Walk a Mile in Russia’s Shoes by Phil Anderson

Walk a mile in Russia’s shoes

by Phil Anderson

I like to read historical novels. I also like a category of historic novel called counterfactual or alternative history. This is a way of looking at history that asks “what if” questions and postulates different outcomes than actually occurred. The mental exercise of counterfactual history can provide a broader perspective on world events.

This genre of fiction is often futuristic. In this article I ask the reader to imagine a fictional story about the United States in the near future. This story illuminates current events happening today.

Image that the United States – the world’s last remaining “superpower” – has fallen on hard times. The American empire is in decline. As most empires in the past, the United States has militarily overextended itself. The huge expense of maintaining “full spectrum dominance” across the entire world has bankrupted the country. The national debt has exploded. The economy has crashed again. Other countries, especially China, are expanding their technological, manufacturing, trading, banking and diplomatic connections around the world. In short, while other countries took care of business the business of the United States was war. We are now paying the price.

The costly, humiliating defeat in Afghanistan is cited as the “last straw.” But there were many other wars and many other factors that led to the country falling apart. The extreme social, religious, and partisan political divisions created gridlock that prevented legislative solutions and effective governing. The rise of far right, racist, armed militias and other hate groups added to the toxic mix. The profit dominated news media and the widespread acceptance of social media destroyed the concept of objective facts. Lies became truth and demagogues controlled what people believed.

So, the country dissolved. California left the union and became the 5th largest economy in the world. Washington and Oregon being “liberal” states joined California (although the eastern parts refused and became part the Rocky Mountain Confederation). The fundamentalist “Bible Belt” states, led by South Carolina, seceded from the union forming small, economically marginal, poor theocracies. Alaska being 2/3 permafrost melted…but who cares? The remaining eastern and mid-western states became the new American Federation.

Texas, the focus of our story, reverted back to the former Republic of Texas. But dominated by a wealthy, corrupt oligarchy it has not done well. Driven by claims of election fraud (and foreign interference), there have been two “elected” governments overthrown by mass demonstrations. The most recent resulted in a right-wing government supported by violence from white supremacist, neo-Nazi militia groups. The more liberal populations of Austin (which speaks English and has cultural ties with rest of the country) and San Antonio (proudly bi-lingual) have broken away and voted to reunite with the American Federation. In short, Texas is in the middle of a civil war.

Because of the large military bases in San Antonio and a naval base in Corpus Christi, the American Federation invaded and annexed these areas.

Contributing to the mess in Texas is foreign intervention. Russia has been using the breakup of the United States to increase its influence in the western hemisphere. It has expanded the Warsaw Pact military defense alliance (a relic of the former Cold War) to 3 former U.S. states and to 12 countries in Latin and South America. California, Washington, Oregon, Mexico and Cuba have deployed Russian troops and missiles and frequently hold joint war games in the Caribbean.

Russia wants Texas to join the Warsaw Pact. Over the years Russia has funded various factions in Texas under the guise of promoting “democracy.” More recently they have provided military assistance and over $2 billion dollars in military arms and equipment to the current Texas government.

There have been efforts by the Organization of American States to mediate a settlement to the civil war in Texas. An agreement was reached several years ago but none of the parties have followed through on their commitments and the conflict continues.

The American Federation insists it will not tolerate Texas joining the Warsaw Pact or preventing San Antonio and Corpus Christi from returning to the American Federation. They have amassed 100,000 troops on the Texas border. War between the two largest nuclear powers is dangerously close to happening.

By now you have guessed my story is about the current situation in Ukraine. The story is fictional, but the underlying facts and events are an accurate history of the Ukraine crisis. You may think this story unrealistic or exaggerated, but there is a real historical event which unequivocally shows how the United States would react if this story were true.

In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis our response to Russian troops and nuclear missiles 90 miles from our coast was to mobilize for war. Our nuclear arsenal went on full alert. Troops for an invasion were moved to the coast. A naval blockade was imposed. We were prepared to incinerate the world if the missiles were not removed. Luckily for the world Russia blinked first.

The current crisis in Ukraine is one more example of our aggressive, militarized, hypocritical foreign policy. If the situation was reversed, we would be doing exactly what Russia is doing today and probably much more aggressively.

The ongoing civil war in Ukraine will not be solved by the U.S. pumping weapons and money into the conflict. Expanding NATO to include Ukraine (not just on Russia’s doorstep but a former part of the Soviet Union) is dangerously provocative and can only intensify the tensions. No one will be more free or secure by these actions.

One can easily image a better scenario than escalating the dangerous tinderbox in Ukraine. The Biden administration could easily stop the saber rattling and the shipping of weapons to Ukraine They could cancel plans for Ukraine to join NATO. They could actively work to implement the 2015 Minsk Accords that called for political solutions and limited autonomy for the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of Ukraine. Better yet the Untied States could simply get out of the way and let the U.N. or some of the European countries mediate a solution.

“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” If President Biden and his advisers would walk 10 paces – much less a mile – in Russia’s shoes they might be able to imagine a peaceful ending to the conflict in Ukraine


Hypocrisy, Voting and Felons

“It is our obligation as the state Legislature under our oath to the Constitution of the United States and oath to the state constitution to ensure equality before the law.” Wisconsin Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers)

Did I read this right? Is a Republican saying he believes in equality for everyone? Has the GOP turned over a new leaf and decided to return the principles of party of Lincoln?

No, they have not. Rep. Sortwell was merely wrapping his proposal to weaken Wisconsin gun laws in the guise of constitutional principle. His statement is just more of the usual inaccurate, misleading spin Republicans use to sell their harmful, destructive agenda to an easily manipulated public. “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

He was actually pandering to the gun nuts and arms industry by proposing legislation to lower the minimum age to legally carry a concealed weapon from 21 to 18. He was arguing that having a different age standard for carrying a concealed weapon than for voting, or serving in the military, was discriminatory.

Equality is now being hyped as an excuse to pack heat. We don’t need more Kyle Rittenhouse wannabes carrying concealed weapons. Perhaps the age of majority should be consistently applied. But given the Republicans’ long record of opposing equality in every other aspect of life, this is blatant hypocrisy.

Going back to the 1950’s, Republicans have opposed every effort to create a more egalitarian society. Opposition to laws ending racial discrimination were only one example. Most Republicans also opposed equality for women, people with disabilities, and people with different sexual orientations. They opposed equal employment opportunity, equal pay laws, unions, and fair labor standards. Republican cuts and opposition to social programs and taxes have produced massive economic disparities as the super-rich got richer. So, their concern for equality among gun owners is simply disingenuous.

Today, as I write this, every Republican in the U.S. Senate is refusing to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to protect people’s right to vote. The Freedom to Vote Act creates nationwide, minimum standards for redistricting, election security, campaign finance, and access to voting for every citizen. It would prohibit state laws allowing partisan officials or legislatures to throw out election results they did not like. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act overrides the Supreme Court decision that gutted the voting rights act of 1964. It ensures access to the polls regardless of race, color, or membership in language minority groups. In other words, it ensures basic equality under the law.

In Wisconsin Republicans are busy undermining fair elections with gerrymandering, various voter suppression schemes, and unfounded “investigations” into non-existent voter fraud.  Anyone who thinks Republicans, as a party, care about equality under the law are ignorant of the documented facts of American history (which Republicans don’t want to be talked about in schools).

Case in point is the denying the vote to convicted felons. There is no rational reason to take away the right to vote as a punishment for crime. There is no public safety, criminal justice, or rehabilitation objective accomplished by this simply punitive, unnecessary practice. In fact, some criminal justice research says it retards prisoner rehabilitation.

Requiring felons to complete probation or extended supervision after prison can add ten years or more to their disenfranchisement. About 50,000 Wisconsinites live, work, and pay taxes after serving their prison sentences but still cannot vote. An estimated 3.9 million U.S. citizens are disenfranchised, including one million who have fully completed their sentences.

Convicted felons are the only mentally competent adults not officially allowed to vote. This applies in 46 states and the District of Columbia to persons in prison. In addition, the right to vote is further denied in 32 states to those on parole and in 29 states those on probation. Fourteen state bar them for life (source: Human Right Watch). No other democratic country denies the right to vote to so many people for criminal convictions. Once again, we are #1 in the world!

These shameful laws do no good for society, but they do remove many minorities (and poor whites) from the voting rolls. These state laws are a legacy of Jim Crow. Today it is well documented that minorities are disproportionately convicted, incarcerated, and given harsher sentences than whites. Wisconsin incarcerates black men at the highest rate of any state in the nation. Clearly these laws are going to impact minorities more heavily than whites which explains why they still exist.

In 2018 Wisconsin Democrats introduced legislation to end felony disenfranchisement but it went nowhere in the Republican controlled legislature. In 2021 Republicans, including Rep. Shae Sortwell, introduced a bill to create more obstacles for ex-offenders voting and reintegrating into society. The proposal would force them to pay all fines, court costs, fees, and restitution and complete any court-ordered community service before they could legally vote.

For practical purposes this amounts to a Jim Crow era poll tax. Given that many felons have a difficult time finding employment, or employment with sufficient income to pay off fines, this obviously is a major barrier to voting. In many cases it may be a lifetime sentence to disenfranchisement.

Under Wisconsin law it is illegal to discriminate in employment based on criminal records unless the offense substantially relates to the job in question. But this law is routinely violated, and enforcement is virtually nonexistent. As we all know, enforcement of the law is very selective in America. There is no Republican outcry about the injustice and inequality of this situation.

Neither do Republicans speak out against the resurgence of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred in our country. In fact, they demonize the citizens who do speak out against police brutality and unjustified killings of people of color. Their response has been laws to criminalize peaceful protest. Rather than working to end mass shootings in schools, synagogues, and churches they offer only empty “thoughts and prayers” and more support for the gun nuts.

So, when Rep. Sortwell pontificates about “equality under the law” the blatant hypocrisy is obvious. Wisconsin should be thankful that Governor Evers has the veto power to prevent people like Rep. Sortwell from enacting their stupid, harmful, unjust legislative proposals.