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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – January 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Monastery at Mt. Kachkanar, Ural Mountains, Russia – 2017 photo by Amos Chapple. Built by a Russian Afghanistan war veteran, the monastery sits on land to be mined for its iron deposits. The land is owned by Roman Abramovich, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“You’ve got to get yourself together,
You’ve got stuck in a moment,
And now you can’t get out of it.
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment,
And you can’t get out of it”
– U2

The Wall is Trump’s moment. He believes he doesn’t have to cave in to Democrats. Democrats face the same moment. They rightly believe that if they cave in, Trump will ride them all the way to the 2020 presidential election. We the people are all stuck in this moment, too.

So, let’s take a moment, and understand the border wall today. The border with Mexico is roughly 1,900 miles long, and spans four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long, while the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles long.

The current wall consists of about 700 miles of varied barriers, ranging from 10-foot rusted fencing made from military surplus corrugated metal left over from the Vietnam era, to chain link fencing and vehicle barriers that are no barrier to pedestrian traffic. Most of this needs replacing just to maintain the status quo. Here’s a map of where and what kind of wall we have:

Source: The Center for Investigative Reporting and OpenStreetMap contributors

A total of $1.7 billion was appropriated in FY17 and FY18 for new and replacement barriers and fences. Most of these funds have been designated to the Army Corps of Engineers. Much of that has been awarded to contractors. Only a small percentage (6%) has been paid out.

The following projects account for about half of these funds:

  • Near San Diego to replace 14 miles of 8-10 foot metal wall/fence with 18-30 foot tall bollard wall system for $287 million to begin in July 2019.
  • In the Rio Grande Valley to build 8 miles of 18 foot bollard wall and replace existing levee wall for $167 million to begin in February 2019.
  • In New Mexico to replace 20 miles of fencing with bollard wall for $73 million
  • In Arizona to build/replace 32 miles of “primary pedestrian wall” for $324 million to begin in April 2019.

That’s roughly $850 million for 75 miles of replacement fencing. At that rate, rebuilding the existing “wall” will take $8.5 billion and 10+ years.

The existing border fence cost about $2.4 billion. Building the rest of it could cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, with an annual maintenance cost of $700 million, according to an estimate by Marc Rosenblum, the deputy director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Trump will be long gone before his big, beautiful wall from sea to sea is built, if ever. It’s possible that migration patterns will change before that were to happen. And however the barrier system eventually turns out, it still has to be manned and maintained to be effective.

The question on the table this week is does Trump need approval from Congress, or can he just declare a national emergency and build away?

The Secure Fence Act  was signed in 2006 by George W. Bush. The majority of the fencing now in was built before he left office. The last remnants were completed after Obama took office in 2009. However, Trump must follow a decades-old border treaty with Mexico that limits where and how structures can be built along the border.

The 1970 treaty requires that structures cannot disrupt the flow of the rivers, which define the US-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona, according to The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint US-Mexican agency that administers the treaty.

Turning to Trump’s national emergency idea, The National Emergencies Act was created to limit the power of a president to act without restriction in a situation that he deemed to threaten the republic. It limits the funds available for such construction to funds already appropriated for military construction.

The question is whether Trump can truly declare a “National Emergency” over a political fight. If so, can Trump go forward and legislate by Executive Order in a way that Obama was reviled for?

Time to wake up America! We need to look carefully at what limits on presidential power will be supported by Republicans.

After all, they thought Obama acted as a King.

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Funding The Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada in snow – photo by Yan Gao

When the President and the incoming Speaker of the House get into a televised shouting match over whether we have enough money to fund Trump’s wall, you know that things have to change in America. They’re fighting over use of a limited resource, the US government’s funding.

We now have within our means the ability to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate everyone. But, as a country, we are unwilling to do so, because we buy into neoliberal economic theory. Never in history have we had the ability to make our species as secure as we do now, but we choose instead to make as many as insecure as possible.

Until about 1980, economic growth created a level of prosperity that earlier generations of Americans could only dream about. But, economic growth no longer makes people more economically secure. We’ve become prisoners in a system that promotes permanent growth, where wages stagnate, schools decay, and Goldman Sachs sits inside our government.

The question we should be asking is: How can our politics provide an answer to our people’s need for economic security? We know that neoliberalism has reduced many of our people to states of economic insecurity. We know that our economic and social order must change, and profoundly, or face an eventual revolution. This isn’t an option, it’s a certainty.

That means that only state funding will create the (peaceful) change we need.

Here’s a big idea from Richard Murphy, a UK tax accountant:

…To put this another way, what may be the biggest programme of change ever known in human history is required in very short order. We need new energy systems; transformation of our housing stock; new transport infrastructure; radically different approaches to food that might even require rationing if we cannot create change any other way; different ways of working and new ways of using leisure time.

Murphy goes on to say:

But this must be done in a way that increases certainty. Jobs must be created on the ground…And I mean, in every constituency….but the transport and other infrastructure must be provided in that case and that does not simply mean more roads. The social safety net must be recreated. That means a job guarantee. It also means a universal basic income. And business must be transformed. Since that process will be incredibly expensive this requires capital and if that means state investment and co-ownership, so be it.

Murphy says that if this was wartime, our government would find the money to fund radical change. He says that we can no longer just extract higher taxes from the rich to solve our funding requirements, we need to create a vision, a plan and funding to achieve the change required.

One way to fund a portion of these requirements may be to restrict funding for the military, to eliminate tax breaks and subsidies for corporations. More from Murphy:

The time for pussy-footing is over. We know what we need to do. We know the scale of the issue. We know the reasons for acting….and we know we can pay for it. This is not left or right as we know it. And any party not addressing it is part of the problem and not the solution.

He’s suggesting deficit financing for societal gain. What are the chances that revolutionary change can happen? Almost zero today. Left to our political class, we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re currently doing, that is, until we can’t.

As we said yesterday, people say, “It’s the system, we can’t change it”.

But, in the Middle Ages, the exact same thing could have been said about feudalism. That institution was deeply entrenched, it was “how things are, and were meant to be.” It was inconceivable that something like democratic government could ever succeed feudalism, yet it did.

Today, our revolutionary task is to allow democracy to express its full potential to reshape and revitalize our social and economic life.

We must begin by setting priorities, taking resources from areas that drain the economy. Then we need to devote those resources to things that will make for a healthier, more secure economy.

One example is to adjust the priority that military defense spending has in our economy. Let’s stop being the world’s policeman, nobody wants us to do it. Then, use the excess resources to build infrastructure, and renewable energy systems.

Everything else we need then will become easier to build.

It’s a matter of deciding what our priorities are, and voting for those who agree with that vision.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 2, 2018

Wrongo’s not gonna say much that’s bad about the late George HW Bush today. Wouldn’t be prudent.

What the Hell…here’s a few observations. Bush was an average president who looks better than he should because we compare him to the terrible Republican presidents we’ve experienced since he left office. He was a genuine war hero, and a self-made successful businessman (to the extent that his wealthy family didn’t just hand him a Texas oil business). He was a reasonable head of the CIA.

But to become president, he engaged in race baiting, using the Willie Horton ad against Dukakis. It was openly racist, harking back to old American fears of black men raping white women. Bush can never be forgiven for this.

He brought us Clarence Thomas. Bush could have held the Reagan administration accountable for Iran-Contra. Instead, he chose to pardon everyone. Just before he left office, he pardoned Caspar Weinberger, who was just about to go on trial for his crimes, describing him as a “true American patriot.” He also pardoned Elliott Abrams and Robert McFarlane, basically ending the chance that anyone would be held responsible for Iran-Contra.

His pardons of the Iran-Contra crew allowed them to re-enter public life where they became the backbone for Operation Iraqi Freedom under GW Bush. This is his barely-remembered and negative contribution to today’s political landscape. His Thousand Points of Light idea was a non-offensive push toward nonprofits and individual acts of kindness and charity. Neil Young said it best:

We have 1,000 points of light
For the homeless man
We have a kinder, gentler
Machine gun hand

On to cartoons. The national Christmas tree looks different this year:

Trump tosses pardons for Mueller relief:

Rudy means there’s no collusion between Manafort and Cohen:

G20 meetings saw Putin working with his hands:

GM’s plant closings could create more immigrants:

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Saturday Soother – December 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Yukon Grizzly before hibernation – 2014 photo by Paul Nicklen

Quite the week. We had barely digested Thanksgiving dinner when we heard about Russia seizing three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea. We learned that Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller, and that his lawyer reported everything that occurred between Manafort and Mueller to the White House. Then, we heard that Trump’s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Who knows what it all means?

But, the big story this week was that we learned that life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years, a 0.3 year decline from our peak. From CNN:

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.

We are witnessing social decay in America. This is consistent with what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” in 2017. The WSJ has a detailed breakdown, and also points out how other countries are continuing to show progress:

Data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday show life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a percent, to 78.6 years, pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl. Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase.

From Yves Smith:

Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers.

The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the US, reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. In addition, diseases are plaguing people with limited access to health care.

In the late part of the last century, and the early years of this century, there was a steady decline in heart-disease deaths. That offset a rising number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Now, we’re not seeing those heart-related declines, while drug and suicide deaths occur earlier in life, accounting for more years of life lost.

The worst aspect is that it never had to be this way. These drug and suicide deaths are “collateral damage” caused by the social and economic changes in America since the 1970s.

And we made most of those changes by choice.

Wrongo is reminded that last month, he learned that something similar had happened in Russia under Gorbachev. Under Perestroika, millions of Russians lost jobs. The government’s budget deficits grew. The death rate exceeded the birth rate. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

Are we in a slow motion disaster that could be similar to what Russia went through back in the 1990s?

We’ve become hardened. These American deaths are largely anonymous. When AIDS was ravishing the gay community in the 1980s, people were able to appreciate the huge number of deaths by seeing, or adding to, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which eventually weighed more than 50 tons.

There is no equivalent recognition for these deaths of despair.

A traitorous American ruling class has sold out its middle and lower classes. If you doubt that, think about Wal-Mart. The Walton’s fortune was made by acting as an agent of Chinese manufacturers, in direct competition with US manufacturers. Doesn’t that seem like treason?

Relax, there’s nothing you can do about all of this today, the first day of December. Time to get what solace you can from a few minutes having a coffee, and a listen to a piece of soothing music.

Start by brewing a cup of Kona Mele Extra Fancy coffee from Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($64.94/lb.). It has an aroma of dark chocolate, fruit and flowers. And shipping is free.

Now settle back and listen to a few minutes of George Winston’s “December”. Here are Part 1: Snow, Part 2: Midnight, and Part 3: Minstrels:

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

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Capitalism Must Be Reformed

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji, Japan at sunset – November, 2018 photo by miles360x

From the Economist:

In 2016, a survey found that more than half of young Americans no longer support capitalism.

One reason that young people have lost faith in capitalism is the exceptional market concentration that has taken place in the US in the past few years. US firms have gotten bigger, often by acquiring their competition. This is true across many markets. Vox reports that: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

Four companies…control 97% of the dry cat food sector: Nestlé, J.M. Smucker, Supermarket Brand, and Mars. According to the report, Nestlé has a 57% (share of)…the industry, owning brands such as Purina, Fancy Feast, Felix, and Friskies. Altria, Reynolds American, and Imperial have a 92% market share of the cigarette and tobacco manufacturing industry. Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, and Constellation have a 75% share of the beer industry. Hillenbrand and Matthews have a 76% share of the coffin and casket manufacturing industry.

On November 26th, the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank, released a data set showing the market share of the largest companies in each industry. Pulling the data together was a challenge, because the FTC halted the collection and publication of industry concentration data in 1981, during the time of Ronald Regan. Now, David Leonhardt of the NYT has turned it into a table:

As you can see, big companies are much more dominant than they were just 15 years ago. More from Leonhardt:

The new corporate behemoths have been very good for their executives and largest shareholders — and bad for almost everyone else. Sooner or later, the companies tend to raise prices. They hold down wages, because where else are workers going to go? They use their resources to sway government policy. Many of our economic ills — like income stagnation and a decline in entrepreneurship — stem partly from corporate gigantism.

Sarah Miller, deputy director of the Open Markets Institute, told Vox: (brackets by Wrongo)

… [When] you go to the store, you see all of these brands, but guess what? They’re all being operated by the same companies…She called the system a scam economy where competition is an illusion, and choice is an illusion.

The primary issue with corporate concentration is its potential to drive up prices. The fewer sellers, the fewer choices consumers have for goods and services, and thus, there is less pressure for the big competitors to hold prices down.

Even if many consumers don’t immediately realize they are victims of concentration, it’s visible when millions of homes only have one internet provider. Or, when four cellphone providers control 98% percent of the market (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint). And if the T-Mobile and Sprint merger plan goes through, there will be just three.

Ultimately, monopolies aren’t just an economic problem. They are also a political one. Democrats believe that anti-monopolism can be a political winner. It’s a way to address voters’ anxiety over high drug prices, digital privacy, and low wages.

We have been at this rodeo before. At the start of the 20th century, we broke up monopolies in railways and energy. In 1984, we broke up AT&T, only to see the “Baby Bells” recombine in the 1990s. We’ve simply stopped enforcing our anti-trust laws over the past 40 years.

Meanwhile, the public has been manipulated to believe that ever larger companies are in their best interests. We celebrate the “right” of large corporations to operate in unfettered ways.

But, Econ 101 shows that the trajectory of a monopoly starts with economies of scale, and ends with economies of exploitation. And remember that six corporations own 90% of the media. We won’t hear much about wrongdoing at Amazon from the Washington Post.

The required anti-trust laws are already on the books, but interpretation of them has changed over the years under Republican administrations. Eventually, we will have to break up existing giants, like we did before. One obvious candidate is Amazon, a company that will soon dominate the supply chain and all logistics in the US.

Facebook, which has gobbled up Instagram and WhatsApp, may be another candidate.

America is very late in addressing the negative outcomes of free markets, so there’s no time like the present to begin to Make America Love Small Business Again.

Voters need to push for anti-trust enforcement, which can only be done by the federal government. We have to insist that the protection of citizens is more important than protecting the 1%.

Let’s close with this quote from Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

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We Saved GM For This?

The Daily Escape:

Redfish Lake, ID – 2018 photo by potatopatriot

From the Guardian:

General Motors announced yesterday that it will halt production at five North American facilities and cut 14,700 jobs as it deals with slowing sedan sales and the impact of Donald Trump’s tariffs.

The cuts will also hit 15% of GM’s 54,000 white-collar workforce, about 8,100 people. And some 18,000 GM workers have already been asked to accept voluntary buy-outs. By next year, it will no longer make the Buick LaCrosse, the Chevrolet Impala, or the Cadillac CT6 sedan. It’s also killing the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. GM’s CEO Mary Barra:

We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences…

Changing market conditions” means that GM’s sales are down despite offering enormous cash incentives to potential buyers. GM’s new-vehicle deliveries in the US plunged 11% in the third quarter, and are down 1.2% for the year. In Canada, GM’s sales have dropped 1.6% so far this year.

GM’s goal in restructuring is to save $6 billion in cash flow a year by year-end 2020. But saving all this money will cost a lot: GM estimates it at $3.0 billion to $3.8 billion, including asset write-downs, pension charges, and up to $2.0 billion in employee-related and other cash-based expenses.

GM will have to borrow this money. They said they expect to fund the restructuring costs through a new credit facility. The money has to be borrowed because GM blew through $13.9 billion in cash on share buybacks over the past four years:

Source: Wolfstreet.com

Despite spending $14 billion on share buybacks, the price of GM’s shares fell 10% over the same period.

You’d think that GM, a company that went bankrupt not too long ago, would be conservative in how it uses its cash. Nope, they wasted their cash on stock buybacks, and now they have to take out loans in order to reposition the company in its market.

Failing to anticipate where their market is going isn’t a new GM story. It had a 46% share of the car market in 1961, and now has a 17.6% share. They emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, only to be laying off workers and shutting plants in 2018.

Some history: Through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the US Treasury invested $49.5 billion in GM in 2008 and recovered $39 billion when it sold its shares on December 9, 2013. We lost $10.3 billion. The Treasury invested another $17.2 billion into GM’s former financing arm, GMAC (now Ally). The shares in Ally were sold on December 18, 2014 for $19.6 billion netting $2.4 billion.

Net, GM has cost taxpayers $7.9 billion, while the top decision-makers spent $14 billion largely to enrich themselves.

How were they enriched? Share buybacks boost stock prices. Usually the salary and bonus plans for top executives in public companies are keyed to share price, so the incentive to prop up the share price includes a personal reward. The Chairman and Board set the compensation plans for the CEO and C-suite. The composition of Boards is strongly influenced by the major shareholders, including the large stock funds, who want share price gains, along with a few buddies of the CEO.

We’ve just witnessed a decade of stock buybacks by large firms. They are doing that as opposed to investing in R&D, plant efficiency or market expansion. But companies can only go so far with financial engineering before they actually have to improve their businesses, and now GM has been burned by share buybacks.

This is more corporate greed that leads to the little guy facing real suffering when jobs are lost.

GM is a shot across the bow. The auto industry will follow with additional capacity reduction. Volkswagen has already warned that the shift to Electric Vehicles (EV’s) will drastically cut employment at its plants that manufacture internal combustion (IC) components. EV vehicle production is far less costly than IC vehicle production, so this will be a real and ongoing issue.

OTOH, car manufacturers all have an EV option, but people are still buying Toyota’s, Honda’s and Mazda’s, even though only a few are EV’s.

This new GM “plan” seems more like a smoke screen for being caught AGAIN behind a market that is moving away from them.

America: A sucker for saving GM in 2008.

And possibly, a sucker-in-waiting when the latest, greatest plan to make GM great again only works out for GM’s executives.

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Saturday Soother – November 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan Italy – photo by JaffaLarsen

Welcome to your post-turkey Saturday. What you may have missed on turkey day was the anniversary of the assassination of JFK on 11/22. If you are of a certain age, you have contemporaneous memories of his death, and the aftermath of public mourning. Now, 55 years later, news of it was difficult to find.

Wrongo remembers the black-and-white images of the arrival of JFK’s body on Air Force One at Andrews AF Base near Washington, the newly-sworn President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the kaleidoscope of events: Jack Ruby killing Oswald in real-time on TV, the funeral parade, and the Arlington burial.

JFK would probably be disappointed that what we remember most about his life was how he died.

History remembers the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and some remember the start of the space program. But it is those seconds in Dealy Plaza in Dallas that defines him for those who were born after his death.

Each generation is fated to experience their own moment. For some older than Wrongo, it was Pearl Harbor. For younger folks, maybe it was the Challenger disaster in the mid-1980’s, or September 11, 2001.

And in all cases, we mostly carry the personal meaning of those moments. Your experience was/is unique. You have some emotions that are similar to the public at large, but your memories remain your own.

No one knows what might have happened if Kennedy had lived. There may be some insight in his 1963 Thanksgiving message, published eighteen days before he died. Here is an excerpt: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Today we are a nation of nearly two hundred million souls, stretching from coast to coast, on into the Pacific and north toward the Arctic, a nation enjoying the fruits of an ever-expanding agriculture and industry and achieving standards of living unknown in previous history. We give our humble thanks for this.

Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril. Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers — for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Wow: we should be humbly thankful for the ideals we have inherited. Imagine having a president who could and would say such things.

It’s Saturday, and time for a little soothing, both of body along with the mind, because of all the calories we’ve consumed. Also, because the world seems so complicated today, with so few obvious solutions for our many problems.

So, take a break from your next big obligation, settle down, and live in the moment for at least few minutes. Start by brewing up a yuuge cup of Kibugu Kenya coffee ($19.95/12oz.), from the foothills of Mount Kenya. This coffee is sweet, umami-toned, with notes of date, almond butter, and cocoa powder in the cup. It is sourced and roasted by Lexington Coffee, in Lexington, VA.

Now, find a warm spot by the window, put on your Bluetooth headphones and listen to the second movement of “Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor”, composed in 1844. Here it is played by Julia Fischer live in May, 2010 in Paris, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Wrongo thinks the conductor is Ivan Fischer, but he’s not a relative of Julia’s, he’s Hungarian and she’s German. This was Mendelssohn’s last large orchestral work:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day 2018

The Daily Escape:

“Sands of Remembrance” sand sculpture, Normandy, FR – done for D-Day, 2004

Wrongo still thinks of Veterans Day as Armistice Day, probably because he’s old enough to remember when we celebrated it as the ending of WWI. Now, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans. President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.

Let’s focus today on the closing hours of WWI, and then add a few thoughts about Vietnam.

First, WWI: In the eleven hours of that final November day, the different countries of the Allies were still launching attacks even though they knew that the cease-fire was set for 11 am. In fact, the French commander, Marshall Foch, refused to agree to a cease-fire. The American generals also wanted to make a point with the Germans, and that day, about 3,000 Americans were killed and wounded.

There was a Congressional Hearing after the War about the 3,000 Americans casualties, but they never published the results, because it would have made the American Generals look bad.

In the many centuries of European history up to 1945, an army crossed the Rhine on average once every 30 years. War was historically what the major nations of Europe did. In the 73 years since WWII, they’ve decided not to do that to each other, an astonishing and humbling fact.

On Saturday and Sunday, we saw the strong expressions of unity between France’s Macron and Germany’s Merkel, along with Merkel appearing on Sunday morning in London. These were mere symbols for peace, but it mattered very much for the world to see them, even if they are immaterial to the current US president:

On Vietnam: Few know that there are eight American women listed on the Wall. Each are nurses, who dedicated themselves to taking care of our wounded and dying. They were part of the more than 265,000 American women who served during the Vietnam era. Approximately 11,000 served in Southeast Asia. Close to 99% were nurses.

A small number of women served in civilian capacities, such as with the American Red Cross and the USO. More than 50 civilian American women died in Vietnam.  Others worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and in other capacities.

It wasn’t until November, 1993 that the patriotic service of all women was honored in the nation’s capital at the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Every holiday offers the opportunity to remind ourselves of who we want to be as a nation. The day after every holiday gives the opportunity to start down the path of doing something about that.

As Fabius Maximus says:

We ask our men and women in uniform to fight for us. The right or wrong of the conflicts – the responsibility for them – lies on us, the citizens at home who elect our leaders, not on those who carry out our orders. On this day we celebrate their service, without which the Republic would not have survived.

Since every “Support the Troops!” celebration inevitably becomes a “Support the War!” celebration, it’s curious how a celebration about the end of a war has gotten so twisted in America. There is no better way to support our active and veteran service members than to make sure we never commit to war, unless absolutely necessary.

So wake up America! Here’s what we have to do, starting today:

Stop under-funding care for veterans. Every month, we hear about active duty military and veterans suffering poor medical care, or having to wait years for the care they need. The military can always find funding for big-ticket weapons, but not for our veterans.

Here in America, we will say anything to support our troops, but we won’t fully fund the Veterans’ Administration. We won’t provide truly first-class aftercare to the wounded and maimed. And we won’t ensure that widowed spouses and children are cared for adequately.

Stop Congress from giving Presidents a blank check to conduct military operations that are not purely defensive in nature. Rewrite the AUMF. Put Congress back into its long-abandoned Constitutional role of approving wars that are recommended by the president.

With a Democratic majority in the House, these two things are possible.

Since its Monday, tell your Congresscritter to get busy on them right away.

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Trump Plans to End Birthright Citizenship

The Daily Escape:

Hocking Hills lower falls, Ohio – October 2018 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

President Trump said he plans to sign an executive order that would remove the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and illegal immigrants born on US soil. This is called “Birthright Citizenship”.

Birthright Citizenship, the common law concept of jus soli, has been the law since the ratification of the 14th Amendment. The Republican concern is that too many illegal immigrants have a child in the US who is automatically an American citizen, and therefore, has the right to vote. The 14th Amendment’s  first sentence reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The debate pertains to the clause, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”. Conservatives contend that it means only citizens, while the preponderance of Constitutional scholars say it means located in the US.

Trump first made a case for ending Birthright Citizenship in 2015. Back then, he was following Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who said that Hispanics try to get a foothold in the country by coming here and having a child. King called them “anchor babies”.

Trump and the GOP are focusing on a largely imaginary abuse of birthright by foreigners.

Steve Kantrowitz, a US historian of the 19th century, wrote a series of tweets, condensed here: (emphasis by Wrongo)

On birthright citizenship, read the debate in the US Senate, Jan. 30, 1866. The framers of the Civil Rights Act — the immediate precursor to the 14th Amendment, and the first place national citizenship was codified — knew exactly what they were doing. They were clarifying the well-understood principle that children born in the US were citizens regardless of the immigration status of their parents. They even understood this to be true for children whose parents would then have been racially ineligible for citizenship, such as the Chinese. The only people excluded from citizenship on this basis were 1) Indians under tribal government and 2) children born to the families of foreign diplomats.

A new Executive Order on Birthright Citizenship would spark a legal battle, and pave the way for a showdown at the Supreme Court. To help get that party started, The Hill reported that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) intends to “introduce legislation among the same lines as the proposed executive order.”

Consider the irony: The Republican Party accomplished something hugely enlightened and important with the 14th Amendment. Here is American Civil War historian Eric Foner:

The 14th amendment and birthright citizenship rank among the great and defining accomplishments of the Republican Party, back when it was the Party of Lincoln.

Yet Trump Republicans propose purging their historic accomplishment from the Constitution. The problem with eliminating Birthright Citizenship is that their idea is at its core, explicitly nativist, racist, and xenophobic.

The current Republican Party is showing that it is no longer related to the Republican Party of Lincoln. In fact, it is barely related to the Republican Party of Eisenhower. The only piece of common ground the current Republican Party has with the Party of Lincoln is its name.

It will take time to move Trump’s Executive Order to a hearing at the Supreme Court. So, announcing this now is really another attempt to energize the Republican base next week.

Republicans are playing to an idea deep in the American psyche that there’s always “a mob at the gates”. The mob wants in, so that they can take advantage of the good things we have, or they plan to lay waste to our culture and way of life. Therefore, we must be vigilant, because our innocence and openness makes us vulnerable to exploitation or infection from outside.

This is what makes the Caravan a huge issue to Republicans. They’re calling it “an invasion” or, “a national emergency”.

The Right Wing’s argument is that we shouldn’t “reward” people who come into the country illegally by “giving” their kids born here citizenship.

They answer the fact that we all came here from over there, by saying “they followed the rules“, even though for most of us, our ancestors faced few, or no rules on immigration.

This is the problem Wrongo has with the GOP. They begin the argument from their conclusion, and work backwards. Any fig leaf will do. So any argument in favor of the conclusion is all they require.

Voters. Please do not take this bait. Let’s keep our eye on the ball: Re-winning at least the House on Nov 6th. This other fight can wait until after the election.

There are two great things about the US: Strong free speech laws, and jus soli. The idea of blood citizenship—which pervades Europe, and the Middle East, is the root of much evil in the world.

Don’t bring that evil here, VOTE on next Tuesday.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Early fall in Nuremberg, Germany – photo by voyageblonde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, Dems won’t take back the House.

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

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