants who came here to chase the American Dream. But now, the country is divided about letting immigrants into the country.

On October 18th, the Kaiser Family Foundation published a survey that focused on the most important issues to voters. They found a significant difference between the parties on immigration:

Republicans rated immigration as their most important issue at 25% vs. 9% for Democrats, and Independents ranked it third at 15%. The sample included 396 Democrats, 309 Republicans and 399 Independents for a total of 91.8% of the overall respondents.

The differences were more pronounced in battleground states. Republicans in battleground states ranked immigration highest at 29% while Democrats rated it at 16% and fourth overall:

We say we are a nation of immigrants, but what that means is no longer clear. Trump and many Republicans running this fall have made the caravan seem like a powerful enemy army that we are at war with, albeit one that is unarmed, without funds and leaderless.

The Kaiser survey shows that this is working with Republicans in battleground districts/states. Whether it will prove helpful across the country will be determined on November 6th.

This anti-immigrant viewpoint has been with us for a very long time. After the Civil War, Congress realized that Blacks were going to be able to obtain citizenship just by being here, and then having children who would become citizens by birth. That ended when the 14th Amendment legitimized those children.

In the late 19th Century, there was another strong push to restrict immigration in order to maintain the whiteness of the country. It started with the restrictions against the Chinese and Japanese. Then it was extended even to those Europeans who were not considered to be white enough. People like the Irish, the Italians, the Greeks, the Poles, had their immigration quotas drastically cut back from 1917 through the 1920s.

We have always expressed our anti-immigrant bias explicitly in racial terms, even making up races, like the Irish and Poles. And today, it’s the Mexicans and Central Americans.

Even the term “illegal alien”, or “illegal immigrant” that we apply to those crossing the southern border has almost replaced race. It’s no longer legitimate to openly discriminate on the basis of race, but we’ve allowed one political Party to replace race with legal status.

So now it is legitimate again to discriminate against people. They are illegals, not a racial category, like they were in the 1800’s and 1900’s.

Today’s Republicans play to our fears: These less-than-worthy illegals want in, so that they can take a shot at the American Dream. If they get in, they may take jobs away from poorly educated, low skilled Americans. Therefore, we must be vigilant, and insure we protect our economy and the citizens who are already here.

There is some truth to that view.

America’s economy is predominantly service-based, and immigrants are over-represented in low skill, low-paying service occupations. They are in elder care, food services, in fact, they are hugely involved in the farming, harvesting and processing of most of our food as well.

These low-end jobs are going to grow, and it is highly questionable if low-skilled Americans will be lining up to take them.

And nobody’s talking about population growth as a reason to implement more restrictive immigration policies. By 2050, the US is projected to have 400 million people. Now it’s about 320 million. That’s a 25% increase in 32 years.

We need to ask: where will the jobs come from for all these people?

The division needs to stop. It’s a toxic stew of nativist, xenophobic ideas that must be sent back underground, and we have to end the rhetoric about “birthright citizenship” once and for all.

Let’s start by granting the DACA people citizenship. Second, those who came into our country illegally, and have not committed serious criminal offenses, should be offered a rigorous path to citizenship, one that does not give them an advantage over those who have complied with the law and are waiting their turn. Third, employers who have knowingly hired and exploited undocumented immigrants should be prosecuted, and not simply fined.

Fourth, we need clearer immigration rules, and better methods of processing of asylum requests. And we need more border security.

And if Trump’s wall is included, (as repugnant as that may seem), so be it.

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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?

Facebooklinkedinrss