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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The GOP’s History of Non-Accountability

The Daily Escape:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy – photo via @archpics

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are ensconced in a 1791 colonial home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The house was a half way point and overnight stop on the Hartford CT to Albany NY stage coach in the early 1800’s. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad in the late 1850’s. Now it is a VRBO rental, mostly used by large family reunions, and our family qualifies.)

Did the Trump campaign ask for help, or were they merely the beneficiaries of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 presidential election? We won’t know for sure unless or until Robert Mueller’s investigation makes it into the public domain. But here in the Berkshires, Wrongo read a column by Dylan Matthews that places the possible Trump wrongdoing in an historical perspective with other GOP stalwarts like Richard Nixon. And not just Watergate, where Gerald Ford pardoned tricky Dicky, but more:

The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where…political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds….It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

Matthews makes the point that the Russia scandal reminds us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it:

In the summer of 1968…Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process.

As Matthews says, this is part of a larger, longstanding and troubling trend of Republican non-accountability:

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government…Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t end there:

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people…all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams….National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Matthews quotes Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated Iran-Contra:

What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.

Many of the Iran-Contra perpetrators remain on the scene in Washington. Poindexter ran George W. Bush’s Information Awareness Office. Elliott Abrams, who had other transgressions under Reagan, when he supported El Salvador’s military dictatorship, worked as a National Security Council official for George W. Bush.

GW Bush had dozens of policymakers who lied about WMD. They systematically violated US law forbidding torture. Consider Abu Ghraib, where low-level soldiers and officers were court-martialed, while the people responsible for the policy, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, got off scott-free.

And Democrats weren’t above non-accountability. Obama didn’t prosecute Bush officials about the Iraq WMD lies. He didn’t prosecute CIA officials who tortured. Obama’s administration didn’t bring charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA. Obama’s Department of Justice was notoriously lax with Wall Street. Once, Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler jokingly asked Deputy AG Lanny Breuer, “How many cases are you dismissing this week?”

Matthews closes:

With that history — with such a clear record that…political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia?

So both parties have contributed to this culture of permitting wrong conduct without consequences.

The possible implications for the Mueller investigation is frightening. At what point will bringing prosecutions be impossible because the GOP office holder will simply yell “partisan witch hunt“, and have one-third of America agree without seeing the evidence?

And will the bad guys simply wait for the next GOP president and get pardoned?

Unless we’re willing to fight that system, many more Republicans will evade accountability in the future.

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Some Thoughts on Trump, Putin and the Summit

The Daily Escape:

The North Window, Monument Valley UT – 2016 photo by Dsdugan, CC BY-SA 4.0

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading for the hills, literally. We are spending the next few days in the Berkshires with another sub-set of our kids and grandkids. Blogging will be light. Expect the Monday Wake Up on Tuesday, 7/24.)

It’s time for Republicans to take off their MAGA ball caps. Via the WaPo:

Trump on Monday refused to support the collective conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin had given him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial during their private talks here….Trump went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt,” arguing that the probe, along with “foolish” America policies, had severely impaired relations between the two countries.

It is a good thing for the US president to speak with the Russian President, they should do it face-to-face at least twice a year. We should get Russia back into the G-7 (it used to be the G-8 until Crimea). Wrongo isn’t one of these hardliners who insist on something impossible before a meeting, say having North Korea disarm before talking, or insisting that Putin return Crimea to Ukraine before inviting him back into the G-8.

Wrongo isn’t yet certain how far the Russians went to swing the election. He’s far from sure that the Trumpets played an active role in the Russians’ efforts. Wrongo doesn’t believe Trump’s actions amount to a treasonable offense, and desperately hopes that Democrats steer clear of saying anything like that.

Wrongo DOES know that the Trump/Putin press conference gave Robert Mueller much more job security.

But, we must demand much, much more from Republicans who observed the shit show of a press conference and say that they can do nothing. Politico Playbook got it just right:

REPUBLICANS TO THE WORLD: WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO? There was a general consensus in the Capitol yesterday: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP thoroughly embarrassed the United States standing next to Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN on the world’s biggest stage.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-ARK.), a reliable Trump ally, criticized the president — albeit not by name. REP. WILL HURD, a Texas Republican who was a covert CIA operative before becoming a politician, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career, and I never thought the U.S. president would be one of them.” SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), Trump’s golf buddy, even had choice words.

BUT, PRIVATELY, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT US TO DO?

Republicans saying that they have “no idea what more we should be doing” means that they are cowards who are afraid to make the Redcap partisans in their party angry.

Let’s go back a few years. Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran, effectively ending their nuclear program. Republicans in Congress disrespected the Democratic president’s foreign policy purview, and sent a letter to Iran, saying Obama didn’t know what he was doing. They added that the GOP Congress would unwind the deal as soon as they got the opportunity.

Now, with the GOP in control of the White House and Congress, Trump sells out America to Putin, yet THESE SAME Republicans have no idea what they can do about it.

None. Because, remember, foreign policy is the president’s purview, not theirs. They’re saying: “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re fresh out of ideas!”

They’d better figure something out. What if Dog forbid, Trump gets worse?

The mainstream news outlets are saying that: “Most Republicans condemned Trump’s press conference with Putin“. Next week, it will seem as if Republicans actually stood up to him on Russia.

Even though they’re really standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

What Democrats must continue to do is stay on message with voters that Trump is a clear and present danger, and that the GOP won’t do anything about it.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Impeach Rosenstein Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sauron’s hot tub, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP -2018 photo by calibeerking

Our Monday wake-up calls usually involve a single news item that gives Wrongo the chance to generalize from the specific. This weekend had at least two, and neither concerned NATO, Putin, or Trump.

First up, few probably know the name of US Congressman Daniel M. Donovan (R-NY). He is the guy who represents Staten Island and South Brooklyn. He won over the convicted criminal former GOP Congressman Michael Grimm, among others. He’s the only Republican House member in NYC. Donovan introduced HR 6054, a bill that would make it illegal to wear a mask at a demonstration. This seems to be the best hot take:

The proposed law would enhance penalties for anyone who interferes with another person’s “protected rights” while wearing a disguise. So, the guy replacing convicted felon Michael Grimm offers a piece of nuisance legislation to protect those very fine Nazi people of Charlottesville’s “unite the right” rally. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

Unmasking laws are not new at the state level. It’s been illegal to wear a mask in New York, if you are accompanied by at least one other mask-wearer, since 1845. Later, unmasking laws were used to combat the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama, where it’s been illegal to wear a mask (except on certain holidays) since 1949. Georgia also has an anti-masking law targeted at the Klan.

Yet, Wrongo never thought we’d see a time that Congress would attempt to criminalize speech. But here it is: if somehow, this bill became law, some forms of speech will be criminalized.

Watching what’s happening in Congress, we may be underestimating the threat posed to our freedom and liberty. If you think this is just a Monday over-reaction, let’s move on to item # 2. TPM is reporting: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Conservatives in the House are preparing a document to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and could file the document as early as Monday, Politico reported Friday afternoon, citing conservative sources on Capitol Hill.

House Freedom Caucus members Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), two of Rosenstein’s most vocal critics, are leading the effort. For what its worth, Trey Gowdy said he isn’t in favor of impeaching Rosenstein.

Can’t happen, you say? Well consider this: With the confirmation of Brian Benczkowski to the DoJ as a possible replacement for current Deputy AG, and Mueller boss Rod Rosenstein, Zandar speculates:

…should Rosenstein be fired, Robert Mueller’s boss would almost certainly become Benczkowski, a person with no prosecutorial experience whatsoever, somebody already tainted, if not compromised by Russian money laundering, and somebody who worked for Donald Trump’s campaign directly. And no, he hasn’t said that he would recuse himself should that become the case.

No one knows how far this will go, but it gives Trump the ability to fire Rosenstein, and replace him with his ally, (and Jeff Session’s buddy), the newly-installed Benczkowski.

Now that Trump has his guy in place at the DOJ, some senior House Republicans seem to prefer impeachment of Rosenstein to letting the Mueller probe continue. That should tell you everything that we need to know about how politicized the Republicans have made this inquiry.

Is this just a political gamble by the Freedom Caucus? They seem convinced that the political pendulum won’t swing back—that they’re permanently in power. Otherwise, why would they be trying incredible shit like this?

They are ignoring the obvious response to evidence that our nation has come under assault, and instead, would rather impeach the person responsible for managing the investigation!

Time to knock some sense into the heads of these Republicans, and that will only happen by pushing them out of controlling the House in November. That requires all of us to wake up, and work hard to get out the vote. It requires a commitment to do more than just send texts, or complain on Facebook.

We have to work extremely hard this fall in our local Congressional districts. We have to elect people who won’t think HR 6054 is a super idea.

People who don’t think that impeaching the Deputy AG is just fine, because he’s…what?

To help you wake up, here are the O’Jays, with their 1972 monster hit, “Back Stabbers”:

Sample Lyric:

(They smile in your face)
Smiling faces… smiling faces sometimes tell lies (Back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
I don’t need low down, dirty bastards (Back stabbers)

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Peter Strzok Edition

If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.

In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.

You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.

And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.

Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:

This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.

Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.

On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:

Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:

Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:

Trump was poorly received in UK:

Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:

Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:

The first Helsinki meeting will be very private:

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Saturday Soother – July 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Newhaven Breakwater Lighthouse, East Sussex, England – photo via @mindcircle

It was a tough week for our Orange Overlord, what with picking fights with NATO, and with Theresa May about Brexit. Who knew that he would get sucker punched by his good buddy North Korea’s Kim Jong Un? From the NYT:

North Korean officials did not show up on Thursday for a meeting with Americans at the inter-Korean border to discuss the return of remains of United States soldiers killed in the Korean War, officials said.

You may remember that at the Singapore summit in June, Kim Jong Un, and America’s Very Stable Genius agreed that the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War would be repatriated. North Korea has returned the remains of some American soldiers since 1953, but about 5,300 Americans presumed to have been killed in the North remain unaccounted for.

Secretary of State Pompeo said after meeting with officials in North Korea last week, that working-level talks on returning the remains would be held in Panmunjom on Thursday. More from the NYT:

Though American military officials went to Panmunjom for the meeting on Thursday, their North Korean counterparts did not, according to a United States defense official….A South Korean government official, who also asked for anonymity, confirmed that the North Koreans had not shown up at Panmunjom.

Was North Korea just late to the party, or were they sending a message to Trump that he needs to give something to get something? It seems that we were caught flat-footed by the NorKo no-show:

Last month, Trump told a Republican convention in Las Vegas that North Korea had “already sent back, or are in the process of sending back” the remains of 200 US or allied service members following his summit with Kim.

The US military also announced that 100 wooden coffins had been dispatched to Panmunjom to receive the remains, although repatriation has yet to take place.

Remember when Trump said that hundreds of parents of Korean War vets (they’d all had to have been at least 99 years old) begged him during the campaign to help get the remains of their dead sons back? Do you remember that on June 13, Trump said on FOX that he’d gotten it done in Singapore?

Doesn’t look like it’s happening at the moment.

But Trump tweeted that everything is fine, because he got a nice note from Kim. From the Guardian:

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made,” the president said in a tweet that included both a copy of Kim’s letter, dated 6 July, and its translation.

If you are a True Believer in Trump, you say he’s shaking things up, and soon his stellar negotiating skills will have us wading hip-deep in all of the global winning. If you’re not a True Believer in Trump, you need some Saturday soothing.

It looks like a warm weekend in the Northeast, so start by brewing up some Yemen Microlot from whole beans, roasted by Dragonfly Coffee. Dragonfly is a Boulder, Colorado-based micro-roaster. The Yemen Microlot is delicate, and richly sweet. It tastes of caramelized apple, baker’s chocolate and tangerine zest, and its only $75/8oz.

Now, take a short walk outside, barefoot. Listen to the birds, avoid stepping on any bees. Settle somewhere in the shade, and listen to Matthew McAllister playing Sonata Pathétique, the 2nd movement of the Adagio Cantabile by Ludwig van Beethoven. Although it is a piano sonata, McAllister is playing it on guitar. It was written in 1798 when Beethoven was 27 years old:

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

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How Do We Increase Voter Turnout?

The Daily Escape:

Cows grazing in fields near the village of Castelluccio in central Italy. In October 2016, a significant earthquake struck the area, badly damaging the village and roads—but farming still takes place and fields of lentils and poppies bloom every year, carpeting the land – 2018 photo by Maurizio Sartoretto

Ninety-two million eligible American voters failed to vote in the 2016 presidential elections. In the 2014 midterms, 143 million eligible Americans failed to vote. It was the lowest voter participation in 72 years. Is it possible to change this sorry record? We can start by looking at voter registration. From Larry Sabato:

There are 31 states (plus the District of Columbia) with party registration; in the others, such as Virginia, voters register without reference to party. In 19 states and the District, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 12 states, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats. In aggregate, 40% of all voters in party registration states are Democrats, 29% are Republicans, and 28% are independents.

Sabato says that overall, the current Democratic advantage over Republicans in the party registration states approaches 12 million voters. But, they don’t turn out to vote.

There are a number of major states that do not register voters by party, including those in the industrial Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Add to that, Texas, Georgia, and Washington. If they did register by party, Texas, Georgia, and Indiana would certainly add to the Republican total. Sabato’s team produced this map illustrating the breakdown of registered voters (RV) in the table below:

More from Sabato: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Still, Republican Donald Trump found a route to victory in 2016 that went through the party registration states. He scored a near sweep of those where there were more Republicans than Democrats, winning 11 of the 12, while also taking six of the 19 states where there were more Democrats than Republicans — a group that included the pivotal battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

But the message gets worse for Dems, and it’s all about voter turnout. In 2016, falling participation defined the election, as pivotal swing states such as Wisconsin and Ohio saw voter participation drop by approximately 3% and 4% respectively, compared with 2012.

The Center for American Progress says that during the 2016 primaries, only 28.5% of eligible voters cast votes for party candidates, while only 14.5% participated in the 2012 primaries. For local mayoral elections, participation fell below 20% in 15 of the country’s 30 most populous cities.

The latest data available that break down voter turnout for midterm elections by state is for 2014. And it makes a disheartening case for Democrats, particularly in those states with a Democratic voter registration plurality where Trump won. Here is the breakdown of voter turnout by state:

In 2014, there wasn’t a lot of Democratic sentiment in the highest turnout states. And in the six states where Dems have a registration advantage, but the state voted for Trump in 2016, this was their 2014 voter turnout:

STATE                                                    TURNOUT

PA                                                            36.1%

WVA                                                         31.2%

KY                                                            44.2%

NC                                                            40.8%

LA                                                            43.9%

FL                                                            42.8%

This shows their turnout was substantially higher than the national average. If these states repeat the same turnout this November, chances are that the House will stay in Republican hands. Now, the data are from 2014, and the country is more energized politically in 2018 than it was four years ago, so generalizing may not provide us with a correct answer.

For what it’s worth, only five states had turnout over 50%: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

But can we fix turnout? The usual barriers we talk about fixing are:

  • Streamlining voter registration, possibly by automatic voter registration, or same-day voter registration
  • Making the act of voting more convenient by longer periods of early voting, and more liberal absentee voting
  • Adding voting booths in election districts to eliminate long lines
  • Changing election day to election weekend, so more working people can get to the polls

But, a 2017 Pew study found that the most common reasons registered voters gave for not voting in the 2016 elections had little to do with barriers to turnout: theyDidn’t like candidates or campaign issues” (25%); followed by those “Not interested, felt vote wouldn’t make difference” (15%); “Too busy or conflicting schedule” (14)%; and “Illness or disability” (12%).

Registration problems,” were only 4%; while “Transportation problems,” were 3%; and “Inconvenient hours or polling place,” just 2%.

Having charismatic candidates with messages that resonate is the easiest fix, but we are locked into a system in which career politicians work their way up the ladder, trying to be as bland as possible.

People have to become angry enough to force our current system to change.

The real question is: Why aren’t they already angry enough?

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Trump Tells NATO to Arm Up

The Daily Escape:

Louvre, Paris – 2017 photo by Brotherside

From the WaPo:

President Trump joined fellow NATO leaders here Wednesday in approving a sweeping set of plans to bolster defenses against Russia and terrorism, hours after delivering a blistering tirade against Germany and other allies.

Trump is obsessed with the levels of military spending by NATO members. At breakfast with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, he said:

Many countries are not paying what they should, and, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back…They’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.

But NATO doesn’t owe the US anything. Trump says that NATO member countries are freeloading on the US taxpayer’s dime. Trump throws around the target of 2% of GDP as the target share that each NATO country should pay toward the overall NATO budget, but that’s wrong.

Josh Marshall of TPM gives us some perspective: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The actual NATO budget is quite small — a $1.4 billion military budget and a $250 million civilian budget. The US pays a relatively modest part of that total, about 22%. The percentage is based on a formula which includes the size of each member state’s economy. This mainly goes to pay for the NATO headquarters in Belgium and the quite thin military infrastructure which coordinates and integrates the various member-country militaries which make up the alliance. That’s it. The whole thing is budgeted at less than $2 billion. The percentage the US pays is reasonable relative to the size of the US economy and no one is in arrears.

In 2014, at America’s request, NATO set a target that member states should get to a minimum of 2% of GDP on military spending by 2024. Almost all of them have increased spending in GDP terms. But few are at 2% yet, and it’s an open question how many will get there by 2024.

So, the issue of the 2% is not directly related to NATO spending, it relates to overall defense spending by NATO members. To review, the military budgets of all the member countries combined was $921 billion in 2017. The US military budget is the largest, at $610 billion in 2017, or about 66% of the total of the NATO military budgets. Since the US has the largest economy of any country in NATO, it isn’t surprising that ours would be the largest.

Based on the 2017 numbers, the US spends 3.61% of GDP on defense. The next is the UK at 2.36%, while the other major NATO powers are significantly under 2%: France, 1.79%; Germany, 1.2%; and Canada, 1.02%. And in “great negotiator” style, at the Summit, Trump asked other NATO members to raise their defense spending commitment to 4% of their respective GDP’s, never mind that they are not yet at the already agreed 2%.

Trump and former US presidents have asked a legitimate question regarding whether the US should still be paying the vast majority of the cost of a European military presence that acts as the guarantor of security in Europe. The primary reason for the US to argue for other nations shouldering a greater share of military costs is to assure that NATO members have modern, interoperable weapons and the required readiness to work together with the US, if Europe is threatened.

And none of the NATO players has proposed a reduction to US defense spending in Europe, or said that they wanted to reduce their own spending. In fact, at the NATO summit, The NYT reports that Trump and the allies signed a 23-page NATO declaration: (brackets by Wrongo)

[The] allies agreed to a NATO Readiness Initiative, which would allow the group to assemble a fighting force of 30 land battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships within 30 days. The initiative reflects a “30-30-30-30” plan pushed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and meant to deter Russian aggression in Europe.

Ramping up to that level of readiness will cost a lot. And we are the primary driver behind the plan. Remember, the US military budget will grow from $610 billion in 2017 to $700 billion (14.75%) in the next fiscal year.

So, Trump wants Europe to arm up, we sure are.

After all, what else could we do with all that money?

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Brett Kavanaugh’s Just Another Republican

The Daily Escape:

Storm brewing near Vilano Bridge, St. Augustine FL – June 2018

At Vox, Dylan Matthews has a detailed review of Supreme Court Justice Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s history of being in the middle of Republican wars since the 1990’s. He represented the 6-year-old Elián González pro bono in an attempt to keep him from being deported to back to his father in Cuba in 2000.

Kavanaugh also worked on GW Bush’s legal team during the 2000 Florida recount, which resulted in Bush winning a party-line Supreme Court vote to install him as president. Then:

Kavanaugh worked in the solicitor general’s office under George H.W. Bush….The SG under George W. Bush was Kenneth Starr, who took a shine to Kavanaugh and hired him to join the independent counsel’s office in 1994.

Kavanaugh became a Republican glamor boy with the investigation into Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky: (link, italics and emphasis by Wrongo)

Eventually, Kavanaugh, and the rest of Starr’s team, moved on from the substance of the Whitewater real estate deal to the matter of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. In his history of the investigation, “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr”, Duquesne University’s Ken Gormley notes that Kavanaugh, “considered one of Starr’s intellectual heavy-lifters, pushed hardest to confront Clinton with some of the dirtiest facts linked to his sexual indiscretions with Lewinsky.”

In a memo to “Judge Starr” (with a copy to “All Attorneys”), Kavanaugh wrote:

After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any “break” … unless before his questioning on Monday, he either i) resigns or ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to you. I have tried hard to bend over backwards and to be fair to him. … In the end, I am convinced that there really are [no reasonable defenses]. The idea of going easy on him at the questioning is thus abhorrent to me….

The President has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles — callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury (at least) in the [Paula] Jones case. … He has tried to disgrace [Ken Starr] and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush

It should be unimaginable for a nice young Catholic lawyer, but Kavanaugh then listed a series of ten questions that he wanted Starr to ask Bill Clinton. All of them were explicit and unsavory. Wrongo will offer one, and it is the least unsavory:

If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trashcan in your secretary’s office, would she [be] lying?

Starr didn’t ask any of Kavanaugh’s questions, but did ask others that were similar. We’ll never get past what Bill Clinton did to the Democrats. Hillary too.

This is the real Kavanaugh: He’s not just the guy we are told is a good father, CYO basketball coach, and feeder of the poor. He clearly had a prurient interest in Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky.

We know that he will most likely be on the Court if it is tasked with judging the constitutional validity of whatever Special Counsel Robert Mueller produces regarding the man who appointed Kavanaugh. This has nothing to do with impeachment, it is largely about Trump being compelled to testify to a grand jury, as Bill Clinton did in 1998, compelled by Ken Starr and Brett Kavanaugh.

But, we now know that in 2009, Kavanaugh changed his mind and said he is against compelling a president to testify: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Having seen first-hand how complex and difficult that job is, I believe it vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible. The country wants the President to be “one of us” who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office….

This is not something I necessarily thought in the 1980s or 1990s. Like many Americans at that time, I believed that the President should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry. But in retrospect, that seems a mistake.

Now he’s for insulating the president. The Senate shouldn’t allow him to use what he wrote in 2009 as an alibi for what he would do if a Mueller-related case came before him.

Unless Kavanaugh agrees to recuse himself from any such case, no Senator should vote for him.

Given Kavanaugh’s desire to ask difficult questions of Bill Clinton, Democrats shouldn’t let these hearings pass without some very pointed grilling. Otherwise they will have failed.

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Pompeo Played in Pyongyang

The Daily Escape:

Ramona Falls, Mt. Hood, Oregon – 2018 photo by higher_moments

US Secretary of State Pompeo visited North Korea (NK) to further the agenda President Trump and Chairmen Kim had agreed upon in Singapore. The visit did not go well. As Bloomberg reports, there were issues from the start:

As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Pyongyang at 10:54 a.m. on Friday, he had few details of his schedule in the North Korean capital — even which hotel he and his staff would stay in.

Pompeo didn’t stay at either of the hotels where he thought he’d be. The North Koreans took him, his staff and the six journalists traveling with the delegation to a gated guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital.

It was the start of a confused 27 hour visit, including a pair of banquets that the secretary and his staff appeared to dread for their length, and the daunting number of courses presented by unfailingly polite waiters. And a meeting with Kim Jong Un never happened, despite strenuous efforts by Pompeo’s staff.

More from Bloomberg:

The lack of US control clearly rankled Pompeo. A former military officer accustomed to short, focused meetings, he was made to sit through multi-course meals with Kim and his staff, as waiters brought plate after plate of food — foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream, plus a drink branded “American Cola.”

By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.

The specifics of what happened behind closed doors remain unclear, but there was a clear difference of opinion about the results of the brief meetings:

As he was leaving, Pompeo told reporters the conversations were “productive and in good faith.” Hours later, North Korean state media issued a statement that did not mention him by name but called the demands he presented “gangster-like.”

One North Korea watcher, Duyeon Kim, Senior Fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum and a columnist for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, had this tweet describing Pompeo’s and the Trump administration’s failure to understand even the basics of its joint Singapore communique with Kim Jong Un:

Duyeon Kim thinks that Pompeo and the Administration have the cart before the horse on the path to denuclearization.

In another tweet in her thread, Duyeon Kim says that NK sees denuclearization as part of a package that happens only after the military threat the US poses is removed, in other words, after items #1 and #2 above are negotiated. She makes the point that NK’s reaction to the Pompeo visit reaffirms that its priorities remain in that order.

Confirming her viewpoint, the statement released by the NK Ministry of the Foreign Affairs said in part:

The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war…

Let’s take a close look at the Singapore Joint Statement signed by Trump and Kim. It included the following: (emphasis by Wrongo)

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. [3a] to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and [3b], The DPRK commit to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

As far as we know, Pompeo didn’t talk about item #1, which would include the opening of embassies and economic engagement. He did not talk about item #2, i.e. a peace treaty. He also did not talk about Item #3a, the “security guarantees to the DPRK”. The only item he talked about was 3b, the last item on the list.

So in the words of the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Pompeo came to Pyongyang and tried to go all gangster on Kim by asking for details about NK’s nuclear program, and its plans to abandon it. But NK wanted to talk about embassies and diplomatic relations.

The scorecard after Singapore: Kim 1, Trump 0

The scorecard after Pompeo’s visit: Kim 1, Trump 0

When does all the winning begin?

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Turkeys on the Fields of Wrong – June 2018 photo by Wrongo

We wake up this Monday in an America that seems unlike what it should be, or what it was a few years ago. Two quick stories. First, this action by the Trumpistas encapsulates everything horrible about the Trump administration’s approach to the world: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly…. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

More from the NYT:

When that failed, they turned to threats…Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

They scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation.

The Russians ultimately introduced the measure — and, no surprise, the American delegation did not threaten them. From Booman:

The Trump administration demonstrated almost every flaw they have here. They put the interests of corporate lobbyists ahead of the health of babies. They showed a complete contempt for science and the consensus of the international community. They abused their power and threatened well-meaning and innocent nations simply because they could.

The message is clear: If a country needs to stand up to America, they should go running to the Godfather, Russia, who will do the right thing. And for America? Another horrible outcome brought to you by Donald Trump.

Second, Politico reported that Trump is obstructing the plan to build a new Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey:

The obstacle is not the usual red tape that delays US infrastructure….the environmental review for the new Hudson tunnel was fast-tracked and forwarded to the Transportation Department for approval in an unusually speedy two years. The obstacle is the Trump administration, which vowed in its infrastructure plan to accelerate the permits process, but has been sitting on this one without explanation. “I wouldn’t say we’re slow-walking it,” one administration official told me, before laughing. “OK, maybe a little.”

Ha-ha. The truth is that Trump is trying to force Chuck Schumer to vote for Trump’s Wall in order to get money for the Tunnel. Here’s the NYT: (brackets and edits by Wrongo)

President Donald Trump was in an unusually bipartisan mood on September 7, when he convened a White House meeting about a massive project to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The politicians in attendance thought [they had a deal]…. “Ask anyone on either side of the aisle. It was very upbeat, total agreement this needs to get done,” Christie told me. King describes the meeting as a love-in: “Not a single negative word, great body language, everybody on the same page.”

After the meeting, though, Trump asked Schumer to stay behind. He bluntly offered another deal, an offer suggesting he had a rather different conception of Gateway’s larger importance: Schumer could have his tunnel if Trump got his border wall with Mexico.

Schumer said he couldn’t make that trade. And ever since, the Trump administration has been doing just about everything in its power to derail the Gateway project. In March, the president threatened to veto an entire $1.2 trillion government spending bill if it included anything at all for Gateway.

It always comes back to his F*king Wall. He’s promised something he can’t deliver, so the only thing he knows how to do is try to take hostages.

This will simply get worse if we fail to turn out in massive numbers in November, and try to re-take the Senate, and absolutely take back the House of Representatives. To help you wake up today, here is John Prine’s “Long Monday” from his 2005 “Fair and Square” album, which won the Grammy for best Contemporary Folk Album:

There are a host of great musicians on the album, including Jerry Douglas, Allison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. Mindy Smith sings harmony on Long Monday.

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

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