The mainstream media failed me; Drum didn’t

I’ll admit to not reading in detail every last article on the looming government shutdown, but nowhere did I come across any explanation for why the 60 votes were needed in the Senate.  I couldn’t remember this in the past, but, this type of parliamentary procedure in Congress stuff is where my attention from politics flags at times.  Anyway, nice simple explanation from Drum today that seems like I should have come across in all the articles I read in the Post and the Times:

Probably never. But it’s worth pointing out why it’s happening now. It’s because budgets are normally handled via reconciliation, which allows the majority party to pass a budget with only 51 votes. This year, however, Republicans decided to use the 2017 reconciliation bill for repealing Obamacare and the 2018 reconciliation bill for passing their tax bill. So there’s nothing left, and that means they need 60 votes in the Senate.

Lots of people will suffer if the government shuts down because Trump is insisting on a huge increase in the military budget and a wholesale change to immigration laws. But it will mostly be the poor who suffer, and the rich already have their tax cut. So I guess it’s all good.

Russia hacking and the weakness in American democracy

This piece from political scientist Henry Farrell is really, really good:

It is not surprising that Russia is trying to use social media against the United States. The real puzzle is why these operations are succeeding so well.

As soon as Russian leaders figured out a decade ago how to counteract online agitating and organizing in their own country by, to quote the New Yorker’s Adrian Chen, “seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space,” they began to weaponize these techniques for use against populations abroad, spreading confusion in Ukraine, the Baltic republics, the Nordic democracies, France, Germany, and, eventually, the United States. The evidence suggests, however, that Russia’s operations have always been poorly organized and opportunistic. Sometimes, they are laughably inept. Fake posts developed for use in the United States, for instance, are often written in bad English. Russia’s reported spendingon Facebook advertising was a pitiful trickle compared to the torrents of cash spent by both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to influence voters.

Russian online influence operations nonetheless seem to be working better against the United States than other countries. Research suggests that Russia’s “MacronLeaks” operation was far more successful in attracting the attention of English-speaking alt-right activists than French voters. Germany, too, seems to have been better able than the United States to shrug off efforts to shape its political conversation.

Russia’s relative success in the United States is not thanks to the unique strategic insight of Putin. It is because Russian operatives have chanced upon real weaknesses in U.S. democracy, and American elites are unintentionally giving them a helping hand. While France and Germany have their own social divisions, they do not face the specific problems that America faces.

In America, more than in most other Western countries, there is a basic failure of democratic knowledge. In a well-functioning democracy, citizens agree broadly on facts and have some trust in the democratic system, allowing democracy to harness different perspectives and put them to good use. In America, in contrast, distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.

Over the last two decades, the common knowledge of American democracy has been undermined. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned could happen, the structures of shared knowledge are being weakened by democratic politics itself. Politicians — especially on the right — have cast doubt on sources of authority such as science and government, telling their supporters that they shouldn’t trust experts… [emphasis mine]

Yet when people with different perspectives stop sharing a common basis of knowledge, democracy is liable to pull itself apart. Parties become enemies rather than competitors. When people stop trusting any institutions, they are likely instead to start thinking that the democratic process is rigged, and to pin their hopes instead on cranks and conspiracy mongers.

And, of course, social media makes this all so much worse.  Very thought-provoking read.


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