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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Verdict First. Trial Later

The Daily Escape:

Joshua Tree NP CA, in snow – December 2019 photo by chase_embrace

Have you been watching the impeachment extravaganza? It’s a mind-numbing exercise that’s difficult to take in large doses. That was probably Mitch McConnell’s plan. There are a few revelations though. One is the work of Adam Schiff, (D-CA) who is the lead House manager for the impeachment trial.

Josh Marshall at TPM says that Schiff’s job is to put the Senate on trial, and put Republican senators in a box that they can’t climb out of in November:

“Adam Schiff… [is] making a really convincing, damning set of arguments about all the accusations the President’s lawyers are denying while they simultaneously refuse to release records which would quickly confirm and refute those accusations.

These are cases in which we know there are contemporaneous notes or other records. The answers are there. But they refuse to release them. It is a damning indictment not only of the President but even more his Senate accomplices.”

The Senate Republicans swore an oath to be jurors, but they want to keep all of the proof secret. So, Schiff and the other House managers are making it clear that it is the Senate Republicans that are really on trial. The weakness for Republicans is that this is the first Senate trial held in defiance of the principle of shared facts and evidence.

Republican Senators are not paying close attention to Schiff and the others. All Senators are supposed to be in attendance and listening, but a few, mainly on the Republican side, are openly flaunting the rule. Dana Milbank’s column in the WaPo:

“Just minutes into the session, as lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) presented his opening argument for removing the president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) displayed on his desk a hand-lettered message with big block letters pleading: “S.O.S.” In case that was too subtle, he followed this later with another handwritten message pretending he was an abducted child:  “THESE R NOT MY PARENTS!”

See, it’s all just a joke, presided over by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Hell, Trump said out loud at Davos that he’s withholding evidence: (brackets by Wrongo)

“I got to watch enough [of the Senate trial] — I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress by withholding witnesses and documents. Trump confessed to it on live TV to reporters, and Senate Republicans don’t care.

Wrongo’s been waiting for Republicans to pay a significant price for their lying, hypocrisy, constant defiance of the rule of law, and disrespect for our institutions, norms, and Constitution, ever since the days of St. Ronnie.

From Martin Longman: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a way, it’s something the Democrats are getting used to. From the hanging chads in Florida in 2000 to the Electoral College loss in 2016, the Republicans make a living winning despite losing. They’ve become dependent on cheating and rigging the rules of the game, and they’re experts at it at this point.”

The impeachment trial Kabuki play is no different. The GOP is gleefully waiting out the ceremonial “trial” in order to deliver their pre-ordained verdict.

Is it just Wrongo, or does it seem like America is screwed beyond redemption? If, by some cosmic quirk, Democrats one day hold the Presidency and both Houses of Congress, anything they attempt to do that does not align with Republican orthodoxy will end up being decided by one of McConnell’s right-wing courts.

You can expect that they will find a way to tie up, or simply negate anything the savior Congress tries to do. Will some great leader show up? Does the current crop of Democratic candidates have anyone able to make the case for wholesale change?

Do any of them have coattails sufficient to win the Senate?

Wrongo proposes that we think about Adam Schiff as the Democratic Presidential nominee. Sure, you think it’s too late, but is it really?

Here’s what the WaPo’s conservative writer Jennifer Rubin said about Schiff’s opening statement: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“And that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him. If that is the goal — prove Trump’s guilt and Republicans’ complicity — Schiff hit a grand slam. And we have days more of evidence to hear.”

He’s someone who can make a tightly reasoned argument. He’s well-spoken, and knows Constitutional history. He’s a liberal from a liberal state, and at 60, he’s not a geezer.

President Adam? Sure, why not!

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Saturday Soother – “Where’s the Impeachment?” Edition

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades NP, WA – 2018 photo by sluu99

As Atrios says:

“You go to impeachment with the Mitch McConnell you have, not the one you want.”

We need to remember the history of how Democrats created the Mitch we have. To do that, we must go back to November 21, 2013. Here’s the WaPo from that day: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further.

Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.

The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.”

Back then, the main combatants were Harry Reid (D-NV) the Majority Leader, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The vote for the “nuclear option” was 52 to 48, with all but three Democrats backing the move, and every Republican opposing it. After the vote, Obama said that Republicans had turned nomination fights into a “reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt and noted that “neither party has been blameless for these tactics.” But, he said, “today’s pattern of obstruction…just isn’t normal; it’s not what our founders envisioned.”

Fast forward to 2019. The Senate is split 53-47 now, with the Republicans in charge. Mitch has used Harry Reid’s rule change to appoint two Supreme Court justices, 50 appeals court judges, and 120 district court judges in less than three years.

Today, 20% of judges on all of the federal courts, and 25% on the appeals courts are Trump appointees. On the same day that Trump was impeached, the Senate confirmed 13 new district court judges.

Suddenly, Democrats are waking up to the reality that Trump’s judges will shape American law with a conservative bias for 30-40 years to come.

We can blame Harry Reid and Barack Obama for not thinking ahead.

You ought to be thinking ahead to the weekend, and all of the little things that you need to do so that Santa can do his job next week. It’s at least as challenging a task as locating the missing Trump Impeachment.

Before you shift into drive and start on that big to-do list, it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a brief few moments when you relax, and try to center yourself in the calm before the storm.

Start by brewing up a mug of Coffee and Chicory coffee ($6.70/15oz.) from New Orleans’ own Café Du Monde. Now sit back in a comfy chair and watch and listen to a Holiday Season flash mob by the US Air Force Band at the National Air and Space Museum in 2013:

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

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Trump Defrauded Veterans and Nobody Cares

The Daily Escape:

Replica New Orleans Trolley made of gingerbread, Ritz Carlton Hotel, New Orleans. It took two months to make.  – December 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

From Tuesday’s NYT:

“President Trump has paid $2 million to eight charities as part of a settlement in which the president admitted he misused funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to promote his presidential bid and pay off business debts, the New York State attorney general said on Tuesday.”

Wrongo wrote about this in November, calling it “The Only Article of Impeachment We Need”:

“We should stop the current impeachment deliberations in Washington, because we know all that we need to know right now. An American president who defrauds veterans has met the bar of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’. We shouldn’t need any more testimony about bribery and extortion of a foreign power.”

While the fraud was committed before Trump became president, it is by itself, the greatest presidential crime in American history. And the case has already been decided in front of a judge. In the end, the president admitted in court documents that he had used the foundation’s money to settle legal obligations of his businesses, and to purchase a portrait of himself.

Trump also used the charity to boost political campaigns — first, Pamela Bondi’s Florida attorney general campaign, and then his own 2016 campaign. Trump gave away Trump Foundation checks onstage at rallies, despite strict rules barring nonprofit charities from participating in political campaigns.

Trump settled the case, because the alternative would have been litigation that would have exposed parts of his finances. Think about what his finances look like when his lawyers tell him that the better option is to admit that he stole $2 million from American veterans.

As part of the settlement, Trump’s adult children; Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump all of whom were on the board of the foundation although they never met to discuss its operations, will have to take training to make sure they don’t make similar missteps in the future. That’s a minor wrist-slap.

This story was reported by major outlets but it doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the public consciousness. You’d think a story about $2 million worth of admitted presidential crimes would break through the noise but there’s always competition. Today, it’s a possible trade deal, the ongoing impeachment inquiry and Boris Johnson winning in the UK.

Nobody really cares. Outrage fatigue is a real thing. After a while, you just get worn down and become numb to the next headline. His admission of fraud would have ended any other presidency. But for him, it was Tuesday. Maybe the red hats are immune to outrage fatigue.

The Dem’s impeachment strategy is a farce, as will be the Senate’s “show trial”. Impeaching him will happen by a straight Party line vote, followed by the Senate’s acquittal by a Party line vote by the other Party. This means that both houses of Congress are a farce.

OTOH, not impeaching him would also be a farce. Because not impeaching someone who has done the things Trump has done, someone who makes a mockery of the law every day he’s in office, would make the rule of law a farce as well.

Defrauding veterans is something that the public can understand, and can get angry about. It’s not complicated, most citizens won’t be able to tune it out. His counter argument is weak, despite incessant talking about the Clinton foundation.

These things are not equal. This isn’t a “both sides” situation.

Democrats should be shouting about this every day until November, 2020. This is an arrow right at the heart of Trump’s base: Those purported law and order, military-loving people who populate his rallies. It’s indefensible, and it’s unlikely they will take kindly to his being guilty of defrauding veterans.

Remember when the Republicans were the “Party of Principle“?

Have we seen anything from them (or from Trump) that makes you think that they truly believe in providing a safety net? They think that the primary benefit of charitable giving is to telegraph their relatively high position in society compared to that of the needy.

Conservatives have always used their supposed morality as a cudgel to beat others. Alleviating suffering isn’t really important. They like the “virtue signaling”. That is, feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.

And they plan on keeping it that way.

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Is Anything Besides Impeachment Going On?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada – October 2019 photo by Colin Hessel. Hat tip to blog reader Marguerite S.

While America is focused on our impeachment gridlock, we’ve missed a few things Trump has done that have far-reaching impact.

First, the US solar industry has lost 62,000 new jobs and $19 Billion in investments because of Trump’s two year-old tariffs on imported solar panels. The job loss is more than the 53,000 total number of workers employed in US coal mining, an industry Trump favors. Maybe those 62,000 people can just apply for the roughly 250 new coal mining jobs Trump created. The $19 billion in lost investment equates to 10.5 gigawatts in lost solar energy installations, enough to power about 1.8 million homes.

Despite the tariffs, global solar panel prices have continued to fall due to oversupply in China, but US solar panel prices still are among the highest in the world. That makes it more difficult for solar to compete with other forms of electricity generation such as natural gas.

Trump’s tariffs have had the greatest impact on newer solar markets such as Alabama, the Dakotas and Kansas, because they make solar uncompetitive.

Second, Trump announced revisions to the small arms export rules. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is currently in reconciliation negotiations. One of the differences between the House and Senate versions is an amendment that could loosen export controls on firearms. In November, the administration gave Congress notification of the proposed rule changes, which will go into effect on December 20th if Congress does not block it.

The US exports firearms and related technology on a large scale. From 2013 to 2017, the State Department reviewed approximately 69,000 commercial export license applications for firearms, artillery and ammunition reported at a value of $7.5 billion. Roughly two-thirds of these applications were for firearms.

Trump’s proposal would transfer control over the export of firearms and related technology from the State Department to the Commerce Department. The new rules could loosen the global trade in small arms, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East.

Export control is a complicated process with substantial paperwork designed to limit weapons or components falling into the wrong hands. The State Department currently manages this process for firearms. Moving control to the Commerce Department means that exports of these weapons will be subject to a less rigorous approval process.

Many observers, including the UN, have noted that the widespread availability of small arms is a “key enabler” of conflicts around the world. Despite calls for states to exercise tighter arm controls, the Trump administration is proposing to do just the opposite.

There are downstream effects of the proposal. It may make it easier for Latin American organized crime or terrorists in the Middle East to get guns and ammo more easily. Perhaps Trump wants to improve the Second Amendment rights of ME terrorists and Latin American gangs. Or maybe, he’s just in the tank for US gun manufacturers.

Third, a new Pew survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the country; 38% say they are having a negative impact, up from 26% in 2012. The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican:

Since Trump was elected, Republicans who say colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59%. Over that same period, the views of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic have remained stable, and overwhelmingly positive.

Democrats who see problems with the higher education system cite rising costs most often (92%), while 79% of Republicans say professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction. Age is an important factor: 96% of Republicans aged 65+ say professors bringing their views into the classroom is the major reason why higher education is headed in the wrong direction.

Higher education faces a host of challenges in the future: Controlling costs, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, and responding to the country’s changing demographics.

Trump and the GOP’s willingness to see everything from impeachment, to solar panels, to college education as an ideological battle are making addressing America’s problems impossible.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 4, 2019

Will Hurd is the third Texas Republican in the past two weeks to decide to spend more time with their families, and is the sixth incumbent GOP member of the House to go. He is the only black Republican member of the House of Representatives. Could this be why?

It’s not that surprising Hurd wants to step down; he barely beat Democrat Gina Ortiz-Jones in the 2018 midterm election, winning by less than 1,000 votes. Ortiz-Jones is running again, and has been out-fundraising Hurd.

Wrongo gave money to Ortiz-Jones last time, and will again. She joined the US Air Force as an intelligence officer and deployed to Iraq in the Bush administration. After three years of active duty, she returned to Texas in 2006, working for a consulting company while caring for her mother, who had colon cancer (from which she later recovered).

Ortiz-Jones then returned to working as an intelligence analyst for the US Africa Command in Germany. In 2008, she joined the Defense Intelligence Agency, where she specialized in Latin America. In November 2016, she moved to the Executive Office of the President (Barack Obama) to serve under the US Trade Representative. Having served under presidents of both parties, Ortiz-Jones continued in her role during the Trump administration until June 2017, when she left.

Until 2016, there were always people like Will Hurd in the GOP. And before Trump came along, it was easy to get way more than four votes from Republicans in the House of Representatives to condemn a politician’s racist comment.

Pulling out for a view from 50,000 feet, there’s now an energized segment of America that are virulently hard core right wing. They are driven by a steady flow of lies and disinformation, and they won’t disappear or even move underground assuming Trump loses in 2020. Democrats will have to win real solid majorities in both Houses if there is to be effective government in DC, And they may be able to turn a few more Texas Congressional seats blue. Ortiz-Jones deserves your attention.

The debates are over until September, but this isn’t what we’ll see when they resume:

One goal among many:

 

This is exactly how the media and the GOP view the Dems:

Why won’t Mitch pursue fixing our election system?

Remember when they said that plastic was far better than paper and would save the environment?

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Saturday Soother – Muller Report Edition

The Daily Escape:

Maui, on the back road to Hana – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The hot takes on the Mueller Report are in, and just like before, there remain two camps. One is glad he got away with it, and the other is unhappy he can’t be fired. Virtually the entire GOP apparatus has been mobilized to defend Trump, and focus blame on the media, the deep state, and liberals.

But Trump is not portrayed as an angel, in fact, the report rips him apart. There are technical and legal reasons why a recommendation not to prosecute Trump was made by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, the OSC believes that Congress can (presumably should?) exercise its “authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” They say that Congress “may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office,” and that doing so would “accord with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” (From Volume 2, page 8 of the Mueller Report)

The OSC lays out the reasons why the DoJ isn’t the “right” authority for dealing with a criminal president. The OSC is also very clear that it does not have confidence “after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president [would be cleared of] obstruction of justice.”

Since the OSC has completed the most thorough investigation of that subject that we have, the clear implication is that while they believe Trump is guilty of committing corrupt and obstructive acts, they don’t reach that conclusion, because they are not charging him.

And this is why they make the case that an impeachment by Congress is the proper forum.

So, Mueller basically punts, and leaves it to the Congress. Trump has not been vindicated, or exonerated. He just wasn’t charged. In this country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. For sitting presidents, that can only be accomplished through impeachment.

The Democrat’s leadership has already said that impeachment is off the table. But Wrongo’s theory is that Nancy Smash will do investigations this term, and find out if there is any more bad news that can help defeat Trump in 2020.

If not, then impeachment could be pursued during his second term. Plan A and Plan B are both in place, and ready for execution.

Conduct the investigations by the various House Committees. Let’s see what is revealed, not only what else goes into the record, but what we learn by observing the behavior of the many Trump administration actors.

The Mueller investigation may have ruled out conspiracy with the Russians, something that Wrongo was unconvinced about. But it was a shot across the bow that should lead to closer examination of future campaigns. The redacted OSC report is bad enough for the President politically. How much more damage might be done if/when the Congressional committees reveal more?

What with the Mueller Report and the Notre Dame fire, western culture seems to be on the skids here in the spring of 2019. No time like right now for an unredacted Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a coffee that you probably haven’t had before, Café Granja La Esperanza Sudan Rume Natural ($37.50/8oz.) by PT’s Coffee in Topeka and Kansas City, KS. Wrongo is certain that long-time reader of the Wrongologist, Monty, can write a review for all of us.

Now settle into a comfy chair and listen to music played on the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral. We now know that the organ was not damaged by fire or water during the conflagration, and was removed intact from the cathedral. Here is Organ Sonata No.1, Op.42 by Alexandre Guilmant, played by Olivier Latry. Latry was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgues of Notre-Dame when he was 23 years old. That means he has a key to get into the Cathedral and practice on the organ. Watch him play:

Latry was interviewed shortly after the fire happened. He was in Vienna, and said:

“I decided to fly to Paris for a few hours on Sunday. We just have to see the church, even if we are not allowed to go in, which is still forbidden at the moment. It feels like a nightmare we have not yet woken up from. Slowly, hour by hour, I understand the reality more and more. This is very hard.”

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 7, 2019

This year is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Times have changed:

Biden doesn’t get it right, but consider the alternative:

Trump wants to be the health care president. Won’t happen:

Feminists come in two sexes:

Elizabeth Warren said this on Friday:

“When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: We’re done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats,”…. “And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.”

Warren referenced a bill passed in the Senate last year that made lynching a federal crime, and pointed out that it was first introduced in 1918.

“It nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate — by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again,” Warren will say. “More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.”

Warren is correct on the merits about the filibuster, as she is on many other issues. The filibuster is a blunt tool for the reactionary forces in the Senate.

From a policy viewpoint, she is by far the best candidate. But she lags in the polls, and many are convinced that she can’t be elected. She also trails in funds raising, behind Bernie and Beto. Warren hasn’t released her first quarter totals, but her campaign’s finance director just left. HuffPo tells us that:

“A tricky gender gap is emerging in the race for donor dollars in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.”

That hasn’t affected Kamala Harris who is raising large amounts from corporate donors. Maybe she has corralled the bigger feminists.

Barr’s playing it cute with the Democrats in the House:

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Will The GOP Ever Disavow Trump?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP – 2018 photo by dontyakno

Wrongo hasn’t written much about the Trump/Russia investigation. Most of those pieces have shown skepticism about Russian interference in our election process. There is, however, clear evidence that the Trump campaign reached out to the Russians more than 100 times. While that’s unusual, it isn’t on its face, criminal, although the Trump campaign failed to alert the FBI about those contacts.

There are investigations underway by Mueller, the Southern District of NY, and several House committees. Trump has castigated each, calling them a witch hunt and fake news. Nearly all Republicans have sided with him about these multiple investigations.

It isn’t unusual that the GOP is indifferent to the range of possible Trump wrongdoing. On Tuesday, the WaPo’s Greg Sargent helpfully cataloged the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated about Trump by the Democrats in Congress:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations about a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even after the GOP primaries were in progress. Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress about the deal.
  • Parenthetically, and not part of Greg Sergeant’s list, Marcy Wheeler thinks that the most important crime in the Trump era is a probable quid quo pro in which the Russians (and Trump) seemed willing to trade a new Moscow Trump Tower for sanctions relief should Trump win the presidency.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in writing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress that falsified the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate/prove Trump’s suspected efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money schemes that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments. These most likely violate campaign finance laws.

Sargent’s list is based on the House Judiciary Committee document requests, so is limited to people who’ve already been asked for documents. But, it doesn’t capture many other items such as the role of Cambridge Analytica, or Paul Manafort’s sharing of presidential polling data with the Russians.

On Thursday, Axios tried to put the Trump investigations and the political scandals in perspective. Their view is that much of what we’ve seen over the past two years have few precedents in presidential history. They cite Watergate, Teapot Dome and the Clinton impeachment, all defining moments of presidential wrong doing.

But, they close by saying that Trump may survive all of it, and that Republican voters seem basically unmoved by the mounting evidence.

Why is it so difficult for people of both parties to coalesce around either his guilt, or innocence?  How is it that we just forget about the breathtaking corruption of Trump Cabinet Secretaries Scott Pruitt, or Ryan Zinke?

Many of the Federal judges on the Russian investigation who have ruled against Trump’s associates. The judges say the Trumpies were selling out the interests of the US. That has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of the Republican members of Congress who want us to stop investigating.

It’s depressingly clear that 2020 will be another close presidential election. The Republican Party is willing to condone bad behavior and criminality when the perpetrator is one of their own.

How can America rectify this problem? Even if a Democrat wins the presidency, it is unlikely the Dems will win a majority in the Senate. So, the GOP will again use the same obstructionist game plan we saw during the Obama administration.

NPR had a short piece, “Why Partisanship Changes How People React To Noncontroversial Statements”. It reported on a study where people were given anodyne statements like “I grew up knowing that the only way we can make change is if people work together”.

It turned out that most people agreed with the statement, until they are told that it was said by someone in the other political party. Then they disagreed. If people can only agree with a meaningless statement when they think it was said by their political party, what hope do we have to find agreement when the stakes are high, like in the Mueller investigation?

Given the Republicans’ disinterest for seeking the truth behind the Trump scandals, the outlook for our democracy is grim.

We need to be clear-eyed about how much work, and how long it will take, to right the ship.

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Tuesday Night: Just a Skirmish in the War

The Daily Escape:

People Power Beer, Kent Falls Brewing Co. – November 6, 2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo

Turnout worked for both parties on Election Day. It was basically a good news election for Democrats, who took back control of the House. They also picked up seven governors’ mansions, and gained control of seven state houses, bringing their total from seven to 14. Now, Republicans hold all three power bases—House, Senate, governor—in 21 states, down from 26. Thirteen states have divided control, down from 17.

Importantly, Democrats won the governorships in three states that helped elect Trump in 2016: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. They also won the US Senate races in those states.

But, the mid-terms also proved that Trump’s win in 2016 wasn’t a fluke. The GOP won what it had to in Florida, Texas and most likely, in Georgia. They also took three Democratic Senate seats that were up in the very red states of Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, giving them a comfortable majority in the Senate.

Two loathsome Republicans lost governor’s races: Kris Kobach in Kansas, and Scott Walker in Minnesota.

The repellent Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), lost in Orange County, CA. Elsewhere in notable House races, Republican Dave Brat an equally repellent Republican, fell to a new face, Amy Spanberger in Virginia.

Two longer-term thoughts: State-level Democrats can now build on this base, and do even better in the 2020 races to help gain more control over redistricting in 2021. Doubling states under Democratic control yesterday makes that closer to a reality.

Second, we also learned that in today’s America, it is very, very difficult to change anybody’s mind, despite spending billions of dollars. About the best you can do is drive the turnout of your own party. Changing demographics will flip some seats, egregious behavior may sometimes be penalized, but not in all cases. States which are 50/50 can switch leaders.

Finally, for those who woke up this morning unhappy with the Dem’s results, Wrongo has little patience with that viewpoint. A win is a win. Going forward, the GOP and Trump will not be passing any more legislative horrors. For at least this term, Social Security and Medicare are safe. The ACA will remain. There will be no more tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

Last night, Wrongo heard a few pundits saying that the Democrats shouldn’t investigate Trump, because it would be divisive. And, that Democrats shouldn’t simply obstruct Republican legislative initiatives because that too, would be divisive. Funny how Republicans investigated Benghazi for 7 years, and spent the entirety of Obama’s presidency obstructing everything, and somehow that wasn’t divisive at all.

The bigger picture is that Democrats have slammed the brakes on Trumpism. Over the next year, a few truths are going to come out, either via Mueller, or from the House.

Then, we can decide what kind of nation we want to be: Will we be willing to hold people accountable for voter suppression and for their efforts to divide races and religions?

Here’s a comment that Wrongo found on another blog: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Here in my county, turnout was 61.5%, an incredible number. And while we did see a slightly larger level of support than usual for Democratic candidates, it was matched, and often exceeded, by GOP turnout…. So many new volunteers and so many people canvassing for the first time. We have to find a way to keep these people interested, involved, and motivated. But sometimes it can be a hard sell when you have to try and convince someone that all those months of hard work to move the needle a couple of percentage points…should be considered a WIN, especially when the difference is….Losing 65%-35% instead of 70%-30%…

We should remember that Obama didn’t keep his highly successful volunteer group together. It’s a huge challenge for Dems in red states.

We’re in a very long game. It’s all about the application of people power to better ideas and better candidates. You can’t let losing sadden or depress you, this fight is for the soul of America, and it’s worth it.

Soon, the Democrats will have to remove the dinosaurs who currently run the DNC. That internal fight should happen sooner, rather than later. Keeping Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democrats is the best possible outcome for Trump 2020.

The balance has to be between someone like Pelosi who has been there before, and can hammer the House into a functioning opposition, and others who will still be calling to “abolish ICE” two years from now. The Dems have to avoid a Tea Party moment.

The Dems did reasonably well in the mid-terms. They also got much younger.

Now, they have to find younger leadership. And a better message.

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Letter From Russia – Part IV

The Daily Escape:

Moscow’s International Business Center

We have all sorts of prejudices about foreign countries, most of which we learn from our media and history texts. An example is our views of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was president of Soviet Union from 1985 – 1991, and Vladimir Putin, the current president of the Russian Federation.

Americans like Gorbachev, and Russians detest him.

We like him because he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and negotiated a nuclear weapons reduction with Ronald Reagan. We remember his policy of Glasnost, or openness, which moved the Russian state toward becoming a freer society, in part by allowing criticism of Stalin, and other Russian leaders.

We also remember Perestroika, Gorbachev’s policy of political and economic reforms meant to kick start the Soviet Union into a market economy.

Russians detest Gorbachev because Perestroika was catastrophic, both economically and socially. Many lost jobs at state-owned companies. Gorbachev closed the heavy industrial firms that had been an engine of Russian economic growth and employed millions, in favor of light manufacturing of consumer goods. But the light industries failed, in part because jobless people couldn’t afford new consumer goods. He closed the collective farms that Stalin had instituted, but the state-owned food stores remained. Without a source, food shortages appeared immediately, and WWII-style rationing returned. There was little product in the state shops, but lots of product in private shops that few could afford.

The budget deficit grew. Foreign debt grew, and the death rate exceeded the birth rate, a grim statistic that only recently has returned to equilibrium. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by their parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

The terrible economy nearly broke the back of Russian society. It didn’t help that oil prices fell from about $60/bbl. when Gorbachev took office, to about $30/bbl. when he was succeeded by Yeltsin in 1991. At the time, oil accounted for about 65% of exports.

Fast forward to today: Americans hate Vladimir Putin, while Russians love Putin.

Americans hate Putin because he annexed Crimea in 2014. The US and Europe responded with economic sanctions. And many believe that Russia hacked the US presidential election in 2016, gifting the presidency to Donald Trump.

So, Americans have reasons to dislike Putin.

People in Russia love Putin. He was just reelected with more than 70% of the vote. The primary reason is a steadily improving economy. Russian GDP has averaged 3.01% from 1996 until 2018, but it took until 2008 for GDP to return to its pre-Gorbachev levels.

Putin increased tax revenues by implementing a 13% flat tax, a value-added tax on purchases, and a 6% corporate tax on gross revenues. Real estate taxes on the average person’s apartment are negligible.

Today, Moscow looks like any major western European city. There are high rise apartment buildings everywhere, the population is 15 million, and there are 5 million cars. Again, a key success factor in Putin’s economic record was rising oil prices. When Putin took over, oil was $25/bbl. Today, the price for Russian oil is about $82/bbl. Here is the famous GUM department store decorated for fall:

2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo

Americans believe that Putin’s annexing of Crimea was illegal. But the Russians draw a distinction between what’s legal, and what’s justified. It may have been illegal to annex Crimea, but Russians think that when Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, he shouldn’t have. And nobody asked the people of Crimea.

So, when Russia annexed Crimea, Russians saw it as a justified return of lands that were rightly theirs. When the people of Crimea soon overwhelmingly voted to approve returning to Russia, it gave a veneer of legality to a perceived act of justice.

Americans also differentiate between what’s legal and what’s just, as the Brett Kavanaugh appointment shows. Those who support Dr. Ford feel deeply that justice must be done in order to right a wrong that had occurred years ago.

Those who support Kavanaugh say that there is no evidence that supports her claim of attempted rape, so he should be appointed. They’ve always been strict constructionists of the law.

The age-old conflict between people who narrowly read what is legal, and those who broadly interpret what justice requires, again divides us.

But actions have consequences, regardless of which side you are on. No one knows what the political outcome of this emotional moment in American life will be. Deep fissures have been opened, and they may take a long time to heal.

Are we at a tipping point? Everyone thinks one is coming, but no one knows which way we’ll tip.

The Senate is showing that they believe half of Americans are second-class citizens.

It’s likely that those second-class citizens think justice matters.

And it’s likely that they won’t forget.

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