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kottke.org posts about politics

Political scientists warn: American democracy is in decline

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2017

Sean Illing reports on a recent gathering of political scientists at Yale where some alarm bells were going off about the state of democracy in the United States.

On October 6, some of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer these questions. And nearly everyone agreed: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.

The scholars pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion.

Illing highlighted a talk by Timothy Snyder as one of the most interesting of the gathering:

Strangely enough, Snyder talked about time as a kind of political construct. (I know that sounds weird, but bear with me.) His thesis was that you can tell a lot about the health of a democracy based on how its leaders - and citizens - orient themselves in time.

Take Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. The slogan itself invokes a nostalgia for a bygone era that Trump voters believe was better than today and better than their imagined future. By speaking in this way, Snyder says, Trump is rejecting conventional politics in a subtle but significant way.

Why, after all, do we strive for better policies today? Presumably it’s so that our lives can be improved tomorrow. But Trump reverses this. He anchors his discourse to a mythological past, so that voters are thinking less about the future and more about what they think they lost.

“Trump isn’t after success — he’s after failure,” Snyder argued. By that, he means that Trump isn’t after what we’d typically consider success — passing good legislation that improves the lives of voters. Instead, Trump has defined the problems in such a way that they can’t be solved. We can’t be young again. We can’t go backward in time. We can’t relive some lost golden age. So these voters are condemned to perpetual disappointment.

The counterargument is that Trump’s idealization of the past is, in its own way, an expression of a desire for a better future. If you’re a Trump voter, restoring some lost version of America or revamping trade policies or rebuilding the military is a way to create a better tomorrow based on a model from the past.

For Snyder, though, that’s not really the point. The point is that Trump’s nostalgia is a tactic designed to distract voters from the absence of serious solutions. Trump may not be an authoritarian, Snyder warns, but this is something authoritarians typically do. They need the public to be angry, resentful, and focused on problems that can’t be remedied.

Snyder calls this approach “the politics of eternity,” and he believes it’s a common sign of democratic backsliding because it tends to work only after society has fallen into disorder.

Snyder is the author of this list of lessons from the 20th century on how to fight authoritarianism, which he turned into a book, On Tyranny.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

Chilling video footage of a 1939 pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2017

On February 20, 1939, a crowd of 20,000 gathered at Madison Square Garden for a “Pro-American” rally sponsored by the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization. I’d seen photos of the event, but I didn’t know there was film footage as well.

There is a moment during an on-stage scuffle involving a protestor (a Brooklyn man named Isadore Greenbaum), right around the 4:15 mark, when a young boy in the background rubs his hands and does a gleeful jig — I…I don’t even know what to say about how I felt watching that. After Greenbaum is spirited away, his clothes nearly ripped from his body, the crowd roars. As director Marshall Curry said in an interview about the film:

In the end, America pulled away from the cliff, but this rally is a reminder that things didn’t have to work out that way. If Roosevelt weren’t President, if Japan hadn’t attacked, is it possible we would have skated through without joining the war? And if Nazis hadn’t killed American soldiers, is it possible that their philosophy wouldn’t have become so taboo here?

(via open culture)

Eminem blasts Donald Trump in new freestyle

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

In a freestyle rap that aired at the BET Hip Hop Awards last night, Eminem blasted Donald Trump for his racism, false patriotism, deceit, and disrespect of military veterans, among other things. Watch it if you haven’t…the man is angry, as are many of us. The lyrics to the freestyle are on Genius:

He says, “You’re spittin’ in the face of vets who fought for us, you bastards!”
Unless you’re a POW who’s tortured and battered
‘Cause to him you’re zeros
‘Cause he don’t like his war heroes captured
That’s not disrespecting the military
Fuck that! This is for Colin, ball up a fist!
And keep that shit balled like Donald the bitch!
“He’s gonna get rid of all immigrants!”
“He’s gonna build that thing up taller than this!”
Well, if he does build it, I hope it’s rock solid with bricks
‘Cause like him in politics, I’m using all of his tricks
‘Cause I’m throwin’ that piece of shit against the wall ‘til it sticks
And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
“Fuck you!”
The rest of America stand up
We love our military, and we love our country
But we fucking hate Trump

As you can read, Eminem is really calling out his white fan base here, something that Elon James White mentioned in this Twitter thread:

So basically Trump, a grade A troll just got trolled by a bigger more experienced troll. Eminim trolls every album & he chose 45 this time. White dudes who thought Eminem was [their] voice, all angry and White at home right now like [What do I doooooooooooo!?] And y’all know Eminem is petty. If 45 responds he’ll have 3 diss tracks in a week. If 45 doesn’t he will be shat on as weak AF & a punk. And a lot of White folks who may have been sitting this whole shit storm out just had their fav rapper call them dafuq out.

White also addressed the misogyny and homophobia in Eminem’s music:

And as for his music catalogue of misogyny and homophobia…
.
.
.
That empty space is called me not defending ANY of it one bit. Notice I didn’t say “everyone should go buy Eminem albums!” “SUPPORT THIS ARTIST!” I was commenting on the freestyle & how it will play. I haven’t bought an Eminem album since I was a young punk. But my support or lack thereof doesn’t negate his skill or his platform.

Trump is terrorizing America and should be removed from office

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Poet and English professor Seth Abramson recently published a Twitter thread about his current understanding of Donald Trump: his deliberate terrorization of the American public, lack of policy positions, corruption, and keen understanding of America as “a chaos machine” that “spits out attention, headlines, sometimes money” when you feed it. I think Abramson is right about Trump in many respects and I’ve included a few excerpts below…it was difficult to pick out what to highlight.

We need to never again discuss this man with respect to policy — it’s become more than clear in 9 months that he holds no policy positions.

So if you support Donald Trump because of any view you claim he holds, I don’t ever want to hear from you again. The man holds no views.

There is no position Donald Trump has ever taken that he has not, at some point in the past or present, taken the opposite position to.

But the most important thing is this: this is the first U.S. president to systematically and willfully terrorize his own populace daily.

His changeability is intended to keep us anxious and on guard. In fact, he’s admitted publicly, many times, that this is a tactic of his.

His corruption is equally studied: his business model has always been “get away with what you can,” and that’s exactly how he’s governed.

It’s *more* than that he’ll go down in our history as the worst president we’ll ever have — he’ll go down as one of our greatest villains.

Benedict Arnold tried to betray America for a prior sovereign — Trump is trying to *torture* a nation that was good to him his whole life.

Have you noticed a change in your mood since January? I mean a change you can’t seem to escape? Anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, doubt?

The most ubiquitous man in your nation is trying to poison you daily — because it gives him power — and no one’s stopping him from doing it.

I’m not using hyperbole: you’re under attack. A deliberate, unprovoked, systematic, and — yes — evil attack. And it’s working. We’re losing.

Because the last thing — of the three I mentioned — humans look for in a crisis is hope, and he’s systematically taking *that* away as well.

We don’t have hope future elections will be fair. We don’t have hope our government is working in our interests. We don’t have hope we can trust and love our neighbors and they’ll trust and love us back. And we don’t have hope things will start to make sense again.

Abramson finishes by saying that we need to focus on “legally, peacefully and transparently” removing Trump from power. I’m probably going to get some email about this post,1 so I might as well go all in here with a ludicrous-sounding hunch2 I’ve had about Trump since before the election: not only will he not resign or be impeached (for Russia ties or otherwise), he will refuse to leave office under any circumstances. He will attempt, with a non-zero chance of success, to stay in power even if he’s not re-elected in 2020.

Obviously, this is ridiculous and will not happen. What about laws and precedence and democracy and social mores, you’ll say! And you’d be correct. But Trump’s got more than 3 years to lay the groundwork to make it seem normal for him to do this…and Fox News and the Republicans will let him and aid him if they can. (I mean, if you’re America’s increasingly authoritarian & extremist minority party struggling to stay in power, making the sitting Republican President not subject to an election is far more effective than suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters through gerrymandering and voter ID laws.) Sure, we’ll be outraged about it, but we’re outraged about him anyway and that hasn’t seemed to matter in a significant way yet.

Ok, that’s nuts, right? Could never happen in America, yes? But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him.3 That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

  1. I always get email about my Trump posts. Political posts on kottke.org are pretty unpopular and lose me readers every single time. Stay in your lane, Kottke!

  2. Or perhaps “speculative fiction” is a better descriptor? I’m way too level-headed to actually believe this. Aren’t I?!

  3. Seriously though, what is the enforcement mechanism surrounding the transfer of power here? The 20th Amendment covers the beginnings and ends of terms and what happens when there’s no president-elect. But what about if a sitting President refuses to leave office? A lot of this stuff is ritual, presumably because of course (of course!!!!) the President is supposed to be a decent person who will honor tradition and democracy. Does Congress decide what to do? Does the Secret Service? The Supreme Court? The military? Can you imagine the cries of “coup” from Trump and his supporters if a bunch of Marines storm the White House? OMG, he’d love it.

Taking a knee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Late last week, Donald Trump called any NFL player who kneels during the national anthem protesting police brutality a “son of a bitch” (recall that this is the President of the United States we’re talking about here) and said they should be fired (Ha! He said his catchphrase! From that TV show!). Naturally, NFL players took exception to this and over the weekend, many many more players kneeled, sat, or no-showed during the anthem. And there were many takes, from political commentators and sports journalists alike. One of the best was from Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen, who deftly cut to the core of the matter in a short monologue:

Donald Trump has said he supports a peaceful protest because it’s an American’s right… But not this protest, and there’s the problem: The opinion that any protest you don’t agree with is a protest that should be stopped.

Martin Luther King should have marched across a different bridge. Young, black Americans should have gone to a different college and found a different lunch counter. And college kids in the 60’s had no right to protest an immoral war.

I served in the military during the Vietnam War… and my foot hurt, too. But I served anyway.

My best friend in high school was killed in Vietnam. Carroll Meir will be 18 years old forever. And he did not die so that you can decide who is a patriot and who loves America more.

The young, black athletes are not disrespecting America or the military by taking a knee during the anthem. They are respecting the best thing about America. It’s a dog whistle to the racists among us to say otherwise.

They, and all of us, should protest how black Americans are treated in this country. And if you don’t think white privilege is a fact, you don’t understand America.

Here’s a text transcript…it’s worth reading or watching. See also Bob Costas’ interview on CNN and Shannon Sharpe’s comments.

The ACA is a bipartisan solution to healthcare

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Arizona Senator John McCain has publicly come out against the latest Republican attempt to repeal the ACA. His statement begins:

As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.

I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.

Many opponents of the ACA repeal are hailing McCain as a hero for going against his party leadership on this issue. I don’t see it — he’d still support a bill like Graham-Cassidy that would take away healthcare coverage from millions of Americans if only it were the result of proper procedure — particularly because of what he says next (italics mine):

We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009.

This is false. The NY Times’ David Leonhardt explained back in March during another Republican repeal effort:

When Barack Obama ran for president, he faced a choice. He could continue moving the party to the center or tack back to the left. The second option would have focused on government programs, like expanding Medicare to start at age 55. But Obama and his team thought a plan that mixed government and markets — farther to the right of Clinton’s — could cover millions of people and had a realistic chance of passing.

They embarked on a bipartisan approach. They borrowed from Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts, gave a big role to a bipartisan Senate working group, incorporated conservative ideas and won initial support from some Republicans. The bill also won over groups that had long blocked reform, like the American Medical Association.

But congressional Republicans ultimately decided that opposing any bill, regardless of its substance, was in their political interest. The consultant Frank Luntz wrote an influential memo in 2009 advising Republicans to talk positively about “reform” while also opposing actual solutions. McConnell, the Senate leader, persuaded his colleagues that they could make Obama look bad by denying him bipartisan cover.

Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Harry Reid, said basically the same thing on Twitter:

The votes were party-line, but that was a front manufactured by McConnell. He bragged about it at the time. McConnell rarely gives much away but he let the mask slip here, saying he planned to oppose Obamacare regardless of what was in the bill. Those who worked on and covered the bill know there were GOP senators who wanted to support ACA — but McConnell twisted their arms. On Obamacare, Democrats spent months holding hearings and seeking GOP input — we accepted 200+ GOP amendments!

For reference, here was the Senate vote, straight down party lines. Hence the “ramming” charge…if you didn’t know any better. Luckily, Snopes does know better.

According to Mark Peterson, chair of the UCLA Department of Public Policy, one easy metric by which to judge transparency is the number of hearings held during the development of a bill, as well as the different voices heard during those hearings. So far, the GOP repeal efforts have been subject to zero public hearings.

In contrast, the ACA was debated in three House committees and two Senate committees, and subject to hours of bipartisan debate that allowed for the introduction of amendments. Peterson told us in an e-mail that he “can’t recall any major piece of legislation that was completely devoid of public forums of any kind, and that were crafted outside of the normal committee and subcommittee structure to this extent”.

The Wikipedia page about the ACA tells much the same story.

This haggard-looking eagle is a metaphor for American democracy right now

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Haggard Eagle

This eagle represents how many of us feel about the repeated attempts on the freedom and well-being of American citizens by the majority Republican Congress and the current Presidential administration: victimized but still resolute and proud. We feel you, eagle…it seems as though it’s already been years since January 20.

This photo was taken by Klaus Nigge on Amaknak Island in Alaska and has put Nigge in the running for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. (via in focus)

Study: watching Fox News has big effect on voting patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

Politically, who played the Game of Thrones best in season seven?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

Cersei Politics

The amount of media coverage of Game of Thrones was a touch too much this summer, but this ranking of the political strategies of the main players in season seven by Zack Beauchamp was both entertaining and informative. I mean:

To understand Cersei’s success, we need to reach back to the classic work of Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz.

Before looking at the list, I’d assumed Jon Snow would get lower marks (he left the North vulnerable and cratered his coalition’s chances at a truce with Cersei), but Beauchamp makes a good case here.

I’ve argued before that the best way to think about the White Walkers, from the human point of view, is as a threat akin to climate change — a massive collective threat that humans were ignoring in favor of petty internal squabbling. Jon, to his immense credit, is the only leader who recognized the enormity of the threat early enough to try to rally others to stop it. He’s kind of a Westerosi Al Gore, only he succeeded in getting to run a country.

So the best way to think about Jon’s mission is through the lens of environmental diplomacy: He needed to convince the world’s leading powers to abandon the internecine struggle over the throne and refocus on the White Walker threat. He didn’t have a ton to work with: The North is a distinctly third-tier power, weaker militarily than both the Targaryen and Lannister alliances and the country most vulnerable to the White Walkers.

Jon may have failed to rally Cersei to his cause, but he succeeded in bringing on Daenerys. And that’s by far the most important, mostly because her dragons and cache of dragonglass represent the only chance humanity has at fending off the White Walker threat. If it weren’t for Jon, humanity would be fundamentally doomed.

To The People I’ve Lost Over This Election

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2017

Back in March, John Pavlovitz wrote an open letter to friends he has lost contact with because of the 2016 election. This paragraph in particular articulates something I’ve been having trouble putting my finger on w/r/t some lost personal relationships due to “politics”:

I know you may believe this disconnection is about politics, but I want you to know that this simply isn’t true. It’s nothing that small or inconsequential, or this space between us wouldn’t be necessary. This is about fundamental differences in the ways in which we view the world and believe other people should be treated. It’s not political stuff, it’s human being stuff — which is why finding compromise and seeing a way forward is so difficult.

Fair or not, that is precisely how I feel. See also I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People:

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.

Obama, An Intimate Portrait by White House photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2017

For all eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency, Pete Souza was Chief Official White House Photographer and took over 2 million photos of the President and his activities in office. Souza has collected some of those photos into a book: Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out in November.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait reproduces Souza’s most iconic photographs in exquisite detail, more than three hundred in all. Some have never been published. These photographs document the most consequential hours of the Presidency — including the historic image of President Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room during the bin Laden mission — alongside unguarded moments with the President’s family, his encounters with children, interactions with world leaders and cultural figures, and more.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite photo of Souza’s, but these two are right near the top:

Souza Obama Book

Souza Obama Book

What’s Souza up to these days? Trolling the current inhabitant of the White House on Instagram, as you do.

Beating cancer is a team sport

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The tumor has been removed and McCain is recovering at home with his family. I wish Senator McCain well and hope for a speedy recovery.

In the wake of his diagnosis, many of those expressing support for McCain reference his considerable personal strength in his fight against cancer. President Obama said:

John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.

McCain’s daughter Meghan references his toughness and fearlessness in a statement released yesterday. Vice-President Joe Biden expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:

John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong — and he will beat this.

This is the right thing to say to those going through something like this, and hearing this encouragement and having the will & energy to meet this challenge will undoubtably increase McCain’s chances of survival. But what Biden said next is perhaps more relevant:

Incredible progress in cancer research and treatment in just the last year offers new promise and new hope. You can win this fight, John.

As with polio, smallpox, measles, and countless other diseases before it, beating cancer is not something an individual can do. Being afflicted with cancer is the individual’s burden to bear but society’s responsibility to cure. In his excellent biography of cancer from 2011, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee talks about the progress we’ve made on cancer:

Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes. In 2005, an avalanche of papers cascading through the scientific literature converged on a remarkably consistent message — the national physiognomy of cancer had subtly but fundamentally changed. The mortality for nearly every major form of cancer — lung, breast, colon, and prostate — had continuously dropped for fifteen straight years. There had been no single, drastic turn but rather a steady and powerful attrition: mortality had declined by about 1 percent every year. The rate might sound modest, but its cumulative effect was remarkable: between 1990 and 2005, the cancer-specific death rate had dropped nearly 15 percent, a decline unprecedented in the history of the disease. The empire of cancer was still indubitably vast — more than half a million American men and women died of cancer in 2005 — but it was losing power, fraying at its borders.

What precipitated this steady decline? There was no single answer but rather a multitude. For lung cancer, the driver of decline was primarily prevention — a slow attrition in smoking sparked off by the Doll-Hill and Wynder-Graham studies, fueled by the surgeon general’s report, and brought to its full boil by a combination of political activism (the FTC action on warning labels), inventive litigation (the Banzhaf and Cipollone cases), medical advocacy, and countermarketing (the antitobacco advertisements). For colon and cervical cancer, the declines were almost certainly due to the successes of secondary prevention — cancer screening. Colon cancers were detected at earlier and earlier stages in their evolution, often in the premalignant state, and treated with relatively minor surgeries. Cervical cancer screening using Papanicolaou’s smearing technique was being offered at primary-care centers throughout the nation, and as with colon cancer, premalignant lesions were excised using relatively minor surgeries. For leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer, in contrast, the declining numbers reflected the successes of chemotherapeutic treatment. In childhood ALL, cure rates of 80 percent were routinely being achieved. Hodgkin’s disease was similarly curable, and so, too, were some large-cell aggressive lymphomas. Indeed, for Hodgkin’s disease, testicular cancer, and childhood leukemias, the burning question was not how much chemotherapy was curative, but how little: trials were addressing whether milder and less toxic doses of drugs, scaled back from the original protocols, could achieve equivalent cure rates.

Perhaps most symbolically, the decline in breast cancer mortality epitomized the cumulative and collaborative nature of these victories — and the importance of attacking cancer using multiple independent prongs. Between 1990 and 2005, breast cancer mortality had dwindled an unprecedented 24 percent. Three interventions had potentially driven down the breast cancer death rate-mammography (screening to catch early breast cancer and thereby prevent invasive breast cancer), surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy after surgery to remove remnant cancer cells).

Understanding how to defeat cancer is an instance where America’s fierce insistence on individualism does us a disservice. Individuals with freedom to pursue their own goals are capable of a great deal, but some problems require massive collective coordination and effort. Beating cancer is a team sport; it can only be defeated by a diverse collection of people and institutions working hard toward the same goal. It will take government-funded research, privately funded research, a strong educational system, philanthropy, and government agencies from around the world working together. This effort also requires a system of healthcare that’s available to everybody, not just to those who can afford it. Although cancer is not a contagious disease like measles or smallpox, the diagnosis and treatment of each and every case brings us closer to understanding how to defeat it. We make this effort together, we spend this time, energy, and money, so that 10, 20, or 30 years from now, our children and grandchildren won’t have to suffer like our friends and family do now.

The US far right’s game plan? A suppression of the majority.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Rebecca Onion recently interviewed Nancy MacLean, who has written a book about economist James McGill Buchanan, whose work MacLean believes is the origin of the ideas & strategy of the far right in America (most notably represented by the Koch brothers). As told by MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of this coalition is to switch the US to a “totally new vision of society and government, that’s different from anything that exists anywhere in the world”.

When the Supreme Court decided, in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Tennessee-born economist James McGill Buchanan was horrified. Over the course of the next few decades, the libertarian thinker found comfortable homes at a series of research universities and spent his time articulating a new grand vision of American society, a country in which government would be close to nonexistent, and would have no obligation to provide education-or health care, or old-age support, or food, or housing-to anyone.

This radical vision has become the playbook for a network of people looking to override democracy in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few.

I suspect MacLean’s argument is much more fleshed out in her book than in the interview and criticisms are easy to find (although I don’t know how ideologically motivated they are), but what she says could explain what’s happening in our government right now. As I wrote back in December:

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws.

In the interview, McLean says that Buchanan advised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the structure of his country’s constitution:

This document was later called a “constitution of locks and bolts,” [and was designed] to make it so that the majority couldn’t make its will felt in the political system, unless it was a huge supermajority.

That feels like where we’re heading in this country right now. Perhaps slowly and perhaps it won’t come to that, but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion these days that Republicans (or at least the ascendant far right arm of the party) want anything less than to rule the US no matter what the majority of its citizens might want.

Trump’s disturbing appeal for personal loyalty from gov’t officials

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Noah Kunin has been working for the US government since 2010 and right after the election, he wrote a short post as to why he was staying on even though he did not support Trump.

My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people (emphasis added).

More recently, he wrote a post on why he is now leaving government service, again citing his duty to the Constitution and the people:

The first thing that happened was the release of the written testimony of the former FBI Director, James Comey. While many focused on the potential obstruction of justice detailed within Comey’s notes, I was immediately drawn to a different issue. According to Comey, the President clearly asked, repeatedly, for his personal loyalty.

I think this is even more dangerous and shocking than the potential for obstruction of justice. Even though I intellectually knew that most of Trump’s decisions are based on personal politics, seeing it in writing, under oath, and from the FBI Director at the time no less, had an unexpectedly massive emotional impact on me.

My previous post put the oath all federal public servants take at its center. Pledging our faith, allegiance, our loyalty not to a person, but to the Constitution and to the people as a whole is absolutely fundamental to our form of government. We cannot even pretend to function as a republic without it.

For anyone in public service to ask for the personal loyalty of anyone else in government is an affront to our core values. For the President to ask it of the FBI Director is beyond “not normal.”

It is an immediate and complete revelation that the President is unfit for the office, and has been from the start.

I think Kunin’s right about Trump’s demand for personal loyalty over loyalty to duty or to county…it’s as disturbing as anything else that Trump has done.

The potent combination of individual freedom and collective action

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

As part of a longer post on the role of capitalism in bringing about gay rights in America, staunch libertarian and Cato Institute executive VP David Boaz writes:

All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen in American history — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — stem from our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The emphasis on the individual mind in the Enlightenment, the individualist nature of market capitalism, and the demand for individual rights that inspired the American Revolution naturally led people to think more carefully about the nature of the individual and gradually to recognize that the dignity of individual rights should be extended to all people.

This passage has been bugging me ever since I saw a link to it on Marginal Revolution in a post titled “Independence Day”. There’s this undercurrent in libertarian writing that suggests that if we just let capitalism rip, unfettered, unregulated, everyone will be automagically free. Independence Day, amirite?!

What’s interesting is that the way all of those freedoms Boaz talks about — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — were attained is through collective action that resulted in government protection. Capitalism is not Miracle Grow for individual rights. People organized and fought for their freedoms. Economic activity is taxed in order to protect our freedoms. Unchecked capitalism led to slavery, child labor, unfair labor practices, monopoly, and the ruin of the environment. Gosh, it’s almost like a system of capitalism combined with liberal democracy would be a fairly good way to both gain and protect individual freedoms. Yes, harness the incredibly useful engine of capitalism but make sure it doesn’t grind humanity up in the process.

Impeachment and its misconceptions explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, legal scholar and former Obama advisor Cass Sunstein shared some views on his understanding of and some misconceptions about impeachment, namely that it doesn’t need to involve an actual crime and “is primarily about gross neglect or abuse of power”. Or as he put it more formally in a 1998 essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review:

The simplest is that, with respect to the President, the principal goal of the Impeachment Clause is to allow impeachment for a narrow category of egregious or large-scale abuses of authority that comes from the exercise of distinctly presidential powers. On this view, a criminal violation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for impeaching the President. What is generally necessary is an egregious abuse of power that the President has by virtue of being President. Outside of this category of cases, impeachment is generally foreign to our traditions and is prohibited by the Constitution.

The “distinctly presidential powers” bit is a high bar to clear. Examining the case for Nixon on that basis, and only some of the reasons for wanting to impeach him hold up.

Richard Nixon nearly faced four counts. One failed count, for tax evasion, was completely inappropriate, Sunstein argued: Though an obvious violation of law, it had no bearing on Nixon’s conduct of the presidency. A second charge, for resisting subpoena, is possibly but not necessarily valid, since a president could have good reasons to resisting a subpoena. A third is more debatable: Nixon was charged with covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon might have been more fairly prosecuted for overseeing the burglary, Sunstein argued, but nabbing him for trying to use the federal government to commit the cover-up was “probably good enough.” Only the fourth charge, of using the federal government’s muscle to prosecute political enemies, is a clear slam-dunk under the Founders’ principles.

Clinton’s impeachment, argued Sunstein in that same Penn Law Review essay, was less well-supported:

I suggest that the impeachment of President Clinton was unconstitutional, because the two articles of impeachment identified no legitimate ground for impeaching the President.

Sunstein explained the intent of the members of the Constitutional Convention in a Bloomberg article back in February. It’s interesting in the light of the Russian collusion investigation that the debate about impeachment at the convention centered around treason.

James Madison concurred, pointing to cases in which a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Gouverneur Morris added that the president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

So what about Trump? Sunstein doesn’t offer much (no apparent mention of collusion with Russia):

Sunstein, having scolded legal colleagues for playing pundit, was reluctant to address the question directly. Setting aside the impossibility of impeaching Trump under the present circumstances of GOP control of Congress, Sunstein said he was wary of trying to remove the president simply for being bad at his job. Nonetheless, he said Trump’s prolific dishonesty might form a basis for trying to remove him.

“If a president lies on some occasions or is fairly accused of lying, it’s not impeachable — but if you have a systematic liar who is lying all the time, then we’re in the ballpark of misdemeanor, meaning bad action,” he said.

If I were a betting person, I would wager that Donald Trump has a better chance of getting reelected in 2020 than he does of being impeached (and a much better chance than actually being removed from office through impeachment) if the Republicans retain their majority in Congress. Although their healthcare bill has hit a hiccup due to public outcry (and it’s only a hiccup…it will almost surely pass), Congressional Republicans have shown absolutely no willingness to do anything not in the interest of their agenda…so why would they impeach a Republican President who is ticking all of the far right’s action items thus far?

Made In Iowa, a Rust Belt comeback story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2017

Produced by Square, Made In Iowa tells the story of what happened after the Electrolux plant closed in the small town of Webster City, Iowa in 2011. The company had decided to move those jobs to Mexico and in the years after the closing, the unemployment rate in the town rose from about 3% to 10%. The video shows how the town rallied around the reopening of the movie theater and pursued an entrepreneurial strategy of revitalizing downtown through opening a number of small businesses. That approach brought the town’s unemployment rate back up to 3%.

But that’s not the entire story. The new jobs are mostly non-union and pay less than Electrolux jobs did. The town’s pivot was not entirely a bootstrap effort…the former workers had the government’s assistance and the advantage of their union’s negotiation of benefits. From a 2013 NPR story about the plant closure:

On March 31, 2011, Electrolux shut its washer-dryer plant in Webster City and sent the jobs to Juarez, Mexico. The employees were warned more than a year in advance of the closure, and many used the time to pay off debt and begin thinking about a new career.

Because their jobs had left the country, the laid-off workers qualified for federally funded retraining. A large number enrolled in two-year programs at community colleges and have been living off unemployment benefits as they learn new skills.

And those new businesses downtown are possible in part because people have access to healthcare through the ACA.

It seems relevant at this point to mention that in the 2016 election, the county in which Webster City is situated went for Trump 58.6% (to Clinton’s 35.8%). I mean, bootstrap all you want, but just don’t forget the massive governmental safety net that makes it possible for communities to recover when shit like this goes down and which party wants to dismantle it.

Trump has put America’s image into the toilet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

According to a recently conducted survey by the Pew Research Center, the election of Donald Trump has sharply eroded the confidence of other world nations in the United States and its ability to “do the right thing when it comes to international affairs”.

Confidence in President Trump is influenced by reactions to both his policies and his character. With regard to the former, some of his signature policy initiatives are widely opposed around the globe.

His plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, for example, is opposed by a median of 76% across the 37 countries surveyed. Opposition is especially intense in Mexico, where more than nine-in-ten (94%) oppose the U.S. government erecting a wall.

Similar levels of global opposition greet Trump’s policy stances on withdrawing from international trade agreements and climate change accords. And most across the nations surveyed also disapprove of the new administration’s efforts to restrict entry into the U.S. by people from certain Muslim-majority nations.

Trump’s intention to back away from the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran meets less opposition than his other policy initiatives, but even here publics around the world disapprove of such an action by a wide margin.

Trump’s character is also a factor in how he is viewed abroad. In the eyes of most people surveyed around the world, the White House’s new occupant is arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous. Among the positive characteristics tested, his highest rating is for being a strong leader. Fewer believe he is charismatic, well-qualified or cares about ordinary people.

This chart is pretty remarkable:

Pew Trump Us Image

It took George W. Bush more than half of his presidency to reach confidence rates as low as Trump has right out of the gate. Usually in these situations you say something like “there’s nowhere to go but up” but unfortunately there’s plenty of room at the bottom here.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t running for President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The scuttlebutt around the tech/media internet water cooler over the past few months is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going to run for President in 2020. This feeling has been fueled by Zuck’s goal for this year of visiting the remaining 30 or so US states that he has yet to visit and the way in which he’s been documenting his trips. Nathan Hubbard argues that Zuck actually has other things on his mind as he tours America:

Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected.

Facebook has undergone two major evolutionary events in its history, both of which were driven by what Zuck saw as existential threats.

The incredible revenue growth in mobile (probably the greatest biz execution of our generation) helped Facebook survive a platform shift.

And the fearless acquisitive streak of Instagram, WhatsApp and others helped Facebook survive a shift in how we communicate and organize.

Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.

He’s the head of product. So he’s ventured out into the world beyond his bubble to do field research and inform how FB will evolve again.

I am also sympathetic to the argument that Zuckerberg doesn’t need to run for President because he’s already the leader of the largest group of people ever assembled in the history of humanity (aside from possibly the British Empire). Facebook doesn’t possess many necessary qualities of a sovereign country, but it also has many advantages that countries don’t. Zuckerberg is already among the world’s most important people and with Facebook still growing, he could one day soon be the most powerful person in the world.

America runs on taxpayer-funded services *and* capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

Yesterday, Grover Norquist shared a short parable about taxes on Twitter:

How Republicans are born…
Daughter, 8, has been savings up to buy her first Guitar.
Found it for $35. She had 35 exact.
Then…sales tax

Norquist has famously been on a quest to stop tax increases in the US…in 2015 he wrote a book called End the IRS Before It Ends Us.1 Many people took Norquist to task over his remarks:

Did you mention that you drove her to the guitar store on roads that were partly funded by sales taxes?

In a car which only has seat belts preventing you from being badly injured in the event of a crash due to taxpayer funded regulations?

or those same taxes that pay for emergency services that will respond if you do get in an accident?

These responses remind me of a pair of posts written several years ago about the contributions to society of both taxpayer-funded and corporate goods & services. From the liberal version:

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And from the conservative viewpoint:

When my Motorola-manufactured Cable Set Top Box showed the appropriate time, I got into my Toyota-manufactured Prius vehicle and set out to my graphic design workplace and stopped to purchase some gasoline refined by the Royal Dutch Shell company, using my debit card issued to me by Bank of the West. On the way to my workplace, I dropped off a package at the local UPS store for delivery, and dropped my children off at a local private school.

  1. How was Norquist radicalized about taxes? In part because his dad was a dick: “After church, his father would buy him and his three younger siblings ice-cream cones and then steal bites, announcing with each chomp, ‘Oops, income tax. Oops, sales tax.’”

What are the largest US cities by population?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Except for the top three, I’m not sure I could have come up with most of the top 10 largest US cities by population. I’ll give you minute to guess…

1. NYC
2. LA
3. Chicago
4. Houston
5. Phoenix
6. Philadelphia
7. San Antonio
8. San Diego
9. Dallas
10. San Jose

I dunno, San Antonio at #7 really threw me for a loop. Bigger than Dallas? Bigger than San Francisco (by more than 600,000 people)? Of course, when metropolitan areas are taken into account, the picture changes. The San Antonio area drops to #30 while the Bay Area hits #5.

When I was a kid, the list looked a little different…LA had not yet passed Chicago for #2 and Texas had only two cities in the top 10 (and no Austin creepin’ in 11th place):

1. New York
2. Chicago
3. Los Angeles
4. Philadelphia
5. Houston
6. Detroit
7. Dallas
8. San Diego
9. Phoenix
10. Baltimore

That list still carries more weight in my brain than the current ranking. The facts you learn in school influence how you view your country. And some of those facts, dubbed mesofacts by Sam Arbesman, change slowly, so slowly that you’re tricked into thinking they haven’t changed at all. The average age of the US Senate right now is 62. The version of the population list that many Senators learned in school was probably from the 1950 census (or perhaps the 1960 one) and our current President, at 70 years of age, was possibly taught the list from the 1940 census. The entries on those older lists look much more like the industrial America celebrated by truck and beer commercials and represented by classic baseball and football teams — the America that is to be made great again: Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh.

Another instructive list to look at in this regard is the list of cities that had populations of at least 100,000 people but have since dropped below that threshold. On the list (with the % drop in parentheses) are:

Canton, Ohio (-39%)
Gary, Indiana (-59%)
Scranton, Penn (-46%)
Flint, Michigan (-50%)
Erie, Penn (-29%)
Utica, NY (-40%)

That the idea embodied by those kinds of cities still holds much sway in American politics shouldn’t be so surprising.

Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

That’s the title of a forthcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein (Harvard professor, former Obama regulatory administrator). On Twitter, Sunstein says he’s the editor not the author and that the essays will “offer diverse views”. But by the time this book comes out in March 2018, we might already know the actual answer to the title’s question. (via @tylercowen)

Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

In the wake of World War II, after the establishment of the United Nations, the international community drew up an international bill of rights that became known as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The founding document of the UN, the United Nations Charter, contained language about universal human rights, but as the abuses of Nazi Germany became more apparent after the war, the UN felt that a stronger and more explicit declaration was necessary.

The UDHR, adopted by the UN in December 1948, contains 30 articles that cover issues like freedom, legal protections, employment, property rights, leisure, and health. Here are a few of them:

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 17. (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Reading through them, it’s instructive to think about places in the world where these rights are not being upheld, either explicitly or implicitly, almost 70 years after the UDHR’s adoption. And lest you think I’m referring exclusively to places like Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Syria, or Sudan, consider the treatment of Native Americans, women, people of color, the prison population, LGBT+ people, and the poor here in the United States, the treatment of people in other countries because of US military actions, and how the political goals of the Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress would further erode those rights both in the US and around the world.

A brief history of America’s shameful inaction on climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

This is the most depressing video I have seen in a long time. The premise is devastating in its simplicity: a collection of clips of news programs and politicians (mostly Republicans) talking about climate change next to a pair of charts showing rising global temperatures and falling Arctic sea ice coverage.

I found it striking that before the 2008 election of Obama and (especially) the 2010 midterm election that resulted in a Republican majority in the House, Republican politicians spoke clearly and publicly that climate change was happening and that something needed to be done about it. And now? Republicans deny climate change is happening and Trump is on the verge of pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement.

Update: See also How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

History, I hope, will not be kind to the Koch brothers. The ruin they have brought upon America for their own personal gain will be felt for decades.

Foursquare: US tourism is down sharply in the age of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Over the past couple of years, Foursquare has used their location data to accurately predict iPhone sales and Chipotle’s sales figures following an E. coli outbreak. Their latest report suggests that leisure tourism to the United States was way down year-over-year over the past 6 months (relative to tourism to other countries).

Foursquare Tourism

Our findings reveal that America’s ‘market share’ in international tourism started to decline in October 2016, when the U.S. tourism share fell by 6% year-over-year, and continued to decrease through March 2017, when it dropped all the way to -16%. Currently, there is no sign of recovery in the data.

And business travel to the US is suffering as well, relative to other countries:

Business trip activity is up in the U.S. by about 3% (as a share of international traveler global activity), but that trend line is not as high as elsewhere in the world, where YoY trends are closer to 10%. Relative to business travel gains globally, business travel to the U.S. is suffering.

As Foursquare notes, correlation is not causation and there are other factors at play (e.g. a stronger US dollar), but it’s not difficult to imagine that our xenophobic white nationalist administration and its travel & immigration policies have something to do with this decline.

America is a developing nation for most of its citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

In his new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT economics professor Peter Temin says that the US “is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation” and that the US is really two countries at this point:

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

This whole piece on the book by Lynn Parramore is worth a read. Another small tidbit:

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Check. Mass incarceration. Check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

The writers strike and the rise of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

The members of the two large writing guilds representing more than 12,000 Hollywood writers recently voted to strike.

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America, East, and the Writers Guild of America, West, announced the results of an online strike authorization vote in an email to members. The unions said that 6,310 eligible members voted; 96 percent of the vote was in favor of a strike.

A three-year contract between the guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the makers of films and TV series, expires at midnight on May 1. Negotiators were set to resume talks on Tuesday, with funding of a failing union health care plan a sticking point.

Last time there was a writers strike in 2007, networks moved to replace their scripted shows with reality programs, including the resurrection of a fading reality show called The Apprentice.

During the last work stoppage, CBS ordered additional seasons of its flagship reality competition shows to fill airtime. And then there’s NBC.

Trump’s “The Apprentice” had been removed from the network’s lineup amid low ratings. But a new programming chief came aboard in 2007, and the network decided to revive the competition show, but with a twist. And when the writers’ strike meant no more new episodes of “The Office” and “Scrubs,” NBC replaced the Thursday night shows in 2008 with “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

That’s a curious butterfly effect. The writers strike made room for The Celebrity Apprentice on TV. The Celebrity Apprentice gave Trump seven more seasons of primetime TV visibility. Trump parlayed that visibility into the highest political office in the land.

Science is a fundamental part of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Science in America is an impassioned video from Neil deGrasse Tyson about the threat we face from the political uncoupling of science from the truth in America today.

How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known? We pioneered industries. And all this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world. And so, science is a fundamental part of the country that we are. But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable what is not reliable, what should you believe what you do not believe. And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.

Should we get rid of the European Union?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

As Britain lumbers towards Brexit, other parts of Europe seem to be weighing, electorally and otherwise, if the European Union is something worth keeping or whether it belongs on the trash heap of history next to The League of Nations and the Roman Empire. In this video, Kurzgesagt takes a look at some of the benefits and criticisms of the EU and considers whether the former outweigh the latter.