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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – MLK Jr. Edition, January 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

El Capitan in winter, Yosemite NP, CA – photo by Jonkooo

From Tom Sullivan:

Those of us of a certain age, but not quite old enough, were too young to attend the 1963 March on Washington. The march and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech influenced our era, our views, and changed the country. There are times one wishes, if only I could have been there for that moment in history. Then again, such thinking fixes the civil rights movement in time. The truth is, that struggle never ended.

Wrongo was in Washington in 1963. Dr. King is one of his heroes. And, as Tom Sullivan says, the struggle has never ended. Wrongo spent the 1960s and 1970s convinced that America would turn a corner, see the wrong in slavery, and know that racism was holding us back.

He thought that we would achieve a point of equilibrium where Americans of all stripes would accept each other as part of a larger tribe, one that shared common beliefs about democracy and equality for all.

Wrongo was wrong. We’re not there. We’ve made some progress, but then we fell back on old beliefs.

Today we are 51 years removed from Dr. King’s assassination, and while America is better and fairer than it was then, we will enter the 2020’s needing to do much to improve society.

This brings me to MLK’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” published the year before he died. In it, King lays out a vision for America’s future, including the need for both better jobs and housing, higher pay and quality education. King called for an end to global suffering, saying that for the first time, humankind had the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

He wrote about how Civil Rights reforms had fallen short, but he couldn’t have envisioned what the Supreme Court did in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder.

So here we are in 2019 with white kids mocking Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Build that wall, build that wall.” This happened days after Trump made light of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And for context, we live in a time when chanting the president’s name has become a tool of racial intimidation.

Here we are: Income inequality is the highest it’s been since the 1940s.Our federal government is shut down because we can’t agree about the threat posed by illegal immigrants asking for asylum at the US southern border. And racism is marching back into the light from under rocks all across the country.

Time to wake up America! Racism is the wound that won’t heal. We have much to do, and the work won’t be easy.

To help you wake up here is a 2019 song by The Killers, “Land of the Free”. It is broadly about America and the intolerance holding us back. Listen to it, and reflect on what it makes you feel. Depending on what about it makes you angry, it is a reflection of who you are. The video is very powerful. Please take the time to watch it.

Think about what’s at the heart of this song. People who want the same things we do:

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

Finally, a quote from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

“White men have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.”

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 20, 2019

Yesterday we wrote about Buzzfeed’s story that Michael Cohen lied to Congress about Trump’s efforts to get a Moscow hotel, and that Trump asked him to do it. After Saturday’s Wrongologist was published, Mueller’s spokesperson, Peter Carr issued a statement denying the Buzzfeed story:

Buzzfeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.

Some are lamenting it as another case of fake news directed at Trump. Raul Ilargi, at The Automatic Earth, whom Wrongo admires, said:

Is this the worst day for fake news to date? It’s hard to keep track. It’s just that this one was taken up by so many hoping for, finally!  Impeachment. Please Lord make it stop.

But maybe what we saw really isn’t fake news. Marcy Wheeler reports that Buzzfeed’s story differs from the sworn testimony. She points out that a discrepancy between the Special Counsel’s Cohen sentencing memo and the Buzzfeed story is that the memo merely indicated that Cohen committed perjury to benefit the Trump messaging, not that he’d been ordered to do it. If Cohen was encouraged or directed to do it by Trump personally, it isn’t as obvious as Buzzfeed said it was.

So, there are differences in what Buzzfeed reported, and what is in Cohen’s testimony. That doesn’t mean that the Buzzfeed story is fake news. Mueller is probably defending the Special Council’s reputation against accusations of leaking. It also seems possible that Peter Carr may have been trying to tamp down the Buzzfeed allegation that Trump “directed” Cohen to lie, because that may be difficult to prove.

Cohen is a cooperating witness for Mueller. If and when Mueller makes a case that the Trump Tower deal was part of a larger election year conspiracy, they will need Cohen to testify, and have him describe how he kept Trump and Don Jr. in the loop for the possible deal.

The lesson is not to take much, if any news at face value. And not to get out too far over our skis when it comes to breaking news about Trump.

On to cartoons. Since we didn’t publish them last Sunday, today there’s a bumper crop.

Junk food for furloughed workers, good stuff for the plutocrats, paid by your tax dollars:

Choose your national emergencies carefully:

Pence helps Trump with the Wall narrative:

Two-faced Mitch:

Racism is mainstream in the Trump/GOP party, it’s not just Steve King:

The GOP will take some token actions. No vote to expel, or to run a non-racist in the 2020 Iowa primary:

We both lost our minds in 2016:

Demand for retail space is suddenly spiking:

Sometimes getting your story straight is tough, and has consequences. Ask Buzzfeed:

 

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Saturday Soother – January 19, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in Grand Canyon, New Year’s Day, 2019 – photo by AP. Lookout Studio is on the left.

Most of you know that Wrongo has been deeply skeptical of the Russia investigation, but as time has moved forward, we’ve learned quite a bit about Trump and his team’s involvement with Russia. Apparently, he worked hard to get a Trump Tower built. Elsewhere, it is reported that Trump stood to gain $300+ million if the deal went through.

Until now, Trump has denied that any deal was considered while he was running for President. But, Buzzfeed broke news this week:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

The article also says: (brackets by Wrongo)

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office [Mueller].

All of this still needs to be confirmed, but IF it’s true, it is without question an impeachable offense. And the Buzzfeed article appeared two days after Trump’s Attorney General-designate William Barr testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by a President. Well, Buzzfeed says Trump suborned perjury by asking Michael Cohen to lie about his discussions with Russia about a new Moscow Trump Tower. Marcy Wheeler, the best analyst of the Mueller investigation, notes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.

But it’s not. Even before the GRU [Russian intelligence] hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks. And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.

All of what Wheeler talks about is in the Buzzfeed article, along with her previous reporting.

It’s going to be interesting to hear what Mr. Cohen has to tell Congress when he testifies next month. Telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction of justice, and it’s why the House drafted articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon in 1974. From Booman:

We can’t have a chief executive who is compromised by a foreign power. That’s a clear and present danger, and it’s even more serious than the possibility that he may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy with them to help him win the office.

Directing someone to lie to Congress is probably next in line…

When Trump won on November 8th 2016, America had no idea of just how bad things might get over the next four years. Wrongo assumed Trump would appoint a few Supreme Court justices, pass a big tax cut for the wealthy, and gut Obamacare.

But, would you have believed that we would be on the precipice of impeachment within two years? Would you have believed that a one-month government shutdown wouldn’t be the biggest news in town?

With all of that to consider, we need to take a break before our heads explode. We need another Saturday Soother. This one is the calm before Sunday’s Snowpocalypse in the Northeast. So, check your snow blower, find your snow shovel, and go and buy all the bread and milk that’s left in the market.

Now, brew up a hot steaming cup of Beanstock’s Mexican Organic coffee ($11.99/12oz.) from Wellfleet MA’s Beanstock Coffee. The roaster says it is sweet to the taste, with dark chocolate and toffee up front, and a soft, lingering lemon finish.

And, cup in hand, settle back and contemplate your local bad weather. It’s time to listen to something different, so here is guitarist Gilad Hekselman performing “Do Re Mi Fa Sol” from his 2018 album “Ask for Chaos”. Hekselman was born in Israel, and lives in New York. He won the Gibson–Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition in 2005, and sounds to Wrongo like the second coming of Bill Frisell. Wrongo isn’t sure we should be asking for chaos. but there we are:

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

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Religious Right Praying Justice Ginsburg Dies

The Daily Escape:

Winter, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA – photo via wallpaper studio

 This week Right Wing Watch, who follow America’s least attractive thinkers so that we don’t have to, had a column about how Evangelical Christians are circling around Ruth Bader Ginsburg like vultures. The article included this tweet from anti-abortion and anti-gay activist Matt Barber:

We know that RBG just had cancerous tumors removed from her lungs. Yet, what has been made public so far is that RBG was given a clean bill of health, and is expected to make a full recovery. That diagnosis seems to be a big disappointment to many on the Christian Right.

They were extremely happy with Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch. They weren’t so thrilled with Brett Kavanaugh, preferring Amy Coney Barrett, who they saw as totally committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. And they want more. In addition to overturning Roe v. Wade, they want prayers back in schools, and they want same-sex marriage abolished.

Things get interesting when you consider just how much Evangelicals truly, deeply hate RBG:

  • In October, pastor Rodney Howard-Brown, who has prayed over Trump in the Oval Office, guest-hosted The Alex Jones Show on Infowars, where he said that Ginsburg should be shot for treason.
  • Lou Engle, a dominionist organizer of stadium-sized prayer rallies, urged Americans to engage in three days of fasting and prayer over the Supreme Court. Earlier, he led prayers asking God to “sweep away the judges” who support the right to abortion.
  • A few weeks ago, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles re-distributed a 1993 Phyllis Schlafly attack on Ginsburg’s feminist philosophy.
  • Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver has argued that Congress should have impeached justices who supported Roe v. Wade and Obergefell vs. Hodges (the case that legalized same-sex marriage). (BTW, Liberty Counsel opposed the Senate’s bill that would outlaw lynching in the US because the bill extends the right not to be lynched to gays and transgender people.)
  • Earlier this month, former Trump campaign adviser Frank Amedia insisted that Chief Justice John Roberts has not proven to be sufficiently reliable to the Religious Right. That means God has to remove more justices so that Trump can fill Roberts’s seat with another justice whose “values and morality” reflect a “kingdom enlightenment as to what is required by God to change the law of this land now.”
  • Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow John Malcolm told the Daily Caller that Trump would be under pressure to replace Ginsburg with a woman, and named Amy Coney Barrett as a preferred successor.

You may not believe that God spends much time thinking about who sits on the Supreme Court, but these people are deadly serious. They think God is a “family values” Republican. They believe that they know who God wants on the Supreme Court.

America needs to look very closely at any group that argues for followers of a specific religion as a test of who is worthy to sit on the Supreme Court, or who should head our government.

Praying for the death of RBG ought to repugnant to all Americans, but sadly, it isn’t particularly surprising that some “Christians” exhibit such callous inhumanity. They, and their kind of thinking, should be repudiated by all Christians.

There’s some consolation in the fact that RBG has worked to make America a more fair and equitable place. She has made that her life’s calling.

Contrast that to these phony Christians who are working to make America a one-party political entity that follows Jesus Christ.

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Bolton Hijacks US Middle East Policy

The Daily Escape:

Spice market, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The struggle between the neocons and Trump over control of foreign policy has become ridiculous. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reported on Sunday that John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide military options to strike Iran:

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

Bolton’s team held a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response. Their request triggered alarm. The WSJ reported:

People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.

More:

The Pentagon complied with the National Security Council’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear….whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a US strike against Iran took shape at that time.

If that isn’t serious enough, the WSJ reported:

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well.

Anyone surprised that someone like Bolton, with his neocon bone fides wants war with Iran? Since Bolton took his post last April, the Trump administration has been more confrontational with Iran. Some will say that the Pentagon already has detailed plans drawn up for a strike against Iran, and that this is completely routine for our military.

That may be true, but a request from the White House is a different matter. Bullies love to taunt the weak, but Iran isn’t weak. The Iranian military wouldn’t be the pushover for us that the Iraq army was. They are much better equipped, motivated and have a healthy stock of air defense missiles.

And where is our strategy? Once you send a few bombs into Iran, you’ve started a war, and you never know where it will go. Suppose the Iranians consider (probably correctly) that it was Israel’s influence on the Trump administration that led to the US attack.

And they launch a few missiles at Israel. What would happen next? Would Hezbollah again move against Israel too? If the US attacks Iran, then there is no reason whatsoever for Iran not to attack the various US military units scattered around the Middle East in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

And who would the Russians side with? If Russia intervenes, is the US prepared to lose an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean?

Finally, how would the conflict end? Iran can’t be occupied by the US, and there isn’t a significant loyal Iranian opposition to back.

Surely even Trump must realize that Bolton’s idea is lunacy squared. It would be a major ME escalation, with Trump’s name all over it. It would sink his 2020 chances. How would he justify his response to a few mortars that landed in a car park? How would he justify the certain loss of American lives?

We have to be thankful that Trump didn’t authorize military strikes against Iran, but it is time to revisit our alliances and policies in the ME.

We back our loyal ally Saudi Arabia, and have made Iran our enemy. But let’s compare these two countries: Would you believe that Iran has a Jewish population that feel safe there, and has no interest in living in Israel?

In Saudi Arabia, if you renounce Islam, it can be a death sentence, as we saw with the Saudi young woman who sought asylum in Canada.

Women have careers in Iran, and can drive cars. In fact, there’s a female owned and operated taxi company in Tehran with 700 female drivers. Women in Saudi Arabia have few freedoms.

Iran has taken in refugees from the recent ME wars. Saudi Arabia has taken virtually none from Syria or Yemen, where they are perpetuating a humanitarian nightmare.

Iran is a multicultural country. Saudi Arabia is a medieval monarchy that has been exporting the most extreme version of Islam (Wahhabism) around the world, fueled by their oil money. Many of the jihadis in the past few decades can be traced to Saudi’s Wahhabi teachings.

If you have a choice, and you will in 2020, which country sounds like a more attractive ally for the US?

When are we going to stop our failed “Assad must go”; “Gadhafi must go”; “Saddam must go”; and “Mubarak must go” foreign policy?

We shouldn’t even be thinking about bombing Iran.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

We’re at such a low point, that quoting a racist White Governor at a KKK convention in 1924, doesn’t seem out of character with today’s politics.

Build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven” might have easily been said by Trump on the 2016 campaign trail.

From the NYT:

At midnight on Saturday, the shutdown entered its 22nd day, which makes it the longest gap in American government funding ever. That beats the previous record, under President Bill Clinton in 1995, of 21 days.

Of the 21 federal government shutdowns since 1976, nine of the ten longest occurred under Democratic presidents, where the obstruction was by Republicans.

But the current shutdown is a self-inflicted wound by Trump, so it’s also caused by a Republican.

Trump has help from Mitch McConnell, who is the most powerful man in DC. He has run our national politics since 2010. He was able to neutralize Obama, and now it’s his call how long this shutdown goes on. From the WaPo:

President Trump is not the only person in Washington who could end this government shutdown now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could bring a “clean” funding bill to the floor, free up his GOP caucus to support it and could quite possibly secure enough votes to override a presidential veto.

McConnell already did it once, when he believed he had Trump’s blessing. Before the holidays he allowed a vote to keep the government running until Feb. 8, to avoid a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate Trump’s demand for border wall funding. It passed easily.

After the past three weeks, it should be no surprise that, based on what we know, the GOP’s slogan is:

“Party over People, we really don’t care, do you?”

There are a few simple truths about American history. First, that racism is our worst legacy. Second, that we’re a nation of, and built by, immigrants. Except for Native Americans, we all trace our origins to places beyond our borders.

So why do White nationalists and White Evangelicals insist on saying that we have the right to shut out all immigrants except those from Norway? From NPR:

From 1870 to 1910 a quarter of Norway’s working-age population immigrated, mostly to the United States. You read that right — one-fourth of its workers left the country.

Why? They were economic migrants. Their average wages were less than a third of what they could earn in the US. It also turns out that the immigrants that Norway sent to the US during the 1870s were its poorest and least educated citizens.

According to Leah Boustan, an economist at Princeton University, compared to immigrants from the 15 other European nations that were part of the same wave of arrivals:

…the Norwegians held the lowest paid occupations in the US. They tended to be farm laborers. They were also fishermen. If they were in cities they were just sort of in the manual labor category — what today you would think of as a day laborer.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Twenty years after their arrival in the US, the Norwegian immigrants were still making 14% less than native-born workers. In other words, they have a lot in common with many of today’s immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Time to wake up, America! Trump doesn’t want to develop an immigration policy. We know that, because he only creates phony crises, while he wishes away real ones.

Trump has declared conflicts with Mexico, NATO, Australia, and Canada where none exist. He has tried to frighten Americans by fabricating emergencies that do not exist on the Mexican border.

He declares victories where there are none: saying he’s solved North Korea’s nuclear threat, and that he has beaten ISIS in Syria.

This isn’t just Nancy Pelosi’s problem to solve. Republicans in the Senate need to show moral courage, force Mitch McConnell’s hand, and pass a veto-proof funding bill.

The number to call is the Senate’s switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

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Saturday Soother – Great Wall Edition, January 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mutianya Section of the Great Wall, about two hours from Beijing

As we cruise into the weekend, and as Wrongo writes this, Trump has yet to declare a national emergency about the southern border. For some background, Time Magazine reports: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

(Declaring a national emergency)…would be a drastic action, but he (Trump) would hardly be the first American president to take extraordinary steps for what he sees as the interest of the nation.

In fact, not only are national emergencies more common than most Americans probably realize, they can also go on for decades — and whether or not Trump declares an emergency for the wall, the nation is already subject to dozens of emergency declarations that are ongoing today.

To be exact, 31 national emergencies are on the books.

The oldest is the national emergency with respect to Iran, declared Nov. 14, 1979. It’s been in place for more than 39 years. The most recent was declared just last November. It was to block the property of certain persons who contributed to destabilizing Nicaragua. Who knew?

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 in theory, requires the President to spell out the powers from specific laws that make it legal for him to declare a national state of emergency, and requires the House and the Senate to review the declaration every six months to see if it’s still necessary. To end a national emergency, both chambers of Congress have to pass a joint resolution.

The shutdown debate is becoming more about presidential power than it is about secure borders. Trump is willing to press the bet. It remains to be seen if Democrats want to play that game as well.

But, it’s time for the weekend to begin! Here in Connecticut’s northwest hills, the morning temperature is expected to be single digits. So beyond the constant shutdown news, we need serious soothing from the cold weather.

Let’s start by brewing up a cup of Portland OR’s Coava Coffee’s single origin Karuthi AA Kenyan coffee ($15/250 grams). The brewer says that it has a long, resonant finish centered on berry and coconut, supported by ginger blossom and chocolate.

Now take a look outside while staying on a warm perch. Today, we are switching from our usual Baroque music to the blues, which seems appropriate after the week we’ve had. Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Wall of Denial” from his 1989 album, “In Step”.

Sample of Lyrics:

A wall of denial – is fallin’ down
Wo, it’s fallin’ so hard – down to the ground
Never knew something so strong could be washed away by tears
But this wall of denial was just built on fear

This song should play in its entirety, every time Trump mentions “Border Wall“.

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

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Nothing Happened

The Daily Escape:

Snow in Sonoran Desert near Tucson – 2019 photo by Back o’ Beyond

Nothing happened during Trump’s dog and pony show last night. He tried reframing his demand for a wall as a need for better security from drugs, terrorists and criminals. Today, he’s again brought up the national emergency trope. This should be America’s reaction:

Much of his talk was a return to his campaign message that brown people from south of the border must be stopped before they pollute our glorious and exceptional culture. The biggest whopper was that:

Law enforcement professionals have asked for $5.6 billion.

We know who did the asking. We also know that most drugs enter via existing ports of entry that cannot be walled off. We know that the vast majority of terrorists enter via airports, and the paltry number stopped at the border came in from our wall-less neighbor to the north, Canada. Simply put, he couldn’t put together a coherent argument for why this funding dispute about fence construction justifies a government shutdown.

At the end of the day, there is nothing more banal in American politics than a president having a proposal he can’t get the opposition party to agree with. If every policy standoff ended in a government shutdown, we couldn’t have a country at all.

This raises the frightening question of how a president who can’t successfully manage peace and prosperity would deal with an actual crisis.

And one may be in the wings. On Sunday, National Security Advisor John Bolton tried to set conditions for a US retreat from Syria, changing what Trump has said about leaving as soon as possible. Bolton, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress with Turkish officials, including President Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected:

We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum…so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Turkey was not amused. The YPG Kurds, our allies in Syria, are affiliated with the PKK which is viewed as a terrorist group in Turkey. Turkey has said they won’t allow that group to exist on its border as an organized military force.

When Bolton, accompanied by Joint Chiefs head Joe Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey, landed in Turkey, they received a cold shoulder. The planned meeting with President Erdogan didn’t happen. The meeting was held instead with the Turkish National Security Advisor Ibrahim Kalin and took less than two hours. A planned joint press conference was canceled.

After Bolton’s meeting, Raqip Solyu, Turkey Correspondent for MiddleEastEye reported on an Erdogan speech to his parliament group. It was a slap in Bolton’s face:

YPG/PKK are terrorists. Some say ‘don’t touch them because they are Kurds’. This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist. They could be Turkmans. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements…

Solyu also reported that Erdogan said:

As it happened in the past, despite our clear agreement with Trump on US withdrawal from Syria, different voices started to come out from different levels of the American administration.

An editorial in an Erdogan aligned newspaper called Bolton’s position a soft coup against Trump.

We have to ask: Is Trump really in charge?

We know he got tough on having a wall once Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter said he was a weakling if he kept the government open without getting his wall.

The NYT reported that in a lunch with television anchors before last night’s Oval Office address, Trump said he was not inclined to give the speech, but was talked into it by his advisers. Trump said:

It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it….

Erdogan likewise had a deal with Trump about the US leaving Syria. Bolton has changed the deal, to add conditions and to prolong the timeline for exit.

So, where is Trump on these issues? If he sticks with what Bolton said, Erdogan is likely to escalate to test who is in charge. His army will probably fire artillery on one or more Kurdish positions near the Turkish border. It may even invade a few towns. This will put serious pressure on the US occupation force, which at least right now, isn’t leaving any time soon.

So, is Trump in charge? Who’s gonna negotiate to reopen the government? Anybody?

Next we’ll hear Trump say:

Government shutdowns are good and easy to win.

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Can Trump Legally Declare a National Emergency?

The Daily Escape:

Waterton NP Alberta, CN -2019 photo by lostcanuck. Wrongo and Ms. Right visited Waterton in 2016, it’s a very beautiful spot.

Wrongo watched part of the two NFL wild card games on Sunday. Vectoring away during commercials, he saw a 2020 campaign ad by Trump on CNN that said in part:

Drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers trying to enter our country — but Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer care more about the radical left than keeping us safe. The consequences? Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence. We must not allow it…

Wrongo thought, “Wait! What?” Then a “paid for by Trump 2020” note appeared at the bottom of the screen.

Trump is setting us up. He’s now made his shutdown part of the 2020 narrative. And, locking out federal employees is now the official position of the GOP, not simply that of his Trumpitude.

This is part of Trump’s plan to lay the groundwork for his “National Emergency” special powers. The NYT had an interesting article by Bruce Ackerman, a Yale law professor, about the legality of such an action:

While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.

Trump is again hyping the dangers at the border, as he did with the caravan in the weeks leading to the midterm election. Now, his spokespersons, notably Sarah Sanders on FOX and Homeland Security head Kristjen Nielsen, at her private meeting with the House Homeland Security Committee, have falsely claimed that more than 4,000 terrorists were apprehended in 2018 along the southern border.

According to FOX, all of these “terrorists” were apprehended at airports, not at border crossings.

Sanders, Nielsen and Trump are implying that a wall will stop terrorists. There’s no question we need to be vigilant about terrorists and illegal border crossings, but a wall is not going to stop them, or really even deter them. We still need to have to have advanced cameras, drones, and personnel patrolling because determined people will find ways around the wall.

To continue the hype, Trump announced that he will address the nation on Tuesday night before traveling later in the week to the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump plans to address the nation from the Oval Office, in a “first” for his presidency.

All of this would seem ridiculous if not for Trump’s desire to win at any cost.

There is a chilling article by Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center in The Atlantic, in which she says that any president’s ability to evoke these sorts of emergency powers is practically unfettered:

The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—he is able to set aside many of the legal limits on his authority.

Goitein goes further:

The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts.

As an example, Trump could seize control of US internet traffic, impeding access to certain websites and ensuring that internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results.

It isn’t possible for Wrongo to resolve the viewpoints of Elizabeth Goitein and Bruce Ackerman. There is a long history of judicial deference to the executive branch on national security issues. It will ultimately come down to whether the five conservative Supreme Court Justices think they have the power to step in and overrule a president who clearly concocts a fraudulent emergency.

Sorry to scare everyone, but it is absolutely unclear how this will be hashed out by the Supreme Court.

Don’t bet the house on them making the right decision.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Monastery at Mt. Kachkanar, Ural Mountains, Russia – 2017 photo by Amos Chapple. Built by a Russian Afghanistan war veteran, the monastery sits on land to be mined for its iron deposits. The land is owned by Roman Abramovich, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“You’ve got to get yourself together,
You’ve got stuck in a moment,
And now you can’t get out of it.
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment,
And you can’t get out of it”
– U2

The Wall is Trump’s moment. He believes he doesn’t have to cave in to Democrats. Democrats face the same moment. They rightly believe that if they cave in, Trump will ride them all the way to the 2020 presidential election. We the people are all stuck in this moment, too.

So, let’s take a moment, and understand the border wall today. The border with Mexico is roughly 1,900 miles long, and spans four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long, while the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles long.

The current wall consists of about 700 miles of varied barriers, ranging from 10-foot rusted fencing made from military surplus corrugated metal left over from the Vietnam era, to chain link fencing and vehicle barriers that are no barrier to pedestrian traffic. Most of this needs replacing just to maintain the status quo. Here’s a map of where and what kind of wall we have:

Source: The Center for Investigative Reporting and OpenStreetMap contributors

A total of $1.7 billion was appropriated in FY17 and FY18 for new and replacement barriers and fences. Most of these funds have been designated to the Army Corps of Engineers. Much of that has been awarded to contractors. Only a small percentage (6%) has been paid out.

The following projects account for about half of these funds:

  • Near San Diego to replace 14 miles of 8-10 foot metal wall/fence with 18-30 foot tall bollard wall system for $287 million to begin in July 2019.
  • In the Rio Grande Valley to build 8 miles of 18 foot bollard wall and replace existing levee wall for $167 million to begin in February 2019.
  • In New Mexico to replace 20 miles of fencing with bollard wall for $73 million
  • In Arizona to build/replace 32 miles of “primary pedestrian wall” for $324 million to begin in April 2019.

That’s roughly $850 million for 75 miles of replacement fencing. At that rate, rebuilding the existing “wall” will take $8.5 billion and 10+ years.

The existing border fence cost about $2.4 billion. Building the rest of it could cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, with an annual maintenance cost of $700 million, according to an estimate by Marc Rosenblum, the deputy director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Trump will be long gone before his big, beautiful wall from sea to sea is built, if ever. It’s possible that migration patterns will change before that were to happen. And however the barrier system eventually turns out, it still has to be manned and maintained to be effective.

The question on the table this week is does Trump need approval from Congress, or can he just declare a national emergency and build away?

The Secure Fence Act  was signed in 2006 by George W. Bush. The majority of the fencing now in was built before he left office. The last remnants were completed after Obama took office in 2009. However, Trump must follow a decades-old border treaty with Mexico that limits where and how structures can be built along the border.

The 1970 treaty requires that structures cannot disrupt the flow of the rivers, which define the US-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona, according to The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint US-Mexican agency that administers the treaty.

Turning to Trump’s national emergency idea, The National Emergencies Act was created to limit the power of a president to act without restriction in a situation that he deemed to threaten the republic. It limits the funds available for such construction to funds already appropriated for military construction.

The question is whether Trump can truly declare a “National Emergency” over a political fight. If so, can Trump go forward and legislate by Executive Order in a way that Obama was reviled for?

Time to wake up America! We need to look carefully at what limits on presidential power will be supported by Republicans.

After all, they thought Obama acted as a King.

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