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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 3, 2017

The Senate’s tax bill was written by lobbyists, and was hardly read by lawmakers. About 2 pm Friday afternoon, Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted a list of Manager’s Amendments she’d received from a lobbyist rather than from her Republican colleagues. From McCaskill:

None of us have seen this list, but lobbyists have it.

Republicans just took 200 years of Constitutional process and trashed it so they could tell their constituents corporate benefactors that they had passed something this year.

That doesn’t seem to be the right way to do things, but the GOP no longer trusts that its ideas will carry the day if they are put under scrutiny and debate. Presuming this dog’s breakfast gets through conference, six months from now, the Republican leadership will be standing at a podium, looking very concerned. They will say America needs immediate reforms to Social Security and Medicare (please don’t say “entitlements”) in order to reduce America’s out-of-control deficits. Rubio and a few other high-ranking Republicans have openly said that this is their plan.

Here is a handy chart from the CBO on how the tax cuts for individuals break down:

David Stockman notes that 97% of the $1.412 trillion revenue loss over the next decade, based on the Senate bill, is attributable to the $1.369 trillion cost of cutting the corporate rate from 35% to 20% (along with the repeal of the related AMT).

All the rest of the tax bill is a zero-sum stirring of the pot. Of note, $83 billion of the tax cuts go to the estates of 5,500 dead people per year, since the bill doubles the estate deduction to $20 million per couple.

But they did all of this to help the little guy, amirite? On to cartoons. More than the tax bill happened last week, so let’s review: Flynn and Manafort. House of cards?

Flynn has fans everywhere:

Trump Code-talks too:

Santa uncovers some nasty stuff:

Roy Moore says what he means, and means what he says:

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Balloon Festival, Armenia. In the background is Mt Ararat – photo by Karen Minasyan

As bad as you think it is in Trumpland, it’s actually worse.

It’s likely that you missed the letter that 84 members of Congress sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Monday. The letter suggests to Sessions that those engaged in activism disrupting or damaging pipeline operations should face criminal prosecution as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act.

The letter’s broad definition of terrorism, if adopted, would allow prosecutors to treat people who chain themselves to pipelines or construction equipment involved in pipeline projects as terrorists. This would treat climate activists in a harsher way than Charleston killer Dylann Roof, or the congressional baseball shooter James Hodgkinson were treated under existing laws.

Interestingly, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a victim of Hodgkinson’s attack, co-signed the pipeline terrorism letter.

While the letter cites a series of pipeline-cutting operations by radical environmentalists that occurred last October as its principal motivation, its language would include even the nonviolent resistance tactics employed by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 80 Republicans who co-signed the letter are from states with significant oil and gas industry activity. Four Texas Democrats also signed the letter.

Two days after the Congressional letter to AG Sessions was published, the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance’s (EEIA) announced the creation of an “Energy Infrastructure Incident Reporting Center.” The initiative also is a reaction to pipeline protests. Their database initiative says its purpose is tracking:

Incidents of eco-terrorism, sabotage, arson, vandalism, and violence are on the rise as severe actions have become a regular feature of pipeline protests, endangering public safety, the environment, jobs, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars…

Annie Leonard, executive director for Greenpeace USA, denounced the database. Leonard told the AP:

Corporations and their governmental enablers are desperate to silence dissent every way they can… [the database is] more fear-mongering by corporate bullies hoping to see what they can get away with in Trump’s America.

Peaceful protest = terrorism.

Attacking peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons = law enforcement.

Sentencing peaceful protesters as terrorists = the end of the First Amendment

Should our elected and non-elected co-conspirators be able to say peaceful civil protests against pipelines are an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act?

Time to wake up America! We need to fight to keep our Constitution or face the Orwellian future that Jeff Sessions and Trumplandia want so badly for all of us. To help you wake up, here is Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Rockin in the Free World” from his 1989 album “Freedom”:

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

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

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A Strong Proposal For Changing Our Gun Laws

The Daily Escape:

Lauterbrunnen, near Bern, Switzerland. Photo by Scott Hafer

Thought for today:

“The right thing is usually not hard to do. And if it is, it’s still the right thing.” – Jason Hirschorn

Pam Keith is a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 18th Congressional District. She was a Navy officer, and lawyer. She has a great take on what to do with guns in America. Here is a series of tweets by Pam:

(The Baker Act allows the holding of mentally-ill people against their will)

WTG Ms. Keith, all are good ideas! Outlawing “bump stocks’ should be added to this list, and it seems that the House is likely to do just that. Will we ever get the National Rifle Association (NRA) out of the business of dictating which gun legislation is, or isn’t acceptable?

Assuming we want changes to our interpretation of the Second Amendment, we must force enough Republicans in Congress to listen, and act. We have control, if we choose to use it.

Or, we can accept the occasional mass slaughter as the “price of freedom” as Bill O’Reilly says we must. The Second Amendment is neither inviolable, nor sacrosanct. We have built this edifice of carnage on the most willfully misinterpreted 27 words in the Constitution. Ms. Keith’s ideas could help save lives, without impacting the rights of responsible gun owners.

As the opening quote says, doing the right thing, even if it is hard to do, very hard, it’s still the right thing.

We could stand idly by, and accept that random, indiscriminate mass slaughter is our new normal.

Here is a musical interlude by the Wailin’ Jennys singing “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” from their soon-to-be released album, “Fifteen”, a series of covers. Here, they are covering Dolly Parton. They turn the tune into a reminder about resilience and hope in each new day. This is particularly appropriate given the Las Vegas mass murder.

They sing in perfect à cappella harmony. Inspiring and beautiful:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 24, 2017

Elton John inspires WWIII:

Most people know that Donald Trump was in Alabama on Friday, hoping to turn out the vote for Luther Strange, one of two Republican candidates for the US Senate.

What you may have missed was Trump’s divisive words at his rally in Huntsville, Ala. He argued that NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem should be fired. This was directed at the free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who since protesting during the Anthem, can’t find a job in the NFL: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

You know what’s hurting the game…When people like yourselves turn on television, and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. [audience boos.]

The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop. [Applause.] Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!

Kaepernick’s mom said in response:

Guess that makes me a proud bitch!

Trump has re-ignited a debate that on its face, is something he’s tried to put behind him. Think about it: He calls a largely white crowd “people like yourselves,” and refers to protesting professional athletes, who we all know are mostly African American, as “those people“. Guess that he didn’t really mean he’d try healing the wounds caused by Charlottesville.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, on CNN:

I think we’re going to see, potentially more NFL players taking a knee this weekend than we ever would have thought…maybe even college players, too.

Trump wasn’t done. He questioned the manliness of NFL players and the NFL itself regarding its concussions policy:

15 yards, throw him out of the game! They had that last week — I watched for a couple of minutes. And two guys — just really beautiful tackle. Boom: 15 yards! The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him — they’re ruining the game. [Applause]…They’re ruining the game. Hey look, that’s what they want to do. They want to hit, OK? They want to hit.

What is it with this aging, totally out-of-touch former pro football team owner? Could he be unaware of the latest medical research linking concussions to CTE in football players?

If this wasn’t bad enough, on Saturday he tweeted about the NBA’s champion Golden State Warriors and their star player. Apparently Golden State is trying to decide whether they should go ahead with the traditional White House visit. That got this from Trump:

And thus begins a twitter war between Trump and black athletes. Here is LeBron James:

Then, Chris Paul of the NBA’s Houston Rockets weighed in:

Benjamin Watson of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens made the obvious point about free speech that Trump’s Kaepernick comments ignore:

And then, Richard Sherman of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks:

Trump won’t let this go. He continued tweeting about black athletes as Wrongo writes this:

It is very difficult to see what Trump thinks he will get out of a war with wealthy black athletes. He is also putting the NFL on the spot, since they have worked hard to minimize the controversy about football players not standing for the National Anthem.

Maybe there is some insight in this Sports Illustrated article describing reactions to a reporter wearing a Kaepernick jersey at a Buffalo Bills football game. There are some predictable reactions, and many that are mostly “live and let live”. But that’s not something Trump would willingly do.

No Democrat who wanted to energize African-American voters for the 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 presidential election could possibly do better than Donald Trump is doing today.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Totality Edition

“Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
Whoa, but mama, that’s where the fun is” – Bruce Springsteen

The Daily Escape:

“Diamond Ring” portion of a total solar eclipse, 2009 − photo by Rick Fienberg

Welcome to totality Monday. We live in a time when few things are certain, but eclipses are highly predictable. Some think that a total eclipse is awe-inspiring, and possibly, life changing. Count Wrongo as a non-believer, despite the fact that this is the first total eclipse in the continental US for 99 years.

Wrong advice? Go outside, but despite Springsteen’s thinking, do not look directly at it, unless you have the correct protective glasses. Get the flavor, and watch it later online.

Over the weekend, country singer Charlie Daniels compared the removal of Confederate statues in the US to ISIS’ demolition of historical sites in Iraq and Syria:

That’s what ISIS is doing over in places…there were pieces of history that they didn’t like, they were taking them down…

Wrongo had a similar thought, but lands in a completely different place. Everyone was appalled when the Taliban blew up the world’s two largest standing Buddhas in Afghanistan in March, 2001, six months before 9/11. We were also appalled when ISIS  rampaged through Iraq’s Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and again, when they destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria in May, 2015.

The Muslim radicals claim the destruction of ancient sites is a religious imperative. They have targeted ancient sites, graves and shrines belonging to other Muslim sects as well as those of non-Muslims to conform to their religious beliefs. Most Americans regardless of politics or party, denounced what the Taliban and ISIS did to these antiquities.

Today, Americans are angrily divided about the removal of Confederate monuments. Is Charlie Daniels correct? Are those who would take down the statues no better than ISIS?

This is a false equivalency. ISIS is an extremist movement. Americans who want to remove Confederate statues are morally opposed to slavery, and understand that their goal will only be accomplished lawfully. Many have ancestors who were slaves, and feel that statues celebrating the Confederacy are morally wrong.

This debate has been hijacked by today’s white supremacists, white nationalists and American Nazis who say they wish only to “defend” the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in the public square. Their view is promoted by the “both sides do it” talking points in the media, by Donald Trump, and by Charlie Daniels.

The Taliban and ISIS destroy religious monuments and statues either because they are not Islamic, or because they were not their particular flavor of Islam. The push behind removal of Confederate statues comes from a different place. They symbolize the Secession, and Slavery. Those who would remove Confederate statues see the Confederates as people who placed preservation of the unjust economic system of slavery above the very idea of our nation.

ISIS destroyed antiquities, while the vast majority of Confederate statues were placed by neo-confederates less than 100 years ago to celebrate the Confederacy, an insurrection that lasted just four years. One similarity that Charlie Daniels missed is that ISIS and the neo-confederates both try to manipulate reality, one by building, the other by destroying, monuments and statues.

One stark difference is that ISIS cuts people’s heads off, and eats their livers. That isn’t the modus operandi of Americans who want the Confederate statues removed.

Charlie Daniels, wake up. Just because an idea flits through your mind is no reason to spew.

To help you reflect on all of this, hear the great Carlos Santana in collaboration with the Isley Brothers. Together, they have just released the album “Power Of Peace”. The album covers peace-and-love-themed songs such as “Higher Ground“, “Gypsy Woman”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”,What The World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love”, and others. Here are the Isleys and Santana with “Love, Peace and Happiness” originally by the Chambers Brothers:

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 20, 2017

Jon Stewart in a surprise appearance at Dave Chappelle’s show at Radio City Music Hall skewered white supremacists:

If you guys feel like you’re losing out, fucking work harder. I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re a white supremacist, if you think you’re the master race, how come we’re kicking your ass so easily? You’re the master race! How come you’re not winning everything? Why aren’t the Olympics dominated by you? You’re the master race. What do you have left? Golf and tennis, maybe, maybe. And even then, the first black people you came across, you’re like, ‘We can’t play this game anymore.’ Williams sisters, Tiger Woods. O.K.

Suppressing political violence is a matter of will. It requires that we rise above our tribal loyalties and defend the political system that is at the heart of America.

Trump is having trouble keeping members of his advisory councils:

Trump uses wrong finger:

Is the Confederate Flag about heritage? Absolutely:

The monuments are only part of the problem:

Bannon’s real job was easy to see:

The Trump Eclipse requires different glasses:

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Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Trump Can’t Lead

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP Utah, 2001 – photo by Wrongo

Leader of the Free World. Leader of the Republican Party. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the US Government. Donald Trump holds all of these titles, but he isn’t a leader. We just lived through a lab experiment in Trump’s leadership, his curious response to the Charlottesville protests. Either he had a lapse in clear thinking, or he cannot show empathy when the rest of us need it.

Either way, he failed as a leader.

On Saturday, America reacted to a moment in which armed racism was celebrated by members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists, who sought a confrontation to help them achieve high status among the far right. The ugliness of the rally – which included crowds of young white men carrying torches, an air of menace, and the offering of the Nazi salute — should make our president think about how not just to defuse the situation, but how to blunt this from becoming a wave of similar protests across the nation.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday said in essence, “All lives matter”. By Monday, when most of America thought that what he said was far less than the situation required, he gave a terse speech saying:

Racism is evil…Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

There was no emotion or believability behind it, he said what he was told needed to be said, not what he believed. Where was Trump’s sympathy for Jews, African-Americans, Muslims and others that these white-right protesters savaged?

And where was his leadership? Richard Neustadt wrote “Presidential Power” in 1960, a definitive book for its time. Wrongo read it as a freshman in college. Here is a quote:

The president’s primary power is to persuade and bargain, not to command. When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness. Commands only work in very special circumstances. The essence of a President’s persuasive task is to convince…that what the White House wants of them is what they ought to do for their sake…

The power to persuade is perhaps the most important tool a president has. Power in our government is dispersed, so the president must bargain and persuade others that what he knows is in their best interest, and coach them to move in the right direction. Do you see Trump doing that?

Dr. Christine Porath of Georgetown thinks that “warmth” is the most important trait for a leader to have:

Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first…Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that’s great…Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It’s a way to connect with people and again they’re more likely to work harder for you and perform better.

Do you see any warmth in Trump? Any empathy? It isn’t there.

Neustadt agrees. He calls how the public views the president, “public prestige”. Even though the public has no direct association to policymaking, the public’s view of the president affects how legislation moves through the Congress and into law. Neustadt also says that a president should think and act prospectively, so decisions he makes today aid his ability to persuade tomorrow.

Trump’s opinion polls are in the dumpster. A very small core of Americans find him believable.

Scott Adams the Dilbert guy, has said that Trump is a master persuader, and that he won the election because of his mad persuasion skills. But, those skills, which did seem to exist in the 2016 primaries and general election, have deserted Der Trump, and have been replaced by continuing Twitter attacks on a growing list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Charlottesville was a protest by those who define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they hate. And they also define themselves as Trump supporters. There were shouts of “Heil Trump” on Friday night. They see no benefit in finding commonality with a diverse America, but pointedly, thrive off of hating our differences.

These people are content to blame “The Others” for their lot in life, and Trump persuades mostly by telling us what he hates, rather than what he likes.

In the 1960s we had much larger, and more violent (though mostly unarmed) protests. Those protesters didn’t want to jet us back to the past, but to propel us forward to a better future.

The white nationalist agitators in Charlottesville want to return us to an era that cannot (and should not) be recreated. All in the name of making America “great again.”

And they back Trump, a charlatan who pretends to lead.

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Trump’s Termites

The Daily Escape:

Missouri Breaks, MT – photo (via)

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that there would be no change for the Missouri Breaks National Monument. Zinke is from Montana, so saving one for his peeps isn’t a big surprise.

Missouri Breaks is one of 27 monuments established during the previous 20 years by presidents using the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to set aside objects of historic or scientific interest to prevent their destruction. The law was created in 1906 to guard against looting of sacred American Indian sites.

In April, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review the status of every national monument designated since 1996. As a result of the review, these cultural and/or natural treasures could be significantly reduced in size or even eliminated, and the Antiquities Act itself could be severely limited. The land would remain owned by the federal government, but might lose its protected status, and be contracted to private enterprises. When you allow corporations to ‘lease’ land for oil, fracking, mining, ranching, etc. fences go up, private police forces are hired to keep people out for their ‘safety’.

Not everyone agrees that Trump has the authority to do what he wants. From the Washington Times:

If President Donald Trump or any successor desires the authority to revoke national monument designations, they should urge Congress to amend the Antiquities Act accordingly. They should not torture the plain language of the Act to advance a political agenda at the expense of regular constitutional order.

The LA Times disagrees:

Indeed, those who claim that the Antiquities Act does not grant a reversal power cannot find a single case in another area of federal law that supports that contention. To override the norm, legislators have to clearly limit reversal powers in the original law; the plain text of the Antiquities Act includes no such limits.

Who knows? Next, Der Donald will lease the Grand Canyon to China for use as a landfill.

But the bigger picture is that behind the smoke and mirrors of Trump’s pathological lying and the media’s obsession with Russia, his cabinet appointees are working like industrious termites, eating away much of the support beams of our nation’s rules-based edifice.

Consider Attorney General Jeff Sessions. From the New Yorker: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

He [Sessions] has reversed the Obama Administration’s commitment to voting rights…He has changed an Obama-era directive to federal prosecutors to seek reasonable, as opposed to maximum, prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders…he has revived a discredited approach to civil forfeiture, which subjects innocent people to the loss of their property. He has also backed away from the effort…to rein in and reform police departments, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, that have discriminated against African-Americans.

Although candidate Trump promised to protect LGBT rights, President Trump last week vowed to remove transgender service members from the armed forces, and Sessions…took the position in court that Title VII, the nation’s premier anti-discrimination law, does not protect gay people from bias. Most of all, Sessions has embraced the issue that first brought him and Trump together: the crackdown on immigration…

All across the government, Trump appointees are busy chewing through the existing regulatory edifice, ending not just Obama-era rules, but others that have been in place for decades.

Another truly damning thing is Trump’s surrogates’ efforts to undermine foreign policy. The WaPo reports:

Trump signed off on Iran’s compliance with profound reluctance, and he has since signaled that when Iran’s certification comes up again — as it will every 90 days, per a mandate from Congress — he intends to declare Iran not in compliance, possibly even if there is evidence to the contrary.

According to the New York Times: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the US may [unilaterally] abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

It is difficult to see how this ends well for the US. Imagine, Iran and North Korea both pursuing nuclear weapons to deploy against the US. Why would we want to engage on two fronts, when one (North Korea) is already so problematic?

What is the Trump agenda? Are there any articulated goals? What are the strategies to achieve them?

Have we heard a concrete proposal for any of his big ideas (health care, tax reform, or infrastructure)?

We have not, but his termites keep chewing, and soon, our whole building will be compromised.

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Book Review: “The First Congress” by Fergus M. Bordewich

The Daily Escape:

251 1st Street, Brooklyn, NYC – photo by Miguel de Guzman

It is time to review “The First Congress – How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government” by Fergus M. Bordewich, which has been on Wrongo’s reading list since winter.

Bordewich says that the First Congress was the most important in US history, because it established in some detail how our government would actually function. Had it failed − as it nearly did − it’s possible that the US would exist in a different form today.

Congress began its work in New York City, then a fast-growing and chaotic shipping port of 30,000. Its first meeting was hardly auspicious: On March 4, 1789 they met as the new government after ratification by 11 of the 13 original states. But, there was no quorum to do business in either house. Bordewich outlines how difficult it was to make overland journeys: Boston to New York required six days, trips from the South were much longer. The House achieved a quorum of 29 members on April 1st, and the Senate followed on April 5th, but some members did not arrive until late summer.

Bordewich states that the need to accomplish something quickly was pressing:

Confidence in government was abysmally low…contempt for politicians was rife…and many political men held an equally low opinion of the voting public.

Sounds just like today.

The members were sharply divided, with huge differences of philosophy and opinion. The anti-federalists were opposed to a strong federal government, and had largely been against the ratification of the Constitution, preferring that power remain in the hands of the states. The Federalists wanted a stronger national government and supported the new Constitution.

Underlying everything were issues of North vs. South, rural agrarian vs. urban manufacturing economies, and pro-slave and anti-slave views.

During two years of political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved regional rivalries to choose the location for a new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; they created the Supreme Court, and worked through the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries. They established a national bank that was later dissolved by Andrew Jackson in 1832.

But the First Congress also confronted issues that are still with us: the appropriate balance between states’ rights and the powers of national government, and the proper balance between legislative and executive power. The issue of slavery would fester for almost seven decades before being resolved.

The reason that the First Congress succeeded was that they compromised. Without a willingness to compromise, all might have been lost. The great motivator behind their willingness to compromise was the fear that the anti-Federalists would walk away from the new Constitution. There was real reason to fear secession, and it was threatened many times by both the slave-holding South, as well as by the New England states.

Bordewich shows the regional splits that played out in the effort to create a national bank:

The balloting also had a disturbing subtext: all but one of the twenty votes against the bank hailed from the South…Of the thirty-nine votes in favor of the bank, all but five were from the North – yet another omen of the embryonic divide that would dominate the nation’s politics for years to come.

There are wonderful nuggets like this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The First Amendment…became so only by default, when the two preceding amendments – on congressional apportionment and compensation for members – failed to achieve ratification by enough states…Three states – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia – would not officially ratify even the ten amendments until…1939. (pg. 140)

In all, 39 amendments received meaningful debate. As important as passing the 10 we know about, was the rejection of others that would have imperiled a strong federal government, including one that gave voters the right to give legislators binding instructions on how to vote.

There was nothing inevitable about the survival and success of the new government. It came about by men from all sections of the country, each with an agenda, who overlooked their prejudices to create a government. The result of their spirit of compromise was the successful launch of our government.

Sharp divisions, rural vs. urban, states’ rights vs. federal authority: We face many of the same issues today that the First Congress had to face in 1789.

But, they had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton.

Who do we have?

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

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