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Monday, January 22, 2018

Declining Trust

From Edelman:
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust in the U.S. has suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population. Trust among the general population fell nine points to 43, placing it in the lower quarter of the 28-country Trust Index. Trust among the informed public in the U.S. imploded, plunging 23 points to 45, making it now the lowest of the 28 countries surveyed, below Russia and South Africa.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. These decreases have all but eliminated last year’s 21-point trust gap between the general population and informed public in the U.S.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

Conversely, China finds itself atop the Trust Index for both the general population (74) and the informed public (83). Institutions within China saw significant increases in trust led by government, which jumped eight points to 84 percent among the general population, and three points to 89 percent within the informed public. Joining China at the top of the Trust Index are India, Indonesia UAE and Singapore.

For the first time media is the least trusted institution globally. In 22 of the 28 countries surveyed it is now distrusted. The demise of confidence in the Fourth Estate is driven primarily by a significant drop in trust in platforms, notably search engines and social media. Sixty-three percent of respondents say they do not know how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods or if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organization. The lack of faith in media has also led to an inability to identify the truth (59 percent), trust government leaders (56 percent) and trust business (42 percent).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Bad Year for Democracy

The US standing in the world in decline. 

The president is an inspiration to dictators.

Americans don't think life has gotten better.

Michael J. Abramowitz and Wendell L. Willkie II at Freedom House:
Democracy’s adversaries are on the march worldwide, exporting authoritarian misrule and spreading instability across national borders. But as free societies face their most serious global challenge since the end of the Cold War, the United States is abdicating its traditional leadership role, exacerbating the crisis.

This week Freedom House has published its annual survey on the state of global democracy, and the results make for grim reading. 2017 marked the 12th consecutive year in which democracy has declined around the world: Those countries experiencing setbacks in political rights and civil liberties far outnumber those showing improvements.

Many of the declines are occurring in pivotal countries. Venezuela, once a democracy, has become a collapsing military dictatorship. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has transformed Turkey from a promising majority-Muslim democracy into a tyranny where thousands of his real or imagined opponents have been imprisoned on political charges. Hungary and Poland, previously exemplars of successful post-Communist transition, have moved into the camp of illiberal states that treat the rule of law with disdain and view press freedom with suspicion. Thailand’s military further entrenched its role as the guiding political force during 2017. In Mexico, the rule of law has eroded due to corruption in places high and low.

In themselves, the setbacks to date are alarming, but not catastrophic. Most of the countries that embraced democracy during the past century remain democratic today. Polling consistently shows strong global support for democracy, and even those living in authoritarian settings — most recently in Iran — have made it clear that they want governments to deliver on core democratic values, such as open elections, press freedom, official accountability and equality before the law.

But the retreat of the United States from global leadership, coupled with the Trump administration’s weak and ambiguous commitment to democratic values at home, raises serious concerns about the near future. As democracy is undermined, the world inevitably becomes a more dangerous place.

In practice, President Trump has largely discarded the principles that formed the basis for American leadership over the previous seven decades. His animating slogan, America First, harks back to the United States’ dangerous flirtation with isolationism in the period leading up to World War II. While he has correctly invoked human rights to criticize a handful of countries such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, in general the president has showered his most lavish praise on noxious strongmen and autocrats. Trump continues to offer accolades to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a brutal dictator who represses dissent and seeks to disrupt democracy in the United States and Europe, and he commended President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on his anti-drug efforts, which have featured a campaign of extrajudicial killings.

Also concerning is the administration’s silence in the face of renewed repression in China. Any independent speech on sensitive issues is now subject to severe punishment. The Internet, which had begun to facilitate the development of an independent civil society, has been transformed into an instrument of state control. Beijing has indicated that it will continue to develop its system of repression by incorporating the latest innovations in surveillance technology and artificial intelligence. China has already shared its existing techniques with other regimes; we should assume that any new methods will also be available for export.

The Trump administration’s disdain for the standards of democratic government within the United States will further undermine American interests abroad. A U.S. government that violates its own ethical norms will have little success preaching the virtues of transparency to other countries. A president who rejects verifiable facts, zealously attacks the judiciary and media, and seems to condemn Muslims and other minorities simply because of their faith or ethnicity will have little credibility when pressing rival states to drop disinformation efforts and respect their own people’s rights.

There is, of course, serious controversy about the wisdom, justice and effectiveness of certain American foreign policy initiatives over the years. But since the end of World War II, the United States has been seen rightly as the world’s foremost defender of democracy. Some administrations were more idealistic in tone, and others more “realist.” Yet all post-World War II presidents recognized that, in the long term, the United States should be identified with the global cause of freedom. The Trump administration’s approach represents an abandonment of the bipartisan postwar consensus that the United States’ values and its national interests are both best served by dedication to this cause.

Democracy’s enemies are gaining strength as the U.S. government disengages from the struggle. It is far from clear how freedom-loving peoples around the world will face the new threat with democracy’s strongest champion sitting on the sidelines.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


As of midnight, there was a partial government shutdownAt Vox, Dylan Matthews writes of previous shutdowns:
Government shutdowns are familiar to most Americans, but they’re a relatively recent development. They are the result of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Since then, Congress has failed to authorize funding for the federal government on 18 separate occasions. The first six of those didn’t actually affect the functioning of government at all. It wasn’t until a set of opinions issued by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in 1980 and ’81 that the government started treating “funding gaps”— periods when Congress has failed to allocate funds for the ongoing functions of government — as necessitating the full or partial shutdown of government agencies.
At Business Insider, Bob Bryan writes: " This is the first time that one party has controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House during a shutdown in which federal employees are furloughed."

Friday, January 19, 2018

Racist Appointee

Trump administration appointee Carl Higbie resigned Thursday as chief of external affairs for the federal government's volunteer service organization after a CNN KFile review of racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT comments he made on the radio.
Higbie, a former Navy SEAL and conservative media personality, was a surrogate for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, appearing on cable news and serving as the spokesman for the Trump-aligned Great America PAC. He was appointed to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in 2017 to direct the public image and messaging of the federal department that manages millions of Americans in volunteer services like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Speaking on 'Sound of Freedom' in December 2013, Higbie, while recounting a time he placed an advertisement to give away free firewood, said "the black race" had "lax" morals. He added that black women think "breeding is a form of government employment."
"Only one person was actually cordial to me," Higbie said. "Every other black person was rude. They wanted me to either load the wood, completely split it for them or some sort of you know assistance in labor. Now, mind you the ad was for free firewood, come take it all you want. And I believe that this translates directly into the culture that is breeding this welfare and the high percentage of people on welfare in the black race. It's a lax of morality."
Speaking on "Sound of Freedom" in June 2013, Higbie said he didn't like Muslims because he hated their religious ideology.
"Go back to your Muslim shithole and go crap in your hands and bang little boys on Thursday nights," Higbie said. "I just don't like Muslim people. People always rip me a new one for that. Carl, you're racist, you can't, you're sexist. I'm like Jesus Christ. I just don't like Muslim people because their ideology sucks."
Eli Rosenberg at WP:
In November, the Department of Homeland Security’s Jamie Johnson, another Trump appointee, resigned after comments he made that linked blacks to “laziness” and “promiscuity” came to light. Last week, Pete Hoekstra, the new U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and a former Republican congressman, apologized after uproar over baseless anti-Muslim theories he had spread numerous times in past

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The World Disapproves of US Leadership

Julie Ray at Gallup:
One year into Donald Trump's presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors. Median approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low of 30%, according to a new Gallup report.
The most recent approval rating, based on Gallup World Poll surveys conducted between March and November last year, is down 18 percentage points from the 48% approval rating in the last year of President Barack Obama's administration, and is four points lower than the previous low of 34% in the last year of President George W. Bush's administration.
The relatively fragile image of U.S. leadership in 2017 reflects large and widespread losses in approval and relatively few gains. Out of 134 countries, U.S. leadership approval ratings declined substantially -- by 10 percentage points or more -- in 65 countries that include many longtime U.S. allies and partners.
Portugal, Belgium, Norway and Canada led the declines worldwide, with approval ratings of U.S. leadership dropping 40 points or more in each country. While majorities in each of these countries approved of U.S. leadership in 2016, majorities disapproved in 2017.
Regionally, the image of U.S. leadership suffered most in the Americas, where approval ratings dropped to a new low. The median of 24% who approve of U.S. leadership in the region now stands at about half of what it was in the last year of the Obama administration (49%).
 The losses in U.S. leadership approval may have implications on U.S. influence abroad. With its stable approval rating of 41%, Germany has replaced the U.S. as the top-rated global power in the world. The U.S. is now on nearly even footing with China (31%) and barely more popular than Russia (27%) -- two countries that Trump sees as rivals seeking to "challenge American influence, values and wealth."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jeff Flake on Free Press and Fake News

Remarks in the Senate by Jeff Flake of Arizona:
Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship -- and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.
No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.
Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.
No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.
Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the “most corrupt and dishonest” media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.
And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Adults without Health Insurance

Gallup reports:
The percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance was essentially unchanged in the fourth quarter of 2017, at 12.2%, but it is up 1.3 percentage points from the record low of 10.9% found in the last quarter of 2016. The 1.3-point increase in the uninsured rate during 2017 is the largest single-year increase Gallup and Sharecare have measured since beginning to track the rate in 2008, including the period before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect. That 1.3 point increase represents an estimated 3.2 million Americans who entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017.