Pink Cadillacs – Tribute to Aretha Franklin

When Aretha Franklin’s funeral cortege leaves her funeral service today in Detroit it will travel through a tunnel of pink Cadillacs. How fitting for the Queen of Soul who sang about the joy of driving a car that suited her so well. We get to celebrate her life with a tribute to that iconic car and that iconic woman and singer as we say a tearful goodbye. Our tears are accompanied by big smiles. If you cry and smile at the same time does it make an invisible rainbow? Maybe.

www.facebook.com/msnbc/videos/832154746908158/

pink cadillac Getty images

Pink Cadillac album cover

pink cadillacs line up in Detroit

 

aretha-franklins-funeral-procession-will-include-130-pink-cadillacs-128242-7

This all seems like a fine tribute to a great lady and a talented singer. We’ll miss you but you left us your music.

 

Dana Balter and Democrats, Please!

fast_food_workers_on_strike_for_higher_minimum_wage_and_better_benefits_26361270471

We need to vote for Dana Balter. Republicans, in their TV election ads, are telling people in New York’s 24thdistrict that Democrats (specifically, Dana Balter) want to raise our taxes. Elections ads are always one-sided, and often skewed ideologically. What these ads are not telling voters is what they will most likely get if they vote for the Republican candidate (John Katko) and what they will most likely get if they vote for Dana, a Democrat.

So far Republicans have not raised anyone’s taxes. Remember that Grover Norquist of Americans for Progress holds Republican pledges which attest that they will not raise taxes ever. I don’t know if each new group of GOP members of Congress signs on to the same pledge, but you must have noticed that no one’s taxes went up. Some went down a little, some went down a lot. In fact, the more money you had the larger the cut in your taxes. Why are government representatives signing a pledge to an organization outside of our government?

What did this tax cut bill, which my Republican Representative voted for, get us. Precious little!. We were told to expect pay raises. How big was your raise?

What we will get is a big deficit.

Republicans were against the stimulus Obama wanted and got, which halted the Great Recession and turned the economy around. But the GOP insisted on budget sequestration (across the board cuts) because of “big spending” Democrats. The GOP constantly complains that we need a balanced budget amendment (a terrible idea given the flexibility needed in a federal budget). Events arise that cannot be predicted.

So how could the GOP pass a tax cut bill that will raise the deficit so much?

They can do this because they have big plans for the 2019 FY Budget (fiscal year), which they don’t plan to bring up formally until after the 2018 election. 2019 is a year when no one is up for reelection. The proposed budget for 2019 has already been written and is out there on the internet, although not finalized.

That 2019 Budget plans to make up for GOP overspending on tax breaks and military spending by making cuts. Guess what they plan to cut – and by quite a lot – Social Security and Medicare. How will that play out for people who survive on Social Security (which they paid for) or because of Medicare (which they paid for).

Here’s what Paul Krugman had to say on the subject:

“Now, Republicans who call for cuts in social spending to balance the budget are showing extraordinary chutzpah, which is traditionally defined as what you exhibit when you kill your parents, then plead for mercy because you’re an orphan. After all, the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits just blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy.

So it might seem shocking that only a few months later they’re once again posing as deficit hawks and calling for spending cuts. That is, it might seem shocking if it weren’t for the fact that this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/23/opinion/obamacare-medicare-social-security-midterms-republicans.html

If we reelect our Republican representatives, who vote the party line or (same thing) the Trump line 90% of the time or more, we are voting to experience the sadness of watching our parents and grandparents or even us, live lives of financial desperation. Some Americans cannot afford to live if they lose their Social Security payment and/or their Medicare coverage. It will not be pretty. John Katko (NY District 24) votes with Trump 89% of the time.

Dana Balter, Democratic candidate, is, therefore, your best bet if you want to live comfortably in a society that seeks to benefit workers as well as people who are unable to work. Dana Balter is a Progressive Democrat, not far from Bernie Sanders at all, although she is not running as a Democratic Socialist. She is running as a Democrat but she will also run on a Working Families line.

Working people should be paid more. If corporate heads are walking away with such enormous profits, then that makes you really cheap labor. Even if they paid workers higher wages they could still have enough profit to make themselves wealthy. Our taxes should help pay for things working families need like bigger pay checks, paid family leave and universal health care. We might even ask for more vacation time.

Judging by the wealth captured and held by the 1% there is plenty of money around to pay for those things. If so much wealth is pooling at the top something is off-kilter. It may be greed, it may be fear, it may be entitlement, it may be pure hedonism, but it is wrong. We might need to raise taxes on the wealthy because they are unlikely to willingly pass some of their profits back down the line. All evidence suggests that “trickle down” does not work.

Dana doesn’t want to lie and say that taxes definitely won’t go up if we try to give workers better supports that suit the times we live in when both parents usually work and there are so many single parents. But there are other places we might find money besides raising taxes. There is far too much money in our military budget, at least there would be if Trump would stop fomenting hostilities around the globe. What was just added to our military budget would pay for Social Security and Medicare for quite a while.

As far as we the people are concerned we can’t afford John Katko. We need Dana Balter to win!

Vote! Kocpc.com.tw

Minority Rules

 

2016_Nationwidevoter map Brilliant MapsDo you think it is just fine for the American government to represent only 38% of Americans,? Do you think the minority rules? That is a recent polling number for Trump supporters. If you are one of the 38% you probably figure that this is perfectly fair and your reaction is “na-na-na-na-nah-nah”, because Trump supporters like to show plenty of attitude. *

But if you are in the other 62%, the part of America that sees every little victory falling to the minority, (the Conservative Way), then it looks like there has been a coup and we have been shut out of our own government. If Congress is controlled by Republicans, which it is, and if they vote with Trump 90% or all of the time which they do, that leaves 62% of Americans without representation. Legislating used to be a matter of hashing out policy that would offer something for both Republicans and Democrats. Now even when Democrats are invited to participate in drafting a bill, as the President likes to say that he wants them to do, he changes his mind when an end product actually materializes. (The Lucy and the football syndrome.)

I have a local representative, John Katko, who did win his election and probably will again. But John Katko feels no need to represent the 62% of American voters who see governing a different way than he does. He, and most modern people who are elected to represent us, does not consult all of his constituents, only those who agree with him. He feels that he knows what is best for America and for his local voters. He doesn’t listen to the 62% unless he sees that they feel so strongly about something (like the food stamp cuts in the Farm Bill) that he could hurt his chances to be reelected in 2018. But with all that Republican donor money behind him he has deep, deep pockets and may be able to buy his seat back anyway. Republicans also have excellent skills for confusing voters when elections are near.

My Senators are both Democrats but many Americans have been taught to hate Democrats by Fox News and the Tea Party and the far right wing which now controls the party. Even Democrats find it hard to find anything good to say about Democrats it seems. This means that my two Senators who have served well are offered no respect except by the resistance, which is not enfranchised in Washington. Democrats are relatively powerless at the moment. But if you do not want to be a serf, or live in a police state or see an America with no heart abandon the poor, the sick, and the old then you should give your vote to Democrats, because the Republicans have become a cold-hearted sink-or-swim Party. They are busy lining their own pockets and getting reelected, over and over again.

Republicans will say that they won and that elections have consequences, but they did not win fair and square. They cheated. If you think the Democrats ripped off Bernie, that is nothing compared to the way Conservatives (Republicans) have ripped off America. (See my last article: https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/republicans-broke-voting-and-trump-helped/

rural urban red blue ap The Economist

Republicans will tell you that rural Americans are getting a bad deal. (From here it looks like Trump has been far worse to rural Americans; has asked them to bear the brunt of his “trade wars”.)

This message that urban voters are cheating rural voters is bogus. We vote person by person (or we did before money got to vote). If metropolitan areas have far more people they get more votes. We don’t vote by land mass. When you see how the liberal vote hugs the coastlines it looks so uneven. But when you look at where most people live it makes sense that metro areas have lots of influence on American governance. Or they did. The Republicans want to turn this calculus around. They are fighting for rural Americans they say – (except they are not).

Republicans always fall back on an old and tired “State’s Rights” argument. They have convinced rural states that decentralized power will be good for them but in order to make the federal government smaller they must forgo things their constituents need like the Medicaid Expansion. They must stand tough while tariffs on soy beans and other farm products make them “temporarily” poor. They must accept subsidies (hush money) from the very federal government from which they cannot accept health care money.

If rural people have been exploited by anyone it is the Conservative/ Republican Party and their propagandist media, Talk Radio and Fox News (which is not news). For decades Conservative talkers have given rural dwellers opportunities to learn about the supposed unfairness of the federal government and then to vent their anger at the mostly false favoritism of the federal government for urban areas. They have operated like bad shrinks who heard all the local gossip and then used it to come up with political strategies that would keep them in office while offering their peeps few actual remedies for the unique difficulties that accompany life in rural places (which are supposedly offset by other satisfactions). They have pitted rural voters against urban and suburban voters.

Voting is not a pity party. Voters choose (when they have not been brainwashed) representatives that will look after their needs and interests in Washington. We don’t usually tell New York City voters to consider rural folks when they vote. They have their own issues. If rural poverty was real and not exaggerated by state government policies, and if urban voters knew rural dwellers were suffering terribly, human compassion would nudge them to keep rural voters in mind. But what we hear from “flyover” country is lots of anger and mumbling about changes in our culture that even urban dwellers have no control over. Has it become necessary to subsidize life in small town America? Will we have to pay extra to people who like to live in rural spaces? How would we do that if they do not even want to have their health care paid for?

Let’s see if government rights itself in 2018, if the 62% once again have voices in Congress, and not only in the streets and the media. Will freedom of speech go away because our President feels journalists are “enemies of the people” or will the 62% be enfranchised once again? If it were up to me what I would do is make the Republican Party take a time out – a long time out.

  • Disclaimer – I know that polling changes all the time. I am using 38% and 62% but these number could vary in size and with time. I also know that not everyone in the 62% is a Democrat, but I assume that if they are not their interests are not being served by this administration either.

Vote 2 B and W

Maps from Google Image Search – Brilliant Maps, The Economist

Republicans “Broke” Voting and Trump Helped

voter-suppression-tristam FlaglerLive

It’s shocking how many attempts are being made to destroy the credibility of voting in America. I lay most of these attempts at the feet of Republicans. I know Democrats use superdelegates which I hear they might do away with, but Democrats have not been suppressing the vote ever since the Voting Rights Act was toned down, especially after the it turned fifty. (2014) It is the Republicans who “broke” voting; made voting results suspect. They are trying to find a way to hold elections that put Republicans in office all of the time, reliably. They would basically do away with the Democrats. They have done this by using every creative new move that tests the edges of the law, but skirts illegality.

Let Me Count the Ways

Gerrymandering

As soon as states, mostly Southern states, that had tried to keep Americans of African Descent from voting, were no longer subject to clearance from the federal government they got up to all their old tricks, some in newer forms. They had used their turn at gerrymandering to come up with some very extreme examples of this odd practice (which should probably be obsolete). Some districts have been engineered house by house to leave out anyone who votes as a Democrat. This has given the GOP a fairly large number of districts that will always deliver a Republican to Congress. Perhaps this tactic has racist intent. It certainly has racist roots. It looks so much like suppression of black votes that it is difficult to claim that it simply targets Democrats.

The Democrats have had turns at gerrymandering, however, if they had been this extreme we would probably still have some districts that would predictably elect only Democrats. So much movement has occurred throughout America since the Democrats last opportunity to gerrymander that it is highly likely any all-Democrat districts no longer exist through gerrymandering.

Voter ID’s

Voter ID’s were used when African Americans first won the vote as many freed slaves did not have a chance to have an official ID. They therefore were prevented from voting by angry Southerners who had lost their “property” and their war and were feeling vengeful, and also entitled. In those post-Civil War days there were things like poll tests and poll taxes that separated the races and that disenfranchised African Americans. In slavery, there were laws against teaching slaves to read and write. It took a while to remedy widespread African American illiteracy. But if not knowing how to read was not an issue, other methods would have been found to suppress the African American vote. Small wonder that the attempt to bring back voter ID’s 50 years after the Civil Rights Bill has rightfully caused pushback.

Hyped Voter Fraud by Undocumented Immigrants

The GOP pushed a message that there was all kinds of voter fraud in America, but when the matter was investigated it turned out there is almost no voter fraud in America. Fox news pushed, and still disseminates, a false narrative that undocumented immigrants vote illegally in large numbers. They riled up their listeners who began to favor the idea of voter ID’s. The people least likely to have access to their birth certificates happen to be Democrats. Donald Trump has also taken up the hue and cry for voter ID’s and insists that there is lots of voter fraud, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Russian Interference

The Republicans keep trying to insist that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats conspired with the Russians but if so they didn’t do a very good job of it. As far as I am concerned hearing Donald Trump on the campaign trail ask Russia to find Hillary’s 30,000 missing (personal) emails made it clear that he did not mind the idea of Russian interference in an America election. Is an invitation a form of permission? I think so. Nor do we hear the Republicans in Congress opposing this strategy either. And now we are told that the Russians will, without a doubt, meddle in 2018 and even in 2020 and it sounds as if we are almost helpless to protect ourselves against this. So I contend that Russian meddling in our elections also goes on the account of the Republicans.

Changing Voting days, locations, etc.

This week there is an article in the “fake” mainstream news that tells a tale about the prospective closure of a fairly large number of polling places (I think it was 35) in African American districts in Georgia. Playing around with local elections rules (such as, hours for polling, wiping out expanded days for voting, and trying to find polling places that are hard to get to, because of a lack of public transportation or distance) has been going on throughout the Obama administration fueled by a majority Republican Congress, and here we find it continuing with Trump as our President and another majority Republican Congress doing nothing to stop it. In fact, it is an approach the GOP invented because they want to win above all else. If the Democrats took the majority in Congress would they also wreak havoc on voting hours and locations in order to limit Republican voters? Maybe, but even so it would not have the terrible optics of being directed at American minorities.

Russian Hacking

Now we have been told that Russians can hack right into state and local election offices and change voter rolls. How far a leap is it to infer that they will be able to change votes or voting totals? Do you think they are intent on changing Republican votes? Somehow I don’t think so.

We have seen a whole lot of skullduggery around elections since Republicans took over Congress in 2010 in that so-called “red wave”. All of this tinkering around should have everyone wondering about whether our elections are as straightforward as they used to seem to be after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

What will happen in 2018? I am very afraid that it will not be pretty unless the “blue wave” is a really big one. If Democrats don’t win in lot of districts and by fairly large margins it will quite easy for a President who still insists that he had the largest crowds at his inauguration of any President, including Obama, to repeat “8 million times” that the election was rigged, and that there was all kinds of voter fraud and even perhaps declare some of the results to be incorrect. Will there be any violence at the polls, something we have not seen lately, but which was once more common? I don’t see signs that this will happen. I only bring it up because 45 seems to enjoy fomenting rage that takes a physical form.

What will happen if candidates who win narrowly are not allowed to take their seats in Congress? Not totally outside the realm of possibility. As November approaches perhaps we will get more perspective on all these negative possibilities. You don’t have to be a negative person to tune into what could happen and raise a hue and cry if it does. This is important. If the rest of our federal government is beginning to feel like a third rate dictatorship, being unable to trust that any of our votes are actually counted accurately would fit right into the direction in which we seem to be moving as a nation. I am hoping for an election in every district that is peaceful and uncontested (except in the usual ways). I hope we don’t see what people are seeing in other authoritarian nations, which Simon Tisdall summed up in the Guardian as the motto of dictators, “You vote, I win.”

Vote anyway!

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, by Tristam in FlaglerLife

Any writing automatically has copyright protection. If you read an article and rewrite it in your own words you must give attribution.

Know Your Dictators 5 – Recep Tayyip Erdogan – Turkey

Trump and Erdogan 2 Toronto Star

As with many authoritarian leaders Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey) did not start out as a dictatorial leader. He began as a leader who promised relief from “old school” leadership. Western powers thought he “seemed like a bridge between cultures”. (Drexel Filkins in The New Yorker). As Governor of Istanbul he had been “charismatic” and “a smart technocrat”. But by 2017 he was the President of Turkey and he declared himself a winner in a very close referendum. “It all brings Turkish Democracy to an end.” (New Yorker).

He gave himself vast new powers: he took control of the judiciary, he acquired the ability to make laws by decree, he abolished the office of Prime Minister, and he abolished Turkey’s parliamentary system. He got his new handpicked parliament to pass a law that allowed him to run for two more five year terms, and his “pocket” parliament could extend this until 2034. These are textbook moves these days for turning a democracy into a dictatorship.

He then quelled demonstrations with arrests and bullets and, as most authoritarian leaders manage to do, he created a “government of fear and intimidation”. (New Yorker)

After the coup in July, 2016 (either real or staged) 40,000 people were detained -150 of them journalists, 100,000 employees were fired, and 179 television stations, newspapers and other media outlets were closed. Again, pretty classic stuff.

“Half the country loves him, and half the country loathes him.” (James Jeffreys, a former US Ambassador to Turkey tells the New Yorker). (Sound familiar?)

2007 even saw Erdogan touting a conspiracy theory that there was a secret cabal (“Ergenekon”) that opposed him, made up of the secular elite that formerly led Turkey.

Simon Tisdall writing in theguardian.com in April, 2018, is writing just before the most recent election/“referendum” which Erdogan won by a landslide. Mr. Tisdall says that these leaders who claim to be democratic all have a similar mantra, “You vote, I win.” The Washington Postwrote that “Erdogan is transforming Turkey into a totalitarian prison” where it is a crime to tweet. Although their numbers differ from those in the Guardian, WaPo agrees that since the July, 2016 coup Erdogan “has embarked on a campaign of repression.” 600,000 have been arrested, 150,000 forced from jobs.

You cannot talk about Erdogan without mentioning opposition cleric, Fetullah Gulen, who now resides in Pennsylvania. The Turkish President is certain that Gulen is fomenting opposition to his rule and that he put together the coup attempt. The Washington Post also agrees that Erdogan has waged a multifront campaign against the media in a nation that once had a “robust” independent press.

The Washington Post, in a later article, goes on to discuss how Turkey’s relationship with the US has changed. We were almost (since 9/11) beginning to look at Turkey as a modern ally. “We once thought of Turkey as a buffer between Europe and the Middle East, and between the Middle East and Russia,” said the former Bush administration officials, James Jeffrey and Michael Singh.

But by the end of the Iraq war things had changed significantly. Turkey became a champion of Hamas, helped Iran evade Obama sanctions, complicated the fight in Syria, threatened to allow thousands of refugees to enter Europe, was refused admission to the EU, was guilty of provocative violations of Greek air space, was buying an air defense system from the Russians, and refused to return American pastor, Andrew Brunson. “But it is hard to really lose an ally when it was not much of one to begin with,” says the author of this Washington Post article, Steven Cook.

Turkish inflation Journal du Cameroun

There’s more. Recently the Turkish economyis having trouble with the value of its currency, the lira. President Erdogan has made some decisions about raising interest rates and inflation which are putting pressure on the people of Turkey. Turkey is home to many poor people and economic inequality is even more pronounced than it is in America. Turkey’s leader finds his paranoia building. He always felt that America might have assisted Gulen with the 2016 coup and now Trump has put tariffs on steel and aluminum. Things are feeling a bit tense. In addition, Turkey may have let capitalists talk the country into lots of high rise buildings which are unfinished, and which no one can afford to rent. Even the new Turkish airport is a very expensive project which is only partially completed. Hopefully Erdogan will get over his paranoia and listen to some better financial advisors soon. No one wants Turkey to be a dictatorial state at all, but especially one with a failed economy.

What is difficult to understand, and this is me talking, is how these authoritarian men I have been writing about come to believe that they are so brilliant and infallible and beloved that they can run a nation of millions of people all by themselves? Have we profiled the dictatorial mind? Can we tell in advance who is a little too impressed with his (and maybe someday her) own importance? Why do dictators generally turn paranoid and then punitive towards their own people?

Why are some people unable to give up power once they get it? And why hasn’t the world learned its lessons and found a way to keep people with these particular personality flaws out of power? George Washington was never in love with power and he resigned rather than accept a new term in office, but he knew all about the power trips of the English Kings (and a few Queens). He tried to protect America from those who might be hungry for power, but now we are faced with a dilemma similar to what we are seeing around the globe. How have we let this dangerous pattern get started in America. Are we certain that we will be able to prevent what has happened in far too many nations from happening here? People on news talk shows keep reassuring us that our country is resilient enough to survive a little flirtation with fascism. You think…?

So keep an eye on Turkey because chaos there may be contagious.

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search, Toronto Star, Journal du Cameroun

 

 

Words for Aretha

Aretha 70's

Aretha Franklin died today. I know everyone and their sister will want to write something to say how much she meant to them, so I do not want to be left out. I don’t like to admit to my actual age, especially since I think people will pay my writing no mind once they know it, but I am only 3 years younger than Aretha Franklin. First all it reminds me that I am at the end of my life. But what really strikes me is that we lived through the same decades and she sang songs that spoke to me all through those decades. She had talent she was born with and that she honed through practice and hard work and that talent carried her through a spectacular 50 year career.

She said she was not an avowed feminist, but she was beloved by women everywhere who realized that women are sisters at heart, sisters whose lives involve love and break ups and feeling empowered, feeling joyful, and feeling low down. She was an activist in the civil rights movement and we, who lived through those same decades, felt connected with Aretha through the social and political movements that have punctuated our days. My admiration for Aretha has accompanied me and her music has lifted me up; it has been belted out by me in the privacy of my home while I did my housecleaning; it has made me smile as she sang from my car radio while I did my errands or on long trips. I don’t want to miss her, because she has left a legacy for all of us that will continue to move us. I think it is more in line to celebrate a life well-lived. But my sympathies are with her family and friends who knew her well enough to miss the person, as well as the musician. From what I hear she was even greater in person.

This was the first album I owned by Aretha Franklin and it had so many great songs. You can look up the discography of all her albums on Discogs or ASCAP or All Music or even on Wikipedia.

Aretha Franklin 60's Discogs

In fact Discogs gets attribution for this album picture, although they most likely do not own it.

  1. Songs on this album:
  2. Respect
  3. Baby, I Love You
  4. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
  5. Chain of Fools
  6. Do Right Woman – Do Right Man
  7. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
  8. Sweet, sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
  9. Ain’t No Way
  10. Think
  11. See Saw
  12. The House That Jack Built
  13.  I Say a Little Prayer
  14. The Weight
  15.  Eleanor Rigby
  16. Share Your Love with Me
  17. Call me

I also love many later songs like Pink Cadillac and Who’s Zoomin’ Who. My little eulogy to a much loved star of music and life must include a video.

 

https://youtu.be/d50aFTGZPIU

Can someone exist in this life and in the next life at the same time? If you love anyone who has died you know that it is possible. Thanks for the body of work you have left to comfort us in this life of joy and pain. And thanks for sharing your talents with us. We don’t always make that easy.

Discrediting Elections

russian-hacking-thelastamericanvagabond.com

What if discrediting elections in 2018 and beyond is a thing? What if the 2018 election is hacked? Clearly there is strong evidence that it could be.

What Does the US Congress Say

In March of 2018 Congress earmarked $380 million dollars to help insure election security. Since ‘money is speech’ these days committing dollars to this issue is a kind of confession that election interference is real. But Congress is not that committed to stopping cyber-influences on our elections. When members wanted another $250 million it was turned down.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/republicans-block-250-million-election-security-measure-1533144561

WASHINGTON—Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic effort to increase spending on election security measures, saying they wanted to see what states do with grants they have already been provided.

The amendment, which would have appropriated $250 million for grants to states through the federal Election Assistance Commission, garnered 50 in favor to 47 opposed, largely on party lines and shy of the 60 needed to pass. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was the only Republican to vote in support of the amendment.

“A lot of the states want this kind of help to make sure their systems are not going to be hacked,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) “The Republicans are not standing in line to help them, which I think is a real testament to what they think about protecting our democracy.”

Sanctions placed on Russia recently also show that even a reluctant Congress gives some credence to the evidence that Russia is the foreign power that was responsible for the interference. Every intelligence agency and Senate committee, and there are many of them, has agreed that Russia has been interfering in our elections, perhaps since 2015.

Russian hacking 2016 Fox Spokane

 

What evidence exists

An article in The Atlantic tells us this:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/republicans-reticent-over-use-of-hacked-documents-in-midterms/559346/

Russia’s successful interference in the 2016 election—when Moscow hacked both Democrats and Republicans—has spurred fears of a recurrence in 2018. But although congressional Democrats are pledging not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall, their Republican counterparts have so far declined to match that commitment. That partisan split could leave the November elections open to malicious interference.

Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo added that officials had “seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle.” “We need to inform the American public that this is real,” Coats said, “and that we are not going to allow some Russian to tell us how we’re going to vote.”

The ways in which Russia has interfered have had varying degrees of success. Hacking into the headquarters of the Democrats netted lots of data which may have given the opposition information about how the Dems intended to run their campaign, therefore helping Republicans revise their own strategies to take best advantage of the data. We also know that some info from emails and memos was used to foment divisions between the Sanders campaign and the Clinton campaign, by revealing that the party did play favorites. This angered many Democratic voters and may have affected votes.

Another thing we know is about Russian disinformation posted on social media sites like Facebook and others. Russia actually created fake people and bots who had access to all the amenities offered to real posters on these sites. These bots could act like actual people and post fake memes to rile the waters in an already rough election. They could slant their efforts to help one candidate more than another. They could start groups that regular Facebook users could sign into, and share their responses to the stimulus offered by Russian state hackers, and troll each other in all the usual ways that these things are done in groups not run by bots or hackers.

hackingstateelectionsystems CSO

We have evidence that Russians hacked into the elections of 39 states in one way or another. Usually they could not affect actual votes. But they could get access to voter rolls and they could remove names of legal voters from these voter rolls. How would you feel if you went to vote and someone told you that you were not registered, although you have always voted? Perhaps they would allow you to fill out a special registration form and vote, perhaps your state would not have such a policy. From what our intelligence people have learned, Russia has not actually removed people from voter rolls, although they could. While “visiting” they can leave a little back door on a state’s election data banks and sites so they can get back in whenever they wish.

CNN tells us some things about this:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/18/opinions/securing-our-next-election-against-hacking-leperruque-rosenzweig/index.html

“According to indictments released last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Russian intelligence officers successfully breached voter registration databases during the 2016 election. This echoes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings in a preliminary report on Russian interference in the election, which stated that Russia was “in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data” for a small number of states. The fact that a hostile foreign power had this capability is chilling, as voter registration databases may be our election system’s greatest vulnerability.

Last month’s California primary elections included a troubling incident at Los Angeles polls, where a printing error resulted in over 118,000 voters being left offregistration rolls. This mistake was enough to cause confusion and endanger individuals’ ability to cast a ballot — the actual number of people who simply opted not to vote when told they were not on the rolls is impossible to estimate. What if, on the eve of this November’s election, a state discovers that a cyberattack has removed millions of voters from its rolls?

A cyberattack on registration rolls has the potential to significantly damage the integrity of an election in two distinct ways. First, a targeted removal of a block of several thousand voters likely to support one candidate could effectively swing a close election. Second, a broad attack that purges an entire state’s registration database could endanger the ability of an election to functionally proceed. Both scenarios threaten to do permanent damage to the integrity of and trust in our electoral system.”

And then there is this piece of data, far from reassuring, found in this NYT’s article:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/07/16/us/elections/russian-interference-statements-comments.html

“The Russian assault on the U.S. election was “an attack from an unexpected direction against a previously unappreciated weakness,” said Hayden, who explores this theme in a new book “The Assault on Intelligence.” “It hit a seam between law enforcement and intelligence, between ‘sigint’ [electronic spying] and ‘humint’ [human spying], between state and federal agencies, between politics and policy.”

The government had no agency, no plan or strategy to counter such a threat, he said.

What Are the Implications

We have a President who loves to say that elections are “rigged”. He especially likes to say it if election results make him look like he is anything less than the most popular president ever.

He also seems to have nothing but admiration for Putin in Russia as we have heard him attest many times. He even tried to get Putin to come to Washington, DC for a visit in the fall, as if everyone didn’t remember what was coming up in the fall (the elections that Putin supposedly encouraged his people to meddle in).

Trump’s administration does not put up a fight when states limit voting by purging voter rolls, or requiring voter ID’s, or changing polling places or the number of days people can vote we are told in this NYT’s article from 8/13/2018:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/12/us/voting-rights-voter-id-suppression.html

The first time I remember an election seeming shady was the one for Bush-Gore where Florida had the ballots with all the “hanging chads”. That election ended up being decided by the Supreme Court, and, if I remember correctly, which I do, it was the GOP in the middle of that fiasco too.

Before that I used to believe that we had a pretty secure election process, however much it varied from place to place around America. Too bad they had to stop making those old voting machines with the levers. They seemed quite reliable. (Although perhaps there was tampering we never heard about.)

voting boots modern ABC News

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/us/politics/russia-2016-election-hackers.html

“The senators also sounded concerns on Tuesday about the shrinking number of voting-machine makers. The three largest vendors of voting equipment dominate the industry, and both the companies and their subcontractors that serve local election agencies are largely unregulated. That makes them and other vendors “an enticing target for malicious cyberactors,” the Intelligence Committee wrote.

A National Security Agency analysis leaked last June concluded that Russian military intelligence launched a cyberattack on at least one maker of electronic voting equipment during the 2016 campaign, and sent so-called spear-phishing emails days before the general election to 122 local government officials, apparently customers of the manufacturer. The emails concealed a computer script that, when clicked on, “very likely” downloaded a program from an external server that gave the intruders prolonged access to election computers or allowed them to search for valuable data.”

With a President who has no intention of going full out to protect our elections and a Congress that says they care but puts very little effort into a full-out program to combat people who are trying to make our elections seem unreliable (or to actually be unreliable) it is quite easy to imagine that there may be attempts on the part of Republicans and Trump to discredit some of the election results in 2018. And if there is no blue wave, Democrats may never know if the results are real or not. Messing with the stability of our elections is a slippery slope leading to uncertainty, anger, and possible chaos.

We only have three short months to prop up the credibility of the 2018 election and then we have to deal with these issues in the long term to have a valid 2020 election.

Vote2 Amped Up Racing Series

Please vote in spite of these reasons for paranoia. Physical turnout at the poles is a very real and countable thing. There is no reason to believe that Russians have a way to change our votes once they are recorded. We have to be assured that our very comprehensive (and sometimes quite invasive) security apparatus will find a way to stop Russia or any other nation from meddling in  America’s elections. And we have to refuse to give any foreign nation power over our feelings about exercising our right to vote, which has been one of the things that people around world have loved most about American democracy. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from exercising your right to vote.

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches: theamericanvagabond.com, Fox Spokane, CSO, ABC News, Amped Up Racing Series

 

 

Sinclair’s Long Game – Tribune Media Merger

sinclair tribune merger TheStreet

Sinclair Broadcasting, aka Sinclair Communications finds favor with Trump (our President who loves dictators) because Trump favors state media. He tells us almost every day that independent media providers are the “enemy of the people” when they are actually only trying to document the un-American tendencies in this administration by telling us what is really happening. Trump wants news sources to stroke his ego, to offer us hyperbole about the amazing performance of his unpopular policies. He wants a media that is unable to say anything about him that might be construed as negative. He is an enemy of the First Amendment.

Fox News already spews “state news” 24/7, but Trump’s little heart went pitter-pat when he found out that our local news is also becoming a propaganda arm of the Trump presidency. He thought that the FCC was in his pocket and would approve the merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media allowing Sinclair to gobble up more local markets. But the FCC did not stay with the program and recently offered a setback to the merger.

Sinclair and the FCC

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/07/trump-tweets-anger-at-fcc-after-pai-blocks-sinclairtribune-merger/

“President Donald Trump yesterday lashed out at the Federal Communications Commission over its vote to block Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition of Tribune Media Company.

‘So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,’ Trump tweeted.

A combination of Sinclair and Tribune ‘would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People,’ Trump wrote. Trump contrasted the Sinclair/Tribune denial with the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, which happened in 2011.

‘Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!’ Trump wrote.

The FCC voted unanimously to stop the Sinclair merger with Tribune Media. It would be nice for us if we could take a little victory lap and say “mischief managed,” but in a democracy decisions are rarely forever. We like to revisit things, especially in these days of policies divided along partisan lines. So you will notice that this article uses terms like this will “most likely” kill the merger. You would think a unanimous decision would represent an absolute end to this merger, but for some reason the outcome is not being celebrated as a done deal. We are told that only a court can make the decision stick. What will the court decide?

Why Should We Care

Sinclair, well over the limit in the number of news outlets considered acceptable according to FCC guidelines (laws), has offered to divest itself of a few large markets, one of them being Chicago. But, through leaking or the rumor mill, it became obvious that Sinclair was just setting up a new relationship with friendly companies where they would appear to be calving off a group of stations but the company buying the large market outlets would actually still allow Sinclair to have controlling input into broadcasting on those stations. When the FCC got wind of this they were not best pleased. Ajit Pai, current head of the FCC, who previously offered rulings favorable to Sinclair, has perhaps registered his pique through this FCC vote. But if Sinclair offers their divestiture deal again without the trickery  the FCC could, perhaps, reverse its vote on this matter. Or the court could ignore the decision.

Should Local News Become Fox Lite

Meanwhile Sinclair continues to send local stations “must run” segments with news from Washington (Trump) using its own commentators, not local news people. In some markets people still see controversial commenters like Sebastian Gorka, but in most markets the Sinclair staff people used in these “must run” tapes are relatively unknown. If you catch the names and do an internet search for them you will find that they are all employees of Sinclair. When people identify one pundit as a Sinclair employee, Sinclair uses another. It should be a positive that the commenters are not as obviously Trump supporters as they once were, but it just makes the slant so subtle that many listeners will not realize their knowledge of events is being shifted to the right. Our own local news people are now also Sinclair employees. There are strict penalties if they leave the company. After the debacle of the reading of Sinclair’s dishonest disclaimer and the subsequent exposure by the Deadspin video, Sinclair might have decided that a bit of discretion would allow greater scope to their propaganda campaign as long as it is targeted right into the villages and towns where we live.

Will There Be a Do-Over

“Let’s see if the unanimous decision of the FCC holds. If so there will be no merger between Sinclair Communications (Broadcasting) and Tribune Media and we the people will have won a small victory.

The FCC last week voted unanimously against approving the Sinclair/Tribune deal. Sinclair needed to divest some stations in order to stay under federal ownership limits, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the company’s proposal to divest certain stations ‘would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.’

The FCC didn’t block the merger outright, but it referred the deal to an administrative law judge. Mergers usually don’t survive that legal process.”

 

Do We Want to Escape from Freedom?

Escape from Freedom AbeBooks horz.

Erich Fromm, a social psychologist of some renown, researched and wrote his book, Escape from Freedom, in the years between WWI and WWII. He  was watching the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and he was shocked and puzzled by what he was seeing. He was seeing people who had just fought a consuming and destructive war being swept up in a fury of national fervor and ready to go to war again. The first war lasted four years and was seemingly triggered by the assassination of an Archduke, but was most likely caused by simmering resentments about national borders and national slights among powerful European nations. World War I changed the configuration of European and Middle Eastern states forever. People had difficulty adjusting loyalties to nations that held no history in their hearts. Many people were liberated from Empires that had governed their lives for decades or even centuries but they were not prepared for the political changes that resulted from the war.

https://voanews-vh.akamaihd.net/i/Pangeavideo/2014/08/1/16/16199b35-4022-4d10-b56c-3287414c6600,_mobile,,_hq,.mp4.csmil/master.m3u8

In his book, Fromm explores the conundrum that, although people long for freedom in the abstract, they often feel more secure under authoritarian rule by one person or one ruling party. When the leader is benign people tolerate authoritarianism well, but we know that power corrupts. Leaders find it difficult to remain benign. They get greedy and their people become more critical and must be squelched to justify the power of the leader. When people cannot speak freely, freedom is gone and rebellion grumbles in the villages, towns, and cities.

By the time Erich Fromm wrote his book, which was published in 1941, the same people who had lost so much in World War I were tuning in to the voice of a new, arousing, madman who offered the German people a restoration of national pride and the boundaries of the old Germanic Empire, shrunken by the Versailles Treaty and the end of World War I. (National boundaries and national pride cause most wars, both large and small.) Hitler was also tapping into the jealousy and hatred people felt towards “others”, non-Arians, and he was beginning his campaign that would eventually lead to the murder of 6 million Jewish people and the eviction of many more.

In the second Forward to his newest edition of Escape from Freedom, Fromm writes:

“After centuries of struggles, man succeeded in building an undreamed-of wealth of material goods; he built democratic societies in parts of the world, and recently was victorious in defending himself against new totalitarian schemes; yet as the analysis in Escape from Freedomattempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

He cites three trends that may contribute to our fear of freedom. First he mentions the development of atomic energy and nuclear weapons. He says, “Yet only a relatively short time ago, during the Cuban crisis, hundreds of millions of human beings in America and in Europe for a few days did not know whether they and their children were ever to see another day…” This anxiety is still with us.

“Aside from the nuclear revolution, the cybernetic revolution has developed more rapidly than many could have foreseen twenty-five years ago. We are entering the second industrial revolution in which not only human physical energy – man’s hands and arms as it were – but also his brain and his nervous reactions are being replaced by machines.”

And third, he says, “Another danger has increased, rather than diminished: the population explosion.”

“The giant forces in society and the danger for man’s survival have increased in these twenty-five years, and hence man’s tendency to escape from freedom.”

quote-can-freedom-become-a-burden-too-heavy-for-man-to-bear-something-he-tries-to-escape-from-erich-fromm-65-24-07

He says, “[T]he drive for freedom inherent in human nature, while it can be corrupted and suppressed, tends to assert itself again and again.”

“[T]he development of man’s intellectual capacities has far out-stripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself.”

So here we are, 73 years after World War II and after the man who almost succeeded in turning Europe into an empire ruled by the most dangerous dictator the modern world has seen so far. Yet we are once again seeing people vote for dictators to head their nation and then reelecting them again, even after they have proven to be suppressive. We see a Chinese dictator getting his people to make him President for life. We see Duterte more popular than when he became the leader in the Philippines. We see Erdogan reelected by a pretty big margin because he promises to keep Muslims from a Middle East in disarray out of Turkey. We see a significant group of Americans treating our President like the authoritarian leader of a cult of loyalty and backing his most undemocratic policies with a mysterious fervor.

(Perhaps there is a democratic – authoritarian cycle just like there is an economic boom – bust cycle. Maybe the universe of human governance is simply ruled by physics and perhaps sine waves rule. In America we produced a straight-line of democratic rule for almost 250 years. I was hoping that we could defy the physics of governance (if there is such a thing) and extend that out for at least another 250 years. We could bust the hegemony of the sine wave or make those sine waves intervals so long that the line became, for all  practical purposes, essentially straight.)

So a book that seemed passé might offer insight into current events. What social psychological research backs up Fromm’s claims? His premises strike a chord with us, and this very inexpensive book may provide us with some answers that will have relevance here at our current moment when we are experiencing our own “fear of freedom”, here at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Is what we are experiencing a case of the fear of freedom that prompts humans to give up freedom whenever they win it, or can we save our democracy/republic and harness intellect and rational thought to keep hard-won freedoms and make them so attractive that other nations want to join in. Can we stop America’s descent into authoritarianism or even nouveau serfdom and take the planet into a positive new world order that is humane and believes in the future rather than the apocalypse?

I realize it is boring to say these things over and over, I realize it is repetitive, but until #hope and #freedom and #equality are, once again, subjects that are understood and embraced, rather than contested ground, we, who think humans can be free, will keep bombarding the universe with this message. #Make it So.

On May 6, 2010, I wrote “Let Freedom Ring”, also about this book, Escape from Freedomhttps://www.thearmchairobserver.com/let-freedom-ring/

 

Conspiracy Theories and Elections

 

end of world Latestly.com

The drumbeat of conspiracy theories picks up whenever America gets close to an election. I have said this before, but I really want to call attention to this tendency. I want to know if it has repercussions in terms of who gets elected. How much do these “myths” and the hype around them influence votes?

In 2016 Conspiracy Theories were used to help demonize Hillary Clinton.

 

Hillary demonized

snowflakes-demons-and-democrats

Now an anonymous internet figure called by the quirkiest letter in our alphabet, Q, is appearing all over the internet and at Trump rallies. It does not supplant the old conspiracies which claim the 13 families and Democrats including the Clintons are all pedophiles, child traffickers, and even have demonic ceremonies sacrificing babies (which, I guess, is one step further than kidnapping children and putting them in cages with only a metallic space blanket to comfort them). Rather it suggests that Trump is the chosen one to rescue the world from these sickos. (Yikes!) Trump, according to this view, is actually one of those superheroes who presents a face to the real world that belies his role as a rescuer. Good disguise!

In 2018 Conspiracy Theories are being used to demonize all Democrats and to lionize Trump

Democrats demonized you tube

Trump as superhero funnyjunk.com

I don’t know about you, but for me this is a bit of a reach (this is an understatement) . I do not see the resemblance between Trump and any heroes, from comics or real life.

But I am curious about how well these Conspiracy Theories work as propaganda. Clearly they attract followers. Does this translate into votes for one group; against another; or both? A study of this effect would be very interesting.

Also see: https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/the-big-conspiracy-theory-that-explains-everything/

Photo credits: latently.com, You Tube, capitolhilloutsider.com, You Tube, You Tube