Oh look. Russia is doing bad things. Again.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that we are not only embarking on another Cold War, but that we are in one. Right now.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conclusion of the Cold War, there was a brief glimmer of hope that Russia under Boris Yeltsin would turn into a true democratic state.

Those illusions turned murky, at best, when former KGB agent Vladimir Putin rose to power, and nearly two decades later, Russia and the Soviet Union are only different by name.

Russia is meddling in elections, they’re starting and exacerbating proxy conflicts to expand their regional and international influence, and, in yet another instance of their malice, they’re continuing to inflict harm on their citizens who present a threat to the current regime.

Numerous cases have arose where Russians who have opposed Putin have wound up sick or dead. The most famous case was Alexander Litvenenko, a former Russian agent critical of Putin who was poisoned with a rare radioactive metal. An investigation later concluded that it was probably ordered by Putin.

Now, in a another case that has rattled Britain, a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned on British soil last week using a nerve agent. Moscow is suspected to be behind it — duh — and Britain’s reaction is expected to be severe and stern.

Skripal.jpeg

With each passing day, it becomes increasingly inconceivable why it needs to be explained to people why Russian behavior matters. As an explosive and unprecedented special counsel investigation intensifies stateside, the domestic conversation still revolves around whether the inquiry is politically motivated, rather than what we are going to do about Russia.

And that’s truly hard to fathom.

If the Soviet Union made a power grab to assert its geopolitical dominance at any point between 1950 and 1990, no American would question whether they deserve to be punished and held accountable.

In the 21st century, however, it appears that nearly half of America is wholly indifferent towards Russia’s actions.

Watch how Britain responds to what happened. Let’s see if their politics becomes embroiled in partisan squabbling. And this is the U.K. we’re talking about — the country that impulsively decided to leave the European Union. That we’re looking to them to set an example in international policing says a lot.

Russia is bad. That much needs to be established.

Robert Mueller has already indicted 13 Russian nationals, with very specific detail, about how they tried to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t partisan anymore.

And if people still need reminding, let’s sit down in a movie theater, use a device to prevent their eye lids from blinking a la Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork orange, and make them watch Rocky IV on repeat until they get the message.

Remember, friends don’t let friends poision former spies.

Bad, Russia. Bad.

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Meanwhile, in Peru…

Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent days to voice their opposition to a pardon issued by president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to former President Alberto Fujimori, the 79-year-old disgraced former leader who was 10 years into a 25-year-prison sentence for human rights abuses committed while in office.

Among other things, military death squads believed to be mandated by Fujimori during his ten-rear reign from 1990 to 2000 are responsible for at least two dozen killings, including the slaying of nine college students in Lima in 1992 in an incident now known as the La Cantuta massacre.

Kuczynski categorically ruled out pardoning Fujimori when he ran for the presidency in 2016, a race he narrowly won, defeating Fujimori’s daughter Keiko Fujimori.

Though Kuczynski said he pardoned Fujimori for medical reasons – the former leader suffers from arrhythmia and tongue cancer – many, however, view it as a favor by Kuczynski towards Fujimori’s son, Kenji, another political leader who urged his party to abstain from a vote to impeach the current president one week ago over a graft scandal. The vote ultimately fell short of the supermajority needed, thanks in large part to those who abstained because of Kenji’s urgings.

Hence, Peruvians view the pardon as a backroom deal, motivating them to protest.

In a dramatic video posted to his Facebook page on Tuesday, Fujimori asked for forgiveness, acknowledging that he disappointed many of his countrymen.

Sympathy aside, human rights experts have rebuked the pardon, citing it as one of the few instances where a Latin American strongman was held accountable in a judicial proceeding for his grave actions.

And we think things are pretty screwed up here in America.

I always find it fascinating to read about the chaos that often envelops non-world powers, especially ones with nascent democracies, because it shows us how difficult it is to create a stable balance of power akin to the United States. It also underscored the importance of maintaining longstanding institutions to prevent a democratic backslide.

 It may be overdramatic to say that something like this would never happen in the United States (though many will argue that similar things are happening before our very eyes), but it is still extremely insightful to study them so that we can read the warning signs in case it ever happens in our own backyard.

And this concludes our discussion of Peruvian politics.

How the tax bill affects an already struggling Puerto Rico

By now I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of polarizing analysis about who the winners and losers of the partisan tax bill will be among the American people.

You’ve heard words like “corporations,” “middle class,” “healthcare,” and “CHIP.”

One side is declaring it the biggest tax cut in generations, while the other is hailing it as the worst bill in congressional history.

Welcome to politics in 2017.

The fact of the matter is that the bill is deeply unpopular. But the other truth is that the long-term impact of the bill is merely speculation at this point. Republican-favored “trickle down economics” rely on the notion that tax cuts to big businesses – coupled with a smaller and more hands-off federal government – will ultimately lead to more jobs, greater wages for workers, and thus more money circulating for everybody.

Keynesian principles favored by Democrats say that greater government spending funded by taxing the rich will better stimulate the economy.

So we’ll see what happens. It will be debated for a while and economists will argue for years to come.

But one thing that’s been overlooked in the bill is the impact it will have on Puerto Rico. Prior to this bill, businesses on the island were able to qualify for both foreign and domestic status in terms of manufacturing and tax rules.

Those stipulations resulted in pharmaceutical manufacturers to incorporate there to gain foreign subsidiaries but still promote their product as made in the U.S.A.

The new tax plan makes it so businesses in Puerto Rico will be treated the same as those operating outside the U.S. Meaning we are basically just treating Puerto Rico like it’s a foreign country.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Puerto Rico produces more pharmaceutical drugs for the U.S. than any state or foreign country. The FDA estimates that pharmaceutical and medical-device manufacturing accounts for approximately 30 percent of the island’s GDP.

In other words, crippling this industry will devastate Puerto Rico’s economy, which is already in shambles. Basically, we’re kicking the island while it’s down.

As a result, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello is now attempting to mobilize Puerto Ricans across the mainland U.S. to vote Republicans out of office in the 2018 election.

As person of half-Puerto Rican descent, I approve of this message.

Again, this is just one aspect of the tax bill that people probably will not hear about. So while we may not know the full ramifications of how this bill will affect the American economy in the long run, we can safely say it will deeply damage our friends across the pond.

Which, in turn, may bode poorly for Republicans in 2018.

Stay tuned.

For like … 11 months.

Why politics is the worst arena to adjudicate sexual harassers

There’s an odd paradox going on in America right now regarding the handing of sexual misconduct accusations. On one hand, dozens of notable celebrities, television personalities and executives are losing their jobs.

Correspondingly, the #MeToo movement has not lost an ounce of steam. By virtue of this, it certainly gives the impression that all those who have exhibited a pervasive pattern of sexual misbehavior are being held accountable.

Except … when they run for elected office.

Yes, we have seen some prominent elected representatives pledge to resign in recent days: civil rights icon John Conyers and once 2020 presidential contender Al Franken, both Democrats, as well as Republican Trent Franks, who apparently asked a colleague if he could carry his and his wife’s child.

(There’s sexual harassment, and then there’s that)

But then you have Roy Moore.

All eyes are on the Alabama special election tonight, as Moore, the Republican candidate who has faced more than a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct – some of which involved minors – may very well win tonight. Polling leading up to the race showed a dead heat.

Moore was a highly unfit candidate well before the accusations. He has been suspended from the federal judiciary twice, and he’s showed deep bigotry for homosexuals.

His Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, appears qualified, with lengthy experience as a federal prosecutor.

The only problem is he’s running in a deep red state.

If Roy Moore wins, which is extremely possible, what does that say about us? If he’s popularly elected, does it mean that we, as a society, don’t seriously care about sexual misconduct? That this movement is a fleeting one that will one day be lost in the annals of history?

How can we honestly say that this is a meaningful issue, and then go ahead and elect a man who has a history of sexual predation?

Even if Roy Moore loses, he’s still going to receive hundreds of thousands of votes, no?

So how do we rationalize this?

Personally, I think it exposes the problems with the two-party system. A minority of the electorate in this country are down-the-line, issue-by-issue Democrats or Republicans. We’re all independent in our own way, but happen to lean left or right in certain respects.

But with parties becoming extremely polarized, we are seeing candidates run on platforms that are edging closer and closer to the farthest ends of the spectrum.

And with Democrats and Republicans being the only candidates that matter in political races, it gives us no choice but to support one or the other. And then it makes us rationalize. We tell ourselves, “OK, I don’t care for this candidate’s view on X and Y, but he or she supports so and so. So I’ll vote for them.”

And this is why, in the Alabama senate race, concerns about sexual misconduct became entangled with every other political issue. So, as outsiders, we simply can’t look at this vote as a referendum on Roy Moore’s character. It’s still politics, at the end of the day.

but that begs the next question: how far will we take it? How much are we willing to overlook to support a single issue that’s super important to us?

One specific race last November gave us one indication. In a post-Harvey Weinstein era, however, we’re about to get an even bigger indication.

If Roy Moore wins, it certainly doesn’t end the #MeToo movement that has sent waves across America. But it certainly won’t help it.

Have times truly changed? Or, like everything else, are we still experiencing a slow, steady march towards progress that will not happen overnight?

Alabama, the ball is in your court.

In a post-Weinstein era, where do we go from here?

It was said almost immediately in early October, when dual articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker exposed an alarming pattern of inappropriate and abusive sexual behavior by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, that this was a watershed moment.

But it’s hard to tell if something truly is a watershed moment while it is happening. It’s the events and reactions that occur after that determine that.

Three months later, there’s no doubt it was a watershed moment, indeed.

Women have been racking their memories of all the times they have inappropriately harassed and kept their silence, the victims of an existing punitive culture that deterred women from speaking out against powerful men.

Men, conversely, have reflected on all the times that their behavior towards women may have crossed the line and if they, too, are guilty of sexual impropriety.

What’s different now is we’ve finally entered a new age where we, as a society at large, are ready to listen to women and accept their stories.

And my how the floodgates have opened. Kevin Spacey. Louis CK. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. The list goes on of men who have been publicly accused and subsequently lost their jobs, or faced punishment and public shaming.

My worry is that people will get lost in this cloud of constant accusations. I worry that the discussions will devolve to “Who’s next?” followed by, “Will he lose their job?”

Because if that is the case, then we lose the question that truly matters: Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, will we now live and work in an environment where men, knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions, will think twice before they act? Will we begin educating youths of the improper nature of sexual misconduct, even before they know what sex is – like we do with drugs?

What’s happening now will not matter if we don’t learn anything moving forward, and that is where conversations need to be directed.

Exposing people for their past behavior is a good start, but more important is making sure that this behavior doesn’t persist.

As far as how to deal with the accused, well, that’s another discussion. What we’ve obviously learned is that this issue is not black and white. When hearing about alleged misconduct, we need to decipher if the accused has exhibited a lifelong pattern of pervasive sexual misconduct, or if they made a mistake.

Will they vehemently deny the allegations and demean their accusers, or will they accept responsibility and strive to become a better person? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves, and judge accordingly.

There’s a lot of ugliness being reported now. I’m sure there will be more accusations coming. But often, the brightest times emerge after the darkest storms.

Let’s hope there is brightness ahead.

A world without Trump

While Americans differ wildly in political ideology, I think one thing that most Americans can agree on is that we would be a less divisive country right now if someone other than Donald Trump was in charge.

It’s impossible to process news without hearing his name spoken every 10 seconds, and it detracts from our ability to register what is important and what isn’t.

And that’s one of the ultimate tragedies of this administration. It’s disenchanted our concept of a true democracy.

Yes, people are motivated, and the midterms elections will tell us the official temperature of the electorate. But that’s 11 months away. And most people are just fed up with the arguing.

If you want a telling sign that the institutions of American democracy are collapsing before our eyes, then read the analysis from scholars and journalists who have spent years of their lives studying governments of third world countries that have collapsed.

The signs are the same. People take for granted that our country is so far advanced that we would never be in danger of a democratic backslide. But what you must realize is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly and in plain sight.

Delegitimizing the media. Undermining elected representatives and judges. Scapegoating minorities. Venerating the idea of national security and a strong military.

These are the basic ingredients of an administration that is aiming to destabilize the institutional norms of a sturdy democracy. And everyone should be alarmed.

But that will play out as it may. One of the reasons I stopped blogging this summer is because I became tired of being yet another voice screaming into an endless abyss about Donald Trump. At some point, the voices drown each other out. And it just makes you feel powerless.

So here’s what we’re going to do. From now on, I want to chime in on important things happening in the world. But from this day forward, I will never mention Donald Trump’s name again. Not until Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, 2020, when he is hopefully voted out of office.

The Weinblog is back – though almost certainly not on a daily basis – and it will be totally devoid of Trump. If I discuss a news item that has ties to him, then I will find a way to circumvent his influence on the subject, and certainly refrain from using his name directly.

And it will be a breath of fresh air.

From now on, you get current events. Trump-free.

A world without Donald Trump.

That’s the Weinblog’s motto from now on.

The truth about sanctuary cities

There is not much disagreement among Americans that there should be a standardized process for non-citizens to enter America, and those who fail to meet those requirements should be subject to punishment and/or deportation.

The means to get there is the sticky point.

Of course, there was once a point in our nation’s history when the lone requirement was simply to make it to Ellis Island. A doctor would take a look at you to make sure you’re relatively healthy , and voila, you were allowed to live here, although the path towards citizenship still remained murky, at best.

Indeed, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly descend from somebody who had that very experience. Of course, times have changed, and the criteria to become American is understandably — and appropriately — more stringent.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If you ask some conservative thinkers, their solution would be to round them all up and toss them out tomorrow. That’s just not realistic for an abundance of reasons.

For one, it would put our economy in a tailspin. Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes each year. In some cases, they contribute more than those in the top 1% tax bracket who get numerous tax exemptions.

Secondly, it’s simply impossible to identify who is illegal and who is not without discriminating and infringing on people’s rights. Strict and forceful deportation policies create an environment of fear among all immigrants, legal or not.

And this is what brings us to sanctuary cities.

The term derives from a religious movement in the 1980s, when churches felt a moral obligation to shelter Central American refugees from countries fleeing war and persecution. By taking them in, they were subverting the law, but offering sanctuary to innocent victims escaping the horrors of their home nation.

The term has since become more heavily politicized, and was taken to a whole new level during the 2016 election as the central platform focus of Donald Trump.

In 2017, the term “sanctuary city” conjures up images in people’s minds of a lawless city where illegal immigrants can do whatever they want without being criminalized.

But the truth is, according to many published accounts, that local police departments support sanctuary cities.

What qualifies a location a sanctuary city is their refusal to cooperate with the federal immigration agency, ICE, which essentially has a mandate to use any means to identify illegal immigrants and give them the boot. Cities that cooperate with ICE are requested to keep inmates in jail even when they’ve been cleared for release so it can be determined if they should be deported or not.

Not only does this open cities up to potential lawsuits when a detainee is, in fact, legal — which has precedent — but it exacerbates that sentiment of fear between immigrants and police. It eliminates any incentive for immigrants to cooperate with police, thus taking away what could have been a valuable source towards tracking down actual illegal immigrants who are continuously breaking the law.

So while sanctuary cities do exist as a symbol of America’s growing diversity, their primary function is to create a safer environment within cities between residents and police.

Now this isn’t meant to be a total defense of illegal immigrants. They should migrate to America legally. Though it should be noted that while there are plenty of real life incidents of undocumented persons committing violent crimes — sometimes even murder — against innocent Americans, statistically, it doesn’t make it any more likely that an illegal immigrant will commit murder more often than someone who was born here.

Immigration is a very complicated issue. Sanctuary cities are just a part of it.

Next time you hear someone complain about a sanctuary city, maybe you can inform them that they don’t exist as a safe haven for murderous gangs from Latin America, but rather, as a place where local police departments can act in partnership with residents to enforce the law and track down those who truly abuse their privilege of living in America.