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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 14, 2018

Last week was dominated by an emerging Republican narrative about Democrats: Dems are socialists. They are an angry mob. They frighten ordinary people. The framing by Trump is that the mid-term election is “patriots vs. socialists”.

And Trump said this on Friday night in Cincinnati:

A vote for a Republican is a vote to reject the Democratic politics of hatred, anger and division.

The Democrats’ closing argument for the mid-terms is considerably more nuanced, and it may not be heard clearly. They are against Trump, and all that he and his party stand for, but they talk about wanting a chance to provide a “check and balance” against Trump’s (and the GOP’s) worst instincts.

Sure, some will vote for that, but will enough turn out to vote for it to take the House?

The Democrats haven’t recovered from the public’s disapproval of their demonstrations against Kavanaugh after his swearing in. A reasonable minority of Dems don’t understand that most Americans are uncomfortable with demonstrations. Amy Chua has an astute observation in her book, “Political Tribes” where she quotes a South Carolina student:

I think protesting is almost a status symbol for elites. That’s why they always post pictures on Facebook, so all their friends know they’re protesting. When elites protest on behalf of us poor people, it’s not just that we see them as unhelpful; it seems that they are turning us…into the next ‘meme’. We don’t like being used for someone else’s self-validation.

On one side, we have the GOP, who can apparently say anything, offer insults and tell lies. On the other side, we have the Democrats who can’t do much of that without the mainstream media taking umbrage. Dems allow the media and the Right to write their story. The GOP and the media have made the Democrats the party of identity politics, the PC party, one that is so busy protecting the big tent that it’s unable to govern.

Trump’s Traveling Nuremberg Rallies will continue until the mid-terms, and Dems must decide what messaging will be successful in 2018. It’s going to be tough, because since the dawn of time, no one has truly figured out how to deal effectively (and conclusively) with authoritarian and anti-democratic ideas.

But, Dems have to do just that, or else remain a fringe party.

In American politics, it seems like it’s always 1968. Republicans are the law-and-order party. Democrats are the party affiliated with the demonstrators in the streets of Chicago, even though those demonstrators were radicals, not Democrats. The demonstrators were furious at the Vietnam War, which was led then by Democrats. And today, that viewpoint persists.

Both parties think the other is appalling, so you don’t have to like your own party, you just have to hate the other one. And one thing the Kavanaugh mess has done, it’s made both sides feel the other is appalling.

How it all turns out 22 days from now is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope the Democrats fight hard for the issues that really matter. On to cartoons.

It’s football and election seasons, and it’s always tough to pick the winners:

It’s laughable to think back to the days when the US sent observers to other countries to ensure fair elections:

Nikki Haley resigned. Kanye went to the White House. What to expect next:

Hurricanes have become like school shootings, so many of them, and all so devastating. We treat these events the same, with thought and prayers, but no plan to deal with the causes:

What Trump and Fox want the campaign trail to look like:

Trump sprang into action after Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. He said we shouldn’t jeopardize our arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

 

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Saturday Soother – October, 13, 2018 — Voting Rights Edition

The Daily Escape:

St. Basil’s, Red Square, Moscow, RU. It was built in 1561. – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Welcome to Saturday! Forget about Kanye hugging the Orange Overlord, we have bigger fish to fry.

Yesterday, we talked about how state legislatures with help from the courts, have been disenfranchising minorities. This is likely to reduce turnout in the 2018 mid-terms, as studies have shown in the past, and despite encouraging polls, if someone can’t vote, nobody can be sure who will win in the mid-terms.

So today, we take a closer look at how some states have systematically worked to close polling places after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision that stopped federal oversight of election practices in states with a history of Jim Crow practices.

Prior to the Shelby decision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) provided a process to ensure that jurisdictions known to engage in voter discrimination weren’t using budget cuts or voter modernization as arguments to disenfranchise people of color. Under Section 5, jurisdictions had to demonstrate that saving money by making changes to polling places did not disenfranchise voters of color. Now Section 5 is no longer useful for the protection for minority voters.

One reason is that Shelby triggered a fundamental shift in who was responsible for protecting minority voters, from the federal authorities, to the individuals who believed they were wronged. The cost and burden of proof that local election laws are discriminatory, is now borne by those least able to afford it.

This map makes it clear that the states formerly covered by the VRA are engaging in precisely the kind voter suppression that would have been impossible before the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision:

Source

Fewer polling places leads to longer lines, which will dissuade some people from voting, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC think tank found. This means election officials can affect the outcome of an election by manipulating the number and location of polling places.

And these efforts do not only happen in the Deep South. This year, Indiana removed 170, mostly Democratic voting precincts from Lake County, home to the state’s largest Latino and second-largest Black communities. The Secretary of State said they were simply updating the map to reflect new demographic data, while local Democrats said it keeps African Americans and Hispanic voters from the polls.

According to Pew Research, other efforts are underway in counties in Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin to move thousands of voters to new locations: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Some voters in Barton County, Kansas, now will have to drive 18 miles to vote in November’s election because of polling place consolidation. In the past three decades, the county has gone from 40 polling places to 11. The main reason, said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, is cost.

Local election officials responsible for closing polling places often say that the closed locations were too expensive, underused, or inaccessible to people with disabilities. Often, local election officials fly under the radar, sometimes not even notifying voters in their jurisdictions of changes in polling locations.

This year, Georgia put the voter registrations of about 50,000 voters on hold, due to a policy implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor in next month’s election. Of the 53,000 applications in limbo, 70% are from African-Americans, according to the Associated Press, even though Georgia is approximately 32% black.

So the guy running for governor is ALSO overseeing the election. He tried to close 3/4 of polling places in predominantly black Randolph County this summer. Kemp is in a close race with Stacy Abrams, an African-American. You be the judge of what’s really going on.

Americans say we live in a democracy. But, with gerrymandering and vote suppression, we have to remain vigilant if we are to keep both our civil rights, and our Constitution, intact.

Enough for today! Take a step back, unplug, and chill a bit, because it’s Saturday, the Wrongologist’s day for a little Soothing.

Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge cuppa Ethiopia Hambela Natural from Chicago’s Big Shoulders Coffee. It is said to be deeply sweet, with flavors of raspberry, dark chocolate, and cedar, along with a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, go and sit by a large window, and take in the changing fall colors and the nip of cool air. Put on your best headphones and listen to “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy, recorded live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in 1996. Cassidy died far too young at 33, in 2006.

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

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Heitkamp’s Chances Hurt By Supreme Court

The Daily Escape:

Rocky Mountain NP, near Estes, CO – 2018 photo by Monty Brown

The already difficult path to Democratic control of the Senate took a big hit on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a challenge to a North Dakota law that requires voters to present identification that includes a current residential street address.

This specifically hurts incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND), who is up for reelection in November, because the current law disproportionately targets Native Americans. Heitkamp has a distinct advantage with Native American voters. From Mother Jones:

A case challenging this requirement on behalf of the state’s sizable Native American populations alleged that the requirement would disenfranchise tribal residents, many of whom lack the proper identification and do not have residential addresses on their identification cards.

Many of North Dakota’s Native Americans live on reservations and utilize post office boxes, because the USPS doesn’t provide residential delivery in rural Indian communities.

So, North Dakota’s 2017 voter law ID was challenged by Native residents who alleged that the law disproportionately prevented Native Americans from voting. In April, a federal district court judge blocked large portions of the law as discriminatory, and the state appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Late last month, however, the Eighth Circuit Court allowed most of the law to take effect ahead of the general election:

‘Even assuming that some communities lack residential street addresses, that fact does not justify a statewide injunction of a statute’…requiring  ‘identification with a residential street address from the vast majority of residents who have residential street addresses,’ the appeals court said.

They didn’t say “some people,” they explicitly said that it was fine to disenfranchise “some communities.”

So, the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, who on Tuesday, essentially upheld the original law by declining to intervene, 6-2. Kavanaugh didn’t participate. Because Native Americans are an important Democratic constituency in North Dakota, a state with fewer than 600,000 voters, the ruling makes it much less likely that Senator Heidi Heitkamp can be reelected.

The Eighth District and the Supremes, decided that preventing someone from renting a P.O. Box in North Dakota for the sole purpose of casting a single fraudulent vote, was worth taking away votes of several Native American “communities.”

Wrongo is no jurist, but this seems to solve an unlikely, and largely theoretical problem by creating a much larger, more certain, and ultimately, unjustifiable problem.

There are 18 judges on the Eighth Circuit court, and only one is a Democrat. Maybe it isn’t shocking then that the Court overruled a lower district court on a North Dakota law designed to disenfranchise Native Americans. There is not the slightest pretense to impartial justice here, or any concern for the fact that they’re perpetuating our history of mistreating Native Americans.

America managed to stop things like this in the 1960’s with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so none of what we are seeing should be new to us. Vote suppression has always been with us, but now it is back out from under the rocks where it was hiding, particularly since John Roberts wrote the decision in Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013.

That the Supreme Court ratified the North Dakota law is a step beyond anything that has happened this far in the Trump era. Access to voting is fundamental, and the actions by the ND legislature seem too blatant to stand, even in a post Voting Rights Act world.

All of the other (mostly Republican) vote suppression efforts (strict voter ID requirements, closing down early voting, excessive voter list purges) have at least a vaguely plausible pretense of concern over election fraud, but this is a step too far.

However, only Ginsburg and Kagan dissented.

Had Sotomayor and Breyer joined them, Heitkamp might have a reasonable chance of reelection.

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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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Republicans Vote Against Funding Election Security

The Daily Escape:

Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Havana Cuba. Built in 1772, it was the royal post office. 2018 photo by Nestor Marti for Smithsonian Magazine

Are Republicans committed to free and fair elections? Maybe not. Republicans in the Senate had a chance to say “yes” on August 1st, when an amendment adding funding for election security failed to pass.

With all the cross talk about election meddling, you could be forgiven if you think that our very democracy may be under threat. But when given a chance to take a concrete step, adding $250 million to help confront this challenge, the Republican majority in the Senate said no. From The Hill:

Senators voted 50-47 against adding an amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would have provided the funding. Sixty votes were needed to include the proposal in the appropriations legislation under Senate rules. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was the only GOP senator who voted in support of the amendment to an appropriations measure. The proposal, spearheaded by Leahy, would have provided $250 million for state election security grants.

How is this a partisan issue? Doesn’t every American want to protect our electoral system? Republicans argued that more funding wasn’t needed, that states haven’t yet spent the $380 million previously approved by Congress. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said it was “far too early” for the Senate to sign off on more money:

We don’t know how the first $380 million has even been spent, and the intelligence committee did an extensive research on how much money was needed and the $380 million amount was what was needed for the moment.

Sounds reasonable. If only there were some sort of accounting system that allowed you to find out how much was spent, and what the remaining need might be. And yet, not knowing where the Pentagon spends its money hasn’t stopped Congress from giving them even more than they asked for.

Surprising what expenditures cause the GOP to develop fiscal responsibility. They just gave $12 billion to bailout America’s farmers. They happily voted to create a $1 trillion deficit with their corporate tax cuts. Trump wants to add another $100 billion in tax cuts, because more has to be better.

But with an expenditure designed to head off a possible vote heist, that’s when America needs more fiscal accountability.

We’ve learned that Russian cyber warriors already have targeted the re-election campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), and that Facebook closed 32 accounts because they exhibited behavior similar to that of accounts belonging to Russian hackers. Facebook said that more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages.

Our electoral legitimacy crisis is real. We are witnessing a slow-moving insurrection driven by the Republicans, the Citizens United decision, Koch operatives, Evangelicals, Russian cyber hacks, along with determined vote suppression by Republican state legislatures. All are working to make your vote less valuable. Republicans have been trying for years to destroy the value of your vote with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

If the Russians want to help them, the GOP seems to be OK with that, too.

From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The only reason to vote against this bill is because you don’t want the money spent to confront the crisis. States can’t do this alone—and too many of them are controlled by people who don’t want the job in the first place….The idea that we’re nickel-and-diming this particular problem as what can only be called an anti-democratic epidemic rages across the land is so preposterous as to beggar belief. We are febrile and weak as a democratic republic. Too many people want to keep us that way.

The only thing that can save us is TURN-OUT this fall.

Kiss our democracy good-bye if you stay home!

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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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How Do We Increase Voter Turnout?

The Daily Escape:

Cows grazing in fields near the village of Castelluccio in central Italy. In October 2016, a significant earthquake struck the area, badly damaging the village and roads—but farming still takes place and fields of lentils and poppies bloom every year, carpeting the land – 2018 photo by Maurizio Sartoretto

Ninety-two million eligible American voters failed to vote in the 2016 presidential elections. In the 2014 midterms, 143 million eligible Americans failed to vote. It was the lowest voter participation in 72 years. Is it possible to change this sorry record? We can start by looking at voter registration. From Larry Sabato:

There are 31 states (plus the District of Columbia) with party registration; in the others, such as Virginia, voters register without reference to party. In 19 states and the District, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 12 states, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats. In aggregate, 40% of all voters in party registration states are Democrats, 29% are Republicans, and 28% are independents.

Sabato says that overall, the current Democratic advantage over Republicans in the party registration states approaches 12 million voters. But, they don’t turn out to vote.

There are a number of major states that do not register voters by party, including those in the industrial Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Add to that, Texas, Georgia, and Washington. If they did register by party, Texas, Georgia, and Indiana would certainly add to the Republican total. Sabato’s team produced this map illustrating the breakdown of registered voters (RV) in the table below:

More from Sabato: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Still, Republican Donald Trump found a route to victory in 2016 that went through the party registration states. He scored a near sweep of those where there were more Republicans than Democrats, winning 11 of the 12, while also taking six of the 19 states where there were more Democrats than Republicans — a group that included the pivotal battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

But the message gets worse for Dems, and it’s all about voter turnout. In 2016, falling participation defined the election, as pivotal swing states such as Wisconsin and Ohio saw voter participation drop by approximately 3% and 4% respectively, compared with 2012.

The Center for American Progress says that during the 2016 primaries, only 28.5% of eligible voters cast votes for party candidates, while only 14.5% participated in the 2012 primaries. For local mayoral elections, participation fell below 20% in 15 of the country’s 30 most populous cities.

The latest data available that break down voter turnout for midterm elections by state is for 2014. And it makes a disheartening case for Democrats, particularly in those states with a Democratic voter registration plurality where Trump won. Here is the breakdown of voter turnout by state:

In 2014, there wasn’t a lot of Democratic sentiment in the highest turnout states. And in the six states where Dems have a registration advantage, but the state voted for Trump in 2016, this was their 2014 voter turnout:

STATE                                                    TURNOUT

PA                                                            36.1%

WVA                                                         31.2%

KY                                                            44.2%

NC                                                            40.8%

LA                                                            43.9%

FL                                                            42.8%

This shows their turnout was substantially higher than the national average. If these states repeat the same turnout this November, chances are that the House will stay in Republican hands. Now, the data are from 2014, and the country is more energized politically in 2018 than it was four years ago, so generalizing may not provide us with a correct answer.

For what it’s worth, only five states had turnout over 50%: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

But can we fix turnout? The usual barriers we talk about fixing are:

  • Streamlining voter registration, possibly by automatic voter registration, or same-day voter registration
  • Making the act of voting more convenient by longer periods of early voting, and more liberal absentee voting
  • Adding voting booths in election districts to eliminate long lines
  • Changing election day to election weekend, so more working people can get to the polls

But, a 2017 Pew study found that the most common reasons registered voters gave for not voting in the 2016 elections had little to do with barriers to turnout: theyDidn’t like candidates or campaign issues” (25%); followed by those “Not interested, felt vote wouldn’t make difference” (15%); “Too busy or conflicting schedule” (14)%; and “Illness or disability” (12%).

Registration problems,” were only 4%; while “Transportation problems,” were 3%; and “Inconvenient hours or polling place,” just 2%.

Having charismatic candidates with messages that resonate is the easiest fix, but we are locked into a system in which career politicians work their way up the ladder, trying to be as bland as possible.

People have to become angry enough to force our current system to change.

The real question is: Why aren’t they already angry enough?

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Saturday Soother – June 30, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spice Stall, Istanbul, Turkey – 2013 photo by Wrongo

This week, there was plenty of talk about “Trump Fatigue”. This, from Just Above Sunset is a good example:

The Trump presidency has been exhausting. Maybe that was the idea. It’s one outrageous thing after another. Everything is “big news” – but when everything is big news nothing is. Everyone goes numb. The United States now has concentration camps for children? Canada is now our enemy and North Korea is not? CNN gave up. Every single news story is “Breaking News” there…but everyone else is tired of this. That was the idea. Make America shrug. They won’t know what hit them. They just don’t care. They’ve had enough. They’ll worry about their own lives. Trump will be Trump. Life will go on.

The biggest, baddest, worst-est bad news was the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. When the court reconvenes in October, there is likely to be a majority willing at least to gut, if not formally overrule, Roe v. Wade. The hope that the Supreme Court will enforce voting rights is now dead. The Court will not strike down gerrymandering, despite ample evidence that it renders quite a few elections undemocratic. And this week, in supporting Trump’s Muslim Ban, it said it was overturning Korematsu vs. The United States. In fact, it really reaffirmed it, under the guise of overruling it.

We had another mass shooting. This time it’s five journalists dead at the hands of a shotgun-toting man with a grudge against the paper: he lost a defamation suit against it in 2015. So the media presents us with yet another day of video loops from helicopters showing police cars and emergency vehicles lined up, and a ceaseless round of cable TV reporters trying new ways to say they have nothing new to report.

Trump is planning a summit with Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Finland. Maybe it’s his annual performance review, maybe it’s just an effort to get superpower relations on a better track. Hard to know.

We will be getting a new Democratic Congressperson in NY’s 4th district. A 28 year-old first-time candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, will replace Joe Crowley in the Queens-Bronx district that includes Archie Bunker’s old neighborhood. But the old neighborhood ain’t what it used to be. Today the district is roughly 50% Latino and 25% other minorities. It is unclear if this portends anything for Republican House seats in November.

Wrongo knows that our only hope is voter turnout in November. But, has there been a fair election in this century? Probably not. The media and the Republicans will say that our democratic process continues, but as the NYT reported:

Eight of the tech industry’s most influential companies, in anticipation of a repeat of the Russian meddling that occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign, met with United States intelligence officials last month to discuss preparations for this year’s midterm elections.

The conclusion was that the US government is doing nothing to secure the 2018 vote. Apparently, the Trump administration is hoping for a red wave in November. Combine their hope with SCOTUS’s apparent support of gerrymandering, and we can practically guarantee that our democracy is dying.

And here’s a cartoon that can’t wait until Sunday:

Sorry to be so negative on your Saturday morning. We need to drop this, at least for a little while, and find some way to get a little soothing going. Start by brewing up a vente cup of Laderas del Tapias coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasting Co. in Lee, MA ($21.95/12 oz.), with its chewy fruit flavors of blackberry, plum, and apple. Bostonians can visit their store on Newbury Street.

Head outside to a shady spot. Now, listen to Hugo Alfven’s Swedish Rhapsody No. 1: “Midsommarvaka” (midsummer vigil), written in 1903.  It is performed by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Petri Sakari. The section from ~5:45 to ~9:00 is particularly beautiful:

Percy Faith had a US Top 30 hit with a selection from it in 1953, so it may sound familiar to older readers.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 18, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Doe Crossing Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – June 2018 photo by JH Cleary

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision allowing Ohio Republicans to purge voter rolls solely on the basis of not voting, North Carolina Republicans have wasted no time trying to stop groups that vote Democratic from being allowed to cast ballots ahead of midterms: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The last time Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature enacted a law making it harder for some of the state’s residents to vote, a federal court said the statute targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision,” and threw it out.

That was last year. Now the legislators are back with a new set of election proposals, and an unconventional plan to make them stick:

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Republican Senators unveiled legislation that would eliminate the final Saturday of early voting in state elections, a day that typically draws a large share of black voters to the polls. That followed a Republican proposal last week to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require all voters to display a photo ID before casting votes.

In addition, party leaders say they are preparing a constitutional amendment that would curb the power of the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, over the state board that controls election procedures.

Since Republicans swept into power in 2010, controlling both the North Carolina Legislature and the governorship, the state has become ground zero for struggles over tightening election rules and weakening voting rights.

Democrats have recently made gains in the state, most notably with Mr. Cooper’s win of the governorship in 2016. That doesn’t mean the Republicans aren’t still trying to suppress votes. More from the NYT:

This time, however, the party’s tactics have changed. The voter ID amendment would require approval by citizens as well as legislators. The final Saturday of voting has been popular — nearly 200,000 citizens voted on that day in 2016 — and African-Americans turned out at a rate 40 percent greater than their share of the electorate. But the bill to eliminate that Saturday would apportion those lost hours among other early voting days, so the total hours of polling would not change.

Look for more states to adopt the tactic of putting voter suppression efforts into state constitutions the same way Republicans did with gay marriage 15 years ago. The Republicans are willing to be transparent about disenfranchising everyone who isn’t inclined to vote for them.

The Republicans know that about half the country doesn’t like their ideas, which is why they are trying to suppress voting. If they get their way, their messaging will appeal to everyone who still has the vote.

Maybe it’s time Democrats are brutally honest about what they are doing. Maybe Democratic candidates need to start by saying:

I plan to make it as easy to vote as possible. I want every eligible voter at the polls, no matter what we have to do

Time to wake up America, your voting rights are under attack by the Republican Party and the John Roberts court. To help you wake up, here is Twisted Sister with their only top 40 hit, 1984’s “I’m Not Gonna Take It

During this year’s teachers’ strikes, the song was used as a rallying cry by teachers striking in Arizona.

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

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No Cake For You, No Democracy For Me

The Daily Escape:

Manhattan, NYC skyline viewed from Brooklyn – 2018 photo by Max Guilani

The gay wedding cake ruling was absurd. If a wedding photographer didn’t want to take photos at the wedding, it would be understandable, because then they’d be present at the ceremony, in some way, participating.

But a person baking and decorating a cake? The baker isn’t participating in the event, and the cake isn’t usually at the ceremony either. The cake can’t represent a religious belief unless it’s actually a religious cake.

There’s a difference between freedom “from” and freedom “to”. This case, and a few others, notably Hobby Lobby, have swung the pendulum in the direction of “freedom to”. That could be the freedom to refuse to serve a customer, to refuse to provide health coverage, to claim an infringement of your religious rights, to say that baking the cake causes undue harm to your right to believe as you do. Much of what the Right touts as freedoms fall under this category, like the freedom to bear arms.

But at the same time, will the court protect those groups who need freedom “from” something, like freedom from discrimination, or harassment?

So, here we are in 21st century America: Stuck, this time by the Supreme Court.

And most of the time, we are stuck by the House and Senate’s inability to move the country forward. The question is: How long will the majority of Americans consent to be governed by the minority?

This, from David Brooks:

Now the two-party system has rigidified and ossified. The two parties no longer bend to the center. They push to the extremes, where the donor bases and their media propaganda arms are. More and more people feel politically homeless, alienated from both parties and without any say in how the country is run.

Our system of democracy must evolve. Under our winner take all rules, the minority can control the country with say, 20 million votes, representing about 6% of the population.

Consider that every state has two senators. The 22 smallest states have a total population less than California.  If the Senate’s filibuster remains in effect, just 21 States can stop any presidential appointment, or any legislation. Even without the filibuster, it takes 26 states to stop legislation.

And the smallest 26 states have a population of about 57 million, less than the population of California and the New York metro area. And today, neither major political party commands more than 30% of the voters.

How long can the country sustain this lack of balance and democratic fairness? The competing interests that the framers tried to balance in 1789 have been overtaken by newer competing interests that they never envisioned.

Maybe it’s time to seriously rethink our electoral processes.

In a recent column in the NYT (quoted above), David Brooks recognizes the problem, and argues for multi-member House districts and for ranked-choice voting (RCV). Russell Berman explained how it works in The Atlantic:

Ranked-choice voting, which cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine, use to elect their mayors, has been likened to an “instant runoff”: Instead of selecting just one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders. That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

Supporters say RCV ensures that candidates with the broadest coalitions of support will win, and that it allows voters to choose the candidate they prefer, without splitting the vote and handing the election to the other party. They also say RCV will inspire more positive campaigning, because candidates will aim to become voter’s second and third choices instead of targeting each other with negative advertisements. Further, they hope that RCV could create room for third-party candidates to succeed.

Wrongo thinks something needs to change. We can’t keep a system that allows the minority to run the country, especially if it is persistently a racist minority, a misogynist minority, a fundamentalist minority, and a cruel minority.

Wrongo grew up believing that having public education, public housing, public transportation (including roads) and human services paid for by the public in proportion to their income or wealth, was what created a civilized nation, an educated populace, a world-class work-force. Now, Wrongo really worries about our current political situation. He worries about his grandchildren. Unless there is political change, their future looks grim.

Herbert Stein said: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

We have to change our electoral process.

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