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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 14, 2018

Last week was dominated by an emerging Republican narrative about Democrats: Dems are socialists. They are an angry mob. They frighten ordinary people. The framing by Trump is that the mid-term election is “patriots vs. socialists”.

And Trump said this on Friday night in Cincinnati:

A vote for a Republican is a vote to reject the Democratic politics of hatred, anger and division.

The Democrats’ closing argument for the mid-terms is considerably more nuanced, and it may not be heard clearly. They are against Trump, and all that he and his party stand for, but they talk about wanting a chance to provide a “check and balance” against Trump’s (and the GOP’s) worst instincts.

Sure, some will vote for that, but will enough turn out to vote for it to take the House?

The Democrats haven’t recovered from the public’s disapproval of their demonstrations against Kavanaugh after his swearing in. A reasonable minority of Dems don’t understand that most Americans are uncomfortable with demonstrations. Amy Chua has an astute observation in her book, “Political Tribes” where she quotes a South Carolina student:

I think protesting is almost a status symbol for elites. That’s why they always post pictures on Facebook, so all their friends know they’re protesting. When elites protest on behalf of us poor people, it’s not just that we see them as unhelpful; it seems that they are turning us…into the next ‘meme’. We don’t like being used for someone else’s self-validation.

On one side, we have the GOP, who can apparently say anything, offer insults and tell lies. On the other side, we have the Democrats who can’t do much of that without the mainstream media taking umbrage. Dems allow the media and the Right to write their story. The GOP and the media have made the Democrats the party of identity politics, the PC party, one that is so busy protecting the big tent that it’s unable to govern.

Trump’s Traveling Nuremberg Rallies will continue until the mid-terms, and Dems must decide what messaging will be successful in 2018. It’s going to be tough, because since the dawn of time, no one has truly figured out how to deal effectively (and conclusively) with authoritarian and anti-democratic ideas.

But, Dems have to do just that, or else remain a fringe party.

In American politics, it seems like it’s always 1968. Republicans are the law-and-order party. Democrats are the party affiliated with the demonstrators in the streets of Chicago, even though those demonstrators were radicals, not Democrats. The demonstrators were furious at the Vietnam War, which was led then by Democrats. And today, that viewpoint persists.

Both parties think the other is appalling, so you don’t have to like your own party, you just have to hate the other one. And one thing the Kavanaugh mess has done, it’s made both sides feel the other is appalling.

How it all turns out 22 days from now is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope the Democrats fight hard for the issues that really matter. On to cartoons.

It’s football and election seasons, and it’s always tough to pick the winners:

It’s laughable to think back to the days when the US sent observers to other countries to ensure fair elections:

Nikki Haley resigned. Kanye went to the White House. What to expect next:

Hurricanes have become like school shootings, so many of them, and all so devastating. We treat these events the same, with thought and prayers, but no plan to deal with the causes:

What Trump and Fox want the campaign trail to look like:

Trump sprang into action after Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. He said we shouldn’t jeopardize our arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

 

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Saturday Soother – October, 13, 2018 — Voting Rights Edition

The Daily Escape:

St. Basil’s, Red Square, Moscow, RU. It was built in 1561. – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Welcome to Saturday! Forget about Kanye hugging the Orange Overlord, we have bigger fish to fry.

Yesterday, we talked about how state legislatures with help from the courts, have been disenfranchising minorities. This is likely to reduce turnout in the 2018 mid-terms, as studies have shown in the past, and despite encouraging polls, if someone can’t vote, nobody can be sure who will win in the mid-terms.

So today, we take a closer look at how some states have systematically worked to close polling places after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision that stopped federal oversight of election practices in states with a history of Jim Crow practices.

Prior to the Shelby decision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) provided a process to ensure that jurisdictions known to engage in voter discrimination weren’t using budget cuts or voter modernization as arguments to disenfranchise people of color. Under Section 5, jurisdictions had to demonstrate that saving money by making changes to polling places did not disenfranchise voters of color. Now Section 5 is no longer useful for the protection for minority voters.

One reason is that Shelby triggered a fundamental shift in who was responsible for protecting minority voters, from the federal authorities, to the individuals who believed they were wronged. The cost and burden of proof that local election laws are discriminatory, is now borne by those least able to afford it.

This map makes it clear that the states formerly covered by the VRA are engaging in precisely the kind voter suppression that would have been impossible before the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision:

Source

Fewer polling places leads to longer lines, which will dissuade some people from voting, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC think tank found. This means election officials can affect the outcome of an election by manipulating the number and location of polling places.

And these efforts do not only happen in the Deep South. This year, Indiana removed 170, mostly Democratic voting precincts from Lake County, home to the state’s largest Latino and second-largest Black communities. The Secretary of State said they were simply updating the map to reflect new demographic data, while local Democrats said it keeps African Americans and Hispanic voters from the polls.

According to Pew Research, other efforts are underway in counties in Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin to move thousands of voters to new locations: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Some voters in Barton County, Kansas, now will have to drive 18 miles to vote in November’s election because of polling place consolidation. In the past three decades, the county has gone from 40 polling places to 11. The main reason, said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, is cost.

Local election officials responsible for closing polling places often say that the closed locations were too expensive, underused, or inaccessible to people with disabilities. Often, local election officials fly under the radar, sometimes not even notifying voters in their jurisdictions of changes in polling locations.

This year, Georgia put the voter registrations of about 50,000 voters on hold, due to a policy implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor in next month’s election. Of the 53,000 applications in limbo, 70% are from African-Americans, according to the Associated Press, even though Georgia is approximately 32% black.

So the guy running for governor is ALSO overseeing the election. He tried to close 3/4 of polling places in predominantly black Randolph County this summer. Kemp is in a close race with Stacy Abrams, an African-American. You be the judge of what’s really going on.

Americans say we live in a democracy. But, with gerrymandering and vote suppression, we have to remain vigilant if we are to keep both our civil rights, and our Constitution, intact.

Enough for today! Take a step back, unplug, and chill a bit, because it’s Saturday, the Wrongologist’s day for a little Soothing.

Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge cuppa Ethiopia Hambela Natural from Chicago’s Big Shoulders Coffee. It is said to be deeply sweet, with flavors of raspberry, dark chocolate, and cedar, along with a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, go and sit by a large window, and take in the changing fall colors and the nip of cool air. Put on your best headphones and listen to “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy, recorded live at Blues Alley in Washington, DC in 1996. Cassidy died far too young at 33, in 2006.

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

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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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Republicans Vote Against Funding Election Security

The Daily Escape:

Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Havana Cuba. Built in 1772, it was the royal post office. 2018 photo by Nestor Marti for Smithsonian Magazine

Are Republicans committed to free and fair elections? Maybe not. Republicans in the Senate had a chance to say “yes” on August 1st, when an amendment adding funding for election security failed to pass.

With all the cross talk about election meddling, you could be forgiven if you think that our very democracy may be under threat. But when given a chance to take a concrete step, adding $250 million to help confront this challenge, the Republican majority in the Senate said no. From The Hill:

Senators voted 50-47 against adding an amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would have provided the funding. Sixty votes were needed to include the proposal in the appropriations legislation under Senate rules. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was the only GOP senator who voted in support of the amendment to an appropriations measure. The proposal, spearheaded by Leahy, would have provided $250 million for state election security grants.

How is this a partisan issue? Doesn’t every American want to protect our electoral system? Republicans argued that more funding wasn’t needed, that states haven’t yet spent the $380 million previously approved by Congress. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said it was “far too early” for the Senate to sign off on more money:

We don’t know how the first $380 million has even been spent, and the intelligence committee did an extensive research on how much money was needed and the $380 million amount was what was needed for the moment.

Sounds reasonable. If only there were some sort of accounting system that allowed you to find out how much was spent, and what the remaining need might be. And yet, not knowing where the Pentagon spends its money hasn’t stopped Congress from giving them even more than they asked for.

Surprising what expenditures cause the GOP to develop fiscal responsibility. They just gave $12 billion to bailout America’s farmers. They happily voted to create a $1 trillion deficit with their corporate tax cuts. Trump wants to add another $100 billion in tax cuts, because more has to be better.

But with an expenditure designed to head off a possible vote heist, that’s when America needs more fiscal accountability.

We’ve learned that Russian cyber warriors already have targeted the re-election campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), and that Facebook closed 32 accounts because they exhibited behavior similar to that of accounts belonging to Russian hackers. Facebook said that more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages.

Our electoral legitimacy crisis is real. We are witnessing a slow-moving insurrection driven by the Republicans, the Citizens United decision, Koch operatives, Evangelicals, Russian cyber hacks, along with determined vote suppression by Republican state legislatures. All are working to make your vote less valuable. Republicans have been trying for years to destroy the value of your vote with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

If the Russians want to help them, the GOP seems to be OK with that, too.

From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The only reason to vote against this bill is because you don’t want the money spent to confront the crisis. States can’t do this alone—and too many of them are controlled by people who don’t want the job in the first place….The idea that we’re nickel-and-diming this particular problem as what can only be called an anti-democratic epidemic rages across the land is so preposterous as to beggar belief. We are febrile and weak as a democratic republic. Too many people want to keep us that way.

The only thing that can save us is TURN-OUT this fall.

Kiss our democracy good-bye if you stay home!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2018

We just finished a week in which the Iran Deal died, Michael Cohen proved he was capable of fleecing major corporations, and Gina Haspel showed that she left her moral compass in a drawer at home. Here are a few cartoons to help you laugh off these events.

What are the unintended consequences from killing the deal?

Donnie and Bibi gave a party. Attendance was sparse:

Michael Cohen isn’t the prescription for fixing anything:

Reviews are in on Cohen’s fixing skills:

Gina Haspel has more to answer for:

Midterms messaging by both parties is converging:

The political convergence is eerie:

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Poll Says 100 million Won’t Vote in Midterms

The Daily Escape:

Mac-Mac Falls, Pilgrim’s Rest, South Africa – 2006 photo by Wrongo

Millions of Americans fail to vote in every election. Yet, despite the historic importance of the 2018 midterms, more than 100 million are unlikely to show up at the polls this November, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. Here is a graphic illustration from USA Today:

Source: Frank Pompa/USA Today

This tells us that many more citizens will be nonvoters in this year’s crucial midterm elections than are likely to be voters. In the 2014 midterm, only about one-third of eligible voters actually voted. We also saw in the 2016 Presidential election that only 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots. That was the lowest turnout in a presidential election since 1996, when 53.5% of voting-age citizens actually voted.

The new Suffolk poll gives us a good sense of the turnout challenge for this November. Here’s what the non-voters say:

  • They have given up on the political parties and a system that they say is beyond reform or repair.
  • They say that the country’s most important problems include: political gridlock, the economy, health care, education and immigration. Those subjects were mentioned more frequently than guns, terrorism, or taxes.
  • They lean left in their political choices. If they were to vote for president, they would favor a Democratic candidate over Trump, 35% to 26%, with the remaining being undecided or choosing “third party” or “other.”
  • In a contradiction, the respondents indicated that they lean right in their political philosophy. More than 29% called themselves conservative, 36% said moderate and 17% said liberal.
  • About three-quarters of respondents say religion plays an important role in their lives — and three-quarters also said the federal government also plays an important role.

55% of the nonvoters and unlikely voters said they viewed Trump unfavorably. A third said they backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, while 28% said they had supported Trump. About 30% said they didn’t vote.

The 2018 midterm prospects for both parties hinge on boosting turnout. How turnout increases, and where it will come from is up in the air, but it will have to include people who do not always vote.

Given the state of American education, it’s no wonder that some non-voters aren’t familiar with the concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. If you don’t vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter, then your vote won’t matter because you didn’t bother to vote.

But, some of the early special elections this year suggest a pattern of unusually high turnout among those without a history of regularly voting.

A final thought: When you don’t vote, your intent might be to say “none of the above,” but your impact is “any of the above“. If we want a better country, then we must be better citizens.

That means participating in government and above all, voting.

Do whatever you can to help drive turnout in November.

(The Suffolk survey polled 800 adults between April 2 and 18, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 %.)

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