Tag Archives: Trump

Trump and GOP Tax Cut Is Handing Corporations Like Ford a Giant Incentive to Move Offshore Giant corporations got what they wanted out of Republicans on taxes, now they’re lobbying the Trump administration hard to retain their NAFTA privileges.

Ford hit Michigan and its auto workers with some crappy holiday news. Instead of building a $700 million electric vehicle factory in Michigan as promised in January, Ford will construct the plant in Mexico.

Ford reneged on its promise to Michigan workers just days after the Senate passed a tax plan intended to end levies on corporate profits made at factories offshore – in places like Mexico. News of the letdown also arrived just days before new negotiations on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are to begin in Washington, D.C.

Ford and other giant corporations got what they wanted out of Republicans on taxes, dramatically lower levies on domestic profits and total elimination on foreign profits. That makes Mexico an even more attractive manufacturing site for them than NAFTA did. So now they’re lobbying the Trump administration hard to retain the privileges that NAFTA bestowed on them. If they win that argument, they’ll have secured double incentives to offshore.

Trump administration officials don’t sound like they’re buying the corporate line, however. And they shouldn’t. NAFTA has cost Americans nearly a million jobs as thousands of factories migrated to Mexico. As he campaigned, President Trump promised untold numbers of factory workers and their families across the nation’s industrial belt that he would fix or end NAFTA to keep jobs and industry in America. He needs to keep that promise.

That means elimination of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) scam that allows corporations to sue governments in secret courts presided over by corporate lawyers when legislatures pass laws corporations don’t like. That means standing strong on the Trump administration demands that the new pact expire in five years if it’s not working and that a substantial portion of automobiles – including Fords – be made in the USA to attain duty-free status. It means strong protection for workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain. It means substantially raising the Mexican minimum wage, which now stands at $4.70. That’s for a day, not an hour.

What it really means is prioritizing the needs of workers over the demands of corporations, something that was not done the first time around by NAFTA negotiators. As it stands now, NAFTA places all of the jeopardy on the shoulders of workers and communities while substantially eliminating normal business risks for corporations.

The jeopardy NAFTA created for workers is that its corporate-friendly provisions prompt employers to close American factories that sustain both workers and communities and move them to Mexico. This exodus of American manufacturing to Mexico has continued apace this year, even as the Trump administration began renegotiating NAFTA, probably because corporations assume they’ll get everything they want in the end. They have, after all, always done so in the past because they are, after all, massive political campaign donors and lobby firm patrons, while hourly workers are not.

Bloomberg reported in October, for example, that firms whose function it is to help corporations move factories from the United States to Mexico had a boom year in 2017, with one reporting it had done more offshoring this year than in any during the previous three decades.

Mexico is alluring because of its dirt-cheap wage rates, the paucity of environmental enforcement and the ISDS scam that lets corporations sue the government if Mexico would regulate in a way some CEO claims would crimp his profits.

The ISDS along with NAFTA’s unlimited lifespan reduce risk for corporations. Normal business decisions in capitalist systems involve some jeopardy. A chemical company could, for example, invest in developing a new pesticide, but then lose when the government bans the product after determining it kills babies as well as bugs.

NAFTA provides corporations with investment protection because it ensures they’ll get their profits even if a government changes regulations. ISDS enables corporations to sue to recoup money the corporations supposedly would have made if the government hadn’t issued new laws or regulations. The corporate-run court can order a country’s citizens to pay tens of millions to the corporation.

Some say this government-financed investment insurance corrupts capitalism. Among the significant people who have is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. He said corporations are insisting the government absolve CEOs of political risk. CEOs are using ISDS as a guarantee rather than buying risk insurance or factoring political risk into economic decisions about whether to move.

Lighthizer said businessmen have literally told him the administration cannot change ISDS because corporations wouldn’t have invested in Mexico without it. “I’m thinking,” he said, “‘Well, then, why is it a good policy of the United States government to encourage investment in Mexico?’”

These are the same corporate honchos who object to a five-year sunset clause for a new NAFTA, he said. They want a free eternal warranty on the provisions of a deal they describe as the world’s greatest. Lighthizer’s response is that if the deal is so great, why would the government choose to end it after five years? What are they really worried about?

The worry may be that those CEOs know NAFTA is great for their bottom line but not for the workers who elected Donald Trump President.

They know NAFTA was drafted by CEOs for CEOs. Its priorities were determined by corporate bigwigs behind doors closed to the public. Corporations designed it at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist, said in an op-ed in the Guardian newspaper this week.

It often seems, he wrote, “that workers, who have seen their wages fall and jobs disappear, are just collateral damage – innocent but unavoidable victims in the inexorable march of economic progress. But there is another interpretation of what has happened: one of the objectives of globalization was to weaken workers’ bargaining power. What corporations wanted was cheaper labor, however they could get it.”

U.S. corporations like Ford got it by writing a trade deal that gave them market-distorting profit protections, then abandoning their dedicated American workers and moving to Mexico where they could pay $4.70 a day and pollute unfettered.

President Trump has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if his negotiators can’t get new reasonable terms that protect American manufacturing and American workers.

That is right. It’s appropriate that corporations like Ford sustain the actual risk of offshoring rather than workers bearing it all.

By Leo Gerard / AlterNe

Posted by The NON-Confomist

Advertisements

Trump’s Jerusalem Pronouncement Is a Classic American Imperial Blunder From Bears Ears to Jerusalem, Trump’s policy is all about disenfranchising people of color.

After drastically shrinking the size of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah on Monday, President Trump on Wednesday announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said, speaking at Utah’s State Capitol beneath a painting of Mormon pioneers. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” Trump said on Wednesday of his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

The two actions take effect 7,000 miles apart, but they share a common denominator: Trump is tearing up formal agreements accepted by the United States government and unilaterally imposing a new understanding on the other parties involved, namely the 7 million Palestinians who live in greater Israel/Palestine, and the Native American people who live in or around Bears Ears.

Compromise Jettisoned

On one level, Trump’s action on Jerusalem is commonsensical. The ancient city of Jerusalem is the political and cultural center of the land known as Israel/Palestine. Jews have lived in the city for thousands of years. But so have Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, who are now relegated to second-class citizenship and dispossession by Israel’s occupation and its apartheid wall. That’s why the U.S. government for the past 50 years has refused to recognize Israel’s unilateral claim to the city until the equally valid claims of Palestinians are honored too. That is no longer the U.S. government’s position.

The shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah by 85 percent is no less one-sided. On Dec. 28, 2016, President Obama expanded the size of the park over the objections of elected officials in Utah.

Since 2009, Bears Ears has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in consultation with five of the local tribes (Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni), all of which have ancestral ties to the region. Obama’s December 2016 proclamation declared that federal agencies shall “carefully and fully consider integrating the traditional and historical knowledge” of the tribes into management decisions. The language, noted the High Country News, “gives tribes an unprecedented amount of say over their ancestral lands that lie in the public domain yet outside the boundaries of their reservations.”

But Obama engaged in extensive consultation with the local population and did not agree to all of the requests of the native people in the area. Obama’s proclamation omitted several areas from the final monument designation, a “significant” concession to those who opposed the designation.

On both issues, Trump reversed Obama’s positions with the insouciance of a colonial potentate. His Jerusalem decision says Israel will dictate to, not negotiate with the Palestinians. His Bears Ears decision says Washington and Utah will dictate to, not negotiate with the native tribes that also have a claim to the land. Compromise has been jettisoned in favor of privileging the interests of whites over non-whites.

Trump made no effort to consult with other stakeholders in his deliberations. They are simply not part of any “reality” that Trump recognizes. On Monday he barely acknowledged the native peoples who have lived in the area for thousands of years before the Mormon settlers. On Wednesday he made no mention of Palestinians who have regarded Jerusalem as their capital for thousands of years.

Wedge Created

And Trump created wedge issues to use against Democrats, at home and abroad.

In Utah, the native tribes and environmental groups have already filed suit to block Trump’s actions, while Republican elected officials and their constituents celebrate the opportunity to drill for oil and gas on previously protected lands.

On Israel, Trump has pandered to conservative Jews who yearn for a peace agreement on Zionist terms, which is Trump’s ostensible aim. He fractured liberal Democratic unity by getting Chuck Schumer to endorse his shortsighted move. And he delivered a victory for his base of Christians and alt-right anti-Semites alike.

The Christian right, which excuses Trump’s un-Christian lifestyle with a generosity they extend to few other sinners, welcomes the embrace of Israel and its domination of Muslims. The anti-Semitic alt-right, while oddly soft on right-wing Israeli Jews, is delighted by the snub of the liberal majority of American Jews who favor an equitable settlement with Palestinians, at least in theory.

When Slate’s Josh Keating says Trump’s actions in Jerusalem are “cynically pointless,” he underestimates the president’s cynicism and overlooks his unmistakable point: previous political agreements between the descendants of white settlers and non-white natives are null and void. Colonialism, American-style, has returned.

By Jefferson Morley / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump smacks down UK’s May for calling his anti-Muslim retweets ‘wrong’

UK Prime Minister Theresa May got a lecture from US President Donald Trump on “Radical Islamic Terrorism” after admonishing Trump for retweeting a far-right activist’s anti-Muslim videos. Anglo-American relations have never seen anything quite like this.

.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!

“It’s wrong for the president to have done this,” James Slack said of Trump’s Wednesday morning retweets.

Trump, a self-proclaimed counter-puncher, slapped back at May in a tweet reprimanding her for criticizing him.

“Don’t focus on me,” Trump tweeted, initially tagging the wrong account for the UK prime minister.

“Focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom,” he added.

Trump then went on to tweet that the US is “doing just fine,” but never clarified his reason for retweeting the Britain First leader.

Slack, May’s spokesman, also said Wednesday that Britain First “seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives that stoke tensions” and “is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect.”

Fransen was convicted last year of religiously aggravated harassment for accosting a hijab-clad Muslim mother in front of her children during a “Christian patrol” organized by Britain First. Earlier this month, she was arrested and charged with “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” for a speech she gave in August at a rally near Belfast City Hall in Northern Ireland. She is set to appear in court on December 14.

May was the first foreign elected official to visit the White House after Trump became president. The US and UK relationship has long been deemed “special” by presidents of both mainstream US parties, including Trump himself.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Thomas Frank: We’re Still Aghast at Donald Trump—but What Good Has That Done? Declaring it all so ghastly isn’t going to halt these trends or remove the reprobate from the White House.

It has been one year since the US slipped through a hole in the space-time continuum and chose as its leader the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time. Every now and then you get a bracing reminder of the crazy that has been transpiring ever since.

One of these came to me while I was flipping through Donald Trump’s 2015 campaign book,Crippled America, the cover of which displays his proud pompadour and the first few pages of which assert that “As for the presidency and the executive branch” – meaning the executive branch of Barack Obama – “the incompetence is beyond belief.”

To recapitulate, that’s Trump calling Obama incompetent. What do you say when confronted with a big-league, flat-out, beyond-belief distortion like that? Do you get all sincere and point out that, no, Obama was actually good at the job and Donald Trump is the incompetent one … that Trump gets all kinds of things wrong and doesn’t know what’s in the constitution and is unaware that the executive has this power and that power and is ignorant of everything else on this-here long, long list of examples extending the entire length of the page?

That’s certainly how the liberal wing of America’s pundit class has dealt with Trump. They have been at it every day for a year now, and the literature of Trump-denunciation they have produced is enormous, a vast Alexandrine library of lamentation and deploring.

Pundits pronounce him dangerous, if not “F*cking Crazy”. They explore the depths of his stupidity. They apologize for him to Muslims. They compile long lists of the man’s falsehoods and misrepresentations. They look to the past and compare him to Hitler, to Mussolini, to Nero and Caligula. They look to the future and try to imagine the exact nature of the apocalypse the dunce will surely precipitate.

They are aghast, almost every one of them, and they compete fiercely with one another to say just how aghast they are. It is a “parade of the aghast”, as an acquaintance calls it, with all the skills of the journalist reduced to a performance of perturbation and disgust.

The parade of the aghast is the obverse of the gullible way our pundits usually contemplate American leaders – lionizing them as men of crisis, admiring their gravitas as they go from international summit to emergency bank bailout. And now the buffoon Trump has exposed it all as a fraud.

A solid year of the aghast has been a good thing overall. It’s healthy for the country to have pundits periodically choose to despise our leaders instead of honor them.

But the parade of the aghast is also sharply limited. In the race to depict Trump in the worst possible light, the parade of the aghast conceives his iniquity to be a thing unique and unprecedented.

In certain ways, of course, this is correct: Trump’s incompetence is one-of-a-kind. He is also the first tycoon president, the realization of a long-running Republican dream that has brought with it many unforeseen conflicts of interest and constitutional issues. And if it turns out he colluded with the Russian government during last year’s election, that will make him, shall we say, singular.

Yet in other ways, Trump’s sins are continuous with the last 50 years of our history. His bigotry and racist dog-whistling? Conservatives have been doing that since forever. His vain obsession with ratings, his strutting braggadocio? Welcome to the land of Hollywood and pro wrestling.

His tweeting? The technology is new, but the urge to evade the mainstream media is not. His outreach to working-class voters? His hatred of the press? He lifts those straight from his hero Richard Nixon. His combination of populist style with enrich-the-rich policies? Republicans have been following that recipe since the days of Ronald Reagan. His “wrecking crew” approach to government, which made the cover of Time magazine last week? I myself made the same observation, under the same title, about the administration of George W Bush.

The trends Trump personifies are going to destroy this country one of these days. They’ve already done a hell of a job on the middle class.

But declaring it all so ghastly isn’t going to halt these trends or remove the reprobate from the White House. Waving a piece of paper covered with mean words in Trump’s face won’t make him retreat to his tower in New York. To make him do that you must understand where he comes from, how he operates, why his supporters like him, and how we might coax a few of them away.

The parade of the aghast will have none of that. Strategy is not the goal; a horror-high is. And so its practitioners routinely rail against Trump’s supporters along with Trump himself, imagining themselves beleaguered by a country they no longer understand nor particularly like.

They denounce people who tell the truth about how the Democratic party operates on the grounds that such knowledge is an “obstacle” to anti-Trump efforts.

A year of this stuff, and never has mainstream opinion journalism seemed so inconsequential, so powerless to envision anything useful about our national predicament.

Look at the grand sweep of history: this is an angry, populist age, and with every year – with every little tightening of the inequality index – it grows angrier and more populist still. To the satisfied and comfortable American pundit class, these are alien and deplorable sentiments, and so they fall back on high-decibel moral aghastitude. They scold and they scold and they scold. But if they really want to send Trump and the Republicans packing, they will make an effort to understand.

By Thomas Frank / The Guardian

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry but figures show its future is as bleak as ever Long-term growth and hiring prospects remain weak despite administration’s policy changes to make energy sector more competitive at expense of environmental concerns

us-coal.jpgEarth moving equipment sits by a coal pile at the Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A year after Donald Trump was elected President on a promise to revive the ailing US coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary up-tick in foreign demand for US coal rather than presidential policy changes.

US utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 percent of the market for US coal.

”We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities,“ said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest US utilities. “The future for coal is dictated by economics… and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Coal plants now make up 47 percent of AEP’s capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 percent by 2030.

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends. As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major US coal companies.

“The government is no longer against us,“ he said. ”We now only have market forces to contend with.”

Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The President started the process of killing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidise power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site. The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.

While the full impact of Trump’s coal policy could take years to understand, the changes so far are unlikely to boost domestic demand, energy analysts and utility officials said.

Trump has cast the coal industry as a victim of burdensome regulation.

The industry has lost more than 40 percent of its work force in less than a decade and seen production drop to its lowest levels since 1978. Its share of the power market has fallen to less than a third from about half in 2003.

“We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” Trump said at a rally in Virginia in August of 2016.

So far, progress has been limited.

US coal production is on track to rise more than 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, to 790 million tonnes, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). But 2018 output is expected to decline.

The number of coal miners has also risen slightly to 51,900 in October, up about 2,200 since November 2016 – but down about 70 percent from a 1985 peak, according to the Labour Department.

On 1 November, Trump cited the modest production increases in a Tweet, saying, “It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!”

But these increases are largely attributable to demand for US coal from Asian steel mills after temporary outages from their usual suppliers in Australia, according to James Stevenson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

During the first six months of 2017, Asian countries took in 7.5 million short tonnes of US coal, up 97 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the EIA.

That demand will soon fade, Stevenson said.

“We are not going to get a repeat of 2017,” he said of the spike in exports.

Forecasts from utilities and the US government reveal little reason for hope of a sustained coal rebound.

Utilities are expected to shut down more than 13,600 megawatts of coal plant capacity in 2018. That follows a loss of nearly 8,000 MW this year and 13,000 MW in 2016, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.

By 2025, coal-fired power plant capacity will dip to 226,380 MW, down about 30 percent from 2011, according to EIA.

Three Texas coal plants owned by Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant are among the latest to close, bringing the number of plants that shut, or plan to, to 265 since 2010 – a figure higher than the 258 plants that remain, according to the Sierra Club, which has campaigned against coal.

Vistra said the closures were forced by lower prices for natural gas and renewable power – and not by environmental regulations.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, has shut down more than 5,400 MW of coal capacity since 2011 and plans to shed another 2,000 MW by 2024.

Over the next decade, Duke plans to invest $11 billion in new natural gas and renewable power – and nothing in new coal-fired generation, said spokesman Rick Rhodes.

A 2 November report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – which has two of the largest coal producers in its district, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal – said coal-fired power plants “may eventually become obsolete.”

Coal companies believe they can survive despite the troubling market outlook.

Peabody expects a “modest number” of coal power plant retirements in the coming years, with some of that lost capacity shifting to remaining plants that will increase output, spokesman Vic Svec said. Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi offered a similar forecast.

Robert Murray, the chief executive of privately-held Murray Energy – one of America’s biggest underground miners – said Trump could do more for the industry. The administration, Murray said, should end tax breaks for wind and solar power and reverse an EPA finding that carbon emissions endanger human health.

But Trump’s tax bill last week preserved most solar incentives, which have bi-partisan backing. And the EPA has so far steered clear of the so-called “endangerment finding” on emissions that is the basis of many fossil-fuel regulations, given the breadth of scientific evidence that would be needed to reverse it.

Murray Energy, meanwhile, announced on 31 October it will buy a 30.5 percent stake in a coal-mining partnership in Utah called Canyon Consolidated Resources.

The deal might help the companies cut costs, but it’s unlikely to help workers: Murray said about 200 of 1,000 jobs in Utah could be lost.

By Timothy Gardner/Reuters

Posted by The NON-Conformist

How states can fix the Electoral College and prevent future Trumps

If just two states had adopted runoffs to ensure that the winners reached 50%, as the Founders intended, we might have a different president.

Donald Trump amassed 101 Electoral College votes in states where he failed to win 50% of the popular vote. In each of these states, more voters voted for other candidates than for Trump, yet he received all the Electoral College votes. This windfall amounted to one-third of his total (304). Without it, he would have fallen 67 short of the 270 required to prevail.

Despite everything said about the 2016 election, insufficient attention has been paid to this basic fact. It means that while Trump technically achieved an Electoral College victory, he did so without genuinely receiving the support of the electorates in the states responsible for his Electoral College win. That is the opposite of what the architects of the Electoral College had in mind.

This point is different from the one about Hillary Clinton winning almost 3 million more votes nationally than Trump. That much-mentioned truth is irrelevant to how the Electoral College is supposed to work. It would matter if there were any realistic chance of replacing the Electoral College with something different, but there isn’t. And meanwhile, it blinds us to the problem that in 2016, the Electoral College did not function properly even according to its own logic. As long as we are stuck with the Electoral College, we should make it operate as intended.

This requires fixing the state laws that implement the Electoral College system. The good news is that each state already has the constitutional power to repair its own laws, without the need for three-quarters of the states agreeing to a constitutional amendment or some sort of multi-state compact that would not take effect until enough states sign on. If just a couple of states had adopted the necessary fix before last year, Clinton might be president now. To understand why, let’s review what went wrong, why it’s inconsistent with the Electoral College’s original intent, and how states already are empowered to remedy the defect.

Trump was able to win these states without a majority because there were more than two candidates on the ballot. Without Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in the mix, Clinton might have received more votes than Trump in some of these six states. If she had done so in just Florida and either Pennsylvania, Michigan, or North Carolina, that would have been enough for her to win the White House.

The Electoral College and majority winners

The Electoral College’s architects understood that an election with multiple candidates might produce a winner with under 50% of the votes, an outcome they wanted to avoid.  That’s why they insisted that to win a candidate must receive a majority, and not merely a plurality, of Electoral College votes. And if no candidate does, then a candidate must get the support of a majority, and not merely a plurality, of state delegations in the House of Representatives.

The Founding Fathers thought each state would take care to assure that a candidate could not receive its Electoral College votes without support from a majority of its voters. States initially complied with this expectation. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for example, if no candidate won a majority of the popular vote, the legislature would appoint the state’s electors. New Hampshire then switched to a runoff, in which voters cast a second round of ballots if no candidate received a majority in the first round.

Later, states moved to letting presidential candidates get all of a state’s Electoral College votes with only a plurality of popular votes. This was a mistake and inconsistent with the original vision.

Restoring majority rule

States can return to the original plan by adopting the same kind of runoff that New Hampshire had or, instead, a modern form of runoff that avoids the need for a second round of ballots. Known as instant-runoff voting, it enables voters to rank their preferences among multiple candidates. Had this been used last year, a voter could have ranked Stein first, Clinton second, and Johnson third (for example). These rankings make it possible to eliminate candidates with less support than others and then identify which remaining candidate is preferred by a majority of voters.

If just two states had adopted a runoff, it could have made the difference in which candidate became commander in chief. The highest reform priority between now and 2020 should be to convince battleground states — like Florida and Michigan, where voters can adopt reforms by initiative and thus bypass recalcitrant legislatures — to adopt whichever type of runoff they prefer.

The imperative is to prevent another president who wins the White House without really winning the support of the electorates in the states that determine the outcome. The Founding Fathers would see that as a subversion of the Electoral College system. So should we.

By Edward B. Foley/USAToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

CULTURE How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any Basic Civics Class Russian fake news infiltrated our social media feeds, and our own willful ignorance is to blame.

It happens every semester. I’m sitting at home, tempted to jump head first out the window as I grade papers from my college freshmen writing course. One student has cited a Facebook meme as evidence to present the case for the criminalization of abortion. Another has referred to the expertise of an unidentified Reddit user as the conversation closer on issues of war and peace.

The next morning I will give a repeat performance, apparently due to popular demand, of my lecture on legitimate sources. I’ll execute a dramatic and exciting crescendo — comparable to the guitar solo at the end of Lynyrd Skynryd’s “Free Bird” — when I emphasize that social media feeds, message boards and various other forms of internet chatter do not make for credible research outlets. My soft landing occurs with the display of academic journals and journalistic publications with solid reputations as reliable disseminators of information.

Little did I know, as I passed every few months through each stage of this predictable pedagogical routine, that the health of American democracy is at stake. It turns out that tens of millions of Americans belong in my freshmen writing course, and, if their failures of citizenship are any indication, would struggle to pass if enrolled.

As everyone scrambles to correctly assign blame for the degradation of American democracy in 2016 through fake news Russian disinformation campaigns, commentators act as if they are attempting to determine who is responsible for letting a toddler jump into the pool. Was it the social media CEOs for having no standards regulating content? Was it Vladimir Putin, whose interference some have called an “act of war?” Or was it the DNC for their failure to adequately guard against hacking?

The conversation would remain important, but it would not rise to the level of urgency if the American people were not susceptible to the spread of information transparently false to anyone who has read a substantive book, or even a newspaper, in the past year.

Gore Vidal once remarked, “Half of the U.S. population reads a newspaper. Half of the U.S. population votes. Let’s hope it is the same half.”

Now, fewer than half of Americans read the newspaper, and an increasingly alarming amount report that they rely on social media for news, but many of them are still participating in the Democratic process. I often see bumper stickers that announce, “I’m Catholic and I vote” or “I’m NRA and I vote.” It seems that a lucrative merchandising opportunity exists for someone who invents the sticker, “I don’t read and I vote.”

The documentation of Americans’ ignorance on fundamental issues of history and governance is by now so thorough that it hardly bears repeating. For example, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. These are people commonly referred to as “elitists.”

The problem is not just that Americans don’t know. It is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t know how to figure it out. Like my students who attempt to meet their research requirement on Twitter, American voters are misinforming themselves with lies and inaccuracies from unreliable sources.

If the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot even identify the three branches of their own government, it should strike no one as a surprise that they are unaware of refugee policies in Europe. One of the fake news stories I saw circulate on Facebook in the months leading up to the presidential election described “millions” of refugees arriving in Germany, or sometimes Italy, and essentially “taking over” the country. The post often produced as photographic evidence, doctored images from the early 20th century. Apocalyptic updates on the refugee invasion of European nations served as warning against what would happen in America if Hillary Clinton became president.

The most consequential offenders in the dissemination, and success, of fake news are not the Russians or social media company executives, but the American education system, and the parents who are content with raising children who know little about their country, much less about the rest of the world.

Only nine states require civics as part of the high school curriculum, and many colleges have reduced or eliminated requirements in history and political science. As unimaginable as it seems, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni published a report last year that only seven of the nation’s top 25 liberal arts colleges require their history majors — this is not a joke — to take a course in U.S. history.

The notion that the only knowledge that matters is that which can enable students to acquire high-paying employment has also contributed to the intellectual failures of Americans.

What the scandal of 2016’s hacks, Russian meddling and disinformation proves, is that a significant portion of Americans are ungovernable and unfit for the task of citizenship in a free country. It certainly does not have to stay that way, but reversal would demand an entirely new approach to education, popular political discussion and the preparation of children for the adult world.

As long as the focus remains solely on easily identifiable villains — foreign dictators, greedy tech magnates — American democracy will remain an easy target for illusionists and conmen.

By David Masciotra/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist