UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Another Lie From Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Cuernos del Paine in Chile – photo via Live Science. The 4,300-mile-long Andes, the longest continuous mountain range in the world, didn’t form slowly by one geologic plate sliding under another. They grew in two growth spurts helped by volcanic action. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

What Trump said about El Paso in the SOTU:

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and (was) considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities,”

Local politicians weren’t happy with Trump’s false claims that the city was violent and dangerous before a border wall was built. Trump was repeating bogus information from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. And, he had made the same claim at the American Farm Bureau convention in mid-January.

Here is an example of the local outrage. Jon Barela, the chief executive officer of the Borderplex Alliance, which leads economic development efforts in the El Paso region, tweeted:

Texas Monthly reports that El Paso has made lists of the nation’s safest cities for almost two decades. But what are facts when you have a wall to build on the back of a racist narrative?

Wrongo lived in El Paso for a time when he was in the military (Vietnam era), back before there was talk of a wall, before the Maquiladora factories became a part of NAFTA, when Ciudad Juarez was probably far more dangerous than it is today. But back then, El Paso couldn’t be considered dangerous for someone who went to college in Washington DC, and lived on the outskirts of NYC.

One state over in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has ordered the withdrawal of the majority of National Guard troops stationed at the US state’s southern border, denouncing as “a charade” President Donald Trump’s warnings about migrants swarming the border, saying:

“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,”

Are you getting the theme here? Two of the states closest to “the problem” say there isn’t a problem.

Kevin Drum at MoJo gathered the El Paso statistics. He shows that Trump cherry-picked the data, looking at 2005-2009. There was a spike from 400 crimes/100,000 people in 2005 to 450 crimes/100,000 people in 2008. Here is a chart showing the same statistics from 1993 to 2013:

Do you see the big reduction that came with the Wall? The Wall had almost no effect on crime in El Paso. It’s also important to remember that crime rates have come down throughout the US since the 1980’s.

The most damning fact about crime on the southern border is that it is way down. American Progress reports that:

  • Border cities are among the nation’s safest: Phoenix and other large border (and near-border) cities have some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, including San Diego, El Paso, and Austin
  • Border counties have low violent crime rates: Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation. Their rates have dropped by more than 30% since the 1990s.
  • There’s no evidence of “spillover” of violence from Mexico: El Paso, Texas, has three bridges leading directly into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city which has suffered a significant percentage of the national death toll brought on by the Mexican war on drug cartels, which approaches 23,000 today.
  • El Paso experienced only 12 murders in 2009, which was actually down from 17 in 2008. San Diego, California saw 41 murders in 2009, down from 55 in 2008, and Tucson, Arizona experienced 35 in 2009 a significant decrease from the 65 murders committed in 2008.

We should remember that Trump is from Queens, an outer borough of New York City. He lived there during the 1970s and 1980s, so he knows first-hand what living in a high crime city feels like. He also knows that the high crime he (and Wrongo) experienced, wasn’t caused by immigrants. That was when the Guardian Angels were founded in NYC. Trump lived there the whole time, he probably even took the subway.

His argument is false, and is clearly purely political. He’s playing to the fears of those suburbanites too intimidated to visit NYC, even if they live less than 25 miles away. His audience is suburbanites in the Midwest and Northern states.

These same people believe European cities like London and Paris are full of Muslim “no-go” zones. You can show them evidence that those cities are safer than their own suburbs, but that’s not the point.

Maybe “safe” really means “white”, so any place with too many non-whites is just too dangerous.

Facebooklinkedinrss

We’re Being Sold a Story

The Daily Escape:

Plague Fort (or Fort Alexander), St. Petersburg, RU. It was built between 1838 and 1845 on an artificial island in the Gulf of Finland. From 1899 to 1917, the fort housed a research lab focused on plague and other bacterial diseases. It was abandoned in 1983.

The Economist has an 8500-word interview with the documentary film maker, Adam Curtis. For 30 years, Curtis has produced documentaries on politics and society. Apparently, he has emerged as a cult-hero to the UK’s young thinkers trying to comprehend our chaotic world.

His latest film, “HyperNormalisation” (you can view the trailer here, or watch the entire 2+hour documentary here) argues that governments, financiers, and technological utopians have, since the 1970s, structured a simple “mostly fake world” for us, run by corporations, and kept stable by politicians.

Wrongo was attracted to this in part because Curtis takes the title of his documentary from work by a Russian historian, Alexei Yurchak, now a professor at Berkley. He introduced the word in his book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (2006). Yurchak says that in the 1980s, everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working. They knew that it was corrupt. They knew that the bosses were looting the system. They knew that the politicians had no vision. And they knew that the Party bosses knew they knew that.

Everyone knew it was fake, and they just accepted the fakeness as normal. Yurchak coined the term “HyperNormalisation” to describe that feeling. When Wrongo was in Russia in October, he heard a few Russians express this exact idea about the end stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t stop them from despising Gorbachev, who ended the state economy and replaced it with a less-than-functioning market economy. They longed for the simpler state of affairs, with less to think about, and less to worry about. Where everyone knew that the system didn’t work, but they all had jobs, and there was food in the markets.

2018 America is far from being the Soviet Union, but this is exactly the way the US is today. In most ways, everything the government touches, like elections, environment, tax policy, and health policy, could be substantially better for all of our citizens.

We all know everyone is unhappy, but everyone just says, “It’s the system. We can’t change it.”

A quote from Curtis:

There is a sense of everything being slightly unreal; that you fight a war that seems to cost you nothing and it has no consequences at home; that money seems to grow on trees; that goods come from China and don’t seem to cost you anything; that phones make you feel liberated, but that maybe they’re manipulating you, but you’re not quite sure.

He talks about the concept of “risk”, and how it entered our discussion, migrating from finance to politics in the 1980s. Today, everything has become about risk analysis, and how to stop bad things happening in the future: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Politics gave up saying that it could change the world for the better and became a wing of management, saying instead that it could stop bad things from happening. The problem with that is that it invites all the politicians to imagine all the bad things that could possibly happen—at which point, you get into a nightmare world where people imagine terrible things, and say that you have to build a system to stop them.

Can the people take power back from corporations and their captured politicians? Maybe, maybe not. People like stability and they fear instability. We saw that with Gorbachev in Russia in the 1980s.

But if we are to move past the collusion of corporations and politicians trying to keep us accepting things we know are unacceptable, we need to have better politicians.

The job of a master persuader is to tell a story that says, “Yes this is risky, but it’s also thrilling, and it might lead to something extraordinary”. The persuader must say, “Yes, I understand your fears but look, what’s happening isn’t right. We can do better than this”.

People are asking, “What is our future? What is this existence for?

  • If you live in West Virginia surrounded by people taking opioids, you surely want to know what all that sorrow is for
  • If you are a recently laid-off GM worker, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’re a student with $75k in student debt, and a cog job, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’re a plumber with no health insurance and pancreatic cancer, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’ve worked hard to elect someone who just lost because of ballot-stuffing, you’re asking the same thing

These are the questions that our politicians should be answering.

Do you see someone who can bring people together behind a better vision?

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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?

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

 

Facebooklinkedinrss