(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘politics

“I do believe we have voter fraud in America”*…

 

Voting

 

North Carolina is redoing an election to decide who will represent its 9th Congressional District, after an investigation uncovered evidence of election fraud during the 2018 midterms.

According to a recently completed investigation by the North Carolina Board of Elections, a political operative working on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris carried out a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” that may have provided Harris with hundreds of fraudulent votes.

The political operative paid friends and family members in cash to collect uncompleted absentee ballots, fill them out and then mail them in to the polls. During the investigation, Harris’ son testified that he had warned his father that the absentee ballot scheme was illegal.

Harris led by 905 votes on election day, but the Board of Elections never certified the result and soon began investigating. Speaking to supporters on Feb. 22, Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, denounced the alleged fraud as perhaps “the biggest case of election fraud in living memory.”

My research on voter intimidation and election fraud in the late 19th-century United States focuses on contested congressional elections much like this one. One of the most interesting cases I have researched took place in that very same district, the North Carolina 9th, in 1898…

The fascinating story– and what we can learn as history repeats itself: “A brief history of North Carolina’s 9th District contested election – in 1898.”

* Jeff Sessions

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As we stare into the not-so-distant mirror, we might recall that it was on this date in 37, on the death of Tiberius, that his grandnephew Caligula became the third Roman emperor…. and poster-boy for excess. (The succession was formalized two days later, when the Roman Senate annulled Tiberius’ will and confirmed Caligula.)

But Caligula (“Little Boots”) is generally agreed to have been a temperate ruler through the first six months of his reign.  His excesses after that– cruelty, extravagance, sexual perversity– are “known” to us via sources increasingly called into question.

Still, historians agree that Caligula did work hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor at the expense of the countervailing Principate; and he oversaw the construction of notoriously luxurious dwellings for himself.In 41 CE, members of the Roman Senate and of Caligula’s household attempted a coup to restore the Republic.  They enlisted the Praetorian Guard, who killed Caligula– the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated, but was Dictator, not Emperor).  In the event, the Praetorians thwarted the Republican dream by appointing (and supporting) Caligula’s uncle Claudius the next Emperor.

 source

 

“History repeats itself, “the first as tragedy, then as farce”*…

 

Brazil

The First Mass in Brazil, by Victor Meirelles, oil on canvas, 1860

 

On the day of Jair Bolsonaro‘s inauguration as president of Brazil, Felipe Martins, a political blogger close to the Bolsonaro family, tweeted his personal celebration of Bolsonaro’s victory: “The New Order is here. Everything is ours! Deus vult!

Observers would be forgiven for wondering why “Deus vult”—Latin for “God wills it,” a medieval battle cry associated with the First Crusade—is reappearing in 21st-century Brazil. In recent years, the “Deus vult” line has been appropriated by the far right in Europe and the United States, and has now become a slogan for the far right in Brazil. Indeed, Martins had already explicitly linked this battle cry to the Crusades when he tweeted on the day of the second round of elections, “The new Crusade is decreed. Deus vult!” On January 3rd, Bolsonaro named Martins as presidential special adviser for international affairs.

In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages, insisting that the period was uniformly white, patriarchal, and Christian. This reactionary revisionism presents Brazil as Portugal’s highest achievement, emphasizing a historical continuity that casts white Brazilians as the true heirs to Europe. In this way, through a genetic view of history, the far right frames Brazilian history as essentially linked to Portugal’s own imaginarily pure medieval past…

In Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages to legitimize their reactionary agenda: “Why the Brazilian Far Right Loves the European Middle Ages.”

Pair with this piece on Bolsonaro’s first 53 days.

* Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

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As we resist (opportunistic) revisionism, we might recall that it was on this date in 303 that Roman emperor Diocletian orders the destruction of the Christian church in Nicomedia, beginning eight years of Diocletianic Persecution, the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

800px-Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113

“The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

source

230 years later, on this date in 532, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the building of a new Orthodox Christian basilica in Constantinople – the temple that became the  Hagia Sophia.

220px-Hagia_Sophia_Mars_2013 source

 

Written by LW

February 23, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined by the GDP”*…

 

GDP

 

Is the world becoming increasingly prosperous? It would be hard to answer “yes” right now, at least so far as the leading high-income economies are concerned. Yet the longstanding bellwether of economic progress – inflation-adjusted GDP – has been growing across most of the OECD since 2010, suggesting that everything is fine.

Some 80 years after GDP was introduced, nearly everyone (apart from the indicator’s stewards) has concluded that it is  of economic progress. But there is no consensus yet on a possible replacement. Reaching agreement on an alternative will require a new concept of prosperity and a new way to measure whether living standards are improving…

Over eight decades after its introduction, there is a widespread consensus that GDP is no longer a useful measure of economic progress.  Its successor will need to be compelling and tell a persuasive story, consistent with experience, of what is happening in our economies.  Diane Coyle offers some leads on possible successors: “What Will Succeed GDP?

* Simon Kuznets

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As we grope for good gauges, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that a political pamphlet by the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, was published.  Commissioned by the Communist League and written in German, it appeared as the Revolutions of 1848 began to erupt.  Subsequently, of course, Marx elaborated on his argument (with Engel’s help, after Marx’s death) in Das Kapital.

150px-Communist-manifesto

Cover of the first edition

source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.”*…

 

diderot

 

Denis Diderot and the encyclopedists had a plan to catalog knowledge that seemed harmless enough; but what they intended was far more subversive– to restructure knowledge itself:

Far more influential and prominent than the short single-authored works that Diderot had produced up to this point in his life, the Encyclopédie was expressly designed to pass on the temptation and method of intellectual freedom to a huge audience in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in faraway lands like Saint Petersburg and Philadelphia. Ultimately carried to term through ruse, obfuscation, and sometimes cooperation with the authorities, the Encyclopédie (and its various translations, republications, and pirated excerpts and editions) is now considered the supreme achievement of the French Enlightenment: a triumph of secularism, freedom of thought, and eighteenth-century commerce…

At first glance, [Diderot’s] large map of topics, which ranged from comets to epic poetry, seems quite inoffensive. Indeed, the Encyclopédie’s earliest critic, the Jesuit priest Guillaume-François Berthier, did not quibble with how Diderot had organized the “System”; he simply accused Diderot of stealing this aspect of Bacon’s work without proper acknowledgment. Diderot’s real transgression, however, was not following the English philosopher more closely. For, while it was true that Diderot freely borrowed the overall structure of his tree of knowledge from Bacon, he had actually made two significant changes to the Englishman’s conception of human understanding. First, he had broken down and subverted the traditional hierarchical relationship between liberal arts (painting, architecture, and sculpture) and “mechanical arts” or trades (i.e., manual labor). Second, and more subversively, he had shifted the category of religion squarely under humankind’s ability to reason. Whereas Bacon had carefully and sagely preserved a second and separate level of knowledge for theology outside the purview of the three human faculties, Diderot made religion subservient to philosophy, essentially giving his readers the authority to critique the divine…

The only other subject more problematic than religion was politics. In a country without political parties, where sedition was punished by sentencing to a galley ship or death, d’Alembert and Diderot never overtly questioned the spiritual and political authority of the monarchy. Yet the Encyclopédie nonetheless succeeded in advancing liberal principles, including freedom of thought and a more rational exercise of political power. As tepid as some of these writings may seem when compared with the political discourse of the Revolutionary era, the Encyclopédie played a significant role in destabilizing the key assumptions of Absolutism.

Diderot’s most direct and dangerous entry in this vein was his unsigned article on “Political Authority” (“Autorité politique”), which also appeared in the first volume of the Encyclopédie. Readers who chanced upon this article immediately noticed that it does not begin with a definition of political authority itself; instead, it opens powerfully with an unblemished assertion that neither God nor nature has given any one person the indisputable authority to reign…

From a fascinating excerpt of Andrew S. Curran’s  Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely.  Read the piece in full at “How Diderot’s Encyclopedia Challenged the King.”

* Frank Herbert

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As we note that knowledge is power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that the League of Women Voters was founded.  Created to support women’s suffrage, it remains nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or parties, and advocating for (now more broadly understood) voting rights and for campaign finance reform.  The League sponsored the Presidential debates in 1976, 1980, and 1984, but withdrew in 1988, when the demands of the two parties became untenable. Then-LWV President Nancy Neuman said that the debate format on which the parties were insisting would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and that her organization did not intend to “become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

200px-LWV_Logo.svg source

 

Written by LW

February 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes”*…

 

crime-perceptions

 

There’s a persistent belief across America that crime is on the rise.

Since the late 1980s, Gallup has been polling people on their perception of crime in the United States, and consistently, the majority of respondents indicate that they see crime as becoming more prevalent. As well, a recent poll showed that more than two-thirds of Americans feel that today’s youth are less safe from crime and harm than the previous generation.

Even the highest ranking members of the government have been suggesting that the country is in the throes of a crime wave:

We have a crime problem. […] this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk. (then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions)

Is crime actually more prevalent in society?… crime rate data from the FBI shows a very different reality…

More on a phenomenon that would simply be bemusing if it weren’t driving both personal and governmental action: “The Crime Rate Perception Gap.”

* Sherlock Holmes, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles

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As we triple-lock our doors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976 source

 

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship”*…

 

democracy

 

Democracy stopped declining in 2018, according to the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The index rates 167 countries by 60 indicators across five broad categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties. It is stricter than most similar indices: it concludes that just 4.5% of the world’s people live in a “full democracy”. However, the overall global score remained stable in 2018 for the first time in three years. Just 42 countries experienced a decline, compared with 89 in 2017. Encouragingly, 48 improved.

In recent years, threats to democracy around the world have become increasingly obvious. The Arab spring fizzled. China’s leader is poised to rule for life. Populists with autocratic tendencies have won elections in the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico and subverted democratic institutions in Hungary, Turkey and Poland. Perhaps because the trend is so glaring—strongmen in different countries often copy each other’s tactics, soundbites and scapegoats—voters are not taking it lying down. Political participation improved more than any other measure on the EIU’s index. This is true even in advanced democracies such as the United States, where voters are highly disgruntled. Polarisation in America has led to anger, gridlock and [a government shutdown]. According to Gallup polls from January to mid-November 2018, the share of Americans who approve of the way that Congress is handling its job had fallen to an average of 18%, down from 40% in 2000. Perhaps because they are so cross, they are more likely to vote. Turnout at the 2018 mid-term elections was the highest for over 100 years.

Parts of Europe are suffering from a democratic malaise. Italy fell from 21st to 33rd in the rankings after voters elected a populist coalition that seeks to bypass democratic institutions and curtail the civil liberties of immigrants and Roma. Turkey’s score declined for the sixth year in a row as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept aside most constraints on his power. Russia deteriorated for the tenth year in a row, after the main opposition candidate was barred from running in a presidential election and Vladimir Putin continued to crush civil liberties. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia saw slight improvements in 2018, mostly reflecting higher scores for political participation.

The report warns that all this may be a pause, rather than the end of democracy’s retreat. The global rise in engagement, combined with a continued crackdown on civil liberties such as freedom of expression, is a potentially volatile mix. It could be a recipe for instability in 2019.

See the report in full– and explore the interactive version of the map, above– at “The retreat of global democracy stopped in 2018.”

* Ralph Nader

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As we commit ourselves to citizenship, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that President Dwight D, Eisenhower made his farewell address on a national television broadcast.  Perhaps most famously, Eisenhower, the only general to be elected president in the 20th century, used the speech to warn the nation against the corrupting influence of what he described as the “military-industrial complex.”

But he also used the occasion to urge a long view of our America and its citizen’s responsibilities:

As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

250px-eisenhower_farewell source

 

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”*…

 

elephant-abley (1)

 

For the powerful, the repetition of stock phrases can be a valuable tactic. These phrases serve to fortify rhetorical armour, deflecting all attack. The armour often brings clichés and abstract words together in a metallic professional embrace. Consider this, from an article on the website of the British government: “The Prime Minister emphasised her desire to listen to the views of businesses, to channel their experience and to share with them the government’s vision for a successful Brexit and a country in which growth and opportunity is shared by everyone across the whole of the UK.” Or this, from a speech by the ceo of Exxon Mobil: “Our job is to compete and succeed in any market, regardless of conditions or price. To do this, we must produce and deliver the highest-value products at the lowest possible cost through the most attractive channels in all operating environments.”

To quote neither the Bible nor William Shakespeare: yada yada yada… Listeners can be lulled into smiling submission.

Or they can be roused to a condition of prefabricated outrage…

How prefabricated language helps everybody from politicians to CEOs disguise what they really want to say: “Clichés As a Political Tool.”

* “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.  When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns…to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

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As we search for meaning, we might recall that today is the anniversary of the day, in 1241, that “most changed history” (per Yale’s Timothy Snyder):

The Mongol warrior Batu Khan [grandson of Genghis Khan] was poised to take Vienna and destroy the Holy Roman Empire. No European force could have kept his armies from reaching the Atlantic. But the death of Ögedei Khan, the second Great Khan of the Mongol empire, forced Batu Khan to return to Mongolia to discuss the succession. Had Ögedei Khan died a few years later, European history as we know it would not have happened…

Batu Khan

Batu Khan on the throne of the Golden Horde  (source)

Written by LW

December 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

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