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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 22, 2019

Wrongo never talks sports, but most of America has heard about the New England Patriots dropping Antonio Brown after 10 days on the job. If you don’t know about the fuss, here is a good summary. Brown apparently has yuuge issues with women, but three professional football teams so far, have offered him chances to demonstrate several times that he’s a really, really good player.

This week, Brown sent threatening and menacing texts to a second woman, and that made working for the Patriots untenable. Most think he will get hired fairly soon by another team.

The thought that Antonio Brown will have another NFL job, and Colin Kaepernick still won’t, shows that in 2019, it is better to threaten women, than to threaten the NFL’s rich white establishment.

On to cartoons. Trump may or may not have promised something to someone:

Ok, this is alarming, but on the bright side, Obama killed Osama bin Laden before Trump could fall in love and invite him to the White House. You can see his tweet now:

“I had a great meeting with Osama, he really loves his Family! Great great letter he wrote me, and wants us to be friends! He told me that some of the things people have said about him in the past are very unfair, and I agree!”

Democrats can’t decide what to do. This week, Nadler was beaten badly by Lewandowski, and Schiff couldn’t get the information regarding the whistleblower’s charges that are required by law from the Trump administration:

Whistleblowers are an endangered species in America:

Trump hates California, it’s got too many homeless, fuel-efficient cars and brown people:

On the bright side, rolling back EPA regulations will create more sick people:

The administration’s priorities bear no relation to reality:

Biden is still in charge, but not everything on the menu is appetizing:

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Saturday Soother – September 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Badlands Storm, South Dakota – September 2019 photo by Bill Frazier

It’s officially the end of summer. We now move towards shorter days, sweater weather, and at least in the Northeast, raking leaves. But, in politics, few things change with the seasons.

Consider this factoid from Bloomberg about what the Trump administration has done to support farmers hurt by his China trade war:

“At $28 billion so far, the farm rescue is more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion.”

Remember the auto bailout? Republicans were largely against it. The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers, let Mr. Market do it. While the auto industry was bleeding jobs, the bailout saved GM and Chrysler. It also helped restore jobs. Marketplace reports that in the Great Recession, auto-manufacturing lost 334,000 jobs, and membership in the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) fell by 150,000.

Since then, as vehicle sales rebounded, those job losses were gradually reversed. In July 2016, US auto-manufacturing employment surpassed its December 2007 pre-recession level of 957,000 jobs. The UAW however, remains more than 50,000 members short of its pre-recession high.

Back to the farmers. Because of the tariff war with China, farmers will receive $19.5 billion in direct government bailout money in 2019, the most since 2005. That doesn’t include an extra $10.5 billion in federally subsidized crop insurance payments, the main vehicle of the farm subsidy program.

This is a move to protect Trump’s political advantage with his Midwest base for the coming election in 2020. But, who is benefiting? It’s mostly the corporate farms, and the largest individually-owned farms. From Modern Farmer:

“The idea is fairly clear: the larger a farm is, the more it has to lose, and thus the more money it takes to make whole.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed USDA data and found that 82 farmers collected over $500,000 each in 2018-2019. In comparison, the EWG found that the bottom 80% of farmers received less than $5,000 each.

This latest tranche of government money comes after the USDA changed the rules regarding who qualified. Previously, each farmer applying for assistance had to have an average adjusted gross income of less than $900,000 per year. Now, there’s no limit on the size of an applicant’s income, as long as 75% “is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.”

That opens the trough to the biggest corporate farms, to super-rich investors, and the biggest family farms. Not surprisingly, since the Trump administration’s efforts are aimed at protecting those who are among his large donors, rather than the most vulnerable farmers, there are no cries that this is “socialism” by the GOP.

Apparently, this is capitalism at its best, but what we did to save the auto industry was socialism.

On to our Saturday Soother, that interlude in the week when we try to forget what Trump may have promised to a foreign leader, or what Cory Lewandowsky did to Jerry Nadler. We focus instead on what excuses we can use to avoid the coming fall clean-up. Here, on the fields of Wrong, we are taking in our bluebird houses, the fledglings left a week ago. A few hummingbirds are still around, but will certainly be gone next week. The apple trees have lost most of their leaves, and the deer are eating the fruit that falls to the ground. We’re trying to wait until early October to turn the heat on, but the last two nights have been in the high-30s.

Let’s warm up today by brewing up a hot, steaming cup of Ethiopia Sidamo Gora Kone ($19/12 oz.) from Sacramento, CA’s Temple Coffee Roasters. The roaster says it has a sweet-savory structure with a crisp, lightly satiny mouthfeel. You be the judge.

Now settle back and listen to a musical selection for the change of season. Here is “Autumn” a petit adagio from Alexander Glazunov’s “The Seasons”. The music was written as an allegorical ballet, but we’re going to listen to a symphonic treatment. It was composed in 1899, and first performed as a ballet by the Imperial Ballet in 1900 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Here, it is played by the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava conducted by Ondrej Lenard:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 15, 2019

Wrongo says this a lot: Tough week! We keep thinking it can’t get worse, but it always surprises us by getting more terrible than the week before. We had a signal event this week, the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on New York, the Pentagon and the aborted attack that resulted in the plane crash in Shanksville, PA. Wrongo said what he needed to say here.

On to cartoons, and there were waay too many cartoons about John Bolton. Here’s this week’s favorite:

If there’s no deal with the Taliban, it looks like we’ll have trouble leaving Afghanistan:

Rudyard Kipling said it best:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
And go to your God like a soldier”

Clearly, Biden needs a yuuge cup of this:

Vaping will be heavily regulated unless…

Trump decides America can live without clean water:

Nobody knows where Brexit will land:

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Saturday Soother – September 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Denali NP, Alaska – 2019 photo by Alaskaty

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the Democratic debate on Thursday night. Winning a debate comes down to connecting with voters, seeing who is the most likeable, the most sincere, who had the best delivery. Oh, and a few good ideas.

Wrongo thought the winners were Warren and Booker. The losers were Harris and Castro, for totally different reasons. Harris’s tactic was to attack Trump, while avoiding direct answers to direct questions. She has not lived up to the promise she showed in the first debate. Castro attacked Biden successfully, but it becomes more and more difficult to see him as a top-tier candidate.

Klobachar and Yang didn’t hurt themselves, but gained no ground. Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg and Beto had moments, but didn’t truly differentiate themselves from the pack. Bernie’s voice failed him, and his hoarseness gave him a difficult time connecting. As the debate wore on, he became a caricature of himself.

Biden got off to a strong start, but around the 2-hour mark, he became barely intelligible. His biggest applause line of the night was when he praised O’Rourke’s response to the El Paso shooting. He shouldn’t think that big applause for Beto was a good sign for Biden. Beto had a good night, mostly because he just said out loud about AR-15s what a whole lot of people believe on this issue.

There is a major problem with allowing TV network news types to conduct these debates. And who needed to hear a third hour where the media tried to dissect the health insurance policy differences between the ten Democrats?  Generally, their positions fall into either expanding Obamacare, or moving quickly to implementing Medicare for All.

Yes, some policy positions are different and consequential, but why did George Stephanopoulos try to gotcha Bernie and Warren about whether taxes would go up if MFA was initiated? Everyone knows that taxes would go up, while annual family health insurance costs would go away.

Amanda Marcotte, on twitter:

Maybe it’s simple: These Spinnerati work for the media, and the media is part of corporate America. Their charge is to bend things so that the choice you’re presented with isn’t a choice at all.

And, in three hours, the moderators asked no questions about the economy. They didn’t manage talk time well; Sanders was shorted. Here’s a breakdown of the candidates’ shares of talk time:

Looking ahead, Wrongo thinks the class of this field is Elizabeth Warren, and here’s why: Harvard professor Marshall Ganz teaches what he calls “the art of public narrative”. According to Ganz, successful and persuasive public narrative is the ability to tell, and to link together, “the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now”.

That seems to be a major part of Warren’s success to date. She’s done a good job creating a public narrative that connects with Democratic primary voters. She has leaned into her Oklahoma “ragged edge of the middle class” childhood, and her struggles as a young adult. She weaves that into a story of who we are as Americans, and she talks about the challenges we face today and how she (and we) can address them.

Her closest current challengers (Bernie and Biden) have noticeably weaker public narratives: Sanders is reticent about his own story, and how it made him the man that he is. He hits his policies, and vaguely links his policies to us and now. Biden has a great “story of self”, but his “story of now” is out of sync with today’s Democrats. He seems particularly bad on the story of now, and that is likely to torpedo his presidential chances.

We’ll see. The candidates have until next spring to hone their “public narratives”.

Let’s forget debates, John Bolton’s mustache, and Trump’s gutting of clean water regulations so that we can focus on starting our Saturday with a Soother. Start by brewing up a yuuge mug of Kayon Mountain Ethiopian ($21/12oz.) coffee from Lexington Coffee, an award-winning artisan roasting company based in Virginia. The roaster says it is richly sweet with a crisp, syrupy mouthfeel.

Sit back with your hot brew, and think about how fall is coming, and how you have no plans to prepare for it. Now watch Yo Yo Ma and James Taylor have fun while performing in August at Tanglewood Music Festival:

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

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9/11/2001: What Have We Learned in Eighteen Years?

The Daily Escape:

Man standing in rubble of the North Tower late on 9/11/2001, calls out in vain to possible WTC survivors – Photo by Doug Kanter

People say that they will never forget 9/11, but what Wrongo remembers is that it was the proximate cause of the war in Afghanistan, starting with our invasion on October 7th, 2001.

And now, we’ve been there for 18 years. The war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of over 2,400 US soldiers, with another 1,100 coalition troops killed. Over 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel have died. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and thousands of Afghan civilians have also died. We’ve spent Trillions of dollars that could have been used here at home to make the lives of Americans better.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still “wartime” in America. The War on Terror has been the primary driver for our government’s weakening the Bill of Rights. In the panic after 9/11, the GW Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, along with measures that permit torture, illegal surveillance, and indefinite detention without charges or trial. Our whistle-blower protections were weakened.

If these attacks on the Bill of Rights continue, we’ll have gone full-circle: back to a post-Constitutional America, sharing much with how colonial America was governed by the British King.

With this 9/11 Afghanistan meditation as background, after 18 years of fighting, what are we to make of Trump’s botched Afghan peace talks?

He was right to try. It’s past time that we exit Afghanistan. Much like when we left Vietnam, talks with the Taliban are not about ending the war, they’re about limiting US future military participation in Afghanistan.

In 1973, Nixon tried to create the appearance that we were exiting Vietnam on our own terms. We settled for the flawed “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under that pact, American prisoners of war were freed by North Vietnam, and the last US combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier.

Primary responsibility for defending South Vietnam fell to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who we knew were incapable of holding the country. Our message to both North and South was: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. And within two years, the Republic of Vietnam was gone.

Now, our military wants to shift its focus to China and Russia. So, here we go again, looking for a pretext that makes it seem that we’re leaving on our own terms, only this time, from Afghanistan.

Enter the Taliban talks. Trump’s “deal” relied on paper-thin assurances by the Taliban that there would be no haven for the terrorists, despite ISIS already being there in significant numbers. Al Qaeda is still active there, and is coordinating with the Taliban.

In return, the US would withdraw 5,000 of our 14,000 troops. We had no assurance that the Afghan government would agree to the deal, since the Taliban had refused to negotiate with them. Trump now says the deal is dead. Republicans think Trump’s move is an opportunity to reset the terms of the peace deal, which faced bipartisan criticism here, along with rejection by the Afghans.

Maybe.

Was much lost by walking away? Trump had planned on making a splashy announcement about bringing troops home on 9/11. He must have been channeling Camp David, where Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement with Egypt and Israel in 1978, and where Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000. So, Trump’s lost something.

But he realized the meeting wasn’t going to happen. The Taliban wasn’t going to visit the US unless the deal was signed, but Trump wanted more deal-making, followed by a signing at Camp David. The Taliban aren’t fools. Getting on a plane without a signed deal could have landed them in Guantanamo, not in Washington DC.

Peace isn’t obtained by photo-op. It requires sound planning, the participation of all parties, and exacting negotiations. Offering to host the Taliban during 9/11 also shows tone-deafness. These are the very people who gave cover to Osama Bin Laden!

However and whenever the US leaves, much like in Vietnam, the Taliban will become the government of Afghanistan, despite our 18-year effort. We now seem unwilling to say: “you guys sort this out”, so our longest war will continue. It will be accompanied by more death, and more money flushed down the rat hole.

We should also expect most Republicans and quite a few Democrats will remain silent.

Have all of these lives lost, and the trillions of dollars spent, taught us anything?

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Cape of Good Hope, 6:00pm, South Africa – September 2006 photo by Wrongo

Last week, the NYT’s Thomas Edsall discussed an award-winning academic study focused on the nihilism of the Trump GOP’s hardcore supporters. The paper illustrates that among this slice of the American electorate, the temptation to cause or support chaos may be overwhelming. Edsall says the study argues that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to “chaos incitement” and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media:

“The rise of social media provides the public with unprecedented power to craft and share new information with each other….this technological transformation allows the transmission of a type of information that portrays….political candidates or groups negatively…and has a low evidential basis.”

The study says that the chaos-inducing information transmitted on social media includes conspiracy theories, fake news, discussions of political scandals and negative campaigns.

The study’s authors, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, both from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Kevin Arceneaux, a political scientist at Temple, conducted six surveys, four in the US, interviewing 5,157 participants, and two in Denmark, interviewing 1,336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.
  • I think society should be burned to the ground.
  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”
  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.
  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

The responses of individuals to three of the statements are horrifying:

  • 24% agreed that society should be burned to the ground;
  • 40% concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn”;
  • 40% also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

Despite interviewing 5,000+ Americans the study doesn’t conclude if the results represent the actual percentage of Americans who share this view. They did use a YouGov nationally representative survey of Americans. They say the data are weighted to achieve national representations on gender, age, education and geography.

As bad as this sounds, what if we reframed the “need for chaos” as “a need for things to change in ways that work for everyday people“? Instead of casting them as evil or as deplorables who wish to destroy nice things, we could see them as people who have been left out, or cheated by the system.

In that light, it might be reasonable for the marginalized on the left and right to wish for major changes in our system. So, let’s treat this study as an example of one dead canary in a coal mine. At this point, it’s a potentially terrifying glimpse of what may be America’s (and the entire developed world’s) future.

Nihilism is a symptom of needs not being met. Our current neoliberal capitalism is a prime cause behind this nihilism. Our system must change to be more inclusive, to create more “winners”.  We won’t blunt nihilism with more trickle down policies.

Time to wake up America! Our society has to change, or die.

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Saturday Soother – Dorian Edition, September 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO – 2019 photo by ForkMan. Cheyenne Mountain is in background.

(There will be no Sunday Cartoons this week.)

Trump’s decision to change our posture toward China from free trade to trade war is one of the most significant policy shifts in recent American history. And despite the hand-wringing by corporations and politicians, there’s a grain of value in what Trump is attempting to do.

For sure, it’s unclear if he really knows what he’s doing, but it highlights whether we have a strategy for our trade relations with China. American policy makers must look at and answer a few questions:

  • Why is our industrial supply chain located within our economic adversary?
  • Doesn’t our military readiness therefore depend on that adversary?
  • Why are American companies allowed to transfer critical technologies to China in exchange for short-term market access?
  • Why is Tesla building self-driving cars in Shanghai?
  • Why should Google be running an Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab in Beijing after canceling an AI contract with the Pentagon?

Our corporate overlords’ answer? Because the market wills it.

But markets choose one global power over another only for narrow financial reasons. The market will happily move its business to a surveillance state if it means bigger CEO bonuses and higher profits. In this competition, Corporate America’s ideological commitment to free trade is as big a handicap to us as the Soviet Union’s commitment to central planning was during the Cold War.

Republicans and their corporate partners reject the idea of America having an industrial-policy to support key strategic economic sectors. China has an industrial policy. It’s focused largely on AI, integrated circuits, telecom, and steel. We no longer have high end manufacturing, and we’re losing other strategic industries.

This means that Beijing is likely to pick our “winners” for us. Corporations use the old Ricardian comparative advantage to organize their supply chains. This means that we will watch helplessly as American innovations are transformed into economic engines in China, while our corporations will reap efficiency gains by locating their engineering and management operations next to their Chinese manufacturing.

Inevitably, the innovation in which we pride ourselves will depart as well.

A recent survey of 369 manufacturers found that American firms are moving their R&D operations to China not just to take advantage of lower costs, but to be in close proximity to their supply chains. About 50% of foreign R&D centers in China are now run by American companies. This has helped China achieve first place in market share for manufacturing R&D.

If we remain neutral regarding where our supply chains are located, “we innovate, they build” will become “they innovate, they build.”

So, an unintended consequence of Trump’s tariff war is that maybe American politicians will wake up to the strategic battle underway with China, and realize how our American corporations are lining up on the side of our competitor and economic adversary.

Enough of the outside world, time for a rainy Saturday Soother if you are on the east coast of the US. Wrongo is sitting on Cape Cod, and the weather service here has announced tropical storm warnings for Saturday. So, settle back and watch the Weather Channel!

Now brew up a mug of Panama Finca San Sebastian ($12/12 oz.) with its deep chocolate notes supported by subtle but persistent sweet floral tones. It comes from the brewers at Thermopolis, Wisconsin’s Jack Rabbit Java.

Now, as you watch Dorian news over and over until your mind is numb, listen to the great 1980’s hit from the Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view Annie Lennox here.

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Partisan Gerrymandering Overturned in North Carolina

Daily Escape:

Colchuk Lake in the Enchantments, part of the Cascade Mountains, WA – August 2019 photo by atgctgtt

This summer, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in the case Rucho v. Common Cause that federal courts could not invalidate maps based on partisan gerrymandering, although states might still do so.

At the time, Wrongo snarked about the decision:

“Wrongo’s shorter John Roberts: The federal government can’t do anything about your state stripping you of representation. You have to go back to the people who stripped you of representation and ask them.”

Despite Wrongo’s skepticism, on Tuesday, the North Carolina (NC) state Supreme Court put an end to eight years of Republican partisan gerrymandering when it ruled against NC Republicans who had installed it in 2011. From the Daily Kos (DK):

“On Tuesday, a three-judge panel delivered a major blow against Republican gerrymandering when it struck down North Carolina’s state Senate and state House districts for violating the rights of Democratic voters.”

More:

“The state court ruled that these maps, designed to entrench Republican rule, ran afoul of the state constitution’s guarantee of free and fair elections. These illegal districts were so extreme that they helped Republicans to maintain their legislative majorities in 2018’s elections even though Democratic candidates won more votes statewide. If fairer districts are implemented for 2020, they could put Democrats in striking distance of a majority in one or both chambers.”

NC’s current state-district maps had to be redrawn again in 2017, after the US Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that they constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

Now, NC’s voters will be voting in new state election districts for the third time since 2011.

This decision is similar to one in PA in 2018, where a state court ruled that PA’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. It also relied on the PA state constitution, so its decision was not reviewable by the US Supreme Court.

When SCOTUS decided not to rule on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, it said quite clearly that state courts could rule on the question based on the individual state constitutions. NC now joins PA as states in which this strategy has succeeded.

The NC and PA decisions are reminders that we can challenge bad laws under state constitutions. States are free to recognize more rights than those enumerated in the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you never learn about.

More from DK:

“While this case only concerns the maps in one state, every state constitution has provisions similar to North Carolina’s that could be used to challenge partisan gerrymanders so long as there’s a receptive and fair-minded state Supreme Court majority to hear such a case. This ruling therefore underscores the importance of Supreme Court elections in key swing states next year, including Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Progressive victories in these races would go a long way toward blocking the GOP’s lopsided control over redistricting as we head into the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.”

The NC court decision was 345 pages long. The opinion really makes it clear how there’s just no possible defense for what the GOP was doing in NC. In addition, the opinion might as well have had “John Roberts is an embarrassing hack” stamped on every page.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats can relax between here and 2020. Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin are states where 2020 state Supreme Court elections could either give Democrats a majority, or set them up to gain one in subsequent elections. That will be crucial in the next decade, since the Census will also take place in 2020. There will be new voters to count, or to disenfranchise, depending on your Party’s ideology.

This war must be won in the trenches, not by the national candidates.  Wisconsin gave us a bad example in April. Although Democrats in Wisconsin won the popular vote in 2018, they didn’t work hard enough to get their state Supreme Court nominee over the finish line in 2019, despite having a progressive plurality.

Democrats have to realize that they won’t win if they think only certain elections are important enough to get out and vote.

These battles are local, not national, and now that the US Supreme Court will be sitting on its hands for a decade or more, these are fights we must win.

Democrats can’t afford not to contest local judicial elections.

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The Ethics of Responsibility

The Daily Escape:

John Muir Wilderness, CA -August 2019 photo by petey-pablo

Nobody in America should be rooting for a recession, and no political party should root for one either. Shame on those who are.

US economic policy is often driven by ideology, and those operating policies can change whenever the party in power changes. That seems to be more likely to occur in 2020 than it has at any time since Reagan. Like it or not, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama all followed similar economic policies.

Trump has disrupted much of them, returning to a vigorous trickle-down policy, aggressive deregulation and the imposition of unilateral tariffs.

Max Weber, in his 1919 essay on “Politics as a Vocation”, made a distinction between politicians who live by the “ethics of responsibility” and those who follow the “ethics of conviction”. The ethic of responsibility is all about pragmatism; doing the right thing in order to keep the show on the road. But the ethic of conviction is all about moral (ideological) purity, about following the playbook despite the impacts.

An example is the Kansas Experiment, where Sam Brownback, following right-wing convictions, cut taxes to produce a “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Economic growth was below average, state revenues crashed, and debt blew up. But, still a believer, Brownback vetoed the effort to repeal of his laws.

You don’t need more from Wrongo to paint the picture. We’re in a time of the ethics of conviction.

Let’s take a look at two recent articles about the economy. First, from the Economist, which is telegraphing the possibility of a US recession:

“Residential investment has been shrinking since the beginning of 2018. Employment in the housing sector has fallen since March….The Fed reduced its main interest rate in July and could cut again in September. If buyers respond quickly it could give builders and the economy a lift.”

But housing is not the only warning sign. The Economist points to this chart, showing the change in payrolls in the 2nd Quarter of 2019:

It’s clear that much of America is doing quite well. It is also clear that most of the 2020 battle ground states are not. Indiana lost over 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last downturn, almost 4% of statewide employment. It is among a growing number of states experiencing falling employment: a list which also includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In 2016, those last three states all delivered their electoral-college votes to Trump, and were decisive in his electoral victory. Trump’s trade war may still play well in these states, but if the decline in payrolls continues, it suggests a real opening for Democrats, assuming they are willing to hammer on pocketbook issues.

Second, the Wall Street Journal had an article about winners and losers in the 10 years since the Great Recession. It isn’t a secret that those left behind are in the bottom half of the economic strata, and there is little being done to help them:

“The bottom half of all U.S. households, as measured by wealth, have only recently regained the wealth lost in the 2007-2009 recession and still have 32% less wealth, adjusted for inflation, than in 2003, according to recent Federal Reserve figures. The top 1% of households have more than twice as much as they did in 2003.”

We also call wealth “net worth”. It is the value of assets such as houses, savings and stocks minus debt like mortgages and credit-card balances. In the US, wealth inequality has grown faster than income inequality in the past decade, making the current wealth gap the widest in the postwar period. Here is a devastating chart from the WSJ showing the net worth of the bottom 50% of Americans:

There’s a big difference between the 1% and the bottom 50%: More than 85% of the assets of the wealthiest 1% are in financial assets such as stocks and bonds. By contrast, more than half of all assets owned by the bottom 50% comes from real estate, such as the family home.

Economic and regulatory trends over the past decade have not only favored stock investments over housing, but they have also made it harder for the less affluent to even buy a home. The share of families in the bottom 50% who own a home has fallen to 37% in 2016, (the latest year for which data are available), from 43% in 2007. OTOH, homeownership among the overall American population is higher since 2016.

Weber’s ethics of conviction have driven our politics since well before the 2008 recession. We know what it caused: inequality, demonstrated by lower wages for the 90%, and a devastating decline in net worth for the bottom 50%.

Can we turn the car around? Can we elect politicians who will follow Weber’s ethics of responsibility at the local, state, federal and presidential levels in 2020?

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