Category Archives: Politics

New research reveals the people guilty of wrecking America!

Summary: This is the scariest thing you’ll read this year. For a decade, since 4 July 2006, I’ve warned that the Republic was dying from our neglect — that the Constitution has died in our hearts (the only place it lived). Surveys, such as Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll, showed the rot. Now a larger survey reveals that the very foundation of the Republic is washing away while we remain complacent and self-congratulatory. See the For More Info section for ideas what to do about this.

Our burning constitution

The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect.”

By Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk
In the Journal of Democracy, July 2016.

Read the full paper. Here is an excerpt. Headers and red emphasis added.

Summary

“The citizens of wealthy, established democracies are less satisfied with their governments than they have been at any time since opinion polling began. Most scholars have interpreted this as a sign of dissatisfaction with particular governments rather than with the political system as a whole. Drawing on recent public opinion data, we suggest that this optimistic interpretation is no longer plausible. Across a wide sample of countries in North America and Western Europe, citizens of mature democracies have become markedly less satisfied with their form of government and surprisingly open to nondemocratic alternatives. A serious democratic disconnect has emerged. If it widens even further, it may begin to challenge the stability of seemingly consolidated democracies.

Forecasting

 

The difficulty of predicting social change

“For four decades, Die Welt, one of West Germany’s leading newspapers, refused to acknowledge the existence of an East German state. Since the paper’s editors expected the communist regime to collapse within a matter of years, they put scare quotes around its initials whenever they discussed the German Democratic Republic (GDR). While other papers reported about the policies pursued by the GDR, Die Weltun failingly wrote about the “GDR.”

“Sometime in the summer of 1989, the paper’s leadership finally decided to give up on the pretense that the East German regime was on theverge of collapse. The communists had been in power for so long, and seemed so well-entrenched, that the scare quotes had become an embarrassing denial of reality. On 2 August 1989, reporters were allowed to drop the scare quotes when writing a bout the GDR for the first time in the paper’s history. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell. On 3 October 1990, the GDR ceased to exist.

“The editors of Die Welt radically misjudged the signs of the times. At precisely the moment when they should have realized that support for the communist regime was dwindling, they finally reconciled themselves to its durability. They were hardly alone. The collective failure of social scientists, policy makers, and journalists to take seriously the greater confidence in the durability of the world’s affluent, consolidated democracies.

“But do we have good grounds for our democratic self-confidence? At first sight, there would seem to be some reason for concern. Over the last three decades, trust in political institutions such as parliaments or the courts has precipitously declined across the established democracies of North America and Western Europe. So has voter turnout. As party identification has weakened and party membership has declined, citizens have become less willing to stick with establishment parties. Instead, voters increasingly endorse single-issue movements, vote for populist candidates, or support “antisystem” parties that define themselves in opposition to the status quo. Even in some of the richest and most politically stable regions of the world, it seems as though democracy is in a state of serious disrepair.

“Most political scientists, however, have steadfastly declined to view these trends as an indication of structural problems in the functioning of liberal democracy, much less as a threat to its very existence. …

“In our view, however, this optimistic interpretation may no longer be tenable. Drawing on data from Waves 3 through 6 of the World Values Surveys (1995–2014), we look at four important types of measures that are clear indicators of regime legitimacy as opposed to government legitimacy:

  1. citizens’ express support for the system as a whole;
  2. the degree to which they support key institutions of liberal democracy, such as civil rights;
  3. their willingness to advance their political causes within the existing political system; and
  4. their openness to authoritarian alternatives such as military rule.

“What we find is deeply concerning. Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated.

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A plutocrat honestly explains the new politics of America

Summary: After decades of work by America’s plutocrats, aided by our apathy, they control all 3 branches, not just Federal but also most State and local governments. Control of a few more States will allow them to amend the Constitution, further entrenching their power. To better see where we are going, see this passage describing the UK (and US) government before the great democratization brought forth by three world wars (2 hot, 1 cold) and the Great Depression. {First of 2 posts today.}

Robert Morley as Andrew Undershaft

Robert Morley as Andrew Undershaft. Getty Images.

 

Who is the government of our country?

Remarks to an aspiring politician
by Andrew Undershaft, CEO of the giant defense contractor
Undershaft & Lazarus.

From George Bernard Shaw’s play,
Major Barbara (1906).

 

“I am the government of your country; I, and Lazarus.  Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus?

“No, my friend; you will do what pays us.  You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it does not.  You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures.

“When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need.  When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military.

“And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman.

“Government of your country!  Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys.  I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

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Climate activists’ final act, as they move into the last stage of grief

Summary: Trump’s election, solidifying the Republican’s dominance at all levels of the US government, has disheartened climate activists. A new article in The Atlantic attempts to build support, but only shows the weakness of their beliefs. Perhaps the skeptics have won this round of the climate wars, but only the weather will determine which side is correct.

Climate nightmares

For 29 years advocates for public policy changes to fight climate change have struggled to convince the US public to support their agenda. They have failed. Polls show it ranks near the bottom of American’s policy priorities, and the increasingly dominant Republican Party has little interest in their recommendations.

It’s taken a while, but it looks like climate activists have worked through the process of accepting their failure. Paul Rosenberg’s January 2 article at Salon and now Meehan Crist’s article at The Atlantic suggest activists are moving into the fourth stage of the Kübler-Ross process, depression — and their leading edge is moving into the final stage of acceptance — and finding new crusades to wage.

Rosenberg’s article is discussed here. Crist’s article is less interesting, mostly just the usual throwing chaff into debate. But it is revealing in its own way. The opening is a classic tactic by climate activists.

“There has been a subtle shift recently in the rhetoric of many conservative pundits and politicians around climate change. For decades, the common refrain has been flat-out denial — either that climate change is not happening, or that any change is not caused by human activity. Which is why viewers might have been surprised to see Tucker Carlson of Fox News nodding along thoughtfully on January 6 as climate scientist Judith Curry, a controversial figure in climate science, explained, ‘Yes it’s warming and yes humans contribute to it. Everybody agrees with that, and I’m in the 98% [of scientists who agree]. It’s when you get down to the details that there’s genuine disagreement.'”

The first point is an outright lie, evident from her failure to cite any examples. Only a tiny fraction of skeptics believe that “climate change is not happening,.” The climate is always changing. As for the second, there is a fringe among climate skeptics who believe that “any change is not caused by human activity.” But the debate for the past 29 years, since James Hansen warned the Senate in 1988, is and has been about how much of the past warming is anthropogenic — and about forecasts of future temperatures.  That’s true not just of skeptics (both scientists and laypeople), but among mainstream climate scientists as well. Let’s review the evidence, starting with what she said to Tucker Carlson.

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Predictions about the next 4 years, after the first 18 days of Trump

Summary: After 18 days, we can make a tentative evaluation of the Trump Administration. We have seen how and who he appoints to key offices. We have seen how he formulated and implemented 8 Executive Orders, 12 Presidential Memoranda, and 3 Presidential Proclamations. It gives us enough information to draw some tentative conclusions about the competence of Team Trump. They’re disturbing conclusions.

Trump: Make America Great Again

Some powerful observations by Paul Krugman in “Dude, Where’s My Policy?

“…spare a bit of attention to what doesn’t seem to be happening. Has anyone heard anything, anything at all, about domestic policy development? Remember, after the election Wall Street decided that we were going to see a big push on infrastructure, tax cuts, etc.. Some analysts were warning that progressives should be ready for the possibility that Trump would engage in “reactionary Keynesianism.” Worrying parallels were drawn between Trumpism and autobahn construction under you-know-who.

“But if there’s a WH task force preparing an infrastructure plan, it’s very well hidden …Seriously, I’ve been saying for a while that there will be no significant public construction plan. Wall Street economists, at least, are starting to catch on. Meanwhile, that Obamacare replacement is still nowhere to be seen, with GOP Congresspeople literally running away when asked about it.

“Big tax cuts — and savage cuts to social programs — are still very much on the Congressional Republican agenda, and they could put it all together, hand it to Bannon, and have Trump sign it without reading. But I’m starting to wonder: surely they planned to unveil things during the Trump honeymoon, with the public prepared to believe that it was all done with the little guy’s interests in mind. Even pre 9-11 Bush could count on media goodwill and supine Democrats to ram through his tax cuts.

“But now? With massive public distrust, and media fully willing to do real reporting on the distribution of tax cuts, not “Democrats say that the rich are the big winners”? With the media infatuation on Serious, Honest Paul Ryan at least temporarily dented by his avid support for Muslim bans and all that? Maybe they’ll do it anyway, but it seems a lot less certain than it did in November.”

More details in the New York Times: “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles“. It describes a White House on the edge of chaos, operating with plans or procedures, run by a president obsesses with polls and trivial. The article gets increasingly bizarre as it progresses.

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An anthropologist explains how immigration serves the needs of capitalism

Summary: The frenzy of lies about Trump’s executive order “banning Muslims” is just the first round of what might be the major battle of his term — about immigration. America’s elites, Republican and Democrat, are united in their determination to keep the borders open. Here Maximilian Forte explains how immigration meets the needs of our economic system and its owners.

Immigration

Immigration and Capital

By Maximilian C. Forte,
at Zero Anthropology, 8 August 2016.
Reposted with his generous permission.

Immigration, rightly or wrongly, has been marched to the frontline of current political struggles in Europe and North America. Whether exaggerated or accurate, the role of immigration is situated as a central factor in the Brexit referendum in the UK, and the rise of the “America First” Trump movement in the US. It seems impossible that one can have a calm discussion about immigration today, without all sorts of agendas, assumptions, insinuations and recriminations coming into play. Staking a claim in immigration debates are a wide range of actors and interests, with everything from national identity and national security to multiculturalism, human rights, and cosmopolitan globalism. However, what is relatively neglected in the public debates is discussion of the political economy of immigration, and especially a critique of the role of immigration in sustaining capitalism.

Before going forward, we have to first dismiss certain diversionary tactics commonly used in public debate, that unfortunately misdirect too many people. First, being “anti-immigration” does not make one a “racist”. One does not follow from the other. Being a racist means adopting a racial view of humanity as being ordered according to what are imagined to be superior and inferior, biologically-rooted differences. Preferring “one’s own kind” (whatever that means) might be the basis for ethnocentrism, but not necessarily racism as such. It’s important not to always lunge hysterically for the most inflammatory-sounding terms, just because your rhetorical polemics demand an instant “win” (because you don’t win anything; you just sound like someone who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about). Also, xenophobia neither implies racism nor ethnocentrism, because it can exceed both by being a fear or dislike of anyone who is “foreign” or “strange”.

Conversely, one can be entirely racist, and quite pro­-immigration at the same time, as long as immigration is restricted to members of one’s own race. Other forms of racist pro-immigration policies would include slavery itself, indentured labour, down to the casual racism of “let’s have Mexicans, they make such wonderful gardeners”. Furthermore, the available survey data in the US suggests that, “far from being rooted in racism, opposition to immigration in the U.S. seems to be rooted in concerns about the ability of less-skilled immigrants to support themselves without Medicaid, SNAP, the earned-income tax credit, and various other supports” (Reihan Salam’s “Why Are Immigration Advocates So Quick to Play the Race Card?”, National Review, 1 July 2016). Salam adds this point: “My guess is that if immigration policy were not viewed through a racial lens, opposition to immigration would in fact increase substantially”. Also, there is a distinction to be drawn between opinions that are anti-immigrant and policies that are anti-immigration, even if there can be overlap between the two.

Finally, all of this obscures the basic questions that are seemingly never asked today in most public debates: 1) Are questions about racism, identity, and openness the most important ones to be asked about immigration? And, 2) Why must workers be pro-immigration?

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Trump writes an obviously good Executive Order. The Left attacks it.

Summary: Trump’s flood of executive orders have been an assortment of far-right ideas, mostly written in haste (and hence poorly researched and carelessly written). The Left has vehemently opposed them all, even some that are obviously good ideas. It’s vital for the 1% that we not unite on anything, even something small. Such as pruning the weeds from the vast garden of government regulations.

Woman Climbing a Pile of Paperwork

The body of Federal laws and regulations has been growing for two centuries. Neither Congress nor Federal agencies have any incentive to cancel those that have become outdated, or are proven ineffective. The pile of laws, unknowable to the average citizen, selectively enforced by government officials and the 1%’s well-paid attorneys, has become a threat to our democracy.

How many regulations are there?

The usual way to count new pages in the Federal Register, begun in 1935. See this graph of their annual page count (this is total pages, including blanks). The total for 2016 of 82,324 was a record high — above the 2010 high of 81,405 in 2010 (both not including blank pages).

Pages in the Federal Register

The best source of information is the Congressional Research Service report “Counting Regulations: An Overview of Rulemaking, Types of Federal Regulations, and Pages in the Federal Register” by Maeve P. Carey (4 October 2016). They show that the Federal Register recorded 191,304 final new rules during the 40 years 1976-2015 — 4,783 per year. The annual number of rules slowly climbed from 1976, peaking in 1980 at 7,745. It has since declined to a record low of 3,410 in 2015. But that’s a crude measure. Some rules are trivial, some are only temporary, and some are revoking previous rules.

There is a better way to measure this. The 1996 Congressional Review Act requires tracking of “major rules”, which means any rule that has or is likely to result in…

  1. “an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more;
  2. a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or,
  3. significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of US-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.”

There have been an average of 70 new major regs per year during the past 19 years (1997-2015). That includes a substantial increase to 81/year during Obama’s first 7 years in office.

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Listen to Trump’s inaugural speech: words that could overthrow the 1%

Summary: Tens of millions of Americans have heard, read, or watched those on the Left misrepresent what Trump said in his inaugural speech. Here are the opening paragraphs. They are pure populism, with populism’s usual overlap with the progressives’ agenda. The one percent cannot let you see that overlap, which might lead to recreation of the New Deal alliance — the only possible threat to their power.

Trump: make Americ great again

Read the opening of Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. This is pure populism. This might be, as Paul Krugman said (which I also believe) “Trump plays a populist on TV”. But the Left’s commentators and journalists misrepresented what he said. For an obvious reason: they cannot admit that much of what Trump said is true — and worse, that they agree with him. (See another analysis below, by an anthropologist). Trump could become a great president if he follows through on his inaugural speech.

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished -– but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered -– but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.

“Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

“That all changes -– starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.

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