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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 26, 2020

A few random thoughts on Sunday:

  • Where Wrongo comes from, “take her out” means go on a date, or…something else. It has nothing to do with job termination.
  • The impeachment seems to be helping Trump so far. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Trump’s approval rating has climbed to match the highest of his presidency.
    • Axios reports that Trump’s net approval numbers improved in 31 states between September and December, according to Morning Consult data.
    • They improved by at least 5 points in Iowa, Utah, Maine, Montana and New Mexico.
    • An incumbent president with a growing economy and a low unemployment rate 6-12 months before the election can be tough to beat, even presidents who are bad at their jobs.
    • America twice elected Andrew Jackson. It elected Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan to consecutive terms. And we also did the same with Harding and Coolidge.
  • Are you following the Coronavirus outbreak in China? The number of confirmed cases in China stands at around 1,300. The virus has also been reported in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Malaysia, France, the US and Australia. The death toll in China from the Coronavirus outbreak jumped on Saturday to 41.
    • We don’t know how deadly the virus is. These outbreaks can range from low-to-highly contagious, and from low-to-highly deadly. There isn’t enough data so far to know where to place this virus on either the contagion, or the deadly axis.
    • An amazing development is the rapid and powerful response by global public health agencies. Modern transportation allows diseases to spread globally. But modern communications and effective government agencies can react as fast.
    • This could radically change the severity of epidemics. Modern communication plus modern technology makes the global response far more effective than in the past.
    • This is a bit of evidence that, in some ways, countries are working together to build a better world.
    • From Fabius Maximus:

“Extreme libertarians tell us that governments can’t do anything right, and that we should “starve the beast.” Conservatives also hate the UN. Here we see an example of strong government agencies – national and international – providing a vital service.”

On to cartoons. On Saturday, the GOP began their defense of Trump:

Some say the Senate could be doing something else:

The GOP’s impeachment strategy moves on:

Trump and Mitch both want America to eat mystery meat:

Country before Party: such a quaint idea:

Some kids can’t wait for recess:

 

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Saturday Soother – January 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The Subway, Zion NP, UT – 2019 photo by DarthButane. This is a nine-mile round trip hike.

When it comes to the impeachment trial, nothing that’s said really matters, if you are hoping for a fair review of guilty, vs. not guilty.

Let’s spend a moment reviewing Adam Schiff’s closing remarks on Thursday night. He was off the charts brilliant:

“The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first, to put their interest first. Colonel Vindman said, here, right matters. Here, right matters.

Well, let me tell you something. If right doesn’t matter, if right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. It doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn’t matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. “

Schiff concluded with: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to.

This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.

He didn’t read this, he spoke from the heart. He wasn’t histrionic, or angry. However, he did deliver a sharp condemnation of Trump. He all but said “If Trump walks, and is re-elected, this country is finished.”

That fell flat with some Republicans:

Republicans have really thin skins when it comes to attacks on the guy who tweets insults for a living.

Schiff didn’t pretend that witnesses are a real possibility.  He didn’t pretend Democrats are going to get documents. He didn’t pretend that GOP Senators will do the right thing.

He made it clear to the real jury, America’s voters, what’s at stake, and exactly who is shirking their duties. He’s shown us that Republicans no longer even pretend to give a flying f__k about democracy, honesty, or the Constitution.

Was it a tough week for you? Jim Lehrer died. The long-time anchor of the PBS NewsHour was possibly the last of his kind. Wrongo often watched Lehrer’s careful, considered journalism on PBS, along with his moderation of presidential debates. He was never one of those in the news media who thrive on gotcha questions and confrontations.

Time to let it all go for a few minutes. Iit’s time for our Saturday Soother. Here, the fields of Wrong still have snow on the ground, although it is now crisscrossed by the tracks of all sorts of animals. We’re in for a rainy weekend, so let’s start by brewing up a mug of coffee that is recommended by Wrongo’s daughter, Merrill. It’s Colombia Santa Rita coffee ($16/12 oz.) with its notes of caramel, toasted almond, and powdered cocoa, from Rainier Coffee.

Now settle back near a fire, and listen to a piece of cello music from Henry Eccles, a violinist from Great Britain who was born in 1670. We will listen to the Largo section of his “Sonata for Violoncello in G minor”, played by Maxim Kozlov, who calls himself “Cellopedia”:

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard this played on New Year’s Day by Sam Magill, cellist with the NY Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He hasn’t recorded it professionally, but you will love this sad, emotional performance by Kozlov.

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

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Verdict First. Trial Later

The Daily Escape:

Joshua Tree NP CA, in snow – December 2019 photo by chase_embrace

Have you been watching the impeachment extravaganza? It’s a mind-numbing exercise that’s difficult to take in large doses. That was probably Mitch McConnell’s plan. There are a few revelations though. One is the work of Adam Schiff, (D-CA) who is the lead House manager for the impeachment trial.

Josh Marshall at TPM says that Schiff’s job is to put the Senate on trial, and put Republican senators in a box that they can’t climb out of in November:

“Adam Schiff… [is] making a really convincing, damning set of arguments about all the accusations the President’s lawyers are denying while they simultaneously refuse to release records which would quickly confirm and refute those accusations.

These are cases in which we know there are contemporaneous notes or other records. The answers are there. But they refuse to release them. It is a damning indictment not only of the President but even more his Senate accomplices.”

The Senate Republicans swore an oath to be jurors, but they want to keep all of the proof secret. So, Schiff and the other House managers are making it clear that it is the Senate Republicans that are really on trial. The weakness for Republicans is that this is the first Senate trial held in defiance of the principle of shared facts and evidence.

Republican Senators are not paying close attention to Schiff and the others. All Senators are supposed to be in attendance and listening, but a few, mainly on the Republican side, are openly flaunting the rule. Dana Milbank’s column in the WaPo:

“Just minutes into the session, as lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) presented his opening argument for removing the president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) displayed on his desk a hand-lettered message with big block letters pleading: “S.O.S.” In case that was too subtle, he followed this later with another handwritten message pretending he was an abducted child:  “THESE R NOT MY PARENTS!”

See, it’s all just a joke, presided over by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Hell, Trump said out loud at Davos that he’s withholding evidence: (brackets by Wrongo)

“I got to watch enough [of the Senate trial] — I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress by withholding witnesses and documents. Trump confessed to it on live TV to reporters, and Senate Republicans don’t care.

Wrongo’s been waiting for Republicans to pay a significant price for their lying, hypocrisy, constant defiance of the rule of law, and disrespect for our institutions, norms, and Constitution, ever since the days of St. Ronnie.

From Martin Longman: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a way, it’s something the Democrats are getting used to. From the hanging chads in Florida in 2000 to the Electoral College loss in 2016, the Republicans make a living winning despite losing. They’ve become dependent on cheating and rigging the rules of the game, and they’re experts at it at this point.”

The impeachment trial Kabuki play is no different. The GOP is gleefully waiting out the ceremonial “trial” in order to deliver their pre-ordained verdict.

Is it just Wrongo, or does it seem like America is screwed beyond redemption? If, by some cosmic quirk, Democrats one day hold the Presidency and both Houses of Congress, anything they attempt to do that does not align with Republican orthodoxy will end up being decided by one of McConnell’s right-wing courts.

You can expect that they will find a way to tie up, or simply negate anything the savior Congress tries to do. Will some great leader show up? Does the current crop of Democratic candidates have anyone able to make the case for wholesale change?

Do any of them have coattails sufficient to win the Senate?

Wrongo proposes that we think about Adam Schiff as the Democratic Presidential nominee. Sure, you think it’s too late, but is it really?

Here’s what the WaPo’s conservative writer Jennifer Rubin said about Schiff’s opening statement: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“And that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him. If that is the goal — prove Trump’s guilt and Republicans’ complicity — Schiff hit a grand slam. And we have days more of evidence to hear.”

He’s someone who can make a tightly reasoned argument. He’s well-spoken, and knows Constitutional history. He’s a liberal from a liberal state, and at 60, he’s not a geezer.

President Adam? Sure, why not!

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Saturday Soother – January 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump Tries Extorting Iraq

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

From the WSJ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t it their country?

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Larry C. Johnson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Obama, his rules still apply:

The real reason for the US standing down:

Having a policy means more than he thinks:

The reasoning for the attack keeps changing:

 

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Saturday Soother – January 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Road in Yosemite after rain – December 2019 photo by worldpins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More:

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

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

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

Collins then recanted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Surprising No One, Trump Blames Iran on Obama

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake Valley, CO – 2019 photo by henhooks

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

This observation from the indispensable Marcy Wheeler captures the moment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, Trump briefed Sen Lindsay Graham instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Call it Even?

The Daily Escape:

Otter Pond, Middlebury VT – 2020 photo by prolicks

Iran pretty much had to retaliate. The US killed someone in their military, and they retaliated by attacking the US military. That seems proportional, and nearly legitimate, if we ignore that both the US and Iran conducted military operations within the sovereign borders of Iraq.

To Shias in the Middle East, Soleimani was a genuine hero. Pat Lang reports that he reviewed a video in Arabic taken at several Christian churches in Aleppo (northwest Syria). In it, both Soleimani, and the Iraqi also killed in the US drone strike, al-Muhandis, are described from the pulpit as “heroic martyr victims of criminal American state terrorism.”  That’s in Christian churches, folks.

More from Lang:

“Pompeo likes to describe Soleimani as the instigator of “massacre” and “genocide” in Syria.  Strangely (irony) the Syriac, Armenian Uniate and Presbyterian ministers of the Gospel in this tape do not see him and al-Muhandis that way.  They see them as men who helped to defend Aleppo and its minority populations from the wrath of Sunni jihadi Salafists like ISIS and the AQ affiliates in Syria.”

In his fireside chat today, Trump appeared to “take the off-ramp” on further action:

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a good thing for the world…”

Moon of Alabama says that we even had prior notice:

“The Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents the US, was warned at least one hour before the attack happened.”

If Iran’s “retaliation” is all that happens, it seems that WWIII is far away. Tehran did what Trump did after a supposed chemical weapons attack in Syria: Dump missiles in the desert. It’s arguable, but it appears Iran purposely avoided causing casualties or killing anyone.

Here we have another case where Trump gins up a crisis and then walks it back. The two political questions are: Did this do anything to impeachment? And that answer is an easy no.

Second, has this exchange with Iran helped Trump politically? That can’t be answered so easily. The NYT reports that starting on Monday, Trump was running ads on Facebook touting the hit on General Soleimani:

“All told, the Trump campaign has run nearly 800 distinct ads about the killing of General Soleimani…”

CNN’s Ron Brownstein says that whether Trump wins politically in this national security crisis depends upon whether people see what he did as deliberative, or decisive. This distinction has often been the difference between Democratic and Republican presidents. Reagan and the Bushes were portrayed (by their campaigns) as decisive, while Democrats Carter, Clinton and Obama are seen in the media as deliberative.

How you value those two approaches could govern your choice for our next president.

However, Trump is neither. He’s impulsive. Whether people come to see Trump’s impulsiveness as “decisive” will depend on what happens over the next year with Iran. If we achieve a new level of engagement with Teheran, he will be seen as decisive. But, if we continue bumping along in some permanent state of Middle East chaos, he’ll be seen as having been the impulsive person we know he is.

And to be clear, none of those previous presidents were what you would call impulsive, at least not in the Trumpian sense.

Trump is in a more exposed political position than his possible Democratic opponents are over Soleimani’s death. Most have not been against killing Soleimani. They’ve accused Trump of approving it without fully considering the potential costs. That leaves them enormous flexibility to second-guess Trump if things go further south in the ME.

Trump only wins politically if there are no unintended consequences, and it’s doubtful that there will be no unintended consequences. It is likely that there will be blowback, and whatever the blowback is, will certainly take the shine off Trump’s contention that he is decisive.

Wagging the dog usually has a short-term gain. He was egged on by a handful of neo-cons who have been itching for a fight with Iran for decades. Trump took the most extreme option available at a time of high personal stress, and now we’re all stuck with the consequences.

So we can’t just call it even if Christian churches in Syria are saying Soleimani was the victim of American state terrorism. Or, when large-scale anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq disappear in favor of demonstrations against the US. Or, when anti-government demonstrations in Iran turn into huge anti-American demonstrations.

Trump isn’t deliberative or decisive, he’s a menace.

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