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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – September 11, 2017

The Daily Escape:

On September 8th 2017, a full moon passed through a test of the Tribute in Light at the National 911 Museum. By Gary Hershorn

Sixteen years post-9/11, we are mostly healed, but it was difficult to get here. Before 9/11, we had the luxury of dealing with one domestic disaster at a time: The San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, the Galveston hurricane, Mt. St. Helens, and hurricanes Andrew and Sandy.

With the collapse of the twin towers, the Shanksville PA crash and the Pentagon attack, we had to find the ability to process the enormous shock and grief of three simultaneous events. That wasn’t easy, particularly since the media constantly reinforced the scale of the disaster, and how things would never be the same.

But most people grieved, and some helped those who were more afflicted. The government helped by shifting our focus to the foreign enemy who had committed these terrible acts.

Now on 9/11/2017, we have had two hurricanes back-to-back in the east, and have more than 100 wildfires are burning in the west. How do we process all of the shock and grief? Now our sole focus is on how to dig out, resume our lives, and rebuild. Where will the resilience come from?

And where will we find the money?

In retrospect, 9/11 helped to show us the way to heal when these unspeakable disasters happen. That’s a pretty thin smiley face on an awfully grim day in our history, but it’s true. Some healing began that very day, and time and distance from it is still (slowly) bringing people to a better place.

Some healing has yet to occur. Many still mourn family and friends who died on that day 16 years ago. Wrongo has adult children who worked in Manhattan at the time, who still will not ride the NYC subways.

The NPR show “Here and Now” had a brief segment with Rita Houston, the program director and an on-air personality for WFUV, Fordham University radio. They discussed the station’s most-requested songs on 9/11, and in the days and months afterward.

Surprisingly, the top tunes requested were those that referenced New York in a sentimental way. Mostly, they were songs that took listeners back to an earlier, more innocent time. Not many requests were for patriotic songs, or “pick us up by the bootstraps” messages. Rather, people wanted to hear songs of sweetness and emotion. Amazingly to Wrongo, the most requested song was Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from his album “Honky Château”, written in 1980.

But for music as a healer, the October 20, 2001 “Concert for New York” can’t be beat. It was a highly visible and early part of NYC’s healing process. It has been described as one part fundraiser, one part rock-n-roll festival, and one part Irish wake.

One of the many highlights of that 4+hour show was Billy Joel’s medley of “Miami 2017 (seen the lights go out on Broadway)” and his “New York State of Mind”. Joel wrote “Miami 2017 in 1975, at the height of the NYC fiscal crisis. It describes an apocalyptic fantasy of a ruined NY that got a new, emotional second life after he performed it during the Concert for New York. 

The concert brought a sense of human bonding in a time of duress. It isn’t hyperbole to say that the city began its psychological recovery that night in Madison Square Garden.

Joel now plays it frequently. Here he is with “Miami 2017” and “New York State of Mind” from the October, 2001 Concert for New York:

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

Most of the visible scars of 9/11 are gone, but America still lives in persistent fear. We fear Kim Jong-un and his missiles. We distrust Russia. We are afraid that ISIS will attack us on our streets.

We worry that our budget deficit will bankrupt us. We fear for our kids’ safety if they walk to school alone. We fear the mob outside our gates. We fear the immigrants already inside the gates.

So today’s wake up call is for America. We can never forget the heroes and the victims of 9/11, but we have to stop letting fear drive our actions.

Check out the audience reaction to Joel’s songs. That doesn’t look like fear, and that’s where we all need to be emotionally in 2017.

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Why Are Today’s Parents so Fearful?

The Daily Escape:

Matterhorn – 2008 photo by Wrongo

Overnight guests at the Mansion of Wrong started a discussion about how parenting styles have changed since the 1950’s. The primary focus of our near-geriatric group was on how our children parent their kids, as differentiated from the way our parents parented us. We talked about the difference between yesterday’s “free-range” parenting, where the kids were (relatively) unscheduled, and free to play outside until dark, and today’s helicopter parenting, where the kids are highly scheduled and the parents monitor their every move.

Today, Wrongo read an article by Pratik Chougule in the American Conservative entitled, “Is American Childhood Creating an Authoritarian Society?” Its sub-title, “Overprotective parenting is a threat to democracy” gives the article’s viewpoint:

American childhood has taken an authoritarian turn. An array of trends in American society are conspiring to produce unprecedented levels of supervision and control over children’s lives. Tracing the effects of childrearing on broad social outcomes is an exercise in speculation. But if social scientists are correct to posit a connection between childrearing and long-term political outcomes, today’s restrictive childhood norms may portend a broader regression in our country’s democratic consensus. 

That is way much too much speculation for Wrongo, but Chougule offers some interesting facts:

  • The amount of free time school-aged children enjoyed plummeted from 40% in the early 1980s to 25% by the mid-1990s.
  • The time young children spend in school jumped from 5-6 hours in the early 1980s to almost 7 hours beginning in the early 2000s.
  • By 2006, some 40% of schools had either eliminated recess or were considering doing so.

Chougule also offers the following:

More so than any other factor—identity, religiosity, income etc.—it was voters’ attitudes on childrearing that predicted their support for Trump. Those who believe that is more important for children to be respectful rather than independent; obedient over self-reliant; well-behaved more than considerate; and well-mannered versus curious, were more than two and a half times as likely to support Trump than those with the opposite preferences.

This leads to the conclusion that voting for Trump = Authoritarian tendencies in the family. Wrongo disagrees. He fails to see the link between helicopter parenting and authoritarianism in today’s kids. He isn’t even sure that today’s kids are little authoritarians.

Overprotective parenting has more to do with parental anxiety that started in the 1970’s when our kids were growing up, seeing high-profile incidents of abducted children. Then there were (and still are) the hyperventilating pundits warning about freak accidents affecting kids.

Most of all, it is driven by two trends: First, the two-career family has created guilt and fear that at least one parent won’t be around if something terrible happens. Second, the increasingly prevalent one-child family means that the psychic investment in the precious single offspring is huge, and by definition, fragile. If all your eggs are in the basket of one kid, it makes sense for him/her to wear a helmet at all times, and never speak to strangers.

When Wrongo’s kids were growing up, it was safe to send kids out to play in the neighborhood, because you knew there were going to be a dozens of adult eyes watching whatever was going on, as opposed to today’s  neighborhoods, which are vacant from 8am – 6pm.

Today, overprotecting is achieved largely in the form of monitoring where the kids are via cell phones. Parents do this in the name of protecting their kids. This is a major difference, as these devices didn’t even exist until the 1990s.

An unfortunate reality is that many kids today get too little direct supervision from their parents. The slack is being taken up by day-care centers and schools, neither of which should be the primary source of guidance for today’s kids.

An argument can be made that today’s parents have become more authoritarian and conformist because they are fearful in a world that seems to be getting more dangerous. It may be a fear of physical danger, like terrorism, but it can also be fear of downward mobility. The perception is that good jobs and other economic opportunities are getting fewer, so that only the highest-performing young people will have a shot at getting them.

We know that in times of peace and prosperity, society loosens up. People become more tolerant and trusting. When opportunities are limited or when external enemies threaten, tolerance erodes. People want their neighbors, their kids and their kids’ teachers to hew to their world view.

The politics of fear breeds ever more fear. We need to break the cycle.

Here is a tune. It is London Grammar doing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, recorded on June 9, 2017:

Takeaway Lyric:

Now here you go again, you say
You want your freedom
Well who am I to keep you down?

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

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What, Me Worry?

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” HL Mencken

As we head towards the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, it is interesting to look at a recent survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, Which countries are on the right track, according to their citizens? that was cited in an article by the World Economic Forum. The global conclusion was that people think things are getting worse:

Between October and November 2016, the percentage of people who believe things are on the right track in their country dropped by 2 percentage points to 37% globally.

The survey is conducted online monthly in 25 countries by Ipsos. The countries are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the US. Ipsos samples 18,110 adults aged 18-64 in Canada, Israel and the US, and aged 16-64 in all other countries. They were interviewed between October 21st and November 4th 2016, with about 1000 people participating in the US and other Western countries.  The survey has an estimated margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points.

Here is a chart giving a snapshot of right track/wrong track just prior to the US presidential election:

This shows the US in the middle of the pack, with 65% of those surveyed saying we are on the wrong track. That is consistent with other surveys of American sentiment. In China, 90% of people expressed confidence in their country’s direction, followed by Saudi Arabia (80%), India (76%) and Russia (58%).

  • Among Western nations, Canadians are the only people with a predominantly positive outlook (54%).
  • The US showed a small month-on-month drop in “right track” from 37% to 35%.
  • France and Mexico bring up the rear as their citizens have the least confidence in their country’s direction: 88% and 96% of the populace respectively believe that their country is on the wrong track. Only 4% of Mexicans think their country is on the right track!

Ipsos also surveyed the issues that worry citizens in each country the most. They asked the question: Which three of the following topics do you find the most worrying in your country? In the US, the top three issues were:

  • Terrorism: 33%
  • Healthcare: 32%
  • Financial/Political Corruption: 29%

It is not clear that terrorism is profoundly worrying to Americans, since 67% of those surveyed chose something else to worry about. Remember that the rankings are based on how frequently the item is mentioned as the first in a list of three issues. Here is an Ipsos chart that compares the number one issue people worry about in each country:

Only Turkey, Israel and the US ranked terrorism first. Americans fear terrorism slightly more than uncertainty with their healthcare (32%). And they worry about corruption slightly more (29%-28%) than they worry about crime and violence. Where are poverty and social equality? Seventh, with 19%. What about education? Ninth, with 15%. Maintaining social programs are 14th tied with inflation at 7%.

Fear is emotional, it is not driven by logic about actual levels of risk. Assessment of risk is (mostly) a logical process, with a tiny element of emotion. Acts of terror are frightening, but the likelihood of one happening to you is infinitesimally small in the US. It is therefore, an irrational fear.

OTOH, do people worry about being mugged when walking through a sketchy part of the city? Most do. How many actually get mugged? Not many. But that fear has a basis in fact.

And terrorism isn’t about killing as many people as it can. It is about gaining a political victory through terror. Think about the 9/11 attack in NYC. Millions watched the Towers fall. Those in NYC saw the smoke for weeks. That is the end point of terror, and probably explains why so many rank it as their top worry.

In the survey, six countries worried more about terrorism than the US. They are: Turkey (66%), Israel (51%), France (44%), India (43%), Saudi Arabia (40%) and Germany (34%).  Those countries all have more real-world reasons to worry about terrorism than do Americans.

However, our neo-con politicians in collusion with a number of think tanks, and the military-industrial complex, have made a significant portion of Americans believe it is a rational fear. They do this for financial gain and control.

Control keeps the grift going.

And, like Israel, the more Muslims we kill, the more terrorists we create. Where is the virtue in this for anyone except the Defense Department, Lockheed, Rockwell, Northrup, Raytheon, Honeywell and Wall Street?

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September 21, 2016

On-the-ground insight from the Chelsea area of Manhattan on Sunday: Long-time reader David P. gives us some, from the day after the bombing:

I just finished reading your Wrongologist entry for today.

OTOH, I find some evidence that fear is not (universally?) out of control. We drove into NYC yesterday [Sunday] after seeing TV accounts of the bombing in Manhattan at 23rd St, near 5th Ave. In a 10-block stroll through the West Village and Chelsea, I noted no businesses, of the sort normally open on Sundays that were shuttered. We had brunch at a restaurant on the corner of 20th St and 7th Ave., in the open air. The sidewalks were bustling and the street traffic seemed to be at the expected level for a Sunday. I exchanged a few social niceties and joking exchanges with waiters and other strangers; none seemed fixated on what had and was transpiring a few blocks away…

On the TV, both on Sunday and thus far on Monday (4 PM), local politicians and police administrators have given calm, factual, professional updates, with the politicians adding that the terrorist enterprise could only prevail if we were to give way to fear and allow our lives to be disrupted any more than necessary…

The ONLY sour note that I heard in the 40 hours since the first explosion was Mr. Trump’s irresponsibly premature pronouncement on a still-emerging event, coupled with his opportunistic attempt to blame it on President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, from my perspective and at least in my corner of the universe, people seem to be vigilant without being terrorized.

I hope that the media will show the rest of the country that, here near the center of the terrorism bulls-eye, most of us are not succumbing to fear. I also hope that the rest of the country will notice that we are not voting for someone who, faced with those who would do us harm, responds with bluster and bullshit, rather than with quiet determination and deference to professionals who know what they are doing.

David

Some media, and of course the Pant Load, are trying to fan the fear. Some are saying “New York Attacked!” They want Americans to be more afraid for their safety than for the likelihood of losing more of our American values. Interestingly, the states that have seen terror attacks, NY, CA, MA, PA and VA are solidly in Hillary’s camp, while Florida is too close to call.

Perhaps when you actually have to face your fear, you think differently.

On a separate issue: There is a growing ACLU and Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Edward Snowden, timed to the release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden”. There have editorials and op-eds, pro and con appearing all over the country in recent days. Few attempt to lay out the facts. In fact, the Washington Post editorial board is against his pardon. That is the height of hypocrisy, since the WaPo won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting based on the very information that Snowden took from the US government!

Glenn Greenwald, who helped Snowden get his information to the media said:

Three of the four media outlets that received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden — The Guardian, the New York Times, and The Intercept –– have called for the US government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to the US with no charges.

The exception is the WaPo.

Back to the pardon, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has recommended against a Snowden pardon. Marcy Wheeler tears their report apart, stating that in a two-year investigation, HPSCI failed to interview any of the direct witnesses, repeated known untruths about Snowden, and used the wrong methodology to conduct the damage assessment caused by the document releases. From Marcy:

One thing is certain: the public is owed an explanation for how HPSCI came to report knowably false information.

Snowden is a saint compared to the Congress jerks who signed off on this recommendation.

It is one thing to believe Snowden’s breach of a duty of confidentiality to the US government is not offset by the good that public knowledge of the NSA’s clandestine spying programs provided.

It is another to create a false report about the individual and the damage done.

There are probably a few dozen or so Dennis Hastert’s in Congress that are more than interested in suppressing any whistle blower’s information. Who knows, it could end a career.

Congress seems to have sworn an oath to complicity, not an oath to uphold the Constitution.

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Ever Hear of Al-Gebra?

Apparently, for some Americans, it’s the language used by the latest terror group. On Saturday, American Airlines was notified by a passenger of the suspicious behavior of her seat mate. He was writing in some mysterious language and that, plus his swarthy complexion caused her concern. She passed a note to the flight crew, and the plane didn’t take off. Eventually, the crew asked the 40-year-old man with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent to explain himself, since he was now suspected of possible terrorism.

As it turns out, that man was a well-known economist Guido Menzio, who was working on a differential equation while on his way to give a lecture. From WaPo:

Those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code. They were math.

Apparently, swarthy types who write on planes are suspicious in post-Trump America. The complaining woman thought Mr. Menzio was an Arab, but he is Italian. How difficult would it have been to say: “I can’t place your accent, where are you from originally?”

But no, she moved directly to terror. It is true that Mr. Menzio is a high ranking member of the Ma’ath party, although his seat mate would NEVER have understood the joke.

She saw a guy writing math notes. People should be able to scribble in notebooks in any language without their flights being delayed, let alone having to be taken off the plane and questioned.

It is easy to make fun of the woman who reported Mr. Menzio. She clearly doesn’t know algebra, and can’t tell an Italian from an Arab, so she may not be the brightest bulb, but she was listened to, and the airline acted on her fear.

Yes, we say “if you see something, say something”, but reacting as she did did not enhance anyone’s safety and didn’t foil any plots.

And really, is it so difficult to know its algebra when you see it?

No wonder the Chinese are eating us alive in math and engineering. When did seeing an equation get to be so rare that your seat mate on a flight to Syracuse believes it to be a form of “strange script” and conclude that the person who wrote it was a terrorist?

The enemy isn’t a possible terrorist on a flight to Syracuse, it is our fear of foreigners.

The enemy is our inability to know math when we see it.

Sadly, every day we continue to prove Pogo’s adage: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.

 

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Why So Fearful?

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil menPlato

Following on yesterday’s thoughts about how our presidential candidates are busy soiling their underpants over the possible threat of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” (say it Obama! What are you afraid of??), we heard Trump call for banning Muslims from visiting the US. Cruz and Rubio are merely for registering all of them.

This is a good time to take a look at the rates of homicide in America and our perception of the rates of homicide. Here is a chart from Gallup that shows the actual rate has fallen steadily and dramatically since 1992. The graph demonstrates that starting in 2001, we saw an increase in the number of Americans who thought violent crime was rising (the dark green line), even though the actual violent crime rate (the light green line) continued to fall, and remains roughly 75 points lower than it had been at its early 1990s peak. It’s clear that the perception of that crime rate tracked closely with the actual rate until 2001, when they began to diverge:

Galllup Violent Crime rate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, Pew asked Americans in 2013 if the number of gun crimes had: gone down, gone up, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. Bear in mind that the gun murder rate is half what it was, and the rate of non-fatal gun crimes is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago, but only 12% said gun crimes were down, 26% said they were the same, and 56% said they’ve gone up.

This, despite the fact that the homicide rate/100,000 people in this country is lower than it’s been in 50 years, falling from 6.6 in 1981 to 3.6 in 2010. That’s not all. Ian Reifowitz at the Daily Kos offers more data:

Violence in schools has dropped dramatically in the past two decades
• The overall rates of physical and sexual abuse of children is down
• The rates of rape/sexual assault and violence against intimate partners in the US is 25% of what it was a couple of decades ago.

We live in an environment where all politics is designed to ramp up fear and outrage. Where our media, both mainstream and Internet, awefulize about nearly everything, where people have short attention spans, and fail to understand nuanced problems.

The current “be afraid” broadcast coverage of San Bernardino is another opportunity to instill fear in the public about mass shootings. It sells commercials, but misinforms the public. The press and most politicians characterize these mass shootings as either the work of misguided crazies if they are Americans, or terrorists if they are not.

And then the media complains about the public’s ignorance, and basks in the fact of peoples’ acceptance of extreme political views, followed by hand-wringing about why people are so angry, frightened and cynical.

Polls show that Americans are afraid of Muslims. A 2014 Pew survey asked Americans to rate various religious groups on a 0 to 100 scale, with a higher score indicating more positive feelings.

• Republicans (including people who lean Republican) gave Muslims a rating of 33, on average — one point lower than atheists and far lower than any other religious group.
• Democrats had more positive feelings toward Muslims, but were still chilly; they gave Muslims an average rating of 47, slightly above atheists and Mormons and below other religious groups.

According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year, 77% of Trump supporters believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” versus 72% percent of other Republicans, while 43% of Democrats said the same.

After fifteen years of non-stop war against the Muslim world, it may make sense that Americans are insecure about Muslims. But, it is the media, and the 2016 Republican candidates who have ginned up this fear, against the reality of our actual experience.

It shouldn’t be difficult for either the candidates, or the media, to put public safety in a context of the past 20 years.

The facts above show that we are safer than at any time in the last 50 years, but that doesn’t mean we are safe, or that we do not have a problem with potential terrorist acts at home. We do, and we need to be vigilant. We also need to develop better techniques to identify potential domestic terrorists, and to teach citizens how to react in a potentially threatening situation.

Restrictive gun control wouldn’t hurt either.

The quantifiable improvement in crime and homicide rates in particular, should give us some hope that we can do better. But none of that happens unless we chose facts over fear.

Or, if we let fear drive us from our long-held values as a people.

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America’s PTSD

America has been in a defensive crouch since 9/11. The mere mention of domestic terrorists or a terrorist attack inside the US causes many of us to suspend rational thought, and beg our politicians to protect us, even though the risk of dying from a terrorist attack is very small.

How small? In 2014, there were four terrorism-related incidents in the US involving Muslim-Americans that killed seven people. The total number of fatalities in the US from terrorism by Muslim-Americans since 9/11 is 50 souls. Meanwhile, we have had more than 200,000 murders in the US since 9/11.

The ethical question we face is: Do Americans deserve peace of mind more than Syrians refugees deserve safety?

We look to our leaders to help answer that question, but they can be cowards. They should do everything they can to help the rest of us be brave, and do the right thing, even if it entails some measure of risk. That’s true if we’re talking about restrictions on how much privacy we’ll cede to the government, or if we’re thinking about allowing Syrian refugees on our soil.

But, it seems most politicians prefer to play to our PTSD, fanning our fears.

The Paris terrorist attacks were a tactical loss in the war against ISIS. But the only way it leads to a strategic defeat, as the blog Political Violence @ A Glance writes, is if we let this attack divide us along religious lines, provoking non-Muslims vs. Muslims.

ISIS is geographically contained. To the east, Iran and the weak but stable Iraqi government are not going anywhere. To the north, the Syrian Kurds, and behind them Turkey, block ISIS. To the west, the Assad regime plus Syrian rebels block ISIS progress, particularly with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. To the south, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are supported by the US and are not likely to fall. Lebanon is the weak link, but it is supported by Iran.

Here is a view of the current state of play in Syria:

Syrian Kurd Control

Source: New York Review of Books

The purple area is controlled by the Syrian Kurds. The remaining open border with Turkey shown above is the primary route that ISIS uses for trade, to add jihadists and deliver war supplies. Sealing it seems to be among Russia’s top priorities, and it is also a priority for the Syrian Kurdish YPG. However, it is not a priority of the US, or Turkey.

Given these facts on the ground, the Paris attacks are militarily insignificant. However, they could be significant if we make bad decisions.

America’s post 9/11 PTSD affliction makes us happily willing to abrogate parts of the US Constitution, like the damage already done to the 4th Amendment. Consider this week’s hand-wringing about our surveillance capabilities by CIA Director John Brennan, who wants to force companies to give the government encryption keys for their new applications.

He wants better domestic spying, and fewer domestic rights, to help fight ISIS.

It appears that the House will vote Thursday to change the screening process for refugees from Syria and Iraq. The bill requires the government to create a new process that “certifies” that refugees aren’t a security threat. Since the bill has no recommendations about the certification process, it acts to “pause” immigration while the bureaucrats work something out.

Or, consider the religious test that some Republicans want to impose on Syrian immigrants. If we allow Syrian Christians to migrate here while banning Muslims, we have created an unconstitutional religious test that violates part of the First Amendment.

And, the backlash against Syrian immigrants by US state governors sets up a possible Muslim vs. non-Muslim confrontation. It abrogates even more of the Constitution. It is a short step from saying no Muslims in a state, to saying that only Christians can live in a particular state.

But, Chris Cillizza at the WaPo says that Democrats need to be very careful about demonizing Republicans over Syrian immigration:

The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.

This is backed up by Pew Research Center’s 2014 survey examining Americans’ view on Islamic extremism:

Pew Islam Concerns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So to most Americans, it doesn’t seem xenophobic, or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees.

OTOH, Republicans say that Second Amendment still needs more protection. There are people all across America that are willing to weaken many Amendments, but not the one that lets them walk the streets with AR-15’s.

Yet, what the electorate will remember in 2016 is that Democrats wanted more foreigners to come here, while Republicans wanted to protect them from terrorists. Fear sells and motivates. Reasoned, nuanced discussion bores us, and is ignored.

So, don’t expect leadership to be brave.

At this point, while we may have some responsibility to help protect political refugees, it is probably not worth losing an election over.

See you on Sunday

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9-11-2001

It is now 14 years since this happened:

911 tower collalpse
South Tower falls: 9:59am September 11, 2001

And 14 years on, what have we learned? In Islam, there is an idea that you should deal with your local problems first, and not worry about the far enemy. But, bin Laden believed that in his world, you could not do that. Revolution at home was almost impossible because of the far enemy, the US. As long as the US was the superpower, Islamic revolutionary success would be limited because the US could cripple your economy via sanctions, and it had the military might to attack you with overwhelming force.

Bin Laden’s argument was that the US had to be defeated, at least as regards its ability to project power in the ME. He thought that the evils being done by local regimes (such as Iraq’s Hussein, or Egypt’s Mubarak) could not be ended by simply fighting the local regime, but that the far regime that was their protector, must also be defeated.

Whatever you think of bin Laden, his most powerful point to those in the ME was that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US caused directly through sanctions, and the suffering caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US.

Fourteen years later, we remain in a quagmire. Thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, less than $500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off your geopolitical magic trick. On this 14th anniversary, Tom Englehardt asks a few questions:

• Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
• Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan?
• If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?

This brings us to the 2016 presidential election. Sarah Palin on CNN last Sunday, said she’d “rather have a tough president than one who can win at trivial pursuit.” As Ed Kilgore wrote:

By saying that she prefers a “tough” president like Donald Trump, Palin is endorsing his bullying Alpha-male routine against all those emasculated men who know stuff.

So, more of the same from the GOP.

To be fair, “knowing stuff” is a necessary, but insufficient criterion. Obviously, Trump doesn’t seem to have the “necessary” part down just yet. Republicans try to convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, and we must be realists, and aggressively go after what we want. It all comes down to “good vs evil.” For Reagan, it was the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. And for George W. Bush, it was the “axis of evil” made up of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Sadly, we live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with Cheney’s Exceptionalist ideology, (which remained on display this week), and we all paid a huge price for that ignorance.

The reality is that if tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things…like start dumb wars that diminish our standing in the world – and that cost us terribly in lives and money.

The GOP considers diplomacy, compromise, or nonviolent remedies to be weak and ineffective. It never occurs to them that knowledge, perspective and persistence are also forms of strength.

We should be very clear that the presidency is no place for bullies. And rather than signifying weakness, traits like compassion, thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly the kind of thing we need in our leader.

We need to re-learn how to exist in in an ambiguous world without shutting down, or being ineffectual. Lately when things get tough, we strut, shorten our attention spans, prefer form over substance and pray to god that it all works out…we have all become George W. Bush!

Let’s remember the 9/11 heroes and victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears.

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Anger is an Energy

We are witnessing the convergence of several trends, which may take politics as we know it and turn it on its head. First, a political trend in which both angry Republicans and angry Democrats now believe that there is zero chance that the government will do anything to improve their lives.

Second, the American Exceptionalism movement is morphing into something that says we must win, and win now. Never mind trying to figure out exactly what “winning” means. We’ve now spawned two generations of Trump wanna-be’s who have no time for losing. They must win, win, win, and they will say or do whatever it takes to win.

Third, people have sorted themselves into groups that are impervious to fact. Presenting people with the best available information doesn’t change many minds. Like a psychic immune response, they reject ideas that they consider harmful. Regardless of whether the subject is climate, vaccines or politics, they prefer and are much more susceptible to, appeals to emotion.

So we live in a time of angry rage. We can’t change most of what we see, but we sure can be pissed about it. The angry voter has been blamed for the insurgent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and the possible emergence of a third-party presidential run in 2016.

In the midst of this shit storm, political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster of Emory University last week posted an intriguing analysis at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Blog on the role of anger in the 2012 presidential election. They conclude that voters are indeed angry. But their anger is directed mainly at the opposing party, and this anger is increasingly correlated with ideology. In other words, the most liberal and most conservative voters are also the most likely to be angry. Looking forward to 2016, they conclude: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most important influence on the 2016 presidential election as well as the House and Senate elections will be the division of the American electorate into two warring partisan camps. In the seven decades since the end of World War II, Democrats and Republicans have never been as divided as they are today.

Earlier this year, Abramowitz and Webster released a paper cataloging the sharp increase in party-line voting in recent decades. Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for Republicans to vote Democratic and vice versa. In 2012, the authors tell us, the US saw:

The highest levels of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting since the American National Election Studies first began measuring party identification in 1952.

What’s the reason for the polarization? Abramowitz and Webster call it “negative partisanship”, the tendency of voters to think of their ballots not as a way to help their party but as a way to hurt the opposition. In other words, it’s not that our side is so great; it’s that the other side is so awful.

How do we know the other side is awful?’

Abramowitz and Webster say that a crucial element in negative partisanship is the assignment of negative characteristics to the other party. From 1972 to 2012, the proportion of voters who believed there are significant differences between the parties rose from 55% percent to well over 80%. We can argue over why, but, as the authors point out, these changes in perception are rational, since the parties themselves have become more ideologically rigid.

A thought experiment: Is there a party where the voter who is for abortion rights, but against same-sex marriage is comfortable? How about the voter who supports the Affordable Care Act, but is a skeptic on climate change? And if you don’t believe such complex voters exist, you are part of the evidence for the authors’ thesis about party rigidity.

All of us have met political partisans who believe that those on the other side are irredeemably stupid or evil. Yet we know that view of superiority is ultimately enforceable only at the point of a gun — just the opposite of what we expect of our democracy.

So, is anger good for our democracy? In a world of twitter and other social media, there are just way more outlets for anonymous anger. And that anger reproduces itself with every re-tweet.

And if there’s one thing anger loves, its attention.

Maybe we can learn something from what Johnny Rotten said in his book, “Anger is an Energy”, (which is a line from his song “Rise”): (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

When I was writing the Public Image Ltd song ‘Rise’, I didn’t quite realize the emotional impact that it would have on me, or anyone who’s ever heard it since. ‘Anger is an energy’ was an open statement, saying, ‘Don’t view anger negatively, don’t deny it – use it to be creative...’

Anger doesn’t necessarily equate directly to violence. Violence very rarely resolves anything. In South Africa, they eventually found a relatively peaceful way out. Using that supposedly negative energy called anger, it can take just one positive move to change things for the better.

Maybe, a third party presidential run in 2016?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 12, 2015

In recent years, many on the right talk as if they have inside knowledge of what the Creator wants us to think and do. As reported here last week, we have been arguing about the role of religion in our politics since the founding of the Republic. In 1789, George Washington declared a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” 12 years later, Thomas Jefferson abruptly canceled the ritual. The First Amendment, explained Jefferson, erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”

But Jefferson’s contractor failed to make that wall strong enough.

So, Wrongo is adding a book to his summer reading list. It is “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” by Kevin Kruse. The book tries to explain the religiosity in our politics. Kruse investigates how the idea of America as a Christian nation was promoted in the 1930s and ’40s when industrialists and business lobbies, chafing against the government regulations of the New Deal, recruited and funded conservative clergy to preach faith, freedom and free enterprise. He says this conflation of Christianity and capitalism moved to center stage under Eisenhower’s watch in the ’50s, when the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “In God we trust” was inserted on the back of the dollar bill.

This week saw the USA Women’s soccer team take Manhattan, the NYSE go dark, Greece on the verge of going dark, the Confederate flag comes down in Charleston and Trump jumps into the lead in Republican opinion polls.

Women’s soccer is America’s new role model:

COW Soccer II

Stock Exchange glitch wasn’t explained clearly, so speculation ensued:

COW Glitch

South Carolina makes something old new again:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Socratic Method not enough to fix Greek quagmire:

COW Socrates

Trump divides Republicans:

COW Trump II

And forces a new strategy:

COW Trump

While W keeps rolling along:

COW W Speech

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