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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

NY Times’ Pointless Exercise

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP, UT – January 2020 photo by csmicfool

Wrongo is confused. The NYT endorsed both Warren and Klobuchar, apparently for the same job. But in reality, they endorsed Klobuchar, the candidate who is polling around 4%, well below the 15% it will take to win any delegates. The endorsement of Warren is secondary, even on their editorial pages, which lists Klobuchar on the left full page, and Warren on the right full page.

Here’s how the Times talked about the difference between the two of them:

“Both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it.

That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach. They are Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.”

They are not campaigning to be co-presidents, we will get just one nominee. The Times says there are two possible ways forward: Warren’s a radical. Klobuchar’s a realist. This all but guarantees that if Warren is the nominee, Trump’s ads will say: “Even the leftist New York Times thinks Warren is a radical.”

In case you’re unsure, Warren isn’t a radical. She’s demonstrated over and over that she’s moderately progressive, and a pragmatic liberal, with the exception of her poorly-thought-out position on Medicare for All. The NYT has its way with Warren:

“American capitalism is responsible for its share of sins. But Ms. Warren often casts the net far too wide, placing the blame for a host of maladies from climate change to gun violence at the feet of the business community when the onus is on society as a whole. The country needs a more unifying path.”

By contrast, here’s the Times’s critique of Klobuchar. It’s one paragraph plus one sentence about her poor positioning in the race:

Reports of how Senator Klobuchar treats her staff give us pause. They raise serious questions about her ability to attract and hire talented people. Surrounding the president with a team of seasoned, reasoned leaders is critical to the success of an administration, not doing so is often the downfall of presidencies. Ms. Klobuchar has acknowledged she’s a tough boss and pledged to do better…..Ms. Klobuchar doesn’t have the polished veneer and smooth delivery that comes from a lifetime spent in the national spotlight, and she has struggled to gain traction on the campaign trail.”

The Times is playing a cynical game. They’re saying that they are endorsing both Warren and Klobuchar, but they really want Klobuchar, someone who really has very few followers.

It isn’t even clear that Klobuchar is a better moderate candidate than Biden. Clearly he’s older, but he has a national and global perspective that Klobuchar lacks. As a candidate, she’s a lesser Biden, without the black support.

And for Warren, she’s at least as formidable a candidate as Sanders, but she may have a higher ceiling with potential voters.

In most ways, the 2020 primaries so far have been Policy Minutiae on the Democrat’s side, vs. Resentment Politics on the GOP’s. Way more people are persuaded by tribal politics than by policies. If you disagree, look at this from the LA Times which says that a substantial group of Iowa voters are trying to choose between Biden and Sanders:

“Both campaigns believe there is a swath of voters — mostly white, working-class voters, including those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama twice — who are torn between Biden and Sanders, the race’s old-timers. Both men’s campaigns are fishing in that electoral pond as each candidate looks to expand his base in a tight contest.”

Their decision won’t be about Policy Minutiae. More from the LAT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Democratic Party in Polk County, Iowa, which includes Des Moines. ‘Ideology isn’t as important as the personality. To a lot of folks, they feel like they know and can trust both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, regardless of the ideological stuff.’”

For the NYT, the election is shaping up as a contest between a former TV personality who has generated a long list of policy failures, against either a cynical moderate, or a radical progressive, when some people think policies aren’t going to decide the election.

In 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaigns were about the healing power of centrism, without openly bashing the left. Biden and Buttigieg seem to be going that route, but Klobuchar seems more interested in pointing out that She Is NOT One of Them Lefties.

It’s like no one on the Times Editorial Board stopped to ask the question: “Wait – what exactly is the point of this exercise”?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 19, 2020

What to make of the new trade deal with China? The deal seems to restore the US-China trade relationship to where it was before Trump launched his “easy to win” trade war. Nothing that China has agreed to departs markedly from what it agreed to during the Obama administration. In 2015, Obama and Xi Jinping announced an end to cyber-intellectual property theft and embarked on a next round of negotiations over market access.

Trump’s Phase I agreement barely restores China’s agricultural purchases to where they were before 2017, even though Trump presented it as a victory. If one of your main customers boycotts you and then agrees to start buying again, but is buying fewer goods, it’s disingenuous to announce that they had promised to buy more.

After two years of mounting tariffs hostilities, the Phase I agreement has cost the US more than $30 billion in subsidies to American farmers. It has cost American consumers tens of $ billions in tariffs. It has forced some US companies to diversify their supply chains out of China at an additional cost of $ billions.

Trump and his trade sidekick Peter Navarro, fundamentally misread the relative strengths of both the US and China. They thought that Chinese exports to the US are the key driver of the Chinese economy. If that were true, tariffs would be a potent weapon.

But a recent McKinsey study shows that China has aggressively shifted from an export-driven economy to a domestic consumer-driven one. Much of any gain in Chinese exports primarily accrues to the multinational companies like Apple that source in China, and not to the domestic Chinese economy.

At best, Trump fought China to a draw. At worst, China now understands that less economic engagement with America is in its self-interest. The trade war and its new, paper-thin truce leaves America with less leverage going forward. On to cartoons.

Was Round One a win?

Why are our sports teams held to a higher standard than our politicians?

Liz ponders:

There are Senate tools that always go unused:

What to expect from Ken Starr:

Pretty sure that’s Susan Collins:

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Saturday Soother – January 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Polar Bear, Churchill, Manitoba CN – October 2019 photo by Colin Hessel

For a lot of people, this will be a long weekend with the federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday (his actual birth date was Wednesday, the 15th).

Thousands of pro-gun fanatics are expected to march at the Virginia state capital on MLK Day. Prior to VA governor Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency, those pro-gun lobbyists were expected to brandish weapons and look as menacing as possible to lawmakers who want to reform the state’s gun laws. Now, the state of emergency means the state capitol grounds at least, should be gun-free.

Naturally, the choice of MLK Day for a pro-gun march wasn’t a coincidence.

MLK Day was carefully chosen for the rally, since many of the people hyping it are white nationalists. The Virginia Citizen Defense League says its motives for choosing MLK Day for its annual pro-gun rally are innocent. They say the date was picked because it’s a federal holiday, which allows more gun owners to be able to come.

But King was assassinated in 1968 by a gun-wielding right-winger, so it’s difficult to imagine there’s no ulterior purpose in using the same day for gun-wielding right-wingers to celebrate themselves.

Maybe they think it ought to be James Earl Ray day.

On top of that, Tuesday brings “All Impeachment, All the Time”, so we won’t get much of a break from the Lev Parnas show this week.

Charlie Pierce talks about how low and grubby high crimes can be: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The proper historical analogue to this event is not the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Clinton impeachment was the isolated case of one man’s clumsy foibles within the confines of the civil and criminal justice systems. No other constitutional principle was under discussion. No constitutional institution was at risk. The balance of powers was not in danger of coming unraveled unless Clinton had been removed from office for such relatively flimsy charges, political accelerants aside.

Andrew Johnson disobeyed an act passed by Congress specifically to rein in his powers. This was a full-speed collision between Article I and Article II powers. That’s what the impeachment of this president* is, too. If anything, the actions addressed by this impeachment are even cruder than Johnson’s were, and Johnson was drunk a lot of the time. The current impeachment is shot through with actions that remind you how closely cupidity and stupidity rhyme. When the House managers walked the articles across the Capitol, the Founders walked with them, although many of them were probably astonished at how low and grubby high crimes can be.”

We’ll see what the next week brings in both Richmond, and in the Senate. Keep your powder dry.

It’s pretty cold here in New England, and we expect substantial snow on Saturday afternoon. So, now’s the time to make sure we take a break from another trying week, and spend a few moments in peace before the snow storm. IOW, it’s time for another Saturday Soother!

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of organic Conscientious Objector Coffee, created for those who follow their conscience ($17/12 oz.). It comes from Oakland, CA’s Highwire Coffee, who says it has sweet creaminess and fruitiness upfront, with a cocoa finish. Yum!

Now settle back in a comfy chair by a window and listen to André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra play “The Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. It was recorded live at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. If you watch, you will see marvelous dancing by members of the famous Austrian Elmayer Dancing School, the orchestra having fun, and the audience enjoying a bit of schmaltz:

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

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More About The Virtue of Exciting Candidates

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Assiniboine, Provincial Park, BC, CN – 2019 photo by Talhanazeer. Assiniboine is the pyramid-shaped mountain on the left.

When Wrongo thinks about the Democratic primary candidates, he feels a bit like when he was a breeder of Havanese dogs: “Don’t get too attached to any one of them–we’re only keeping one.”

At the end of the day, we’ll only have one candidate. The question is which is the keeper?

Yesterday we asked: which candidate excited you? Judging by crowd sizes in Iowa, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg have generated excitement, while Biden has not:

“Mr. Biden has a lot to prove here. I’ve attended some of his town halls and rallies, and they’ve been lackluster, his speeches dull and meandering, and his crowds comparatively small. I’ve been to memorial services that are more exciting. I certainly hope mine is.”

That quote is from Robert Leonard, the news director for the Iowa radio stations KNIA and KRLS. More from Leonard:

“Who is going to get an enthusiastic turnout caucus night? Bernie Sanders will. His support is strong. We’ll see if he can increase it….

Elizabeth Warren has fallen in the polls, but she will have a big turnout caucus night. Her on-the-ground organizing is terrific and her supporters unwavering…..

Pete Buttigieg will also have a big turnout. Watching his several-blocks-long parade of supporters file into the Liberty and Justice Dinner last fall in Des Moines gave me goose bumps…..”

Leonard finishes with this:

“On caucus night, given the soft support I see, if the weather is bad Mr. Biden’s supporters might not come out. It might also depend on what’s on TV….For the other candidates, if their supporters walked outside, slipped on the ice and broke a leg, they still would crawl through snow and ice to caucus.”

He’s alluding to the x-factor, the charisma, the excitement that a candidate creates in voters, and claims that in Iowa at least, Sanders, Warren, and Mayor Pete are showing some of that.

The first thing that most of us want is relief from the Trump assault. In the general election, that starts with telling people the damage assessment, and a plan of repair. The nominee has to say that our government and democracy are in tatters and need to be stitched back together. Constitutional checks and balances have been nearly destroyed by the Republicans.

Maybe we need Medicare for all, free college tuition, and the rest of the progressive agenda, but first, we need to triage our democracy.

To win the presidency, we need to take back Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Are the voters in those three critical swing states ready to sign on to rebuild our social safety net, reform health insurance, and raise taxes on the rich and corporations? Hell yes.

Trump’s 2020 plan is to pump up the Dow while keeping unemployment at historic lows. He’s done that with a $1.5 trillion tax cut without any plan to pay for it. He’ll tout his new “trade deal” with China. He’ll mock and belittle the Democrats and their nominee. Meanwhile, Trump has no health plan at all!

Mitch McConnell’s plan is to make sure Trump is acquitted at all costs, to continue packing the courts, and blocking any meaningful legislation coming out of the House.

What’s the Democratic Party’s 2020 plan? The proposals by the progressive Democratic candidates have merit. Their goals are the right ones for the country and the planet. But, those plans will take several administrations to fully implement. Few voters fully understand the details of how to pay for Medicare for all. Moreover, they absolutely are worried about having their private health insurance taken away. That’s what most Americans have, so that has to be a big concern for Democrats in 2020.

Which of the current flock of Democratic candidates have what it takes to unite and lead the Party to a 2020 victory? Which nominee will have coattails to swing the Senate, hold the House and add to the Party’s roster of statehouses?

The 2020 election will turn on whether individual voters see the Democratic Party’s nominee as a heroic savior of the country, or less of a leader than the execrable Trump.

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Which Democrat Nominee Excites You?

The Daily Escape:

Keyhole Arch, Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CA – 2020 photo by jtmess. For a few weeks every winter, starting with the Winter Solstice, sunset lines up with the hole in Keyhole Arch.

Someone told Adlai Stevenson when he was running for president in 1952 (or ‘56): “Every thinking person in America will be voting for you.” Stevenson replied, “I’m afraid that won’t do—I need a majority.” (Via)

It’s time that Americans recognize that the most important global event in 2020 will be the US presidential election. The reason is blindingly obvious. It’s questionable if the world can be brought back from four more years of Donald Trump. That’s doubly true for the US. That means historic voter turn-out is required.

And if that’s the case, it’s important that the best person challenge Trump in November. Last night’s debate didn’t move us any closer to knowing who that should be. This, from Deborah Long is a useful take:

Three Democratic candidates for president walk into a bar.

The first one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by re-starting the Bolshevik Revolution”.

The second one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by breaking up the big banks and sticking it to the man.”

The third one says, “I’ll be in my trailer. Call me on the horn when they’re ready for my cameo in ‘The Way We Were’.

Her underlying point is that the current Democratic candidates show no unifying message. That partly explains why the top four are polling at close to the same numbers. Democrats need to answer the question: Who can deliver a knockout punch to Donald Trump, and repudiate what the Republican Party currently stands for?

Wrongo posted about Economic Dignity last spring. It’s from an article by Gene Sperling, Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council. His take is that the Fed and Congress should implement a full employment monetary and fiscal policy that enables tight labor markets.

Sperling says that implementing the idea of economic dignity would lead to higher wages, and give employers greater incentive to provide advanced training to their employees. And, high demand for labor would give more workers more of the “take this job and shove it” leverage that’s lacking today.

We’ll need more: America needs a return to what Paul Collier calls the “cornerstones of belonging”— family, workplace, and nation, all of which are threatened by today’s market-driven capitalism.

That’s a unifying message for Dems. Hidden behind that message is the idea that America has to return to the ethics of the New Deal. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, says: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Over the past half-century, Chicago School economists, (including Milton Friedman) acting on the assumption that markets are generally competitive, narrowed the focus of competition policy solely to economic efficiency, rather than broader concerns about power and inequality. The irony is that this assumption became dominant in policymaking circles just when economists were beginning to reveal its flaws.”

Stiglitz says we’ll need new policies to better manage capitalism. That means:

  • Dealing with the inequities in health care
  • Paying workers more
  • Rebuilding public assets like roads
  • Passing higher taxes on corporate profits and the incomes of the wealthy

The unifying message is that Democrats will provide Americans with a legal and political framework that allows people to provide better opportunity for their families.

Better opportunity is something all of America wants to believe in.

So, if the Democrats want to win big enough to silence the GOP, the 2020 Democratic Party nominee for president must excite Americans by showing them a path to a better future for their families. Emphasis on the “excite”.

We’re not going to get there by marching with pitchforks. We’re not going to get there with Biden’s nostalgia. We’re going to get there by speaking directly to the needs of America’s families, workplaces and nation.

Not by continuing the tiresome, wonkish recitation of “my policy is slightly better than yours”.

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Trump Tries Extorting Iraq

The Daily Escape:

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Kluame NP, Yukon, CN – 2019 aerial photo by Picture Party

Last Saturday, the WSJ reported that the Trump administration had warned Iraq that it might shut down Iraq’s access to its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), if Baghdad carries through on its threat to kick out American forces.

Iraq, like most other countries, maintains accounts at the New York Fed as an important part of managing the country’s finances. This account receives revenue earned from foreign trade, including in Iraq’s case, sales of oil. Loss of access to their accounts would restrict Iraq’s ability to use their funds to settle foreign transactions, or to repatriate funds needed in their domestic economy. AFP, citing an unnamed Iraqi official, reported that the balance stands at about $35 billion.

From the WSJ:

“The New York Fed provides banking and other financial services for around 250 central banks, governments and other foreign official institutions, such as the account owned by Bangladesh from which North Korean agents were able to steal $81 million in 2016, U.S. officials have said.”

The FRBNY has the authority to freeze accounts under US sanctions law, or if it has reasonable suspicion that use of the funds could violate US law.

This financial threat isn’t simply theoretical: Iraq’s financial system was squeezed in 2015 when the US suspended access to the central bank’s account at the FRBNY for several weeks over concerns the cash was filtering from Iraqi sources through loosely regulated Iranian banks and on to ISIS.

We’ve occasionally frozen foreign countries’ assets, in both the Federal Reserve Bank and in US commercial banks, typically when a country has engaged in illegal activity, or when a revolution has occurred. We did this after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Those funds were released by the Obama administration in 2017, when the US unfroze some $150 billion in Iranian blocked assets as part of the Iran nuclear deal.

Iraq is a weak nation with a fragile economy, so it has to take the US threat to freeze its central bank’s assets at the Fed very seriously. Freezing their account would also end any semblance of a friendly relationship between it and the US. It could also become a challenge for the US if Russia and China stepped in to rescue Iraq by weakening the role of the US dollar as the global reserve currency, that is, a currency used to settle foreign trade obligations.

America has become enamored with stopping the global free flow of funds for regimes it doesn’t like. Our sanctions regime is used so frequently that it is difficult to get an overall list of individuals and organizations that are under sanction. The US government maintains a sanctions search engine here.

Interrupting the flow of international settlements by the US has caused competitor countries to try to establish settlements in currencies other than the dollar. To date, there hasn’t been much success. Wolf Richter reports that the US dollar’s share of global reserve currencies has fallen from 65% in 2014 to 61.8% today, with the Euro in 2nd place and the Yen in 3rd.

Will the downward trend of the dollar as a reserve currency continue? Possibly, but if the US continues to act to restrict money flows, it will occur faster and more sharply than it might otherwise.

There is a kind of desperation in Trump’s threat. We’ve spent 18 years in Iraq and it comes to this? Critics of the threat say that it amounts to blackmail, or extortion. Wrongo believes he’s recently heard this about Trump and another country, too.

Is this desperation President Trump’s, or is it a reflection of a deeper desperation on the part of the US ruling elite? Are we seeing the beginning of the end of US omnipotence through the dollar’s role as the dominant global trading currency?

Is it wrong to bring up how Republicans attacked Obama for “abandoning” Iraq even though Iraq wanted us out in 2010? The GOP saw the US leaving Iraq as a mistake. They were glad when we were invited back to help defeat ISIS. Now, the question is: Will we leave under a Republican president?

How would Trump react if a local armed resistance against a US occupying force in Iraq used force of its own to try and get their money back?

Are we really going to punish Iraq because they have asked us to leave?

Isn’t it their country?

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Many Glacier, Glacier NP, MT – 2019 photo by MDodd

Let’s clear the air about Iran and their use of terror. Wrongo isn’t an apologist for Iran, although he thought that the Nuclear Deal was a positive step forward. We need to look carefully at the data supporting what our government and the US media say about Iran’s terrorist activities.

Here’s what the US State Department says about Iran and terrorism:

“Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe. Tehran has funded international terrorist groups such as Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It also has engaged in its own terrorist plotting around the world, particularly in Europe. In January, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, Tehran continued to allow an AQ facilitation network to operate in Iran, which sends fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it has extended sanctuary to AQ members residing in the country.”

From Larry C. Johnson:

“You notice what is absent? A list of specific attacks that caused actual casualties. Plans and plots are not the same as actions. If Iran’s malevolent influence was so powerful, we should be able to point to specific attacks and specific casualties. But you will not find those facts in the U.S. State Department report because they do not exist.”

This State Department Annual Terror report details who is really responsible:

  • The Taliban was responsible for 8,509 deaths and 4,943 injuries, about 25 percent of the total casualties attributed to terrorism globally in 2018
  • With 647 terrorist attacks, ISIS was the next-most-active terrorist organization, responsible for 3,585 fatalities and 1,761 injuries
  • Having conducted 535 attacks, al-Shabaab was responsible for 2,062 deaths and 1,278 injuries
  • Boko Haram was fourth among the top-five terrorist perpetrators, with 220 incidents, 1,311 deaths, and 927 injuries

Not a single group linked to Iran or supported by Iran is identified. Here’s a table from the report’s statistical annex that identifies the worst offenders:

Iran doesn’t make the list. The attacks are predominantly from Sunni affiliated groups that have ties to Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

America takes exception to Iran because we have a long and negative history, but with justifiable complaints on both sides. Recently, Iran has thwarted the US’s actions in Syria. We should remember that Iran is a Shia Muslim state. When we removed Saddam Hussein and destroyed Iraq’s government, the Bush Administration installed Iraqi Shias in leadership. No GW Bush administration policymakers expressed any concern that these Iraqi politicians and military personnel had longstanding relationships with Iran, which naturally increased Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Iran also had a longstanding relationship with Syria. Obama decided that by eliminating Syria’s Bashir Assad, Iran would be weakened, but that policy backfired. Iran, along with Russia, came to the aid of Syria. Assad is now secure, and America’s influence in the ME has been weakened.

Time to wake up America! We need to get educated about which terror groups are committing what terror acts. Back in the 1980s, Iran was very active in using terrorism as a weapon to attack US military and diplomatic targets, but not so much lately. Iran was behind the early development of the IEDs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many US soldiers died. That technology is now globally ubiquitous.

The real issue we should be asking our government to resolve is whether we can (or should) halt the expansion of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Administrations since Carter have bet that isolating Iran diplomatically, ratcheting up economic pressure, and using limited military power will somehow energize the Iranian regime’s opposition and lead to the overthrow of the Mullahs.

They forget that we’ve used that exact policy with both Cuba and North Korea. How has that worked out for America?

We shouldn’t mourn Gen. Soleimani; he was a bad actor who tried to build shadow Shia militaries in many ME Countries. But Trump and Pompeo need to stop ranting about Iran and terrorism.

The actual issues driving Iran’s growing influence in the ME aren’t based on acts of terror. Our recent policies and actions towards Iran are now accelerating their cooperation with China and Russia, not diminishing it.

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 12, 2020

On Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acknowledged that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner while it was taking off from Tehran earlier in the week, killing all 176 people aboard. The admission raised a host of new questions: Who authorized the strike on the plane, and why Iran hadn’t shut down its international airport or airspace if it was expecting a US reprisal for their missile attack?

A few words about missile air defense. Wrongo ran an air defense missile unit in Germany during the Vietnam era. Each day, our unit would calibrate the radars by training them on commercial aircraft take-offs and landings at Frankfurt Main airport, about 80 miles away.

Airports keep a regular space between flights taking off, or landing. Those taking off are traveling at a higher speed than those landing. And in any event, they both are moving far more slowly than an aircraft on an attack run. Also, commercial aircraft look much larger on a radar screen than a fighter/bomber looks.

So, everyone who has air defense responsibilities near a large airport immediately knows the difference between a commercial airliner and a military fighter on their radar screens.

While Wrongo did this back in the dark ages, some rules of engagement are universal. Under normal circumstances, no individual air defense unit is authorized to fire at aircraft unless told to do so by higher command authority. There are exceptions: When communication is lost with command, or in the case of a “general release to engage” by higher authority. That usually would happen if under a verified attack by the enemy.

Iran has said that the air defense forces ringing the capital were at the “highest level of readiness”, and that they were “prepared for an all-out conflict.” While it may mean something different in Iran, for US air defense, that wouldn’t mean fire at will.

And it certainly wouldn’t mean fire at a huge, slow blip on your radar screen. The regime looks like dishonest incompetents to the rest of the world. On to cartoons.

The real reason for engaging Iran: (Graeme Keys, from Ireland)

Speaking of Obama, his rules still apply:

The real reason for the US standing down:

Having a policy means more than he thinks:

The reasoning for the attack keeps changing:

 

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Saturday Soother – January 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Road in Yosemite after rain – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Did we just avoid a war, or was a future war thrust upon us? You have to go way back to find a time when the thought of an overseas conflict united Americans behind the plan.

Today, all we have are questions about which war we consider to be a war worth fighting. Certainly it wouldn’t be a war on climate change, or vote suppression, or spiraling health care costs. Those aren’t considered just wars in today’s politics.

One Party is always willing to fight the other when the topic is intervention in the Middle East. Doug Collins, the mouthy Republican Congress Critter from Georgia, who’s willing to self-promote on any TV channel, went on Fox (Lou Dobbs) to criticize Democrats:

“They’re in love with terrorists. We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families, who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

That led Preet Bharara, former US Attorney, to clap back at Collins: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“No American is “in love” with terrorists or “mourns” the death of that Iranian general on an airstrip in Baghdad. Many of us do, however, mourn the death of decency, honesty and reason here at home.

I realize that you are a politician and that hyperbolic, hyperpartisan claptrap is the unfortunate fashion of the day. But even allowing for the new normal of nastiness in political rhetoric, your casual slur of countless good Americans hits a new bottom. Americans can, in good faith, differ about the legality or efficacy of killing Soleimani. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic or lovers of terrorists. It is hostility to differences of opinion that is un-American.”

More:

“You are a pastor, an attorney and a sitting member of Congress. Therefore, the evidence would suggest you should know better. To utter such garbage, which you know to be false and defamatory, goes against all the training and teaching you must have received. But you got your cheap shot across, and perhaps that’s all that matters to you.”

Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) chimed in about what Collins said:

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response. I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”

Collins then recanted:

“Let me be clear: I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.”

But, even though Collins appeared on Fox on Friday morning, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he later apologized on his Twitter feed, which has less than 300k followers.

Let’s give Preet the last word: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…I am not making some old and familiar naive call for a return to “civility” in our politics. I don’t have much hope for that….I just want people like you to knock off the worst scurrilous nonsense…..If we are going to come together, protect the homeland and heal the hearts of people who have suffered the scars of terrorism, we need our leaders to do better than lazy trash talk.”

Collins was deployed as a Navy Chaplain to Iraq in 2008, so he knows better. He’s certainly seen Democrats die fighting terrorists. Yesterday, Wrongo said Democrats can’t let Republicans slide, they need to be called out when they are wrong, like Bharara and Duckworth just did to Collins.

Sometimes, Wrongo wonders if all this is happening because he didn’t forward at least a thousand Facebook messages to ten people. If so, Wrongo apologizes, America!

Time for all of us to de-stress from the first week of the new decade. Let’s hope most weeks are calmer than what we just lived through. To help calm things down, it’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Natural ($19.95/4oz.). Wrongo knows that’s expensive, but the stock market had a great week, even if Gen. Soleimani didn’t, so you can afford it. It’s from Paradise Roasters in Minneapolis.

Now, grab a seat by the window and listen to something soothing. Today, we hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” played on glass harp by Robert Tiso. The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death. And it may not have really been dedicated to Elise:

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

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Surprising No One, Trump Blames Iran on Obama

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake Valley, CO – 2019 photo by henhooks

Circling back to Trump’s “standing down” speech, it seems like it was an exercise in gas lighting. Trump spoke for less than ten minutes, standing in front of his generals, who remained expressionless as he spoke. Occasionally, he seemed short of breath. Obviously he had a lot on his mind, but he sure didn’t look like someone refreshed from a two-week vacation.

This observation from the indispensable Marcy Wheeler captures the moment:

“Trump just pre-blamed Barack Obama for the failures most experts predict and have correctly predicted will come from Trump’s Iran policy. He suggests, falsely, that the current escalation is the result of Obama’s peace deal, rather than the demonstrable result of his suspension of it.”

Wrongo’s conservative friends repeat the lie that Obama sent planes full of American cash to Iran. They may be conflating the Iran deal with Iraq in 2003, when GW Bush sent them $12 billion in hundred dollar bills. That’s 363 tons of $ hundreds that disappeared almost immediately.

We know that Obama didn’t “pay” Iran $150 billion for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal, approved by China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, and the US, involved the release of $ billions of Iran’s assets, frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in exchange for the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The NYT reports that, after Iran paid its debts, it had between $32 billion and $50 billion left.

Trump and the GOP always try to shirk responsibility for their actions, and yesterday, they blamed the Democrats. Trump and the GOP:

  • Blamed Obama’s successful nuclear deal for what has happened after Trump’s rejection of it
  • Claimed Trump couldn’t brief Democrats on the Soleimani assassination because the Dems couldn’t be trusted to keep the news a secret
  • Suggested that Democrats’ impeachment of Trump has hurt his ability to respond to the very crisis he created by killing Soleimani

Trump’s blame shifting tactics are particularly toxic because his policies are likely to fail. The only way Trump can sustain support while presiding over these preventable failures is to blame someone else, like the Democrats, and the Iranians in this case.

And the only way for him to continue to follow his failing policies is to pretend he’s not the cause of the failure.

That’s the Republican playbook. They haven’t been the party of personal responsibility for a long time. They just pretend they are. Did Nixon take responsibility for Watergate? Think of Reagan blowing up the debt with his tax cuts and violating the Constitution with his Iran Contra scheme. Or Bush 1st lying about being out of the loop on Iran Contra. Then came Bush 2nd and Cheney who refused to listen to warnings that Bin Laden was going to attack us, and then using that attack as an excuse to go to war with Iraq.

Like Trump, none of them ever took personal responsibility for their lies and incompetence.

Trump’s excuse for not briefing the Gang of Eight is particularly worrisome. They are the leaders of both Parties from both the Senate and House, and the chairs and ranking minority members of both the Senate and House Committees for intelligence. The president is required to brief them on covert operations by law.

Apparently, Trump briefed Sen Lindsay Graham instead.

But Trump doesn’t want advice from people he doesn’t trust, and so he didn’t bother to brief the Gang of Eight before the Soleimani mission.

As we said yesterday, Trump owns this decision, and all of its consequences. That raises the political stakes in the run-up to the 2020 election, and makes it all-important for him to hedge his bet by finding scapegoats. It’s a feedback loop: Democrats, and Iranians can’t be right, they’re just disloyal, or traitors, or terrorists.

His behavior has become more impulsive as his mistakes have grown. His Party also shares full responsibility for them. But today’s GOP is about making up their own reality, blaming others for problems, and saying more tax cuts for the rich and corporations will paper over whatever problems they create. This is totally on the Republicans, and they will never stop of their own accord.

This will persist until the rest of us take action to change the arc of our politics.

It’s also on any Democrats who decide to let them slide, either by excusing their actions, or by not voting in November.

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