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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – October 22, 2018, Treaty Withdrawal Edition

The Daily Escape:

Autumn near Walpole, NH – October 2018 photo by knale

Happy Monday. Over the weekend, Trump announced that the US will be exiting the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. The INF banned all US and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The weapons ban resulted in the destruction of 2,692 missiles. Washington demolished 846, and Moscow 1,846.

From the NYT:

But the pact has also constrained the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and to keep American naval forces at bay. Because China was not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles.

While the treaty was seen as effective, it’s hard to argue that the US is somehow obligated to remain in the INF treaty since we know that Russia has been pushing the edge of envelope for the last few years.

But, Russia’s behavior is just part of Trump’s calculation: His administration would like to develop a larger and more diverse portfolio of nuclear capabilities. It also has concerns about China, which isn’t subject to any arms control agreement, and they specifically rejected joining the INF.

As a result, Beijing has deployed a large number of intermediate and short-range conventional ballistic missiles, pointing them at US allies, including Taiwan.

Washington has focused on ballistic-missile defenses, but it seems that the Trump administration would prefer to respond with next-generation intermediate and short-range weapons. The US has done preliminary work on a new intermediate-range nuclear missile, and if deployed, it would also violate the INF.

It’s also far from clear where such new land-based weapons might be deployed. None of our European allies appear willing to accept them.

And there isn’t enthusiasm for US land-based missiles among our Asian allies. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam all are unlikely to host new US intermediate range missiles. That would leave Guam, which sits 2,400 miles from Beijing and 1,800 miles from Shanghai, not a decisive strategic counter-move.

The only argument for Guam is that those missiles would reach targets in China much faster than weapons sent via Guam-based bombers, but they would still be slower than sea-based cruise missiles.

Walking away from weapons treaties has had adverse diplomatic and strategic consequences in the past. When the GW Bush administration announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, the Kremlin responded by withdrawing from the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its prohibition on land-based missiles carrying multiple warheads.

The Kremlin is now moving forward with deployments of new “heavy” land-based missiles that can carry ten or more warheads. Their purpose is to defeat US missile defenses. Likewise, the demise of the INF Treaty would only reinforce the current nuclear competition.

Is Trump doing a smart thing?

The INF Treaty was less about hobbling the US than it was about hobbling Russia. The treaty only covered land- and air-based systems. So the US and NATO held a strategic advantage with its navies.

The only advantage Russia had, and still maintains, is its large land mass that can hide huge numbers of mobile launchers. By withdrawing from the treaty, the US actually plays right into Moscow’s hands. Mobile launchers are notoriously difficult to track down. We can’t do it in North Korea, and we couldn’t do it in Iraq.

Trump thinks he’s playing hardball, but Wrongo thinks his business acumen has been sadly overplayed. Exiting the INF isn’t so good for the Americans. Republicans used to think that fewer international entanglements would allow the US to keep its defense budgets low.

The Trump-Bolton idea turns this on its head. In fact, when it comes to American military security, Trump’s idea relies on magical thinking. It’s not just that his plan isn’t good for national security, it’s also that the Trump administration aims to make the US a military powerhouse while cutting taxes.

Bolton’s aim seems to be to create the conditions that could lead to war, an extraordinarily dangerous game, considering the flakiness of his boss.

Wake up America! Here’s another reason why turning out to vote in November, and then voting to turn out as many of these Republican chicken hawks in DC as we can, is of ultimate importance.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 21, 2018

You knew it would turn out to be this:

The Saudi government acknowledged early Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, saying he died during a fist fight.

The announcement, which came in a tweet from the Saudi foreign ministry, said that an initial investigation by the government’s general prosecutor found that Khashoggi had been in discussions with people inside the consulate when a quarrel broke out, escalating to a fatal fist fight.

And who would ever doubt the House of Sawed?

They came, they sawed, and they concocted a story, after two weeks of trying. Trump was correct, it was “Rogue Killers” who did it. Trump told reporters he thought the explanation from the Saudi foreign ministry of Khashoggi’s death was “credible”. He’s one of the few. Wrongo sees very little downside to never again reporting a single word he says.

The Trump Kabuki play rolls on:

We’ve lost the moral high ground:

Another reminder that we’ve lost the moral high ground:

Times change, and nobody’s running on tax cuts in the Mid-terms:

How some people overthink election day:

Sadly, no Republican sounds like a Democrat:

Voter suppression has become a core competency:

 

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Saturday Soother – October 20, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Fall near Halifax, Nova Scotia – October 2018 photo by zenox

Trump visited Montana on Thursday, where he praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year:

Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of – he’s my guy… By the way, never wrestle him…

He said that even though the US is hip-deep in the Jamal Khashoggi mess.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs during the final days of Gianforte’s special election race in May 2017. When Jacobs tried to interview him about the GOP health-care plan, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground and punched him. Gianforte won the special election, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a six-month deferred sentence.

There was way more Trumpiness at his rally in Missoula, Montana. Trump framed the midterms as:

An election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense. That’s what it’s going to be. It’s going to be an election of those things: law and order, Kavanaugh, remember common sense and remember that it’s going to be an election of the caravan, you know what I’m talking about…

And Trump debuted a new campaign slogan:

Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs.

Then he pivoted to the caravan.

Facing a sharp increase in unauthorized immigration, President Trump on Thursday lashed out at Democrats and the leaders of Latin American nations, seeking to deflect blame and mitigate political damage by riling up his base just weeks before the midterm elections.

Trump signaled with zero proof, that Democrats are somehow behind the caravan of immigrants moving toward the US:

But a lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by Election Day, because they think that’s a negative for us. Number one, they’re being stopped. And number two, regardless, that’s our issue.

He has also tweeted that he might summon the military to guard the southern border, cut off aid to Central American nations and upend the new trade deal with Mexico if those governments fail to stop a caravan of migrants from Honduras making its way toward the US.

He wants to use the military to mow them down at the border.

Stop in the name of your sanity! It’s time for a Saturday Soothing. Fall is upon us, and yard work beckons, but let’s take a few minutes to unplug from the mid-terms and focus on…quiet.

Start by brewing up a tall cup of Esmeralda Estate Porton Geisha Natural ($75/8oz.) It’s expensive, but you donate more than that to candidates who have zero chance of winning two weeks from now. So why not treat yourself? It’s from Dragonfly Coffee, a Boulder, Colorado-based micro-roaster that also supports worthy causes.

Now, move outside with your coffee, put on a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, played in the original version by the Dover Quartet. Barber finished the arrangement in 1936. In January 1938, Barber sent an orchestrated version of the Adagio for Strings to Arturo Toscanini. The conductor returned the score without comment, which annoyed Barber.

Toscanini later sent word that he was planning to perform the piece, and had returned it simply because he had already memorized it! It was performed for the first time by Toscanini in November, 1938. Here is the quartet version of “Adagio for Strings”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Will Dems Counter the GOP’s Plan to Cut Social Security?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Paradise Valley, Yellowstone NP – photo by Annie Griffiths

The mid-terms are coming, and we are having difficulty focusing on some important issues, because America has a short attention span, and we’ve been Kavanaugh ‘ed and Khashoggi ‘ed so much lately.

Two issues that are linked are the amazing deficit caused by the Trump tax cuts, and the moves being plotted by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and others to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Let’s start with tax revenues. It was clear to critics that the 2017 GOP tax cut was going to quickly increase the budget deficit and add $ trillions of the national debt, and here it is:

The federal deficit grew by nearly $800 billion over the first fiscal year of Trump’s presidency, during which the Republican Congress passed a tax cut targeted mostly to corporations and the wealthy, which is projected to add more than $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

And it didn’t take long for Republicans to insist that the deficits were actually caused by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, not their tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. From Vox:

Fresh off the news that the deficit is increasing under President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg News that Congress should target Social Security and Medicare for cuts to address the growing federal debt.

The White House and GOP leaders promised America that the tax cuts would pay for themselves, but they haven’t. The growing federal deficit hasn’t caused Republican leaders to reconsider their tax policy. Instead, they argue that entitlement reform — Republican-speak for cuts to social safety net programs — is what’s really needed to address the federal deficit. From McConnell’s interview with Bloomberg this week:

It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem….It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.

Republicans have opposed Social Security and Medicare since they were created. But because these programs enjoy overwhelming support from the American people, they would not normally talk about their plans for benefit cuts three weeks before an election.

But, they are doing just that.

This is a real issue, since those programs make up a large share of federal spending: Medicare was 15% of the federal budget in 2017, and it’s projected to grow to 18% by 2028. Social Security is a bigger chunk of the budget (24% in 2016), and our aging population will put a greater strain on the program. Here is the budget breakdown:

Democrats want to expand, not cut these programs. Republicans may see their last, best chance to cut them slipping away with the mid-terms. They seem determined not to let that happen, so this will be a big issue in the lame duck sessions. The GOP will use the cost of their tax giveaways as the excuse to do what they have wanted to do to social programs all along.

If the GOP is talking like this before the mid-terms, imagine the carnage if they keep control of both Houses of Congress!

People who want to defend Social Security and Medicare better work hard to get out the vote in November. And the latest news about the House isn’t encouraging. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball reports that Democrats aren’t there yet:

A race-by-race analysis of Democratic House targets shows the party is close to winning the majority, but they do not have it put away, in our judgment, with Election Day less than three weeks away.

Barring a big, positive late change in the political environment in favor of Republicans, the bare minimum for Democratic House gains is in the mid-to-high teens. The needed 23-seat net gain is not that far beyond that and there are many different paths Democrats can take to achieve it.

He says Dems can count on 18, but need 23…

Assuming that the Dems won’t go along with the GOP’s planned social spending cuts, Republicans will try to blame Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, assuming their cuts to social programs fail.

Republicans will say “Democrats plan to raise taxes on tens of millions of middle-class Americans” to cut the deficit, and that’s true. But, it would be just a part of the package of fiscal moves to cut the deficit, with the primary focus on clawing back some of the massive Republican corporate tax cuts.

Democrats need to talk this up in the next three weeks to counter the GOP’s clearly articulated game plan.

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Saudi Story About Khashoggi Killing Doesn’t Hold Up

The Daily Escape:

Fall in New England – photo by Karen Randall

Saudi Arabia’s denials have been weakened with new reporting by US media. We may never know exactly why it happened, but bringing a bone saw to an “interrogation” greatly increases the likelihood of something going wrong.

An interesting aspect of the botched assassination of Jamal Khashoggi is the insight it gives us into political issues in America’s relations with Saudi Arabia. As blog reader Fred says, “We’re awash in rogue killers”, so, here is the current state of play. Investigative reporting by the NYT finds that Suspects in Khashoggi case had ties to Saudi Crown Prince: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)— seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.

Despite MBS denying knowing anything about what happened to Khashoggi, the NYT’s work shows that the rogue assassins theory doesn’t hold water. On Monday Trump floated the idea that a “rogue killer” was responsible for the deed in Istanbul:

President Donald Trump on Monday repeatedly highlighted the Saudi King’s denial of involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, at one point offering up an alternative theory that “rogue killers,” rather than agents of the Saudi regime, were involved.

From Moon of Alabama:

MBS unwittingly did a huge favor to Turkey’s president Erdogan when he sent a crew to abduct or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan is in a historic geopolitical conflict with Saudi Arabia over supremacy in the Middle East.

Apparently, the Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Turks know what happened within the consulate, and are using that evidence to squeeze the Saudis.

Despite the trial balloon via Trump, Erdogan leaked pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia, and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited to get his divorce papers.

Later that day, they flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.

At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince MBS. Obviously MBS himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 is Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department. Reports are that he dismembered Khashoggi’s body.

The Saudi government has made no serious attempt to explain why these people, including MBS’s personal body guards, flew to Istanbul and were in the consulate when Khashoggi entered it, and left hours later. The WSJ reports in their coverage of Pompeo’s Saudi meetings:

Complicating investigators’ search inside the Saudi consulate: fresh coats of paint, Erdogan says.

Pompeo has now visited the King and MBS in Saudi Arabia. He’s visited Erdogan and his team in Turkey, and is now on his way back to the US.

The message from Pompeo and Trump is: “Let’s not convict Saudi Arabia until all the facts are in”.

Pompeo has tried to negotiate a deal between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that will limit the damage the killing does to the House of Saud, and MBS. But the Saudis stonewalled Pompeo, while Erdogan has certainly played the grisly audio tape for him.

MBS will try to ride out the storm. He can pressure Trump by holding back oil exports, or stopping the pretend purchases of new arms. Forget the moral high ground, show me the money!

Trump desperately wants to get MBS off the hook, but domestic and international pressure may be too great, particularly as Erdogan continues the drip by drip release of sensational evidence.

Trump will have to do something more than sending Pompeo for what amounts to photo opportunities.

We have no Saudi Arabian ambassador. The White House’s connection to the Saudi rulers largely runs through MBS and Jared Kushner. But that connection is temporarily useless. That explains why Pompeo had to visit.

Only the King can remove MBS, but the King is 82 years old, and not in good health. MBS might well be ruthless enough that the King suddenly dies.

Trump has to decide what to do, and act quickly.

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Why Did Elizabeth Warren Release Her DNA Info Now?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, WY – photo by Shaun Peterson

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

Warren took Trump’s gambit. He delights in calling her “Pocahontas” because she has claimed Native American heritage. Not that she used it as a basis for getting a job, or for career advancement. Her family is from Oklahoma, and many in the Sooner State claim Indian heritage. About 8.7% of Oklahomans are Native American.

Part of her received history includes a story handed down about how white parents of a family member disapproved of a marriage to someone of Indian descent.

In July, Trump told supporters at a Montana rally that he would donate $1 million to charity if Elizabeth Warren would take a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage. And she took the DNA test. It showed some Native American heritage, so he owes her one million dollars.

Trump then said he never said anything like that. But all the news shows aired the clip of him saying just that. It led to a tweet-war between Trump and Warren. Depending on the party you identify with, you think either Warren or Trump won a battle in a political war that will continue until 2020.

This raises so many questions.

It’s important to understand that the immediate question isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry, or whether Trump really said he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity and then reneged on what everyone can clearly see on video anywhere on the internet.

The question is have we gotten to the point where the future of the country and its leadership comes down to which one wins a spitting contest? Sen. Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people, lying about what he said.

These aren’t normal times. American politics has always had the capacity to be a freak show, but questioning the racial heritage of a candidate shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E Pluribus Unum isn’t what we mean.

Republicans are always asking “Are THEY one of US?

So, why did Sen. Warren announce this now, three weeks before the mid-terms?

Some Democrats argue that the timing of her announcement distracts from the messages of other Democratic candidates, particularly those in close races who really need media attention in order to compete. There’s a chance that media attention will now be sucked up by this Warren/Trump sideshow.

From Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager:

Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???

Others think Warren’s decision to take on Trump so far ahead of a general election is unnecessary. It takes away from Trump and FEMA’s uneven response to Hurricane Michael, and Trump’s unintelligible response to Saudi Arabia’s denials of complicity in the Khashoggi mystery.

But Warren showing that she won’t back down from Trump was probably her number one reason for the announcement. We should interpret this as clear evidence that she plans to run for the presidency.

She got support from her family. The video Warren released includes footage of her three brothers, and other relatives who still live in her native Oklahoma. They are Republicans. They call the president’s belittling nickname “ridiculous” and “silly.”

Warren seems prepared to fight Trump’s full-tilt racist demagoguery. She hopes to blunt that part of his game, a job that may be more difficult for possible candidates Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker.

The real DNA issue isn’t Warren’s. Who belongs in America is deep in the GOP’s DNA.

They’re always asking who belongs. It didn’t start with GW Bush spreading rumors about John McCain’s adopted daughter. It didn’t end with Obama’s birth certificate, it continued to Trump happily deporting people who have Green Cards.

Now, Trump and the GOP will take on Sen. Warren by questioning her Oklahoma roots.

What we are seeing is the first, but not the last “pitooi” in the 2020 fight for the White House.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Early fall in Nuremberg, Germany – photo by voyageblonde

With so much anger about Brett Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice, it seems that Democrats care more about the Supreme Court than Republicans. As Sean McElwee has noted:

Democrats were more likely to approve of the court than Republicans by an average of a 14 point margin from 2010 to 2014. This gap increased…to a 32-point margin in 2016…even while the court decided cases like Trinity Lutheran, in which the court required the government to subsidize churches.

Democrats’ view of the Court was shaped by the Warren Court’s civil rights decisions (Brown vs. Board of Education), and Anthony Kennedy’s occasionally siding with Democrats on a few socially liberal issues.

The Dem’s higher approval of the court is striking, because it has been 49 years since the Supreme Court has had a liberal majority. From Marty Lederman:

On May 15, 1969, Justice Fortas resigned from the Supreme Court, thereby ending a seven-year period in which a 5-4 majority of the sitting Justices had been appointed by Democratic Presidents. I had just turned eight years old.  I’m now almost 58. And yet that day in May 1969 remains the last moment in time that a majority of the Court was appointed by Democrats.

In the 2016 presidential election, many Democrats said that the chance to appoint new Supreme Court justices was reason enough to vote for Hillary Clinton, but too few Democrats turned out in 2016, so control of the Court is safely in the hands of Donald Trump and the GOP for what could be another 50 years. More from Lederman:

In only seven of the past 108 years (1946-1953) has the Chief Justice of the United States been a Democrat who did not fight on behalf of the Confederacy.)

So, should we conclude that Democrats like the Court, but fail to see it as a priority at election time? There are a few other ideas to go along with that.

  • Democratic Presidents have served five terms since 1969, and have won a majority, or plurality of the popular vote in seven of the twelve elections in that period–including in six of the past seven elections.
  • Democrats have held a majority of the Senate in more than half of the 25 Congresses since Fortas’s resignation, including some with huge majorities. But the Court has remained in GOP control, and will for decades to come.
  • Consider that only Justice Thomas was appointed by a Republican President who entered office with a majority, or plurality of the popular vote.
  • In the 27-year span, which covers the entire tenure of all of the current Justices, a Republican President has won the popular vote in just one election, 2004.

It gets worse: The Senators who confirmed Gorsuch represented states in which only 47% of Americans lived. Back to Lederman:

Using estimated 2018 population figures—and not even counting the millions of Americans in the territories, including Puerto Rico—my rough calculation is that Kavanaugh was confirmed by the votes of Senators representing only 44% or so of the nation’s population…

So, our democracy, which specifies two Senators per state, makes approval of liberal justices an issue, since too few Senators represent liberal-leaning states.

But, liberals didn’t need to care about the Court’s direction for most of the second half of the 20th century. During that period, there were many victories in the Court that either enshrined liberal policy preferences directly, or made it possible for them to be legislated into existence.

There is a Japanese concept in military science called “Victory Disease” which occurs when complacency or arrogance, brought on by a victory, or a series of victories, makes an army underestimate the battle at hand. This is what infected Dems over the past 50+ years about the Supreme Court.

By the 1990s, liberals had largely stopped caring about the courts, except for the gay rights movement.

But, since the Rehnquist and the Roberts Court, it is now conservative policy preferences that are either being enshrined directly, (Shelby County, Hobby Lobby, and Citizens United) or are possible because of refusals to hear cases, such as Brakebill v. Jaeger, which disenfranchised Native Americans in North Dakota.

So it’s time for Democrats to Wake Up! And to have a laser focus on the Court.

When Hillary lost and Trump was inaugurated, many people were furious. Now isn’t the time to be furious, it’s time to be serious.

The mid-term election isn’t a game, and turnout is everything!

Otherwise, Dems won’t take back the House.

Then, they would be in danger of becoming a fringe party.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 14, 2018

Last week was dominated by an emerging Republican narrative about Democrats: Dems are socialists. They are an angry mob. They frighten ordinary people. The framing by Trump is that the mid-term election is “patriots vs. socialists”.

And Trump said this on Friday night in Cincinnati:

A vote for a Republican is a vote to reject the Democratic politics of hatred, anger and division.

The Democrats’ closing argument for the mid-terms is considerably more nuanced, and it may not be heard clearly. They are against Trump, and all that he and his party stand for, but they talk about wanting a chance to provide a “check and balance” against Trump’s (and the GOP’s) worst instincts.

Sure, some will vote for that, but will enough turn out to vote for it to take the House?

The Democrats haven’t recovered from the public’s disapproval of their demonstrations against Kavanaugh after his swearing in. A reasonable minority of Dems don’t understand that most Americans are uncomfortable with demonstrations. Amy Chua has an astute observation in her book, “Political Tribes” where she quotes a South Carolina student:

I think protesting is almost a status symbol for elites. That’s why they always post pictures on Facebook, so all their friends know they’re protesting. When elites protest on behalf of us poor people, it’s not just that we see them as unhelpful; it seems that they are turning us…into the next ‘meme’. We don’t like being used for someone else’s self-validation.

On one side, we have the GOP, who can apparently say anything, offer insults and tell lies. On the other side, we have the Democrats who can’t do much of that without the mainstream media taking umbrage. Dems allow the media and the Right to write their story. The GOP and the media have made the Democrats the party of identity politics, the PC party, one that is so busy protecting the big tent that it’s unable to govern.

Trump’s Traveling Nuremberg Rallies will continue until the mid-terms, and Dems must decide what messaging will be successful in 2018. It’s going to be tough, because since the dawn of time, no one has truly figured out how to deal effectively (and conclusively) with authoritarian and anti-democratic ideas.

But, Dems have to do just that, or else remain a fringe party.

In American politics, it seems like it’s always 1968. Republicans are the law-and-order party. Democrats are the party affiliated with the demonstrators in the streets of Chicago, even though those demonstrators were radicals, not Democrats. The demonstrators were furious at the Vietnam War, which was led then by Democrats. And today, that viewpoint persists.

Both parties think the other is appalling, so you don’t have to like your own party, you just have to hate the other one. And one thing the Kavanaugh mess has done, it’s made both sides feel the other is appalling.

How it all turns out 22 days from now is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope the Democrats fight hard for the issues that really matter. On to cartoons.

It’s football and election seasons, and it’s always tough to pick the winners:

It’s laughable to think back to the days when the US sent observers to other countries to ensure fair elections:

Nikki Haley resigned. Kanye went to the White House. What to expect next:

Hurricanes have become like school shootings, so many of them, and all so devastating. We treat these events the same, with thought and prayers, but no plan to deal with the causes:

What Trump and Fox want the campaign trail to look like:

Trump sprang into action after Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. He said we shouldn’t jeopardize our arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

 

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Saturday Soother – October, 13, 2018 — Voting Rights Edition

The Daily Escape:

St. Basil’s, Red Square, Moscow, RU. It was built in 1561. – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Welcome to Saturday! Forget about Kanye hugging the Orange Overlord, we have bigger fish to fry.

Yesterday, we talked about how state legislatures with help from the courts, have been disenfranchising minorities. This is likely to reduce turnout in the 2018 mid-terms, as studies have shown in the past, and despite encouraging polls, if someone can’t vote, nobody can be sure who will win in the mid-terms.

So today, we take a closer look at how some states have systematically worked to close polling places after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision that stopped federal oversight of election practices in states with a history of Jim Crow practices.

Prior to the Shelby decision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) provided a process to ensure that jurisdictions known to engage in voter discrimination weren’t using budget cuts or voter modernization as arguments to disenfranchise people of color. Under Section 5, jurisdictions had to demonstrate that saving money by making changes to polling places did not disenfranchise voters of color. Now Section 5 is no longer useful for the protection for minority voters.

One reason is that Shelby triggered a fundamental shift in who was responsible for protecting minority voters, from the federal authorities, to the individuals who believed they were wronged. The cost and burden of proof that local election laws are discriminatory, is now borne by those least able to afford it.

This map makes it clear that the states formerly covered by the VRA are engaging in precisely the kind voter suppression that would have been impossible before the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision:

Source

Fewer polling places leads to longer lines, which will dissuade some people from voting, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC think tank found. This means election officials can affect the outcome of an election by manipulating the number and location of polling places.

And these efforts do not only happen in the Deep South. This year, Indiana removed 170, mostly Democratic voting precincts from Lake County, home to the state’s largest Latino and second-largest Black communities. The Secretary of State said they were simply updating the map to reflect new demographic data, while local Democrats said it keeps African Americans and Hispanic voters from the polls.

According to Pew Research, other efforts are underway in counties in Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin to move thousands of voters to new locations: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Some voters in Barton County, Kansas, now will have to drive 18 miles to vote in November’s election because of polling place consolidation. In the past three decades, the county has gone from 40 polling places to 11. The main reason, said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, is cost.

Local election officials responsible for closing polling places often say that the closed locations were too expensive, underused, or inaccessible to people with disabilities. Often, local election officials fly under the radar, sometimes not even notifying voters in their jurisdictions of changes in polling locations.

This year, Georgia put the voter registrations of about 50,000 voters on hold, due to a policy implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor in next month’s election. Of the 53,000 applications in limbo, 70% are from African-Americans, according to the Associated Press, even though Georgia is approximately 32% black.

So the guy running for governor is ALSO overseeing the election. He tried to close 3/4 of polling places in predominantly black Randolph County this summer. Kemp is in a close race with Stacy Abrams, an African-American. You be the judge of what’s really going on.

Americans say we live in a democracy. But, with gerrymandering and vote suppression, we have to remain vigilant if we are to keep both our civil rights, and our Constitution, intact.

Enough for today! Take a step back, unplug, and chill a bit, because it’s Saturday, the Wrongologist’s day for a little Soothing.

Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge cuppa Ethiopia Hambela Natural from Chicago’s Big Shoulders Coffee. It is said to be deeply sweet, with flavors of raspberry, dark chocolate, and cedar, along with a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, go and sit by a large window, and take in the changing fall colors and the nip of cool air. Put on your best headphones and listen to “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy, recorded live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in 1996. Cassidy died far too young at 33, in 2006.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Heitkamp’s Chances Hurt By Supreme Court

The Daily Escape:

Rocky Mountain NP, near Estes, CO – 2018 photo by Monty Brown

The already difficult path to Democratic control of the Senate took a big hit on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a challenge to a North Dakota law that requires voters to present identification that includes a current residential street address.

This specifically hurts incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND), who is up for reelection in November, because the current law disproportionately targets Native Americans. Heitkamp has a distinct advantage with Native American voters. From Mother Jones:

A case challenging this requirement on behalf of the state’s sizable Native American populations alleged that the requirement would disenfranchise tribal residents, many of whom lack the proper identification and do not have residential addresses on their identification cards.

Many of North Dakota’s Native Americans live on reservations and utilize post office boxes, because the USPS doesn’t provide residential delivery in rural Indian communities.

So, North Dakota’s 2017 voter law ID was challenged by Native residents who alleged that the law disproportionately prevented Native Americans from voting. In April, a federal district court judge blocked large portions of the law as discriminatory, and the state appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Late last month, however, the Eighth Circuit Court allowed most of the law to take effect ahead of the general election:

‘Even assuming that some communities lack residential street addresses, that fact does not justify a statewide injunction of a statute’…requiring  ‘identification with a residential street address from the vast majority of residents who have residential street addresses,’ the appeals court said.

They didn’t say “some people,” they explicitly said that it was fine to disenfranchise “some communities.”

So, the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, who on Tuesday, essentially upheld the original law by declining to intervene, 6-2. Kavanaugh didn’t participate. Because Native Americans are an important Democratic constituency in North Dakota, a state with fewer than 600,000 voters, the ruling makes it much less likely that Senator Heidi Heitkamp can be reelected.

The Eighth District and the Supremes, decided that preventing someone from renting a P.O. Box in North Dakota for the sole purpose of casting a single fraudulent vote, was worth taking away votes of several Native American “communities.”

Wrongo is no jurist, but this seems to solve an unlikely, and largely theoretical problem by creating a much larger, more certain, and ultimately, unjustifiable problem.

There are 18 judges on the Eighth Circuit court, and only one is a Democrat. Maybe it isn’t shocking then that the Court overruled a lower district court on a North Dakota law designed to disenfranchise Native Americans. There is not the slightest pretense to impartial justice here, or any concern for the fact that they’re perpetuating our history of mistreating Native Americans.

America managed to stop things like this in the 1960’s with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so none of what we are seeing should be new to us. Vote suppression has always been with us, but now it is back out from under the rocks where it was hiding, particularly since John Roberts wrote the decision in Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013.

That the Supreme Court ratified the North Dakota law is a step beyond anything that has happened this far in the Trump era. Access to voting is fundamental, and the actions by the ND legislature seem too blatant to stand, even in a post Voting Rights Act world.

All of the other (mostly Republican) vote suppression efforts (strict voter ID requirements, closing down early voting, excessive voter list purges) have at least a vaguely plausible pretense of concern over election fraud, but this is a step too far.

However, only Ginsburg and Kagan dissented.

Had Sotomayor and Breyer joined them, Heitkamp might have a reasonable chance of reelection.

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