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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Monday Wake Up Call Afghanistan Edition – December 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Light snow and morning fog, Yosemite NP CA – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited the WWII museum in New Orleans last week. In most ways, it was the last war that engaged all of America. At the start of the war, we were woefully under resourced, our army had more horses than tanks. People became deeply involved in the war effort.

During the war, Wrongo as a very young boy, managed to lose our family’s sugar ration card. Businesses gave their production capacity over to the country’s war needs. President Roosevelt was on the radio each week, keeping support for the war effort high. WWII lasted for six years, from 1939-1945.

You know where this is going: Last week, we learned that our government has covered up the reality of how we were doing in Afghanistan, much like our government covered up the truth during the Vietnam War.

We learned this due to work by WaPo reporter Craig Whitlock who has given us an indispensable look into our continuing failure in Afghanistan. The documents include transcripts of interviews with soldiers, diplomats, and others with direct experience in the war effort. Excerpts:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction. . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

More:

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The WaPo documents contradict years of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that we were making progress in Afghanistan and that the war was worth fighting:

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

Bush, Obama and so far, Trump, have all failed us miserably for the past 18+ years. The war has cost America $975 billion-plus tens of $ billions spent by the VA on the wounds of Afghanistan veterans, a price that will rise for the next six decades. The most serious costs are the 2,434 US deaths and 20,646 wounded in action.

The Afghan mess was made worse by piling lie upon lie. We now know that the top brass in the military knew all along that we were losing, and that three successive White Houses also knew.

The greatest tragedy is that the losing is still ongoing.

These revelations are an indictment of our senior military leaders. We had advantages in resources and technology in Afghanistan (we often outnumbered the insurgents on the battlefield) and still lost. But beyond that, it indicts our political leaders, who need to understand our strategy, and be a check on our military.

Time to wake up America! This is also an indictment of all of us, for not paying attention. For not insisting on ending it years ago!

We’ve managed to blow through vast resources that were desperately needed at home. We’ve stood by while our government fruitlessly sacrificed the lives of many of our men and women. We grew our National Debt beyond what we needed to do, and got stuck in another foreign quagmire.

When we finally feel either shame or anger about Afghanistan and that we were lied to, we can take the first steps to political reform.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 4, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Lake Sabrina, CA – November 2019 photo by Wild_NDN

All of a sudden, there are ongoing protests throughout the world. This seems to be an enormous story, maybe the biggest story of October, despite America’s focus on impeachment. And there’s some, but not a lot of media coverage. Here’s a map of the locations, and primary causes, of recent unrest around the world:

When you see the map, it’s clear that something’s happening. In some places, protesters are mainly demanding more political freedom, like what we’ve seen in Hong Kong. In others, like Iraq and Lebanon, people are sick and tired of corruption and unemployment. They want to throw out the old guard.

The map shows 14 countries, but others report as many as 22 countries experiencing protests in 2019. Can we find common threads to these protests?

They don’t show ideological consistency, although they do show similar tactics. Unlike Occupy in the US, these protesters have demands, which vary with each protest. In some places, they involve millions of people. They do not seem to be internationally driven, although the local powers that be often say that they are.

A Chinese friend of the Wrongologist who lives in Hong Kong provides lots of coverage on local violence. For our media, violence is always “breaking out,” or protests always are “descending into” it, but we rarely hear deep explanations for why it occurs.

Let’s look at a few reasons that transcend individual countries:

Economic Slump

This argument is true for Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Haiti in Latin America. It is also true in Iraq in the Middle East. Despite their differences, each country saw commodity-driven economic growth, followed by a slump or stall. Haiti, despite its own economy largely being stagnant, saw billions in aid from oil-rich Venezuela come in, then disappear when Venezuela had its economic issues.

Income Inequality

Jeffrey Sachs frames income inequality as social unhappiness and distrust, in Why Rich Cities Rebel: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Three of the world’s more affluent cities have erupted in protests and unrest this year. Paris has faced waves of protests and rioting since November 2018…after…President Macron raised fuel taxes. Hong Kong has been in upheaval since March, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed a law to allow extradition to the Chinese mainland. And Santiago [Chile] exploded in rioting this month after President Sebastian Piñera ordered an increase in metro [subway] prices….taken together, they tell a larger story of what can happen when a sense of unfairness combines with a widespread perception of low social mobility.”

Gallup finds that while Hong Kong ranks ninth globally in GDP per capita, it ranks 66th in terms of the public’s perception of personal freedom to choose a life course. The same is true in France (25th in GDP per capita, but 69th in freedom to choose) and in Chile (48th and 98th, respectively).

It appears that traditional economic measures of well-being are insufficient to gauge the public’s real sentiments. The protesters perceive the politics behind the prices, and that’s what they are moving against.

Income inequality also shows up as withdrawal or repricing of government services. From the NYT:

“In Chile, the spark was an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, it was a tax on WhatsApp calls. The government of Saudi Arabia moved against hookah pipes. In India, it was about onions.”

In Ecuador, the focal point of the protests was a demand for restoration of fuel subsidies. From The Financial Times (paywalled):

“The mass protests that have broken out during the past year in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East…are usually leaderless rebellions, whose organization and principles are not set out in a little red book or thrashed out in party meetings, but instead emerge on social media.”

Social media is the enabler for leaderless movements. When the Hong Kong demonstrations broke out in June, Joshua Wong, the most high-profile democracy activist in the territory, was in jail. In Moscow, Russia arrested leader Alexander Navalny, but demonstrations continued without him. In Lebanon, France and Chile, authorities have searched in vain for ringleaders. In Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, has emerged as the leader of the movement to replace Prime Minister Mahdi.

Underneath it all, whether we’re talking about people wanting political freedom or economic security, these riots are about class, wealth, and income. They are about the fact that all of these countries have very rich people who make the rules.

And their rules never favor the non-rich.

It is unclear if any of these protests will effect change. History rarely favors the man in the street.

Pro tip: If you are going to riot, take the time to head over to the part of town where the rich live, and riot there.

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Fed Study Shows Rising Financial Desperation in Poorer Zip Codes

The Daily Escape:

Aliso Creek State Beach, near Laguna Beach, CA – 2019 photo via

Simon Johnson observes at Project Syndicate: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“To defeat populism requires coming to grips with a fundamental reality: bad economic policies no longer necessarily result in a government losing power. In fact, it is now entirely possible that irresponsible populists may actually strengthen their chances of being re-elected by making wilder and more impossible promises – and by causing more economic damage.”

Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF, believes that structural economic factors, including automation, trade, and the financial crisis have left many people feeling neglected by those who control economic policy.

When politicians back policies that add economic uncertainty, or that discourage investment, we see lower economic growth, and fewer good jobs. Ordinarily, dissatisfaction shows up at the ballot box, holding that government accountable at election time.

But this is no longer reliable, because politicians wiggle out of the trap by saying that the media are biased, that the experts are wrong, and that the facts are not the facts. And the angrier people become, the easier it is to persuade them to accept that no one is to blame, and vote again for those who helped to cause their economic distress in the first place.

A new study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank examined American financial distress by Zip Codes. It sheds light on a topic we regularly debate: Why are there so many signs of distress in a supposedly robust economy? And this time, will politicians be held to account?

Since 2015, the lowest income households have been taking on more debt. Their wealth has become even more concentrated in home ownership. The level of distress in lower-income households has also increased, despite the official story of increasing prosperity.

The study drills into Zip-Code level data to show that even adjacent Zips show striking divergence in wealth accumulation (or erosion). For instance, they looked at the percentage of people within a Zip Code that have reached at least 80%t of their credit limit on their bank-issued credit cards.

That is believed to be a good proxy for financial distress.

Before the 2008 crisis, analysts missed the rising levels of household debt. That debt was often funded by borrowing against home equity. Rapidly falling home prices after 2008 showed how fragile many of those borrowers were.

The contrast between national averages and Zip Code households is stark. Looking at averages, the recovery appears to be quite broad.  But zooming in by Zip Code showed a bifurcated economy still suffering from the 2008 crisis. The researchers found that looking at the value of assets and reliance on debt shows a clearer picture: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the poor and high-leverage ZIP codes that are more affected by wealth shocks may still be vulnerable. What’s more, trends in less affluent groups are masked in nationally aggregated statistics by groups with more wealth.”

May be vulnerable”? They will certainly be vulnerable when the next downturn begins.

Since 2015, debt and financial distress have been rising the fastest in these low-wealth areas, while it rose the slowest since 2015 for the wealthiest households. We already see softness in economic indicators like retail sales, home sales and housing construction. It’s reasonable to expect that the next recession isn’t far away.

We’ve had a long economic recovery, but its gains were not distributed as broadly as they had been in previous downturns. What we got was an uneven economic recovery, with most gains going to an increasingly narrow group.

More people are left out of this supposedly robust economy than the politicians and most economists think. The Fed study shows that the averages conceal plenty of pain. Maybe this isn’t an earthshaking idea. We all see income and wealth disparities in our communities, it’s not that unusual. But the fact that the differences are now extreme enough to show up in ZIP Code level data seem significant, and worrying.

So, will politicians pay any price in 2020 for the continuing maldistribution of gains since the 2008 recession? Or, will politicians tell the people that no one’s to blame, that the Laffer curve will surely work this time?

The miracle of modern Republican economic theory allows for both the Laffer curve, and “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” not only to be truths, but to be the desired outcome.

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Monday Wake Up Call – 2019 Memorial Day Edition

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – 2013 photo by William Coyle

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain

Today we celebrate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in America’s wars. We mourn those we knew, and we remember those we never knew.

We can’t seem to get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year of Wrongo’s birth, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, and 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 are America’s only years with no major war.

So today, we celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. Maybe we watch a parade, shop at the mall, and attend the first cookout of the year. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

But today also brings us something else to think about. The Yale School of Forestry published an article about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Fifty Years After, A Daunting Cleanup of Vietnam’s Toxic Legacy. Here is a snippet:

“From 1962 to 1971, the American military sprayed vast areas of Vietnam with Agent Orange, leaving dioxin contamination that has severely affected the health of three generations of Vietnamese. Now, the US and Vietnamese governments have joined together in a massive cleanup project.”

During the US Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines. One-sixth of South Vietnam was blanketed with 20 million gallons of herbicides, and as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the spraying.

The three remaining hot spots of dioxin contamination were the US airbases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and the smaller air base at Phu Cat. These were the sites from where the spraying was launched. The residual levels of dioxin on those sites posed a serious ongoing threat to public health. Of the three, Bien Hoa was by far the worst. During our war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world.

Phu Cat was cleaned up by the Vietnamese without US assistance. Next came Da Nang, a six-year project that was completed last October. It cost $110 million, of which $100 million came from the US State Department, channeled through USAID.

The sheer volume of soils and sediments that must be remediated is staggering. In Da Nang, it was 90,000 cubic meters; in Bien Hoa it is 495,300. The US has agreed to commit $300 million to the Bien Hoa cleanup over 10 years, but USAID couldn’t bear the entire cost. So, after much debate, the Department of Defense agreed to contribute half of the total.

This has to be done, since dioxin is a deadly chemical. It is both hydrophobic and lipophilic: it hates water and loves fat. It sinks into the sediment at the bottom of bodies of water, it attaches to organic matter and moves up the food chain, from plankton to small aquatic animals and finally to fish. In soil, it ends up in free-range chickens and ducks and their eggs.

It becomes more concentrated at each stage, a process known as bioaccumulation. Eighty-seven percent of dioxin enters the body through ingestion, before migrating into fatty tissue, the liver, and breast milk. And fish and poultry are staples of the Vietnamese diet.

The WHO stipulates a tolerable maximum of 1 to 4 picograms (one trillionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day. The mean amount they found in breastfed infants in the Bien Hoa area was 80 picograms.

And we shouldn’t forget how haphazardly the VA has dealt with the medical issues of Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. For many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This only changed with the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Now, the VA acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases are caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The Vietnam vets that survived the war only to suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases had to wait at least 16 years before our government began helping the majority of them. Vietnam waited 50 years before our government acknowledged our culpability in destroying much of their environment.

This is a sad reminder about today’s Memorial Day, all of our past Memorial Days, and the ones to come.

It is good to be reminded again about our dead soldiers, and also to be reminded of what our government ordered them to do.

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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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Trump is Deregulating Pork Inspections

The Daily Escape

Zhongshuge Bookshop in Chongqing, China. There is a mirrored ceiling that enhances the visual effect of the stairs that might have been inspired by an MC Escher painting.

Under Trump, the executive branch has been policing its own damn self, and that’s working out splendidly! Think Mar-a-Lago’s security. And if Boeing inspecting themselves isn’t bad enough, the Trump administration is outsourcing much of the responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry.

Trump will cut the number of federal inspectors by about 40%, and will replace them with plant employees. This could make trichinosis great again! From the WaPo (paywalled): (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Under the proposed new inspection system, the responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork would be shared with plant employees, whose training would be at the discretion of plant owners. There would be no limits on slaughter-line speeds.”

This accelerates the Department of Agriculture’s plan to delegate on-site inspections to the livestock industry. It started under Obama, when poultry plant owners were given more power over safety inspections. One difference is that the Obama administration didn’t allow higher line speeds. The Trump administration starting last year, has allowed some poultry plants to increase line speeds.

WaPo says that The Trump administration is working to also shift inspection of beef to plant owners:

 ”Agriculture Department officials are scheduled next month to discuss the proposed changes with the meat industry. “

If you are a Trump fan, these moves are part of his administration’s plans to reduce regulations that large corporations want totally eliminated.

It’s standard-issue Republican Party pandering to their corporate base. And it’s ongoing, despite the administration coming under fire for delegating aircraft safety oversight responsibilities to Boeing, developer of the 737 Max jets that have crashed twice in the past six months. While FAA certification of the two aircraft involved in the crashes took place under President Trump, the major shift toward delegating key aspects of aviation oversight began under GW Bush.

Letting food producers regulate themselves: What could go wrong? That whole Listeria thing is way overblown, and the spinach growers are sure to guarantee that there’s no E Coli contamination in their produce.

Until there is.

Industry self-regulation is really no regulation at all. There’s only one case where private “regulation” has some teeth: FINRA, the not-for-profit that protects America’s investors by making sure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly. But, that’s the only example Wrongo can think of.

The real irony in this is that one of the key reasons food recalls have gotten so frequent is the cutbacks in inspections that have been going on for some time. It means that every time something IS discovered, they have to pull everything that went out since the last government inspection.

The longer the time between inspections, the more stuff that has to be pulled off the shelves.

You can be sure that if a pork plant contaminates their meat products and hundreds of people are poisoned, the free market will take care of the poor corporation. How? By letting the corporation declare bankruptcy to avoid paying victims and their next of kin. Then, the law allows them to quietly reorganize under a different business name, and sell more pork.

Of course, maybe a Boeing Max Jet will fall out of the sky, and land on one of these self-inspected pork producers.

Thomas Hobbes, in his “Leviathan”, in 1651, described what life would be without government:

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Sounds like a Republican paradise!

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Saturday Soother – Great Wall Edition, January 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample of Lyrics:

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Center for Investigative Reporting and OpenStreetMap contributors

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

The following projects account for about half of these funds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, they thought Obama acted as a King.

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The Biggest News Story of 2018

The Daily Escape:

Santa Dash, Glasgow Scotland, 2012 photo via Just Run lah

Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.

In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.

Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.

It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.

This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.

Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.

Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:

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

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