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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – June 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Round Hill Highland Games – Litchfield County, Connecticut

From Zandar:

The slow death of the civil rights era under the Trump regime continues as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will proceed with handcuffing the department’s civil rights office, because systemic racism and sexism in education is embarrassing to Dear Leader, so in order to Make America Great Again™ it will no longer be exposed or even acknowledged.

What’s up? The DoE is scaling back investigations into civil rights violations at the nation’s public schools and universities, easing off mandates imposed by the Obama administration that the new leadership says have bogged down the agency. The NYT reports that Candice E. Jackson, the acting head of the Department’s office for civil rights issued an internal memo stating that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Requirements that investigators broaden their inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims will be scaled back. Also, regional offices will no longer be required to alert department officials in Washington of all highly sensitive complaints on issues such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses.

The new directives are Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ first steps to reshape the DoE’s approach to civil rights enforcement, moving away from President Obama’s efforts to require that schools and colleges overhaul policies addressing a number of civil rights concerns. That approach sent complaints soaring, and the civil rights office found itself understaffed and struggling to meet the department’s stated goal of closing cases within 180 days.

So, DeVos’ new protocols have the cover of “we need to move faster” to resolve the big case backlog.

But civil rights leaders believe that the new directives will have the opposite effect. Since DoE staff members would be discouraged from opening new cases, and efficiency will take priority over thoroughness, the entire process will be weakened. Catherine Lhamon, who was the assistant secretary of the Education Department’s civil rights office under Mr. Obama, and who now heads the United States Commission on Civil Rights says:

If we want to have assembly-line justice, and I say ‘justice’ in quotes, then that’s the direction that we should go.

So the logic of DeVos seems to be: “Well if we can’t close civil rights cases in six months, why bother opening them? Let’s just save the money.”

This is another example of Zero-Sum Thinking by the Trumpists.

Time to wake up America! While you are following the twists and turns of Russiagate, the Trump administration is overturning the civil rights accountability that Obama put in place for the nation’s schools. Obama’s idea was that ALL students should have their civil rights protected, not just the Taylors and Hunters out there in the suburbs, but those kids in the poorer school districts.  

To help you wake up, here is The Weeknd with his newly released “Secrets”, which owes a big debt to Tears for Fears:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 18, 2017

It’s Father’s Day. Here is Wrongo’s tribute to his own dad, now gone for 19 years. Steve Goodman’s song, “My Old Man”:

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

Takeaway lyric:

I miss my old man tonight
And I can almost see his face
He was always trying to watch his weight
And his heart only made it to fifty-eight.
For the first time since he died
Late last night I cried.
I wondered when I was gonna do that
For my old man.

Happy Father’s Day to all who qualify!

On to cartoons. This week, it’s hard to decide where to look first. How long will the current era of political good feeling last? We can be hopeful, but cracks have already appeared, and the urge to score political points has already begun:

The DC shooting reminds us that Congress still plays the ‘ol ballgame:

NOW we need some protection?

While America’s busy looking at the Russian drama, the GOP has had a breakthrough:

Trump’s team ruminates on replacing Mueller:

 

 

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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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United Airlines: Try Doing The Right Thing

The Daily Escape:

Kravica waterfall in Bosnia Herzegovina -photo by Vedrana Tafra

Wrongo needs to start by saying that he has nearly 800,000 lifetime air miles on United Airlines (UAL) and, after the forcible removal of a paying passenger, he will try to avoid flying them again.

You know the story: United Express in Chicago loads passengers on a plane heading to Louisville. Then four employees arrive, needing seats. United was unwilling to offer enough compensation to induce passengers to give up their seats, and ordered four passengers off of the aircraft. Three left, but one refused, saying he had to be in Louisville in the morning.

United officials called the Department of Chicago Aviation, (part of the City of Chicago), the type of government agency that you never even knew existed, to remove him. Officers grabbed his arms, dragged him screaming across the armrests and along the floor and off of the aircraft, apparently injuring him in the process.

Unusual situations like this test organizations and their leadership. The key information here is that UAL wanted to make space to carry their own staff. The flight was not “overbooked”, UAL wanted to take back seats of a few paying passengers to accommodate their own staff. Apparently, UAL had bungled its own logistics, and then looked to its paying customers to solve the problem.

Poor customer service like this exists because of corporate culture, and because the company rarely has to pay a price for it.

In Wrongo’s past, he managed 1000 employees who had technical support and/or customer service contact with the public. We had a mantra: Know when to Do The Thing Right, and know when to Do The Right Thing. 95% of the time, the job is to follow established procedures, to guide the customer to a pre-established solution that had been vetted, one that was company policy.

Our staff’s job was to “do the thing right” in those cases, to follow our processes.

5% (or less) of the time, our people would see something novel, outside the scope of established policy. Something that called for reaching an equitable solution that wasn’t in any manual.

Then, our employees needed to “do the right thing”.

These aren’t difficult concepts to instill, they are entirely consistent with most people’s personal experience, and usually with their views about fairness.

United should try empowering people to do the right thing, when going by the book fails the customer. Whatever it might have cost to compensate volunteers, it would have been far cheaper than what UAL will now pay to this passenger.

This also illustrates how America is changing: Large corporations are willing to use the police to enforce their policies. The passenger’s choice was to comply with police demands, or face physical intimidation, or worse. And Chicago’s sub-contracted police were too eager to jump into the fray.

We should ask: Did the injured passenger break any law by refusing to give up his seat? If that’s the case, the plane was filled with lawbreakers. If not, why was an element of the Chicago police doing UAL’s dirty work?

The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a jury trial for civil cases in the federal courts:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved

The $20 amount is trivial in today’s economy. But that idea of a jury trial has been killed by corporatist judges on the Supreme Court, and other courts, and has been replaced the company’s terms of service. When you agree, it takes away most of your rights — disputes are resolved through arbitration that the corporation almost always wins. In this case, UAL’s terms of service gives them almost unlimited authority when dealing with its passengers, including a rule regarding “refusal of transport” (Rule 21) and “denial of boarding compensation” (Rule 25).

But that doesn’t justify bad corporate behavior. Or violence.

But, thanks to Congress’s bipartisan policy of ignoring anti-trust laws for several decades, just four firms now control the vast majority of domestic flights, and they don’t really compete with one another. This is from the DOT’s report on airline competition:

Less competition means you don’t have to worry as much about annoying people with delays or overbooked flights. It also means you can make a lot more money. There’s less pressure to cut ticket prices — even when the price of oil, an airline’s biggest cost, is plummeting — and it’s easier to introduce ever-more obnoxious fees and charges.

UAL isn’t worried about you sharing a video of a passenger being dragged off their plane, because you have no real choice when you fly from certain cities.

Ultimately, the responsibility to blunt this trend is ours. Replace Citizens United. Remove corporatist judges. Keep our police on a short leash.

Don’t just upload a video, organize your neighbors and vote!

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Saturday Soother – March 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Bobcat in Yosemite – photo by Rollie Rodriguez)

It’s Saturday of a week filled with political body blows. First, Rep. Devin Nunes acted as Trump’s Poodle by grandstanding in front of the press and then running to the White House to tell on the Intelligence Community. Then we all watched the Trumpcare fiasco. Trump issued an ultimatum to pass or forget Trumpcare, and Congress (as of this writing) can’t do either. Considering that Trumpcare has support of about 17% of the people, what special hell do Republicans wish on the country?

Finally, Neil Gorsuch. The Supreme Court nominee carved his way through the Senate Judiciary Committee, dodging substantive questions, and playing hard not to lose the nomination. A Supreme Court decision that potentially impacts Judge Gorsuch’s chances was announced during his second day of testimony. You probably didn’t hear anything about it, what with all of the cacophony Trump generates, so here you go:

 About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong.

That’s right, the Supremes voted 8-0 against a Judge Gorsuch opinion.

Both the Supreme Court’s decision this week and Gorsuch’s 2008 opinion involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public school systems which take certain federal funds provide a “free appropriate public education” to certain students with disabilities.

These were two different cases, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the unanimous opinion that mentioned Gorsuch’s opinion. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., a case brought by an autistic student whose parents sought reimbursement for tuition at a specialized school for children with autism, Gorsuch read IDEA extraordinarily narrowly. Under Gorsuch’s opinion in Luke P., a school district complies with the law so long as they provide educational benefits that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”

De minimis” means so minor as to merit disregard. So Gorsuch essentially concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to students with disabilities so long as they provide those students with slightly more than nothing. But, the Supreme Court rejected Gorsuch’s approach. The IDEA, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

Is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit is Judge Gorsuch’s. Roberts added that Gorsuch’s approach would effectively strip many students the disabilities of their right to an education:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly… awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’

To the contrary, the unanimous Supreme Court concluded, in most cases a student’s progress should be measured according to whether they are able to keep up with their peers without disabilities.

When even Clarence Thomas goes against you, you know your ruling isn’t mainstream. The last thing we need is another justice who votes for the big-guys (business and government) over the little people.

Unfortunately, Gorsuch is a mainstream Republican. Another one who has a policy of doing “de minimis” for everyone in America who isn’t a big donor to the GOP’s mean-spirited agenda.

As the weekend begins, you really need a break. Take a few minutes and think about Annie Moore, who was the first person to enter Ellis Island when it opened for immigrants in 1892. Annie came from Ireland.

This song, “Isle of Hope and Tears” was written by Brendan Graham. It has been performed by many Irish groups over the years. Today, we hear the Irish Tenors:

America used to be the hope of the world. It’s time to decide how it can become that again.

Sample Lyrics:

On the first day of January,
Eighteen ninety-two,
They opened Ellis Island and they let
The people through.
And first to cross the threshold
Of that isle of hope and tears,
Was Annie Moore from Ireland

Who was all of fifteen years.

Isle of hope, isle of tears,
Isle of freedom, isle of fears,
But it’s not the isle you left behind.
That isle of hunger, isle of pain,
Isle you’ll never see again
But the isle of home is always on your mind.

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

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February 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Baby duckling from Amazed By Animals)

Republicans in Arizona came up with a legislative response to Democratic and Independent protesters now that their party has started seeing energized protests at town halls and in their downtown areas. (There was a 15,000 person protest in Tucson in January) They plan to criminalize protests by seizing the assets of anyone involved even in lawful assembly.

On a party-line vote of 17-13, Arizona Republican state senators voted to give police new powers to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration — even before anything bad actually happens. From the Arizona Capitol Times:

SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others. But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated.

It’s beginning to sound like you could join a protest in Arizona, and face RICO charges if someone so much as breaks a window.

With their new-found political power, Republicans will no longer tolerate dissent, and they plan to use the police power of the state to crush those who disagree. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters:

A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists…But this stuff is all planned.

There’s more: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest even those who are planning events. Kavanagh added:

Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts? Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?

The bill now moves to the Arizona House. While that moves forward, we have moved into an era of authoritarian rule in America.

And you are watching it happen in real-time.

Americans have the right to peacefully assemble, we have the right to free speech, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Even though the Tea party was very vocal for the last 8 years; GOP legislators didn’t think that their protests needed to be shut down, or their organizers prosecuted.

Republicans are making a hash of the Constitution, they have no intention of acting in the best interest of all of their citizens. This is a violation of their oath of office. Taking away our right to protest by penalizing potential protesters with threats of asset forfeiture and/or intimidation, is not our America.

Here is Peter Garrett with “It Still Matters”. You may remember Garrett as the lead singer of the Australian band Midnight Oil. He was also a Labor Party member of the House of Representatives for New South Wales from October 2004 to August 2013. Here is “It Still Matters”:

Tell Arizona Republicans that the Constitution still matters to the rest of us.

Sample Lyrics:
Watching the parade on the news last night
I was one that walked that road before
When everything feels like its crumbling
Like the writing’s on the wall

It still matters to me
I hope it matters to you

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

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Ready For The Coming Constitutional Convention?

According to Article V of the US Constitution, the states can convene a Constitutional convention without any action by the federal government if two-thirds (34) of them pass a resolution in favor of the convention. Right-wing organizations have been working for decades to convince enough state legislatures to call for such a convention, with the aim of limiting the powers of the federal government.

Now, Republicans are close to that goal.

Resolutions for a Constitutional convention have already passed in 28 states. And after November’s elections, Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states, while also dominating Nebraska’s uni-cameral legislature, giving them 33. This means that they are just one state shy of the 34 needed to propose an Article V convention. And Republicans now hold 34 governorships.

OTOH, Nevada’s House and Senate flipped to the Democrats, offering progressives an opportunity to rescind the convention resolution they passed previously.

Well done Democrats! Not only will the GOP control the Supreme Court for the next generation, they are on the cusp of rewriting the Constitution to make the Federal government a weak shadow of what it was under FDR and LBJ.

Say goodbye to the liberal democracy you say you cherish. Neither the President nor the Supreme Court have any say in this if 34 states agree to hold a Constitutional convention.

Last September, Convention of States a group dedicated to creating a Constitutional convention, convened a simulated Constitutional convention. At this meeting 137 state legislators representing all 50 states attended a “dry run,” in Williamsburg, Va. It produced drafts of six different proposed amendments:

  • A balanced budget amendment that mandates a Congressional supermajority in order to increase the national debt
  • Congressional term limits
  • Abolishing the federal income tax; while requiring a supermajority for other federal taxes
  • Curtail federal legislative and executive jurisdiction by reining in the commerce clause
  • Allow three-fifths of the states to nullify a federal law
  • Allow congressional override of regulations

The balanced budget amendment has been a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for decades. ALEC, whose funders include many very large US companies, has poured huge sums of money into state legislative races, and provides sample legislation to its members.

According to In These Times, at ALEC’s July 2016 annual meeting, the Constitutional convention was made a top priority. ALEC has adopted model rules for an Article V convention and offers its members model language for a resolution to call for a convention. After focusing on state legislatures for decades, they now have tight relationships with many states across the country.

Since 2000, ALEC did a brilliant job of using the Congressional mid-term elections and state elections as a referendum on the Obama administration. And since Obama came to office, Democrats have lost control of 958 state legislative seats.

If a convention gets triggered, state legislators from across the country will convene to propose amendments, which then need to be ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states to become part of the Constitution. There are concerns however, even within the right-wing that a Constitutional convention could become a runaway train, attempting to go way beyond its stated goals, or by creating more division in an already divided country.

The best argument against a Constitutional convention is that any benefit gained by fixing glitches in our system could easily be outweighed by the risk of letting the crazies have a shot at wrecking the whole thing.

But no need to worry about that particular risk. The crazies are already here.

Republicans love the Constitution so much that they just nominated as a Supreme Court Justice a strict constructionist who will decide cases in accordance with the Constitution’s original intent. The GOP says they cannot abide tampering with that.

And yet, they are working to change it.

If you think we should only want a Constitutional convention when the country reaches a crisis point, welcome to our new world:

There are two possible outcomes at this point. Either the crazies succeed and consolidate power on top of the wreckage of our current system, or they will falter and fail.

Sorry Democrats, you just can’t sit back and count on the latter.

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Amazon’s Echo and Personal Privacy

Wrongo’s daughter gave him an Amazon Echo Dot for his birthday. Bob Lefsetz says that Amazon is becoming the new Apple: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Echo came with almost no instructions. Simple packaging. Not a work of art, like [Steve] Jobs’ creations, but far from the old Microsoft where there’s so much info you’re inundated.

Simple and slick, particularly when it comes to using Echo to listen to music on Spotify, (assuming that you have Spotify premium) because Alexa eliminates a step. Before the Echo, you navigated your PC or mobile to Spotify’s site, entered the artist or track you wanted to hear in Spotify’s clunky search engine, then waited for the track to pop up, and then clicked on it to play.

With Alexa, you say the name of the track and/or the artist, and tell Alexa you want to hear it on Spotify, and it begins playing. Very nice.

Alexa brought in yuuge sales numbers for Amazon this season. Bloomberg reported:

Sales for Echo speakers based on Alexa’s voice-recognition software were nine times more than the 2015 holiday season…Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year…

Sales were so good that Amazon sold out of its Echo speakers in mid-December. The Echo shortage shows voice-activated assistants have found a strong niche with consumers. But there’s a potential dark side to having an Alexa device: Alexa’s job is to listen to you speak, and then recognize and use those data.

This begs the question of whether you should have any expectations of privacy if Alexa is plugged in. If you think this is an academic question, consider that police in Arkansas want to know what an Amazon Echo device may have heard during a murder:

Authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Sound Orwellian to you? Your hot new Xmas gift may be the Trojan horse that kills your privacy.

Police say Bates had several other discoverable smart devices, including a smart water meter. The water meter shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1 AM and 3 AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. The police think all that water was used to wash away evidence of what happened that night.

The data from the water meter, and the request for stored Echo information raise questions about what constitutes individual privacy in the internet of things (IoT). Due to the “always on” nature of the Echo, authorities want any saved audio the speaker may have picked up that night. The Echo is supposed to be only activated by certain words, but it spoke random answers to Wrongo, when not asked a question, if the room it was in was filled with people over the holidays.

What’s more, Echo captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears a wake word, such as “Alexa.” What the owner says are called “utterances” by Amazon, and they are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually, or all at once.

Why does Amazon save your words? Probably because you can order items from them via the Echo. A record of the sale could be necessary in a dispute.

In the Bates case, Amazon would not provide the police with any information that Bates’ Echo had logged on its servers. It later released a statement:

Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

So, Amazon just told the Bentonville police and police everywhere what they have to do to get your stored information: Your privacy is in play if you have an Echo, and you get arrested.

We have an expectation of privacy in our homes, but these devices listen to you, they talk to each other, and to companies like Amazon and Spotify, so the challenge to individual privacy seems very clear. Governments from city to federal, will try to develop any information they can about a criminal case. If those data are gleaned from a smart device in your home, it’s just another data point, and it will become your job to make the case that your Constitutional rights were violated.

The Constitutional question is whether the data you generate in your home through internet-connected devices are data that you own at all. Do you share ownership with corporate America?

Does the state have rights to your private information if they say they need it?

Tip: Alexa has a microphone off button. Use it. Its possible that Amazon can’t hear you then.

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Are We Facing an Undemocratic Future?

What do you think when Trump appoints so many retired generals to cabinet-level posts in his administration? The positive side of the argument is that these are talented, well-educated individuals who bring a worldview and experience on the global stage that Trump himself lacks.

The other side of the argument is that the authoritarian president Trump risks making his government much more authoritarian than it needs to be. This from Roger Cohen in the NYT:

A quarter-century after the post-Cold War zenith of liberal democracies and neoliberal economics, illiberalism and authoritarianism are on the march. It’s open season for anyone’s inner bigot. Violence is in the air, awaiting a spark. The winning political card today, as Mr. Trump has shown…is to lead “the people” against a “rigged system,”…The postwar order — its military alliances, trade pacts, political integration and legal framework — feels flimsy, and the nature of the American power undergirding it all is suddenly unclear.

We sound like a nation that is ripe for political upheaval. Citizens are not only more critical of their political leaders, they have become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard, has spent the past few years challenging one of the bedrock assumptions of Western politics: That once a country becomes a liberal democracy, it will stay that way. That bedrock assumption is called “democratic consolidation” in political science, but Mounk’s research suggests that isn’t correct anymore.

In fact, he suggests that liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline. Data from Freedom House, an organization that measures democracy and freedom around the world, showed that the number of countries classified as “free” rose steadily from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.

But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. According to Mounk and his research partner Roberto Foa, who reviewed the data, early signs of democratic destabilization exist in the US and in other Western liberal democracies. They found that the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations. The survey was based on 2014 data. Here is a graph from the Mounk-Foa study:

percent-who-say-democracy-is-essential-us

The graph shows responses by age cohort. Younger Americans have substantially less need to live in a democratic society than do older individuals. (The grey shaded part of graph is the 95% confidence limit for the responses to the survey). Remarkably, the trend toward acceptance of nondemocratic alternatives is especially strong among citizens who are both young and rich.

Mounk and Foa found that support for autocratic alternatives is also rising. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, they found that the share of Americans who say that authoritarianism would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen from 18% in 1995 to 35% of rich Americans:

support-for-authoritianism-by-income-us

While citizen support for authoritarian rule remains in the minority, it can no longer be dismissed as a fringe group. They support “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections” and they want “experts” rather than the government to “take decisions” for the country. (In the study, “Upper income” is defined as the top 20% of income. “Lower Income” was defined as the bottom 50% of income.)

Overall, the rich are also now more likely than lower income citizens to express approval for “having the army rule.” While 43% of older Americans, including those born between the world wars and their baby-boomer children, do not believe that it is legitimate in a democracy for the military to take over when the government is incompetent or failing to do its job, the figure among millennials is much lower at 19%. In the US, only 5% of upper-income citizens thought that army rule was a “good” or “very good” idea in 1995. That figure has since risen to 16%, so the young rich are much more autocratic than their rich elders.

The clear message is that our democracy is now vulnerable. What was once unthinkable should no longer be considered outside the realm of possibility. This is partially the result of an educational system that does not teach even basic civics, much less the meaning of the Constitution.

Generations have grown up believing that they can casually read the document and understand what constitutional law is. Young Americans have never known the threat of an undemocratic system, so their fear of autocracy is far less than it is in the minds of their elders.

Trump is the prime example of this. And according to Mounk’s findings, he has a receptive audience in the young and the wealthy.

Would that be enough to undermine democracy in the US?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 2, 2016

The nation’s cartoonists had many easy targets this week, what with the presidential debate aftermath, but most offerings were repetitive: Trump’s hair on fire, Hillary wrestling Trump, blah, blah.

Millennials are thinking about voting for Gary Johnson. Maybe they should examine the consequences of that decision:

cow-millenials-vote

There is no IPhone app for instant positive change. The challenge is to vote for representatives and referendums that forward the ideals we cherish (and do nothing that will retard change) – no matter how long it takes.

It is puzzling why so many young voters think Hillary is dishonest. The Clintons have released their tax returns for decades. They have released the tax returns of their foundation. Congress has spent years and millions investigating her and has not found anything illegal. Of course, the media has been furiously digging into both candidates, but most of what they have produced is about Trump’s malfeasance: They have found dozens of documented reports of dishonesty, pay for play, ugly comments about women and minorities. His two divorce degrees require confidentiality by the ex-wives to keep the support money coming.

He could be arrested for what he did in Cuba, if the statute of limitations had not run out, but a large segment of our younger voters dislikes Hillary enough to vote for Gary Johnson.

The debate lasted 90 minutes. Trump’s debate worked for about 30 minutes:

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As expected, he brought up “Stop and Frisk”:

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Maybe this is a good time to remind The Pant Load about the Fourth Amendment, which says that this action is most likely illegal:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The VP debate on Tuesday probably won’t be must-see TV:

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Apparently, the Saudis couldn’t spend enough in DC to avoid the override of Obama’s veto:

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