Category: Editorial

Trump’s Threat to Democracy

EYESTwo political scientists specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard, write in their important new book, “How Democracies Die,” which will be released next week.

“With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.”

A survey that year found that the Venezuelan public overwhelmingly believed that “democracy is always the best form of government,” with only one-quarter saying that authoritarianism is sometimes preferable. Yet against their will, Venezuelans slid into autocracy.

“This is how democracies now die,” Levitsky and Ziblatt write. “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”

We tend to assume that the threat to democracies comes from coups or violent revolutions, but the authors say that in modern times, democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That’s what happened, to one degree or another, in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Hungary, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland and Peru.

Venezuela was a relatively prosperous democracy, for example, when the populist demagogue Hugo Chávez tapped the frustrations of ordinary citizens to be elected president in 1998.

Likewise, the authors say, no more than 2 percent of Germans or Italians joined the Nazi or Fascist Parties before they gained power, and early on there doesn’t seem to have been clear majority support for authoritarianism in either Germany or Italy. But both Hitler and Mussolini were shrewd demagogues who benefited from the blindness of political insiders who accommodated them.

Let me say right here that I don’t for a moment think the United States will follow the path of Venezuela, Germany or Italy. Yes, I do see in Trump these authoritarian tendencies — plus a troubling fondness for other authoritarians, like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines — but I’m confident our institutions are stronger than Trump.

It’s true that he has tried to undermine institutions and referees of our political system: judges, the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I., the intelligence community, the news media, the opposition party and Congress. But to his great frustration, American institutions have mostly passed the stress test with flying colors.

“President Trump followed the electoral authoritarian script during his first year,” Levitsky and Ziblatt conclude. “He made efforts to capture the referees, sideline the key players who might halt him, and tilt the playing field. But the president has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized. … Little actual backsliding occurred in 2017.”

That seems right to me: The system worked.

And yet.

For all my confidence that our institutions will trump Trump, the chipping away at the integrity of our institutions and norms does worry me. Levitsky and Ziblatt warn of the unraveling of democratic norms — norms such as treating the other side as rivals rather than as enemies, condemning violence and bigotry, and so on. This unraveling was underway long before Trump (Newt Gingrich nudged it along in the 1990s), but Trump accelerated it.

Marijuana sellers plan big parties as California pot legalization begins

7W4TV6V23ZFBJOX2N7Z5A4UJVQLive music. Free T-shirts. A “Fweedom” celebration with mystery prize boxes worth up to $500, and a shot at a behind-the-scenes tour. Marijuana legalization arrives Monday in California with lots of hoopla, but only a handful of cities will initially have retail outlets ready to sell recreational pot. By Thursday afternoon, California had issued only 42 retail licenses. Another 150 applications were pending, and regulators planned to work a second straight weekend to review them. Los Angeles and San Francisco were late to approve local regulations, meaning no recreational pot shops there will open their doors Monday.

The lucky few outlets with licenses — mainly in San Diego, the Bay Area, the Palm Springs area and Santa Cruz — think they have an edge being first out of the gate.

But excitement about California joining the growing list of states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational weed is tempered with the stresses of ensuring shelves are stocked in the face of uncertain demand. The state issued its first 20 retail licenses two weeks ago and an additional 22 have trickled out since, some for already established medical marijuana businesses that have thrived in California for two decades and will continue.

Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, said a dozen employees were vetting applications to “issue as many licenses as we can” in the coming days.

The temporary permits represent just a sliver of the thousands of licenses expected to eventually be issued for retail recreational sales. Local permits are a prerequisite for the state licenses, and many cities — including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Long Beach — have yet to issue any local rules, putting huge swaths of the state on the sidelines for opening day. The Palm Springs area had nine of the state’s first retail licenses, including seven in Cathedral City, population 54,000.

San Diego had eight. Santa Cruz and San Jose had four each, and others were scattered around the Bay Area and the state’s northern reaches. An outlet known as Caliva in San Jose is promoting the “Fweedom” celebration Monday with the prize boxes and exclusive tours of its growing areas, along with massages, acupuncture, waffle desserts and music with “mellow beats.”

A county supervisor will attend a 7 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony at Kind Peoples in Santa Cruz. Its chief executive, Khalil Moutawakkil, said pot has long been “a huge part” of the culture of the oceanfront college town.

Berkeley Patients Group, which opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 1999 and has received a permit for recreational sales, expects lines around the block to mark opening day. The mayor of the city is expected at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 a.m.

“You’ll see the people who have been consumers for decades and they were for legalization back in the ’60s,” said Sean Luse, chief operating officer. “But you’re also going to see a more mainstream group of people who were waiting for the green light.”

Harborside is planning brass bands at its locations in Oakland and San Jose, with flags and T-shirts for the first 100 people in line.

A few outlets with recreational licenses are passing on the hoopla.

For them, excitement at being first out of the gate is tempered with the stresses of complying with new regulations. Golden State Greens, with a modest storefront amid car repair shops and budget hotels in San Diego, houses a bustling business that has sold marijuana for medical purposes since 2015. It will open its doors at 7 a.m. Monday, like it does every other day of the year.

After California voters approved recreational weed last year, the shop changed its name from Point Loma Patients Consumer Cooperative, reflecting its ambitions for a broader clientele. “We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Adam Knopf, its chief executive. “There are a lot of unknown factors but we’re prepared.”

Gary Cherlin, chief executive of Desert Organic Solutions Collective in North Palm Springs, received holiday news of his recreational sales permit as he devised promotional packages with hotels aimed at tourists who come for warm winters. He said being among the first shops to sell recreational pot means less competition.

“I don’t know how many more are coming but they don’t have a lot of time left,” he said.

Mount Shasta Patients Collective, which opened three years ago in the northern part of the state as a medical dispensary, has already turned away people coming for recreational pot.

Others with medical marijuana cards have been stocking up ahead of price increases expected after recreational weed is legal.

“We’ll have all hands on deck,” general manager Austin Freeman said of opening day. “It could be really hectic.”

The Trump Administration to Restaurants: Take the Tips!

Most Americans assume that when they leave a tip for waiters and bcapital-one-credit-cardartenders, those workers pocket the money. That could become wishful thinking under a Trump administration proposal that would give restaurants and other businesses complete control over the tips earned by their employees.

The Department of Labor recently proposed allowing employers to pool tips and use them as they see fit as long as all of their workers are paid at least the minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour nationally and higher in some states and cities. Officials argue that this will free restaurants to use some of the tip money to reward lowly dishwashers, line cooks and other workers who toil in the less glamorous quarters and presumably make less than servers who get tips. Using tips to compensate all employees sounds like a worthy cause, but a simple reading of the government’s proposal makes clear that business owners would have no obligation to use the money in this way. They would be free to pocket some or all of that cash, spend it to spiff up the dining room or use it to underwrite $2 margaritas at happy hour. And that’s what makes this proposal so disturbing.

The 3.2 million Americans who work as waiters, waitresses and bartenders include some of the lowest-compensated working people in the country. The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was $9.61 an hour last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further, there is a sordid history of restaurant owners who steal tips, and of settlements in which they have agreed to repay workers millions of dollars.

6 Ways to Be Better at Money in 2018

capital-one-credit-cardWelcome to the Smarter Living newsletter. Editor Tim Herrera emails readers once a week with tips and advice for living a better, more fulfilling life. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Monday morning. Though there’s never a wrong time to get your finances in order, a new year is the perfect excuse to take a deep look at your relationship with money. Whether you’re just starting out in your career or you’re nearing retirement, below is The Times best financial advice from this year on earning and saving more money and, more important, deciding what to do with all of it.

Save a little extra money every week

No, cutting out that indulgent, extra-fancy coffee once a week won’t make you a millionaire, but those small savings truly do add up over time. Find where you’re nickel-and-diming yourself, then see what you can stand to eliminate. Read more »

Atlanta Rap Keeps Evolving. Quality Control Is Taking It Global.

26QUALITY1-jumboThe nimble record label in the world’s de facto hip-hop capital is working
to build sustainable careers, not viral moments, in the streaming era.

ATLANTA — Unless you catch a glimpse of the eggplant Mercedes-Maybach S600 or the various young men with clusters of diamonds on choker-short chains coming and going at all hours, there is nothing too flashy about the headquarters of Quality Control Music, a record label here in the world’s de facto hip-hop capital.

As the birthplace of the chart-topping, trendsetting careers of Migos and Lil Yachty, this studio and office compound, northwest of downtown, is the latest nondescript landmark to help alter the course of rap music, a near-constant occurrence in Atlanta over the last two decades. But despite its pedigree as a center of luxury and innovation, the space — tucked behind a Goodwill and a full-service dog care facility — is light on bacchanalia and heavy on rules and expectations.

“DO NOT come to the studio UNLESS you are working,” reads a weathered printout taped to a bare wall amid four recording studios. “BE RESPONSIBLE for the company you bring … DO NOT have anyone dropping off or picking up drugs at the studio … This is not your home, this is not a hangout, this is a place of business. PLEASE conduct yourself accordingly and in a professional manner.” (Also: “ANY gambling, all parties involved must pay the house 30%!”)

The artists tend to listen. On a recent weekday afternoon, the promising, singsong street rapper Lil Baby, 21 years old and newly into music after two years in prison, diligently wiped his Chick-fil-A sauce and crumbs from a studio countertop as he played tracks from his next mixtape, “Too Hard.” Expected in early December, the project will be his fourth release of the year despite the fact that he started rapping in February.Taking in the songs were the stewards of Lil Baby’s fledgling career: Quality Control’s chief executive Pierre Thomas, or Pee to everyone in his orbit, who typed notes on his phone; and its chief operating officer Kevin Lee, known as Coach K or Coach, who vibed with his eyes closed.

Both men, veterans of the nexus where Atlanta’s street culture meets its music scene, have known Lil Baby since he was a charismatic teenager who was respected around town for his gambling prowess, and they had long encouraged him to pursue a career in music.

Hardheaded and fast-living, Lil Baby resisted until his sentence for gun and drug charges limited his options. As he raps on one new song: “Last year I was sittin’ in a cage/this year I’m goin’ all the way/takin’ drugs, trying to ease the pain.”

Pee, visibly energized by Lil Baby’s progress as an introspective songwriter, announced that the track would serve as the intro for the mixtape, only to receive a vehement protest from the rapper.

“Listen, you’re getting overruled on this one,” Pee shot back, ending the discussion. “Have I told you anything wrong yet?”

It’s this hands-on engagement with homegrown talent that Quality Control hopes will set it apart. Founded by Pee and Coach in 2013 around the flamboyant, fast-rapping local trio Migos, the company went from a start-up with the growing pains typically associated with a new independent label — exacerbated by their artists’ run-ins with the law — to a joint venture with Capitol Music Group and Motown Records in 2015.

Though prospects like OG Maco, Young Greatness and Rich the Kid didn’t truly take off, Quality Control has avoided the temptations of today’s viral-rap gold rush — in which a meme or one-off video by a rookie can lead to a major-label deal — preferring to stick with its system of developing talent gradually and at home.

This year brought an extended breakthrough amid hip-hop’s domination on streaming services: “Bad and Boujee” by Migos hit No. 1 and led to a smash album, “Culture”; while the human meme Lil Yachty established himself as a ubiquitous brand partner with a loyal youth following.

Now, with two well-oiled moneymakers who have refused to fizzle — Lil Yachty’s “Lil Boat 2” mixtape is scheduled for late December and Migos’s “Culture 2,” featuring the single “MotorSport,” is due out in January — Pee and Coach can shift focus to building sustainable careers for its “farm team” of young Atlanta rappers, including Lil Baby, Marlo and Mak Sauce, while simultaneously expanding its brand into television, film and more. (“Quality Control Presents: Control the Streets, Volume 1,” a compilation album featuring the label’s roster and guests like Nicki Minaj, Kodak Black and Cardi B, is scheduled for release on Dec. 8.)

Coach K and Pee are not your standard record industry players, but more akin to No Limit’s Master P and Cash Money’s Baby and Slim: savvy businessmen who shaped their labels with grass-roots hustling — updated for the internet age.

“Other labels have these A & Rs and C.E.O.s and chairmen, sitting in an office looking on the internet at numbers on SoundCloud and Spotify — they’re just into the analytics,” Pee, 38, said. “That’s part of it. But if I’m being honest — and it might sound ignorant — I don’t own a computer. I’m really out here in it.”

Sweeping Plan Would Overturn Equal Access to the Internet

lightbulbThe Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it planned to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites. The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery of websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. Those limits are central to the concept called net neutrality.

The action immediately reignited a loud and furious fight over free speech and the control of the internet, pitting telecom giants like AT&T against internet giants like Google and Amazon, who warn against powerful telecom gatekeepers. Both sides are expected to lobby hard in Washington to push their agendas, as they did when the existing rules were adopted. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The proposal from Mr. Pai, a Republican, is widely expected to be approved during a Dec. 14 meeting in a 3-to-2 party line vote from the agency’s five commissioners. But some companies will probably put up a legal fight, or actions by lawmakers, to prevent it from taking hold.

The clear winners from the move would be the giant companies that provide internet access to phones and computers, which have fought for years against broadband regulations. A repeal of the rules would allow the companies to exert more control over the online experiences of American consumers.

Big online companies like Amazon say that the telecom companies would be able to show favoritism to certain web services, by charging for accessing some sites but not others, or by slowing the connection speed to some sites. Small online companies say the proposal would hurt innovation. Only the largest companies, they say, would be able to afford the expense of making sure their sites received preferred treatment.

And consumers, the online companies say, may see their costs go up to get quality access to popular websites like Netflix. The action “represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans,” said Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represent Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech firms.

But Mr. Pai said the internet rules were adopted to stop only theoretical harms. He said the old rules limited consumer choice and stifled investment in network expansion and upgrades. He has also argued that the existing internet rules stop internet service companies from experimenting with new business models that could help them compete with online businesses like Netflix, Google and Facebook.

The plan to repeal the existing rules, passed in 2015, also reverses a hallmark decision by the agency to declare broadband as a service as essential as phones and electricity. That move created the legal foundation for the current rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service to the nation. It was put in place by Tom Wheeler, an F.C.C. chairman under President Obama. Mr. Pai signaled his intention to dismantle the existing rules in April. The action on Tuesday by Mr. Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump, is the centerpiece of a deregulatory agenda that has also stripped television broadcasters, newspapers and telecom companies of a broad range of regulations meant to protect the public interest.

The telecom companies on Tuesday cheered Mr. Pai’s proposal. “The removal of antiquated, restrictive regulations will pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades,” said Jonathan Spalter, the chief executive of USTelecom, an industry lobbying group. But consumer advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers said the move would harm consumers and internet businesses that have relied on the rules to ensure all content is equally available, and to make sure that speech is not stifled by broadband companies putting up barriers to certain internet sites.

Consumer groups say broadband companies have been incredibly profitable under the net neutrality rules and have expanded their networks into new communities and with faster speeds, despite complaints the rules hamper their businesses. “Your internet service provider will be free to make online fast lanes and favor the content of its choice,” said Gigi Sohn, a former senior adviser to Mr. Wheeler at the F.C.C. “That it will take away your control of your internet experience and give it to Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.”

Why Kaepernick Takes the Knee

25siegelWeb-master768Given the fiery responses to Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem — taking a knee, a gesture now being adopted by a wave of professional athletes — you would think that it was a militant motion, full of anger and menace, akin to the Black Power salutes raised by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. But kneeling during the national anthem is a gesture of humility, not ominous ire.

In youth sports, players take a knee when another player is hurt. It is an acknowledgment of the vulnerable humanity that, for the moment, has been obscured by the intense competition of the game. Taking a knee in that context is, like a religious genuflection, a gesture of self-surrender before the greater reality of human suffering.

Likewise, when black players take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against African-Americans, they are making a gesture of pain and distress. They are putting America in a more honest context — our “Star-Spangled Banner” dimly seen through the mists of deep injury. It is like flying an American flag upside down in a moment of emergency.

Still, black players kneeling in this way has a disorienting quality. Clearly, however humble and sincere Kaepernick’s intentions, his critics have decided that he is disrespecting a growing list of American institutions: the flag, fallen service members — even the perceived line between playing professional sports and speaking out on issues of national importance.

Read More: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/opinion/nfl-football-kaepernick-take-knee.html?ribbon-ad-idx=9&rref=opinion&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&pgtype=article