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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – January 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

We’re at such a low point, that quoting a racist White Governor at a KKK convention in 1924, doesn’t seem out of character with today’s politics.

Build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven” might have easily been said by Trump on the 2016 campaign trail.

From the NYT:

At midnight on Saturday, the shutdown entered its 22nd day, which makes it the longest gap in American government funding ever. That beats the previous record, under President Bill Clinton in 1995, of 21 days.

Of the 21 federal government shutdowns since 1976, nine of the ten longest occurred under Democratic presidents, where the obstruction was by Republicans.

But the current shutdown is a self-inflicted wound by Trump, so it’s also caused by a Republican.

Trump has help from Mitch McConnell, who is the most powerful man in DC. He has run our national politics since 2010. He was able to neutralize Obama, and now it’s his call how long this shutdown goes on. From the WaPo:

President Trump is not the only person in Washington who could end this government shutdown now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could bring a “clean” funding bill to the floor, free up his GOP caucus to support it and could quite possibly secure enough votes to override a presidential veto.

McConnell already did it once, when he believed he had Trump’s blessing. Before the holidays he allowed a vote to keep the government running until Feb. 8, to avoid a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate Trump’s demand for border wall funding. It passed easily.

After the past three weeks, it should be no surprise that, based on what we know, the GOP’s slogan is:

“Party over People, we really don’t care, do you?”

There are a few simple truths about American history. First, that racism is our worst legacy. Second, that we’re a nation of, and built by, immigrants. Except for Native Americans, we all trace our origins to places beyond our borders.

So why do White nationalists and White Evangelicals insist on saying that we have the right to shut out all immigrants except those from Norway? From NPR:

From 1870 to 1910 a quarter of Norway’s working-age population immigrated, mostly to the United States. You read that right — one-fourth of its workers left the country.

Why? They were economic migrants. Their average wages were less than a third of what they could earn in the US. It also turns out that the immigrants that Norway sent to the US during the 1870s were its poorest and least educated citizens.

According to Leah Boustan, an economist at Princeton University, compared to immigrants from the 15 other European nations that were part of the same wave of arrivals:

…the Norwegians held the lowest paid occupations in the US. They tended to be farm laborers. They were also fishermen. If they were in cities they were just sort of in the manual labor category — what today you would think of as a day laborer.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Twenty years after their arrival in the US, the Norwegian immigrants were still making 14% less than native-born workers. In other words, they have a lot in common with many of today’s immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Time to wake up, America! Trump doesn’t want to develop an immigration policy. We know that, because he only creates phony crises, while he wishes away real ones.

Trump has declared conflicts with Mexico, NATO, Australia, and Canada where none exist. He has tried to frighten Americans by fabricating emergencies that do not exist on the Mexican border.

He declares victories where there are none: saying he’s solved North Korea’s nuclear threat, and that he has beaten ISIS in Syria.

This isn’t just Nancy Pelosi’s problem to solve. Republicans in the Senate need to show moral courage, force Mitch McConnell’s hand, and pass a veto-proof funding bill.

The number to call is the Senate’s switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

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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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Monday Wake Up Call – December 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The twin peaks of Ushba, Caucasus Mountains, Georgia – photo by Pflunt

Last week, Bernie Sanders was with Paul Jay on the Real News Network. The discussion was about how growing income inequality isn’t simply unfair. Bernie said:

Concentration of wealth in America causes concentration of political power.

Sanders had spoken at (his wife Jane’s) Sanders Institute in Vermont on Wednesday. In his subsequent interview, Bernie said:

But it is not just that the one tenth of 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. They don’t put their wealth underneath their mattresses….They use that wealth to perpetrate, perpetuate their power. And they do that politically. So you have the Koch brothers and a handful of billionaires who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, because the Supreme Court gutted the campaign finance laws…and now allow billionaires quite openly to buy elections.

We all know that wealth equals political power. Sanders gave a great example:

Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs, came to Congress a few years ago…after the taxpayers of this country bailed them out because of their greed and their illegal behavior…..These guys, after getting bailed out, they come to Congress. They say, you know what we think Congress should do is…cut Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid. And by the way, lower corporate tax rates and give more tax breaks to the wealthy. That’s power. That’s chutzpah. We have it all, we can do whatever we want to do.

He closes with this:

My vision is that we have got to have the guts to take on Wall Street, take on the pharmaceutical industry, take on the insurance industry, take on the 1 percent, and create an economy that works for all.

….We’re seeing great young candidates who didn’t wait on line for 20 years to get permission to run, but kind of jumped in and beat some long-term incumbents. They’re saying, hey, I come from the community. I know what’s going on in this community, and I’m going to fight for working people, and I’m not afraid to take on big money…..So a two-part approach…..we need to fight for our agenda. We need to elect candidates from the grassroots who…are going to implement that agenda.

Bernie is the best messenger about our urgent need to reform capitalism.

In a similar vein, Seth Godin wrote last week about what he calls “Linchpin Jobs”. These are jobs that few can do, and which contribute greatly to society. That’s an interesting concept, but Wrongo focused on his apt description of “Cog Jobs”, which anyone can do, and which can be done with little effort, or skills: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Industry offered a deal to the worker:

Here’s a job. We’ll pay you as little as we can get away with while still being able to fill the job. We’ll make sure it’s easy to find people for this job, because we don’t want you to have much in the way of power or influence….In return, you’ll work as little as you can get away with. That’s the only sane way to respond to the role of being a cog.

This is the dilemma that faces low-skilled workers today: They can find work, but they can’t live on what they make at only one job. Clearly, cog-like work doesn’t create nearly as much value as intelligent work, but not everyone can find a linchpin job, they’re rare.

Can the paradigm that concentration of wealth equals concentration of power be shifted? Is Bernie Sanders the next FDR? While Wrongo thinks we need a younger leader to reform capitalism, Bernie is the right messenger for reform. His effectiveness as a messenger is clear when we see that 70% of the American people now support Medicare for All, just two years after his 2016 campaign.

And the message is clear. Without reform, we’ll have to look our grandchildren in the eye, and say we’ve wrecked their future.

Time to wake up America! This is the signal issue of our time. The reform of Capitalism must be at the top of our agenda.

Whomever the Democrats nominate for president in 2020 has to be a person that can start America down the road toward reducing the concentration of both money and power in America.

The choice in 2020 will either be more Trump, or a Democrat.

We shouldn’t select another tepid corporate Democrat. They probably won’t win. If by some chance one wins, we’d have to watch as our society becomes even more unequal for the rest of our lifetimes.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Boston Public Library – photo by joethommas

The NYT’s David Brooks:

We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime. The GDP is growing at about 3.5% a year, which is about a point faster than many experts thought possible. We’re in the middle of the second-longest recovery in American history, and if it lasts for another eight months it will be the longest ever.

So everything’s good, no? Not really. More from Brooks: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Researchers with the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index interviewed 160,000 adults in 2017 to ask about their financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose and connectedness to community. Last year turned out to be the worst year for well-being of any since the study began 10 years ago.

And people’s faith in capitalism has declined, especially among the young. Only 45% of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively, a lower rate than in 2010.

Brooks’ conclusion? It’s not the economy, we all just need more community connections.

His is another attempt to dress up the now-failing neoliberal economics. Things look good today from some perspectives, but our economy is crushingly cruel from others. Brooks seems to think that millions of Americans are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, education loans, health care insurance or buy groceries because they have failed to master the art of networking in their neighborhoods.

Alienation is behind the rise of Trumpism, and the rise of populism across the world. In that sense, Brooks is correct, but the leading cause of people’s alienation is economic inequality.

And the leading cause of economic inequality is corporate America’s free rein, supported by their helpmates in Washington. Last week, Wrongo wrote about the exceptional market concentration that has taken place in the US in the past few years. He suggested America needs a revitalized anti-trust initiative. In The Myth of Capitalism, authors Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearns write:

Capitalism without competition is not capitalism.

For decades, most economists dismissed antitrust actions as superfluous, so long as consumers were not the victims of price-gouging. Monopoly capitalism is back, and it’s harmful, even if a company’s core product (like Google’s and Facebook’s) is free to consumers. As we wrote last week, there’s excessive corporate concentration in most industries, including air travel, banking, beer, health insurance, cell service, and even in the funeral industry.

All of this has led to a huge and growing inequality gap. That means there is little or no economic security for a large and growing section of the American population. People see their communities stagnating, or dying. They feel hopeless, angry, and yes, alienated.

One consequence is that we’ve seen three years of declining life expectancy, linked to growing drug use and suicides. We seem to be on the edge of a social catastrophe.

But our real worry has to be political. People could become so desperate for change that they are willing to do anything to get it. The worry then, is that few vote and a minority elects a strong man populist leader, simply because he/she tells them what they want to hear. That leader can then go out and wreak havoc on our Constitutional Republic.

After that, anything could happen.

Despite what Brooks thinks, we don’t have a crisis of connections. It’s a crisis of poorly paying jobs, job insecurity, and poverty. When people look at their economic prospects, they despair for their children. Doesn’t it matter that in America, health care, education, and transportation all lag behind other developed countries?

The unbridled ideology of free markets is the enemy. Our problem isn’t that individual entrepreneurs went out and took all the gains for themselves, leaving the rest of us holding the bag. It’s more about how neoliberal economics is used both by government and corporations to justify an anti-tax and anti-trust approach that has led to extreme wealth and income concentration in the top 1% of Americans.

The reality is that the nation’s wealth has become the exclusive property of the already prosperous.

We need to wake up America! We have to stop for a second, and think about how we can dig out of this mess. When America bought in to FDR’s New Deal programs 75 years ago, we entered an era we now think back on nostalgically as “great”.

And it isn’t enough to talk about how we can look to Sweden or Norway as economic models. Both have populations of under 10 million, and our society is far less homogeneous than theirs.

We need a uniquely American solution to this problem. It will involve reforming capitalism, starting with tax reform, and enforcing anti-trust legislation.

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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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Monday Wake Up Call – October 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Fisherman on the Housatonic River near Cornwall, CT – November, 2017 photo by Mike Jacquemin

The World Series is on, and it may actually be over by the time you read this. Wrongo lived in Brooklyn as a young boy, and got to go to Ebbets Field twice to see games. He grew up on Mays, Mantle, Berra, Koufax, Drysdale, Hodges and Snider, each were legends and heroes.

But in 2018? The only baseball Wrongo watches is the World Series, and that’s only with clicker in hand, vectoring to other entertainment. And he certainly doesn’t stay up until the game is over. Let this sink in: In 2018, for the first time in baseball history, there were more strikeouts than hits: 188 more to be exact.

So today, who watches these games from start to finish? It’s doubtful that those under the age of 30 do. Particularly if someone like Wrongo who was a baseball fan 60 years ago, is too disengaged to watch it in real time.

But the weekend’s news wasn’t dominated by sports, but by yet another mass shooting. This time, at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 mostly elderly people died at the hands of an anti-Semitic, hate-motivated gunman. He leaves behind waves of grief.

It’s a sorry commentary that this killing, along with the attempted bombings of 14 Democrats, obscured the hate killing of two African-Americans in Kentucky last Wednesday. Maybe it’s because only two Black murder victims at the hands of a white supremacist doesn’t garner attention anymore.

To those crying out after a wave of pipe bombs and another mass shooting, that this is not who we are, sorry, this is exactly who we have become as a people. The MAGA-bomber and the Synagogue murders are the tip of the spear: Alt-right fellow travelers blatantly acting out, seemingly without fear of reprisal, is the world we live in now.

And yet, at a time when America sorely needs moral leadership and unity, consistent reminders that we are one people, that we’re all in it together…we have Trump.

From James Fallows in the Atlantic:

Donald Trump has never once, in his life, spoken…as bearer of the whole nation’s grief, as champion of its faith and resolve–so there is no reason to expect that he could possibly do so now.

More from Fallows:

America has almost always had someone able to play that role….Harry Truman did so, after he unexpectedly became the leader of the post–World War II world. George W. Bush did, in his early remarks after 9/11. Even Lyndon B. Johnson, who fit no model of a natural orator, recognized what the country needed from him after history-changing assassinations: of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, and of Martin Luther King Jr. Like his predecessors, he recognized what was expected of him, and he tried his best.

Donald Trump cannot and will not do any of this, and the absence of such a voice in national leadership is palpable.

We know that Trump has consistently stoked hatred. He has occasionally encouraged violence. This isn’t simply a personal moral failing, if he acts like a fellow traveler with alt-right types, racists, anti-Semites, and misogynists, the worst that our society has to offer.

Largely, he hates those who the alt-right hate; he also supports those who have no issue with using violence.

He draws angry crowds precisely because he reflects his followers’ inner darkness. So, when violence that is aimed at his enemies occurs, he can’t even fake compassion, much less accept that his words could have inspired the violence.

After dividing us and pandering to hatred for the past two years, what he says now is too little, too late.

America is about to find out what happens when morality and common decency are abandoned for political gain. If we don’t get Trump out of office, and bring the Republicans to heel, it’s frightening to think about what may happen, where we could be a few years.

So, it’s time to wake up America! The first step on our long road to national recovery begins on November 6th.

Get yourself to the polls, and take a neighbor or two with you.

To help you wake up, listen this morning to the main theme From “Schindler’s List“. John Williams composed the score for Schindler’s List, and played the main theme on piano. Following Spielberg’s suggestion, he hired Itzhak Perlman to perform it on the violin:

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

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

The Daily Escape:

Autumn near Walpole, NH – October 2018 photo by knale

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

From the NYT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Trump doing a smart thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Monday Wake Up Call – Russia Edition

The Daily Escape:

Swan Lake, by Tchaikovsky, performed on September 26, 2018 at the Alexandrinsky Theater, St.Petersburg – iPhone photo by Wrongo. Russians didn’t like the original ending of the ballet, where Sigfried and Odette die, so in their preferred performance, Sigfried and Odette live happily ever after.

A few random thoughts about the US and Russia: We often forget that all countries have their own history, all of which is ongoing in parallel to our own:

  • America’s colonial history was underway while Russian history was being written. For example, Wrongo’s home town was founded in 1709 on the banks of the Housatonic River. By 1720, the town was a rough collection of small farms, churches and commercial buildings, connected by dirt roads to other towns in Connecticut and New York, but it depended upon the Housatonic for connection to the sea, to the old world, and to the rest of the new world colonies.
  • In 1703, Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg on its current site. He built the city with conscripted peasants, starting by reclaiming the marshlands on both sides of the Neva River. Tens of thousands of serfs died while building the city. The Neva was important, because it was Russia’s only ocean port, their connection to the rest of the world. The land around St. Petersburg was ultimately raised by nearly 10’. It became the capital of Russia in 1712.
  • We all know that President Lincoln freed about 4 million slaves in the US in 1863. In 1861, Tsar Alexander II freed 23 million Russian serfs, who also were slaves.
  • Alexander had to pay compensation to the nobles who had lost their supply of free Russian labor. In 1867, he raised the necessary funds by selling Alaska to the US for $14 million.

Now, a few observations about Russia today.

Below is a photo of the Obukhov State Plant in St. Petersburg. It makes surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems, including the world-famous Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems that are employed around the world including in Syria and India. The S400 system will soon be in the hands of our somewhat belligerent ally, Turkey. Wrongo was told that it is currently subject to the US sanctions regime, although he couldn’t immediately find it on the US Treasury’s sanctions list. Here is Wrongo’s iPhone photo of the missile plant:

Why does the US place sanctions on a state-owned arms manufacturer in Russia? Russia is #2 to the US in global arms sales, and we can be sure that if Russia sanctioned Honeywell or Northrup, we would be screaming that they had no right to interfere in our commercial relations with other countries.

Next, everyone knows that the legendary Hermitage, formerly the Winter Palace, has an amazing art collection. The collection was started by Catherine the Great in 1764, when she purchased 255 paintings from the city of Berlin. Today, the Hermitage houses over a million works of art. It is a truly remarkable museum to visit.

So imagine Wrongo’s surprise when he noticed many paintings had been marked with an inventory control number, painted on the visible canvas! Inventory control numbers routinely appear on the back of paintings, but to see numbers, painted in red, on the canvas itself? Here is an example of what Wrongo saw:

Is this desecration of an art work by an overzealous Bolshevik accountant? Did the powers that be eventually discover the error of their ways? Most likely yes, because only relatively few paintings from the 15 and 16th century were marked, but all seemed to be in the same script. Wrongo asked several people if the red numbers interfered with their enjoyment of the painting, and none said it did, but it sure did piss off Wrongo.

Perhaps it’s simply a different way of looking at things. Like how each country views the Syrian president: is he a tyrant, or the savior of his people?

So wrapping up, based upon Wrongo’s observations, we have many similarities with the Russian people, and a few similarities with their government.

Of course, each country has an easy-to-criticize bureaucracy. Ours wouldn’t paint numbers on oil paintings, but it will happily perform other desecrations without being asked.

Geopolitically, we have voluntarily placed ourselves in a competition with the Russian state. We have been directly competing since the 1940’s, and it hasn’t delivered either side a more secure homeland, or world.

Instead, it has positioned us on opposite sides in many third world countries. It has made our defense contractors very rich, while causing the deaths of many young people in America’s military.

Wake Up! It’s way past time for both countries to re-think this competition.

 

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