The Watering Hole, Monday, November 28th, 2016: Warning Signs of a Dictatorship

From November 23rd in Foreign Policy Magazine, “10 Ways to Tell if Your President is a Dictator”, by Stephen M. Walt, here’s a brief [believe it or not] summary. (You’ll need to register in order to be able to read the entire article. Registration is free, and allows you access to five articles per month.)

An excerpt from the opening:

“…if you live in the United States, what you should really worry about is the threat that Trump may pose to America’s constitutional order. His lengthy business career suggests he is a vindictive man who will go to extreme lengths to punish his opponents and will break a promise in a heartbeat and without remorse. The 2016 campaign confirmed that he has little respect for existing norms and rules — he refused to release his tax returns, lied repeatedly, claimed the electoral and political systems were “rigged” against him, threatened to jail his opponent if he won, among other such violations — and revealed his deep contempt for both his opponents and supporters. Nor does he regret any of the revolting things he did or said during the campaign, because, as he told the Wall Street Journal afterward, “I won.”[**] For Trump, it seems, the ends really do justify the means.

[**Tweet from WSJ: “When asked if he thought his rhetoric had gone too far in the campaign, Donald Trump told WSJ: “No. I won.”]

“Given what is at stake, one of the most important things we can all do is remain alert for evidence that Trump and those around him are moving in an authoritarian direction. For those who love America and its Constitution more than they love any particular political party or any particular politician, I offer as a public service my top 10 warning signs that American democracy is at risk.”

1) Systematic efforts to intimidate the media.

A free, energetic, vigilant, and adversarial press has long been understood to be an essential guarantee of democratic freedoms, because without it, the people in whose name leaders serve will be denied the information they need to assess what the politicians are doing.

If the Trump administration begins to enact policies designed to restrict freedom of the press, or just intimidate media organizations from offering critical coverage, it will be a huge (or if you prefer, yuge) warning sign.

Trump has already proposed “opening up” libel laws so that public figures can sue the press more easily. This step would force publishers and editors to worry about costly and damaging lawsuits even if they eventually win them, and it would be bound to have a chilling effect on their coverage.

His administration could deny access to entire news organizations like the New York Times if they were too critical of Trump’s policies or just too accurate in documenting his failures. Just because the First Amendment guarantees free speech doesn’t mean some parts of the media can’t be stampeded into pulling punches or once again indulging in “false equivalence.”

2) Building an official pro-Trump media network.

“…While trying to suppress critical media outlets, Trump could also use the presidency to bolster media that offer him consistent support. Or he could even try to create an official government news agency that would disseminate a steady diet of pro-Trump coverage.

In Trump’s ideal world, Americans would get their news from some combination of Breitbart, Fox News, and the president’s own Twitter feed…”

3) Politicizing the civil service, military, National Guard, or the domestic security agencies.

“One of the obstacles to a democratic breakdown is the government bureaucracy, whose permanent members are insulated from political pressure by existing civil service protections that make it hard to fire senior officials without cause. But one can imagine the Trump administration asking Congress to weaken those protections, portraying this step as a blow against “big government” and a way to improve government efficiency.

But if the president or his lieutenants can gut government agencies more or less at will, the fear of being fired will lead many experienced public servants to keep their heads down and kowtow to whatever the president wants, no matter how ill-advised or illegal it might be.

And don’t assume the military, FBI, National Guard, or the intelligence agencies would be immune to this sort of interference. Other presidents (or their appointees) have fired generals who questioned their policy objectives, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did during George W. Bush’s first administration when he removed Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who had the temerity to tell a congressional committee that the occupation of Iraq was going to need a lot more people than Rumsfeld had claimed. Other generals and admirals got the message and stayed out of Rumsfeld’s way for the rest of his disastrous tenure as defense secretary. There have also been fights in the past over control of the National Guard, but a move to assert greater federal authority over the guard would give Trump a powerful tool to use against open expressions of dissent.”

4) Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents.

“This step wouldn’t be entirely new either, insofar as Nixon once used the CIA to infiltrate anti-war organizations during the Vietnam War. But the government’s capacity to monitor the phones, emails, hard drives, and online activities of all Americans has expanded enormously since the 1960s.

As far as we know, however, no one has yet tried to use these new powers of surveillance to monitor, intimidate, embarrass, deter, or destroy political opponents.

…an ambitious and unscrupulous president could use the ability to monitor political opponents to great advantage. He would need the cooperation of top officials and possibly many underlings as well, but this only requires loyal confederates at the top and compliant people below. The White House had sufficient authority, under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to convince U.S. government employees to torture other human beings.”

5) Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents.

“A hallmark of corrupt quasi-democracies is the executive’s willingness to use the power of the state to reward business leaders who are loyal and to punish anyone who gets in the way. That’s how Putin controls the “oligarchs” in Russia, and it is partly how Erdogan kept amassing power and undermining opponents in Turkey…

…I know, I know: Corruption of this sort is already a problem here in the Land of the Free —whether in the form of congressional pork or the sweet deals former government officials arrange to become lobbyists once they leave office — so why single out Trump? The problem is that Trump’s record suggests he thinks this is the right way to do business: You reward your friends, and you stick it to your enemies every chance you get.”

6) Stacking the Supreme Court.

“Trump will likely get the opportunity to appoint several Supreme Court justices, and the choices he makes will be revealing. Does he pick people who are personally loyal and beholden to him or opt for jurors with independent standing and stellar qualifications? Does he pick people whose views on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and campaign financing comport with his party’s, or does he go for people who have an established view on the expansiveness of executive power and are more likely to look the other way if he takes some of the other steps I’ve already mentioned? And if it’s the latter, would the Senate find the spine to say no?”

7) Enforcing the law for only one side.

“…given the nature of Trump’s campaign and the deep divisions within the United States at present, a key litmus test for the president-elect is whether he will direct U.S. officials to enforce similar standards of conduct on both his supporters and his opponents.

If anti-Trump protesters are beaten up by a band of Trump’s fans, will the latter face prosecution as readily as if the roles were reversed? Will local and federal justice agencies be as vigilant in patrolling right-wing hate speech and threats of violence as they are with similar actions that might emanate from the other side?…If Trump is quick to call out his critics but gives racists, bigots, and homophobes a free pass because they happen to like him, it would be another sign he is trying to tilt the scales of justice in his favor.”

8) Really rigging the system.

“…given the promises he has made and the demography of the electorate, Trump and the GOP have every incentive to use the next four years to try to stack the electoral deck in their favor. Look for more attempts to gerrymander safe seats for House Republicans and more efforts to prevent likely Democratic voters from getting to the polls in 2018 and 2020.”

9) Fearmongering.

“Stoking public fears about safety and well-being is a classic autocratic tactic, designed to convince a frightened population to look to the Leader for protection. Trump played this card brilliantly in the campaign, warning of “Mexican rapists,” foreign governments that “steal our jobs,” “scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism,” and so on. He also hinted that his political rivals were somehow in cahoots with these various “enemies.” A frightened population tends to think first about its own safety, and forget about fundamental liberties, and would be more likely to look the other way as a president amassed greater power.

The worst case, of course, would be an Erdogan-like attempt to use a terrorist attack or some other equally dramatic event as an excuse to declare a “state of emergency” and to assume unprecedented executive authority. Bush and Cheney used 9/11 to pass the Patriot Act, and Trump could easily try to use some future incident as a — with apologies for the pun — trumped-up excuse to further encroach on civil liberties, press freedoms, and the other institutions that are central to democracy.”

10) Demonizing the opposition.

“Trying to convince people that your domestic opponents are in league with the nation’s enemies is one of the oldest tactics in politics, and it has been part of Trump’s playbook ever since he stoked the “birther” controversy over Obama’s citizenship. After he becomes president, will he continue to question his opponents’ patriotism, accuse them of supporting America’s opponents, and blame policy setbacks on dark conspiracies among Democrats, liberals, Muslims, the Islamic State, “New York financial elites,” or the other dog whistles so beloved by right-wing media outlets like Breitbart? Will he follow the suggestions of some of his supporters and demand that Americans from certain parts of the world (read: Muslims) be required to “register” with the federal government?

Again, these are the same tactics Erdogan and Putin have used in Turkey and Russia, respectively, to cement their own authority over time by initiating a vicious cycle of social hostility. When groups within a society are already somewhat suspicious of each other, extremists can trigger a spiral of increasing hostility by attacking the perceived internal enemy in the hope of provoking a harsh reaction. If the attacked minority responds defensively, or its own hotheads lash out violently, it will merely reinforce the first group’s fears and bolster a rapid polarization. Extremists on both sides will try to “outbid” their political opponents by portraying themselves as the most ardent and effective defenders of their own group. In extreme cases, such as the Balkan Wars in the 1990s or Iraq after 2003, the result is civil war. Trump would be playing with fire if he tries to stay in power by consistently sowing hatred against the “other,” but he did it in the campaign, and there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t do it again.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This list of warning signs will no doubt strike some as overly alarmist. As I said, it is possible — even likely — that Trump won’t try any of these things (or at least not very seriously) and he might face prompt and united opposition if he did. The checks and balances built into America’s democratic system may be sufficiently robust to survive a sustained challenge. Given the deep commitment to liberty that lies at the heart of the American experiment, it is also possible the American people would quickly detect any serious attempt to threaten the present order and take immediate action to stop it.

The bottom line: I am by no means predicting the collapse of democracy in the United States under a President Donald J. Trump. What I am saying is that it is not impossible, and there are some clear warning signs to watch out for. Now, as always, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Or to use a more modern formulation: If you see something, say something.”

 

This is our Open Thread – feel free to talk about whatever you want.

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The Watering Hole, Saturday, September 24th, 2016: 353 and Counting

So, another day, another mass shooting. This one took place last night at the Macy’s store in the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington. According to the info on Raw Story’s coverage of the shooting, four women were killed while shopping in the Macy’s cosmetics department. The shooter, described as a young Hispanic male, is still at large, and no motive or explanation has yet been reported.

But already, the “good guy with a gun”-lovers are out there shooting their mouths off – and I honestly wish that were literally true, so we sane people wouldn’t have to hear their idiocy. One example is from a guy named Michael Parker whom I’ve argued with before on various ThinkProgress threads:

“Michael Parker Had I been at this mall I would have engaged the shooter with my concealed carry weapon. Never mind…Washington State does not honor my Virginia concealed carry permit so I would have run for the hills like the rest of the sheep. Thank God Virginia recognizes Washington State concealed carry permits so if this happened in Virginia a visiting concealed carry Washington resident could have engaged the shooter. Last December, the Virginia Attorney General tried to limit Virginia’s concealed carry reciprocity to just 5 states. The NRA and the Virginia Legislators got involved…yada, yada, yada ….and now Virginia recognizes the concealed carry permits from all 50 states.”

Another commenter sarcastically said:

“Obviously we need more guns and fewer gun regulations. What could go wrong? Just suspend every one of the Bill of Rights except the 2nd Amendment and America will be great again.”

To which another gun-totin’ hero-wannabe replied:

“You are correct. That is PRECISELY what we need. Had there been a concealed carry weapon’s holder at the mall, like there was in Minnesota, the threat would have been neutralized. It’s stories like this PRECISELY why i carry a firearm.”

Apparently women shopping for cosmetics should only do so in states that allow the gun-carrying menfolk to protect the little ladies while they do so. Dog knows that going unarmed into Macy’s is just too fucking dangerous, so ladies, always expect the unexpected while you’re trying a new shade of lipstick–dontcha know, the real reason why there’s so many mirrors in cosmetics departments is so that we can scope out the folks behind us for possible shooters, not so that we can see how some silly makeup looks on us!

So, wait, how does this work with our big bad menfolk totin’ guns (concealed- OR open-carry) into a mall? As Bill Maher discussed last night – and Wayne and I have discussed before this – open-carry, at least, is quite honestly only safe for WHITE MEN to do. In an open-carry state, one probably won’t see too many men of color packing heat – or at least not for long, as SOMEONE will either shoot them ‘just because’, or report them to the police, who will come and shoot the ‘suspicious’ armed black man on sight.

As noted in the ThinkProgress thread, “There have been 353 mass shootings in the United States in 2016, according to the Mass Shootings Tracker.” C’mon, you crazy shooters, there’s still plenty of time left in 2016, let’s see how high you can make that number go before the new year! And you “good guy(s) with a gun”, Christmas shopping is just around the corner, and the malls will be packed, so get your gunz and ammo ready!

This is our daily Open Thread, so talk about gunz or whatever else you want.

The Watering Hole; Friday September 16 2016; FEAR

Whilst digging through a pile of old files buried on an old hard drive, I ran across an old essay of mine, one from just short of a dozen years ago. It was my “response”– not published or posted anywhere — to the world created by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9-11; a world of war, based on irrational fear.

Look around today, particularly in the shadows of the fear-mongering that’s driving this election season. Think of Trump’s hate-filled and fear-mongering proposals concerning “illegals,” “Muslims,””ISIS” and all else that’s covered under the phobia umbrella including, for a great many, their not-yet-spent irrational fear and hate of soon-to-be-outgoing President Obama. He’s black, after all, and this here’s a white country! Scary scary.

I’d propose ways to stop the phobia train — if I could think of some. Clearly that’s not going to happen, though, so — stated another way — here we go again, back into the pit. How many times must we do this? Every time a Republican gets up onto the national stage, looks like to me. Anyway, I’ll leave comments to others, and simply add here the essay I wrote in November 2004; it’s title was a simple one: FEAR. Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, July 23, 2016: Ego

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ego:

Noun:

1.      A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance

1.1    Psychoanalysis The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity

1.2    Philosophy (In metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject.

Synonyms: self-esteem, self-importance, self-worth, self-respect, self-conceit, self-image, self-confidence;

Now, let’s take a brief look at Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ego:

1. Trump’s self-esteem? Off the charts–his self-descriptions include being “the greatest” this, the “best” that, the “most” whatever. Anyone who claims otherwise is just “wrong” or “stupid”, or has some imaginary personal beef against Trump, because in no way will Donald Trump admit to any ignorance, mistake, lie, or out-and-out wrongdoing. Which leads to…

1.1 Trump’s ego cannot “mediate” between the conscious and unconscious. Reality testing?! Trump’s conscious and unconscious create their own reality, and it’s a reality that he seems to feel no need to test. His “reality” is part-and-parcel of his personal identity, and it is impenetrable by truth, facts, and even Trump’s own previous words or deeds.

1.2 While Trump may be “conscious” in the literal sense of the word, he is not a “thinking” subject.

With his penchant for superlatives, Trump might possibly think that he has a “superego“, but the OED’s definition of superego leads me to believe that Trump’s ego vanquished his superego a long time ago:

Noun:
Psychoanalysis The part of a person’s mind that acts as a self-critical conscience, reflecting social standards learned from parents and teachers

“Self-critical”?  Rarely and barely.  Hell, Trump told evangelicals that he didn’t feel the need to go to confession, since he doesn’t think that anything he does is wrong.  And I learned things like manners, respect and intellectual curiosity from my parents and teachers, apparently unlike Trump.

Trump has a dysfunctional relationship with the truth. According to Politifact, only 8.4% of Trump’s statements have been factual.  Their review of Trump’s statements shows that a whopping 70% of Trump’s statements are rated “Mostly False”, “False”, or “Pants on Fire.” Here’s one of the “Pants on Fire” stories:

“The day after the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump said his vanquished Republican rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, had never denied that his father was in a 1963 photo with Lee Harvey Oswald, who went on to assassinate President John F. Kennedy that November.

Trump said: “All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now, Ted never denied that it was his father. Instead he said, ‘Donald Trump.’ I had nothing to do with it. This was a magazine that frankly, in many respects, should be very respected.”

[The idea that ‘the National Enquirer should be very respected’ should rate a “Pants on Fire” of its own.]

Politifact gave Trump the “2015 Lie of The Year” award to The Donald.  An excerpt:

“…a little hyperbole never hurts,” Trump wrote in his 1987 best-seller The Art of the Deal. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

[Ah, and that explains “Trump University.”]

Next, here’s a glib, almost superficial, and often sickeningly fawning article from the Washington Post, by AP “reporter” Nancy Benar, titled “For Trump, it’s about America’s ego — and his own.” Some key excerpts:

“Almost every deal I have ever done has been at least partly for my ego,” the billionaire declared in a 1995 New York Times piece titled, “What My Ego Wants, My Ego Gets.”

“The same assets that excite me in the chase often, once they are acquired, leave me bored,” he told an interviewer in 1990, as his boom years were sliding toward bust. “For me, you see, the important thing is the getting, not the having.”

Trump,[sic] stresses his Ivy League education and revels in juvenile jabs, labeling his adversaries “stupid,” ‘’dumb” and “bad.”

“I know words,” he declared at a December campaign rally where he criticized the Obama administration. “I have the best words. But there’s no better word than stupid, right?”

Wrong, Mr. Trump. As a Presidential candidate, now nominee, some of the “best words” that you should memorize the meanings for are:  honesty, integrity, class, civility, respect, humility and responsibility. I know that these terms and ideas are foreign to you, but you should familiarize yourself with them – there might be a quiz between now and November.

This is our daily Open Thread–feel free to talk about this or any other topic.

Brexit – Live

 

In the video above you find a compelling explanation what Brexit is about really. Having watched some of the debates and quite a bit of coverage on BBC, ITV and a couple more news sites, I can fully agree with him. It is about immigration. And nationalism and then some immigration.

I’ll watch some of the BBC voting night coverage and will give you the first couple of developments live as they unfold. Then I will probably collapse, because I am not as young as I used to be when I joined you all for a night of music, booze and cigarettes on Music Night.

Whatever is the result tomorrow morning, I’ll let you know.

Fair warning: If they vote “Leave”, I will be seriously pissed off, because I still haven’t given up on the hope to spend my retirement in the North of England. I would have to go to Scotland instead, because the Scots will then leave the UK and reenter the EU.

Here’s a heat map of how Britons stand on the issue:

cegrab-20160315-113854-216-1-736x414

source: http://news.sky.com/story/1659864/skys-brexit-map-reveals-most-pro-leave-areas

So let’s get started….and hope for the best.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 2nd, 2016: A Little Humor

I’ll start with the first of two jokes which one of my co-workers sent me; the second of the two will be at the end. That way we can begin and end with a smile. (Okay, there’ll be humor in the middle, too.)

“A Lexus mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a LS460 when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in his shop. The cardiologist was there waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his car when the mechanic shouted across the garage, “Hey Doc, want to take a look at this?” The cardiologist, a bit surprised walked over to where the mechanic was working.

The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, “So Doc, look at this engine. I opened its heart, took the valves out, repaired or replaced anything damaged, and then put everything back in, and when I finished, it worked just like new. So how is it that I make $48,000 a year and you make $1.7M when you and I are doing basically the same work? The cardiologist paused, leaned over, and then whispered to the mechanic. “Try doing it with the engine running.””

Next, a whole bunch of political stuff from a recent Washington Post newsletter called “The Daily Trail”, including but not limited to:

-poll numbers indicating how ‘yugely’ unpopular Donald Trump is among women and other demographics;
-Trump + Reince Priebus = GOP Party Loyalty?
-Ted Cruz pulls out RNC rule book in anti-Kasich move;
-Superpac for Kasich responds with weird Pinocchio-themed anti-Cruz ad (created by the same guy who made what was called the “Demon Sheep” ad.)
-initial Electoral College projections from the University of Virginia show some good news for Democrats;
-will candidates never learn how to eat a slice of New York pizza in a New York pizzeria in the traditional New York manner? (Jon Stewart, I hope you’re not following ANY of this, please, it’s not good for your blood pressure!)
-and more!

Also from the Washington Post, an ‘April Fools’ story (okay, I’m a day behind) about two college professors who “gave up the fight to convince Americans that Africa is not, in fact, a country.”

And now the second of the two jokes:

“While the IRS agent was checking the books he turned to the CFO of the hospital and said, “I notice you buy a lot of bandages. What do you do with the end of the roll when there’s too little left to be of any use? “Good question,” noted the CFO. “We save them up and send them back to the bandage company and every now and then they send us a free box of bandages. “Oh,” replied the auditor, somewhat disappointed that his unusual question had a practical answer.

But on he went, in his obnoxious way. “What about all these plaster purchases? What do you do with what’s left over after setting a cast on a patient? “Ah, yes,” replied the CFO, realizing that the inspector was trying to trap him with an unanswerable question. “We save it and send it back to the manufacturer, and every now and then they send us a free package of plaster.

“I see,” replied the auditor, thinking hard about how he could fluster the know-it-all CFO. “Well,” he went on, “What do you do with all the leftover foreskins from the circumcisions you perform?” Here, too, we do not waste,” answered the CFO. “What we do is save all the little foreskins and send them to the IRS Office, and about once a year they send us a complete dick.” [rim shot]

This is our daily Open Thread – enjoy yourselves!

The Watering Hole, Tuesday March 1, 2016 – Super Tuesday

We interrupt our regular programs to bring you up to the minute commentary by posters of this blog on the Super Tuesday primary event. As a way of introduction and background, here is a snippet from Raw Story:

Democrat Hillary Clinton aims to build an impregnable lead on “Super Tuesday,” the most consequential day of the presidential nominations calendar, while Republicans struggle to derail their insurgent and controversial front-runner Donald Trump.

With barely 24 hours before the big day, Clinton and Trump are well positioned to secure the lion’s share of the delegate bonanza in the 11 states voting in each party’s primaries.

Trump and Hillary? Let the voters decide.

Follow the money (per NBC News):