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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 26, 2019

In another “elections have consequences” story, The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), has a new report about how states can blunt the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. In that case, the court ruled that employers can use forced arbitration clauses to strip workers of their right to join together in court to fight wage theft, discrimination, or harassment. The EPI forecasts that by 2024, more than 80% of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by forced arbitration clauses.

They argue that, given the current very conservative Supreme Court, it will be up to individual states to pass “whistleblower enforcement” laws like those introduced in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, to empower workers who need to sue law-breaking employers, including those covered by arbitration clauses.

On to cartoons. Here’s a look at abortion from the GOP white male perspective:

Trump won’t (can’t?) deal:

GOP’s accomplishments are transparent, even if they are not:

The Parties see things differently:

Summer replacement series doesn’t get raves:

Graduation speakers aren’t created equal:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 31, 2019

Wrongo and Ms. Right saw “What the Constitution Means to Me” on Broadway last night. It’s a riveting and powerful show, good for both your head and heart. The cast is led by Heidi Schreck in an amazing performance. Schreck also wrote the play. She tells her (true) story of earning college money by traveling around the country delivering short speeches on the Constitution and competing in rapid-fire challenges about its amendments.

In the play, she resurrects her teenage self, tracing the effects of the founding document on generations of women, including many in her family. She focuses on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the “penumbra” of Amendment 9. She applies these to a few cases, specifically, the Supreme Court case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

Schreck plays a recording of Justices Scalia and Breyer debating Castle Rock v. Gonzalez: They focus not on the mother, or her children who were kidnapped and killed by her husband. Or, on the negligence of the local police, who failed to respond to the permanent restraining order she had against her husband, despite the many, many times that Gonzalez called them. Instead, they pedantically debate the meaning of the word “shall.”

It’s a debate about rhetoric, entirely stripped of humanity.

She lost. The Supremes decided that the police did not have an obligation to protect Ms. Gonzalez or her kids. They held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law. See the play if you can.

On to cartoons. Barr’s report isn’t the report you are looking for:

Barr’s report will keep America at odds until we see what Mueller says:

Barr tells us that Donnie’s clean:

Last week, Republicans called for Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), to be removed. Every Republican on the committee was on board for Schiff’s removal. Schiff didn’t take it lying down. He pointed out everything shady and suspicious that Trump & his associates did during the campaign. He closed by saying “But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is OK. And the day we do think that’s OK, is the day we will look back and say that is the day that America lost its way.” Watch Schiff’s response here:

Betsy shows her disability:

Trump, king of health care, says the Republicans will sometime in the future, become the party of health care:

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Religious Right Praying Justice Ginsburg Dies

The Daily Escape:

Winter, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA – photo via wallpaper studio

 This week Right Wing Watch, who follow America’s least attractive thinkers so that we don’t have to, had a column about how Evangelical Christians are circling around Ruth Bader Ginsburg like vultures. The article included this tweet from anti-abortion and anti-gay activist Matt Barber:

We know that RBG just had cancerous tumors removed from her lungs. Yet, what has been made public so far is that RBG was given a clean bill of health, and is expected to make a full recovery. That diagnosis seems to be a big disappointment to many on the Christian Right.

They were extremely happy with Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch. They weren’t so thrilled with Brett Kavanaugh, preferring Amy Coney Barrett, who they saw as totally committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. And they want more. In addition to overturning Roe v. Wade, they want prayers back in schools, and they want same-sex marriage abolished.

Things get interesting when you consider just how much Evangelicals truly, deeply hate RBG:

  • In October, pastor Rodney Howard-Brown, who has prayed over Trump in the Oval Office, guest-hosted The Alex Jones Show on Infowars, where he said that Ginsburg should be shot for treason.
  • Lou Engle, a dominionist organizer of stadium-sized prayer rallies, urged Americans to engage in three days of fasting and prayer over the Supreme Court. Earlier, he led prayers asking God to “sweep away the judges” who support the right to abortion.
  • A few weeks ago, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles re-distributed a 1993 Phyllis Schlafly attack on Ginsburg’s feminist philosophy.
  • Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver has argued that Congress should have impeached justices who supported Roe v. Wade and Obergefell vs. Hodges (the case that legalized same-sex marriage). (BTW, Liberty Counsel opposed the Senate’s bill that would outlaw lynching in the US because the bill extends the right not to be lynched to gays and transgender people.)
  • Earlier this month, former Trump campaign adviser Frank Amedia insisted that Chief Justice John Roberts has not proven to be sufficiently reliable to the Religious Right. That means God has to remove more justices so that Trump can fill Roberts’s seat with another justice whose “values and morality” reflect a “kingdom enlightenment as to what is required by God to change the law of this land now.”
  • Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow John Malcolm told the Daily Caller that Trump would be under pressure to replace Ginsburg with a woman, and named Amy Coney Barrett as a preferred successor.

You may not believe that God spends much time thinking about who sits on the Supreme Court, but these people are deadly serious. They think God is a “family values” Republican. They believe that they know who God wants on the Supreme Court.

America needs to look very closely at any group that argues for followers of a specific religion as a test of who is worthy to sit on the Supreme Court, or who should head our government.

Praying for the death of RBG ought to repugnant to all Americans, but sadly, it isn’t particularly surprising that some “Christians” exhibit such callous inhumanity. They, and their kind of thinking, should be repudiated by all Christians.

There’s some consolation in the fact that RBG has worked to make America a more fair and equitable place. She has made that her life’s calling.

Contrast that to these phony Christians who are working to make America a one-party political entity that follows Jesus Christ.

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Can Trump Legally Declare a National Emergency?

The Daily Escape:

Waterton NP Alberta, CN -2019 photo by lostcanuck. Wrongo and Ms. Right visited Waterton in 2016, it’s a very beautiful spot.

Wrongo watched part of the two NFL wild card games on Sunday. Vectoring away during commercials, he saw a 2020 campaign ad by Trump on CNN that said in part:

Drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers trying to enter our country — but Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer care more about the radical left than keeping us safe. The consequences? Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence. We must not allow it…

Wrongo thought, “Wait! What?” Then a “paid for by Trump 2020” note appeared at the bottom of the screen.

Trump is setting us up. He’s now made his shutdown part of the 2020 narrative. And, locking out federal employees is now the official position of the GOP, not simply that of his Trumpitude.

This is part of Trump’s plan to lay the groundwork for his “National Emergency” special powers. The NYT had an interesting article by Bruce Ackerman, a Yale law professor, about the legality of such an action:

While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.

Trump is again hyping the dangers at the border, as he did with the caravan in the weeks leading to the midterm election. Now, his spokespersons, notably Sarah Sanders on FOX and Homeland Security head Kristjen Nielsen, at her private meeting with the House Homeland Security Committee, have falsely claimed that more than 4,000 terrorists were apprehended in 2018 along the southern border.

According to FOX, all of these “terrorists” were apprehended at airports, not at border crossings.

Sanders, Nielsen and Trump are implying that a wall will stop terrorists. There’s no question we need to be vigilant about terrorists and illegal border crossings, but a wall is not going to stop them, or really even deter them. We still need to have to have advanced cameras, drones, and personnel patrolling because determined people will find ways around the wall.

To continue the hype, Trump announced that he will address the nation on Tuesday night before traveling later in the week to the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump plans to address the nation from the Oval Office, in a “first” for his presidency.

All of this would seem ridiculous if not for Trump’s desire to win at any cost.

There is a chilling article by Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center in The Atlantic, in which she says that any president’s ability to evoke these sorts of emergency powers is practically unfettered:

The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority.

Goitein goes further:

The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts.

As an example, Trump could seize control of US internet traffic, impeding access to certain websites and ensuring that internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results.

It isn’t possible for Wrongo to resolve the viewpoints of Elizabeth Goitein and Bruce Ackerman. There is a long history of judicial deference to the executive branch on national security issues. It will ultimately come down to whether the five conservative Supreme Court Justices think they have the power to step in and overrule a president who clearly concocts a fraudulent emergency.

Sorry to scare everyone, but it is absolutely unclear how this will be hashed out by the Supreme Court.

Don’t bet the house on them making the right decision.

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Saturday Soother – December 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Two Jack Lake, Banff, Alberta, CN – 2018 photo by don_wilson

A perfect photo for the end of this week: Black ice, more than a foot thick, with very large cracks. It feels like America is on ice skates, without any of us knowing how to skate, stop, or change direction. And there’s those giant cracks.

We don’t have a permanent Attorney General, Defense Secretary, or Chief of Staff. The government is likely to shut down because the president wants his border wall. Paul Ryan’s last official act of the year was to cave in to the president on his $5 billion funding demand, and kick it to the Senate.

Stocks are having the worst December since the Great Recession. And Robert Mueller has indicted multiple members of Trump’s inner circle. Trump seems to be skating, too.

But Wrongo wants to discuss Ruth Bader Ginsburg (again). She underwent surgery at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung Friday at a New York hospital, the Supreme Court announced. There is no evidence of any remaining disease, says a court spokesperson, nor is there evidence of disease elsewhere in the body….In 1999, Ginsburg underwent surgery for colorectal cancer, and 10 years later she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer.

Apparently, the cancer was detected early because of scans taken after she fractured her ribs. Since there is no current evidence of metastasis, it’s possible that she will make a full recovery.

We’re all thinking the same thing when Ginsburg’s health takes a bad turn: That Trump could have yet another chance to alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, precisely when he doesn’t look completely in control of his administration, or his emotions.

But, America oddly seems to be ok with a government shutdown. And most people think that fewer troops in Syria and Afghanistan is a good thing. As Wrongo predicted on Friday, we will withdraw 7,000 soldiers from Afghanistan over the next few months. The Taliban rules more than half of the country and Afghanistan’s army is losing more personnel each month than they can recruit.

BTW, it was Sec Def Mattis who had urged Trump to increase the troops in Afghanistan from 10,000 to 14,000 at the beginning of his term. His retirement marks the second time in five years that Mattis has had a serious conflict with his commander in chief. President Obama fired him as Head of Central Command for urging a more aggressive Iran policy.

But, you want to get on with shopping online, wrapping gifts and decorating the tree. So it’s time for a little Saturday soothing. Start by brewing up a vente cup of Valhalla Java Odin Force Coffee from the Death Wish Coffee Company, in Saratoga Springs, NY ($15.99/12 Oz.). Death Wish has been featured here before, and says that they make the world’s strongest coffees. They also say that the Odin coffee is nutty, with a taste of chocolate.

Now settle back for a few minutes, put on your Bluetooth headphones, and listen to the “Agnus Dei” by Samuel Barber, performed without instruments by Belgium’s Vlaams Radio Koor (choir), with Marcus Creed conducting. It was recorded in Brussels in 2015, and is an arrangement by Barber of his Adagio for Strings (1936). This is typically done by a chorus with organ, or piano accompaniment, but here it is simply the chorus, and it is simply beautiful:

Wrongo thinks it is superior to the original piece with piano and strings. It must be very difficult to sing.

The lyric:

In Latin:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem

In English:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace

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

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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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Heitkamp’s Chances Hurt By Supreme Court

The Daily Escape:

Rocky Mountain NP, near Estes, CO – 2018 photo by Monty Brown

The already difficult path to Democratic control of the Senate took a big hit on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a challenge to a North Dakota law that requires voters to present identification that includes a current residential street address.

This specifically hurts incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND), who is up for reelection in November, because the current law disproportionately targets Native Americans. Heitkamp has a distinct advantage with Native American voters. From Mother Jones:

A case challenging this requirement on behalf of the state’s sizable Native American populations alleged that the requirement would disenfranchise tribal residents, many of whom lack the proper identification and do not have residential addresses on their identification cards.

Many of North Dakota’s Native Americans live on reservations and utilize post office boxes, because the USPS doesn’t provide residential delivery in rural Indian communities.

So, North Dakota’s 2017 voter law ID was challenged by Native residents who alleged that the law disproportionately prevented Native Americans from voting. In April, a federal district court judge blocked large portions of the law as discriminatory, and the state appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Late last month, however, the Eighth Circuit Court allowed most of the law to take effect ahead of the general election:

‘Even assuming that some communities lack residential street addresses, that fact does not justify a statewide injunction of a statute’…requiring  ‘identification with a residential street address from the vast majority of residents who have residential street addresses,’ the appeals court said.

They didn’t say “some people,” they explicitly said that it was fine to disenfranchise “some communities.”

So, the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, who on Tuesday, essentially upheld the original law by declining to intervene, 6-2. Kavanaugh didn’t participate. Because Native Americans are an important Democratic constituency in North Dakota, a state with fewer than 600,000 voters, the ruling makes it much less likely that Senator Heidi Heitkamp can be reelected.

The Eighth District and the Supremes, decided that preventing someone from renting a P.O. Box in North Dakota for the sole purpose of casting a single fraudulent vote, was worth taking away votes of several Native American “communities.”

Wrongo is no jurist, but this seems to solve an unlikely, and largely theoretical problem by creating a much larger, more certain, and ultimately, unjustifiable problem.

There are 18 judges on the Eighth Circuit court, and only one is a Democrat. Maybe it isn’t shocking then that the Court overruled a lower district court on a North Dakota law designed to disenfranchise Native Americans. There is not the slightest pretense to impartial justice here, or any concern for the fact that they’re perpetuating our history of mistreating Native Americans.

America managed to stop things like this in the 1960’s with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so none of what we are seeing should be new to us. Vote suppression has always been with us, but now it is back out from under the rocks where it was hiding, particularly since John Roberts wrote the decision in Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013.

That the Supreme Court ratified the North Dakota law is a step beyond anything that has happened this far in the Trump era. Access to voting is fundamental, and the actions by the ND legislature seem too blatant to stand, even in a post Voting Rights Act world.

All of the other (mostly Republican) vote suppression efforts (strict voter ID requirements, closing down early voting, excessive voter list purges) have at least a vaguely plausible pretense of concern over election fraud, but this is a step too far.

However, only Ginsburg and Kagan dissented.

Had Sotomayor and Breyer joined them, Heitkamp might have a reasonable chance of reelection.

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Russia and Kavanaugh

The Daily Escape:

Moscow supermarket – October 2018 photo by Wrongo

The two topics in the headline are not related.

Wrongo and Ms. Right are back in the US, jet-lagged, and at home in the Mansion of Wrong. Our Russia trip was an eye-opener. In St. Petersburg and Moscow at least, Russia seems to be a wealthy country by global standards. People seem to be well-informed about their history, and about the current geopolitical climate in the west. They are consummate consumers.

We saw quite a few churches, but the Russians we spoke with didn’t seem to put much emphasis on their faith. Increasing their income and getting ahead in a career sense seemed to be the primary thing that interested them. “Pragmatic” best describes the people we met. They are strivers, and hope that their government won’t screw up what the citizens finally have going for them.

Mostly, we were struck by how similar the Russians we met are to the average American. We had lunch with a couple in Uglich, a poor town of about 30k residents that is about 125 miles north of Moscow. The town hasn’t benefited from the 18-year economic expansion in the Russian Federation, and has unemployment in the 25% range. It also has a declining population, and crumbling infrastructure.

The couple we met had both lost their jobs in the 1985 Perestroika period under Gorbachev. Thirty-three years later, the husband has a part-time government job, the wife is unemployed. They grow most of their food in their ¼ acre garden. Their refrigerator is covered with pictures of the grandkids, who visit every few weeks.

Their message to us was that people everywhere have the same hopes and dreams, but the politicians always want to demonize the outsiders.

We returned to American just in time to start calling Brett Kavanaugh “Mr. Justice Kavanaugh”.

It’s not worth dwelling on his confirmation process, or repeating stale arguments. It is time to gather ourselves, to register non-voters, and turn out all the votes we can on November 6.

It also isn’t the time to overthink the closing arguments for November, despite polls that show Republicans being energized by the Kavanaugh confirmation. But, it is important to understand GOP messaging for the midterms. From the WaPo’s article, ‘An angry mob’: Republicans work to recast Democratic protests as out-of-control anarchy:

Weeks ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans have cast the Trump resistance movement as “an angry mob,” a term used by many of them to describe a faceless amalgamation of forces that they say threaten the country’s order and, they hope, energize their voters.

Think back to the Tea Party protestors who disrupted town hall meetings in 2009. From today’s GOP viewpoint, they were just good citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. And all those people who chant “Lock her up!” at the encouragement of their dear leader? They really don’t mean anything by that, they’re also exercising their right to free speech.

But when a few liberals pound on the doors of the Supreme Court, that’s mob behavior, and it can’t be tolerated. In Trump World, crowds of marching alt-right men with tiki torches = some very fine people.

And crowds of protesting women in Washington = angry mob.

We should remember that the American Revolution wasn’t a polite discussion; it involved mobs making a point, too.

Democrats are on the edge of winning the House. Before Kavanaugh, they had a long-shot chance at taking the Senate. Right now, Dems need to be smart. Richard Nixon won because he scared Middle America with pictures of immoral hippies who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Let’s assume that those of us who are already energized to vote can work to figure out how to reach those who are only half paying attention, or who plan to stay on the fence all the way until Election Day.

It is clear that accusations of the type made by Dr. Ford don’t resonate with GOP voters. Roy Moore’s near-pedophilia didn’t seem to change any Republican minds in Georgia. Whenever a Republican is under attack by the liberals, it’s always the time for the rest of them to circle the wagons.

There is no single, lock-step message that Dems should use to take both Houses in November. The best antidote for those “Energized by Kavanaugh” Republicans is for the rest of us to get, or stay, more energized.

There is zero to be complacent about. The Dems could remain in the minority in both Houses after the mid-terms if they fail to turn out their voters in November.

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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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 23, 2018

When Wrongo saw the headline in the NYT that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein suggested that he should secretly record President Trump to expose the chaos consuming the administration, he had difficulty believing it.

This is from the NYT’s article:

Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.

So, no first-hand witnesses. Rosenstein disputed the NYT account:

The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect….I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Turns out, Wrongo’s skepticism about the NYT was well placed. According to Marcy Wheeler, (who you all should read): (emphasis by Wrongo)

Not a single one of these people…was actually a witness to the episodes. Indeed, by description, none of them have even read the memos memorializing the events directly, but have instead simply been briefed secondhand.

So, where did the information come from? Wheeler quotes Andrew McCabe’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, about how the NYT might have gotten the memos. They were turned over to the Mueller investigation, but:

A set of those memos remained at the F.B.I. at the time of his departure in late January 2018…

The insinuation is clear: Somebody wants to set off the President. Someone at the FBI took McCabe’s memos and read them to people who could then leak them to the NYT. This is the NYT using third-hand sources to start another Saturday Night Massacre. Maybe it’s worth noting here that McCabe was fired for unauthorized disclosures to the news media.

Trump is desperate to release documents that will discredit the Mueller investigation. His effort to declassify a raft of documents has been sidelined this week by his administration. Now, out of the blue comes this helpful accusation against Rosenstein. As Wrongo predicted here, the Trump administration has wanted to make a move to fire Rosenstein, and now they have their excuse.

Trump needs to be careful. If he supports the use of McCabe’s contemporaneous notes to fire Rosenstein, then he can’t easily dismiss Comey’s notes on his meeting with Trump.

It looks like the NYT article was a leak from the White House. It’s time for The Times to think about firing the reporters and the editors who approved the article. On to cartoons!

THIS captures the week, month, and year:

Men, blaming women for men’s bad behavior since the Garden of Eden:

What the Judiciary Committee will do with witnesses:

More on the Judiciary Committee’s process of determining truth:

Mitch says that the GOP is pressing on:

The big double standard in DC:

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