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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 23, 2018

When Wrongo saw the headline in the NYT that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein suggested that he should secretly record President Trump to expose the chaos consuming the administration, he had difficulty believing it.

This is from the NYT’s article:

Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.

So, no first-hand witnesses. Rosenstein disputed the NYT account:

The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect….I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Turns out, Wrongo’s skepticism about the NYT was well placed. According to Marcy Wheeler, (who you all should read): (emphasis by Wrongo)

Not a single one of these people…was actually a witness to the episodes. Indeed, by description, none of them have even read the memos memorializing the events directly, but have instead simply been briefed secondhand.

So, where did the information come from? Wheeler quotes Andrew McCabe’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, about how the NYT might have gotten the memos. They were turned over to the Mueller investigation, but:

A set of those memos remained at the F.B.I. at the time of his departure in late January 2018…

The insinuation is clear: Somebody wants to set off the President. Someone at the FBI took McCabe’s memos and read them to people who could then leak them to the NYT. This is the NYT using third-hand sources to start another Saturday Night Massacre. Maybe it’s worth noting here that McCabe was fired for unauthorized disclosures to the news media.

Trump is desperate to release documents that will discredit the Mueller investigation. His effort to declassify a raft of documents has been sidelined this week by his administration. Now, out of the blue comes this helpful accusation against Rosenstein. As Wrongo predicted here, the Trump administration has wanted to make a move to fire Rosenstein, and now they have their excuse.

Trump needs to be careful. If he supports the use of McCabe’s contemporaneous notes to fire Rosenstein, then he can’t easily dismiss Comey’s notes on his meeting with Trump.

It looks like the NYT article was a leak from the White House. It’s time for The Times to think about firing the reporters and the editors who approved the article. On to cartoons!

THIS captures the week, month, and year:

Men, blaming women for men’s bad behavior since the Garden of Eden:

What the Judiciary Committee will do with witnesses:

More on the Judiciary Committee’s process of determining truth:

Mitch says that the GOP is pressing on:

The big double standard in DC:

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Saturday Soother – September 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy — photo by _enk

Another week in Trumplandia is in the books. And, for the second consecutive year, there was no “Trump’s Summer Reading List“. That idea seems so preposterous that his handlers don’t even try to fake it. He’s never wandered far from the limo or the hotel lobby. He’s simply not interested in our world.

With that as background, consider Trump’s meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell in which Trump suggested building a wall across the 3,000 mile-long Sahara Desert to prevent African migrants from making their way into Europe:

You need to build a wall around the Sahara…When Borrell asked Trump if he understood just how big the Sahara is, Trump argued that “it can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico.” Borrell then informed Trump that the Sahara is far bigger than the U.S. border with Mexico.

And this was in The Guardian, not The Onion. Hold on to Trump’s fixation with walls for a bit, and read this tweet:

I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms? Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security. REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2018

He tweeted this because the Senate approved their conference report with the House by a bipartisan 93-7 majority. It funds the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next fiscal year.

The best part was that it included a continuing resolution to keep the rest of the government agencies funded until after the mid-term election, so no shut-down, unless Trump refuses to sign the bill.

And, Congress designed it to prevent a standoff about Donald Trump’s border wall. Apparently, the lack of wall funding was a surprise to Trump, so he asks via tweet, “where is the money for the WALL?”

Once the Kavanaugh/Dr. Ford’s: “is it attempted rape, or just teen-age hijinks?” debate stops sucking up all of the oxygen in DC, Democrats should start praising Congressional Republicans continuously for defying Trump about the wall.

Dems should loudly praise Republicans for sending Trump a bill he can’t veto. They should hammer that wedge hard.

And, if Trump does veto it, we’ll see an instant shipwreck for the Republicans.

But right now, you need to get away from it all for at least a few minutes. You need to let your brain calm down. Wrongo calls this the Saturday Soother. We start by brewing a hot steaming cup of coffee. Today, we return to coffee roaster Geoffrey Martinez of Compton, CA’s Patria Coffee. Wrongo purchased a 12 oz. bag of Patria’s Peru Amazonas WP Decaf, and it was liked by all. So why not brew up a Vente cup of that, and enjoy. (A blog reader asked Wrongo if he receives any payment for these weekly coffee recommendations. He does not.)

Settle back in a comfy chair and watch the fall season begin outside your windows. Here, on the fields of Wrong, the crab apple, birch, and tulip trees are losing their leaves. The deer visit the crab apples several times a day to eat the fruit that falls to the ground.

Now, wearing your Bluetooth headphones, listen to trumpeter Chris Botti and violinist Lucia Micarelli perform “Emmanuel” live in Boston as part of Botti’s 2009 PBS special. The music was written by Michel Colombier, and released in 1971. Emmanuel was written to honor the memory of Colombier’s son, who died when he was only 5 years old. This piece will help you forget about Trump, Kavanaugh, and the Russians for a while:

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

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Japan Re-thinks Role of Its Military

The Daily Escape:

Unusual cloud formations, pre-dawn at Mt. Fuji, Japan – photo by Takashi Yasui

Wrongo lived in Japan while working for the big multinational bank, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. During his three-year stay, he learned enough Japanese to navigate in business meetings, and bars. When he was there, it had only been 30 years since the end of WWII, and the nuclear-ravaged parts of Japan still had scars, some of which intentionally remain visible today.

One impact of losing the war was that Japan got a new constitution, helpfully provided by us, the conquerors. Enacted in 1947, it made the Emperor a constitutional monarch, where before the war, the Emperor was an absolute ruler. Japan’s constitution is known to some as the “Peace Constitution“. It is best known for Article 9, by which Japan renounced its right to wage war.

No amendment has been made to it since its adoption, but that could be about to change.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking to revise the constitution in the very near future, including changing Article 9. In May, Abe announced that he wanted to add Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Article 9. The Nikki Asian Review quoted Abe: (brackets by Wrongo)

Over the past year, discussion of [constitutional] revisions has grown much livelier and more specific….The document currently includes absolutely no provision for our self-defense….We must put an end to debate over [the JSDF’s] constitutionality…

This is on top of evolutionary changes to the use of the JSDF over the past two years. Revised laws authorized military action that previously would have been unconstitutional, including actions in response to “an infringement that does not amount to an armed attack”, or actions outside of Japan, such as minesweeping in the Straits of Hormuz, near Iran.

The key point is that the new changes lower the threshold for the use of force outside Japan.

Robert Farley writes in The Diplomat: (brackets by Wrongo)

Nevertheless, even these [recent] changes allow Japan to act more assertively as a coalition partner in its region. This means acting in either a direct or supportive role for allies or coalition partners threatened by China (or some other international actor). The reasons for such a shift lay in both the increasing power of China, and in uncertainty about the United States.

The world’s power balance is changing. It is totally unclear if the US can be counted as a reliable partner in mutual defense for Europe, or in Asia. Our allies fear that moves towards isolation by the current or any future administration, could leave Japan swinging in the wind.

Add to this the looming threat from North Korea. Japan’s total reliance on the US to blunt that threat, means that Japan feels it must look at a more assertive ability to use military force. Japan has recently purchased the Ageis Ashore system from Lockheed Martin to help partially protect it against North Korea.

Another consideration is Japan’s rapidly shrinking population. The birthrate in Japan is just over 1.3. It needs to be 2.1 to maintain its current population. The Japanese skew quite old, but Japan also refuses to allow immigration. Estimates are that its population will drop from 130 million today to 80 million by 2050.

Japan is likely to become very insecure about the declining population and the increasing regional threats. And that insecurity will be reflected in their next-generation military strategies.

In fact, today’s JSDF is sort of legal fiction. It is said to be an extension of the national police force. But the JSDF has several hundred tanks, 26 destroyers and 19 submarines. Since they already have a military, it doesn’t seem like changing the constitution to allow them to have and use its military should really matter.

OTOH, there is a residual fear of a militarized Japan in Asia and in the West. Some think that Japan, like Germany, is among the countries that shouldn’t be taking on expanded military roles. This is why the US has large, permanent bases in both countries.

Wrongo thinks that this is a superficial reading of today’s issues. Obviously Japan hasn’t fully apologized for its actions in WWII, or earlier, and both the Koreans and Chinese work to ensure that we never forget.

In the real world, Japan is an amazingly under-defended country. It has traditionally relied on the US to fund its defense, and make most of the hard choices about its defense.

Well, now that we’re no longer totally reliable, they really have no plan at all.

We shouldn’t have a particular problem if Japan or Germany decide they want to avail themselves of the full range of diplomatic and yes, the military options available to sovereign nation-states.

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Let Dr. Ford Testify

The Daily Escape:

The Storseisundet Bridge, Norway. It is one of eight bridges on the Atlantic Highway — via themindcircle

Wrongo has tried to resist the developing story about Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who is accusing him of attempted rape during high school, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

And there are plenty of reasons not to write about it. It’s the subject of an all-out media blitz. Hundreds of new facts will be presented between the time this is posted, and it is read by all of you Wrong patrons. But, it’s an inescapable narrative, so here goes.

Since Dr. Ford is willing to testify, she should be asked to testify. Brett Kavanaugh has said that he would also like to testify in the matter. Marcy Wheeler offers an idea:

But she shouldn’t testify alone. Mark Judge should testify along with her. After all, according to her letter and the WaPo account, he was a witness to the event.

Mark Judge was one of Kavanaugh’s best friends in prep school. He apparently was in the room when the attempted rape took place. Ford describes Judge as watching Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, occasionally egging him on, and eventually jumping on top of her and Kavanaugh — a move that allowed her to escape.

Judge is now a conservative writer who has written for publications such as the Daily Caller and the American Spectator. From Vox:

He’s floated some controversial ideas in his writings — including asking in 2006 whether gay people are perverts….He’s also the author of several books, including one recounting his teenage years of alcoholism and addiction.

At the risk of assassinating Mark Judge’s character, he seems to, um, have a special interest in young women. He had a variety of posts to YouTube that have been taken down in the past day. You be the judge.

And why is it always that one guy who’s in the room when an alleged rape happens, and can testify for the defense that the alleged rape totally did not happen, turns out to be a just a bit creepy?

In any event, Mark Judge should also testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Most Republicans are defending Kavanaugh with the usual tropes and memes about how it was all so long ago, and why does it matter? As Orin Hatch told the NYT:

It would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today, because that is the issue….Is this judge a really good man? And he is, and by any measure he is, and everybody who knows him says he is.

By all means, let’s ignore prep school indiscretions: She was a girl, and besides, she wanted it, and it’s much more important that we comfort the comfortable.

On the other hand, a whole lot of us, even when inebriated and underage, never thought we had permission to pull a woman into a room, force her onto a bed, and clamp a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

It really can’t be all that hard to find Supreme Court justices who have never attempted rape. Whether Kavanaugh committed an act of attempted rape yesterday, or 40 years ago, isn’t germane. Attempted rape is just a rape that was stopped.

If that’s in his makeup, then it’s always going to be a facet of his character.

There are plenty of judges who are willing to overturn Roe. There are almost as many willing to shield Trump from Mueller. But, if Kavanaugh can be brought down by one “youthful indiscretion“, no Republican is safe. So the GOP will defend him to the death.

Nothing short of multiple additional accusations will stop him. Maybe not even that.

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Monday Wake-Up Call — Constitution Edition

The Daily Escape:

Spruce Knob, WV at sunrise – 2018 photo by zjustus88

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the US Constitution 231 years ago, the day that the Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution as our supreme law.

We sometimes forget that the country was without a Constitution for 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, and for six years after the War of Independence ended. Somehow, we survived.

We also forget that there was plenty of conflict between the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. They had vigorous debates about the balance of power between the national and state governments. Two factions emerged: Federalists, who supported the Constitution and a strong central government, and anti-Federalists, who mainly supported strong state governments.

To placate the anti-Federalists and ensure ratification, the Federalists promised to pass a Bill of Rights to protect individual liberty and state sovereignty, which they finally did in 1791, four years after the Constitution was ratified.

Today there’s plenty of discussion about the Constitution, about what’s constitutional, and what’s not, about which of the Supreme Court justices are trampling on the Constitution and which are ripping it to shreds. It seems that there is nothing more important to the Republic than selecting the next Justice, in this case, Brett Kavanaugh.

Joseph Ellis in the WSJ Weekend edition, reminds us that:

Most members of America’s founding generation would have regarded this situation as strange. If you read the debates among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and then read their prescriptions for judicial power in Article III of the Constitution, it becomes clear that the last thing the 39 signers of the document wanted was for the Supreme Court to become supreme.

Ellis says that the founders thought that Congress should be “supreme”, and a majority thought that each branch of government should decide the scope of its own authority. He says that the founders’ had no interest in having the Supreme Court be the ultimate control point for the US government, since it’s our least representative body, and the one farthest removed from the ultimate authority (the People).

More from Ellis:

For most of American history, the Supreme Court only infrequently stepped forward to redefine the political landscape in decisive fashion. The two most conspicuous occasions both involved the great American tragedy of race.

For Ellis, the first of the two most significant cases was Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the Court tried to resolve the politically unsolvable problem of slavery. The majority argued that the framers of the Constitution clearly regarded slaves as property, and therefore the Missouri Compromise (1819) and the Compromise of 1850 were unconstitutional.

This meant that the federal government had no authority to limit the expansion of slavery in the western territories. Dred Scott deepened the sectional divide that led to the Civil War, and legal scholars and historians have long considered it one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history.

In 1954, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education landed on the other side of the racial divide, striking down the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” that the justices had upheld as a justification for racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Brown decision signaled a crucial shift in the role of the Court, the first step on its way to becoming the dominant branch of the federal government in deciding the direction of domestic policy.

That led to 30 years of liberal decisions for the Court. The liberal agenda expanded the rights of criminal suspects, broadened the definition of free speech and, in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), discovered a new right to privacy. Building on the right to privacy, the Court affirmed a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Ellis concludes:

…since Brown we have watched the Supreme Court bend the law in two different directions, landing on one side or the other of the political spectrum based on which political party could command a 5-4 majority. The only difference between the two sides is that liberals are transparent about their political agenda, while conservatives, using originalism to make problematic claims of detachment, are not.

Americans now know that the Supreme Court is biased, partisan, and often makes rulings based on ideology versus law. The word “unconstitutional” has become a catch-all term for whatever we don’t like about our government, or our society. This renders one of the most terrifying and powerful adjectives in American jurisprudence almost meaningless.

TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICA! We should spend Constitution Day trying to become better citizens. Maybe we start by learning our civic history.

The benefit should be clear: Knowledge lets us understand and appreciate nuance.

After all, America might not have many more birthdays left at the rate that we keep polarizing our ideas about the Constitution.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 16, 2018

The Texas Board of Education is taking Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller out of their school curriculum because they aren’t “essential” to learn about. The Dallas Morning News spoke with two teachers from the board that made the recommendations. Both said the state required students to learn about so many historical figures that it resulted in rote memorization of dates and names instead of real learning:

The 15-member work group came up with a rubric for grading every historical figure to rank who is “essential” to learn and who isn’t. The formula asked questions like, “Did the person trigger a watershed change”; “Was the person from an underrepresented group”; and “Will their impact stand the test of time?”

Out of 20 points, Keller scored a 7 and Clinton scored a 5. It’s difficult to understand how Helen Keller got 40% more points than Clinton. Eliminating Clinton from the requirements will save teachers 30 minutes of instructional time, the work group estimated, and eliminating Keller will save 40 minutes.

Totally worth it. They’re adding Rev. Billy Graham, but the first woman to win the popular vote for President? She didn’t make the cut.

The board also voted to keep in the curriculum references to the “heroism” of the defenders of the Alamo, and Moses’ influence on the writing of the nation’s founding documents. They added a requirement that students explain how the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” in the Middle East.

The problem with Texas eliminating women like Hillary Clinton & Helen Keller from textbooks is that what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. For decades, publishers have allowed Texas to exert control over what gets printed in textbooks nationally because Texas has 5.3 million students, more than other states.

Texas originally acquired its power over the nation’s textbook supply because it paid 100% of the cost of all public school textbooks, as long as the books in question came from a very short list of board-approved options. As Gail Collins said in a 2012 NYRB article:

Texas certainly didn’t single-handedly mess up American textbooks, but its size, its purchasing heft, and the pickiness of the school board’s endless demands—not to mention the board’s overall craziness—certainly made it the trend leader.

History is so hard. Too many facts. Was any history made last week? Time will tell.

The Mueller investigation flipped Manafort. A few people think it means nothing:

Whether you like it when the bird sings, depends upon your perspective:

Actual news about Puerto Rico’s hurricane deaths hurt Trumpy’s feelings:

US EPA loosens rules on methane pollution to stop the crying by energy companies:

Tall tales by the campfire:

What makes the GOP cry? Everything:

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Saturday Soother – September 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Putin and Xi making blinis at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, RU last week. As usual, Putin looks like he knows what he’s doing. Xi, not so much.

Wow, what a week! We seem to say this all the time, and Wrongo thinks we have become inured to all the drama. On Friday, Hurricane Florence made landfall in NC. And what lies in her path? The New York Times reports that Florence’s path is strewn with toxic hazards, including:

…ponds of coal ash, toxic sites, and thousands of industrial hog farms with lagoons of pig waste.

THAT should be one stinky clean-up. Speaking of dirt, the Kavanaugh confirmation was delayed a week, and up popped a confidential memo about a possible sexual assault that occurred while he was in high school. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) sent it to the FBI, who say they do not plan to investigate. The details are salacious. Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker tweeted:

A woman alleged to two democrats that, during high school, Brett Kavanaugh held her down and attempted to force himself on her, placing a hand over her mouth and turning up music to conceal her protests.

Sadly, this accusation is too old, and since the accuser wishes to remain anonymous, it will have no effect on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Has the biggest rat turned on Trump? Paul Manafort has agreed to a plea and cooperation agreement in his continuing legal troubles with the Special Counsel. He has agreed to sit for interviews with Mueller’s special counsel team, testify in any future cases, and submit related documents. Whether he truly cooperates, and whether he has information of any value, remains to be seen.

Finally let’s turn to Donald Trump’s inexplicable claims about hurricane deaths in Puerto Rico. He denied that a mass casualty event, equivalent to 9/11 in its loss of life, ever happened. Political Wire reported:

President Trump tweeted that he didn’t believe that roughly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Said Trump: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”

He added that it was “done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

So, 3,000 people didn’t die in Hurricane Maria, but 3 million people voted illegally for Hillary in 2016.

We’re talking here about the President of the United States denying a carefully and professionally researched study of the hurricane death toll, while blaming his opponents, and without a scintilla of evidence to back up his claim.

He asserts that his administration didn’t screw up first, by neglecting the disaster, and second, by not staying the course to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Plus, do you believe he actually raised “billions” to rebuild PR? He might as well say Wrongo personally donated a million dollars to PR relief.

The bottom line from this week is that the next two years will be about Trump defending himself from impeachment charges, while Kavanaugh gleefully repeals Roe v. Wade.

It’s way too much! Time to unplug from all the cacophony, and seek some Saturday soothing. Start by brewing up a pot of Finca El Socorro Maracaturra ($22.50/12 oz.) from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co in Topeka, KS.  The roaster says that it is richly sweet, balanced, and intricately layered. They say it tastes of frankincense (!), almond nougat, honeysuckle, and dried black cherry.

Now, find a comfortable place to sit where you can view the world outside, and listen to 2CELLOS play “Gabriel’s Oboe” from film “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone. Here, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who are the 2CHELLOS, perform with the Zagreb Soloists at their “Back to the Roots” concert at the Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb, June 2015:

The American cellist Matt Haimovitz, has said that the cello’s range is closest to the human voice. Maybe that’s why the cello is Wrongo’s favorite instrument.

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

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Trump’s Tariffs Unite China and Russia

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Peacock Gate, the City Palace, Jaipur India – photo by Miya.m – CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you know about the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF)? The EEF was started by Russia in 2015, as part of Moscow’s push to revitalize its ties with Asia after its relations with the West began to sour. The US doesn’t attend, although CA governor Jerry Brown attended in 2017.

Now, it attracts heads of state from around the East Asian region. President Xi of China attended this year for the first time. It was the third time that Xi and Putin have met in 2018, and the outcome of the EEF meetings could have significant implications for the US.

The Diplomat reported that according to Li Hui, China’s ambassador to Russia:

At present, China-Russia relations are at their best in history…the two heads of state attending significant events held by each other are important manifestations of the high-level bilateral relations.

So, why now? What’s behind China’s and Russia’s fast-developing relationship? It seems to be the US tariff war. The Asia Times says:

Xi defines the partnership as the best mechanism to ‘jointly neutralize the external risks and challenges’. For Putin, ‘our relations are crucial, not only for our countries, but for the world as well.’

At the EEF, Putin and Xi agreed to keep increasing bilateral trade payable in yuan and rubles, bypassing the US dollar. Putin also swiped at Trump’s tariff policies:

The world and global economy are coming up against new forms of protectionism today with different kinds of barriers which are increasing….basic principles of trade — competition and mutual economic benefit — are depreciated and unfortunately undermined, they’re becoming hostages of ideological and fleeting political situations, in that we see a serious challenge for all of the global economy, especially for the dynamically-growing Asia-Pacific and its leadership…

Reuters reported that Xi also appeared keen to foster closer relations with Russia:

Together with our Russian colleagues, we will increase fruitful co-operation in international affairs and intensify co-ordination…to oppose the policy of unilateral actions and trade protectionism…

Their relationship will continue to improve, since the Trump administration plans to continue ratcheting up its trade war. Trump recently threatened placing tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US.

And, on the same day as Xi arrived for the EEF, Russia kicked off its Vostok 2018 military exercises, with China taking part for the first time.

All of this is largely a giant signal to the US, since Russia can’t come close to replacing the US as a major trade partner for China. Sino-Russian trade is less than $100 billion per year, while trade between the US and China was more than $630 billion last year.

China’s strategy is to start by reducing its dependence on US agricultural imports. One example is soybeans. Econbrowser reports:

The Chinese plan is — in addition to relying on Brazil and Argentina — to switch to other sources, like palm mill, rapeseed, sunflower seed, and other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, for soybeans. Obviously, the development of other countries’ ability to grow soybeans will take time. But that was also true for Brazil.

More broadly, attending the EEF gave Xi another platform from which to attack the US trade war, and pledge to defend rules-based trade. Our partners, the presidents of South Korea and Japan, also are watching closely. South Korea is looking to build a rail connection across Siberia, which requires help from China and Russia. The South China Post reported on Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, who attended the conference, and agreed to a summit with Russia:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday on further details of joint economic activities on disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido

They also confirmed their close cooperation toward the denuclearization of North Korea ahead of the third summit between North and South Korea, scheduled for September 18.

The message is that the nations of Asia no longer see us as a reliable partner, and are walking toward forging new alliances with both China and Russia.

Our walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, which included all Asian countries except China in a free trade zone, seems to have been a geopolitical error. Trump’s tariff war seems to be another.

The US is alienated from Russia over US election interference, cyber warfare, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria. We have responded with sanctions, and truculence.

The US is alienated from China over trade, and the Trump administration’s perception that China isn’t helping our negotiations with North Korea.

We are at risk of being sidelined in Asia, and our allies are watching.

What’s this administration’s plan to succeed on all of these fronts in Asia?

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peruvian Andes – photo by mh-travelphotos. The area has very few people, and is a popular trekking destination. It includes six peaks above 6,000 meters.

Whenever Wrongo writes about Syria, the Wrongologist Blog records its fewest reads. Maybe people think that what’s happening in Syria just doesn’t mean much to America. Maybe people think that we’ve already given up on our original goals, and we’re already letting the Russians run the place.

Both of those thoughts would be er, wrong.

The WaPo reported about our new plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.

Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.

You remember al-Qaeda, the guys who took down the NY World Trade Center? (We’ll remember that tomorrow). Well, the first step in the new US “diplomatic push” is to prevent an imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Syria’s Idlib province:

While the US agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there…to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting….they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, said US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Instead, the US has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.

He went on to say that:

The US will not tolerate an attack. Period.

Jeffrey had just visited Turkey to consult with Turkish president Erdogan about the upcoming Idlib attack by Syria, Russia and Iran. The result of the meeting was a plan that Erdogan presented at the Tehran summit that Erdogan attended with President Putin of Russia and President Rohani of Iran.

The parties didn’t agree to the US/Turkish plan, and the attacks on Idlib have already begun.

Jeffery said that the Trump administration’s plan for Syria involves more than the defeat of ISIS. It also was focused on reducing Iranian influence, and preventing Assad from controlling all of Syria’s geography. Jeffery said that Trump supports the strategy, contrary to Trump’s previous statements about withdrawing US troops after defeating ISIS:

…we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year….That means we are not in a hurry…

America needs to wake up. Those who voted for Trump did so in part because he wasn’t the warmonger that Hillary was. At some point, they’ll have to admit that Trump’s new Syria policy puts us in direct conflict with Russia and Iran on the ground in Syria. That isn’t something that could be implemented without Trump’s agreement, and with less than 60 days to the mid-terms, is this just a political calculation?

It’s difficult to know if Trump truly cares about what happens with Assad, but we know that he has a burning desire to confront Iran. And his new Syria policy is all about Iran. And he’s already tweeted warnings to Assad and Putin to leave Idlib alone.

Does anyone reading this believe that he’s thinking geopolitically? And since Putin, Rohani, and Assad have already defied Trump’s tweeted warnings, Americans should be thinking that there’s liable to be a strike at least against Iran, in the next few weeks.

You know that all the neocons around him, like Bolton and Pompeo, will goad him on. And after that, it could be game on.

Perhaps Trump is bluffing. We have no realistic means to prevent the operations against Idlib by Russia, Iran and Syria. The US military understands that an attack on Syrian and Russian forces would likely escalate into a direct conflict between nuclear powers.

We can’t assume that the “resistance” inside the White House either agrees with the US military, or is capable of averting such a risk.

Wrongo’s solution? Not one more drop of American blood should be wasted in either Iraq or Syria.

Withdraw completely from Syria. Hand over our in-country bases to the Syrians. Encourage and assist the Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian Defense Forces to reintegrate into Syria. Pass the intelligence we have on the jihadis we have assisted over the years to Damascus.

Then we have to hope that Trump moves on to focus completely on more important issues, like Colin Kaepernick’s shoes.

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