No, It Can't Happen Here: America's Political Institutions Are Much Stronger than Trump

 

This video is making the rounds recently, mostly accompanied by a sinister warning that 'it could happen here', i.e. in the U.S. The idea is that if Americans elect Donald Trump, it could set in motion a chain of events that could transform America into a dictatorship.

Breathe easy, world. It won't happen. If America elects Trump, it will simply have made a dim narcissist demagogue President. Nothing more, nothing less. Trump will not transform the structure of American democracy because he can't. No President can, no President ever has, and no President ever will. It's that simple.

The American style of Presidential democracy, in contrast to the parliamentary style which is much more popular world-wide, has a number of disadvantages. Elections only happen every two years. The President may, and often does, lose his support in the Congress, leading to political gridlock which stymies new policy initiatives. The first-past-the-post electoral system means there are only two viable political parties. Third parties come and go, but never get a lasting foothold.

But there are advantages to the system as well. The number one advantage, by far, is its phenomenal stability. The USA has had the same system of government for the past 230 years, placing it in an extremely tiny, rarefied group of countries which have ever, at any time in history, kept the same basic governing structure this long. Even the Civil War did not interrupt the consistent election of new Congresses every 2 years.

One of the reasons for this stability is separation of powers, which strictly limits what the President can do. Here are some of the things the American President cannot do which heads of states in other countries often can:

  1.     Dissolve Congress and call a snap election.
  2.     Unilaterally declare a state of emergency.
  3.     Fire or otherwise punish or sanction members of the Supreme Court.
  4.     Unilaterally change the number of judges on the Supreme Court.
  5.     Declare war without Congress' consent (although Congress has relinquished a lot of this authority).
  6.     Change the Constitution, even if he has the support of 70% of all members of Congress.
  7.     Interfere with areas in which individual US states have exclusive legislative competence, such as family law, contract law, tort law, and dozens of other areas.
  8.     Name or replace governors of states.
  9.     Remove anyone from any political party, including his own.

Democratically-elected leaders have sometimes been able to transform their countries into authoritarian systems, and sometimes into totalitarian ones. But all of those countries differed from the United States in several critical ways. First, they usually gave the head of state at least some of the 9 powers listed above, or they gave the head of state the means to acquire some of these 9 powers. 

But the differences go even deeper:

First, their political institutions in these countries were much less robust, popular, and well-anchored. No matter how unpopular an American Congress is, Americans have never, and will never, support abolishing the institution itself. The same goes for the Supreme Court and the Presidency, for that matter. A President who suggested abolishing any of these institutions "in the name of national solidarity during a time of crisis" would be laughed at, or declared insane.

Second, the political institutions are designed for stability. Stability is one of the side-effects of the 9 limits on Presidential power listed above. There is simply no way the President can ever stop the Supreme Court from reviewing laws and declaring them unconstitutional. Now, the President can direct the executive branch to consciously and openly decline to enforce certain Supreme Court rulings, and this has happened on occasion in American history. But it's considered a major and controversial breach of trust, and hasn't happened in decades. And believe me, the US Supreme Court has handed down some extremely unpopular rulings that have gone directly against the President's wishes, such as the 2010 ruling about corporate campaign contributions, which Obama criticized in front of members of the Court.

Third, federalism. The USA is among the top 2 or 3 most federalist countries in history. Individual US states have a huge amount of authority to determine their own policies. They can and do all have their own, individual governments, including a governor, state legislature, state constitution, and state supreme court. They have their own criminal laws, family laws, tort laws, tax laws, inheritance laws, contract laws, commercial codes, hunting and fishing regulations, road traffic laws, drug laws, environmental laws, workplace-safety laws -- the list goes on and on. There is a lot of federal government legislation in some of these areas, but states still get to have their own policies, and they use this privilege with gusto. States could and would certainly rebel against any attempt to use illegitimate powers to force the entire country to obey a single unified policy handed down by an authoritarian President run amok. The Second Amendment fans among you might also point out that if the President tried to crush resistance by military force, he would face a well-armed and no doubt rebellious population.

So breathe easy, World. A Trump Presidency would be most regrettable, but the US has already had one dim, reckless, foolish President this millennium. He did a lot of damage which we're all still living with, but he didn't usher in Armageddon or AmeriKKKa, and neither will Trump.


Arab World Fails in Mental Health Care, Germany Chooses to Pay the Price

Reutknife
A Syrian refugee in Reutlingen, apparently upset about relationship troubles, hacked a 45-year-old woman to death with a 40-cm döner kebab knife. He then ran shrieking through the city, hacking at other people with the knife, until a man in a BMW ran him over and brought the rampage to an end. Although only in Germany for a year, the accused killer had been in trouble with the police before for drug, property, and violent crimes (g). Early reports about the 27-year-old Syrian rejected asylum seeker who blew himself up in Ansbach, injuring a dozen other people, indicate he had a history of mental illness and had twice attempted suicide.

This is not normal behavior, even for people who (may) have withstood trauma. And this sort of behavior doesn't just crop up one day out of nowhere. It's a good bet both of these men displayed behavior problems back home, although given taboos and the language barrier, it will probably be hard to find out precise facts.

As I've argued before on this blog, it seems that among the hugely disproportionate numbers of random young males Germany allowed to wander across the border last year, there's a disproportionate number of violent, mentally ill young men. The reasoning could hardly be simpler: If you have 5 children, 3 of whom are men, and 2 of those men have jobs and/or families, who are you going to send to Germany to try to set down an anchor there and start the chain migration which, your hope, might one day allow your whole family to resettle? Two of your sons are founding families and/or generating income to support you, so losing them would be a problem. But what about your 18-year-old son, who has always seemed a bit 'off', who says odd things or deals drugs or has a nasty temper or sometimes talks to himself?

One of the reasons families might be eager to off-load family members with mental illnesses is because mental health care in the Arab world is totally inadequate

The Arab world is taken to mean the 22 members of the Arab League, accounting for 280 million people. The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world: 38% of Arabs are under 14. Life expectancy has increased by 15 years over the past three decades, and infant mortality has dropped by two-thirds. Around 12 million people, or 15% of the labor force, are unemployed. The quality of education has recently deteriorated, and there is a severe mismatch between the labor market and the education system. Adult illiteracy rates have declined, but are still very high: 65 million adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women. Some 10 million children still have no schooling at all.

The health expenditure estimated as a percentage of gross domestic product is highest in Palestine (13.5%), followed by Lebanon (8.8%), Jordan and Djibouti (8.5%) and Egypt (6.4%) . Health services in all Arab countries are provided by public (government) and private sector facilities and out of pocket (this last category representing 63.4% of the total in Sudan, 58.7% in Egypt, 58% in Yemen, 56.1% in Morocco and 54.9% in Syria). In some countries insurance systems contribute to the provision of the service. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to be recognized as an important actor in the provision of health services, especially in countries with internal instability (in particular, Lebanon in late 1980s and Palestine now).

The mental health expenditure as a percentage of total health expenditure is not available in most Arab countries and not reported by the officials. Only three Arab countries have provided an estimate: Qatar (1%), Egypt (less than 1%) and Palestine (2.5%)....

Currently, most of the Arab countries are exposed to conflicts, wars, terrorism and fundamentalism, which may be the seeds for many behavioral and mental disorders.

Cultural beliefs of possessions and the impact of sorcery or the evil eye affect interpretation of mental symptoms. In this context, the first resort for the families of mental patients is not even the general practitioner, but the traditional healers, who acquire a special importance because of their claim of dealing with the “mystical” and the “unknown”. In the majority of Arab countries there is no interaction between the medical profession and the traditional healers. In Jordan, there is some kind of a relationship, which remains informal and unorganized. In Saudi Arabia, however, they constitute part of the staff, using religious text and recitation in management.

In conclusion, our data show that, in the Arab world, health and education budget assignment is below the recommended requirements far better quality of life. The budget allowed for mental health as a percentage from the total health budget, in the few countries where information is available, is far below the range to promote mental health services. The mental health human resources and the inefficient data collection by the official agencies are incompatible with the gross domestic product of Arab countries. An appeal for implementing mental health in primary care as stipulated as a policy in many Arab countries and to prioritize mental health in the agenda of politicians is urgently needed.

In the close kin-network and community you live in, your son already notorious as a problem child and/or petty criminal and/or target of a curse or evil eye, so he cannot find a job and isn't a suitable match for an arranged marriage. At home, he can do nothing but cause problems for your family. Abroad, nobody knows about his past, and he'll have a chance for a fresh start. 

As long as there's a country there offering a welcome and housing and education and money to any random young male who makes it across their borders, what's there to lose? Even the $5,000 for a smuggler isn't that much of a sacrifice, since you will no longer have that mouth to feed, and will no longer have to stay up at night worrying about what your unstable, unpredictable family black sheep might do tomorrow. And if he lands in prison or a mental hospital in Germany, everyone knows those are quite comfortable in comparison with similar institutions anywhere else in the world.  And maybe the change will do him good, he'll establish himself, and bring you to join him! What is $5,000 against the priceless prospect of being able to relocate most of your family to a nation which is infinitely more stable and secure than where you live?

More stable and secure for now, that is...


Dialog With a Mass Murderer

This video is grimly fascinating: it shows the Munich spree killer walking around on the top of a parking garage.

The guy filming him (or someone close by) begins screaming insults at the killer, and the killer responds and gives a few reasons why he is doing what he's doing. In a Youtube comment, Scalpelli provides a pretty good translated English transcript of their dialog:

Some English translations floating around on here are wrong. Here's the correct one:

Balcony     Man: "You fucking asshole you..."

>Shooter: "Because of you I got bullied for 7 years..." (referring to Turks)

Balcony Man: "You wanker you. you're a wanker"

>Shooter: "...and now I have to buy a gun to shoot you"

Balcony Man: "Yeah, you know what? Your head should be cut off, you asshole!"

>Shooter and Balcony man shouting at each other

Balcony Man apparently to people filming: "He's got a gun here, the guy has one"

>Shooter: "Fucking Turks!"

Balcony Man: "Fucking wogs" ("Kanake" is a mean term for Turkish immigrant workers)

Balcony man to someone else: "EY! HE'S GOT A GUN! He has loaded his gun! Get the cops here!"

>Shooter: "I am German."

Balcony Man: "You're a wanker, that's what you are"

>Shooter: "Stop filming!"

Balcony Man: "A wanker is what you are, what the fuck are you doing?"

>Shooter: "Yeah what, I was born here!"

Balcony Man: "Yeah and what the fuck you think you're doing???"

>Shooter: "I grew up here in the Hartz 4 area. Here in the Turk-region, in the Hasenbergl" ("Hartz 4" = social welfare benefits in Germany / "Hasenbergl" = district just next to the shopping mall)".

>Shooter says he was depressed for some time and got clinical treatment ("stationäre Behandlung" here usually refers to being under treatment at a psychiatric clinic).

Balcony Man: "Yeah treatment, you belong in a psychiatric clinic, you fucking asshole."

>Shooter: "I didn't do anything wrong. [unintelligible] Just shut the fuck up man!"

Balcony Man: "You wanker you"

Balcony Man: "HEY! HE'S ON THE UPPER FLOOR HERE. YOU IDIOTS"

Filming man goes into cover, shooter starts firing.

Balcony Man: "You're not quite right in the head / You're fucked in the head you wanker"

Unknown voice (police?): "EY, go over there!"

Balcony man: "You fucking asshole, you're fucked in the head!" - literally translated though he says "They shat into your brain", to which the shooter replies:

"No they didn't, that's the thing, they didn't"

Video ends.


Germans Delighted At Prospect of Violent Pro-Erdogan Protests In their Cities

...or perhaps not.

Pro-Erdogan demos which recently took place around Austria features participation by the Turkish ultra-nationalist group the "Grey Wolves" and attacks on Kurdish shops and restaurants. The violence, and the high profile of politicized Islam in the demonstrations, was criticized by basically all Austrian political parties (g). Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz took the unusual step of summoning his Turkish counterpart for a stern lecture, and even said people in Austria who wanted to meddle in another country's internal politics should leave the country.

Which is pretty amazing, until you consider that all mainstream Austrian political parties are terrified of the growing support for the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party. Its candidate for the Chancellorship, Norbert Hofer, lost no time in pronouncing himself "deeply concerned" about violent protests in the middle of Austrian cities: 

You know, I bet a lot of Austrians agree with him.

Good news, everybody! All of this and perhaps more is coming to Germany! A pro-Erdogan group in Germany has just announced a demonstration scheduled for Cologne on July 31. They anticipate up to 15,000 participants (g).

I bet a lot of people in Cologne are going to wonder why large sections of their city have been blocked off. And why thousands of people are marching through the streets of Germany literally wrapped in the flag of some foreign country. And why they should have to pay for the police presence and cleanup -- and quite possibly arrests, prosecutions, and jail sentences -- for a demonstration about something which happened 2500 kilometers away. And why the obscure Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which 90% of Germans neither care about nor understand, is once again leading to violence in their own neighborhoods.

And, of course, they'll be wondering how many other global problems Germany just imported in 2015, when it let over a million random strangers from the most unstable parts of the world wander in with no checks or controls. The violent conflicts between different ethnic groups (g) in German refugee shelters are a sinister omen. 

This is why countries have borders.


A Surgeon Who Leaves the Wound Half-Open

I noticed in the comments to my post about Denglish a few instances of what I call the "close is good enough" school of communication. Commenters took me to task for pointing out the error in the sentence, stating that it wasn't really important because, in context, the meaning of the sentence was clear. I supposed some of this is derived from descriptivism, the idea that however people are using language right now basically defines what's correct.

I have never understood this line of reasoning. A sentence which you have to think about and read over again to understand is a bad sentence, period. Forcing your reader to resolve extra complications caused by your mistake wastes their time. There is no gray area. There are no excuses. 

It's as if a surgeon left a wound half-open: "Meh, it'll heal up on its own anyway, no need to waste expensive surgical silk". Or a train conductor braking too hard, causing drinks to spill: "Meh, who cares, we got where we were supposed to, didn't we?" Even if the wound does heal on its own and the train does reach the station, the surgeon and the conductor both acted like lazy gits. It would have cost just a little extra effort to do the job right.

Why not just do it right?

 


Maybe Not the Time for Visa-Free Travel From Turkey?

50,000 newly-unemployed civil servants in Turkey: 

In the days since the coup was foiled, authorities have suspended or detained tens of thousands of bureaucrats for alleged links to the plot. Mass dismissals have also hollowed out the army, police, schools, universities and the state’s highest religious-affairs council, bringing the number of people in detention or newly unemployed to roughly 50,000.

“It’s total chaos. They are not applying any kind of law at this stage,” Gunal Kursun, assistant law professor at Turkey’s Cukurova University, said of the legal system.

Rights advocates have warned that the speed with which the government is firing and detaining opponents suggests authorities have bypassed laws requiring criminal investigations.

Just a few months ago we were being calmly assured by most mainstream German politicos that allowing visa-free travel from Turkey would be a no-brainer.

In any event, I would be fine with accepting a certain number of actual political refugees from Turkey. They're likely to be comparatively well-educated and orderly. Educated Istanbulites who visit Germany are often taken aback by the how unsophisticated many German Turks are. Most Turkish Germans are descended from immigrants hoovered up from Eastern Anatolia as factory labor, and have often preserved, for generations, many quaint customs and attitudes from the sleepy backwaters they came from. They have as much in common with an educated Ankarite as a genderfluid Green Party social worker from Kreuzberg has with a Bavarian Schuhplattler.

But let's be adults about this, Germany. Let's not simply throw open the borders, import millions of random Turks, and hope at least some of them are actually political refugees. That's what happened in 2015, and it really didn't work out very well. Perhaps this time Germany could do what every other country does, and make sure it actually lets in only genuine refugees. You know, by applying the law. Is that possible?


German YouTube Produces The Most Widely-Seen Denglish Fail in Human History

As many of you know, Germany's music royalties organization, GEMA, has been locked in conflict with YouTube for years now:

According to a German court in Hamburg, Google's subsidiary YouTube could be held liable for damages when it hosts copyrighted videos without the copyright holder's permission. As a result, music videos for major label artists on YouTube, as well as many videos containing background music, are censored in Germany since the end of March 2009 after the previous agreement had expired and negotiations for a new license agreement were stopped. On 30 June 2015, Google won a partial victory against GEMA in a state court in Munich, which ruled that they could not be held liable for such damages.

This is the English-language version of the message you get when you try to watch a blocked video:

Dengilsh

Along with hopeless confusion about until/by ("I'll have that report on your desk until 5, boss!"), mismarked relative clauses are quintessential Denglish errors. Oxford, refresh our memories:

A relative clause is one that’s connected to the main clause of the sentence by a word such as who, whom, which, that, or whose. For example:

It reminded him of the house that he used to live in.

The items, which are believed to be family heirlooms, included a grandfather clock worth around £3,000.

There are two types of relative clause: restrictive (or defining) relative clauses and non-restrictive (or non-defining) relative clauses. The difference between them is as follows:

  • A restrictive relative clause provides essential information about the noun to which it refers. It cannot be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning. The highlighted section of the first sentence above is a restrictive relative clause. If it was left out, the sentence would not make sense:

It reminded him of the house. [which house?]

  • A non-restrictive relative clause provides information that can be left out without affecting the meaning or structure of the sentence. The highlighted section of the second sentence above is a non-restrictive relative clause. If it was left out, the sentence would still make perfect sense:

The items included a grandfather clock worth around £3,000.

You do not need to put a comma before restrictive relative clauses. On the other hand, non-restrictive relative clauses should be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma or commas. For example:

A list of contents would have made it easier to steer through the book, which also lacks a map.

Bill, who had fallen asleep on the sofa, suddenly roused himself.

Now we see what's wrong with the GEMA message. The phrase "for which we could not agree on on conditions of use with GEMA" (which itself caused a fight between GEMA and YouTube, since GEMA thought it unfairly made them out to be the villain) is a restrictive relative clause, like "that he used to live in" in the Oxford example. Therefore, it should not be marked off with a comma.

But virtually all relative clauses in German are marked off with commas. So Germans frequently insert too many commas when they write or edit English. Any translator will tell you of epic, 79-email battles with German clients who think they know English and who insist on re-inserting commas. This usually culminates in an email from the translator which says "I'm really going to have to put my foot down about this. The comma must go, and it's not a style issue, it changes the meaning of the sentence. Trust me." but which really means: I AM A FUCKING PROFESSIONAL TRANSLATOR WHOM YOU HIRED TO TRANSLATE THIS FUCKING DOCUMENT BECAUSE I AM A NATIVE FUCKING SPEAKER OF ENGLISH. YOU ARE NOT. I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG. IF YOU REINSERT ONE MORE FUCKING COMMA, I WILL FUCKING STRANGLE YOU.

The meaning of the GEMA warning is obviously incomplete without the clause about the GEMA conditions. Without that clause, the warning simply says you can't see the video "because it could contain music". The marking of the clause with commas tells an English speaker that the phrase "for which we could not agree on conditions of use with GEMA" is a non-restrictive clause, which would mean that it applies to all music in general: i.e., that GEMA and YouTube sat down to negotiate an agreement about all music ever created and failed to do so. With the comma removed, the sentence now correctly states that you're seeing the warning because GEMA and YouTube could not agree on terms for the music in this specific video.

It seems incredible, but YouTube obviously did not have this warning, which has probably been seen literally billions of times, checked by a native English speaker. I can just imagine some pompous, gel-haired German YouTube executive insisting it was correct, and zis konversation iss over!


No "Jew-Conscious" Comments, Please

You'd be surprised how few comments I have to erase here. Most of my commenters are quite reasonable, if opinionated. Some of them are incredibly articulate and a pleasure to debate. As long as you're making some kind of argument, and as long as your language isn't actionable, Imma let you finish.

I only have to step in once every few weeks and block something. But to try to reduce even this frequency, let me reiterate a few things that'll get you blocked:

  • Anything with "WhiteGenocide" or Stormer, Stormfront, or anything Stormy in the name
  • Links to videos advocating a, er, "Jew-conscious" interpretation of history
  • Racial slurs
  • Threats or advocacy of any kind of violence for any reason.

Policy critiques are welcome. But if you are a white supremacist, Holocaust denier, Jew-baiter, or Nazi sympathizer, you are a sad, sick, freak deserving of pity and contempt, and I will eagerly zap your comments as soon as I find them. Not to mention the fact that many of these views are a crime in Germany, a state of the law which I fully endorse.

So far this year, I've only had to zap 7 or 8 comments out of hundreds which have been posted here. But a periodic reminder of the policy seems sensible.


Random Migrants do Random Things for Random Reasons

Yesterday, a 17-year-old Afghan migrant hacked four tourists from Hong Kong nearly to death before being shot by police. Early reports indicate he was shouting 'Allahu Akbar' during the deed, and that a handmade IS flag was found where he lives. IS has already claimed him as one of theirs. 

The FAZ frets: "How Susceptible are Young Refugees to Islamist Propaganda?"

The only honest answer to that question is "we have no idea". The overwhelming majority of migrants know no German or English. They speak languages like Arabic, Urdu, Pashto, Dari, or Amharic. If you thought Germany was teeming with qualified, reliable interpreters for these obscure tongues, you are mistaken. The German government is scouring the nation for any person sentient organism who speaks these languages. But since there is neither the will nor the means to check out the bona fides of these volunteer translators, corruption, incompetence, and/or hidden political and ethnic agendas keep cropping up.

Therefore, until they learn German -- which many of them never will -- migrants are sealed in a linguistic isolation zone. They can communicate with the world outside their bubble only in the most primitive terms, and nobody from the outside has the slightest idea what they are thinking. This is one reason why there is so little information in the press about migrants who commit crimes: they can barely read or write, and speak obscure languages nobody in Germany understands.

Which means there's a 99 percent chance the migrant sitting next to your on the train poses no danger of whipping out his penis and ejaculating onto you (there's a lot of that going on), or groping you, or screaming at you for no discernible reason, or hacking you to death at random. But there's a 1? 0.1? 1.3? percent chance he might do something like that. You have no idea what that chance is.

Neither do the authorities, since they allowed this man into the country knowing nothing about his background, not even his name, and haven't found anything out since he got here. How could they? He speaks only Dari, is (either partially or completely) illiterate, and there is no way to verify anything he does decide to tell the authorities. Plus, there seems to be a far above average likelihood he suffers from a serious mental illness. Families seeking to cast an anchor into prosperous, stable Germany send their misfits and problem children, not the ones who have families and a steady job at home.

Can you see why European domestic security agencies began tearing their hair out when Germany opened its borders?

But they're not the only ones. If you have to use the train, as millions of Germans do every day, you have no control over whether you might end up sitting next to a crazy, dangerous migrant whom nobody knows is crazy or dangerous. Today the migrant sitting across from your did nothing unusual. And the next 100 you sit next to on your daily commute won't do anything either. But watch out for No. 102 -- he'll be a doozy! And thanks to the insurmountable language and cultural barriers, you'll have no idea what he decides to do if and when he finally snaps.

People do not like it when government policies needlessly expose them to unfathomable risks over which they have no control. Germans are especially resentful of this: see organisms, genetically-modified; and power, nuclear. A sense of powerlessness, insecurity, and mistrust translates into profound, seismic shifts in the public mood which nobody can predict.

Which is what we see today all over Europe.