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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 3, 2019

(Sorry for going dark, but we lost internet here at the Mansion of Wrong for two days. It’s back, but since it is supplied by Spectrum, it’s very slow, despite Wrongo paying for a premium pile of megabits.)

The WaPo reports:

“Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through…”

Apparently, they’re using a battery-powered Sawzall, like this one that you can order from Home Depot:

It can cut through the bars of steel and concrete in a few minutes, if equipped with specialty blades made with diamond grit. The blades sell for less than $15. The Trump administration has so far completed 76 miles of the new barriers that are now being breached by Mexican smugglers. These are the sections of wall that Trump boasts are “virtually impenetrable”. He has called them the “Rolls-Royce” of walls that border-crossers cannot get over, under or through.

Who knew that for $100, and a few $15 blades, you could defeat the wall that will eventually cost us $10 billion?? On to cartoons.

Al-Baghdadi was killed. Trump said he died like a dog:

Republicans are now trying to smear a military hero to protect a draft dodger. Trump equates dogs with cowards, while an actual military dog served heroically, without claiming Paw Spurs.

Trump says he’s moving from NY to FL. New Yorkers cheer:

Dems are placing way too much faith in the process:

It is looking like the Boeing 737 MAX should never fly again:

Signs of the season won’t go away:

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Dateline London — Banana Republicanism Edition

The Daily Escape:

Royal Albert Hall, London, noon sound check for tonight’s DJ Spoony’s Garage Classical show. The show is sold out – October 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

The yelling of Republicans in the House can seem muted when you’re 3,000 miles away in England. This, from the Guardian:

“House Republicans who tried to storm the secure area in the Capitol where Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official on Ukraine was testifying, have effectively shut down the interview, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker…More than two dozen House Republicans, led by representative Matt Gaetz, tried to force their way into Cooper’s deposition, even though they are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry…”

The “secure area” is what’s called a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. These are sealed conference rooms that are protected from electronic intrusion. They exist so that members of Congress can receive highly classified information about how the nation collects information on its adversaries, and on very sensitive intelligence operations. They exist all over the government, in the military, and in the defense contracting industry. Meeting attendees have to leave their electronic devices outside of the room, under the supervision of a security-cleared attendant.

Some, but not all of Gaetz’s Congressional storm troopers surrendered their devices at the door of the SCIF. Those that didn’t caused a serious security breach. Despite their mob efforts, the deposition itself took place, but after a five-hour delay.

This single party effort to disrupt testimony is significant, and possibly symbolic of where the GOP is today. Cooper’s testimony is on the DOD’s response to Trump’s refusal to provide funds to Ukraine, funds that had been duly appropriated by Congress.

This is the effort by a mob to suppress evidence. From Marcie Wheeler: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of [Congress] women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent the DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason….”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tweeted this:

Hat tip to Rep. Pascrell for the term Banana Republicanism.

Marcie also reported that nine of the 43 rogue Congress critters actually sit on the committees that are conducting the inquiry inside the SCIF. Those nine are in the room all the time. They can ask questions of the witnesses. They can file minority reports if they disagree with the majority findings. So they can’t expect anyone to believe that they’re shut out of hearing the classified testimony.

In fact, it is most telling that they apparently aren’t leaking anything to the press, or to their colleagues!

Here in the UK, Boris Johnson, the British “Trump-light” head of government, reluctantly follows the dictates of the law despite his desire to force feed Brexit to his country. In the US, Trump and his Banana Republican cohort no longer bother to pretend.

Some of these rioters sit on the Judiciary Committee. Others apparently sit on the Armed Services, and Homeland Security Committees. Their actions should lead to getting booted from those committees and instead, being relegated to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, or to the Joint Committee on Printing.

The press should be asking GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy if he’s going to remove these people from the committees that handle sensitive information for violating security protocols.

A question for Mac Thornberry, (R-TX), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee:

“Should Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Bradley Byrne lose their seats on Armed Services for the manner in which they violated security protocols?”

A question for Mike Rogers, (R-AL), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee:

“Should Mark Walker, Debbie Lesko, and you, lose your seats on the Homeland Security Committee for violating security protocols?”

This kind of breakdown in the orderly function of the House represents an existential threat to this country. If an opposition party can freely intimidate witnesses and shut down depositions without consequences, then the Constitution’s power of impeachment is useless.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Giuliani Edition, October 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Autumn in the Yukon, view of Tombstone Territorial Park, Canada – September 2019 photo by tmsvdw

Wrongo has resisted any assertion that there is a Grand Theory that ties together all of Trump’s self-dealing. Mueller’s investigation was able to make several connections, but so far, Trump has skated on all but Mueller’s allegations of obstruction.

We’re again hip-deep in possible Trump malfeasance, this time about Ukraine, and how the Donald and Rudy Giuliani attempted to influence the Ukraine government, and to induce an investigation into the Bidens.

Michelle Goldberg, in Sunday’s NYT lays out Rudy’s involvement over several years in an effort to keep like-minded and friendly bureaucrats in power in Ukraine. Those efforts ultimately led to 2019’s broad inquiry into Trump, Rudy and a series of shadowy “associates” who are linked both to Ukraine and to Russian power brokers.

Goldberg focuses on a Ukrainian legislator, Serhiy Leshchenko, who was elected to Parliament in 2014. He was also Ukraine’s most famous investigative journalist, focusing on government corruption. This year, after Volodymyr Zelensky won the presidency, Leshchenko advised him during the transition. From Goldberg: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In 2016, Leshchenko had helped expose the “black ledger,” an accounting book of hundreds of pages found in [former Ukraine president] Yanukovych’s former party headquarters. Among its many entries, it showed $12.7 million in secret payments to Paul Manafort. At the time, Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, but before that, he was one of Yanukovych’s most important advisers.”

After the election, Giuliani began attacking Leshchenko. On May 10th, Giuliani described the ledger as a “falsely created book” and Leshchenko as part of a group of “enemies of the president, in some cases enemies of the US.” And in an interview on CNN, Rudy accused Ukraine’s leading anti-corruption organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Center of developing:

“…all of the dirty information that ended up being a false document that was created in order to incriminate Manafort.”

Why would Trump’s personal lawyer be defending Paul Manafort? More from Goldberg:

“In Giuliani’s fevered alternative reality, Ukraine’s most stalwart foes of corruption are actually corruption’s embodiment. Deeply compromised figures with vendettas against the activists — particularly the ex-prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — are transformed into heroes.”

It gets worse. Marcy Wheeler (who all should be following) dissects John Dowd, former Trump lawyer who now represents the two Rudy “associates”, Parnas and Fruman. Marcy talks about John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request, since much of it would be covered by some kind of legal privilege: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Be advised that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek…is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.”

Marcy concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.”

This is reminiscent of the Joint Defense Agreement (JDA) that Dowd orchestrated between 37 Trump-affiliated individuals investigated by Mueller, when Dowd was Trump’s lawyer. Now, Dowd represents the Ukrainian grifters.

But there’s more. By the time Dowd sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing, married lawyers who are always on FOX, were on record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some early Mueller warrants targeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Giuliani said that Firtash was “one of the close associates of Semion Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” More from Marcy: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, [and] the former [worked] as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

DiGenova and Toensing, who work with Rudy seeking opposition research on Joe Biden, also represent Firtash! Marcy closes with this:

“In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA… [that includes some connected with] the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager [Manafort]….”

Wake up America! We’re seeing that Giuliani was running what is essentially a mob operation, apparently with the concurrence of Trump. The long term damage of such corruption is incalculable.

If we’re lucky, we can end this soon.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake NP viewed from Watchman Lookout Station, Oregon – 2016 photo by atheleticamps

Wake Up America! With El Paso TX, Dayton OH, and Gilroy CA last week, we’re starting to see what Red Hat Hatred means in the US. We’ll soon hear that these are more lone wolves who snapped, and that’s why we need to spend more on mental health, and to keep guns away from those sickies who really just need meds and counseling.

But, “lone wolves” should not be acting in lockstep with the Trump regime. Zealots and militants do that. In real life, wolves hunt in packs, so the term “lone wolf” makes no sense whatsoever.

From sociologist Kieran Healy: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“It’s traditional to say that there are ‘no easy answers’, but this is not really true. Everywhere groups face the problem of holding themselves together. Every society has its enormous complex of institutions and weight of rituals that, through the sheer force of mutual expectation and daily habit, bring that society to life. But not every society has successfully institutionalized the mass shooting. Only one place that has done that, deliberately and effectively. The United States has chosen, and continues to choose, to enact ritual compliance to an ideal of freedom in a way that results in a steady flow of blood sacrifice. This ritual of childhood is not a betrayal of “who we are” as a country. It is what America has made of itself, how it worships itself, and how it makes itself real.”

This is the society we’ve become. Will Republicans do anything? Of course not. Shooting at St. Ronnie didn’t get them to act. Shooting at Steve Scalise and other Congress persons didn’t help. The common factor is no modern-day Republican politician (since Lincoln and Garfield) have actually been killed. So, unless targeting Republicans becomes the norm, they’ll never budge.

OTOH, look at this billboard about the Squad! Have at it, boys! More guns! The fact that American voters countenance this double standard is beyond disgusting. At this point, the right wing’s reaction to this endless carnival of mass murder by angry white dudes comes in a few cascading flavors:

  • The ‘thoughts and prayers reaction, which is the shortest and slipperiest response, but if pressed, they’ll offer up: That’s just the cost of freedom.
  • Or, that mass shooting deaths are less than 1% of gun deaths, let alone actual murders, in the US, so what ya gonna do? They say that the vast majority of people killed by guns in the US are shot one or two at a time, not in large groups.

But, that’s not something any reasonable person should consider a winning argument. And as for Trump, there’s really nothing for him to say. He can’t play the role of healing the nation that we have normally expected from our leaders, because he bears real responsibility for the violence.

The Second Amendment has failed America, says Joel Mathis of The Week:

“The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is a failure because the right to bear arms — the right it so famously defends — is supposed to protect Americans from violence. Instead, it endangers them…. Data shows that people who own guns legally are more likely to kill themselves than they are to kill an intruder. People who own guns legally are more likely to kill a family member — on purpose or accidentally — than they are to kill an assailant. And people who own guns legally don’t actually use those weapons in self-defense all that often.”

Mathis goes on to say that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“On balance, guns do more harm in America than good. The damages are easily measured, while the benefits are mostly theoretical and rare. This means the Second Amendment, as currently observed, doesn’t actually work under the terms of its own logic.”

Wake up! Americans should be able to gather at places like churches, schools, shopping malls, and concerts without fear that they’ve made themselves easy targets for the latest angry man possessing the tools to kill dozens of people within a few minutes.

To help you reflect on the Second Amendment, here is CPE Bach’s Cello Concerto in A Major, Largo movement, with Tanya Tomkins on a 1798 baroque cello. She’s playing along with San Francisco’s Voices of Music. This is a very somber piece, seemingly perfect for reflecting on mass shootings:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angels Landing summit, Zion NP Utah – 2019 photo by SurrealShock. 86,000 people visited Angels Landing over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2018.

On Sunday, the NYT reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The West is a patchwork of public and private lands. Land ownership in the West has always been concentrated in the hands of the federal government, which owns about 50%. Now we learn that the rest of the West is quickly moving into the hands of a very few people.

The large purchases by these new private landholders come as the region is experiencing the fastest population growth in the country. That drives up housing prices and the cost of living. Some locals are fearful of losing both their culture and economic stability.

Rocky Barker, a retired columnist for The Idaho Statesman, has said this is a clash between two American dreams, pitting the nation’s respect for private property rights against the notion of beauty-rich publicly-owned lands set aside for the enjoyment of all.

In the West, there is an evolution of an economy based in minerals extraction, to one based on recreation; from a working class culture to a more moneyed one. The NYT article focuses on one family, the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris, who made their money ($3.5 billion) in fracking. They sold out, and bought a vast stretch of mountainous land in southwest Idaho.

The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, and in return, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

The Wilkses now own 700,000 acres across several states, and have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, they have closed trails, and hired armed guards to patrol their land, blocking or stymieing access not just to their property, but also to some publicly owned areas. They also hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass, and the bill passed.

This has made locals angry, as they have hiked and hunted on these lands for generations. Some emailed the Wilkses, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit PragerU, a right-wing website that was financed by the Wilkses and share their opinions of its content.

This is an example of a test for land use. Should you have to tell landowners your political views before you get to use their land?

Welcome to the future. Concentration of land ownership is a natural consequence of our free market capitalism. Our capitalist system isn’t designed to prevent concentration of ownership, whether it be of corporations or land.

That requires politicians who are not beholden to corporations and capitalists.

Our ancestors left Europe because by the 1600s, much of the land had already been bought up and was either inaccessible, or available in small lots for rent. America has been in the process of being divided up in the same way since the 1700s.

We talk about wealth inequality, and this story shows again that it is much more than numbers on a ledger. It is the power to own vast chunks of America, to decide how that land will be used, and to charge for that usage if they desire.

Battles over both private and public land have been a defining part of the West since the 1800s. For years, fights have played out between private individuals and the federal government.

OTOH, Americans in the West have made private ownership of wilderness a sacrament. They even contend that private use of public lands should be a right. Now, when the results of concentrated private land ownership become clear, when suddenly, a river or a mountain range they’ve enjoyed using for decades has a fence around it, their bellyaching begins.

But when the Wilkses, who made their money in fracking talk about how they feel they have a responsibility to the land, that has to be seen as hypocrisy.

The people in the West should Wake Up and give thanks for every inch of every national park. They should willingly pay additional taxes to keep our national parks in prime condition.

And they should finally see the wisdom in higher income taxes on corporate profits, and in Elizabeth Warren’s taxes on individuals with greater than $50 million in assets .

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mont Rotui, Moorea, French Polynesia – 2019 iPhone photo by mystackhasoverflowed

Time to wake up America! Donald Trump has proven once again that he has no understanding of economics. From the Wall Street Journal:

“President Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer, one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Laffer is one of the founding theorists of supply-side economics, a school of public economics that rose to prominence during the Reagan administration and returned to the fore in the run-up to the 2017 package of tax cuts that Mr. Trump signed into law.

The White House described Mr. Laffer as “one of the most influential economists in American history,” and said his “public service and contributions to economic policy have helped spur prosperity for our Nation.”

Laffer is famous for his drawing his Laffer curve on a napkin, illustrating his idea to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld at a dinner in 1974. His curve showed that increases in tax rates will eventually cause government tax revenue to decrease, because people will begin to work and earn less. This was then taken to its theoretical limit, saying that tax cuts could pay for themselves by spurring economic growth.

The WSJ calls Laffer “one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue”. Isn’t it weird that the fact that his “idea” has been completely disproven in the real world, doesn’t seem to matter?

Conservative economics is not a branch of economics, it’s a branch of Conservatism.

The Laffer curve was successful at its real purpose, providing a basis to funnel more money to corporations and the rich. Republicans traffic in propaganda, not knowledge.

Last year, Laffer co-wrote a book titled “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.” Laffer’s co-author was Stephen Moore, another conservative who styles himself as an economist. Earlier this year Trump nominated Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore had to withdraw, amid bipartisan opposition from Senators.

Laffer was the advisor behind the notorious Kansas state income tax plan that ruined the state’s finances. In 2012, Then-Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback passed a package of tax cuts based on Laffer’s ideas. The result was that Kansas lagged behind neighboring states with similar economies in nearly every major category: job creation, unemployment, gross domestic product, and taxes collected.

In 2017, the Kansas legislature repealed the Laffer/Brownback tax cuts. After the repeal, state taxes were boosted by $1.2 billion.

Laffer has spent years preaching his idea that almost any tax cut for businesses and the rich could potentially pay for itself. That idea has become the bankrupt conceptual backbone of the Republican Party’s entire economic theology.

For the 2017 Trump tax cuts, his administration also borrowed Laffer’s idea. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, have repeatedly claimed that the Trump tax cuts will pay for themselves. But, a new report finds that the tax cuts were responsible for less than five percent of the growth that is needed to offset the revenue loss from the Trump tax cuts.

We must point out here that Larry Kudlow does not hold a degree in economics. He was once fired from an investment bank for doing cocaine. Imagine just how much cocaine you’d have to do to get fired on Wall Street in the 1980s.

Trump’s now added the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the American traditions he’s debasing. Other economists awarded the Medal of Freedom include Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Solow. Laffer can’t carry their briefcases.

There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America’s understanding of taxes and their effect on economic growth than Art Laffer.

Evidently, Trump is grading him on a curve.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 6, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Torres del Paine NP, Chile – 2016 photo by Andrea Pozzi

After our granddaughter’s graduation in PA (summa cum laude), we had a few wines and beers, and talk turned to politics and the mess America is in now. Son-in-law Miles, (dad of next week’s grad) asked a very good question. “Is now really the worst of times? What about when Martin Luther King was assassinated?

Wrongo immediately flashed back to JFK’s assassination. He was a DC college student when JFK died. But his focus wasn’t on the loss of a president, or what that meant to the country. His focus was on what the loss of JFK meant personally.

That changed in 1968 with the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Wrongo was in the Army, stationed in Germany when Dr. King was killed. There was great tension in the enlisted men’s barracks. For a few days, it took a lot of effort in our small, isolated unit to keep anger from boiling over into outright fighting between the races.

By the time we lost RFK, it was clear that the Vietnam War would drag on, killing many of Wrongo’s friends. But, Wrongo’s job was to defend America from the Russians, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

It was difficult to see how or when Vietnam would end. It was hard to imagine Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or Robert McNamara doing much to stop young Americans from dying in Asia.

The year 1968 also included the Tet Offensive. Mark Bowen in his book, Hue 1968, says:

“For decades….the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years, Americans would never again be so trusting.” (p. 507)

When Americans finally saw the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they learned that America’s leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the war for years, in spite of their doubts that the effort could succeed. The assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate changed us forever.

Our leaders failed us, it was clearly the worst of times. We were in worse shape in 1968 than we are in 2019. Back then, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, society’s fabric was pulling apart. Then, May 4th 1970 brought the killings of college kids at Kent State, which was probably the lowest point in our history, at least during Wrongo’s life time.

Last week, we acknowledged the 49th anniversary of America’s military killing American students on US soil. We vaguely remember the Neil Young song “Ohio” with its opening lyrics:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own…”

That’s why the decade from 1960-1970 was the worst of times. We got through it, but we have never been the same.

In 1968, we saw that change can arrive suddenly, fundamentally, and violently, even in America. Bob Woodward spoke at Kent State last week, on Saturday, May 4th. He offered some brand-new information about Nixon’s reaction to the student shootings: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in September 1971, Nixon suggested shooting prisoners at New York’s Attica Prison riot in a reference to the Kent State tragedy. “You know what stops them? Kill a few,” Nixon says on a tape of the conversation.”

Woodward continued:

“We now know what really was on Nixon’s mind as he reflected…on Kent State after 17 months….Kent State and the protest movement was an incubator for Richard Nixon and his illegal wars.”

Woodward meant that what was coming was a war on the news media, creation of the “Plumbers” unit to track down leaks, and attempts to obstruct justice with the Watergate cover-up.

Many of us see 2020 shaping up as another 1968. Some see Nixon reincarnated in Trump.

We haven’t faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just how it will go. Will it be worse than the 1960s, or just another terrible American decade? Is it the best of times, or the worst of times?

Are we willing to fight to preserve what we have anymore?

Wake up America, you have to fight for what America means to us. Constitutional liberties are under attack. The right to vote is being undermined. Extreme Nationalism has been emboldened.

To help you wake up, listen once again to “Ohio” by Neil Young in a new solo performance from October, 2018. He’s added some documentary footage and a strong anti-gun message:

You may not know that Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders was a Kent State student, and was on the scene at the time.

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

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Barr May Never Face the House Judiciary Committee

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

(There will not be a Saturday or Sunday column this weekend, or next. Wrongo and Ms. Right are traveling to two different states, attending the college graduations of grandchildren Elise and Conor.)

After the contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, AG Bill Barr has canceled his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. There is plenty of speculation about what happens next.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had previously said that he would subpoena Barr if he refused to testify. If Barr ignores the subpoena, as the Trump administration has done regarding document production, Democrats on the committee have indicated that they will move to hold the AG in contempt of Congress. From the LA Times:

“A contempt finding is how Congress may respond when someone refuses to testify or provide information as part of a House or Senate investigation. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that Congress has a right to compel people to comply with its oversight efforts.”

In the past, just the threat of being held in contempt (not to mention Congress’ power over funding the government) was usually enough to convince an administration to comply with a request, or at least negotiate a compromise.

No longer. The Trump administration has no intention of complying with subpoenas from Democrats.

If Barr was held in contempt of Congress, what happens next? Congress has a few options. The most common is that it can send a criminal contempt referral to a US attorney. If prosecuted and convicted, the punishment is up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

The last administration official to be held in contempt of Congress was Anne Gorsuch, Neil Gorsuch’s mother, who was head of the EPA in the 1980s. The House issued a subpoena, Ms. Gorsuch said “no thanks”. Congress referred it to the DOJ for enforcement, and the US Attorney refused to carry it out.

So the finding of regular contempt is enforced by the DOJ, and the DOJ has the discretion to not prosecute the finding.

If they fail to do it, the House would fall back on their inherent contempt power. Yes, there is such a thing. The long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison someone who is held in contempt until the individual complies with congressional demands.

Problem is, the inherent contempt power hasn’t been used since 1935. The inherent contempt power is not specified in a statute or constitutional provision, but has been deemed implicit in the Constitution’s grant to Congress of all legislative powers.

The Sergeant At Arms is Congress’s proper arresting authority, however, there is no jail in the Capitol. There are holding cells at the Capitol Police Dept., but they are not appropriate for a long term detention. And even if the Sergeant At Arms did arrest Barr, it is likely that he would quickly be released.

Here’s what we’ve learned this week: Congressional enforcement of a subpoena has no teeth if it is used against a member of the Trump Administration. So, there will never be a consequence for Barr, or any other member of the Trump administration disobeying a subpoena.

Democrats need to think very clearly about their messaging in the face of their anger at William Barr. Saying that “Trump is terrible and we are powerless” is not a winning message.

Saying “vote for us and we’ll fix this when we win in 2020” is better, but doesn’t sound like a great message either.

The Mueller Investigation game has already been won by Republicans. Democrats can try to test the system. If it works, we still have a country.

But, if they try, and it doesn’t work, we’re back to saying: “Trump is terrible and we are powerless”.

Things are moving a lot faster than most Democrats realize. It isn’t clear that traditional politics (compromise, etc.) will survive. And it’s even less clear what is going to replace it.

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College Admissions Fraud: A Teachable Moment About Capitalism

The Daily Escape:

Eagle pair on nest, Litchfield County CT – 2015 photo by JH Clery

With the college admissions fraud, wealthy Americans are now bribing people to get their kids into college. It’s just another way that the wealthy are rigging the game. Robert Reich enumerates:

We’ve become a nation where any number of greased poles stop your ascent. People with wealth seem unwilling to compete fairly. It turns out that executives from Pimco, Hercules Capital, and the co-chairman of the law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, were named in the buy your way into Yale scam, along with a few Hollywood types.

It’s become very difficult to differentiate between applicants for the prestige colleges. Good grades and test scores and life experiences are no longer enough to help a kid to stand out the way they might have a few years ago. So some are bribing their way to the head of the line.

It’s just another cost of doing business in America. The truly wealthy can just pay for a new building and see their children get into the best universities. But, the merely rich can’t do that. OTOH, they can’t be expected to simply earn their way in.

As for the kids: They all knew whether what was on their applications was true or not. They had to be in on the scam. This is what passes for the charmed life of the rich in the USA: Kids knowingly cheat right along with their cheating, entitled parents, because they believe they deserve to go to Georgetown.

Robert Reich is correct, this is the rot that concentration of wealth has brought to our country.

Randall Lane has a long read at Forbes about “Reimagining Capitalism” in which he summarizes his one-on-one discussions with two dozen billionaires, including face-to-face meetings with the three richest people in the world, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett, about capitalism’s future. Lane says:

“Virtually every billionaire I spoke with acknowledged that higher taxes on the billionaire set are inevitable; most even saw them as beneficial, if correctly applied. According to Gates, Buffett, Khosla and others, the correct way to levy taxes on the superrich is….Either an estate tax without the loopholes that currently render it useless or a higher capital gains tax applied only on extreme fortunes…”

He quotes Buffett about the disparity of earnings between the top 1% and the bottom 50%:

“The market system as it gets more specialized pushes more money to the top….The natural function of a more specialized market economy is to divert more and more of the rewards to the top. That’s something I don’t think we’ve fully addressed in this country.”

Lane points out that Bill and Melinda Gates even went on Steven Colbert and called for higher taxes on the super-rich.

Younger Americans know that the deck is stacked. That may be in part why some kids play along with their parents and cheat to get into Harvard.

An often-cited 2016 Harvard University survey found that 51% of American youth aged 18 to 29 no longer support capitalism. Only 42% said they back it, while just 19% were willing to call themselves “capitalists.” A follow-up focus group study concluded that most felt that:

“Capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.”

Gene Sperling, Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council, has an interesting take on redefining our overall economic goal. He says we should strive for “Economic Dignity”. His conclusion is that the Fed and the Congress should implement a full employment monetary and fiscal policy that fosters tight labor markets.

Sperling says that would be a triple win for economic dignity, because it would lead to higher wages, and it would give companies greater incentive to provide advanced training to their employees. Meanwhile, high labor demand gives more workers some “take this job and shove it” leverage that they lack today.

Taken together, it would allow people to care for and provide opportunity to their families, something that is at the core of America’s beliefs.

Young Americans know that capitalism in its current form creates inequality, oppression, and exploitation. It could be made to work for all if it were more responsive to society’s needs, and yes, if it provided economic dignity for all.

Those who have been rewarded by capitalism shouldn’t be able to use their bounty to make the lives of others worse than they are. This isn’t just about the Koch brothers. It’s also about the merely wealthy who scam the college admissions system to get their kids into better schools.

We should be showing the young that there’s a better form of capitalism.

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Saturday Soother – March 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Railroad bridge over Housatonic River in snow – 2019 photo by Quadco Joe

We start driving back from sunny, warm FL this am. While you are having coffee and listening to music, we’ll be once again driving by a few Civil War battlefields. But today, let’s talk about Paul Manafort. On Thursday, Trump’s former campaign manager and a one-time lobbyist for unsavory people, was sentenced to 47 months on tax evasion, when the sentencing guidelines called for something like twenty years.

Manafort was sentenced to four years, just like the rest of us. But his seems lenient, while ours seems harsh.

Manafort’s judge was T. S. Ellis III, of the Eastern District in Virginia, who isn’t a model of judicial consistency. Few remember Rep. William J. Jefferson (D- LA), who was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years by Judge Ellis, who said that he hoped Jefferson’s punishment would serve as a “beacon” to warn other public officials not to succumb to corruption.

Ellis gave Jefferson the longest corruption sentence ever for a member of Congress. It was five years longer than a different judge gave former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, (R-CA), after he plead guilty to more egregious charges, of steering defense contracts in return for bribes.

After the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of public corruption, Mr. Jefferson appealed his conviction. Judge Ellis threw out 7 of the 10 charges against him, accepted Jefferson’s plea on the three remaining counts, and sentenced him to time served. In total, Jefferson served five and a half years.

Think about it: Ellis made an example of Jefferson, while sending the opposite message with Manafort’s sentence, and ignoring sentencing guidelines. Ellis said: “He’s [Manafort] lived an otherwise blameless life.” Franklin Foer in The Atlantic debunked that:

“In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of landmines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state, so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

There’s more, but you get the drift. People will argue that Manafort wasn’t charged with ruining the world, he was charged with tax evasion. And that using one crime to punish others the subject was not charged with is not a good practice.

True, but had Judge Ellis heard about Al Capone?

And giving less than one quarter of the recommended punishment says that Ellis, a Reagan appointee, saw the Republican in Manafort, while he saw the Democrat in Jefferson.

Time to leave the world behind and line up for your Saturday Soother. Let’s start by sampling the AK-47 Espresso Blend from Black Rifle Coffee, a veteran-owned coffee company who calls their products “freedom fuel”. Wrongo saw their billboard while driving through North Carolina, and doesn’t want to hear any comments from wussy liberals about how the South is different.

Now, settle into your most comfortable chair and listen to Pablo Villegas, playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, live at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2013:

The piece showcases the challenging guitar technique known as tremolo.

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

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