UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – March 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Mt Kilimanjaro – March 2018 photo by Peter Madonia

The #enough movement is about school kids protesting school violence. America watched this week as thousands of high school kids left their classrooms. Some wanted their government to do more to end gun violence, some simply wanted to show solidarity with 17 dead Florida kids.

These children may not be able to vote yet, but they’re learning how to make themselves heard. Let’s hope they grow up and vote, because we are living in a country where many, including most Republicans in Congress, think that universal health care is tyranny, but dead school children are part of the cost of freedom.

They think that access to medical treatment is a privilege you earn based on what’s in your wallet. Meanwhile, they defend the right of virtually anyone over 18 to own an AR-15.

And in New Milford, here in Litchfield County CT, there was a big dust-up over the town’s walk out. A group of parents hired an attorney to tell the school district that they were not happy that the kids got to participate in the national student walkout. Their lawyer wrote to the school district, saying:

My clients have asked me to notify you that this event violates state law, on the basis that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. Because it violates state law, we demand that the New Milford Public School District’s Superintendent and Board of Education immediately cancel the event, and rescind any association or prior involvement in it.

Since the event is over, it’s doubtful that it can be canceled. They also emailed Breitbart: (editing and brackets by Wrongo)

…the parents – who wish to remain anonymous – argue [that] the decision involves issues concerning adherence to law and policy, the manipulation of minors, the misuse of tax dollars, and indoctrination and political activism during school hours.

These parents think their kids are being manipulated. They surely must realize how difficult it is to manipulate one teenager, much less to simultaneously manipulate hundreds of thousands of them all across America.

George Soros just isn’t that powerful.

The #enough movement is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam-era marches, which included high school and college kids spontaneously standing in public places protesting something that was a legitimate threat to their physical safety. The primary concern of students back then was being killed.

It is also the primary concern of these kids today.

Back in New Milford, solidly Trump country, a few anonymous parents obviously want to micromanage their kids’ experiences and to politicize them. Here is a Facebook page quote by a student at NM High School:

Any student who wanted to go to the gym did, and those who chose not to participate were not forced to. A few students gave speeches, one of which contained a list of the names of the victims of the Parkland shooting. With each name a bell was rung and a moment of silence was given. A memorial for the innocent lives that were lost. The other speeches focused on being positive and spreading kindness; one given from a student who used to live in Parkland and who was very personally affected by this tragedy. Students and teachers alike listened and felt for the losses. It was a powerful and beautiful movement for all who watched. There was NO mention of guns in any way.

These kids didn’t leave the building! But, despite knowing this, these anonymous parents hired a lawyer to intimidate the school district, and politicize the intentions of high school kids. The parents then involved Breitbart, a right wing rag. They wanted to highjack the message of these kids, turning it into yet another right wing, Second Amendment moment.

As Paul Simon said: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

This really makes Wrongo feel like we all need a soothing experience. To help with that, Wrongo suggests brewing a cup of Al-Durrar Single Farmer Lot coffee from Yemen, ($45/4 oz.) imported and roasted by Port of Mokha coffee. Wrongo heard about this on the PBS News Hour. It is a very interesting story.

Now, take your cup, and settle into your most comfortable chair to listen to “Sicilian Blue” by Hiromi Uehara, a Japanese jazz composer and pianist. Her work is a perfect blend of emotion and control. Here, she is performing live at the Jazz in Marciac (France) Festival in August, 2010:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

What Is Free Speech In the Domain of Social Media?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise with full moon over mountains at Morillion, France – 2018 photo by osg28

Can we justify taking away a person’s First Amendment right of free speech because of its content? Suppose it is hate speech? In the US, we hear people say: “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it“. Is that an inviolable default position?

Wrongo has been following this issue as it plays out in Europe. From the Columbia Journalism Review:

A toxic combination of misinformation, hate speech, and online harassment is pushing several European countries to take action against social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But some believe their actions—however well-intentioned—run the risk of stifling free speech and putting dangerous restrictions on freedom of the press.

France, Germany, and the UK are all either discussing, or are already in the process of implementing requirements for social networks to take measures to remove, or block online hate speech, and/or harassment.

Germany in particular is a laboratory for these issues. The Guardian reports that social media firms must remove hate speech, or face fines under a law that went into force on January 1st. The law is known as NetzDG. Under the law, online platforms face fines of up to $60 million if they do not remove “obviously illegal” hate speech and other postings within 24 hours of receiving a notification. A New Year’s Eve tweet by a far-right politician was the first post to be taken down. From the Economist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

‘WHAT the hell is wrong with this country?’ fumed Beatrix von Storch to her 30,000 Twitter followers on December 31st: ‘Why is the official police page in NRW [North Rhine-Westphalia] tweeting in Arabic?’ The MP for the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party detected in the force’s multilingual new-year greeting a bid ‘to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men’. The next day her tweet—and, for 12 hours, her entire account, vanished from Twitter.

In Germany, freedom of speech is considered an “inalienable human right”, and is protected under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution:

Everyone has the right freely to express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by radio and motion pictures are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

From the Economist:

Germany’s memories of the Gestapo and the Stasi undergird its commitment to free speech. “There shall be no censorship,” decrees the constitution. Even marches by Pegida, an Islamophobic and anti-immigrant movement founded in 2014, receive police protection. But the country of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust also takes a punitive attitude to what it deems “hate speech”. Inciting hatred can carry a prison sentence of up to five years…Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a Berlin pensioner who spray-paints over swastikas and other racist graffiti, is a national hero.

The debate in Germany is whether the NetzDG law should be repealed or modified. How practical is it in an age when a tweet, Facebook post, or YouTube video can spread around the world in minutes?

But the largest question is how can countries balance the people’s legitimate right to free speech with others’ desire to be protected against harmful material? In another German case, Israeli flags were burned in Berlin in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital. Even with accompanying chants of “Israel, murderer of children”, local police said the act was covered by freedom of speech legislation, and was thus protected.

But should a Muslim immigrant anti-Semite in Germany be allowed to use hate speech that a native German cannot?

Facebook and Twitter have added German-fluent moderators and a few features for flagging controversial content. They have trained their moderators to cope with the NetzDG Act.

Another question is why should the giant social media firms have to regulate free speech? Is it acceptable that private US companies act as a brake on freedom of opinion and the press in Germany?

And how do we “equalize” enforcement of the Free Speech laws in the physical and cyber domains? And where does free expression cross the line between a viewpoint and hatred and incitement to violence?

Should we be ceding control of Free Speech to poorly-paid (and possibly poorly-educated) Facebook and Twitter moderators?

Finally, how will private firms create a tool that grades how hateful a Twitter post is? Who decides that something is beyond say, a seven on the scale, has crossed into hate territory, and must be deleted?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – November 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Balloon Festival, Armenia. In the background is Mt Ararat – photo by Karen Minasyan

As bad as you think it is in Trumpland, it’s actually worse.

It’s likely that you missed the letter that 84 members of Congress sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Monday. The letter suggests to Sessions that those engaged in activism disrupting or damaging pipeline operations should face criminal prosecution as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act.

The letter’s broad definition of terrorism, if adopted, would allow prosecutors to treat people who chain themselves to pipelines or construction equipment involved in pipeline projects as terrorists. This would treat climate activists in a harsher way than Charleston killer Dylann Roof, or the congressional baseball shooter James Hodgkinson were treated under existing laws.

Interestingly, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a victim of Hodgkinson’s attack, co-signed the pipeline terrorism letter.

While the letter cites a series of pipeline-cutting operations by radical environmentalists that occurred last October as its principal motivation, its language would include even the nonviolent resistance tactics employed by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 80 Republicans who co-signed the letter are from states with significant oil and gas industry activity. Four Texas Democrats also signed the letter.

Two days after the Congressional letter to AG Sessions was published, the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance’s (EEIA) announced the creation of an “Energy Infrastructure Incident Reporting Center.” The initiative also is a reaction to pipeline protests. Their database initiative says its purpose is tracking:

Incidents of eco-terrorism, sabotage, arson, vandalism, and violence are on the rise as severe actions have become a regular feature of pipeline protests, endangering public safety, the environment, jobs, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars…

Annie Leonard, executive director for Greenpeace USA, denounced the database. Leonard told the AP:

Corporations and their governmental enablers are desperate to silence dissent every way they can… [the database is] more fear-mongering by corporate bullies hoping to see what they can get away with in Trump’s America.

Peaceful protest = terrorism.

Attacking peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons = law enforcement.

Sentencing peaceful protesters as terrorists = the end of the First Amendment

Should our elected and non-elected co-conspirators be able to say peaceful civil protests against pipelines are an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act?

Time to wake up America! We need to fight to keep our Constitution or face the Orwellian future that Jeff Sessions and Trumplandia want so badly for all of us. To help you wake up, here is Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Rockin in the Free World” from his 1989 album “Freedom”:

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Weaponizing Patriotism Edition

The Daily Escape:

Fish Drying in Shenzhen, China earlier in September. Shenzhen is home to Foxconn, Apple’s iPhone manufacturer. It is about 30 min. from Hong Kong.

Our national nightmare; The Apprentice: POTUS Edition, has the Donald regularly turning up the outrageousness. It is frightening how easily many of us are manipulated by his antics, because we are intellectually lazy. Wrongo was happy to see Nicolle Wallace coin a new term for what Trump is pedaling:

Weaponized Patriotism. Isn’t Trump’s effort to equate standing for the National Anthem to “patriotism”, weaponizing patriotism? If you follow Trump’s ideas, all that really matters are the symbols. This was Trump on Saturday:

Wouldn’t you like to see one of these [NFL] owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!

He then went on to state that any player so exercising free speech should be “fired” and unemployable at their career job. Trump added that he believes fans should walk out if players don’t stand for the anthem:

If you see it, even if it’s one player…Leave the stadium.

Phony patriotism is a strong argument to use against a population that is ignorant of civics.

The refusal to stand for the playing of the National Anthem causes Trump and his fellow travelers, (who all profess to understand, and believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights), to claim that the NFL players’ expression is disrespectful and intolerable.

What are we saying when we say that someone “disrespected the flag,” or “disrespected the country,” when they choose to not stand for the National Anthem? The flag is a piece of cloth that represents many complex things, including the Constitution.

If we let Trump deny this expression of resistance, we are creating a situation where all of our rights are just privileges that can be denied on a whim. Trump can’t be allowed to say, “I believe in the 1st Amendment, but not for people who kneel during the National Anthem”.

If Trump’s reaction to Colin Kaepernick is unchallenged, Trump gains the position of defining which actions are “respectful” for Americans. But, it is a very American thing to resist, or rebel against what we perceive to be the symbols of the government’s abuses of power.

It may be disrespectful, but it must be tolerated.

This is today’s America: People allow their perceptions to control them. And who controls perceptions controls the people. Many Americans equate the flag and the National Anthem with patriotism. And according to Trump, patriotism means you support the government, and you support our foreign wars. Anything less is “un-American”.

But one can love his country while hating his government, or some of its actions. This phony form of Trumpist patriotism is a weapon against independent thinking. It’s a weapon that keeps people ignorant of the underlying problems that make our government ineffective.

Time to wake up America! We are a free people, and most of us want to stay that way. We need to look for the story behind the story when someone equates not standing for the Anthem with “unpatriotic”. Perhaps it is just Trump’s politics. Perhaps he is trying to deflect people from thinking about his latest struggling effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, or how Trump is bungling the effort to blunt North Korea’s aggression.

To help us wake up, here is the late Liam Clancy with “The Patriot Game”. The song is about the death of a young man during a campaign by the Irish Republican Army during the 1950s. He bought the story:

The words were written by Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan Behan. Dominic was angry that the Clancy Brothers cleaned up the lyrics by removing this verse that referred to head of government, Eamon de Valera:

This Ireland of mine has for long been half free,
Six counties are under John Bull’s tyranny.
And still de Valera is greatly to blame
For shirking his part in the patriot game.

Bob Dylan stole the song, turning it into “With God on Our Side”, and Dominic Behan wanted to fight Dylan physically for the theft.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 24, 2017

Elton John inspires WWIII:

Most people know that Donald Trump was in Alabama on Friday, hoping to turn out the vote for Luther Strange, one of two Republican candidates for the US Senate.

What you may have missed was Trump’s divisive words at his rally in Huntsville, Ala. He argued that NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem should be fired. This was directed at the free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who since protesting during the Anthem, can’t find a job in the NFL: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

You know what’s hurting the game…When people like yourselves turn on television, and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. [audience boos.]

The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop. [Applause.] Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!

Kaepernick’s mom said in response:

Guess that makes me a proud bitch!

Trump has re-ignited a debate that on its face, is something he’s tried to put behind him. Think about it: He calls a largely white crowd “people like yourselves,” and refers to protesting professional athletes, who we all know are mostly African American, as “those people“. Guess that he didn’t really mean he’d try healing the wounds caused by Charlottesville.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, on CNN:

I think we’re going to see, potentially more NFL players taking a knee this weekend than we ever would have thought…maybe even college players, too.

Trump wasn’t done. He questioned the manliness of NFL players and the NFL itself regarding its concussions policy:

15 yards, throw him out of the game! They had that last week — I watched for a couple of minutes. And two guys — just really beautiful tackle. Boom: 15 yards! The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him — they’re ruining the game. [Applause]…They’re ruining the game. Hey look, that’s what they want to do. They want to hit, OK? They want to hit.

What is it with this aging, totally out-of-touch former pro football team owner? Could he be unaware of the latest medical research linking concussions to CTE in football players?

If this wasn’t bad enough, on Saturday he tweeted about the NBA’s champion Golden State Warriors and their star player. Apparently Golden State is trying to decide whether they should go ahead with the traditional White House visit. That got this from Trump:

And thus begins a twitter war between Trump and black athletes. Here is LeBron James:

Then, Chris Paul of the NBA’s Houston Rockets weighed in:

Benjamin Watson of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens made the obvious point about free speech that Trump’s Kaepernick comments ignore:

And then, Richard Sherman of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks:

Trump won’t let this go. He continued tweeting about black athletes as Wrongo writes this:

It is very difficult to see what Trump thinks he will get out of a war with wealthy black athletes. He is also putting the NFL on the spot, since they have worked hard to minimize the controversy about football players not standing for the National Anthem.

Maybe there is some insight in this Sports Illustrated article describing reactions to a reporter wearing a Kaepernick jersey at a Buffalo Bills football game. There are some predictable reactions, and many that are mostly “live and let live”. But that’s not something Trump would willingly do.

No Democrat who wanted to energize African-American voters for the 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 presidential election could possibly do better than Donald Trump is doing today.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Can’t Lead

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP Utah, 2001 – photo by Wrongo

Leader of the Free World. Leader of the Republican Party. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the US Government. Donald Trump holds all of these titles, but he isn’t a leader. We just lived through a lab experiment in Trump’s leadership, his curious response to the Charlottesville protests. Either he had a lapse in clear thinking, or he cannot show empathy when the rest of us need it.

Either way, he failed as a leader.

On Saturday, America reacted to a moment in which armed racism was celebrated by members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists, who sought a confrontation to help them achieve high status among the far right. The ugliness of the rally – which included crowds of young white men carrying torches, an air of menace, and the offering of the Nazi salute — should make our president think about how not just to defuse the situation, but how to blunt this from becoming a wave of similar protests across the nation.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday said in essence, “All lives matter”. By Monday, when most of America thought that what he said was far less than the situation required, he gave a terse speech saying:

Racism is evil…Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

There was no emotion or believability behind it, he said what he was told needed to be said, not what he believed. Where was Trump’s sympathy for Jews, African-Americans, Muslims and others that these white-right protesters savaged?

And where was his leadership? Richard Neustadt wrote “Presidential Power” in 1960, a definitive book for its time. Wrongo read it as a freshman in college. Here is a quote:

The president’s primary power is to persuade and bargain, not to command. When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness. Commands only work in very special circumstances. The essence of a President’s persuasive task is to convince…that what the White House wants of them is what they ought to do for their sake…

The power to persuade is perhaps the most important tool a president has. Power in our government is dispersed, so the president must bargain and persuade others that what he knows is in their best interest, and coach them to move in the right direction. Do you see Trump doing that?

Dr. Christine Porath of Georgetown thinks that “warmth” is the most important trait for a leader to have:

Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first…Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that’s great…Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It’s a way to connect with people and again they’re more likely to work harder for you and perform better.

Do you see any warmth in Trump? Any empathy? It isn’t there.

Neustadt agrees. He calls how the public views the president, “public prestige”. Even though the public has no direct association to policymaking, the public’s view of the president affects how legislation moves through the Congress and into law. Neustadt also says that a president should think and act prospectively, so decisions he makes today aid his ability to persuade tomorrow.

Trump’s opinion polls are in the dumpster. A very small core of Americans find him believable.

Scott Adams the Dilbert guy, has said that Trump is a master persuader, and that he won the election because of his mad persuasion skills. But, those skills, which did seem to exist in the 2016 primaries and general election, have deserted Der Trump, and have been replaced by continuing Twitter attacks on a growing list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Charlottesville was a protest by those who define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they hate. And they also define themselves as Trump supporters. There were shouts of “Heil Trump” on Friday night. They see no benefit in finding commonality with a diverse America, but pointedly, thrive off of hating our differences.

These people are content to blame “The Others” for their lot in life, and Trump persuades mostly by telling us what he hates, rather than what he likes.

In the 1960s we had much larger, and more violent (though mostly unarmed) protests. Those protesters didn’t want to jet us back to the past, but to propel us forward to a better future.

The white nationalist agitators in Charlottesville want to return us to an era that cannot (and should not) be recreated. All in the name of making America “great again.”

And they back Trump, a charlatan who pretends to lead.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Suggests Active Duty Military Do Something Illegal

The Daily Escape:

Assateague Island, July 25, 2017 – photo by Kendall Lavoie

Donald Trump’s visit to Norfolk VA last Saturday probably went mostly unnoticed, because of the Senate’s attempt at three-dimensional chess with their health care legislation. When Trump spoke at the commissioning for USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, he urged the audience to lobby their lawmakers to pass a budget that contains an additional $54 billion in Defense Department funding for fiscal year 2018: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

And you will get — believe me, President Trump, I will tell you — you will get it [the defense money]. Don’t worry about it. But I don’t mind getting a little hand. So call that congressman, and call that senator and make sure you get it…And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure that you get healthcare.

The audience was active duty military. There are at least two things wrong here. First, why would the military lobby Congress for health care? They already have a single payer system called Tricare. They are automatically enrolled, and it’s free for most in the military while their dependents and retirees pay premiums, just like civilians do. Does Trump even know how health insurance works in the military?

Second, by asking them to lobby Congress for more defense money, they would be crossing an important line. It is illegal for officers on active duty to be involved in any partisan political activity. Federal Law (Titles 10, 2, and 18, US Code), Department of Defense (DOD) Directives, and specific military regulations strictly limit a military active duty person’s participation in partisan political activities, including lobbying.

Current and former US military officers take great pride in the way that the active-duty officer corps is seen as being above politics. From the Atlantic:

Contemporary military officers, as Samuel Huntington famously observed, belong to a profession. They are professional managers of violence. We arm, train, and equip uniformed military officers to do frankly horrific things—killing, maiming, and intimidating people with force—in order to achieve favorable political outcomes.

So, many US military officers were appalled when Der Donald encouraged his uniformed audience to call their representatives to lobby for the president’s policies—including his budget increasing defense spending at the expense of other domestic priorities.

It is clear that members of the military have political views. It is also clear that they tilt Republican. In “The Role of the Military in Presidential Politics”, Steve Corbett and Michael Davidson say:

Despite the military’s official position, there has been a growing concern that the officer corps is becoming increasingly politicized. The current officer corps regularly votes and “identif[ies] with a political philosophy and party,” usually Republican. Indeed, military voting patterns indicate that members of the armed forces vote “in greater percentages than that of the general population.”

We treat our military as a privileged class—men and women who by their willingness to serve and risk all, are first among equals, slightly above the citizens they are sworn to defend. They have a credibility based on their military service. Trump risks that by attempting to politicize them. He also risks the public’s trust in our professional military as a politically neutral institution, something that has been a fundamental principle of our Nation. What Trump suggested is illegal, and against centuries of policy and practice.

That is what Trump and his speech writers failed to understand when he asked active duty military to lobby on behalf of his agenda.

We all accept that high level retired military will serve in government, or in high-ranking positions in lobbying, cable news punditry, or in corporate positions. We accept that retired military often express political opinions that they keep under wraps while on active duty.

Citizens have to trust that active duty military officers will never use their power to bring about a political result here in the US, the way it has happened so often abroad.

Here is music to take us away from this nonsense, Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightening 1952”:

Saw him last summer, still in great voice.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss