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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call, Portland Edition — July 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Paradise Pass with Crested Butte in the distance, CO – 2020 photo by glacticspark

The second biggest story of the summer is the widespread support of the protesters, those people of all races and ages, who took to the streets to say something about racism in America. Portland is and seems likely to remain the epicenter of the Trump administration’s law and order response.

America’s First Amendment rights are under attack in Portland by Trump’s paramilitaries every day. How can that be? Few have heard of US Code 1357. It allows immigration officers to operate within 100 miles of any external US border. Hence Trump could call out border troops to DC, Portland, or Chicago.

USC 1357 gives DHS jurisdiction over about two-thirds of the US population. They can enter any building that isn’t a dwelling within 25 miles of the border without a warrant.

The regulation was adopted by the US Department of Justice in 1953. At the time, there were fewer than 1,100 Border Patrol agents nationwide; today, there are over 21,000.

These problems are compounded by a lack of personnel oversight by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the DHS. The CBP consistently fails to hold its agents accountable for abuses.

Portland has protests on most days of the year. It’s part of the DNA of the city. Now, it’s looking like Trump’s paramilitaries are trying to foment violence and create a backlash among the protesters. The NYT reports on how these troops were the instigators of recent violence: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“After flooding the streets around the federal courthouse in Portland with tear gas during Friday’s early morning hours, dozens of federal officers in camouflage and tactical gear stood in formation around the front of the building.

Then…the officers started advancing….they continued to fire flash grenades and welt-inducing marble-size balls filled with caustic chemicals. They moved down Main Street and continued up the hill, where one of the agents announced over a loudspeaker: “This is an unlawful assembly.”

By the time the security forces halted their advance, the federal courthouse they had been sent to protect was out of sight — two blocks behind them.”

What’s the end game for Trump in Portland?  His paramilitaries aren’t going to murder groups of protesters in cold blood, so what are they going to do? Have nightly tear gassing until the November election?

Trump’s paramilitaries are saying to Portland: “We wouldn’t have to violate your Constitutional rights if you didn’t insist on exercising them.”

There is libertarian support for ending the Trump paramilitary presence in Portland. Libertarians acknowledge that there is no police power in the Constitution. Policing is left to the states. To the extent the President can send federal officers into Portland or other cities, it should be limited to protecting federal property, not moving into crowds that are two blocks away.

The libertarian argument would say that the people of Portland and other cities have the right to decide who they want to elect to City Hall and how much funding they want to provide for their police. The federal government should only be brought in to defend federal property if the local police are unwilling or unable to do so.

Ironically, during the Obama administration, the GOP thought that the “arming up” of America’s internal security forces like the CPB was a risk to THEM. Now, when it’s impacting Democratic-voting cities, they’re all for it.

Trump’s election chances seem to depend on whether he’s Nixon reborn in 2020. Nixon ran on law and order and against violent demonstrations, largely by students who were against the Vietnam War. Protests never spread as broadly as this in the 1960s. To a great degree, the Vietnam protests were by white college age youth. That isn’t true of today’s protesters.

Trump’s law and order gambit is that Antifa Marxists will take over our cities and then, our suburbs. He’s clinging to the idea that there is an equivalent of the “silent majority” of 1968 still out there to elect him.

But Vanity Fair reported some new polling on the response to Trump’s anti-BLM efforts. If those polls are correct, the silent majority of 2020 is firmly on the side of Biden when it comes to issues of race and justice. Nixon’s ghost seems to have left the building.

Time to wake up America! People in Portland are not afraid of the protesters. They know that their safety isn’t in question. There’s no doubt this is a protest against the government, not their fellow citizens.

To help you wake up listen to Peter Green, guitarist of Fleetwood Mac who died this week, play “Albatross” from 1969’s “The Pious Bird of Good Omen”:

This reminds Wrongo of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” from 1959.

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

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Roberts Returns to the Dark Side

The Daily Escape:

Lake Blanche, Upper Cottonwood Canyon, UT – 2020 Galaxy S10 photo by criked

On Tuesday, the Supremes issued another opinion. This one narrows the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, was a 5-4 decision, with the five conservative justices in the majority, and the four liberal justices dissenting.

From Slate: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Montana Constitution contains a “no-aid” provision that bars the state from providing public funds to religious institutions, as do 37 other state constitutions. To work around this rule, the Legislature granted tax credits to residents who donate money to Big Sky Scholarships, which pays for students to attend private schools, both secular and sectarian. (Montana’s demographics ensure that the only sectarian schools that participate are Christian.) In other words, residents get money from the state when they help children obtain a private education, including religious indoctrination. In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court found that this program violated the state constitution’s no-aid clause. But instead of excluding sectarian schools, the court struck down the whole scheme for all private education.”

Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion revived Montana’s tax credit scheme when he announced a new Constitutional principle: Once a state funds private education, “it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all provide tax credits or vouchers to families that send their children to private schools. Under Espinoza, they must now extend these programs to private religious schools. More from Slate:

“This decision flips the First Amendment on its head. The amendment’s free exercise clause protects religious liberty, while its establishment clause commands that the government make no law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’.”

In essence, Roberts is now saying that the Establishment Clause supersedes the Free Exercise Clause.

Some background: In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court ruled that, under the Establishment Clause, states were allowed to fund private schools through vouchers or tax credits. Now the court has declared that, under the Free Exercise clause, most states are compelled to fund private religious schools.

Over the past 18 years, the Court’s conservative majority has revolutionized church-state law.

How did the court do this? The barrier between church and state took a hit when five justices permitted state financing of sectarian schools in Zelman. It nearly collapsed when the court expanded religious institutions’ access to taxpayer money in 2017’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which held that states cannot deny public benefits to religious institutions simply because they are religious.

The court claimed that their new rule was actually hidden in the meaning of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause—even though, as Justice Sotomayor pointed out at the time, separating church and state does not limit anyone’s ability to exercise their religion.

More from Slate. Roberts, from the Espinoza opinion: (italics are in the quote)

“A state violates free exercise…when it “discriminate[s] against schools” based on “the religious character of the school.” The government, Roberts explained, has no compelling interest in preserving the separation of church and state beyond what the First Amendment requires. Nor does the government have any interest in protecting taxpayers’ right not to fund religious exercise that infringes upon their own beliefs.”

Said the Chief Justice:

“We do not see how the no-aid provision promotes religious freedom…”

In theory, states could abolish public funding of private schools entirely to avoid funding religious schools, but that’s what the Montana Supreme Court did. And Roberts just condemned that decision as “discrimination against religious schools”, because Montana had originally funded all private schools.

Roberts may be a master at minimizing losses (hits to the credibility or reputation of SCOTUS), while maximizing returns for his masters (conservative victories). In most of the cases where he has sided with the liberals, his opinion has basically boiled down to “lie better the next time.”

That was true in the abortion and DACA cases this term, and in the Census case last term.

So, based on this decision, religious entities (of the right sort) are not only eligible for government funding, they are entitled to it. That, and more equipment for the military.

This is what the America conservatives want. What could go wrong?

The state requires children to go to school. It also provides a school system for those children in order to meet that requirement. If you choose to send yours to a private, accredited/licensed school instead, that cost should be borne by you, not by the taxpayers.

Public funding for religious schools, along with tax-free status for churches, gives too much political power to religions.

That’s exactly why separation of Church and State is so crucial.

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Georgia’s Voting Fiasco Shows We May Lose Election Legitimacy in November

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji from the shore of Lake Motosu, Japan – 2020 photo by wash7112

From the AP:

“The long-standing wrangle over voting rights and election security came to a head in Georgia, where a messy primary and partisan finger-pointing offered an unsettling preview of a November contest when battleground states could face potentially record turnout.

There were hours-long lines, voting machine malfunctions, provisional ballot shortages and absentee ballots failing to arrive in time for Tuesday’s elections. Many of the problems were in predominantly black neighborhoods in and around Atlanta.

Both Republicans and Democrats finger-pointed at the other. The AP says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“That kind of back-and-forth, with white Republicans and black Democrats from big cities trading barbs over voting issues, isn’t new. And it’s one that could easily repeat in November in battleground states where Democrats and minorities figure prominently in the most populous cities and counties: Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), Florida; Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia PA; and Milwaukee WI.”

This raises the specter of a worst-case November scenario: a swing state, like Florida remaining in dispute long after polls close. Meanwhile, Trump, Biden and their supporters each offer competing claims of victory or questions about the election’s legitimacy.

These legitimacy questions arise because there’s a real possibility of election theft. Here’s a few for your consideration: Florida 2000, Ohio 2004, Democratic primaries in 2016 and 2020. Georgia’s governor’s race in 2018. It’s always the same tactics. Here are three:

  • Game the voting locations
  • Game the voting machines
  • Game the ballots

Voting locations: Changing voting locations is often combined with reducing the number of voting locations. Both happened in Georgia. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“County election officials have closed 214 precincts across the state since 2012, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That figure means nearly 8% of the state’s polling places…have shut their doors over the past six years.

One-third of Georgia’s counties — 53 of 159 — have fewer precincts today than they did in 2012, according to the AJC’s count.

Of the counties that have closed voting locations, 39 have poverty rates that are higher than the state average. Thirty have significant African-American populations…”

Voting Machines: The NYT reports that Georgia’s voting fiasco stemmed primarily from the 30,000 new voting machines the state bought last year for $107 million from Denver, CO’s Dominion Voting Systems.

The problems ran the gamut from too few machines, to no printer paper for the machines:

And non-working machines:

Many were against buying these voting machines, including FreedomWorks, the conservative nonprofit backed by Charles Koch, who cited several concerns, including that the machines were difficult to set up before elections.

And so they were.

The ballots: Absentee and Vote-by-Mail Ballots may not arrive on time, if at all. Provisional ballots may not be available in sufficient numbers at polling places. In Georgia, for example:

“The individuals had requested absentee ballots, but they didn’t arrive in time to send in, but when they showed up to try and vote in person, they were blocked because the system had indicated they already had an absentee ballot, which, again, they said they never received…”

That wasn’t all. Poll workers couldn’t get voting machines to work. They didn’t know how to encode voter access cards, enter PIN numbers correctly or even plug machines into power supplies. Poll workers said they couldn’t log into voter check-in tablets, and ballots didn’t always display on touchscreens.

Some precincts opened late. Very few stayed open late. Some voters gave up and went home.

People who work at polling places skew older, and are unfamiliar with technology. They must be trained and equipped to do the job, and it seems that fewer than expected showed up. These volunteers did not sign up to train voters how to use touchscreens, or to disinfect touchscreens, or to deal with irate crowds who have been waiting for hours.

The problem is not the volunteers, but the voting machines themselves, which introduce complexity without adding security.

We’re facing a crisis of election legitimacy.

Despite federalism, it is imperative that America comes up with a standard voting system. And in this age of technology it is ridiculous to have to still vote in person. But of course the Republicans oppose other methods of voting such as vote by mail.

This current chaos, along with voter disenfranchisement is in the best interests of the GOP, and it is by design.

They will dither and fuss and spew platitudes laced with false concern, while trying to rob us of democracy.

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Trump’s Authoritarian Impulses

The Daily Escape:

Lake Superior from Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario CN – photo by crazytravel4

If you want to know where Trump is headed on civil disobedience in 2020, consider this about China’s Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Nicholas Kristof reminded NYT readers what Trump had to say about it in 1989:

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, Trump told Playboy Magazine….Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

Overwhelming force is Trump’s plan, just like the Chinese. Here’s a list of the military, government police units and militia-like components of the US Government that are walking the streets in Washington DC:

That’s 14 discrete police and military groups patrolling DC. And it didn’t stop there. The Trump campaign just changed his MAGA hats from red to camouflage, and is calling supporters the “Trump Army“:

Yep, Trump wants an army to fight off the liberal mob.

The Daily Beast reported that Trump and Barr have come up with a possibly legal way to bring troops into America’s cities:

“The idea was to…rely on the FBI’s regional counterterrorism hubs to share information with local law enforcement about, in Barr’s own words, ‘extremists’.”

More from the Beast:

“That’s when Barr turned to an existing counterterrorism network—Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs)— led by the FBI that unite federal, state and local law enforcement to monitor and pursue suspected terrorists….The construction we are going to use is the JTTF. It’s a tried and true system. It worked for domestic homegrown terrorists. We’re going to apply that model….It already integrates your state and local people. It’s intelligence driven. We want to lean forward and charge… anyone who violates a federal law in connection with this rioting.

We need to have people in control of the streets so we can go out and work with law enforcement…identify these people in the crowd, pull them out and prosecute them…”

See any reason to be concerned?

According to multiple current and former Justice Department and law enforcement officials, Barr is misusing the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) in support of Trump’s insistence that antifascists are “terrorists” exploiting the nationwide protests. Using the JTTF against the protesters is a political ploy to make being anti-Trump look like terrorism.

Authoritarians world-wide call domestic demonstrators “terrorists”. Saddam did it in Iraq, so does al-Assad in Syria. Duterte does it in the Philippines, as does Erdogan in Turkey. Xi does it in China.

And now, it’s happening here.

On Wednesday, Trump again violated the First Amendment by authorizing federal police to block clergy’s access to St. John’s Episcopal Church (the one he used for his photo-op), effectively “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

That, from the holy defender of religious rights.

Monday wasn’t the worst day in American civilian-military relations. But the use of force to create a photo-op, including ordering military helicopters to fly low, scattering protesters with the rotor downwash, broke many established norms.

Trump followed that by deploying many different groups of uniformed “peace-keepers” to the streets of DC. So Monday became the worst day for American civilian-military relations since the military attacked the veterans march on Washington when Herbert Hoover was president.

Political Violence at a Glance asks a few questions:

  • If Trump insists on sending troops to states where governors don’t want them, will they go? On Monday, elements left their bases for operations in DC, which has a special status that Trump could legally exploit. That’s different from sending regular US forces into states without an invitation. That would cross a red line.
  • What would Congress do in response? The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, vowed to bring the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to testify. Would they even show up to the invitation?
  • How will the public react? The US military is one of America’s most popular institutions. In part, because it is seen as non-partisan, whereas most other government institutions are viewed as partisan. If the US military enters American cities, public support of the armed forces will surely drop.

Trump’s rhetoric continues to support white supremacists and far-right militias, while encouraging violence by his followers.

His effort to label the demonstrators as outsiders is meant to justify an increasingly aggressive police/military response. In the past few days, we saw them attack regular people on the streets, along with the journalists reporting on what was happening.

Former high-ranking military officers are finally calling out Trump, but his authoritarian instincts combined with Barr’s right-leaning reflexes pose a clear and present danger to our democracy.

Let’s hope the republic is still here for us to defend by overwhelmingly voting him out on November 3d.

They’re already telegraphing how they might respond if they lose.

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First Person Report: Boston’s March for George Floyd

The Daily Escape:

Boston, May 31, 2020 – all photos by Kendall Lavoie

(What follows is a first person report by friend of the blog, Kendall Lavoie. She, her fiancé and a few friends drove from western Massachusetts to show support for George Floyd at a demonstration in Boston.)

Eight years ago, when Trayvon Martin was murdered, my eyes were opened to how cruel and unjust the world can be for people of color, especially in this country. Every year since then there have been multiple instances of unpunished police brutality, many lives lost, and still no progress or real change.

When I saw the video of George Floyd being killed in the street I was filled with sadness, anger, and a drive to do something.

Yesterday, we haphazardly constructed signs that we decorated with our slices of free speech, gathered medical supplies, and headed to Boston to join our fellow citizens in need. We wore PPE and tried our best to socially distance, which is difficult in a crowd, and we will be self-quarantining for 14 days as a result of the contact we made yesterday.

When we arrived in Boston, we first joined an early march along the streets to the Boston Common. We listened to people talk about how they felt while we knelt in the gravel and grass. Some quotes from the early march include:

“Don’t let this moment be fleeting. You gotta live this shit as a lifestyle.”
“Why is my color a crime?”
“This is a movement of us, all of us.”
“True allies that are out here today willing to put their health on the line, that’s what makes this different- everybody had to take a risk to be the fuck out here today.”

 

We marched to the State House and peacefully stood outside for a bit, and then dispersed and went our separate ways.

The late march started at 6:30 in Dudley Square. The amount of people who showed up was just incredible- almost the entire time I couldn’t see the front of the crowd or the end of it. Community support from residents and businesses was amazing throughout, motorists showed their support despite being blocked by our marching at times, and there was a real sense of people coming together for change.

We marched toward the Common once again for about an hour and a half. I heard one man say:

“This is the proudest I’ve been of my city in a long time. Look at all these people, they actually care.”

The sun set while we sat in the Common and made our way up the steps to the State House once again. Some started setting off fireworks, and others climbed the fence and architecture in the front of the statehouse. Aside from a few people who threw trash over the fence (and were immediately called out by the rest of the protesters with the chant “stop throwing shit”), we were completely peaceful. We weren’t blocking traffic as there were no civilian cars at this point, and later when there were, we made a pathway for them to get through.

The crowd began to thin out as people went home, and we decided to give it a few more minutes before we headed back to the car. We started handing out our medical supplies since it looked like we wouldn’t be needing them, and maybe others would want them for later protests.

That’s when the Boston PD sent three cruisers speeding into the crowd. No warning, I just turned to my right and people were running and screaming. The first one sped past, and the second one was inches from me. I actually hit the third with my sign out of instinct to “push” it away from me because it was so close.

This was a blatant baiting tactic to incite the violence that ensued. I was angry, the people around me were angry, we started chanting “THIS WAS PEACEFUL!” and some started throwing things over the fence. When they sent the cruisers back through, they got blocked this time and the National Guard came out of the State House and began firing rubber rounds into the crowd, striking one girl in the ankle who we helped, and another in the ribs.

On another pass through, a protester threw a frozen water bottle at the side mirror of a cruiser and it detached. The back window was shattered by another flying object. People threw their milk jugs at the cruisers and the National Guard sent an armored car through the crowd.

The crowd fractured and began to move off in different directions. We walked down the side of Boston Common where a garbage fire burned in a barrel and many had embedded their signs in the wrought iron fence. Police were in full riot gear, and in the distance smoke billowed from something large burning, which we later learned was a cop car.

We crossed the street and a girl stood there rubbing her face and crying. She had been pepper sprayed, saying she was too close to the perimeter as she was trying to videotape a man being beaten in the corner by police. This 18-19 year old girl apologized profusely for seeming to inconvenience us as we poured milk in her eyes. Her friends stood by her and helped her find her phone and we parted ways.

Another man down the street had someone guiding him because he had been tear gassed, but refused our help. Farther, we came to a street where police were surrounding a girl on the ground. People were shouting and I started recording, getting closer so she wouldn’t be alone. The police came at us with wooden batons and pushed us back. The girl was helped up and stood at the edge of the crowd crying and demanding to know the name of the cop who pushed her down, breaking her box of belongings and dragged her across broken glass. I didn’t get the name or badge number of the officer because he refused to turn around, but another officer retrieved her box of things and we left as they radioed in to “come wipe down the street.”

We helped get glass out of her ankle and gave her a bandage. We gave her the badge number of one of the officers, in hopes that she could get the other one via that, somehow. The man who assaulted her refused to identify himself and is paid by tax dollars.

While we were helping her, squads of police cars flew past us down the street. In the distance we could hear popping, and I’m still unsure if it was fireworks or rubber rounds. We walked an hour back to the car, checking in with people on the way who let us know where to avoid as we did the same.

We learned later that the police had shut down the T after demanding that everyone go home.

As we drove home, I tried to process what I had just been a part of. I’ve always supported police. I was raised with the mantra, “don’t talk to strangers… except for police.” They were always heroes, always there to protect me, and the bad ones were negligible in comparison to the greater good. After last night my opinion has changed.

I saw how my fellow Americans are treated by police when they try to protest peacefully for their rights. I saw how the Boston Police Department acted like cowards and used their vehicles as weapons. And I saw the power that people can wield when they come together.

We won’t stop until they stop, WE DEMAND CHANGE NOW. Get out there and do something about it!!!

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Police Violence

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunrise at Crystal Lake, near Ouray, CO – photo by Ryan Wright

Wrongo is now certain that 2020 is the worst year for America since 1968. Why? We have had riots in 140 cities. 40 million are unemployed, and the Death rate from COVID-19 has reached 106,003. Here’s a map of where protests have occurred in the past few days:

We have a national problem of civil disobedience leading to rioting and looting. Note the number of states (in yellow) that have already activated the National Guard. We should assume that the number of cities with protests will probably grow.

Let’s talk briefly about policing in America. After the Ferguson uprising in 2014, we were astonished at the militarization of the police. We also started paying closer attention to the number of police killings in the US, but since there was no central database, independent groups started to compile them.

Cities and towns introduced new policies designed to reduce police violence, starting with police wearing body cameras. But according to the Police Shootings Database, police in America killed more people in the US in 2019 than in 2015, and the number has risen every year since 2017.

If police killings are increasing despite widespread public attention and local reform efforts, shouldn’t we be asking why?

Minneapolis, like most other cities, has a civilian review board, but it didn’t prevent Chauvin from killing George Floyd. In fact, the review board had failed to impose consequences for any of the eighteen previous complaints made against Chauvin. This shows how little these review boards are doing to change behavior.

Can change happen through the ballot box? Minneapolis implies that voting isn’t enough: Minneapolis has a progressive mayor and a city council composed entirely of Democrats and Green Party members. But it doesn’t prevent out-of-control racist cops from killing people. The glue holding this broken system together is police unions.

From Eric Loomis:

“That our police are openly fascist is finally becoming apparent to a lot of liberals who really didn’t see it that clearly before…..The police are openly declaring war on the nation. They are raising their fascist flag instead of the American flag. They are blinding good journalists. It is completely unacceptable…”

Loomis specializes in labor unions and labor issues. He says that it is in the public’s interest to force the police unions to give up the blank check for violence that they currently have. The two concepts that should be written out of the union contracts are arbitration in discipline cases, and qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity is a concept in federal law that offers government officials immunity from harms caused by actions they perform as part of their official duties.

Because of qualified immunity, police act like the laws don’t apply to them. This is a legal obstacle blessed by the Supreme Court that’s nearly impossible to overcome when the police violate our Constitutional or civil rights.

Despite that, blanket immunity shouldn’t absolve cops of responsibility for violence. Since they are state actors, the burden of proof should be on them to prove their violence was justified, not the other way around.

In many cases, the police unions are also run by bad people. In Chicago, the police union just elected as president a cop who has been reprimanded several times and is currently stripped of his police powers.

Minneapolis’s police union has a hard line and controversial president, Bob Kroll, who said that George Floyd had a “violent criminal history” and that the demonstrations were part of a “terrorist movement.”

Minnesota AG Keith Ellison blasted Kroll on “Fox News Sunday”:

“…he operates as sort of an alternative chief who, I think, undermines good order in the department.”

These are the kinds of people that rank and file police all across America want protecting them. That shows something about the true character of the rank and file.

Cities should pull the records of every cop with a double digit number of excessive force complaints and fire them. Force the unions to sue and then litigate it every step of the way. Make them defend the indefensible.

America needs stronger mayors, town councils and district attorneys who can be for “law and order” and also for protecting the rights of citizens who are swept up by day-to-day policing. We can have stronger public servants by voting them in.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms says just that in this video, which everyone can see here:

As an aside, Mayor Bottoms looks to Wrongo like an excellent choice for the Democratic VP.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

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

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Stimulus Money is Going to Churches

The Daily Escape:

View of Mt. Rainer from Reflection Lake WA – 2018 photo by NathanielMerz

Here is the 7-day look at the national numbers for COVID-19:

The rate of growth in deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise, while the rate of increase in cases picked up slightly on 4/6, although overall, it is slowing vs. 7 days ago. Testing is still growing, although the rate of growth in tests is now about equal to the growth in cases.

A little-noticed part of the $2 trillion stimulus package allows the federal government to provide money directly to US churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills. From NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the $2 trillion economic relief legislation…includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations are among the businesses that qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.

So, we’re not simply speaking of not-for-profit subsidiaries of churches such as charities. The Trump administration is saying churches themselves will qualify for direct loans. Apparently, the program is based on the average monthly payroll of a church school or the parish, which is extrapolated to eight weeks. The cost of maintaining staff for that period becomes the loan amount.

From the SBA’s statement:

“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services….No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”…

The SBA’s regulations currently exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA said it will decline to enforce those subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.

The SBA is quoting a 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was the first time the Court said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 7-2 decision. The key argument was that Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination solely because of its identity as a church. That, the Court decided, was discrimination. From the opinion:

“There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is….A church.”

The grant was for refurbishing the church’s playground.

But in this case, the SBA is offering direct funding of religious entities with money provided by tax dollars from the rest of us. We’re likely to see this in the courts soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration provided funds directly to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its rules to make houses of worship eligible for disaster aid.

First Amendment watchers have reacted. Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists said:

“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities….It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

If they want Federal funds, shouldn’t they pay Federal taxes?

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai c. 1829. The wave could represent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, or could it represent the rising of malign intent by Trump towards our democracy?

Are we in the midst of a national emergency or not? Is a tsunami of COVID-19 cases about to inundate America, or not? Let Wrongo answer: It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, does the federal government let the states take care of the problem? It does not.

Here’s America’s worst excuse for a leader on twitter Sunday afternoon:

He says it’s not the federal government’s job to lead in a national emergency. As Haberman and Baker said in the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.”

Any other president, even the weakest, would have acted differently. Despite the fact that his policies are generally pretty standard right-wing Republican, Trump has managed to make a national disaster worse than it had to be.

Now all Americans should know how it feels to be Puerto Rican.

Bloomberg reports that Trump’s directive for governors to buy their own medical supplies to fight the coronavirus ran into a big problem when the federal government outbid them for the products! Earlier that day, Trump said that his administration is not a “shipping clerk” for medical gear that the states require to fight the virus.

Another example from the NYT: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…on Saturday {Trump] sought to assure an anxious American public that help was on the way…and that private companies had agreed to provide desperately needed medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus.

But Mr. Trump [said] he would not compel companies to make face masks and other gear to protect front-line health workers from the virus….. Mr. Trump said the clothing company Hanes was among those that had been enlisted to start churning out masks, although the company said they would not be the N-95 masks that are most effective in protecting medical workers.”

Trump could simply order companies like Hanes to make them, but instead, Hanes is making masks that don’t actually protect medical personnel. Capitalism @ work!  At a time of national emergency, Trump is letting the market do it, and simply declaring victory.

Another: In the on-going (Sunday) negotiations on the Coronavirus bail-out package, it turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are demanding that the relief package include $500 billion to be provided to corporations at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The best part is that it permits the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of corporate recipients for up to six months. How is it possible to use taxpayer money for corporate bailouts and demand that taxpayers can’t know who’s received the funds?

Finally, here’s an example where Trump is unhappily, showing leadership. He wants to suspend habeas corpus, the Constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest, and seek release:

“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the US.”

The DOJ is looking for broad authority, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people and to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to:

“any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,”

This means you could be arrested and not brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. Shouldn’t we be even more careful about granting new powers to the government if we’re in a national emergency?

We can hope that the House will block this nonsense.

We should remember that the US government was founded for the very purpose of solving some rather serious problems that the individual states couldn’t handle. That role of federal leadership has worked for 230+ years, but that doesn’t work for Trump.

You should be asking why.

It seems certain that at some point, Trump will say that the states were unable to solve the virus emergency, so he’s stepping in. He’ll try to use COVID-19 to assume extraordinary emergency powers between now and the election. That’s beyond frightening.

More will die because Trump won’t lead in the fight to contain the Coronavirus. And in the background, he’s busy laying the groundwork for emergency powers.

Wake up Democrats!

It’s time to ask, what are the DC Democrats doing to block all of this?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 16, 2020

It is clear that Trump, aided by attorney general Barr, is using the power of the Justice Department to investigate and persecute his enemies, and intervene in the judicial process to help his friends.

This isn’t acceptable. It’s out of bounds. It’s unethical and it’s un-American. This is what autocrats do.

Trump didn’t like the jury decision that convicted his buddy Roger Stone, so he’s attacking the jury foreman on Twitter. This woman now has the president of the US gunning for her.

This has never happened before. We live in a country that is supposed to protect our rights. That doesn’t just happen. It requires all of us to demand that our institutions do not abuse their power.

Some of you would love to check out mentally, and let Trump and Barr slide. But our privileges come with responsibilities. Are we willing to stand up for the Constitution? Are we willing to stand up for America? On to cartoons.

America knows the truth about Trump and Barr:

Barr’s investigations could become a moving target:

Our future:

Dems are in training for November:

Biden looks for answers:

And he gives Dems a heads up:

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