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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Letter From Russia, Part III

The Daily Escape:

The Assumption Cathedral, Yaroslavl, RU. Originally built in 1210, it was  blown up by the Soviets in 1937 as part of their anti-religion policy. This new cathedral was constructed in 2010 on the same spot. In front is an eternal flame memorializing the soldiers and the workers of WWII.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the day in Yaroslavl, Russia. It’s a mid-sized town of about 600k residents, and an important port on the Volga River. The Volga is more than 2,000 miles long, tying the western Russian cities together. Yaroslavl is an ancient city, founded in 1010.

In Yaroslavl, we learned two interesting facts about Russian towns. Any town of size has a fortress that includes a church. In Russia, that space is called a “Kremlin”. Second, despite the collapse of the the Soviet Union, statues of the heroes of the revolution were not taken down. The idea is that young people should understand their history, both the good and the bad. Major streets have kept their revolutionary names as well.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for America.

In visiting both tiny towns and large cities, it quickly becomes evident that the peoples of Russia have suffered immensely over the centuries. They endured long periods of starvation, and their losses in blood and treasure at the hands of both their enemies and their rulers were truly extraordinary:

  • As many as 17 million died under Stalin in the Gulags. At their high point, there were thousands of Gulags across the Soviet Union.
  • In WWII, during the war with Germany, Russia lost 27 million people.
  • During the 400 years of serfdom, millions of serfs died during forced labor. They built the palaces, roads and waterways that remain in use today between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If history teaches us just one thing about Russia, it is that its people know suffering. They have survived, and in Wrongo’s brief visit, appear to have thrived. Stores are full of product, markets are busy with the purchase of fresh vegetables, meats and fish. New cars are on the streets, theaters are open, and everything looks very clean.

How have a people who have endured so much suffering, succeeded in the modern world? How were they not irretrievably damaged by their multiple tragedies?

How are they so resilient?

Perhaps their legendary winters forge a determination to do whatever is necessary to survive a long, hard fight with limited resources. Perhaps Russia’s long history of invasion and occupation by hostile powers has played a role: Russians have been invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and the French. Their story is ultimately one of resilience despite tremendous loss of life, repeated destruction of infrastructure, and against long odds.

Another thing is that the people seem to have a profound and deep feeling for their homeland, Mother Russia. That seems to be true, regardless of who is in control in the Kremlin, or which Tsar was in charge at the time.

So they fought and died for the motherland, regardless of who was leading them.

Compare that with America’s resilience. How resilient are we, in the 21st Century? We have never faced invasion, but we have faced attack. On our homeland, we fought a seven-year revolution, and a bloody civil war. We’ve faced natural disasters.

After 9/11, we overreacted to the threat of Islamic extremists by weakening our First Amendment rights with the Patriot Act. We launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, we didn’t come together as a nation. In fact, 9/11 threw gasoline on the fire of America’s already factionalized politics.

When Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we came together as a people. There were a few who said we shouldn’t go to war, but the vast majority of our people got behind a global war against fascism. We sent our fathers, brothers and husbands off to war. Women worked in the factories for the war effort. Some were on the front lines with the troops. We rationed butter and sugar.

Our people knew hardship, and pulled together in common cause.

The question is: Will today’s America still pull together in common cause? Do we have the strength of character, the grit, to fight for something larger than ourselves? Could we again sacrifice for what we believe to be the right thing?

Our response to the Great Recession of 2008 showed us that in an American financial crisis, it’s every person for themselves, unless that citizen happens to be a financial institution.

When you think about it, do you still love Lady Liberty enough to fight for her?

To send your kids to fight for her?

And, do you think that we love her as much as Russians seem to love Mother Russia?

 

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Monday Wake-Up Call — Constitution Edition

The Daily Escape:

Spruce Knob, WV at sunrise – 2018 photo by zjustus88

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the US Constitution 231 years ago, the day that the Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution as our supreme law.

We sometimes forget that the country was without a Constitution for 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, and for six years after the War of Independence ended. Somehow, we survived.

We also forget that there was plenty of conflict between the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. They had vigorous debates about the balance of power between the national and state governments. Two factions emerged: Federalists, who supported the Constitution and a strong central government, and anti-Federalists, who mainly supported strong state governments.

To placate the anti-Federalists and ensure ratification, the Federalists promised to pass a Bill of Rights to protect individual liberty and state sovereignty, which they finally did in 1791, four years after the Constitution was ratified.

Today there’s plenty of discussion about the Constitution, about what’s constitutional, and what’s not, about which of the Supreme Court justices are trampling on the Constitution and which are ripping it to shreds. It seems that there is nothing more important to the Republic than selecting the next Justice, in this case, Brett Kavanaugh.

Joseph Ellis in the WSJ Weekend edition, reminds us that:

Most members of America’s founding generation would have regarded this situation as strange. If you read the debates among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and then read their prescriptions for judicial power in Article III of the Constitution, it becomes clear that the last thing the 39 signers of the document wanted was for the Supreme Court to become supreme.

Ellis says that the founders thought that Congress should be “supreme”, and a majority thought that each branch of government should decide the scope of its own authority. He says that the founders’ had no interest in having the Supreme Court be the ultimate control point for the US government, since it’s our least representative body, and the one farthest removed from the ultimate authority (the People).

More from Ellis:

For most of American history, the Supreme Court only infrequently stepped forward to redefine the political landscape in decisive fashion. The two most conspicuous occasions both involved the great American tragedy of race.

For Ellis, the first of the two most significant cases was Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the Court tried to resolve the politically unsolvable problem of slavery. The majority argued that the framers of the Constitution clearly regarded slaves as property, and therefore the Missouri Compromise (1819) and the Compromise of 1850 were unconstitutional.

This meant that the federal government had no authority to limit the expansion of slavery in the western territories. Dred Scott deepened the sectional divide that led to the Civil War, and legal scholars and historians have long considered it one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history.

In 1954, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education landed on the other side of the racial divide, striking down the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” that the justices had upheld as a justification for racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Brown decision signaled a crucial shift in the role of the Court, the first step on its way to becoming the dominant branch of the federal government in deciding the direction of domestic policy.

That led to 30 years of liberal decisions for the Court. The liberal agenda expanded the rights of criminal suspects, broadened the definition of free speech and, in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), discovered a new right to privacy. Building on the right to privacy, the Court affirmed a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Ellis concludes:

…since Brown we have watched the Supreme Court bend the law in two different directions, landing on one side or the other of the political spectrum based on which political party could command a 5-4 majority. The only difference between the two sides is that liberals are transparent about their political agenda, while conservatives, using originalism to make problematic claims of detachment, are not.

Americans now know that the Supreme Court is biased, partisan, and often makes rulings based on ideology versus law. The word “unconstitutional” has become a catch-all term for whatever we don’t like about our government, or our society. This renders one of the most terrifying and powerful adjectives in American jurisprudence almost meaningless.

TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICA! We should spend Constitution Day trying to become better citizens. Maybe we start by learning our civic history.

The benefit should be clear: Knowledge lets us understand and appreciate nuance.

After all, America might not have many more birthdays left at the rate that we keep polarizing our ideas about the Constitution.

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No Cake For You, No Democracy For Me

The Daily Escape:

Manhattan, NYC skyline viewed from Brooklyn – 2018 photo by Max Guilani

The gay wedding cake ruling was absurd. If a wedding photographer didn’t want to take photos at the wedding, it would be understandable, because then they’d be present at the ceremony, in some way, participating.

But a person baking and decorating a cake? The baker isn’t participating in the event, and the cake isn’t usually at the ceremony either. The cake can’t represent a religious belief unless it’s actually a religious cake.

There’s a difference between freedom “from” and freedom “to”. This case, and a few others, notably Hobby Lobby, have swung the pendulum in the direction of “freedom to”. That could be the freedom to refuse to serve a customer, to refuse to provide health coverage, to claim an infringement of your religious rights, to say that baking the cake causes undue harm to your right to believe as you do. Much of what the Right touts as freedoms fall under this category, like the freedom to bear arms.

But at the same time, will the court protect those groups who need freedom “from” something, like freedom from discrimination, or harassment?

So, here we are in 21st century America: Stuck, this time by the Supreme Court.

And most of the time, we are stuck by the House and Senate’s inability to move the country forward. The question is: How long will the majority of Americans consent to be governed by the minority?

This, from David Brooks:

Now the two-party system has rigidified and ossified. The two parties no longer bend to the center. They push to the extremes, where the donor bases and their media propaganda arms are. More and more people feel politically homeless, alienated from both parties and without any say in how the country is run.

Our system of democracy must evolve. Under our winner take all rules, the minority can control the country with say, 20 million votes, representing about 6% of the population.

Consider that every state has two senators. The 22 smallest states have a total population less than California.  If the Senate’s filibuster remains in effect, just 21 States can stop any presidential appointment, or any legislation. Even without the filibuster, it takes 26 states to stop legislation.

And the smallest 26 states have a population of about 57 million, less than the population of California and the New York metro area. And today, neither major political party commands more than 30% of the voters.

How long can the country sustain this lack of balance and democratic fairness? The competing interests that the framers tried to balance in 1789 have been overtaken by newer competing interests that they never envisioned.

Maybe it’s time to seriously rethink our electoral processes.

In a recent column in the NYT (quoted above), David Brooks recognizes the problem, and argues for multi-member House districts and for ranked-choice voting (RCV). Russell Berman explained how it works in The Atlantic:

Ranked-choice voting, which cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine, use to elect their mayors, has been likened to an “instant runoff”: Instead of selecting just one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders. That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

Supporters say RCV ensures that candidates with the broadest coalitions of support will win, and that it allows voters to choose the candidate they prefer, without splitting the vote and handing the election to the other party. They also say RCV will inspire more positive campaigning, because candidates will aim to become voter’s second and third choices instead of targeting each other with negative advertisements. Further, they hope that RCV could create room for third-party candidates to succeed.

Wrongo thinks something needs to change. We can’t keep a system that allows the minority to run the country, especially if it is persistently a racist minority, a misogynist minority, a fundamentalist minority, and a cruel minority.

Wrongo grew up believing that having public education, public housing, public transportation (including roads) and human services paid for by the public in proportion to their income or wealth, was what created a civilized nation, an educated populace, a world-class work-force. Now, Wrongo really worries about our current political situation. He worries about his grandchildren. Unless there is political change, their future looks grim.

Herbert Stein said: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

We have to change our electoral process.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Orchard Oriole in crab apple tree  –  May 2014 photo by Wrongo

We are divided, and nothing shows that better than the callous remark about John McCain’s brain cancer by White House staffer Kelly Sadler. She said, regarding McCain’s unwillingness to vote for Gina Haspel for CIA Director, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”  Press Secretary Sarah Sanders then said, “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.”

She thought that the leaking of Sadler’s comment was disgusting. The comment was fine.

Axios reported that WH strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp said, “You can put this on the record, I stand with Kelly Sadler.” That is the same Mercedes Schlapp who walked out of the WH Correspondents Dinner when she felt that Michelle Wolf’s routine spoofing Sara Sanders’s eye makeup was over the line.

And yet, she stands by Kelly Sadler’s making a joke at the expense of a dying John McCain. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the White House.

Sadler’s comments almost made Wrongo want to reconsider John McCain’s maverickitude, and warm up to his career as an unvarnished political hack who loyally served the GOP.

But he can’t. There was absolutely no difference between McCain and right-wingers on any economic issue. In 2016, he changed his mind that presidents should be able to choose who they want to put on the Supreme Court and announced that a Hillary presidency would result in the Scalia seat remaining unfilled until Republicans took power.

So, despite his vote not to eliminate Obamacare, let’s continue to have a clear eye for hackery and hypocrisy, wherever we see them.

The NYT’s Week in Review section was filled yesterday with op-eds about how important it is for liberals to moderate their outrage. On the front page, above-the-fold, was an article titled: “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think“, by Gerard Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

That Wrongo read the entire thing proves Alexander’s point.

OTOH, Professor Alexander was right to point out that liberals can be as guilty of being arrogant and insulting as conservatives. Much of what the right says is angry, closed minded and based on ignorance.

And they say it loudly and often to anyone who will listen.

Progressives need to understand that if our views are based on smugness and arrogance, or if we fail to check all of the facts before arguing, we are unlikely to convince anyone to come over to our side. It does no good to malign a group with broad brush strokes.

But simply turning the other cheek and making nice has landed us where we are.

The problem is that Dr. Alexander implies that there are two equally valid polarities in US politics, and those who love Trump must be regarded as respectable as those who loath him. These are not equal: One side likes a leader who tears things down without any plan for replacement. The other side does not appreciate him in the slightest.

This is not like the difference between those who are pro-free trade, and those who are against it. It’s the difference between the politics of anger and exclusion and the politics of patience and inclusion.

Alexander’s work reads as sloppy thinking from a blogger, not the work of a political scientist at a premiere university. The Trumpalos are willing to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. And those who voted for Trump show a great deal of comfort with anger and outrage, regardless of how Alexander thinks they should be perceived by the rest of us.

Their calls to cool it are good news. We’re getting under their skin.

Time to double down. We need to make our case clearly, and to all who will listen.

Time to wake up America, we are sliding down to a dangerous level. To help you wake up, here is Gil Scott-Heron with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the US:

Scott-Heron has it right. The revolution will be streamed.

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
A tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised.

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

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