The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.


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



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.


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?


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


The Big Picture – An Editorial

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”Bertrand Russell

Today, we are going to take a short course in The Big Picture. For starters, here is a quote from Digby:

…we are a primitive country. We’ve got idiots on TV screaming about a religion of 1.6 billion people being the toxic cause of violence even as our All American, non-religious school-kids are taking the deadly weapons their parents give them as presents to shoot their schoolmates and themselves. And we have the most sophisticated city on earth acting like a bunch of authoritarian creeps toward people who are doing serious work to stop the spread of an outbreak of a deadly disease — for PR purposes.

Since the Great Recession in 2008-9, we have seen the Federal Reserve move the economy slowly forward while leaving most people behind. Yet, few complain about growing income inequality. People know it and feel it, but don’t vote, or try to do anything else to change things.

• Why doesn’t income inequality upset the average American?
• Why are we more aware of how plastic surgery has changed the looks of an actress than we are about Gen. John Allen’s crazy ideas about winning the war against ISIS?
• How can more Americans be afraid of contracting Ebola than being killed in a car wreck?

What are we afraid will happen if we really dig deeply into an idea or a strategy that is proposed as a “solution” for some problem or other? Why can’t we resist re-tweeting some piece of snark that is the short version of something we believe, or thought we believed?

One visible trend is our increasing distrust of public institutions. We have seen how government, corporations, “charitable” organizations, media, and law-enforcement and the Justice system, all seem to exist for the benefit of those who manage them and not for the public.

This capturing of our institutions is a scary thing, but it is true everywhere in America. You might think that realizing this would spur interest in reform, but in fact, it has just increased our denial. People say in spite of it all, we’ll just soldier on as best as we can, making sure that we and our kids learn to navigate this rigged system.

This is why there is very little interest in politics by young voters.

Another trend is that America’s young know there is no possibility for real growth in personal income. They know that there are policies to promote and stimulate the economy, policies that might work. But, they have no faith in the ability of public officials to implement such policies, so they hang back, hoping somebody comes forward with a better answer. This, from the most connected, most media-savvy, most sophisticated generation in our history.

Voters show no interest in the 2014 mid-term elections. The media asks the same questions of the same Sabbath pundits each week: “Who will win the Senate?” But people don’t care. They watch the media whip up class warfare, cultural warfare and real warfare together into a big stew of propaganda that becomes mind-numbing. So they Facebook, and Tweet.

Most people are both stuck and scared–wanting things to change, but not knowing how. People might get upset, but big change requires commitment and action, and it is hard to get Millennials to change their minds, or to do much.

Political activism succeeds with a clear vision and a solid game plan. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a list of good ideas about what will work to move us forward. It is possible to attribute political apathy to this lack of ideas, but the destruction of public trust in government is also a big problem.

Changing the future requires getting hold of the levers of government and then using them to do good. That is much more difficult when people don’t vote, and have no faith in their government. Trust in an institution takes a long time to build, but not to destroy. The first step is to take back our captured government.

A basic principle of martial arts is that you use your opponent’s strengths against them. In typical political contests, both sides work to out-raise and out-spend the other. And third parties try to get in the game using the same strategies as the legacy parties.

Today, each candidate is challenging the other’s strength using their own similar strength: It becomes a Sumo-style shoving match.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s expensive to run a campaign (even for local elections, much less national) and so everyone starts their campaign with a fundraising strategy and continues it incessantly even after Election Day. Conventional wisdom says you win with a charismatic candidate, so each party tries to find the best actor they can come up with. Conventional wisdom says candidates should “triangulate” their political views so that they are neither left nor right, just as Democrats are trying to do without success, in Red States this fall.

Instead, insurgent campaigns could be run on social media and the Internet, on as little money as possible—crowdsourcing both dollars and ideas from supporters. They should build constituencies for ideas and for a common future. They should select candidates who can tell the story of a united, desirable future, not some Ken or Barbie cypher for the moneyed interests who run our politics today.

The Big Picture is that we react more strongly to fear than to rationality. We used to fear Hitler. We feared the Communists. We feared al-Qaeda. We fear ISIS. We fear Ebola. We fear for our kids walking to school. We fear that America will let too many brown people across our borders. But we don’t fear climate change, or obesity, or a Congress that can’t enact an agenda to move the country forward.

There should be no mystery about how much corporate power and money drives the culture of fear. Think of it as a 4-step program:

1. Mass media hammers on events that builds general concern and possibly, panic from a few isolated incidents
2. Anecdotal evidence takes the place of hard scientific proof
3. Experts that the media trots out to make comments really don’t have the credentials to be considered experts
4. Entire categories of people (Muslims, West Africans) are labeled as “innately dangerous”

Can a cohesive group with a better way of dealing with the rest of us, gain traction in today’s connected world? Can they help America conquer the long laundry list of fears that constrict and in some cases, stop us from acting on much of anything?

It would take brains, ideas, commitment and energy.

Where are the leaders who have those qualities? How can we support them?


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 26, 2014

It’s that time of year, scary monsters in your email and on your TV. That means it’s the mad combo of the election season and Halloween. Be very afraid.

Some celebrate Halloween all year:
COW Fox Haunted














Fear is in the air around Halloween:

COW Fear Wins


Really, Fox? Ben Bradlee must be turning over in his grave:

COW Fox Pic


The reason Democrats will lose the Senate, Part I:

COW Debate Parrot


The reason Democrats will lose the Senate, Part II:
COW Coke v. Pepsi

The House of Fear is open 24 hours a day:

COW House of Fear


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 12, 2014

Be afraid. Be very afraid.” In 20 letters, it’s the platform and program of the GOP:

COW Ebola Imports













Complete version: Be afraid of Africans, Hispanics, Democrats, Liberals, Muslims, Atheists, Foreigners, Gays, etc. If fact, be afraid of just about everyone except the GOP. Because those OTHERS will take your money, take your job, take your gun, infect you with diseases, break into you house, rape your women folk, strengthen and enlarge your government, spend your taxes, use your resources, raise your prices, insult your God, hurt your feelings (saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’), corrupt your children, impoverish your descendants, enlarge your government, make life in your suburb or your condo no better than that of a slave on a plantation… and did we say enlarge your government?

If the above makes sense to you, then vote the Republican ticket in November. The GOP won’t accomplish anything, but they will validate your paranoia, and that will feel so good!

Stock Market gives back all of the year’s gain in one week:


COW Bad Week on Wall Street

The Supremes non-decision causes a wedding:

COW Shotgun Wedding

Malala winning the Nobel makes many parents jealous:

COW Slacker

ISIS recruiting steals American Slogan, “E Pluribus Unum”:

COW Out of many One