Is liberal democracy dying?

Voters around the world are electing leaders with authoritarian tendencies.

Mr. Bokat-Lindell is a staff editor – N.Y. Times Opinion Page

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Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; images by Alberto Pizzoli and Yuichi Yamazaki via Getty Images

Last weekend, voters in Italy handed the reins of government to a coalition led by a party directly descended from Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, delivering one of the biggest victories to the far right in Europe since World War II. “Today is a sad day for Italy,” said the leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, who during the campaign had cast the contest as nothing less than a fight to save the country’s democracy.

If such language sounds familiar to American ears, it’s because countries around the world, including the United States, are confronting what experts say is a worldwide wave of democratic backsliding. According to data from V-Dem, a monitoring institute based in Sweden — where, as it happens, a far-right party with roots in neo-Nazism made a strong electoral showing two weeks ago — more democracies were deteriorating, and even slipping into autocracy, in 2021 than at any point in the past 50 years.

What explains the global resurgence of authoritarian politics, and what does it portend for the future of democracy? Here’s what people are saying.

Democracy’s spread over the past few centuries has rarely been linear, instead ebbing and flowing with the competing forces of autocracy. Some political scientists divide democracy’s progression into three waves: the first beginning in the 19th century; the second beginning in the aftermath of World War II; and the third beginning in the mid-1970s, which crested with 42 liberal democracies, a record high, in 2012. Today, only 34 liberal democracies exist, down to the same number as in 1995, according to V-Dem. (The share of the world population living in liberal democracies also fell in the last decade, to 13 percent from 18 percent.)The decline — which some scholars say constitutes “a third wave of autocratization,” the first having begun in the 1920s and the second in the 1960s — has been primarily driven not by coups or revolutions, but by the actions of legitimately elected officials: “Once in power, unscrupulous leaders can sometimes manipulate the political environment to their own benefit, making it more likely that they will be victorious in future contests. By winning those elections, they gain the stamp of democratic legitimacy — even for actions that ultimately undermine democratic norms.”

In Europe, the most prominent practitioner of this kind of “soft autocracy” by election is Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. After being voted into power in 2010, he has worked to build what he calls an “illiberal democracy” by eroding civil liberties and media freedomsubjugating the judiciary, and restructuring his country’s electoral system. In the process, he has become a model to the far right around the world, including in the United States.

To varying degrees, the decline of liberal democratic norms and institutions is visible in almost every region:

And then, of course, there is the United States: Political scientists have warned that, in a trend that predated Donald Trump but accelerated under his presidency, the Republican Party’s commitment to liberal democratic norms has diminished, its messaging now resembling that of authoritarian parties like Orban’s.

Unlike ruling parties in many other backsliding democracies, though, the Republican Party has been able to win control of government without commanding popular majorities. As The Times’s David Leonhardt wrote recently, because of a confluence of geographic sorting trends and the small-state bias of Congress and the Electoral College, every branch of American government now favors one party (Republican) over another (Democratic) in a way they did not for much of the country’s history.

“We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world,” Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard, told Leonhardt.

No two democracies backslide for identical reasons, but political scientists and others have posited some common themes. One is backlash to threats, real or perceived, to the majority’s sense of national identity.

“First, society polarizes, often over a backlash to social change, to demographic change, to strengthening political power by racial, ethnic or religious minorities, and generally amid rising social distrust,” The Times’s Max Fisher, who has reported widely on global democratic decline, recently explained. “This leads to a bottom-up desire for populist outsiders who will promise to confront the supposed threat within, which means suppressing the other side of that social or partisan or racial divide, asserting a vision of democracy that grants special status for ‘my’ side, and smashing the democratic institutions or norms that prevent that side from asserting what is perceived to be its rightful dominance.”

How does class come into the picture? Some scholars have theorized a link between democratic backsliding and the Great Recession, if not global free-market capitalism itself. In India, for example, Debasish Roy Chowdhury argued last month in The Times that “neoliberal policies have compounded inequality, with the state retreating from fundamental responsibilities such as health and education.” He continued: “This breeds a life of indignity and powerlessness for millions who take refuge in group identity, gravitate toward strong leaders promising to defend them against other groups and easily become hooked on the mass opioid of religious hatred now being used to redefine secular India as a Hindu state.”

Taking another materialist view, Richard Pildes, a constitutional law scholar at New York University School of Law, attributes the rise of illiberal forces to the dispersal of political power among a growing number of political parties, which he argues limits the ability of democratic governments to function effectively. “When democratic governments seem incapable of delivering on their promises, this failure can lead to alienation, resignation, distrust and withdrawal among many citizens,” he wrote in The Times last year. “It can also trigger demands for authoritarian leaders who promise to cut through messy politics. At an even greater extreme, it can lead people to question democracy itself and become open to anti-democratic systems of government.”

History has shown that the arc of human civilization does not inevitably bend toward liberal democracy. But its tendency toward autocracy is also highly contingent. In The Washington Post, Miguel Angel Lara Otaola noted this year that since 2000, even as democratic backsliding became the predominant global trend, nine countries managed to transition back to democracy after a period of authoritarianism. “These countries show us that democracy is resilient and that countries can and do return to democracy,” he wrote.

The organization Otaola works for, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, has proposed numerous ideas for halting and reversing democratic backsliding, including investing in civic education, reforming campaign finance laws, and strengthening coordination between international organizations with peacekeeping initiatives like the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union. Other experts have argued for abolishing two-party systems, more heavily regulating tech giants and imposing financial penalties on backsliding governments.

Yet there are also those who believe technocratic fixes are unequal to the problem. In a 2016 essay, the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra presented the declining health of democracy around the world as a crisis for the ideology of modern market-based liberalism itself: A “religion of technology and G.D.P. and the crude 19th-century calculus of self-interest,” it can neither account for nor provide an answer to the anger of those who feel left behind by the disruptions and inequalities wrought by globalized capitalism.

To chart a path forward, those who believe in the ideals of liberal democracy will “require, above all, a richer and more varied picture of human experience and needs than the prevailing image of Homo economicus,” Mishra argued. “Otherwise, in our sterile infatuation with rational motivations and outcomes, we risk resembling those helpless navigators who, De Tocqueville wrote, ‘stare obstinately at some ruins that can still be seen on the shore we have left, even as the current pulls us along and drags us backward toward the abyss.’”

Russia – here’s looking at you kid

by Richard @ Flexible Reality – Sep 28th, 2022

On Feb 24th, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine, calling it a “special military operation” which was framed by Vladamir Putin as a “demilitarization and denazification effort”. He claimed he was acting to protect the territorial integrity of Russia from assaults by the EU, NATO, and the U.S.; but he was not responding to a military assault on Russia, rather he viewed the democratic forces unleached by the “Revolution of Dignity as a threat to his unrestrained control over the Russian Government and its sphere of influence. In 2014  Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea which ran counter to the 1999 Charter for European Securtry document which affirmed the inherent right of every participating country in the former U.S.S.R to territorial integrity, freely chosen specific security and treaty alliances. The annexation of Crimea led to a new wave of Russian nationalism, with much of the Russian neo-imperial movement aspiring to annex more Ukrainian land, Russia’s updated national security strategy, published in May 2021, said that Russia may use “forceful methods” to “thwart or avert unfriendly actions that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”. There are reports in the MSM that Putin is obscessed with the treatment inflicted on Gaddafi and his fear of a similar fate.

Putin challenged the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state and claimed that “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood”,[ incorrectly described it as created by Soviet Russia, and falsely said Ukrainian society and government were dominated by neo-Nazism.  As any quick review of history will show Ukraine was a far more advanced country  than Russia for centuries. While numerous cathedrals existed in Ukraine in the Fourteenth Century, Moscow was almost uninhabited.

On 24 February, before 5:00 a.m. Kyiv time, Putin announced a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine and “effectively declared war on Ukraine.” In his speech, Putin said he had no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory and that he supported the right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination. He said the purpose of the “operation” was to “protect the people” in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbas who he falsely claimed that “for eight years now, [had] been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.

For a country richly endowed with immense natural resources, huge territory, and a glorious history in arts from literature to music, in science from Sputnik to the ISS the 1992 fracture of the former U.S.S.R. decoupled former republics from the Baltics to the Urals. Some countries like Lithuania, Georgia, and Ukraine preferred closer ties to the E.U while others like Belarus and Armenia tilt more toward Russia.

A quick glance at the economic and social historical trends in the former republics during the past thirty years amply demonstrate the better results obtained in countries like Lithuania and Georgia than in others like Moldova or Belarus.

In the period 2000-2010 the GDP per capita in Russia grew by an average somewhere in the double digits as it did in the Baltic countries and Ukraine; but before, and since it has generally been less than ten percent, and for several years experienced negative growth. International measures of social, political, and personal freedoms and benefits to the general public has declined on an annual basis. For years Russia has been considered one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. Where the immense wealth obtained by the extraction of fossil fuels lead to oligarchs, mega-yachts, and lavish dachas around the World for a small clique allied with Putin, but almost no benefit to average Russians.

In addition the Putin regime continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons…assassination of political opponents and journalists, subversion of electoral processes, open standards, and international cooperation while aligning itself with far right dictators such as Gadaffi and Assad. It’s once proudly herralded expertise in olympic competition, scientific discoveries, and educational proficiency has fell prey to avarice, cheating, and fraud,

Unfortunately instead of following the democratization examples of social benefits provided by the Scandanavian and Baltic countries Russia settled into an authoritarian dictatorship. One is reminded of the situation in Weimar Germany in the 30’s where the collapse of one system could have lead off in several different directions. Just imaging what might have happened if Russia in 1992 had  a few Benjamin Franklins instead of Boris Yeltsins. If Germany would have kept Hitler in jail after the Beer Hall putsch instead of making him chancellor.

One other inhuman element in the invasion was the claim by Putin that Ukraine was affiliated with fascist and nazi sympathies. Since then the entire world has seen President Zelensky on the stage. The contrast between him and Putin should put that notion to rest; but it hasn’t. Ukraine lost millions of jews during WWII to both the Nazi’s and the Russians. Zelensky himself is Jewish.

Finally there is Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. First off, doing so would be an admission that his invasion had failed. Second he could only envision use of a tactical nuclear weapon, as opposed to a strategic ICBM attack on the United States or other NATO country. He and the nuclear staff in the military must understand an  all-out nuclear war cannot be won, and that any attack on a NATO country would trigger massive retaliation. If he chooses to use a tactical (that is “small”) nuclear weapon inside Ukraine the logic of that is non-existant. Would he be willing to release radioactive fallout over the areas he wants to claim in the Donbas. If he drops a device on a heavily populated civilian area there will be massive international outrage. There is no incentive for Ukraine to engage in negotions with Putin. If it were to happen it would be staff members only. Zalensky will not participate based on the premise that doing so would be like negotiating for favorable treatment with a burglar who broke into your home and killed your dog. While Russia has a quantity advantage in their stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons, the US has a much greater advantage in conventional weapons, so a military response by the U.S. would probably not include either tactical or strategic nuclear weapons, and would also probably not be directed  at targets inside Russia. Here’s a good read on nuclear weapons use in Ukraine….

The LGBTQ vs The Cisgender Communities

Are you tired of all the noise about gender within the LGBTQ+ community?

by Richard @ Flexible Reality – Sep 26, 2022

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Gender “identification” “gender re-assignment et al are social considerations; but nothing can change the biological sex markers encoded in DNA. If a person has two X chromosomes they are female, one X and one Y they are male. No amount of social posturing, elective surgery, hormone treatment, or any other process can alter that.  It is also fairly easy to obtain evidence from tissue in the ear, nose, mouth, or blood to obtain test material. Thus all the fuss and bother about gender identification has a simple solution set. Take the test and abide by the results for issues where an individual’s biological sex  makes a significant difference, as in competitive sports, otherwise it’s a social consideration.
I’m afraid that a lot of what is common knowledge about sex change procedures is incorrect, wrong, propaganda or outright lies. All “sex change” surgeries do is mangle one’s genitals. That’s it. Your biological sex is untouched, and unchangeable, and the sex a person is born with will remain forever.
As for the social aspect unrelated individuals should have no direct say in what a person wants to look like or what clothes they want to wear. All the damn fixation on sex, tits, penis size, etc is juvenile, and unworthy of consideration by rational adults.
And finally we come to the issue that reallly pisses off “normal” people, which the LGBTQ+community calls cisgenders while they assert the flexible gender community deserves special consideration based on the discrimination they experience. No, actually, hell no! Many people dislike others who have guerelous tatoos all over their faces and exposed flesh, also piecings, flamboyant hair, or all the other extreme and atypical affects people choose for their public persona. Most people choose to associate with what they consider “normal” people; but progressives generally do not believe either the normals nor the flex-gens deserve special consideration. Everyone should have equal human rights in keeping with the statements contained in the UNUDHR; and no group deserves special consideration from the general public based on such superficial measures.
Wen people start down the path of asserting their group deserves special consideration it goes against the principle of civitas…we are all citizens in one social body. And if someone’s group is entitled, then folks in another group can also claim they too are entitled. Ad infinitum.
The line between being discriminated against as it meets entitled to special privileges depends on a notion common in fine art assesssments…where a person asks “is that art”…the answer is “it depends on the opinion of people who matter”. At base this principle is what is driving all the fuss about LGBTQ+, an urge to attain power.
So normals can reasonalby assert they do not want to participate in supporting such politial agency nor play a role in any LGBTQ+ psycho-drama. And yet we are treated to the fantastic notion there is something abnormal about normality, or a preference for it. A preoccupation with being different, and promoting the idea there is something noble about being different, and that being a victim of dislike, disapproval, or disdain is somehow almost therapeutic. The typical response from “normals”is how R’s have captured the conversationy by asserting the universality, virtue, and ubiquity of the current frame. We have seen much of this dynamic not that long ago with the feminist movement. Some might consider it strange that movement also revolved around sex, social stigma, outgroup dynamics opposed to a constrained interpersonal system. But feminism actually shares many common perspectives and complaints, and fell victim to the same ostracism and boredom which will eventually envelop the LGBTQ+ movement.
Sure there are fundamental flaws with partiarchy, with the nuclear family, male dominance systems, even with monogamous sexual relations, or simple male-female relations; but society has not yet been able to come up with viable alternatives that play out at scale in society. Biologial sex traits can and have been modified to a degree; but the base is immutable as long as species reproduction continues on the pattern extant throughout history. If females no longer conceive, carry, and deliver babies it’s possible for change to the base…but that is the minimum that would be required.

The draft…Lyndon Johnson’s and Putin’s

By Robert Reich – Serpt 26th, 2022
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“Last Wednesday, Vladimir Putin announced that Russian civilians would be drafted to bolster forces in his unpopular war in Ukraine. Almost immediately, the Kremlin faced widespread opposition, including demonstrations. On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that “citizens with higher education” would be exempt from the draft, especially those in telecommunications, information technology, banking and “systematically important” media companies.

When I heard this news I flashed back to 1968. Tens of thousands of us then graduating from college were subject to being drafted and very possibly going to Vietnam.

College students were deferred but local draft boards decided whether to continue deferments for graduate school. Many of us were not only afraid of being killed, but also thought the war insane and unjust. We demonstrated against it. Some burnt our draft cards. We did not want to be complicit in the immoral war. But what to do? Draft resistance meant going to prison or to Canada. Continue reading The draft…Lyndon Johnson’s and Putin’s

How do you like it?

Sex & Religion

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There are two typical approaches to both, what I call the “classical” and then the “new age” versions.

In the classical model sex happens at night in the dark with candlelight and Rachmaninoff, in the missionary position. In new age sex can happen at noon on a lounge chair at noon under a canopy of sprinkling water, or in the surf at the beach.

In classical religious practice, it’s showing up at church dressed in white, clutching the hymnal and listening to quotations from the Bible, whereas in new age it can be dressed to the nines in colorful hats, singing and dancing in the aisles, or being ushered into a trance with the help of  peyote.

In the classical mode participants remain mute, release when and if it occurs is treated as a transcendent event with reverential undertones; whereas in the new age form it is expected to be joyous, fun, feel good, and episodic.

So how do you like it?

DeSantis political stunt

UPDATE: DeSantis defends phony brochure; sheriff launches criminal investigation

Judd Legum Sep 20

On Monday morning, Popular Information broke the news that migrants from Venezuela were provided with false information to convince them to board flights chartered by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). A brochure distributed to migrants says that they will be eligible for numerous benefits in Massachusetts, including “8 months cash assistance,” “assistance with housing,” “food,” “clothing,” “job placement,” “registering children for school,” and many other benefits.

None of this is true. The benefits described in the brochure are resettlement benefits available to refugees who have been referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and authorized to live in the United States. These benefits are not available in Massachusetts to the migrants who boarded the flights, who are still in the process of seeking asylum.

The document is evidence that suggests that the flights were not just a callous political stunt but potentially a crime. Popular Information’s report quickly went viral on Twitter:

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Marisa Kabas @MarisaKabas

!!! a fake brochure promising eight months cash assistance, food, job training/placement, help with housing + more was given to migrants who were lured by @GovRonDeSantis into boarding a flight to martha’s vineyard. @JuddLegum obtained a copy: popular.info/p/the-smoking-…

September 19th 2022

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The report was also picked up by national and international media, including NBC News, The Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Times, Insider, the Boston Globe, and The Independent.

DeSantis’ office responded by quickly scheduling a press briefing with sympathetic media outlets, including Florida’s Voice and Townhall. In the briefing, Taryn Fenske, communications director for the governor, confirmed Popular Information’s reporting. Specifically, she said that the brochures were provided to migrants by DeSantis’ operation to help convince them to travel to Massachusetts.

Fenske also reportedly claimed that “the brochure was legitimate and that the information provided was accurate.” That is false. It was a fake brochure that doesn’t even feature the real Massachusetts flag. And the benefits listed are not available to the migrants who were given the brochures.

“DeSantis clearly does not know the legal difference between refugees (who are eligible for resettlement benefits) and asylum applicants (who are not),” Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney, told Popular Information, “It’s legally no different than promising someone who you know to have had no military service that they will be eligible for veterans benefits.” Cameron said the brochures “are either evidence of criminal intent or criminal stupidity.”

Fenske reportedly stressed during the call that “the brochure does not say migrants immediately have access to the benefits.” But that is also misinformation. The migrants targeted by DeSantis will never be eligible to receive many of the benefits listed in the brochure. If the migrants are granted asylum, a process that can take several years, they could become eligible for limited financial and medical benefits. But migrants that are granted asylum could also receive those benefits in Florida or Texas.

Nevertheless, the phony list of benefits was used to induce these migrants to immediately fly to Massachusetts.

After the press call, the DeSantis campaign attacked Popular Information on Twitter: Late Monday, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, which represents the area in Texas where the migrants were recruited for the flight to Massachusetts, announced he had launched a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ scheme. Salazar said that migrants “were ‘hoodwinked‘ with promises of jobs and other benefits to the flight to Massachusetts.” According to Salazar, there is “a high probability that laws were broken.”

The Silver Years

My doctor asked if anyone in my family suffered from mental illness and I said, “No, we all seem to enjoy it.”

Just once, I want a username and password prompt to say, “Close enough.”

I’m a multitasker. I can listen, ignore and forget all at the same time!

People who wonder if the glass is half empty or half full miss the point. The glass is refillable.

I don’t have gray hair. I have wisdom highlights.

Sometimes it takes me all day to get nothing done.

One minute you’re young and fun. Next, you’re turning down the car stereo to see better.

Some people are like clouds, once they disappear it’s a beautiful day.

Common sense is not a gift. It’s a punishment because you have to deal with everyone who doesn’t have it.

I came. I saw. I forgot what I was doing. Retraced my steps. Got lost on the way back. Now I have no idea what’s going on.

If you can’t think of a word, say “I forgot the English word for it.” That way people will think you’re bilingual instead of an idiot.

I’m at a place in my life where errands are starting to count as going out.

I don’t always go the extra mile, but when I do it’s because I missed my exit.

I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented. …I forgot where I was going with this.

Having plans sounds like a good idea until you have to put on clothes and leave the house.

Life is like a helicopter. I don’t know how to operate a helicopter either.

It’s probably my age that tricks people into thinking I’m an adult.

Never sing in the shower! Singing leads to dancing, dancing leads to slipping, and slipping leads to paramedics seeing you naked.  So, remember… don’t sing!

I see people my age mountain climbing. I feel good just getting my leg through my underwear without losing my balance.

We all get heavier as we get older, because there’s a lot more information in our heads. That’s my story anyway.

Ellen Willis on Tom Frank’s book

ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM
excerpt – Ellen Willis
 
WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH TOM FRANK
(AND THE LEFTIES WHO LOVE HIM)?
 
“The cultural radical impulse is rooted in the core elements of the democratic ideal: equality and freedom. There is a clear logic in the progression from affirming that all men are created equal, with the right to choose their government, enjoy the freedom of speech and religion, and pursue happiness, to demanding that these rights apply to racial minorities, women, homosexuals, young people, atheists, and other groups in one way or another denied them; that the challenge to repressive authority extends beyond government to institutions like the corporation, the family, and the church; that the pursuit of happiness include freedom from sexual restrictions dictated by patriarchal religious norms; that free speech include explicitly sexual and anti-religious speech. Such demands, however, challenge not only deep structures of social privilege and subordination but our very definition of morality.
 
All of us living in Judeo-Christian or Islamic cultures have imbibed from infancy a conception of sexuality—and desire more generally—as dangerous and destructive unless strictly controlled, of repression and self-sacrifice as indispensable virtues. Movements that encourage us to fulfill our desires are bound to arouse conflicting emotions, and intensify people’s yearnings for freedom and pleasure, but also their anxiety and guilt about such primal rebellion. An outpouring of social experiment and innovation liberates creative energies, but also rage—at oppression, at losses
of status and privilege, at the source of anxiety and confusion.
 
Cultural radical demands immediately question and disrupt existing social institutions, yet building democratic alternatives is a long-term affair: this leaves painful gaps in which men and women don’t know how to behave with each other, in which marriage can no longer provide a stable environment for children but it’s not clear what to do instead. Is it really surprising that cultural revolution should cause conflict?”

The response to Pres Biden’s address

by Dan Rather – Sep 3rd, 2022
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President Biden addresses threats to American democracy in a speech in Philadelphia.

It is all so predictable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t shocking.

Bad faith stampedes across American democracy.

Hypocrisy oozes and drips over our national discourse.

False equivalence muddies the stark choices we face.

President Joe Biden had to know that when he gave a speech on Thursday bluntly and unambiguously delineating an undeniable truth (that Donald Trump and his legions of MAGA Republicans pose an existential threat to the governance of the United States) that the response would be fury, lies, and a convenient amnesia — indeed, outright gaslighting, over everything we have witnessed in American politics over the past six years.

It serves no purpose to list with specificity the talking points that Republican elected officials and their amplifiers in right-wing media have trotted out in the two days since. They can be categorized generally as: How dare he? How dare he say we are against democracy? How dare he use such tough language? How dare he single us out?

Biden’s response to that is the very rationale for the speech: How could I not?

Complacency in the face of what we are confronting is not an option.

Mincing words to appease a contorted view of “balance” and “fairness” when the other side long ago abandoned any pretense of those values means obscuring the truth.

To not name the threat with crystal clarity — as Biden said, “you can’t love your country only when you win” — is to risk losing the country and what it represents completely.

To remain silent is to jeopardize who the vast majority of Americans believe we are as a people and whom we aspire to become.

To see Republicans who support Trump complain about the language President Biden used to characterize them and their actions is laughable. Pick a Trump rally at random and just press play. The invective, the “othering” of anyone who thinks differently from the chanting red hat crowd, the lies about elections and their results, the winks and nods at violence, and so many other outrages are standard fare. They are indeed why his minions wait hours and drive thousands of miles to attend. They bask in the insults and bathe in the direct and personal attacks on their political enemies. Continue reading The response to Pres Biden’s address

They all knew

by Dan Rather – Aug 31st, 2022

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“Sometimes we write a lot of words on Steady. Today will be an exception. Because for all that there is to say, for all that needs to be said, for all that an accounting for history requires we say, the general sentiments are quite simple:

They knew. They all knew. 

It was clear to anyone who had an ounce of appreciation for what the job of the presidency entails, to anyone who respected the constitutional order of our government, to anyone who worried about the health and safety of this nation, to anyone with a moral compass, to anyone who prizes the common sense of purpose that great leaders can summon, that Donald J. Trump had no business anywhere near the presidency.

Now, as he melts down in the face of a serious criminal investigation, as we see pictures of how he stored classified material and his utter disregard for our nation’s most sensitive secrets, as we are left to wonder what he was up to and what damage was done, we should recognize that we would not be where we are today without his enablers, apologists, and hangers-on.

They heralded his outrageousness in a chorus of sycophancy.
They feted his vileness.
They viciously attacked those who pointed out the obvious, that Trump was mentally, emotionally, intellectually, morally, and constitutionally unfit for his office.

And who are they? They are the Republican politicians, the so-called serious ones who expressed their concerns in private even as they used Trump to achieve their desired tax cuts and judges. They are the members of his administration — senior and junior — who jockeyed to maximize their career benefit at the expense of doing the necessary work for the American people. They are the lawyers who twisted themselves into pretzels to try to legalize his inherent lawlessness. They are the media personalities who saw Trump as a printing press for their accrual of wealth and power. They are the capitalists who put corporate earnings ahead of the well-being of the nation.

While Trump’s voters were primed with a toxic stew of hatred, bigotry, and divisiveness, the small cabal playing the inside game didn’t bother with the MAGA hats. They were too busy trading access for favors. The naked self-interest was so rampant that Trump’s West Wing could be considered a nudist colony where decency was shed instead of clothing.

But make no mistake…

In their cowardice, they knew.
In their cynicism, they knew.
In their contempt, they knew.
In their rationalizations, they knew.
In their acquittals of his conduct, even for impeachment, they knew.

They knew when they could have stopped him — before he became president, and once he was president.

But they didn’t stop him. And with their inaction, they encouraged him.

As the Trump bubble begins to pop, all these people who knew what he was all along will likely scurry like cockroaches when the lights go on. They will make all sorts of excuses for their complicity. They will gaslight, lie, and try to rewrite history. You can already see it in many of their so-called tell-all books. Except what they are telling is only the story they want people to hear. It is not the truth.

The truth is that they don’t dare say what we all know. They knew.

The other “f” word

A Pre-fascist Interlude

by Anon – Aug. 30, 2022

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton / Getty)

President Joe Biden has been getting a lot of static for referring to the ideology of Donald Trump and his followers as “semi-fascism.” It isn’t surprising that right-wing pundits, such as the Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, are practically having to take out loans to buy extra strings of pearls to clutch. But even John Avlon at CNN and Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast are trying to warn Biden off from insulting millions of voters.

It’s risky politics for the president to use words like semi-fascism, much as it was a needless fumble back in 2016 for Hillary Clinton to call people “deplorables.” For the rest of us, even to consider the word fascism feels like failure. It is a Rubicon we fear to cross, because it makes our fellow Americans into our civic enemies and implies that there is no road back for them, or for us.

We cannot, however, let our understandable fear of words such as fascism scare us out of talking about the reality staring us in the face. The GOP itself might not meet the full definition of a “fascist” party—not yet, anyway—but it’s not a normal party, and its base is not an ordinary political movement. It is, instead, a melding of the remnants of a once-great party with an authoritarian, violent, seditionist personality cult bent on capturing and exercising power solely to benefit its own members and punish its imagined enemies among other Americans. Continue reading The other “f” word

Let’s talk about classified documents.

by Tom Nichols in The Atlantic – Aug. 28th, 2022

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“Most people have never seen one and have no idea what might be in such material. Republicans know this, and they are counting on the public’s lack of familiarity when they try to downplay the intelligence nightmare former President Donald Trump created by carting off boxes of classified documents to Mar-a-Lago. Even worse are the GOP challenges to release these materials to the public so we can all decide for ourselves if the stuff is dangerous, a patently stupid and irresponsible position advanced by people who know better.

Breakdowns of the various levels of information classification are available online, but they’re not that helpful out of context. The unauthorized disclosure of “Secret” materials, according to the law, could cause “serious damage” to national security, while the release of “Top Secret” information could result in “exceptionally grave damage.” These broad categories of risk include many possibilities, from mere “disruption” of U.S. foreign relations to “disclosure of technical and scientific developments,” to far worse possibilities of “armed hostilities.” Continue reading Let’s talk about classified documents.

A recap of trump’s legal woes Aug. 2022

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ALL THE WAYS DONALD TRUMP IS LEGALLY SCREWED

Every single criminal investigation and civil lawsuit the ex-president is currently facing, including the ones you’ve probably never heard about.

Image may contain Advertisement Poster Donald Trump Human Person Art and Collage
ILLUSTRATION BY QUINTON MCMILLAN.

After Donald Trump’s private residence at his Palm Beach club was raided by the FBI, his defenders immediately jumped to point out how unprecedented it was for the feds to search the home of a former U.S. president. And it’s true—it definitely was unprecedented! Though not because, as Trump’s stooges claimed, the whole thing was some kind of politically motivated witch hunt. Rather, no president in history has been as corrupt as Donald Trump—including the one who was forced to resign in disgrace. Even before the FBI came a-knocking, the 45th president was up to his neck in legal woes; in fact, it’s likely gotten to the point where you can’t even keep track of all the criminal investigations, civil lawsuits, and other reasons Trump’s lawyers should just move into Mar-a-Lago so that they can brief him daily over breakfast re: all the ways he’s f–ked.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the public, it’s not as easy to keep track, and you might find yourself confused between, say, the New York attorney general’s investigation into the Trump Organization and the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal probe, the latter of which is expected to lead to a guilty plea from the company’s longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg. You might also struggle to keep straight the subjects of the various federal investigations, which range from Trump’s plot to overturn the election to Trump’s decision to take classified government documents to his home.

This is why, as a public service, we’ve put together this handy-dandy guide. Continue reading A recap of trump’s legal woes Aug. 2022

One liner insults

These insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.
1. “He had delusions of adequacy ” Walter Kerr
2. “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”- Winston Churchill
3. “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. – Clarence Darrow
4. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
5. “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
6. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas
7. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain
8. “He has no enemies but is intensely disliked by his friends.” – Oscar Wilde
9. “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” -George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
10. “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response
11. “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here” – Stephen Bishop
12. “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright
13. “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb
14. “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson
15. “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. – Paul Keating
16. “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker
17. “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain
18. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West
19. “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde
20. “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
21. “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder
22. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx
23. The exchange between Winston Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
24. “He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” – Abraham Lincoln
25. “There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.” — Jack E. Leonard
26. “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” — Thomas Brackett Reed
27. “He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.” — James Reston (about Richard Nixon) —Robert L Truesdell
28. “Ashlee is a modest man with good reason.” – Winston Churchill

Airlines are another casualty

by Matt Soller in BIG
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“The Summer of 2022

When I chose to go on a trip this summer, I knew air travel would be bad. In June of 2020, I wrote a piece for this newsletter titled “The Post-Pandemic Plan to Make Flying Miserable,” detailing the then-Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s policy to enable more consumer harm. Specifically, she narrowed the definition of certain terms to make it much harder for regulators to stop unfair or deceptive practices.

Not a lot of people noticed what Chao was doing at the time, because Covid was raging and most assumed that people wouldn’t fly again for years. But now, cancelations and delays are routine. In June, the government reported that consumer complaints about the airlines are up 300%, and those were April numbers. It’s much worse for this summer.

The airlines are explaining the problems as a result of weather and staff shortages. And that’s not entirely wrong, but there are always problems with weather and staffing. Why is it so much worse this year? In 2020, when airlines got a $54 billion subsidy from the Federal government, they promised to maintain staff. And then at the depth of the pandemic, airlines encouraged their employees to take early retirement.

These staff cuts were not some dastardly plot by the airlines. Reducing capacity was an entirely rational choice, and it happened worldwide. I heard from airline pilots saying how creepy it was in 2020 to fly empty planes and debark in eerily quiet terminals. Warren Buffett was so convinced we’d never return to flying the way we did prior to Covid he sold all his airline stocks. It’s easy to look back now and act like these were self-serving decisions, but I don’t think they were.

Still, the desire for air travel came back much more quickly than anyone expected, and airlines were thus understaffed for the resurgent demand. And that’s where the bad behavior came in. When airlines saw increased demand for their services, they started planning more flights than they could reasonably deliver. This took the form of eliminating any potential slack in the system. When planning for flights, airlines stopped taking into account things like bad weather, pilots being sick, delays, mechanical problems. They pressed to ensure that flights are 90-100% full. Continue reading Airlines are another casualty

Discussion of christian nationalism

The Rise of Christian Nationalism
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy webinar series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach at CFR. We’re delighted to have professor Andrew Whitehead with us today to talk about the rise of Christian nationalism. His research focuses on how religion both shapes and is shaped by contemporary American culture. He’s the co-author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, as well as over three dozen peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2019, Professor Whitehead’s article “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” won the Distinguished Article Award for both the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

WHITEHEAD: Yes, thank you so much for the warm introduction and for inviting me today. I’m excited to be part of this discussion and share a little bit about what we’ve been studying with Christian nationalism. And so I will share my screen here. And I, too, want to highlight my coauthor, Sam Perry. This was a true collaboration and much of our work we do together. And so, yes, when we talk about Christian nationalism, and especially in the events of the last month with the Capitol insurrection, seeing so many Christian symbols like “Jesus Saves 2020” or praying around a cross or a flag, “Jesus is My Savior: Trump is My President,” and then to when the insurrectionists breached the Capitol and were on the Senate floor praying.

And if anybody has spent time in an evangelical congregation in the U.S., that prayer sounded familiar. And so we see religion suffusing a lot of what we saw at the insurrection. And so Christian nationalism we wouldn’t say is the only explanation to what happened, but we do think it is a key explanation, is a key part of what we saw take place at the Capitol.

And so in our book Taking America Back for God and also in the number of peer-reviewed articles that we have and published on Christian nationalism, we define Christian nationalism as a cultural framework. So it’s a collection of myths and traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems that idealize and advocate for a fusion between Christianity, and you can place an asterisk by Christianity, with American civic life. So the reason we placed an asterisk there is—I’ll show a bit today and as we talked about in our book—is that it includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, authoritarianism, militarism, and it sanctifies and justifies violence in the service of what they deem the greater good or even God’s plan. Continue reading Discussion of christian nationalism

A History of the GUI

Have you ever wondered about the genealogy of the graphical user interface you …

Introduction

Today, almost everybody in the developed world interacts with personal computers in some form or another. We use them at home and at work, for entertainment, information, and as tools to leverage our knowledge and intelligence. It is pretty much assumed whenever anyone sits down to use a personal computer that it will operate with a graphical user interface. We expect to interact with it primarily using a mouse, launch programs by clicking on icons, and manipulate various windows on the screen using graphical controls. But this was not always the case. Why did computers come to adopt the GUI as their primary mode of interaction, and how did the GUI evolve to be the way it is today?

In what follows, I?ll be presenting a brief introduction to the history of the GUI. The topic, as you might expect, is broad, and very deep. This article will touch on the high points, while giving an overview of GUI development.

Prehistory

Like many developments in the history of computing, some of the ideas for a GUI computer were thought of long before the technology was even available to build such a machine. One of the first people to express these ideas was Vannevar Bush. In the early 1930s he first wrote of a device he called the “Memex,” which he envisioned as looking like a desk with two touch screen graphical displays, a keyboard, and a scanner attached to it. It would allow the user to access all human knowledge using connections very similar to how hyperlinks work. At this point, the digital computer had not been invented, so there was no way for such a device to actually work, and Bush’s ideas were not widely read or discussed at that time.

However, starting in about 1937 several groups around the world started constructing digital computers. World War II provided much of the motivation and funding to produce programmable calculating machines, for everything from calculating artillery firing tables to cracking the enemy’s secret codes. The perfection and commercial production of vacuum tubes provided the fast switching mechanisms these computers needed to be useful. In 1945, Bush revisited his older ideas in an article entitled “As We May Think,” which was published in the Atlantic Monthly, and it was this essay that inspired a young Douglas Englebart to try and actually build such a machine. Continue reading A History of the GUI

From regulation to subsidization

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How Biden did it

From the regulatory state to the subsidy state

by Robert Reich Aug 18, 2022
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The Clean Air Act of 1970 authorized the government to regulate air pollution. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Joe Biden just signed into law, allocates more than $300 billion to energy and climate reform, including $30 billion in subsidies for manufacturers of solar panels and components, wind turbines, inverters, and batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid.

Notice the difference?

The Inflation Reduction Act is a large and important step toward slowing or reversing climate change. It also illustrates the nation’s shift away from regulating businesses to subsidizing businesses.

From 1932 through the late 1970s, the government mainly regulated businesses. This was the era of the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that began under Franklin D. Roosevelt (the SEC, ICC, FCC, CAB, and so on), culminating in the EPA of 1970.

The government still regulates businesses, of course, but the biggest thing the federal government now does with businesses is subsidizing them.

Consider Joe Biden’s biggest first-term accomplishments:

— the CHIPS and Science Act (with $52 billion of subsidies to semiconductor firms, plus another $24 billion in manufacturing tax credits);

— the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act ($550 billion of new spending on railroads, broadband, and the electric grid, among other things);

— and now the Inflation Reduction Act (including, as I noted, $30 billion specifically for solar and wind manufacturers).

This shift from regulation to subsidy isn’t just a central feature of the Biden administration. It has characterized every recent administration. Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” delivered $10 billion of subsidies to Covid vaccine manufacturers. Obama’s Affordable Care Act subsidized the health care and pharmaceutical industries (indirectly, through massive subsidies to the purchasers of health care and pharmaceuticals). And Obama spent some $489 billion bailing out the financial industry (and, notably, never fully restored financial regulations that previous administrations had repealed), as well as GM and Chrysler.

Before the 1980s, America would have done all this differently. Instead of subsidizing broadband, semiconductors, energy companies, vaccine manufacturers, health care and pharmaceutical businesses, and the financial sector, we would have regulated them. Corporations would have had to produce public goods (or avoid the public “bads” like, say, pollution or a financial meltdown) as conditions for staying in business.

If this regulatory alternative seems far-fetched today, that’s because of how far we’ve come from the regulatory state of the 1930s to the 1970s, to the subsidy state beginning in the 1980s.

Why this big shift? Because of the change in the balance of power between large corporations and government. Today it’s politically difficult, if not impossible, for government to demand that corporations (and their shareholders) bear the costs of public goods. Continue reading From regulation to subsidization

On substituting politics for religion

Matters of Good and Evil

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Isabel Fattal

Associate editor in The Atlantic

The Atlantic writer Helen Lewis, now an atheist, was raised in the Catholic Church. She was once asked if her feminist convictions as an adult play a similar role to the Catholicism of her youth. The question was particularly interesting to her because “the decline of organized religion is one of the most important trends in postwar history,” she says in a new BBC radio documentary, The Church of Social Justice. I talked with Helen about the documentary and her accompanying Atlantic article.

Isabel Fattal: You write that some young liberals, both in the U.S. and Britain, have “substituted one religion for another.” Can you walk me through that argument?

Helen Lewis: If you spend any time online looking at social-justice movements, you start to see very heightened language, which often has shades of fire and brimstone—the idea of people being evil, going to hell, needing to repent and atone for their sins. It’s strange, because all the data we have suggests that in both Britain and the U.S., organized religion is declining. Church attendance is declining.

But I don’t think that sentiment necessarily goes away. It’s interesting to me to consider the argument in which politics has raced in to fill both the good and bad bits of religion.

Isabel: What do you think is the danger of politics filling the void of religion?

Helen: In the 20th century, divisions in politics broadly were economic. We had class politics, in Britain at least. That’s no longer how those divides are best thought of. They’re much better thought of as age, education, and identity divides. Values divides. So you have this switch from a politics that’s based around your economic position to your cultural position. That has brought with it a different type of politics, which is much more concerned with matters of good and evil. Politics in the U.S. and Europe has become more exciting in the past few decades, but exciting is not what you always want from politics.

Isabel: Your piece and documentary are focused on how this is playing out on the left. You mention that, of course, the right is not immune to strongly held beliefs (many of which are not factually sound). Why did you focus on the left, and how is it different from what you see happening on the right?

Helen: More so in Britain than America, the left is less overtly religious. New Atheism and those traditions from the 2000s were movements of the left; there’s the idea that being on the left means you’re skeptical and rational—driven by reason, not these old superstitions. So what initially intrigued me was the idea that people who would self-describe as rationalists were nonetheless acting in these very faith-based ways. On the right, there is a much more obvious synthesis: overt displays of religion into which politics gets woven. It’s not a substitute so much as it is a complement. Something like QAnon is a very good example of that.

Isabel: One distinction you make, particularly in the documentary, is that it’s not religion on the whole that should be compared with some social-justice movements, but rather religious fundamentalism. What’s the difference between the two, as you see it?

Helen: Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner [of the Bromley Reform Synagogue in South London] makes the point really well, that you can be a fundamentalist about all kinds of things. You can be a fundamentalist vegan, a fundamentalist about Peloton. It’s a mindset that says, I’ve got all the answers. What I believe is true, and there is no discussion at all to be had. I look around online, and I do see that mindset in a lot of places. It’s the inflexibility and the unyielding nature of thinking you have all the answers that’s being criticized here. Continue reading On substituting politics for religion

The private equity shell game

Closing Down the Billionaire Factory

by Anonymous on Big: Aug 17th, 2022
The private equity industry has been running America for four decades. This is how the ‘billionaire factory’ emerged, and why the public has had enough.

In a memoir with the cringeworthy title What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, Stephen Schwarzman, the co-founder of Blackstone explains how his private equity giant came to control money from the nation’s largest public pension funds. In 1992, Blackstone hired a former top official from the Oregon state pension fund with a salary far in excess of what he had previously earned and used him to open doors nationwide. “When the pension managers saw him, they saw one of their own, from the smallest fund to the biggest of all,” Schwarzman writes.

Today, Schwarzman has a net worth of around $33 billion. And it’s not because private equity, or what Wall Street used to call leveraged buyouts (LBO), is particularly good at buying and growing companies. It’s because private equity can extract lots of hidden fees from pension funds. Large private equity firms have market power over the funds they raise from and can set terms that make it very hard to figure out what they are being charged. Schwartzman’s net worth is the result.

Over the last five years, the public has noticed private equity. If you mentioned that word to a doctor a few years ago, some would say they had heard the term. Today, it’s likely that fire comes out of their ears; even the stodgy American Medical Association warns of the perils of private equity. People are angry that rents are skyrocketing, as private investors from large investment shops buy up housing en masse. More broadly, the public is noticing that while their pensions seem to be empty, the people who manage them – like Schwarzman – throw multimillion-dollar parties with acrobats, camels and pretend Mongolian soldiers.

(Indeed, the wealth of private equity barons, when contrasted with the poverty of their clients, brings to mind an old finance joke about a visitor to Wall Street admiring the various yachts owned by bankers, and then naively asking ‘Where are the customers’ yachts?’ The joke is that the bankers make the money, not the customers.)

One result of anger from voters is that there’s increasing interest by politicians in addressing how out of control private equity has become, from eliminating tax concessions like the ‘carried interest loophole’ that let financiers get taxed at a lower rate, to legislation like the Stop Wall Street Looting Act that would force them to assume liability for the debt they put on companies and protect worker pensions in bankruptcy. But ground zero in the attack on corrupt forms of private equity, is now an agency that has been sleepy and corrupt for decades, until a serious regulator named Gary Gensler took it over last year: the Securities and Exchange Commission. Continue reading The private equity shell game