Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Despite The Title Of Today's Essay, Dumbos/Teabaggers Should Relax — It's Not About You!

In today's essay, cognitive psychologist Robert Epstein attacks the canards that the human brain processes information, retrieves knowledge, or stores memories. in short, the human brain is not a computer. All Dumbos/Teabaggers can breathe easy. However, it would be wonderful if they would all go away with a stroke of a DELETE key. If this is a (fair & balanced) neuroscientific fantasy, so be it.

[x Aeon]
The Empty Brain
By Robert Epstein

No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain — or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does — not even simple things such as ‘memories’.

Our shoddy thinking about the brain has deep historical roots, but the invention of computers in the 1940s got us especially confused. For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer.

To see how vacuous this idea is, consider the brains of babies. Thanks to evolution, human neonates, like the newborns of all other mammalian species, enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively. A baby’s vision is blurry, but it pays special attention to faces, and is quickly able to identify its mother’s. It prefers the sound of voices to non-speech sounds, and can distinguish one basic speech sound from another. We are, without doubt, built to make social connections.

A healthy newborn is also equipped with more than a dozen reflexes — ready-made reactions to certain stimuli that are important for its survival. It turns its head in the direction of something that brushes its cheek and then sucks whatever enters its mouth. It holds its breath when submerged in water. It grasps things placed in its hands so strongly it can nearly support its own weight. Perhaps most important, newborns come equipped with powerful learning mechanisms that allow them to change rapidly so they can interact increasingly effectively with their world, even if that world is unlike the one their distant ancestors faced.

Senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms — this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot, when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving.

But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers — design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them — ever.

We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.

Computers, quite literally, process information — numbers, letters, words, formulas, images. The information first has to be encoded into a format computers can use, which means patterns of ones and zeroes (‘bits’) organised into small chunks (‘bytes’). On my computer, each byte contains 8 bits, and a certain pattern of those bits stands for the letter d, another for the letter o, and another for the letter g. Side by side, those three bytes form the word dog. One single image – say, the photograph of my cat Henry on my desktop — is represented by a very specific pattern of a million of these bytes (‘one megabyte’), surrounded by some special characters that tell the computer to expect an image, not a word.

Computers, quite literally, move these patterns from place to place in different physical storage areas etched into electronic components. Sometimes they also copy the patterns, and sometimes they transform them in various ways — say, when we are correcting errors in a manuscript or when we are touching up a photograph. The rules computers follow for moving, copying and operating on these arrays of data are also stored inside the computer. Together, a set of rules is called a ‘program’ or an ‘algorithm’. A group of algorithms that work together to help us do something (like buy stocks or find a date online) is called an ‘application’ – what most people now call an ‘app’.

Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.

Humans, on the other hand, do not — never did, never will. Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers?

In his book In Our Own Image (2015), the artificial intelligence expert George Zarkadakis describes six different metaphors people have employed over the past 2,000 years to try to explain human intelligence.

In the earliest one, eventually preserved in the Bible, humans were formed from clay or dirt, which an intelligent god then infused with its spirit. That spirit ‘explained’ our intelligence — grammatically, at least.

The invention of hydraulic engineering in the 3rd century BCE led to the popularity of a hydraulic model of human intelligence, the idea that the flow of different fluids in the body — the ‘humours’ — accounted for both our physical and mental functioning. The hydraulic metaphor persisted for more than 1,600 years, handicapping medical practice all the while.

By the 1500s, automata powered by springs and gears had been devised, eventually inspiring leading thinkers such as René Descartes to assert that humans are complex machines. In the 1600s, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain. By the 1700s, discoveries about electricity and chemistry led to new theories of human intelligence — again, largely metaphorical in nature. In the mid-1800s, inspired by recent advances in communications, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph.

Each metaphor reflected the most advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Predictably, just a few years after the dawn of computer technology in the 1940s, the brain was said to operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software. The landmark event that launched what is now broadly called ‘cognitive science’ was the publication of Language and Communication (1951) by the psychologist George Miller. Miller proposed that the mental world could be studied rigorously using concepts from information theory, computation and linguistics.

This kind of thinking was taken to its ultimate expression in the short book The Computer and the Brain (1958), in which the mathematician John von Neumann stated flatly that the function of the human nervous system is ‘prima facie digital’. Although he acknowledged that little was actually known about the role the brain played in human reasoning and memory, he drew parallel after parallel between the components of the computing machines of the day and the components of the human brain.

Propelled by subsequent advances in both computer technology and brain research, an ambitious multidisciplinary effort to understand human intelligence gradually developed, firmly rooted in the idea that humans are, like computers, information processors. This effort now involves thousands of researchers, consumes billions of dollars in funding, and has generated a vast literature consisting of both technical and mainstream articles and books. Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (2013), exemplifies this perspective, speculating about the ‘algorithms’ of the brain, how the brain ‘processes data’, and even how it superficially resembles integrated circuits in its structure.

The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.

But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor — a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point — either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge.

Just over a year ago, on a visit to one of the world’s most prestigious research institutes, I challenged researchers there to account for intelligent human behaviour without reference to any aspect of the IP metaphor. They couldn’t do it, and when I politely raised the issue in subsequent email communications, they still had nothing to offer months later. They saw the problem. They didn’t dismiss the challenge as trivial. But they couldn’t offer an alternative. In other words, the IP metaphor is ‘sticky’. It encumbers our thinking with language and ideas that are so powerful we have trouble thinking around them.

The faulty logic of the IP metaphor is easy enough to state. It is based on a faulty syllogism — one with two reasonable premises and a faulty conclusion. Reasonable premise #1: all computers are capable of behaving intelligently. Reasonable premise #2: all computers are information processors. Faulty conclusion: all entities that are capable of behaving intelligently are information processors.

Setting aside the formal language, the idea that humans must be information processors just because computers are information processors is just plain silly, and when, some day, the IP metaphor is finally abandoned, it will almost certainly be seen that way by historians, just as we now view the hydraulic and mechanical metaphors to be silly.

If the IP metaphor is so silly, why is it so sticky? What is stopping us from brushing it aside, just as we might brush aside a branch that was blocking our path? Is there a way to understand human intelligence without leaning on a flimsy intellectual crutch? And what price have we paid for leaning so heavily on this particular crutch for so long? The IP metaphor, after all, has been guiding the writing and thinking of a large number of researchers in multiple fields for decades. At what cost?

In a classroom exercise I have conducted many times over the years, I begin by recruiting a student to draw a detailed picture of a dollar bill — ‘as detailed as possible’, I say — on the blackboard in front of the room. When the student has finished, I cover the drawing with a sheet of paper, remove a dollar bill from my wallet, tape it to the board, and ask the student to repeat the task. When he or she is done, I remove the cover from the first drawing, and the class comments on the differences.

Because you might never have seen a demonstration like this, or because you might have trouble imagining the outcome, I have asked Jinny Hyun, one of the student interns at the institute where I conduct my research, to make the two drawings. Here is her drawing ‘from memory’ (notice the metaphor):

And here is the drawing she subsequently made with a dollar bill present:

Jinny was as surprised by the outcome as you probably are, but it is typical. As you can see, the drawing made in the absence of the dollar bill is horrible compared with the drawing made from an exemplar, even though Jinny has seen a dollar bill thousands of times.

What is the problem? Don’t we have a ‘representation’ of the dollar bill ‘stored’ in a ‘memory register’ in our brains? Can’t we just ‘retrieve’ it and use it to make our drawing?

Obviously not, and a thousand years of neuroscience will never locate a representation of a dollar bill stored inside the human brain for the simple reason that it is not there to be found.

A wealth of brain studies tells us, in fact, that multiple and sometimes large areas of the brain are often involved in even the most mundane memory tasks. When strong emotions are involved, millions of neurons can become more active. In a 2016 study of survivors of a plane crash by the University of Toronto neuropsychologist Brian Levine and others, recalling the crash increased neural activity in ‘the amygdala, medial temporal lobe, anterior and posterior midline, and visual cortex’ of the passengers.

The idea, advanced by several scientists, that specific memories are somehow stored in individual neurons is preposterous; if anything, that assertion just pushes the problem of memory to an even more challenging level: how and where, after all, is the memory stored in the cell?

So what is occurring when Jinny draws the dollar bill in its absence? If Jinny had never seen a dollar bill before, her first drawing would probably have not resembled the second drawing at all. Having seen dollar bills before, she was changed in some way. Specifically, her brain was changed in a way that allowed her to visualise a dollar bill — that is, to re-experience seeing a dollar bill, at least to some extent.

The difference between the two diagrams reminds us that visualising something (that is, seeing something in its absence) is far less accurate than seeing something in its presence. This is why we’re much better at recognising than recalling. When we re-member something (from the Latin re, ‘again’, and memorari, 'be mindful of’), we have to try to relive an experience; but when we recognise something, we must merely be conscious of the fact that we have had this perceptual experience before.

Perhaps you will object to this demonstration. Jinny had seen dollar bills before, but she hadn’t made a deliberate effort to ‘memorise’ the details. Had she done so, you might argue, she could presumably have drawn the second image without the bill being present. Even in this case, though, no image of the dollar bill has in any sense been ‘stored’ in Jinny’s brain. She has simply become better prepared to draw it accurately, just as, through practice, a pianist becomes more skilled in playing a concerto without somehow inhaling a copy of the sheet music.

From this simple exercise, we can begin to build the framework of a metaphor-free theory of intelligent human behaviour — one in which the brain isn’t completely empty, but is at least empty of the baggage of the IP metaphor.

As we navigate through the world, we are changed by a variety of experiences. Of special note are experiences of three types: (1) we observe what is happening around us (other people behaving, sounds of music, instructions directed at us, words on pages, images on screens); (2) we are exposed to the pairing of unimportant stimuli (such as sirens) with important stimuli (such as the appearance of police cars); (3) we are punished or rewarded for behaving in certain ways.

We become more effective in our lives if we change in ways that are consistent with these experiences — if we can now recite a poem or sing a song, if we are able to follow the instructions we are given, if we respond to the unimportant stimuli more like we do to the important stimuli, if we refrain from behaving in ways that were punished, if we behave more frequently in ways that were rewarded.

Misleading headlines notwithstanding, no one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it. The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions. When called on to perform, neither the song nor the poem is in any sense ‘retrieved’ from anywhere in the brain, any more than my finger movements are ‘retrieved’ when I tap my finger on my desk. We simply sing or recite — no retrieval necessary.

A few years ago, I asked the neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University — winner of a Nobel Prize for identifying some of the chemical changes that take place in the neuronal synapses of the Aplysia (a marine snail) after it learns something — how long he thought it would take us to understand how human memory works. He quickly replied: ‘A hundred years.’ I didn’t think to ask him whether he thought the IP metaphor was slowing down neuroscience, but some neuroscientists are indeed beginning to think the unthinkable — that the metaphor is not indispensable.

A few cognitive scientists – notably Anthony Chemero of the University of Cincinnati, the author of Radical Embodied Cognitive Science (2009) – now completely reject the view that the human brain works like a computer. The mainstream view is that we, like computers, make sense of the world by performing computations on mental representations of it, but Chemero and others describe another way of understanding intelligent behaviour — as a direct interaction between organisms and their world.

My favourite example of the dramatic difference between the IP perspective and what some now call the ‘anti-representational’ view of human functioning involves two different ways of explaining how a baseball player manages to catch a fly ball – beautifully explicated by Michael McBeath, now at Arizona State University, and his colleagues in a 1995 paper in Science. The IP perspective requires the player to formulate an estimate of various initial conditions of the ball’s flight — the force of the impact, the angle of the trajectory, that kind of thing — then to create and analyse an internal model of the path along which the ball will likely move, then to use that model to guide and adjust motor movements continuously in time in order to intercept the ball.

That is all well and good if we functioned as computers do, but McBeath and his colleagues gave a simpler account: to catch the ball, the player simply needs to keep moving in a way that keeps the ball in a constant visual relationship with respect to home plate and the surrounding scenery (technically, in a ‘linear optical trajectory’). This might sound complicated, but it is actually incredibly simple, and completely free of computations, representations and algorithms.

Two determined psychology professors at Leeds Beckett University in the UK – Andrew Wilson and Sabrina Golonka – include the baseball example among many others that can be looked at simply and sensibly outside the IP framework. They have been blogging for years about what they call a ‘more coherent, naturalised approach to the scientific study of human behaviour... at odds with the dominant cognitive neuroscience approach’. This is far from a movement, however; the mainstream cognitive sciences continue to wallow uncritically in the IP metaphor, and some of the world’s most influential thinkers have made grand predictions about humanity’s future that depend on the validity of the metaphor.

One prediction — made by the futurist Kurzweil, the physicist Stephen Hawking and the neuroscientist Randal Koene, among others — is that, because human consciousness is supposedly like computer software, it will soon be possible to download human minds to a computer, in the circuits of which we will become immensely powerful intellectually and, quite possibly, immortal. This concept drove the plot of the dystopian movie "Transcendence" (2014) starring Johnny Depp as the Kurzweil-like scientist whose mind was downloaded to the internet — with disastrous results for humanity.

Fortunately, because the IP metaphor is not even slightly valid, we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace; alas, we will also never achieve immortality through downloading. This is not only because of the absence of consciousness software in the brain; there is a deeper problem here — let’s call it the uniqueness problem — which is both inspirational and depressing.

Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences.

This is why, as Sir Frederic Bartlett demonstrated in his book Remembering (1932), no two people will repeat a story they have heard the same way and why, over time, their recitations of the story will diverge more and more. No ‘copy’ of the story is ever made; rather, each individual, upon hearing the story, changes to some extent – enough so that when asked about the story later (in some cases, days, months or even years after Bartlett first read them the story) – they can re-experience hearing the story to some extent, although not very well (see the first drawing of the dollar bill, above).

This is inspirational, I suppose, because it means that each of us is truly unique, not just in our genetic makeup, but even in the way our brains change over time. It is also depressing, because it makes the task of the neuroscientist daunting almost beyond imagination. For any given experience, orderly change could involve a thousand neurons, a million neurons or even the entire brain, with the pattern of change different in every brain.

Worse still, even if we had the ability to take a snapshot of all of the brain’s 86 billion neurons and then to simulate the state of those neurons in a computer, that vast pattern would mean nothing outside the body of the brain that produced it. This is perhaps the most egregious way in which the IP metaphor has distorted our thinking about human functioning. Whereas computers do store exact copies of data — copies that can persist unchanged for long periods of time, even if the power has been turned off — the brain maintains our intellect only as long as it remains alive. There is no on-off switch. Either the brain keeps functioning, or we disappear. What’s more, as the neurobiologist Steven Rose pointed out in The Future of the Brain (2005), a snapshot of the brain’s current state might also be meaningless unless we knew the entire life history of that brain’s owner – perhaps even about the social context in which he or she was raised.

Think how difficult this problem is. To understand even the basics of how the brain maintains the human intellect, we might need to know not just the current state of all 86 billion neurons and their 100 trillion interconnections, not just the varying strengths with which they are connected, and not just the states of more than 1,000 proteins that exist at each connection point, but how the moment-to-moment activity of the brain contributes to the integrity of the system. Add to this the uniqueness of each brain, brought about in part because of the uniqueness of each person’s life history, and Kandel’s prediction starts to sound overly optimistic. (In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, the neuroscientist Kenneth Miller suggested it will take ‘centuries’ just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity.)

Meanwhile, vast sums of money are being raised for brain research, based in some cases on faulty ideas and promises that cannot be kept. The most blatant instance of neuroscience gone awry, documented recently in a report in Scientific American, concerns the $1.3 billion Human Brain Project launched by the European Union in 2013. Convinced by the charismatic Henry Markram that he could create a simulation of the entire human brain on a supercomputer by the year 2023, and that such a model would revolutionise the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders, EU officials funded his project with virtually no restrictions. Less than two years into it, the project turned into a ‘brain wreck’, and Markram was asked to step down.

We are organisms, not computers. Get over it. Let’s get on with the business of trying to understand ourselves, but without being encumbered by unnecessary intellectual baggage. The IP metaphor has had a half-century run, producing few, if any, insights along the way. The time has come to hit the DELETE key. Ω

[Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. He was Editor-in-Chief at Psychology Today (1999-2003).
He also is the author of 15 books; to see them, click here. Epstein received a BA (psychology) from Trinity College, an MA and a PhD (experimental psychology) from Harvard University.]

Copyright © 2016 Aeon Media

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Monday, May 30, 2016

To Be A Pundit In 2016, You Have To Pull Your Opinions Outta Your As2

Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) draws with an eloquent pen or brush with more insighfulness than the words of a thousand pundits. (In fact Tom Tomorrow introduced this blogger to a new word in political discourse: punditocracy.) Regular reading of "This Modern World" has taught this blogger to appreciate the savage satire that can reside in a cartoonist's pen/brush. If this is (fair & balanced) appreciation, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Still MORE Primary Phenomena
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) Lesson O'The Day:

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Today, Learn How Our Democracy Was Highjacked By The Managerial Aristocrats

We wuz robbed and didn't even realize it. The choices in the 2016 presidential election will a choice between a public-sector managerial aristocrat for the Dems and a private-sector managerial aristocrat for the Dumbos. In their own way, both candidates disdain democracy — too messy and unprofitable. If this is a (fair & balanced) exposé of a political game of Two-card Monte, so be it.

PS: Aeon is published across the pond, so British rules of spelling and punctuation prevail in this essay.

[x Aeon]
How Free Market Ideology Perverts The Vocabulary Of Democracy
By Jason Stanley

WordCloud of the following piece of writing —

Citizens of the United States are quite taken with the vocabulary of liberal democracy, with words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, which conjure key democratic values and distance the nation from the Old World taint of oligarchy and aristocracy. It is much less clear, however, that Americans are guided by democratic ideals. Or that ideology and propaganda play a crucial role in concealing the large gap between rhetoric and reality.

In truth, the Old World systems have proved extremely difficult to shrug off. In their 2014 paper, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page argue that, as in an oligarchy, ordinary US citizens have no ‘substantial power over policy decisions [and] little or no independent influence on policy at all’.

Moreover, the US regularly subscribes to a form of managerial aristocracy. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder successfully replaced the mayors and city councils of several cities with ‘emergency managers’ supposedly able to negotiate financial emergencies better than elected officials. In the current presidential race, Hillary Clinton advertises her managerial expertise via the language of policy, while Donald Trump parades his via the language of business. Neither language is democratic. Neither invites self-governance.

Why is there no outcry about these oligarchical and aristocratic methods? Is it because plutocrats have power over the mechanisms of representation and repression? Is it, in short, about power? In my view, power can’t explain why voters are so enthusiastically voting for the very people who promise the least democratic outcomes. Nor are Americans knowingly rejecting democratic ideals. Instead, I see an anti-democratic ideology at work, inverting the meaning of democratic vocabulary and transforming it into propaganda.

Consider the example of mass incarceration in the US. Black Americans make up around 13 per cent of the population, but around 40 per cent of country’s ballooning prison population. Even if we assume, falsely, that black American crime rates justify this disparity, why is the state so punitive? Shouldn’t citizens instead be motivated to address the underlying socio-economic conditions that lead to such dramatic differences in behaviour between equals?

In The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander argues that a national rhetoric of law and order has long justified mass incarceration. President Richard Nixon used it to crack down on black Americans under the cover of an epidemic of heroin use; this continued in the 1980s, as a merciless ‘war on drugs’ whose victims were all too often black men. In the US, the ideology of anti-black racism takes the view that blacks are violent and lazy, thereby masking the misapplication of the ideals of law and order.

Compare the ‘war on drugs’ to the current heroin crisis among middle-class white Americans, which has led to a national discussion of the socio-economic distress facing this class. Law and order doesn’t come into it. ‘The new face of heroin’ is new because, unlike the old face, it calls out for an empathetic response, rather than a punitive one. Now that heroin is ravaging white communities not black ones, the language of law and order (deemed appropriate to keep blacks in their place) has been retired. More significant still is that while the ideals of law and order preclude their unequal application, the propaganda of law and order does not: Americans were thus prevented from seeing the disguised gradient of law and order by racist ideology.

But what is the flawed ideology masking the misapplication of democratic ideals? Let’s bring it out by exploring the most cherished US democratic ideal, the ideal of freedom — popularly embodied in attacks on ‘big government’. Voters are repeatedly told that ‘big government’ is the primary source of coercion that limits freedom, which it certainly sometimes does, as the Patriot Act reminds us. But corporations also limit civic freedom in significant ways.

For example, corporations are leading direct attacks on the freedom to collectively bargain. Via outsourcing, free trade agreements allow corporations to move jobs to countries where labour is cheap; meanwhile, as a result of pressure from the conservative non-profit Citizens United, corporations can fund political candidates, thereby increasing corporate control of government. The weaker a government is, the more power corporations have over it. Across the political spectrum, there is anger that government is too influenced by industry lobbyists.

Voters concerned about government – as opposed to corporate — constraints on freedom are under the grip of what I will call a free market ideology. According to that ideology, the world of capital is by its nature free. All other substantial freedoms, including political freedom and personal freedom, are made possible by the freedom of markets.

Why do citizens who cherish freedom as an ideal vote to constrain their own freedoms by increasing the power of corporations? It’s because free market ideology masks the ways in which corporations deploy undemocratic modes of coercion. When a corporation bans employees from expressing, outside of work, opinions it disapproves of, this is seen as a legitimate protection of its economic interests. If workers have to sign non-disclosure contracts that silence them after they are employed elsewhere, it’s accepted as the cost of doing business.

The contradictions here are telling. If our most basic freedoms are self-expression and choiceful action, then corporations frequently limit our most basic freedoms. In liberal democratic theory, it is government that is regarded as the protector of such rights. But it’s precisely because government is attacked in the name of freedom that corporations have vastly greater power to constrain and shape it.

Free market ideology uses democratic vocabulary as propaganda, obscuring a non-democratic reality. Take education. In a liberal democracy, education equips citizens with the tools and confidence to weigh in on policy decisions and play a role in their own self-governance. Hence, democratic education is at the very centre of democratic political philosophy, as the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, W E B Du Bois, John Dewey and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attest. But the US rhetoric surrounding education is explicitly anti-democratic. Citizens prefer ‘efficient’ education systems that train children to perform vocational tasks, rather than education that fosters community, autonomy and civic participation.

The rhetoric politicians use when running for office is usually explicitly anti-democratic. Managerial culture is paradigmatically undemocratic: a CEO is like a feudal lord. But if markets are zones of freedom, then CEOs ought to be its representatives. Free market ideology also explains why, when politicians with great wealth run for office, voters are not put off by the threat of oligarchy: wealth is acquired in markets — which are the source of freedom. Finally, free market ideology explains why voters so easily give up their right to hold institutions accountable to experts who promise ‘efficiency’. Efficiency is the ideal of business, and business is the engine of the market — again the source of freedom.

Free market ideology has perverted democratic vocabulary, transforming it into propaganda that, in turn, obscures an anti-democratic reality. Yet there’s hope that voters have wised up to this and begun to challenge party elites. Such moments of awareness feel dangerous but offer great opportunities. Voters are using the proper tool — elections — to make their concerns heard. Will anyone listen? Ω

[Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Stanley has published four books: Knowledge and Practical Interests (2005) — winner of the 2007 American Philosophical Association book prize, Language in Context (2007), Know How (2011), and — most recently — How Propaganda Works (2015). He received a BA (philosophy) from the State University of New York at Stony Brook as well as a PhD (philosophy) from MIT.]

Copyright © 2016 Aeon Media

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Der Blödmann And THE Problem Of The 21st Century

Thanks to the Dumbo-darling, Der Blödmann, white privilege has emerged once again with a vengeance. The subtext of the slogan is actually "Make America -Great- White Again." The great national racial problem defined by William E. B. DuBois in 1903 is still with us in the 21st century. Der Blödmann's dog-whistle has been heard loud and clear by Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, and their fellow-travelers who identify as W-H-I-T-E. This blogger knew a woman who voted for the segregationist George Wallace in 1968 and lived long enough to cast her vote for the POTUS 44 in 2008. That moment was fleeting and now we are left with the prospect of Der Blödmann in the White House. If this is a (fair & balanced) feeling beyond fear & loathing, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
White People v. White Privilege
By Alex Wagner

WordCloud of the following piece of writing —

On Tuesday, a judge in Pennsylvania ordered Bill Cosby to proceed to criminal trial on three counts of felony indecent assault. Cosby’s fall from grace has been precipitous, but the charges against him have been rumored for decades. The person most widely credited for the starting this latest—and most damning—round of speculation is the comedian Hannibal Burress, who is black. As part of a standup routine in 2014, Burress called Cosby a rapist, and set into motion a maelstrom that ultimately resulted in 58 women coming forward to claim they were raped, drugged, or sexually harassed by Cosby. (Cosby has denied the charges.)

There were many notable aspects of the ensuing drama, but one in particular was the way in which the Cosby drama initially cleaved the black entertainment world. Several prominent African Americans—including Whoopi Goldberg, Jill Scott, Faizon Love, and Phylicia Rashad—made a point of publicly supporting Cosby, but many more did not. Cosby was a touchstone for the debate in the black community over respectability politics, made most famous in his 2004 “Poundcake” speech, and the allegations of sexual assault further complicated an already pitched debate. And then there was the fact that the person who’d put this all in motion was a black man himself.

“Cosby was a black person’s problem,” the comedian W. Kamau Bell said. “We all had to answer that question: What do we do with his legacy? We haven’t all agreed on that, but you don’t see Bill Cosby anymore, just like you don’t see Ben Carson anymore. Where is he? He’s at home. If black people had rallied around Cosby and Carson, they wouldn’t have gone home.”

I suggested to Bell that the dismissal of both men from public life was something that was broadly determined by people of all races.

He countered: “Plenty of white people may have thought, That’s enough of [Cosby], but if black people had gone, ‘Oh, no, no, no. You may not accept one of our people, but we do not accept you telling our people to go home,’” the outcome would have been different.

This was an impossible thesis to prove, but Bell—who currently hosts a show on CNN exploring race in America—then made an interesting observation:

“With white people,” he said, “it’s the reverse. When Trump does crazy stuff, all my liberal white friends are like, ‘I don’t even say his name!’ like he’s the Candyman or Beetlejuice or something. I’m like, ‘No! You need to say his name and you need to come up with a plan!’ I have white family, and some of them are not Obama supporters. Who is more likely to get someone not to vote for Trump: me or my white family?”

But is Trump really white America’s problem, less than he is necessarily Mexican America’s problem, or Muslim America’s problem? Bell concluded that Trump was, in the end, probably everyone’s problem—but that those best equipped to deal with him were white Americans themselves.

This begged a larger question: Does white America bear the onus of addressing policies that marginalize minorities?

To be sure, white Americans have historically advocated for abolition, participated in Freedom Rides, and led civil-rights marches. But now, in the 21st century, the battle has morphed into something different, with policies less explicitly racial than slavery or Jim Crow (though, as many would argue, no less pernicious). Younger whites who identify as progressive seem to have adopted a vocabulary around racial inequality (see: use of the term white privilege) but are yet to determine the tactics by which to combat it.

Against this backdrop, a few weeks ago, Jack Teter and Kyle Huelsman, two white, self-described Democratic activists in their mid-20s, created a stir when they announced the formation of their political action committee, the Can You Not PAC.

Started “by white men, for white men,” the group’s goal is to discourage white men from running for office—literally, “Bro, can you not?”—with the idea that the many white men flooding the political process have edged out equally worthy (and potentially worthier) female, minority and LGBTQ candidates.

“We’re not saying women, LGBTQ, and people of color can’t get elected without white men sitting a race out,” clarified Teter. “When women run, women win. What were talking about is an inundation of under-qualified white guys.”

The group’s website explained that, in addition to raising funds specifically in support of minority candidates, “we are happy to host interventions for the misguided bros in your life who looked in the mirror this morning and thought, ‘Yeah, it’s gotta be me.’”

Setting aside the reality that some of those bros are not necessarily self-satisfied Alex P. Keaton-types admiring themselves in the hallway mirror, but committed progressives running for earnest reasons, Teter and Huelsman proposed that the White Dude Inundation might actually be causing harm to the political process.

Citing studies including those conducted by the Victory Fund [PDF] and the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics [PDF], Teter pointed out that bills addressing “racial justice, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues” are more likely to get passed when their sponsors are people of color, women, or LGBTQ persons themselves.

“There’s the empathy effect,” he explained, noting that these kinds of policymakers have the ability to rally fellow representatives to their cause, in a way that your average white guy—no matter how well-intentioned—does not.

“This is a project about allyship,” said Huelsman.

“Men need to call out other men,” said Teter. “White people need to have conversations about white privilege.”

So far, Can You Not PAC has not threatened to curb white male dominance in elected office any time soon: The group has raised only three thousand dollars. But in their way, Huelsman and Teter are making Bell’s point: It is incumbent upon whites to address issues that affect people of color, whether actively (through, say, conversation or protest) or passively (by taking themselves out of the game and allowing those best positioned to do the work to perform it).

I asked the civil-rights activist DeRay Mckesson, who recently mounted a bid to be mayor of Baltimore, what he thought about the notion of this style of passive-activism: whites taking themselves out of the election game in order to reset the scales. “Getting white people not to run?” he said, “I don’t understand it as a strategy.”

Instead, Mckesson suggested that the bigger concern was whether progressives seeking racial, economic, and social justice could “be as organized on the inside as [they] are on the outside. This work is not only about bringing issues [to light], but about institutionalizing change—and then protecting that change once it’s been institutionalized.”

If Mckesson was a critic when it came to self-sacrifice in service of broader racial equity, there was still the point that Bell had made about his white family and Donald Trump: Are whites actually the best interlocutors to address policies that target minorities?

Showing Up For Racial Justice, or SURJ, is a seven-year-old organization founded on the very idea that whites can and should have an equal stake in issues affecting black and brown Americans.

“We started in 2009, when there were all kinds of racist attacks on President Obama and people of color in his administration,” said SURJ’s organizing resource coordinator, Andrew Willis Garcés. “A bunch of black leaders came to the white leaders of SURJ and said, ‘We don’t want to be the only ones out there doing this, defending.’”

After 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police, Garcés said the growth of the organization “really exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of people signed up—and then we were in the thousands after Charleston.”

While growth leveled off after the massacre at the city’s Emmanuel AME Church in 2015, Garcés says that SURJ has seen an increase in interest since the start of this year, “when Trump rallies became more of a thing.” SURJ chapters in Chicago reported that “way more white people were interested in getting involved”—literally, Garcés said, “thousands of people coming out of the woodwork” to protest the rise of a politician who has staked a large part of his candidacy on the unvarnished criticism of Muslims, Latinos, and women.

I asked SURJ regional resource organizer Zoe Williams whether this kind of protest has been more effective because its foot soldiers are white citizens talking to other (mostly) white citizens—rather than, say, Black Lives Matter activists talking to white citizens, a version of the conceit Bell had offered.

Williams responded: “This is about saying, ‘I know your values, I know where you’ve come from, and this guy is no good’.... The more [we] say that kind of thing, the more people out there relate.”

Whiteness, in this case, is critical to the work. Said Williams: “We depend on our communities for so much of our survival; we depend on our neighbors to keep us safe. And so the idea of becoming alienated is a really scary thing. It’s about encouraging folks to speak up.”

If SURJ is encouraging white people to take on their own community, and Can You Not is encouraging white people to bench themselves in service of a different community, there are other, perhaps less-conspicuous efforts underway in which whiteness is being employed to get to a broader conversation about marginalization.

In the promotional trailer for her book [sic] "The Muslims are Coming!," activist and author Negin Farsad, a Muslim American, features several Muslim entertainers exploring cultural tensions around Islam. Interspersed among them are Lewis Black, David Cross, Jon Stewart, and Janeane Garofalo—each offering their own assessments on the same topic.

Farsad (who, incidentally, has a recent book entitled How to Make White People Laugh [2016]) made a conspicuous effort to include white, decidedly non-Muslim comics in her video piece, because, as she said, “That was a critical piece of getting people to say, ‘Hey look at these white, Jewish Americans tell us it’s okay—that these are people are Muslim and it’s completely not a big deal.”

It was of course, also good business—a lot of people find Jon Stewart very funny and probably want to know more about her book because of him. But here was a discreet example of white people telling other white people it was necessary to address the problems that many white people had with Muslims.

Bell posited that this was maybe what it was all about: white Americans recognizing their power in entertainment, in politics, in the community, and using that very same power for good.

“This is not [necessarily] about denying white privilege,” he told me. “There’s power in white privilege and in white supremacy and if you don’t use it for good... you’re using it for bad. It’s like Clark Kent walking around, and not pretending to be Superman all the time.”

In this case, Bell thought, there was a time to be Clark Kent, but there was most assuredly a time to be Superman—as in, right now. “Put on the cape and the tights!” he urged an unseen (and presumably privileged) white audience. “You have power. And you’re not using it.”

In the end, of course, Superman and Clark Kent were two halves of a whole, one fighting on the front lines, the other a mild mannered bench-sitter. And so too with this set of disparate voices using different methodologies, but all saying something similar: Whiteness and its assumed advantages are things to acknowledge—to embrace, even—and then to be dealt with in service of a broader goal. And quickly. The urgency of the moment had made it too costly to act otherwise. Ω

[On April 26, 2016, The Atlantic announced that Alex Wagner was leaving MSNBC to join the magazine as a senior editor. She received a BA (art history and literature) from Brown University.]

Copyright © 2016 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, May 27, 2016

Roll Over, Sheriff Joe Arpaio — Texas Has Woman Sheriff Who Can Match You For Dictatorial Behavior

Meet the Polizeiführer (Nazi County Sheriff) of Edwards County, Texas — Pamela Elliott. She is running for re-election to a second term as Edwards County Sheriff. This is a woman who is qualified to be "Pamela, She Wolf of the SS." Fair Warning: whatever you do, bypass Rock Springs, Texas. If this a (fair & balanced) account of Dumbo/Teabagger local law enforcement, so be it.

[x TO]
Above The Law
By Alec Hannaford

WordCloud of the following piece of writing —

The first thing she noticed was Sheriff Pamela Elliott standing across the street. It was an August evening in 2014, and Rachel Gallegos had just gotten home for a meeting of the Edwards County Democratic Party. The law enforcement official was a highly unlikely candidate for a session with local Democrats. Edwards County — Rocksprings is the county seat — is solidly Republican, and Elliott is militantly conservative.

There were cars everywhere — on the street, blocking the road, even parked in Gallegos’ yard, about 30 people in all. “They were the sheriff’s staff — some in plain clothes, some in uniform,” Gallegos recalls. “There were dispatchers, jailers, friends, supporters — anyone, it seemed, that Sheriff Elliott could gather up.”

Ten minutes after the start of the meeting, all four of the executive committee members in Gallegos’ house were gabbing about the posse amassed outside. Then there was a loud knock at the door — Sheriff Elliott. “She came to the door in uniform and was about to come in, so I held the door and said, ‘May I help you?’” Gallegos says.

According to Gallegos, Elliott said she had a right to attend the meeting and that she’d received permission from the Texas attorney general to be there under the Open Meetings Act. “She held her boot in the door and I told her to have him call me — that if he said she could be there I’d let her in,” Gallegos says. “And nobody ever called me, of course.”

Caroline Ramirez, who dropped her husband off at the meeting, described the crowd outside as an “angry mob.” Later, she would state in a written complaint submitted to the attorney general, the secretary of state and the district attorney that she “was shocked that [Elliott] was in uniform but wasn’t doing anything to control the crowd, keep the peace, or protect them or us. She seemed to be encouraging the mob. I wanted to call someone, but I had no idea who I should call if the head of our law enforcement is part of the problem.”

In her own complaint, Gallegos wrote, “I can no longer assume that our Sheriff and her department will act as Peace Officers. I need some guidance as to how to protect myself.”

A month later, she received an email from Timothy Juro, an attorney in the Texas Secretary of State’s office. He confirmed that a meeting of the local party’s executive committee would not fall under the Open Meetings Act.

Gallegos believes Elliott’s sole purpose was to intimidate Democratic voters in an upcoming election for Edwards County judge. Souli Shanklin, a Republican, was Elliott’s ally, and Ricky Martinez, the Democrat, was expected to do well. Gallegos says law enforcement outside her house could have influenced the vote by making people in town think the Democrats were up to no good, or even doing something illegal. Martinez ended up losing, with 46 percent of the vote.

Andrew Barnebey, the former chair of the Edwards County Democratic Party and current county commissioner, likewise sees ulterior motives. He said it was “ridiculous” for Elliott, a Republican, and her allies to believe they had a legal right to attend a Democratic Party meeting in a private home. Equally absurd, he said, is the idea that “these folks would want to barge in to listen to this little bit of housekeeping.”

Buck Wood, an Austin attorney who has practiced election law in Texas for 45 years, says it amounts to harassment. “It’s intimidation and illegal use of the sheriff ’s office powers,” he says. “It sounds like somebody needs to bring a lawsuit, because she sounds like she’s totally out of control. It may even be abuse of office, and if so, could be a criminal offense.”

Republican Party County Chairwoman Kathy Walker told the Observer that she believed the Democrats in Edwards County had an “open door policy” for their meetings. “Why would they have it in a private home? We have our meetings at the women’s club.”

In any case, the Democrats didn’t launch any legal action against the sheriff’s office, and Elliott never apologized. Instead, the strange showdown became another in a long list of Elliott power plays that have plunged this isolated county into political turmoil. Her detractors say that since her election as sheriff in 2012, she’s waged an aggressive campaign to intimidate Democrats, voters and the Latino community.

The sheriff has arrested elected officials and gone to war with the superintendent. Her office has accused voters of electoral fraud with little evidence. And while embroiled in political combat, she’s been accused of bungling an investigation into a high profile murder case — one that’s haunted Rocksprings for 20 years. Elliott appears to be motivated in part by a growing far-right movement that exalts sheriffs as the last line of defense against a tyrannical federal government.

Elliott said she would answer questions via email, but then never responded.

Conflicts between the so-called patriot movement and the federal government have grown in recent years. High-profile incidents like the Bundy standoff in Nevada or the occupation of the Oregon wildlife refuge dominate headlines. But most anti-government activists don’t carry a badge and a gun or spend their days in local communities, ostensibly serving and protecting their neighbors.

Elliott grew up in Silsbee, a town Just north of Beaumont in southeast Texas. She joined the Army in 1989 (later deploying to Afghanistan), and served with the Gilbert Police Department in Maricopa County, Arizona, the stomping ground of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who famously forced inmates to wear pink underwear, reinstated chain gangs and, according to the US Department of Justice, oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in US history.

She later joined the Beaumont Police Department, but moved to Rocksprings with her husband, Jon, and their three children in 2008 to open a game ranch, which they named Bownanza. A former employee who didn’t want to be named said Elliott told him she wanted to retire from law enforcement, but was lured to join the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office by then-Sheriff Donald Letsinger. The hunting business didn’t last long, however — the employee says it closed down at the end of 2009 — and now Jon works as a real estate agent and runs a gun shop, Down Range Supply.

Elliott joined the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy in November 2008, according to her Facebook page, serving under Letsinger, but when her predecessor decided not to run for office again, she went for the top job.

She’s a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which Sheriff Arpaio founded with former Graham County, Arizona, Sheriff Richard Mack, a minor celebrity on the far right. The association encourages its members to disobey laws they view as violating the Constitution. Mack is a champion of the right-wing “patriot movement” that embraces civilian militias, anti-government rhetoric, conspiracy theories and Christian end-times theology.

Mack has authored four books, including The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope (2009) and Are You A David? (2014) which was published in 2014 and features Elliott on the cover. “Just when we have begun to despair,” Mack writes in the preface, “state and local officials have made moves to nullify unconstitutional acts of the Federal Government.”

A 2012 report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said Mack was “spreading anti-government ‘Patriot’ ideology to the Tea Parties, enthusiasts of the Second Amendment and, above all, law enforcement officials.” A year later, an SPLC report said Mack was proselytizing “county sheriff supremacy... the idea that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authority.”

During the infamous Bundy standoff in Nevada over grazing fees on federal land, an Edwards County militia leader, Rick Light, wrote on an online message board that he and Elliott “put out a standby order for volunteers” in order to support the Nevadan in case the proverbial shit hit the fan.

Elliott also seems to be a regular at open carry demonstrations. At one, in June 2014 in Howard County, she rambled on about how she wanted to show then-Attorney General Eric Holder “how to be a real law enforcement officer and how to make arrests.” At another during the same month, she said it was an “absolute must” for anyone entering her county to refrain from shooting a woman. “Except for a few [women],” she added. “We’re going to put them on a list.”

In any other town, residents may have taken her statement as a joke. Not in Rocksprings, where paranoia has become part of the community’s fabric. Rachel Gallegos told me she’d like to see a copy of that list, “because I’m pretty sure I’m on it.”

To drive the countryside around Edwards County is to appreciate just how vast West Texas really is. Edwards County has almost exactly as many square miles as it does people. Bulls graze by the fence lines of vast ranches with names like Buck Ass Ranch and Wa To Go Whitetails & Exotics. There’s a lot of room for mischief out here.

One afternoon in March, I drove to a spacious ranch house a few miles outside of Rocksprings that more than one person has described as a “safe house.” Much of the Rocksprings establishment was gathered in the living room, including the school superintendent, a former mayor and the current mayor — not the kind of folks who typically fear law enforcement. A plate of toast with cream cheese on the counter sat untouched. Every one of the eight people gathered says they are worried that if they talk to me, there will be repercussions from the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve been told to install a camera in my vehicle just in case something happens,” says one man, who didn’t want to be named. “People here, officials included, are very wary of the sheriff.”

Most do not allow me to use their names. David Velky, a serious-looking man in his 50s, is an exception. He says he’s been in the “school business” for 25 years as a teacher, a principal, and now as superintendent of Rocksprings ISD [Independent School District], a position he’s held for five years. Before he came, there were financial difficulties, academic issues and discipline problems, and Velky says he’s worked hard to resolve them.

Velky arrived in Rocksprings in 2011, a year before Elliott was elected sheriff. After she took the office, he says, she immediately sought a meeting to ensure that he was connected with the juvenile probation authorities. Velky wasn’t used to law enforcement interest in discipline within the school system. “You’ve usually got to beg the police to come up to the school, and here I have them trying to push their way in, so that made me a little bit uncomfortable,” he says.

It didn’t take long, Velky says, for Elliott to “take an intense disliking to me.” The long-running spat between Velky and Elliott even reached San Antonio when News 4 ran a segment, calling it a “he said, she said battle of words.” One disagreement centered on some furniture a teacher had apparently taken from the school. Velky said it was stolen; Elliott refused to file criminal charges because she said the furniture was “placed in the trash and [the teacher] retrieved it.”

In another, Velky accused Elliott of making disparaging remarks about school board members — a claim she denied. Elliott said she received complaints from six district employees claiming Velky was intimidating them, which he says is untrue.

Velky tells me that not long ago, two members of the school board — his bosses — were driving through town when Elliott flagged them down, telling them they needed to vote against the renewal of his contract. “This is while she’s in uniform,” he says. “I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, but I concluded this person either has some innate dislike for me or mistrust.”

On another occasion, Velky says, Elliott told him “that one of my board members was bad and it didn’t matter how much holy water I put on them.” She was referring, he says, to his preparation at the time to become a deacon in his local Catholic church. “I’d not encountered anything like that before,” he says.

The sheriff’s militia connection scares him. At one school board meeting he looked out into the audience and noticed Rick Light, the leader of a Rocksprings militia called the Edwards Plateau Rangers. “I immediately felt somewhat threatened,” he tells me. “I didn’t know whether there would be a physical altercation — he didn’t have his uniform on — but it was a big question mark.

“I believe the plan is to get rid of me and certain board members in order to take control of the school. I think they want control over the hiring of the teachers and staff members. I think they want to be able to bypass the procedural safeguards of the law — to arrest people without the grand jury; to bring charges without consulting the district attorney; to decide who is on the grand jury.”

Gallegos, a fourth-generation Rocksprings native who served as mayor from 2005 to 2009, says she first clashed with Elliott shortly after stepping down as mayor. She says that in August 2009, Elliott, then a deputy with the sheriff’s office, came to Gallegos’ office at the phone company where she works. Elliott told her she had information that when Gallegos was mayor she had been lowering the sewer rates for her friends and family.

“She mentioned the name Jane Bean, but I told her she wasn’t a friend or family member,” Gallegos says. “Mrs. Bean was an elderly lady who had been charged $200 a month for sewer and it should have been $20. I told the sheriff we had changed that and that we documented everything. She said she’d look for others but she never came back.” Besides, Gallegos says, as mayor she wasn’t responsible for billing.

In September, Elliott arrested current mayor Pauline Gonzales for misusing government funds, and she has since been indicted on four counts of official misconduct, including hiring her husband, Ramiro, to work for the city. She claims she’s done nothing wrong, and the case is still working its way through the court system.

Perhaps the most troubling stories involve voter intimidation.

During the 2014 midterm elections, Gallegos was on her way to work when she noticed sheriff’s deputies at the polling site at the Baptist church. “When I got to work, the staff were discussing why there were deputies at all the locations,” Gallegos says. “Not just the church, but the school auditorium, the park building and the Church of Christ as well. So I went to each of them, and they were inside every one.”

Gallegos says the county clerk eventually called the sheriff’s office to tell her to pull her officers out of the polls. It was about 3 p.m. and voting had been underway for hours. She believes Sheriff Elliott was attempting to intimidate Hispanic voters in Edwards County, which in the last 15 years has grown from 45 percent Hispanic to 55 percent.

Gallegos says she spoke to elderly Hispanic friends who didn’t vote because they were scared off. “They just said ‘Oh, they’ll come after me; they’ll go after my children, my grandchildren, it’ll just cause trouble,’” Gallegos says. “The elderly are easily intimidated.”

Romana Bienek, the city secretary who was working at City Hall on the day of the 2014 midterm election, corroborates Gallegos’ account. She says she took nine phone calls from voters intimidated by the presence of sheriff ’s deputies at the polls.

“When I called the sheriff’s office and spoke to the sheriff herself... she said it was really none of [my] business. She told me to write down the people’s names and phone numbers and that she’d talk to them. I said ‘Fine,’ and that was it.”

Bienek says that when she went to vote later that day, the deputy was there “walking around, looking at everything. He wasn’t like a poll-watcher [who] sits in the corner and doesn’t talk. These officers were talking to the people coming in to vote.”

In a phone call in early April, former Sheriff Letsinger, who endorsed Elliott in 2012, told me he wasn’t aware that sheriff’s deputies had been at polling stations in 2014. When I asked if he would have posted his deputies at booths, he replied, “I would not. But maybe [I’d have posted them] down the street if I thought there was going to be some kind of problem. But I don’t think there has ever been any kind of problem.”

Republican chair Walker told me that the vast majority of Texas cities have some kind of security officer present at the polls. “There is no voter intimidation going on whatsoever,” she said. “If you live in a small town, it’s nice to have somebody there — it may be 12 midnight or 1 a.m. when these ladies leave. I’ll admit the sheriff’s office was asked to be there all day, but it wasn’t intimidation. Most of these people know these police officers. They’re their neighbors.”

But Wood, the election law attorney, says law enforcement shouldn’t be anywhere near a polling booth unless there’s trouble or violence. “That’s pure and simple intimidation,” he told me. “Only certain people can be in the boundaries of a polling station: voters and election officials.”

In September, Gallegos’ niece, Reneé Gallegos-Johnson, received a letter from the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office claiming she had voted in Edwards County despite not living there. Signed by Captain Darrell Volkmann, it read: “I have investigated this matter and I have determined that you do not live in Edwards County, as a matter of fact, you do not live in the State of Texas.” Volkmann attached information “concerning Section 64-012 of the Texas Election Code — illegal voting,” which he pointed out was a second-degree felony “for each violation” (italics his). Gallegos-Johnson, 42, moved to Rocksprings with her parents when she was 10 months old, but for the past decade has lived in Louisiana, where she works as an administrative assistant in a real estate office. She owns a home in Rocksprings, visits often and plans to retire there with her husband. She says she contacted her local voter registration office in Louisiana on July 10, 2014, to explain that she wanted to vote in Edwards County. She filled out a registration form in Rocksprings and soon received her voter registration card. She says she did nothing wrong. Wood agrees. He says he hasn’t seen anybody disqualified from voting for not being a resident. “The Texas Supreme Court said if you have presence in an area — some presence in the electoral district — and you have intent to make that your permanent home, then that’s the end of it. Trying to prove somebody doesn’t intend to live there is almost impossible.”

Gallegos-Johnson says she doesn’t think the sheriff likes her family. “I think my last name must have screamed so loudly that I caught her attention,” she says.

She says she spoke to an attorney at the secretary of state’s office in Austin who told her she had not committed any offense. Regardless, Gallegos-Johnson hired a lawyer, who sent a letter to Volkmann explaining as much. She’s heard nothing since. “My attorney says they should have been educated in the law before sending out letters like that,” she says. “I’m a fighter and don’t like to be messed with when I’m in the right. But they could be picking on someone who doesn’t realize their rights have been violated.”

In 1996, a brutal murder rocked the town: someone stabbed 35-year-old Patricia Paz to death, propped her up in a chair in her living room, then attempted, unsuccessfully, to set fire to her home. In the summer of 2014, the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" contacted the Edwards County Sheriff’s Office to look into featuring the case.

After hearing about the "Unsolved Mysteries" inquiry, Elliott asked Volkmann to review the 1996 case, and the following summer they made four arrests, including Paz’s niece and nephew, Angelica and George Torres. But it soon became apparent there were holes in Elliott’s case.

Angelica was only implicated by a jailhouse rumor, and George was named by a jail snitch who claimed he’d heard him brag about the killing. As for the other two suspects, Tina Flores, apparently, had a penchant for applying makeup when she was stoned — in a style that matched Paz’s makeup when she was killed. And Neri Garcia was named by a confidential informant who told Volkmann that Garcia had been smoking crack with George Torres and that they knew Paz had money in her house because she’d cashed a check earlier that day. It was Garcia, the informant said, who actually murdered Paz for the money.

The “evidence” Sheriff Elliott and her deputies claimed to have against these four individuals didn’t stack up.

Crucially, Letsinger, who investigated the murder in the mid-’90s, said neither he nor previous sheriff Warren Guthrie, who was in office when the murder happened, could find any record of a check being cashed.

The most explosive evidence showing that the sheriff’s office had the wrong people was when Neri Garcia’s defense attorney, Patrick O’Fiel, showed that his client was in custody in Kerrville the night of Paz’s murder. O’Fiel claims he informed the sheriff’s department of this fact. “In this situation maybe crime did pay off for him,” O’Fiel tells me one morning by phone from his office in Kerrville.

Elliott claims Garcia escaped from custody that night, and even though there was no check, she insists robbery was the motive.

In September 2015, District Attorney Tonya Ahlschwede, in conjunction with the Texas attorney general, dismissed charges against all four people for lack of probable cause, saying the case needed “further investigation.”

O’Fiel says his client’s false arrest by Elliott in 2015 — nearly 20 years after the murder — is “a civil rights violation.” He adds: “My guy is having trouble getting an apartment now because he has an arrest for capital murder on his record. I think it’s a botched investigation.”

Jay Adams worked for the Edwards County Sheriff ’s Office for decades, first as a deputy, then as chief deputy. He says Elliott has a habit of sending cases to the district attorney without enough information. “That’s why the DA won’t take a lot of her cases — she’s a very intelligent woman and doesn’t want to go to court and have the cases thrown out. It’s just like [the Paz murder]. I read the affidavit and it’s written on an almost eighth-grade level. You can tell it wouldn’t float.”

The Paz murder case bears more than a passing similarity to another controversial case Elliott was involved in as a cop in Gilbert, Arizona. On September 20, 2000, a short Hispanic woman with facial acne held up a Gilbert bank, posing as a customer. Rachel Jernigan suddenly found herself as the prime suspect after a postal worker identified her.

Pamela Elliott (then Pamela Brock) and another officer were assigned to investigate. The bank teller picked out Jernigan from a photo lineup, and Jernigan was charged with that and two other robberies.

But while she was in custody, two more bank robberies were committed by a woman matching Jernigan’s description. More significantly, a fingerprint taken from the teller window didn’t match Jernigan’s. Nonetheless, Jernigan was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Then, in 2008, Juanita Rodriguez-Gallegos admitted she was responsible for the September 20, 2000, bank robbery for which Jernigan had been sent to prison. The charges against Jernigan were dismissed and she was released. She had spent seven years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, and in 2012, the federal government settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit for $1 million.

On a ranch gate a few miles outside of Rocksprings, a sign asks voters to “Re-elect Sheriff Pamela Elliott.” Under a picture of Elliott sporting her trademark cowboy hat and pink shirt, the sign reads: “I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions.”

Letsinger insists his successor is beyond reproach. “She’s highly trained, highly educated, and from a military background,” he says. “She’s one of the smartest people I ever met and she was an excellent deputy. I can’t think of anything she’s handled badly. As a matter of fact, I’d highly recommend her, and I intend to vote for her as well.”

But trouble keeps mounting for Elliott. In February, Perry Flippin, a former San Angelo newspaper editor, led a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging campaign finance violations.

Among other things, the complaint alleges Elliott “accepted campaign contributions and made campaign expenditures,” including to herself, before she had appointed a campaign treasurer — prohibited under the Texas Election Code. The complaint also charges that she took out a “lengthy” political announcement in the Rocksprings Record despite not listing the expenditure in her report, another alleged violation of the code.

What’s more, Elliott now has a Democratic opponent running against her for sheriff in November. Jon Harris is a US Army veteran who moved to Edwards County with his wife, Katherine, in 2014 after working as a canine handler in counter-explosives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Elliott is vigorously campaigning for re-election. Recently she took out an ad in the local paper. She wanted voters to know something about her: “It’s no secret that I do not conform with any scripted expectations of ‘the political game’ when serving as your Sheriff. I will continue to serve as an Army Reserve Officer, a mother, a sister, a neighbor who is loyal to the Lord in a position that should not be politicized but as so scripted in the bible: ‘Do not pervert justice or show partiality.’” Ω

[Alex Hannaford is a contributing editor of The Texas Observer. In addition to The Texas Observer, he also has written for GQ, Guardian, The Atlantic, and The Nation. Hannaford received a BA (cultural media) from Southampton Solent University [UK].)

Copyright © 2016 The Texas Observer

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Roll Over, Carnac the Magnificent — Make Way For Magic Mike

Michael Lind looks beyond the Battle of 2016 to envision US politics two decades in the future. This blogger was entranced by Lind's prediction that "country-club Dumbos" will be replaced by "country-and-western Dumbos" by 2030. The only consolation for this blogger is that &3151; as a mid-septuagenarian — is ride on this merry-go-round will be over before any of these prognostications are fulfilled. If this is (fair & balanced) gratitude for relief from Dumb/Teabagger vexations, so be it.

[x Politico]
This Is What The Future Of American Politics Looks Like
By Michael Lind

WordCloud of the following piece of writing —

For political observers, 2016 feels like an earthquake — a once-in-a-generation event that will remake American politics. The Republican party is fracturing around support for Donald Trump. An avowed socialist has made an insurgent challenge for the Democratic Party’s nomination. On left and right, it feels as though a new era is beginning.

And a new era is beginning, but not in the way most people think. Though this election feels like the beginning of a partisan realignment, it’s actually the end of one. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened. The type of conservatism long championed by the Republican Party was destined to fall as soon as a candidate came along who could rally its voters without being beholden to its donors, experts and pundits. The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

The 2016 race is a sign that American politics is changing in profound and lasting ways; by the 2020s and 2030s, partisan platforms will have changed drastically. You may find yourself voting for a party you could never imagine supporting right now. What will that political future look like?

Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a Midwestern, white, working-class party with its geographic epicenter in the South and interior West. Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of densely populated blue cities.

In both parties, there’s a gap between the inherited orthodoxy of a decade or two ago and the real interests of today’s electoral coalition. And in both parties, that gap between voters and policies is being closed in favor of the voters — a slight transition in the case of Hillary Clinton, but a dramatic one in the case of Donald Trump.

During the Democratic primary, pundits who focused on the clash between Clinton and Sanders missed a story that illuminated this shift: The failure of Jim Webb’s brief campaign for the presidential nomination. Webb was the only candidate who represented the old-style Democratic Party of the mid-20th century — the party whose central appeal was among white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics.” Even during the “New Democrat” era of Bill Clinton, white working-class remnants of that coalition were still important in the party. But by 2016, Webb lacked a constituency, and he was out of place among the politicians seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, which included one lifelong socialist (Bernie Sanders) and two candidates who had been raised as Republicans (Hillary Clinton and, briefly, Lincoln Chafee).

On the Republican side, the exemplary living fossil was Jeb Bush. Like his brother, Jeb pushed a neo-Reaganite synthesis of support for a hawkish foreign policy, social conservatism, and cuts in middle-class entitlements to finance further tax cuts for the rich. From the Reagan era until recently, the GOP’s economic policies have been formulated by libertarians, whose views are at odds with those of most Republican voters. In March of this year, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters opposed future reductions in Social Security benefits — almost the same amount of support found among Democrats and Dem-leaning voters (73 percent). Republicans who supported Trump were even more opposed to Social Security benefit cuts, at 73 percent. And even among those who supported Kasich, 62 percent opposed cuts in Social Security benefits — even though Kasich, himself, is in favor of cutting entitlements.

As country-and-western Republicans have gradually replaced country-club Republicans, the gap between the party’s economic orthodoxy and the economic interests of white working-class voters in the GOP base has increased. House Republicans repeatedly have passed versions of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is based on cutting Social Security and replacing Medicare with vouchers.

Except for Trump, all of the leading Republican candidates—Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Kasich—favored some version of the Ryan agenda. By contrast, Trump was the only leading GOP candidate who expressed the actual preference of most Republican voters, declaring his “absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and leave it as is.” Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

If Trump is defeated, what is left of the GOP establishment might try to effect a restoration of the old economic dogma of free trade, mass immigration and entitlement cuts. But sooner or later, a Republican Party platform with policies that most of the party’s core voters reject will be revised or abandoned—over the objections of libertarian Republican party donors and allied think tanks and magazines, if necessary.

Why is this all happening now? Because the decades-long “culture war” between religious conservatives and secular liberals is largely over.

Most culture-war conflicts involve sexuality, gender, or reproduction (for example, abortion, contraception, LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage). The centrality of culture-war issues in national politics from the 1960s to the present allowed both major parties to contain factions with incompatible economic views. For a generation, the Democratic Party has included both free traders and protectionists — but support for abortion rights and, more recently, gay rights have been litmus tests for Democratic politicians with national ambitions. Conversely, Republicans have been allowed to disagree about trade and immigration, but all Republican presidential candidates have had to pay lip service to repealing Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion.

Social issues spurred a partisan realignment by changing who considered themselves Democrats and Republicans. Over decades, socially conservative working-class whites migrated from the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party, especially in the South. Socially moderate Republicans, especially on the East Coast, shifted to the Democratic coalition. Now, there’s little disagreement within each party on social issues. Liberal Republicans are as rare as Reagan Democrats.
Like an ebb tide that reveals a reshaped coastline, the culture war remade the parties’ membership and is now receding. In its absence, we are able to see a transformed political landscape.

The culture war and partisan realignment are over; the policy realignment and “border war” — a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left — have just begun.

For the nationalists, the most important dividing line is that between American citizens and everyone else—symbolized by Trump’s proposal for a Mexican border wall. On the right, American nationalism is tainted by strains of white racial and religious nationalism and nativism, reinforced by Trump’s incendiary language about Mexicans and his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

But while there is overlap between nationalists and racists, the two are not the same thing. The most extreme white nationalists don’t advocate nationalism as a governing philosophy in our multiracial country; they hope to withdraw from American life and create a white homeland within the nation-state. Nationalism is different than white nationalism, and a populist American nationalism untainted by vestiges of racial bigotry might have transracial appeal, like versions of national populism in Latin America.

The rise of populist nationalism on the right is paralleled by the rise of multicultural globalism on the center-left.

For multicultural globalists, national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral. According to the emerging progressive orthodoxy, the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world). While not necessarily representative of Democratic voters, progressive pundits and journalists increasingly speak a dialect of ethical cosmopolitanism or globalism — the idea that it is unjust to discriminate in favor of one’s fellow nationals against citizens of foreign countries.

This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.

The disagreements within both parties on trade is a living example of the inchoate policy realignment. Every major Republican presidential candidate supported free-trade agreements — with the sole and major exception of Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, who routinely slams free-trade deals and has called for the reintroduction of certain tariffs on foreign goods.

Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

For the next decade or longer, as the parties’ stances adjust, this “border war” that has succeeded the “culture war” will define and remake American politics.

The outlines of the two-party system of the 2020s and 2030s are dimly visible. The Republicans will be a party of mostly working-class whites, based in the South and West and suburbs and exurbs everywhere. They will favor universal, contributory social insurance systems that benefit them and their families and reward work effort—programs like Social Security and Medicare. But they will tend to oppose means-tested programs for the poor whose benefits they and their families cannot enjoy.

They will oppose increases in both legal and illegal immigration, in some cases because of ethnic prejudice; in other cases, for fear of economic competition. The instinctive economic nationalism of tomorrow’s Republicans could be invoked to justify strategic trade as well as crude protectionism. They are likely to share Trump’s view of unproductive finance: “The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

The Democrats of the next generation will be even more of an alliance of upscale, progressive whites with blacks and Latinos, based in large and diverse cities. They will think of the U.S. as a version of their multicultural coalition of distinct racial and ethnic identity groups writ large. Many younger progressives will take it for granted that moral people are citizens of the world, equating nationalism and patriotism with racism and fascism.

The withering-away of industrial unions, thanks to automation as well as offshoring, will liberate the Democrats to embrace free trade along with mass immigration wholeheartedly. The emerging progressive ideology of post-national cosmopolitanism will fit nicely with urban economies which depend on finance, tech and other industries of global scope, and which benefit from a constant stream of immigrants, both skilled and unskilled.

While tomorrow’s Republican policymakers will embrace FDR-to-LBJ universal entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, future Democrats may prefer means-tested programs for the poor only. In the expensive, hierarchical cities in which Democrats will be clustered, universal social insurance will make no sense. Payroll taxes on urban workers will be too low to fund universal social insurance, while universal social benefits will be too low to matter to the urban rich. So the well-to-do in expensive, unequal Democratic cities will agree to moderately redistributive taxes which pay for means-tested benefits—perhaps even a guaranteed basic income—for the disproportionately poor and foreign-born urban workforce. As populist labor liberalism declines within the Democratic party, employer-friendly and finance-friendly libertarianism will grow. The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.

Of the two coalitions, which is likely to prevail most of the time?

While progressives claim that nonwhite Americans will become a majority, this is misleading for two reasons. To begin with, according to the Census Bureau [PDF], from this point until 2060, there will be only limited growth in the African-American population (a rise from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent) and the Asian-American population (5.4 percent to 9.3 percent) as shares of the whole. The growth of the nonwhite category by 2060 is driven overwhelmingly by the increasing Latino share of the population, from 17.4 percent to 28.6 percent.

Second, Latino Americans increasingly identify themselves as white. Between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, about 7 percent of Hispanics changed their self-description from “some other race” to “white.” At the same time, according to the Census Bureau, three-fourths of “white population growth” in 21st-century America has been driven by individuals who declared themselves white and of Hispanic origin. If increasing numbers of Hispanics identify as white and their descendants are defined as “white” in government statistics, there may be a white majority in the U.S. throughout the 21st century.

More important than unscientific Census classifications will be how the growing Latino population votes. Trump’s unpopularity among Latino voters is likely to help the Democrats in the short run. But Democrats cannot assume they’ll have a solid Latino voting bloc in the future. In Texas, in particular, Republicans have been successful in winning many Latino voters, all the way back to Senator John Tower and Governor George W. Bush. In Texas’ 2014 elections, Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott won 44 percent of Latino Texans. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn did even better, with 48 percent.

In the coming decades, it is possible that Latinos will be reliable Democratic voters and condemn the Republican Party to minority status at the presidential level, if not everywhere. But it is also possible that as Latinos assimilate and intermarry, they will move from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, following a trail blazed in the past by many “white ethnic” voters of European descent, including Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans.

The policy realignment of the present and near future will complete the partisan realignment of the past few decades. And though it’s impossible to know exactly how it will end, one thing is clear: In 2016, the old political system is crumbling, and a new American political order is being born. Ω

[Michael Lind is co-founder of the New America Foundation and a Politico magazine contributing editor. Most recently, he has written Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (2012). Lind holds a BA (English and history) from the University of Texas-Austin, an MA (international relations) from Yale University, and a JD from The University of Texas-Austin.]

Copyright © 2016 Politico

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