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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Today’s Wages Have the Same Purchasing Power as in 1978

(Email publishing of The Wrongologist should be restored as Wrongo is using a different vendor, WordPress. Apologies to those who read in email.)

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, as it might have looked at night in the 12th Century lit by camp fires. Mesa Verde is unique since it is the only NP that preserves the works of man – photo by Rick Dunnahoo

This is going to be a historic year, even when compared to 2018. And it’s starting out with a bang. The government is shut down, half the cabinet is empty, the 2020 presidential race has officially started, and the Democrats are taken over the House.

And that’s without whatever Mueller shoe will drop sometime in the year, or whatever Twitter atrocities Trump decides to commit. In other words, we’re going to have our hands full.

But today, let’s talk about how bad the economy is below the surface of the headline numbers. Debt is rising, and rising debt is supposed to be matched by rising income. It shouldn’t be a surprise that more income is required in order to service more debt. But so far, in the 21st century, for the bottom 90%, debt is growing while income is stagnating.

Pew’s Fact Tank has an analysis that speaks to this problem. Average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in July were $22.65, 2.7% above the average wage from a year earlier. But in the years just before the 2007-08 financial collapse, average hourly earnings often increased by around 4% year-over-year.

And during the high-inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, average wages commonly jumped 7%, 8% or even 9% year-over-year.

However, after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has about the same purchasing power it did in 1978. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

Here is Pew’s chart demonstrating the problem:

Because there’s been little growth in wages, the growth in the standard of living for those below the 90th percentile has been largely fueled by additional consumer debt. The WSJ reports that consumer debt, including credit cards, auto and student loans and personal loans, is on pace to top $4 trillion in 2019, the highest in history. Debt allows you to furnish your home, pay for education, and get a car without having to save for them. In that way, it supports the growing economy.

But Pew also shows how most of the income gains went to those at the top of the food chain:

 

 

Among people in the top 10th of the distribution, real wages have risen a cumulative 15.7%, to $2,112 a week – nearly five times the usual weekly earnings of the bottom tenth ($426).

This lack of symmetrical growth in debt and income actually matters. At some point household borrowers will default in greater numbers than they do today. When those losses occur, the monetary system won’t be able to bail out debtors (or banks) this time around as handily as we did in 2008.

 

Sluggish and uneven wage growth is a key factor behind widening income inequality in the US. Another Pew Research Center report found that in 2016, Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523).

Compare that to 1970, when the top 10th earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom 10th ($63,512 versus $9,212).

There is no simple solution to get American workers back on the right track. At a minimum, it will take a political groundswell aimed at overturning the way the tax code favors corporations. Along the way we will have to displace the political power of our corporate oligarchs.

Government must be made to serve the public interest, not Mr. Market.

Democracy is the sole mechanism enabling our citizens to have political and economic agency. But, democracy will cease to matter in a corporate-controlled, globalized system of government influence.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

View of the Tetons, Jackson, WY – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) is making waves. Fortune Magazine reports that she has proposed replacing Columbus Day with a national voting holiday on Election Day. She tweeted this question:

How is Columbus Day a holiday but Election Day not?

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 18, 2018

A tweet storm ensued, led by David Martosko, US political editor for Britain’s Daily Mail, who accused AOC of “angling for more vacation days.” His tweet struck many as a reference to an inaccurate stereotype of Hispanics as lazy. AOC shot back:

…I would disagree with your complaint that Americans get too much vacation time (we work some of the longest hours of any dev country & have no Fed required paid leave)…

Although voter turnout in 2018 was the highest for a mid-term election in a century, many think the 49% turnout figure could be substantially improved because many people can’t take time off for work to vote. Other politicians, like Bernie Sanders, have called for making Election Day a holiday.

Others are opposed to making Election Day a holiday, arguing that it might give many white-collar workers and students a day off, while people working in service businesses, like restaurants, and retail stores may still have to work that day.

Early voting and mail-in ballots are alternatives for those who have to work on Election Day. But that is the rule in only a few states. Many states have rejected making voting easier. The seemingly intentional long lines at polling stations can make working people give up before voting, either because they have to get to work, or they need to get home after a long work day.

AOC’s idea has merit, not least because a large cohort of Americans believe Columbus Day celebrates something which shouldn’t be commemorated.

Many countries have holidays on Election Day. And what better way to promote participation in one of the most important aspects of our democracy? Republicans understand that larger turnouts generally won’t break for their candidates. Why is their default to prevent as many of the “wrong” people as possible from accessing the voting booth?

Areas with a high percentage of voters of color have been hardest hit by closures and election worker cutbacks. In urban counties where a majority of voters are people of color, voters lost an average of seven polling places and more than 200 poll workers. Meanwhile, in counties where more than 90% of the population was white, voters lost just two locations and two election workers on average during the same time period.

Vote suppression takes many forms, and AOC is correct to point out a simple way to make voting easier.

Some on both the right and the left think Ocasio-Cortez should be cooling her jets. After all, she has yet to even take the oath of office for Congress. To their way of thinking, she should keep her head down and get the lay of the land before speaking out.

But, let’s hope that Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of Congressional freshman class quickly decide on their own paths forward.

These new Representatives shouldn’t be asked to be seen and not heard, particularly when the Democratic leadership seems to be bereft of ideas.

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Saturday Soother – October 27, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, near Hopkinton, MA – October 2018 photo by Karen Randall

There’s been lots of talk this week that the bombs delivered to Democrats were a “false flag” operation, designed by Democrats to make Republicans look bad just before the mid-terms. Rush Limbaugh said: (emphasis by Wrongo)

There’s a smell test that this stuff has to pass, and, so far, a lot of people’s noses are in the air, not quite certain of what to make of this…. Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.

Well, it’s early in the investigation, but the guy they arrested has a van with Trump stickers on it, and news sources say he’s a registered Republican.

Some will claim its fake news. Some on the internet are already minimizing the Trump influence, saying he’s “just another crazy guy, nothing really links him to Trump”. Except those stickers on the MAGAbomber’s van.

Can you imagine what Trump would be saying if Republicans had been targeted by a Democrat?

We live in a world filled with hate, mistrust and anger that was hand-built by Trump, for Trump. This is your first view of what might result from that. Every GOP politician now needs to speak up, saying that their political opponents are not an enemy who is deserving of death.

We’re founded on the belief that we can disagree, that we can be part of our own tribes, but we belong to a super-group: we’re Americans. This incident should impress on the public that angry speech and rhetoric have consequences way beyond partisan political positioning.

Kudos to the DOJ, the FBI and the postal service for bagging the suspect. Notwithstanding recent comments from the president denigrating them, it is a job well done by law enforcement.

Just another week that jangled the nerves! Time to sit out the Nor’easter we’re feeling here in New England. Start by brewing up a hot cuppa Luke’s Coffee, from Kent Coffee and Chocolates, in Kent, CT. The fine people at Kent Coffee have adopted a dog named Luke from a local shelter, and 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Luke’s Coffee goes to The Little Guild Shelter in Cornwall, CT. Here’s a picture of Luke:

(iPhone photo by Wrongo)

Luke is Kent Coffee’s third adoption from the Little Guild. They also make spectacular chocolates.

Now, unplug from your devices, (except for Wrongo’s site), and think about the end of autumn, which is just around the corner. Here, the rain and winds are taking down most leaves, except for those on the Oak trees, which will hang on for quite a while longer.

Settle back and listen to Ed Sheeran sing his song “Perfect Symphony” live at Wembley Stadium in London on June 14, 2018. He’s joined on stage by Andrea Bocelli, and it’s magic. Most likely, this will be the first dance song at weddings for the next decade:

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

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Consequences of Fear-Mongering: Bombs Sent To Dems

The Daily Escape:

Autumn in Maine -October 2018 photo by toph4er

The short version of Trump’s mid-term message is: “Be afraid”. Think about their messages: The Caravan. Terrorists crossing the southern border. Socialism. Democrat mobs. Soros.

The Daily Beast says why Republicans think the migrant caravan is a winner:

For Republicans, the sharp turn toward immigration fears, and those related to the caravan in particular, has been viewed a clear political winner, even as some acknowledge that the rhetoric from the president and others – including [that]….George Soros was funding the caravan – has been overblown.

The caravan is politically useful because it resonates with precisely the voters that the GOP needed to turnout in the next two weeks. The Republican worry has been turnout, and illegal immigrants motivate Trump’s base.

Trump supporters have seized on an image of Hondurans burning an American flag with a swastika drawn on it, calling them the “caravan protesters”, and implying that they were members of the caravan. In reality, those Hondurans were protesting in front of the US Embassy in Honduras.

For Democrats, the past few days have to be reminiscent of 2014. James Poniewozik in the NYT reviewed GOP scare tactics in the 2014 midterms:

In the fall of 2014, with the midterms approaching, Fox and other conservative media went in overdrive on the “border crisis” and ISIS — two issues that Republicans were using to suggest that the Obama administration was failing to protect America from teeming hordes.

According to the GOP, terrorist organizations were poised on the Mexican border to sneak into the US. Representative Duncan Hunter, (R-CA), claimed on Fox that 10 ISIS operatives had been apprehended crossing the border. On Oct. 8th 2014, Donald Trump amplified Hunter’s bogus claim, tweeting:

‘At least’ 10 ISIS have been caught crossing the Mexico border…

So, back to the future. We are weeks away from another midterm election, and immigration and terror are back in heavy rotation by the GOP. On Monday’s “Fox & Friends”, co-host Pete Hegseth said:

They caught over 100 ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to use this caravan.

Hegseth was wrong. He mischaracterized a comment by president Morales of Guatemala about past terrorist apprehensions: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Morales told Guatemala’s Prensa Libre that his country had cooperated with the security forces of neighboring countries to halt the movement of terrorists. The individuals had been “intercepted, detained, processed and returned to their country of origin,” according to Guatemalan security officials. Some of these arrests, including the arrests of several Syrians, occurred in 2016.

Facts don’t support GOP fear-mongering on the border. From the NYT:

Of the more than 300,000 people apprehended at the southern border in the last fiscal year, 61, or 0.02 percent, were from countries the State Department deems the Middle East or Near East. Of those, 14 were citizens of the four Middle Eastern countries — Libya, Iran, Syria and Yemen — included in Mr. Trump’s travel ban.

What’s a political animal to do when you want to win, but you have very few ideas to sell? If you’re Trump, you sell what put you in the White House in 2016: Fear, lies, and apocalyptic visions of what America will become if Democrats win.

Selling fear is pathetic and morally vacant, but it works with casual news consumers. They simply hear “caravan” and “border” and “terrorism” and that creates a sense of looming danger.

Today, another fear-mongering Fox News segment about ‘left-wing mobs’ and ‘incivility’ toward Mitch McConnell was interrupted by breaking news coverage of a string of bombs sent to Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A bomb treat was issued for the Time Warner building in NYC. An improvised explosive device was found at George Soros’s Westchester, NY home.

Other suspicious packages were sent to Sen. Kamala Harris’s state office, to Eric Holder, and to Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

There are consequences when the president and his party tout lies, embrace conspiracy theories, demonize political opponents, and applaud violence against reporters. They have been doing this since at least 2014.

We don’t know what impact these bomb threats will have on the mid-term election, who will be angered, and therefore more energized to turn out and vote.

We have no idea who is responsible for sending the bombs. Republicans will say it’s an attempt to make them look bad. But, it’s more likely that they were sent by someone who was radicalized by overheated right-wing rhetoric.

Rhetoric that has been pounded home by Trump.

Finally, we have no idea if there are any more bombs are out there. We can only hope that all will be intercepted.

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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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