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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Why Did Elizabeth Warren Release Her DNA Info Now?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, WY – photo by Shaun Peterson

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

Warren took Trump’s gambit. He delights in calling her “Pocahontas” because she has claimed Native American heritage. Not that she used it as a basis for getting a job, or for career advancement. Her family is from Oklahoma, and many in the Sooner State claim Indian heritage. About 8.7% of Oklahomans are Native American.

Part of her received history includes a story handed down about how white parents of a family member disapproved of a marriage to someone of Indian descent.

In July, Trump told supporters at a Montana rally that he would donate $1 million to charity if Elizabeth Warren would take a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage. And she took the DNA test. It showed some Native American heritage, so he owes her one million dollars.

Trump then said he never said anything like that. But all the news shows aired the clip of him saying just that. It led to a tweet-war between Trump and Warren. Depending on the party you identify with, you think either Warren or Trump won a battle in a political war that will continue until 2020.

This raises so many questions.

It’s important to understand that the immediate question isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry, or whether Trump really said he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity and then reneged on what everyone can clearly see on video anywhere on the internet.

The question is have we gotten to the point where the future of the country and its leadership comes down to which one wins a spitting contest? Sen. Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people, lying about what he said.

These aren’t normal times. American politics has always had the capacity to be a freak show, but questioning the racial heritage of a candidate shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E Pluribus Unum isn’t what we mean.

Republicans are always asking “Are THEY one of US?

So, why did Sen. Warren announce this now, three weeks before the mid-terms?

Some Democrats argue that the timing of her announcement distracts from the messages of other Democratic candidates, particularly those in close races who really need media attention in order to compete. There’s a chance that media attention will now be sucked up by this Warren/Trump sideshow.

From Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager:

Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???

Others think Warren’s decision to take on Trump so far ahead of a general election is unnecessary. It takes away from Trump and FEMA’s uneven response to Hurricane Michael, and Trump’s unintelligible response to Saudi Arabia’s denials of complicity in the Khashoggi mystery.

But Warren showing that she won’t back down from Trump was probably her number one reason for the announcement. We should interpret this as clear evidence that she plans to run for the presidency.

She got support from her family. The video Warren released includes footage of her three brothers, and other relatives who still live in her native Oklahoma. They are Republicans. They call the president’s belittling nickname “ridiculous” and “silly.”

Warren seems prepared to fight Trump’s full-tilt racist demagoguery. She hopes to blunt that part of his game, a job that may be more difficult for possible candidates Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker.

The real DNA issue isn’t Warren’s. Who belongs in America is deep in the GOP’s DNA.

They’re always asking who belongs. It didn’t start with GW Bush spreading rumors about John McCain’s adopted daughter. It didn’t end with Obama’s birth certificate, it continued to Trump happily deporting people who have Green Cards.

Now, Trump and the GOP will take on Sen. Warren by questioning her Oklahoma roots.

What we are seeing is the first, but not the last “pitooi” in the 2020 fight for the White House.

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Letter From Russia, Part III

The Daily Escape:

The Assumption Cathedral, Yaroslavl, RU. Originally built in 1210, it was  blown up by the Soviets in 1937 as part of their anti-religion policy. This new cathedral was constructed in 2010 on the same spot. In front is an eternal flame memorializing the soldiers and the workers of WWII.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the day in Yaroslavl, Russia. It’s a mid-sized town of about 600k residents, and an important port on the Volga River. The Volga is more than 2,000 miles long, tying the western Russian cities together. Yaroslavl is an ancient city, founded in 1010.

In Yaroslavl, we learned two interesting facts about Russian towns. Any town of size has a fortress that includes a church. In Russia, that space is called a “Kremlin”. Second, despite the collapse of the the Soviet Union, statues of the heroes of the revolution were not taken down. The idea is that young people should understand their history, both the good and the bad. Major streets have kept their revolutionary names as well.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for America.

In visiting both tiny towns and large cities, it quickly becomes evident that the peoples of Russia have suffered immensely over the centuries. They endured long periods of starvation, and their losses in blood and treasure at the hands of both their enemies and their rulers were truly extraordinary:

  • As many as 17 million died under Stalin in the Gulags. At their high point, there were thousands of Gulags across the Soviet Union.
  • In WWII, during the war with Germany, Russia lost 27 million people.
  • During the 400 years of serfdom, millions of serfs died during forced labor. They built the palaces, roads and waterways that remain in use today between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If history teaches us just one thing about Russia, it is that its people know suffering. They have survived, and in Wrongo’s brief visit, appear to have thrived. Stores are full of product, markets are busy with the purchase of fresh vegetables, meats and fish. New cars are on the streets, theaters are open, and everything looks very clean.

How have a people who have endured so much suffering, succeeded in the modern world? How were they not irretrievably damaged by their multiple tragedies?

How are they so resilient?

Perhaps their legendary winters forge a determination to do whatever is necessary to survive a long, hard fight with limited resources. Perhaps Russia’s long history of invasion and occupation by hostile powers has played a role: Russians have been invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and the French. Their story is ultimately one of resilience despite tremendous loss of life, repeated destruction of infrastructure, and against long odds.

Another thing is that the people seem to have a profound and deep feeling for their homeland, Mother Russia. That seems to be true, regardless of who is in control in the Kremlin, or which Tsar was in charge at the time.

So they fought and died for the motherland, regardless of who was leading them.

Compare that with America’s resilience. How resilient are we, in the 21st Century? We have never faced invasion, but we have faced attack. On our homeland, we fought a seven-year revolution, and a bloody civil war. We’ve faced natural disasters.

After 9/11, we overreacted to the threat of Islamic extremists by weakening our First Amendment rights with the Patriot Act. We launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, we didn’t come together as a nation. In fact, 9/11 threw gasoline on the fire of America’s already factionalized politics.

When Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we came together as a people. There were a few who said we shouldn’t go to war, but the vast majority of our people got behind a global war against fascism. We sent our fathers, brothers and husbands off to war. Women worked in the factories for the war effort. Some were on the front lines with the troops. We rationed butter and sugar.

Our people knew hardship, and pulled together in common cause.

The question is: Will today’s America still pull together in common cause? Do we have the strength of character, the grit, to fight for something larger than ourselves? Could we again sacrifice for what we believe to be the right thing?

Our response to the Great Recession of 2008 showed us that in an American financial crisis, it’s every person for themselves, unless that citizen happens to be a financial institution.

When you think about it, do you still love Lady Liberty enough to fight for her?

To send your kids to fight for her?

And, do you think that we love her as much as Russians seem to love Mother Russia?

 

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Let Dr. Ford Testify

The Daily Escape:

The Storseisundet Bridge, Norway. It is one of eight bridges on the Atlantic Highway — via themindcircle

Wrongo has tried to resist the developing story about Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who is accusing him of attempted rape during high school, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

And there are plenty of reasons not to write about it. It’s the subject of an all-out media blitz. Hundreds of new facts will be presented between the time this is posted, and it is read by all of you Wrong patrons. But, it’s an inescapable narrative, so here goes.

Since Dr. Ford is willing to testify, she should be asked to testify. Brett Kavanaugh has said that he would also like to testify in the matter. Marcy Wheeler offers an idea:

But she shouldn’t testify alone. Mark Judge should testify along with her. After all, according to her letter and the WaPo account, he was a witness to the event.

Mark Judge was one of Kavanaugh’s best friends in prep school. He apparently was in the room when the attempted rape took place. Ford describes Judge as watching Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, occasionally egging him on, and eventually jumping on top of her and Kavanaugh — a move that allowed her to escape.

Judge is now a conservative writer who has written for publications such as the Daily Caller and the American Spectator. From Vox:

He’s floated some controversial ideas in his writings — including asking in 2006 whether gay people are perverts….He’s also the author of several books, including one recounting his teenage years of alcoholism and addiction.

At the risk of assassinating Mark Judge’s character, he seems to, um, have a special interest in young women. He had a variety of posts to YouTube that have been taken down in the past day. You be the judge.

And why is it always that one guy who’s in the room when an alleged rape happens, and can testify for the defense that the alleged rape totally did not happen, turns out to be a just a bit creepy?

In any event, Mark Judge should also testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Most Republicans are defending Kavanaugh with the usual tropes and memes about how it was all so long ago, and why does it matter? As Orin Hatch told the NYT:

It would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today, because that is the issue….Is this judge a really good man? And he is, and by any measure he is, and everybody who knows him says he is.

By all means, let’s ignore prep school indiscretions: She was a girl, and besides, she wanted it, and it’s much more important that we comfort the comfortable.

On the other hand, a whole lot of us, even when inebriated and underage, never thought we had permission to pull a woman into a room, force her onto a bed, and clamp a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

It really can’t be all that hard to find Supreme Court justices who have never attempted rape. Whether Kavanaugh committed an act of attempted rape yesterday, or 40 years ago, isn’t germane. Attempted rape is just a rape that was stopped.

If that’s in his makeup, then it’s always going to be a facet of his character.

There are plenty of judges who are willing to overturn Roe. There are almost as many willing to shield Trump from Mueller. But, if Kavanaugh can be brought down by one “youthful indiscretion“, no Republican is safe. So the GOP will defend him to the death.

Nothing short of multiple additional accusations will stop him. Maybe not even that.

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Monday Wake-Up Call — Constitution Edition

The Daily Escape:

Spruce Knob, WV at sunrise – 2018 photo by zjustus88

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the US Constitution 231 years ago, the day that the Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution as our supreme law.

We sometimes forget that the country was without a Constitution for 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, and for six years after the War of Independence ended. Somehow, we survived.

We also forget that there was plenty of conflict between the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. They had vigorous debates about the balance of power between the national and state governments. Two factions emerged: Federalists, who supported the Constitution and a strong central government, and anti-Federalists, who mainly supported strong state governments.

To placate the anti-Federalists and ensure ratification, the Federalists promised to pass a Bill of Rights to protect individual liberty and state sovereignty, which they finally did in 1791, four years after the Constitution was ratified.

Today there’s plenty of discussion about the Constitution, about what’s constitutional, and what’s not, about which of the Supreme Court justices are trampling on the Constitution and which are ripping it to shreds. It seems that there is nothing more important to the Republic than selecting the next Justice, in this case, Brett Kavanaugh.

Joseph Ellis in the WSJ Weekend edition, reminds us that:

Most members of America’s founding generation would have regarded this situation as strange. If you read the debates among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and then read their prescriptions for judicial power in Article III of the Constitution, it becomes clear that the last thing the 39 signers of the document wanted was for the Supreme Court to become supreme.

Ellis says that the founders thought that Congress should be “supreme”, and a majority thought that each branch of government should decide the scope of its own authority. He says that the founders’ had no interest in having the Supreme Court be the ultimate control point for the US government, since it’s our least representative body, and the one farthest removed from the ultimate authority (the People).

More from Ellis:

For most of American history, the Supreme Court only infrequently stepped forward to redefine the political landscape in decisive fashion. The two most conspicuous occasions both involved the great American tragedy of race.

For Ellis, the first of the two most significant cases was Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the Court tried to resolve the politically unsolvable problem of slavery. The majority argued that the framers of the Constitution clearly regarded slaves as property, and therefore the Missouri Compromise (1819) and the Compromise of 1850 were unconstitutional.

This meant that the federal government had no authority to limit the expansion of slavery in the western territories. Dred Scott deepened the sectional divide that led to the Civil War, and legal scholars and historians have long considered it one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history.

In 1954, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education landed on the other side of the racial divide, striking down the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” that the justices had upheld as a justification for racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Brown decision signaled a crucial shift in the role of the Court, the first step on its way to becoming the dominant branch of the federal government in deciding the direction of domestic policy.

That led to 30 years of liberal decisions for the Court. The liberal agenda expanded the rights of criminal suspects, broadened the definition of free speech and, in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), discovered a new right to privacy. Building on the right to privacy, the Court affirmed a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Ellis concludes:

…since Brown we have watched the Supreme Court bend the law in two different directions, landing on one side or the other of the political spectrum based on which political party could command a 5-4 majority. The only difference between the two sides is that liberals are transparent about their political agenda, while conservatives, using originalism to make problematic claims of detachment, are not.

Americans now know that the Supreme Court is biased, partisan, and often makes rulings based on ideology versus law. The word “unconstitutional” has become a catch-all term for whatever we don’t like about our government, or our society. This renders one of the most terrifying and powerful adjectives in American jurisprudence almost meaningless.

TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICA! We should spend Constitution Day trying to become better citizens. Maybe we start by learning our civic history.

The benefit should be clear: Knowledge lets us understand and appreciate nuance.

After all, America might not have many more birthdays left at the rate that we keep polarizing our ideas about the Constitution.

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Weasel Words

The Daily Escape:

The Spricherstadt at dusk, Hamburg, Germany. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world. Its buildings still stand on timber-pile foundations – 2018 photo by brotherside

In honor of the Kavanaugh hearings, here’s a list of words, terms, and phrases which should trigger at least a healthy dose of skepticism whenever you hear them said in public.

Much like the answers we are getting from the current Supreme Court nominee, the following words are most often part of a polished, rehearsed patter used by politicians and lobbyists. Wrongo publishes this list as a public service:

Think outside the box” — this term is often used when there isn’t a solution to the problem at hand, except by spending more money, which politicians have no interest in doing. It shows that the speaker has given no thought to the issue. It is often used at TED talks by people trying to fake originality.

Bootstrapping” — implies that all human economic problems can be solved by sufficient individual effort.

Modernize”— often used to extract further funding for a beloved government project, or to encourage privatization, when no more money can be found. For example, “Our air fleet is very old, it must be modernized, so let’s invest in the F-35.” Or, “We’d like to build new prisons, but where would the money come from?” Answered by “I’ve got it, let’s privatize!

Innovation” — the Holy Grail buzzword for neoliberals: “We must innovate, or die”. The use of the term often discounts existing effective methods that work just fine. For instance, the internet-enabled thermostat, and the light bulb apps used in the internet of things. What makes them so great? And they haven’t gotten to the best part yet, where the company stops providing software updates to the light bulb/thermostat so that you have to buy the new one.

Reform”— what politicians say we must do, whenever they disagree with a current policy or law.

New ideas”— usually used by politicians to discredit a concept they dislike. For example, Nancy Pelosi will say that she “is open to looking at new ideas, such as single payer.” Sadly, single payer isn’t a new idea. It’s been implemented successfully by many other countries for decades.

Civility” — means the other side is mean, and we’re not. George W. Bush giving a candy to Michelle Obama at the “Can McCain rise from the dead?” party in the National Cathedral was a trivial example of civility.

Streamline” — means to weaken federal regulations that used to protect and benefit most Americans on behalf of major corporations.

Overhaul” — is streamline’s nasty brother.  Overhaul means that the politicians will definitely try to cut your benefits.  “Streamline” is used when they want to sugarcoat their plan.

Enabling growth” — is used when politicians want to give more taxpayer money to the “job creators”.

Free Market” — means we must boost productivity at all costs. We’ve got to get more growth, so its time you agreed to work for less.

Bring stability to…” — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. We say this whenever we want to intervene to destabilize an existing government. You may ask: stability of what? And for whom?

Food insecurity” — is the sanitized way politicians say people are desperately hungry. Or possibly, malnourished, and/or suffering from diseases related to poor nutrition, or possibly just slowly starving to death.

Skin in the game” — means the government isn’t giving you all the money needed for the project. Don’t confuse it with “Kin in the game”, Trump’s heartfelt desire about White House staffing.

Disrupt” — let’s forget about doing things the way we’ve always done them. Let’s use the internet to deal directly with the end users, disintermediating existing companies and their workers.

Leverage” used as a verb — often substituted for the much simpler, more concise word “use” by people who think they sound smart in staff meetings.

Proactive”, “Perimeter”, and “Paradigmare simply used to sound important.

Hypothetical” — an idea or question that I don’t want to address. See below.

Kavanaugh’s weasel word of the day on Wednesday was hypothetical. Regarding whether Trump can pardon himself:

The question of self-pardons is something I’ve never analyzed… It’s a hypothetical question that I can’t begin to answer in this context. http://bit.ly/2MLPT3b

On subpoenaing the President, Sen. Feinstein asked:

Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh:

That’s a hypothetical question…As a matter of the canons of judicial independence, I can’t give you an answer on that hypothetical question.”

Kavanaugh calls it a “hypothetical”. Nothing hypothetical about that at all. By not saying yes, Kavanaugh means the answer is “no”.

The Dems can’t stop Kavanaugh’s joining the Supreme Court. But they need to mobilize midterm voters around his nomination, and all that it represents.

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Will Nike/Kaepernick Adverts Change The Discussion?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP – 2018 photo by BrandonUlp

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s the tag line in a new Nike advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Branding is about identity. Successful branding requires authenticity. The spokesperson must represent the brand authentically, and vice-versa. What Kaepernick and Nike have done is create a truly authentic campaign defined by who Kaepernick is, and what he stands for.

For readers who do not follow either Trump or sports, Colin Kaepernick is the football quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Trump has used the failure of professional athletes to stand to try to destroy their image, and that of the National Football League, unless/until there is zero expression of dissent during the National Anthem.

There couldn’t be a better campaign to elevate Kaepernick’s legacy in America’s consciousness. Sticking to his beliefs has cost him his job in sports. He hasn’t worked as a professional quarterback since 2016. In fact, he has a lawsuit underway accusing the NFL of collusion, since he received no job offers in 2018. That lawsuit will be going forward after the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association rejected the NFL’s attempt to have Kaepernick’s case dismissed.

Nike and Kaepernick have taken the essence of a particular player, in this case, his dissent, empowerment, and integrity, and created a brand. It serves as a lesson every athlete needs to learn: You should be more than the game. Professional basketball players already know this, and are on social media celebrating their viewpoints all the time.

Despite not having played in the league in two years, Kaepernick is among the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL. His football jersey is among the top 50 sellers.

The Holy Week of McCain showed us that we remain chronically short of heroes.

We want leaders, we’re yearning for inspiration. We don’t consider most celebrities who hawk goods to be our heroes; they seem clearly in it for the money. Then, there’s Colin Kaepernick. A man of color standing up for what he believes, a straight arrow who has not been featured in the tabloids for mistakes of character. He’s a man who’s risked his career, and his salary for an idea.

Could he be the hero we’re looking for? Highly unlikely, but he’s one of the few willing to challenge the system.

We’re living in a time when stepping out of line seems very risky. There’s groupthink everywhere, and everyone’s afraid of negative social media repercussions, especially corporations. While a few giant corporations have stood up to the Orange Overlord, the NFL has zero desire to challenge him. They fear viewer backlash in an already challenged TV ratings environment.

So Nike weighs in. Nike isn’t simply calling the NFL’s bluff. It’s calling Donald Trump’s as well.

Change starts with the actions of a few individuals. Kaepernick is trying to change professional football’s mentality, which argues that the players are interchangeable, that only the coach, and the owners matter. Their pitch is that you’ve got to sacrifice your identity for the team.

Trump plays on that. He berates the NFL owners, and re-frames the protest by Kaepernick and others against police brutality, saying its about patriotism and support of “the troops”. But, those who refuse to stand for the Anthem will tell you that their message has nothing to do with the flag or the military. Trump’s choosing to make it about the flag and the military, and as usual, many Americans are buying Trump’s pitch.

The story on Kaepernick’s side is of freedom of speech, of fair treatment for African-American men and boys. Which will prevail should be clear, despite the anti-Nike and anti-Kaepernick thoughts on social media today.

We have 62 days until America votes whether to take the House away from the Republicans, or, to leave them in charge. Believe it or not, that fight will be helped by one guy and a company who decided they’d refuse to bend to Trump’s rabble-rousing.

The Trumpists say they’ll refuse to watch the NFL. They’ll say they refuse to buy Nike gear. But, they’re sure to do both in massive numbers.

Nike has made a business move, not a social move. Here is what Nike’s first ad looks like:

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Saturday Soother – August 25, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, UT – 2018 photo by FeloniousMuskellunge. It’s the longest sandstone arch in the world.

Manafort and Cohen: Guilty. Immunity for David Pecker, the owner of the National Enquirer, who paid Stormy Daniels. Immunity for the CFO of the Trump organization, who really knows were all the bones are buried in Trumpland. The walls seem to be closing in. In response, Trump said:

I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.

Someone who Wrongo thinks is a very astute guy, said: “That’s the start of Trump negotiating with us.”

Maybe, but Trump is actually negotiating with the Senate about Jeff Sessions. The answer? They’re fine with replacing Sessions after the mid-terms. The pivotal signal came on Thursday, when two key Republican senators “told” Trump that he could replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections. That would open the way either for firing Robert Mueller, or constraining his probe.

Here’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had to say:

The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice….Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IW), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, now says that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general, after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to take up another confirmation.

The Republican’s plan is clear. Once Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in, they’ll have what they’ve wanted: Huge corporate tax cuts for the rich, two SCOTUS picks who will have a lifetime to work their pro-corporate agenda, all while finishing off FDR’s reforms and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, for good.

And it would be just fine for the Republicans if the Orange Overlord gets the blame.

It’s all upside for the GOP now. Maybe getting rid of Sessions and subsequently firing Mueller is the excuse they’ll need to push Trump out, and bring in Pence. Maybe they’re fine with him sticking around. Maybe the Dems will help out if they take control of the House in January. Once Kavanaugh is on the Court, maybe the GOP will give Trump free rein. Sessions may try to hang on, but Trump has asked Sessions to investigate Trump’s political opponents:

Which is exactly what Sessions says he won’t do. This is the Republican’s game between now and the mid-terms: Kavanaugh installed, Trump unleashed, and the people who enabled him simply walking away.

Enough! Time to unplug from the news for at least an hour or two. Start by brewing up a cup of Difference Coffee’s unique offering of Esmeralda Geisha, in their Nespresso-compatible capsules (£50/10 capsules!). Notice its flavors of lemon tart and baker’s chocolate that resolve into a delicately plump mouthfeel and long, resonant, peach and lemon-saturated finish.

Now, put on your wireless headphones and listen to the Largo aria from the Opera Xerxes by G.F. Handel. He wrote it in 1738, but it was a failure, closing after just five performances. One hundred years later, the aria was resurrected, and became very popular. Here, it is not sung, but played by three cellos and piano. The artists are on Cello: Peter Sebestyen, Zoe Stedje, and Adam Scheck. And on Piano: David Szabo. It is performed in 2013 at Irish World Academy, University of Limerick, Ireland:

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

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Alex Jones Spews Fake News. Should He Be On Facebook?

The Daily Escape:

Nizina Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Melting ice formed a lake in 2000. 2018 photo by Nathaniel Wilder for Smithsonian Magazine

Should fake news be protected under the First Amendment? Should private companies be able to ban the toxic stuff that people like Alex Jones spew? Spew like his denial that the Newtown shootings happened, or his speculation that Brennan Gilmore, a former State Department official who attended last summer’s violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA was really with the CIA.

Earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest, within hours of each other, banned Alex Jones and his Infowars web site. Does losing his place on these platforms abridge his freedom of speech?

When someone says that something we otherwise believe is fake, it stirs deep emotions. Consider the immunization scam when Andrew Wakefield published in the Lancet that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to autism in children. Although false medical science, it circulated widely, and was widely believed. Today, communities are at risk, because kids are not being vaccinated by their parents, and regional outbreaks of these diseases which were largely extinct, are occurring again. So, despite the best efforts by the medical community to educate parents that the MMR vaccine is safe, the fake news outran any efforts to contain the lie.

Each day 100 million+ stories hit the internet, so we can’t possibly vet even a fraction of them. Fake news will get through, and spread. In the midterm elections, and in the presidential election in 2020, technology will build on what was learned in the 2016 presidential campaign: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them [and]…spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement…. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

The next iteration of the technology will bring each of the 156 million registered voters in the US a stream of personalized messages. That’s because nearly everyone has a social media presence, and their information and preferences will be shared by the platform companies with the campaigns.

People who have influence on social media utilize these new technologies extremely well. Alex Jones uses it well, and is on the toxic end of the fake news spectrum. And there’s Trump, master of the continuous Twitter falsehood. He turns the lie around, accusing his detractors of spreading fake news. With the GOP in power, there will not be any government crackdown on misinformation. Here’s why: the Daily Beast reports on a disturbing poll by Ipsos:

43% of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”…..48% of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people”.

If you trust what Alex Jones says, fine. But now, your ability to amplify his toxic brand of fake news has been hampered by the platform companies throwing him off. Parsing what is considered free speech is a slippery slope, and we won’t know just how slippery it is, until we start sliding down.

Case law says we’re able to protest, saying whatever we want, within some limits. We used to do that in town squares. A big question is: Are Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter the town squares of today?

That’s a question that hasn’t yet been decided. It is why who gets to sit on the Supreme Court is so damn important, particularly if Republicans agree that the president should decide which news outlets are allowed to publish.

Democracy requires conflicting opinions. Anybody can build a platform, and appeal to a niche audience. Today, you can spew falsehoods, like Alex Jones or Trump, who do just that every day.

We live in an era of doublespeak. Automobiles that get higher mileage kill their drivers. Fires are raging in California because there’s not enough water. When the president is an unreliable source of information, fake news carries the same importance as real news. But, legal scholars remind us that:

false news doesn’t serve the public interest in the way that true speech does.

Social media holds the potential of democratizing information, making it universally available. OTOH, fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

Should the platform companies be able to ban someone, or some messages, even if they do not reflect a clear and present danger? Maybe. Jones and his ilk have other outlets for their spew. And they can build others, and their followers will find them.

This is the beginning of a pushback against fake news, and it’s only the beginning of a revitalized free speech debate pitting the main stream media against those who spew fake news.

If you only want to look at kittens online, go for it. It shouldn’t be all that our Constitution allows, but, where should we draw the line?

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Nothing Is More Important Than Voter Turnout

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our only weapon is turnout.

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

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

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

Then, hone their message.

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

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The GOP’s History of Non-Accountability

The Daily Escape:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy – photo via @archpics

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are ensconced in a 1791 colonial home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The house was a half way point and overnight stop on the Hartford CT to Albany NY stage coach in the early 1800’s. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad in the late 1850’s. Now it is a VRBO rental, mostly used by large family reunions, and our family qualifies.)

Did the Trump campaign ask for help, or were they merely the beneficiaries of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 presidential election? We won’t know for sure unless or until Robert Mueller’s investigation makes it into the public domain. But here in the Berkshires, Wrongo read a column by Dylan Matthews that places the possible Trump wrongdoing in an historical perspective with other GOP stalwarts like Richard Nixon. And not just Watergate, where Gerald Ford pardoned tricky Dicky, but more:

The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where…political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds….It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

Matthews makes the point that the Russia scandal reminds us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it:

In the summer of 1968…Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process.

As Matthews says, this is part of a larger, longstanding and troubling trend of Republican non-accountability:

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government…Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t end there:

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people…all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams….National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Matthews quotes Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated Iran-Contra:

What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.

Many of the Iran-Contra perpetrators remain on the scene in Washington. Poindexter ran George W. Bush’s Information Awareness Office. Elliott Abrams, who had other transgressions under Reagan, when he supported El Salvador’s military dictatorship, worked as a National Security Council official for George W. Bush.

GW Bush had dozens of policymakers who lied about WMD. They systematically violated US law forbidding torture. Consider Abu Ghraib, where low-level soldiers and officers were court-martialed, while the people responsible for the policy, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, got off scott-free.

And Democrats weren’t above non-accountability. Obama didn’t prosecute Bush officials about the Iraq WMD lies. He didn’t prosecute CIA officials who tortured. Obama’s administration didn’t bring charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA. Obama’s Department of Justice was notoriously lax with Wall Street. Once, Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler jokingly asked Deputy AG Lanny Breuer, “How many cases are you dismissing this week?”

Matthews closes:

With that history — with such a clear record that…political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia?

So both parties have contributed to this culture of permitting wrong conduct without consequences.

The possible implications for the Mueller investigation is frightening. At what point will bringing prosecutions be impossible because the GOP office holder will simply yell “partisan witch hunt“, and have one-third of America agree without seeing the evidence?

And will the bad guys simply wait for the next GOP president and get pardoned?

Unless we’re willing to fight that system, many more Republicans will evade accountability in the future.

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