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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Our Democracy in its 242nd Year

The Daily Escape:

Three Sisters, Alberta Canada

… the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. — George Washington’s First Inaugural Address (1789).

It is worth thinking about the state of our Democracy on our 241st birthday and how the American people are handling Washington’s experiment. At the time of the country’s founding, seven of the 13 states, representing 27% of the population, could command a majority in the Senate. Today, more than half of the US population lives in just nine states, while the other half of America lives in the other 41 states. The voters in the biggest nine states have equal representation in the House, with 223 Representatives, while the other half has 212.

But in the Senate, it’s a different story. Because of the population concentration, the half of the US living in the largest nine states are represented by just 18 of 100 Senators. The other half of the country living in the other 41 states have 82 Senators, more than four times as many. Today, with the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states, representing 11% of the population, can muster the 41 votes necessary to reject a bill, or to stop the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.

You don’t have to be good at math to see how much less representation in Congress those living in the big states have today. The four smallest states have eight Senators combined, giving California, with two Senators, only a quarter as many as Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, even though California has 14 times the combined population of these states.

Wrongo raises this as a structural example of the now near-permanent political division in America. It is difficult to see what big idea, or great emotion, can bridge that divide and bring us back to some semblance of unity.

Beyond structural divisions, there are huge divisions of policy and perception. A new Marist poll for PBS NewsHour and NPR News finds that 70% of Americans believe the country has become less civil since the Trump regime came to power, with 61% saying they have little or no trust in the White House right now.

(Marist contacted 1,205 US adults using landline and mobile phones between June 21 and June 25. There is a 2.8% margin of error).

The poll shows that Republicans in particular are very receptive to Trump’s attacks on the media, and a healthy chunk of Republicans want the media restricted. When asked if they trust the media, only 30% of US adults overall said they do trust them to at least a “good” amount. But there are stark differences along party lines:

  • 9% of Republicans say they trust the media, while 56% of Democrats and 28% of Independents say they do.
  • And on the Constitutional right to freedom of the press, four out of 10 Republicans said the nation had “gone too far in expanding the right,” while two out of 10 Independents and one out of 10 Democrats agreed with that statement.
  • Overall, a quarter of US adults said the press had too many rights.
  • 52% said the nation should preserve the right to protest and criticize the government. But 41% percent of Republicans think the right to protest should be scaled back. Only 7% of Democrats and 11% of independents said they feel the same way.

When asked about the right to vote, six out of 10 Americans overall think that our right to vote is fine the way it is. But among Republicans, 25% think the US has gone too far in expanding that right.

Some of the cross-tab results are dismal: 

  • Among people making less than $50,000 a year, only 1 in 4 trust the media at all.
  • More 18-29 year olds trust Trump (27%) than trust the media (22%).
  • Meanwhile, 40% of Trump supporters think America has gone too far in allowing people to criticize the government.

Let that sink in, and then try to think about how we ever battle back to a middle ground where America has a chance to once again row the boat in the same direction.

On to music. Here are the Grateful Dead with their take on “Smokestack Lightning”, originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956. The Dead performed this 18+ minute version in February, 1970 at the Fillmore East:

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

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Trump’s “Religious Freedom” Executive Order

The Daily Escape:

Cinco de Mayo parade in Puebla Mexico, where Mexico defeated France in 1862

Happy Cinco de Mayo! At the Mansion of Wrong, its ahi ceviche with mango, jalapeno, cilantro, ancho chili, lime juice and tequila in toasted won-ton wrappers. And Don Julio Anejo to wash it down. Not bad.

But among yesterday’s depressing news regarding the House passage of the Obamacare Repeal and (not) Replace, was the Orange Overlord signing yet another Executive Order (EO) touted by the Trump administration to protect “Religious Liberty”:

 

The EO directs the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is a part of the tax code that forbids 501(c)(3) organizations (including churches) from participating “directly or indirectly” in political campaigns.

Churches have historically been free to discuss and promote any issue or idea. So, they can address things like civil rights, reproductive rights, police violence, or the sanctity of law and order. They can also urge people to get out and vote on Election Day.

In other words, they can push and prod about all kinds of civic issues and engagement, in order to get their members to cast their votes.

The red line for the Johnson Amendment is actually endorsing a candidate. Churches can give a sermon about the evils of abortion, and let the attendees connect the dots to a candidate, but it’s a violation of the Johnson Amendment for the church to connect the dots directly, and tell the members to vote for a specific candidate or party.

Trump’s EO removes that red line. It will let churches give full endorsements so they can tell their congregants that God wants them to vote for Candidate X, and if they fail to do so, He will be angry and the baby Jesus will cry.

Trump’s EO leaves the decision whether to enforce the Johnson Amendment in the hands of the IRS. That means the IRS could pick and choose which institutions to penalize, and it might be your church, and not your neighbor’s.

In February, Trump promised to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment. But, presidents can’t “destroy” laws with EOs; that takes an act of Congress. Republicans may try repealing the Johnson amendment as part of their tax reform package.

Nancy LeTourneau thinks that:

The executive order the president will sign today isn’t really so much about “religious freedom,” as it is being framed by Trump and the religious right. This is actually designed to further erode one of the remaining restrictions on campaign finance.

LeTourneau points to the “indirect” efforts by Franklin Graham to elect Trump last fall, and offers him as an example: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

To the extent that the IRS ignores this statute, Graham will be able to accept tax-free donations to Samaritan’s Purse [Franklin Graham is president] (or another non-profit he might set up) that will go towards endorsing and advocating for the political candidates of their choice. That will likely make Franklin Graham a major player on par with the Super PACs in American politics.

LeTourneau thinks the EO has little to do with “Religious Freedom”, but instead opens a path for professional evangelists like Franklin Graham to become king-makers in our politics.

This turns “no taxation without representation” into “representation without taxation”, a Republican wet dream that could undermine whatever remains of our campaign finance regulations. Where is the lack of religious freedom here? Churches don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status, and they could then say (or do) anything they want.

They just would have to pay taxes like everyone else.

OK, here’s some music for Cinco: Here is “Oye Como Va” by Santana. It was written by Tito Puente in 1963, and popularized by Santana in 1970 on his album Abraxas:

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

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Sean Spicer Searches Staff

The Daily Escape:

(Baby Baboon – Kenya)

Trump press secretary Sean Spicer is trying to catch the sources of White House leaks. (Link below sourced by the Wrongologist)

Spicer called his White House staff into his office last week to reiterate his frustration with the continuing leaks of WH information, sources with knowledge of the matter said. He informed them that the use of encrypted texting apps, like Signal and Confide, is a violation of the Federal Records Act.

NOW they care about the law? Using a Republican National Committee email server for official business is illegal, but that hasn’t stopped the White House from using it. Does Spicer have any concerns about the unsecured Android smartphone his boss tweets from every day? More:

Then, with White House counsel Don McGahn standing by, Spicer asked his staff to provide him with their cell phones so he could ensure they were not using those apps or corresponding privately with reporters.

Spicer then specifically asked his staff not to leak information about the meeting or his efforts to crack down on leaks to the media.

But someone in the room leaked all of it. They leaked that the leaky White House is trying to stop the leaks, (except for WikiLeaks) which, of course they love. Maybe someone should take a look at The Donald, who is currently taking a leak on the First Amendment.

Perhaps the gang who can’t shoot straight should have realized that people could delete incriminating information, or communicate with reporters in some way that might not be on their phones at all. Wrongo reveres the TV series “The Wire”. Apparently, Mr. Spicer has never watched it, and hasn’t heard of “burner” phones.

And it’s got to be difficult trying to maintain your loyalty to a team when the boss distrusts the team members. Unless there is a national security issue, there can’t be a reason to allow a government official to “inspect” your private mobile phone.

Many fun nicknames have been suggested for Sean Spicer (Cranky Spice, Whiny Spice). Wrongo’s current favorite is “Searchy Spice”, although his nickname in college was “Sean Sphincter” suggesting that he is in the right job: Hanging out with one of the world’s biggest assholes.

Thank you to the brave Americans inside the belly of the beast who put their country first. LEAK ON!

Next week in Spicer’s office: colonoscopies.

Here is a video about office investigations from the ever-popular TV series, “Office” (BBC version):

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

And enjoy (not) watching the Overlord’s address to the joint session of Congress tonight.

After all, you can read both fake news and alternative facts about it everywhere tomorrow.

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