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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Orchard Oriole in crab apple tree  –  May 2014 photo by Wrongo

We are divided, and nothing shows that better than the callous remark about John McCain’s brain cancer by White House staffer Kelly Sadler. She said, regarding McCain’s unwillingness to vote for Gina Haspel for CIA Director, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”  Press Secretary Sarah Sanders then said, “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.”

She thought that the leaking of Sadler’s comment was disgusting. The comment was fine.

Axios reported that WH strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp said, “You can put this on the record, I stand with Kelly Sadler.” That is the same Mercedes Schlapp who walked out of the WH Correspondents Dinner when she felt that Michelle Wolf’s routine spoofing Sara Sanders’s eye makeup was over the line.

And yet, she stands by Kelly Sadler’s making a joke at the expense of a dying John McCain. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the White House.

Sadler’s comments almost made Wrongo want to reconsider John McCain’s maverickitude, and warm up to his career as an unvarnished political hack who loyally served the GOP.

But he can’t. There was absolutely no difference between McCain and right-wingers on any economic issue. In 2016, he changed his mind that presidents should be able to choose who they want to put on the Supreme Court and announced that a Hillary presidency would result in the Scalia seat remaining unfilled until Republicans took power.

So, despite his vote not to eliminate Obamacare, let’s continue to have a clear eye for hackery and hypocrisy, wherever we see them.

The NYT’s Week in Review section was filled yesterday with op-eds about how important it is for liberals to moderate their outrage. On the front page, above-the-fold, was an article titled: “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think“, by Gerard Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

That Wrongo read the entire thing proves Alexander’s point.

OTOH, Professor Alexander was right to point out that liberals can be as guilty of being arrogant and insulting as conservatives. Much of what the right says is angry, closed minded and based on ignorance.

And they say it loudly and often to anyone who will listen.

Progressives need to understand that if our views are based on smugness and arrogance, or if we fail to check all of the facts before arguing, we are unlikely to convince anyone to come over to our side. It does no good to malign a group with broad brush strokes.

But simply turning the other cheek and making nice has landed us where we are.

The problem is that Dr. Alexander implies that there are two equally valid polarities in US politics, and those who love Trump must be regarded as respectable as those who loath him. These are not equal: One side likes a leader who tears things down without any plan for replacement. The other side does not appreciate him in the slightest.

This is not like the difference between those who are pro-free trade, and those who are against it. It’s the difference between the politics of anger and exclusion and the politics of patience and inclusion.

Alexander’s work reads as sloppy thinking from a blogger, not the work of a political scientist at a premiere university. The Trumpalos are willing to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. And those who voted for Trump show a great deal of comfort with anger and outrage, regardless of how Alexander thinks they should be perceived by the rest of us.

Their calls to cool it are good news. We’re getting under their skin.

Time to double down. We need to make our case clearly, and to all who will listen.

Time to wake up America, we are sliding down to a dangerous level. To help you wake up, here is Gil Scott-Heron with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the US:

Scott-Heron has it right. The revolution will be streamed.

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
A tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised.

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

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1968 – America Has Never Been The Same

The Daily Escape:

National Guard, March 29, 1968 during a strike supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. MLK would be assassinated in Memphis on April 4th.  

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. It was a signal event that for practical purposes, ended the era of 1960’s activism in the US.

Dr. King was an exemplar who reached all Americans with a peaceful, moral message that still resounds today. Wrongo is aware that many blog readers were not alive in 1968, and thus have no personal connection to a time when doing the right thing was still paramount in our society.

All of us, those who lived through the 1960s and those who did not, should stop today and look back on the events of 1968, and their meaning for today. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for another term. Despite all of his legislative achievements, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts, his undoing was the Vietnam War.

Four days later, Dr. King was killed in Memphis. Subsequently more than 100 riots took place in our cities.

Two months later, Robert Kennedy too would be dead, assassinated like both his brother and Dr. King. Their murders dashed the hope that figures like King and the Kennedys had stirred in the American people earlier in the decade. In August, anti-war riots also had a large impact at the Democrat’s national convention in Chicago.

The riots showed the frustration and fury felt by many African-Americans who lived in poor housing with minimal opportunities, thanks to institutional racism and discriminatory government policies. For others, however, the riots reinforced the sense that the country was spinning out of control and that only a heavy hand with rioters and criminals would restore peace and keep our prosperity.

This dichotomy continues to shape our politics today.

In November ‘68, Richard Nixon was elected by 512,000 votes over Hubert Humphrey. He would continue the war, and later resign over Watergate.

The assassinations and the riots, combined with the lack of trust caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate eroded Americans’ faith in government. Without trust in government, America moved in many different directions. And voters eventually soured on liberal activist policies for more than a generation.

According to Lenny Steinhorn, a historian at American University who has studied the 1960s:

1968 was the perfect storm that crystallized the differences in society. The Tet offensive drove home the un-winnability of the war, and the assassinations drove home the despair…. All these clouds that were gathering became an electrical storm…. What was clear was how we were divided and this played out for the next 50 years.

Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, says:

It was a terrible year. I think it was the worst year for American society since the Civil War. It was a combination of race, gender and Vietnam that was a lethal cocktail…. We were in even worse shape than we are now. We were divided about things that are more fundamental than we are now. It felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, the fabric pulling apart. But we got through it.

1968 illustrated how change can arrive suddenly and fundamentally, even in America. And many Americans see 2018 shaping up as another 1968.

We are as polarized as we were then, and this time it’s also along ideological and partisan lines. Deadly violence is again regularly erupting, this time in the form of mass shootings such as the massacres in Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino and Parkland. And we saw ideological violence in Charlottesville.

Our political system is under attack again, led by President Trump and his followers who believe in disrupting the status quo, without a coherent thought about what should replace it.

If the decade of the 1960’s marked an American apogee of sorts, will the 2020’s mark its perigee? We have not faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just now, but it is likely we may know soon.

One bright spot is the return of teenagers to activism. We have had many marches over the 50 years since 1968, but few have felt as if they would deliver political change. The Parkland activists, joined by teens all across America are media-savvy. They use different tools, and seem to be more than a flash in the pan. So maybe, the mass movement-type of activism will make a comeback.

Parkland’s student leaders have accomplished something, but we’ll have to see if it delivers results in the voting booth.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood. In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that achieving your Big Idea remains possible.

Can we get it back?

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Trump’s Cabinet Moves Signal Danger Ahead

The Daily Escape:

Impalas sharing a drink – Via

A few additional thoughts about the falling dominoes in Trump’s cabinet that were triggered by Tillerson’s firing. There are rumors that Gary Cohn will be replaced by Larry Kudlow, and that National Security Advisor HR McMaster may be replaced by John Bolton.

So, think about the new line-up. Kudlow is economic czar. CIA Director Pompeo becomes Secretary of State. Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand is promoted to Director of the CIA, and John Bolton turns up as National Security Advisor. These people, along with Nikki Haley at the UN, who this week threatened another cruise missile attack inside Syria, are among the worst possible choices for their respective jobs.

Unless we exhume and reinstate Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Wrongo had direct experience with Kudlow during the Reagan administration, when Kudlow was associate director for economics and planning in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under David Stockman. Wrongo was at the big NY bank, and was lobbying for approval of a new line of business that was a stretch under the Glass-Steagall regulations at the time. In our one meeting, Kudlow was a pompous asshat. He lectured us about “trickle-down” economics, and how the country was in the midst of a conservative cultural revolution led by St. Ronnie.

We couldn’t get away from him fast enough. BTW, we did get the exception to the regulations, without any help from Kudlow. Perhaps it is useful to remember that Kudlow has no training in economics, although he plays one on TV. Also, he was fired from Bear Stearns for his $100,000 per month cocaine habit. And that’s in 1994 dollars. Real economist Brad DeLong says appointing Kudlow is like appointing William Shatner commander of the 7th Fleet.

If all of these moves come to pass, Trump will be surrounded only by true believers. Any Generals that are left, except for Mattis at Defense, may act as if they are true believers, as well.

Think of these moves as the first step in a new neo-con takeover of our national security strategy:

  • There will be no normalization of our relations with Russia
  • There will be a confrontation with Iran
  • The effort to destabilize Syria will continue
  • China will be confronted, first on trade, and second, on their growing regional aspirations
  • Nothing will come from any discussions with North Korea

Trump’s neocon cabinet now will have the means both to support Israel’s ambitions in the Middle East, as well as their own desire for Washington’s military hegemony in the world. They will use the “Russian threat” as a justification of more defense spending and even more militaristic actions abroad.

This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons as announced by Putin last week seem to suggest that they may have some military superiority over the US. Certainly, that may embolden China and Iran to move closer to the Russians.

If the administration persists in making charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and China, those nations must eventually react. They may become allied militarily, anticipating a possible war against the current US regime.

If, as Haley has threatened, the US were to again strike Syria, Russia has to choose whether to let it pass (as it did when Trump fired 50 cruise missiles previously), or to respond. If the US misjudges its attack, and Russia responds with actions that kill US military personnel, then the US regime faces the same choice, to let it pass, or not.

Any time we (or the Russians) are forced to consider retaliation, there is a clear cost to not retaliating, as well as a strong inclination to not just turn the other cheek.

Trump’s new cabinet line-up can lead us into a profoundly dangerous situation.

And it will be driven by a tiny minority: A neocon cabinet. Plus the Israelis who ardently desire the US to take on Iran. And elements of the US military/security complex, who feel we must be the biggest, baddest asshats in town.

We are sitting in the middle of the most reckless behavior in modern history.

Where are the voices against this?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 25, 2018

Well, two things Wrongo never thought would happen: Revived student activism, and the US winning an Olympic gold medal in Curling! Wrongo cares deeply about the former, but not so much about the latter.

The week was dominated by the continued fall-out from the Parkland shooting. The gun debate produced a rich harvest of appropriate cartoons, like showing how the NRA would re-write the Second Amendment:

The gun debate points out some GOP inconsistencies:

McConnell and Ryan try reframing the issue:

LaPierre has a message for Mitch:

NRA says only one Amendment really matters:

Trump says we should arm teachers and pay them bonuses for carrying. Think of the consequences:

Where teachers packing heat will lead:

And how would kids react to guns in the classroom?

 

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High School Kids Might Be the Real Justice League

The Daily Escape:

Sedona, AZ – 2017 photo by joanwood01

“There is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims – and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law… If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice.”
— The closing argument by Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict” (1982)

Imagine that: Act with justice. Belief in justice is part of believing in democracy. If you lose faith in one, you will lose faith in the other. Those who have refused to give up, like Dr. King, and those who marched for civil rights and then, who marched to end the Vietnam War acted with justice.

Fast forward to today, those Florida high schoolers, who are schooling politicians, are following in those footsteps, attempting to act with justice. They are trying to live up to the founding ethos of the US.

Can the pursuit of justice that gave us successes in civil rights also fuel success in the long, impossibly hard struggle to Make America Safe Again?

Making it Safe from too many guns in the hands of too many Americans?

Before Parkland, Wrongo was about to write off the possibility that gun control activism would achieve much of anything. That we were doomed to remain the world’s most “exceptional” country when it comes to guns.

America thinks that it’s worth it to have a more dangerous society in order to have strong Second Amendment rights. The Second Amendment Absolutists, including the NRA, Trump and the GOP, think the lives we’d save if we had stricter gun controls aren’t worth the freedom that owning guns buys them.

And the rest of us don’t oppose their viewpoint strongly enough to affect change.

Then along came these high school activists. They have become our last, best hope of blunting the Second Amendment Absolutists. Where did these Florida shooting survivors find their activism and organizing? Can they carry through to a place that their elders haven’t been able to reach?

What is refreshing about the students from Stoneman Douglas is that we are hearing about their lived experience.

This has a gravitas far beyond what is handed down from the Beltway. The gun discussions have been mostly led by politicians and lobbyists. But that is being eclipsed by voices with first-hand experience surviving a mass killing. It’s their intimate experience, plus the passion they are bringing that encourages the rest of us to dig in, and help bring about change.

They seem to know that their ground swell of political activism strikes fear into the hearts of politicians. They seem to know that they can make gun control a major issue in the 2018 mid-terms.

They are proving more resilient and savvy than many of us would have given them credit for on the day of the shooting. It isn’t their responsibility to fix the world, but since they have a place in it, and a voice, perhaps they can spur some real change.

They are forcing politicians like Sen. Rubio (R-FL) back on their heels. They are forcing the NRA into PR mistakes. Remember this?

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly aging

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin‘ – B. Dylan

At the CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night, it was obvious that the NRA’s Dana Loesch and Rubio both knew that these students were far beyond their command. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back, and expect them to do it alone.

We have to stand up, help them, and certainly vote in huge numbers.

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A Well-Regulated Militia

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mt. St. Helens – 2018 drone photo by russeltrupiano

We live in a country with about five percent of the world’s population, but we possess nearly 50% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. More guns, more civilian deaths, it’s that simple.

A primary reason that we have more guns is how the meaning of the term “Well Regulated Militia” was mis-appropriated by Second Amendment (SA) absolutists. The Propaganda Professor is writing a series on the SA. His work is always worth a read. Previously, he wrote about the Right to Bear Arms. His second column is about the Well Regulated Militia. The Professor asks:

The purpose of the Second Amendment was actually to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. But what exactly does that mean? Just what is/was a militia, anyway?

SA absolutists say that “militia” means all citizens, because they think that’s what was meant when the SA was written. There are flaws in this claim. They quote George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention:

I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.

Sadly for them, that wording isn’t included in the actual Amendment. And at the time, it’s unlikely that Mason meant all of the people. The Professor:

Consider that the Second Militia Act of 1792 (passed only a few months after the Second Amendment was written) designated the composition of the militia as being: every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years…

So, if you are an original intent person, today’s “militia” would consist only of white males between 18 and 45. The Act says they should be outfitted with:

…a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball…

The definition of militia has changed over the years. In 1862, a new Militia Act finally eliminated the race restriction; but it still pertained only to men of a certain age.

In 1903, the Dick Act established the National Guard as the official “organized militia” of the US. It said those who were not Guard members were to be called the “unorganized militia“.

The SA absolutists have twisted this, saying that “unorganized militia” means anyone who wants to carry a gun for any purpose. Thus, all civilians are a part of the “unorganized” militia and therefore covered by the SA. That is debatable, but the most important thing about the militia was not who qualified as a member, but its purpose for existing. The Professor points out that the Acts of 1792 make that clear:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion…

The Acts of 1792 make it clear that the militia was designed to be an organized armed force supplied by the states to execute the laws of the nation. Nothing in the Militia Acts say citizens can be armed for “defending” themselves against the government.

The purpose of the militia is further defined by the term, “well-regulated”. The gun rights people say it derives from a 1698 treatise, “A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias” by Andrew Fletcher, in which the term “well regulated” was equated with “disciplined”.

But “well-regulated” in the dictionary has other meanings, and they all apply to a military unit, such as a militia.

Since militia members in Revolutionary days were conscripted for service, it implies that the militia membership was a civic obligation. It isn’t a few guys running around in camo gear on Saturday.

Finally, the Professor points out that militia, like military, is derived from the Latin word for soldier.

The soldier is part of an organized body, and is well-regulated in virtually every possible sense of the term.

It’s not Joe Six-pack and his AR-15.

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Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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

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The GOP’s Message and the Democrat’s Response

The Daily Escape:

Lake Blanche, UT – 2017 photo by exomniac

We watched the State of the Union (SOTU) speech at the Mansion of Wrong. Outside, it was 15° and very windy. That also appeared to be the climate in the House chamber during Trump’s speech, which Wrongo saw as largely a basket of glittering generalities; rhetoric without action; lies instead of facts; and marching band patriotism. Chants of “USA, USA” in the House chamber should be beneath our politicians, but sadly, some want us to appear to be a banana republic to the rest of the world.

Americans don’t ask their politicians for much, and apparently, willingly accept even less than that without a whimper.

Wrongo wants to focus on the Democratic response to the Trump speech. Roll Call says that there were at least five responses, of which two were “official”, in that they were authorized by the Democratic Party. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), grandson of Bobby Kennedy, delivered the English-language Democratic response. Virginia Guzman, the newly elected, and first Latina to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, gave an official Spanish-language response.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California offered an unofficial response to the presidential speech, as did former Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland.

But the most notable response came from a sitting senator who isn’t a Democrat, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He rebutted Trump’s remarks, and in some ways, rebuked Trump and his administration. This is the second year in a row that Sanders has delivered his own speech after the State of the Union. Bernie’s speech was shown on social media, and not on any mainstream TV outlet. You can read the text of his speech here.

Post-SOTU, the Dems are about to get worked over, largely because of their support of the Dreamers. If Chuck Schumer has his way, Democrats are about to charge up DACA hill once again. The outcome is likely to be the same. Wrongo thinks the Dreamers’ cause is just, but it isn’t a good idea to try to ransom them from Trump and the GOP as part of the immigration deal Trump has placed on the table.

Trump wants to alter our immigration system in a very unfair way in exchange for Dreamer amnesty. The question for Democrats is: Should they make the trade? Do they really think that the GOP will start deporting Dreamers in March? Do they think the videos of Dreamers in custody and on their way to homelands they never knew will help Republicans politically?

Take the Dreamers off the table. Proceed with other pressing issues, like funding the government.

And when the DACA protections lapse, there will be a price that Dreamers will have to pay, right along with both Democrats and Republicans, neither of whom would make a deal to extend DACA.

And when Trump wants an infrastructure deal, then Dems should bring up the Dreamers. Change the strategy. Let the “public-private” partnerships he touts for infrastructure be the way he gets his wall, and how Dreamers get amnesty.

It’s important that Dems are right on both the politics and on the merits. Compromise must come on big issues like immigration and infrastructure, and Dems shouldn’t take the first deals offered on either issue.

But to win in 2018 and beyond requires Democrats to offer a strong and compelling platform of their own, one based upon principles. Like health care being a right of citizenship. Like investing in education and infrastructure instead of spending on wars and weapons. Young Kennedy got close to identifying a compelling platform, but he isn’t the messenger for 2018.

There are many people in America who are hurting. Many are under-employed, and not getting the support they need. Simply pointing the finger at Trump is not going to inspire many to go to the polls. Democrats tried this in 2016, and it didn’t work.

People need a positive vision for the USA, and their place in it.

On Tuesday night, Trump would only speak of his plans in very general terms, because he doesn’t have the support in both Houses of Congress to get the job done. While MAGA is a successful campaign slogan, it isn’t a plan for a future that includes all Americans.

Democrats can be a part of the solution, if they find a way to prevent the GOP from taking and holding liberal issues hostage.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside

Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.

Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.

Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.

Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.

It’s a lot to process.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.

This is America today.

In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:

We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.

We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.

Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.

That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.

It means getting off the sidelines.

To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:

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

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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?

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