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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Totality Edition

“Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
Whoa, but mama, that’s where the fun is” – Bruce Springsteen

The Daily Escape:

“Diamond Ring” portion of a total solar eclipse, 2009 − photo by Rick Fienberg

Welcome to totality Monday. We live in a time when few things are certain, but eclipses are highly predictable. Some think that a total eclipse is awe-inspiring, and possibly, life changing. Count Wrongo as a non-believer, despite the fact that this is the first total eclipse in the continental US for 99 years.

Wrong advice? Go outside, but despite Springsteen’s thinking, do not look directly at it, unless you have the correct protective glasses. Get the flavor, and watch it later online.

Over the weekend, country singer Charlie Daniels compared the removal of Confederate statues in the US to ISIS’ demolition of historical sites in Iraq and Syria:

That’s what ISIS is doing over in places…there were pieces of history that they didn’t like, they were taking them down…

Wrongo had a similar thought, but lands in a completely different place. Everyone was appalled when the Taliban blew up the world’s two largest standing Buddhas in Afghanistan in March, 2001, six months before 9/11. We were also appalled when ISIS  rampaged through Iraq’s Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and again, when they destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria in May, 2015.

The Muslim radicals claim the destruction of ancient sites is a religious imperative. They have targeted ancient sites, graves and shrines belonging to other Muslim sects as well as those of non-Muslims to conform to their religious beliefs. Most Americans regardless of politics or party, denounced what the Taliban and ISIS did to these antiquities.

Today, Americans are angrily divided about the removal of Confederate monuments. Is Charlie Daniels correct? Are those who would take down the statues no better than ISIS?

This is a false equivalency. ISIS is an extremist movement. Americans who want to remove Confederate statues are morally opposed to slavery, and understand that their goal will only be accomplished lawfully. Many have ancestors who were slaves, and feel that statues celebrating the Confederacy are morally wrong.

This debate has been hijacked by today’s white supremacists, white nationalists and American Nazis who say they wish only to “defend” the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in the public square. Their view is promoted by the “both sides do it” talking points in the media, by Donald Trump, and by Charlie Daniels.

The Taliban and ISIS destroy religious monuments and statues either because they are not Islamic, or because they were not their particular flavor of Islam. The push behind removal of Confederate statues comes from a different place. They symbolize the Secession, and Slavery. Those who would remove Confederate statues see the Confederates as people who placed preservation of the unjust economic system of slavery above the very idea of our nation.

ISIS destroyed antiquities, while the vast majority of Confederate statues were placed by neo-confederates less than 100 years ago to celebrate the Confederacy, an insurrection that lasted just four years. One similarity that Charlie Daniels missed is that ISIS and the neo-confederates both try to manipulate reality, one by building, the other by destroying, monuments and statues.

One stark difference is that ISIS cuts people’s heads off, and eats their livers. That isn’t the modus operandi of Americans who want the Confederate statues removed.

Charlie Daniels, wake up. Just because an idea flits through your mind is no reason to spew.

To help you reflect on all of this, hear the great Carlos Santana in collaboration with the Isley Brothers. Together, they have just released the album “Power Of Peace”. The album covers peace-and-love-themed songs such as “Higher Ground“, “Gypsy Woman”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”,What The World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love”, and others. Here are the Isleys and Santana with “Love, Peace and Happiness” originally by the Chambers Brothers:

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 20, 2017

Jon Stewart in a surprise appearance at Dave Chappelle’s show at Radio City Music Hall skewered white supremacists:

If you guys feel like you’re losing out, fucking work harder. I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re a white supremacist, if you think you’re the master race, how come we’re kicking your ass so easily? You’re the master race! How come you’re not winning everything? Why aren’t the Olympics dominated by you? You’re the master race. What do you have left? Golf and tennis, maybe, maybe. And even then, the first black people you came across, you’re like, ‘We can’t play this game anymore.’ Williams sisters, Tiger Woods. O.K.

Suppressing political violence is a matter of will. It requires that we rise above our tribal loyalties and defend the political system that is at the heart of America.

Trump is having trouble keeping members of his advisory councils:

Trump uses wrong finger:

Is the Confederate Flag about heritage? Absolutely:

The monuments are only part of the problem:

Bannon’s real job was easy to see:

The Trump Eclipse requires different glasses:

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Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 13, 2017

This just in from PBS shows how badly Democrats have hurt themselves since 2008:

After high-profile candidates lost decisively in the last two elections…the party now finds itself in unprecedented territory for the 2018 ballot: with no major candidate to run. Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying.

Ann Richards, elected in 1990, was the last Texas Democratic governor. And now, no major Dem candidate will run for governor. This is despite a booming Hispanic population and Democratic dominance in the state’s largest cities.

Democrats have expanded their advantage in California and New York. Combined, these states gave Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin. But those two states elect only 4% of the Senate.

We once thought that there was an “Obama coalition” that would only grow because of demographics: Left-leaning populations were growing, America was becoming less white, and this alone would guarantee Democrat majorities well into the future. This idea has failed. Is it time for the DNC establishment to accept the awful truth that they are no longer a national party?

The Cook Political Report says that even if Democrats won every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won, or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points, they would still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats. Some permanent majority. Time for a few new Democrats to lead.

On to cartoons. Many people pointed out that there were some similarities between Trump and Kim:

Strategic thinking, Trump-style:

Uncle Rex tells America a bedtime story:

Trump said that his North Korea comments were similar to a few other guys:

Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax breaks in exchange for building a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin. It will take 20 years for the state to break even:

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The DOJ Wants Infrequent Voters Off The Voting Rolls

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon, 2001  – photo by Wrongo

From Mother Jones:

The Justice Department released an amicus brief in the case, currently before the Supreme Court, over whether Ohio can continue to remove “infrequent voters” who fail to cast a ballot over a six-year period. One of those voters, Larry Harmon, is a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Demos and the ACLU of Ohio. The 60-year-old software engineer and Navy veteran voted in 2008 and then returned to the polls for a local referendum in 2015, only to find that he was no longer registered, even though he hadn’t moved or done anything else to change his status.

Ohio has purged about 2 million voters from its rolls, including 1.2 million for infrequent voting. From the WaPo:

In a court filing late Monday, Justice Department attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involves Ohio’s removal last year of tens of thousands of inactive voters from its voting rolls.

In their brief, government lawyers say they reconsidered the Ohio vote-purging issue after the “change in Administrations,” and they argue that the state’s actions are legal under federal law.

Ohio allows the purging process to begin when voters have not cast a ballot in two years. The person is sent a notice asking them to confirm their registration. If the voter does not respond and does not cast a ballot over the next four years, they are removed from the rolls.

But a federal appeals court ruled that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that made it easier to register at the DMV and other public agencies and stipulated that voter-roll maintenance: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

…shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

Trump’s DOJ has decided that “use it or lose it” applies to your right to vote.

We are witnessing a steady erosion of voter rights that started with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). That Section required states with a history of voting discrimination to get pre-approval from the Justice Department for any changes to voting qualifications or procedures.

Since the Shelby ruling, many states, including some that were formerly covered under the VRA, have instituted stricter voter identification laws and instituted voter roll purges. Ari Berman lists examples from the 2016 election — the first election without full protection of the VRA:

  • There were 868 fewer polling places in states with long histories of voting discrimination, such as Arizona, Texas and North Carolina.
  • In Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked strict forms of voter ID, and voter turnout was at its lowest levels in 20 years. This was particularly apparent in Milwaukee, where voting was down13%, where 70% of the state’s African-American population lives.
  • In North Carolina, black turnout decreased 16% during the first week of early voting because in 40 heavily black counties, there were 158 fewer early polling places.

The plan is this: First, make voting as complicated and inconvenient as possible and then, when people basically give up on voting, you drop them from the rolls for non-participation.

What harm is there in keeping a non-voter or irregular voter on the rolls? Voter impersonation happens about as often as winning the Power Ball lottery, so why not leave a name on the rolls until removal is substantiated? When you move from one state to another, and register to vote, no one has committed voter fraud. No one took Wrongo’s parents off the Florida voter rolls after they died. That wasn’t voter fraud either.

The false concern about voter fraud is a cloak for a determined effort to gut every improvement the country has made on voting rights in the past 50 years.

On to music. Glenn Campbell had an outsized influence on American music. His free and fluid mix of country, pop and light rock left a big mark in Nashville. Here is Campbell doing “Classical Gas”:

Few who knew Campbell only as the singer of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” also knew that he was a very accomplished guitarist.

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

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Tribalism Trumps Reality

The Daily Escape:

Florence Italy – photo by Daniel Kordan

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist. ― Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism

Public Policy Polling (PPP) has a new poll that among other issues, shows how Trump voters feel about the Donald Trump Jr.’s participation in the Trump/Russia election thingy: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.

And, just as many Republicans believed Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a DC pizza parlor.

If you look at the percentage of Americans who believe in things like creationism, ghosts and angels, you’ll wonder why these Republicans are allowed to cut their own meat.

A decent number of the people who said they didn’t believe Jr. met with the Russians must know the truth. Since Jr. admitted to the meeting, and even Fox News covered it, how could a third of Republicans surveyed think the meeting didn’t happen? Maybe they think a Russian lawyer and a few other Russians attending a meeting in Trump Tower doesn’t equal “The Russians“.

And broadening the context, the PPP survey question answers are similar to when pollsters asked Republicans whether Obama was born in the US. Pollsters continued to ask that well after his birth certificate was released. After the release, birther belief among Republicans dropped from the mid-40%s to the mid-30%s, but, a year later is returned to the mid-40%s.

One of the central challenges of understanding the Republican mind is that when they answer questions like the Don Jr. in a non-factual way, they exist in at least two camps. First, the true believers, who won’t believe their lying eyes, and will just trust their guy through thick or thin.

The second group sees politics and political discourse as a game played mostly to annoy Democrats. This second category isn’t even necessarily any more informed or self-aware than the first, but they pay more attention to learning what will make Democrats angry. Then they go there.

We can’t discount the extent that conservative media obfuscates things that are generally admitted elsewhere. There probably is a certain segment of Republicans who really don’t believe Jr. met with Russians, because they’ve heard the disinformation frequently enough to allow them to reach that conclusion.

And some people simply believe ridiculous things.

The PPP poll question indicates to us the lower limit of partisan reasoning. No one contests that this meeting took place, but 32% of respondents say it didn’t happen. Poll questions are normally more opinion-based, and may not have a demonstrably “correct” answer. So it’s worth seeing the extent of motivated answering on this question.

The nice thing about false facts is they can be designed for maximum effect. They can be more self-reinforcing and convincing than actual facts. The world is a messy place, so if you present a picture that is artificially clarified and internally consistent, a big subset of humanity will buy it whole-heartedly.

Public Policy Polling’s disclosure about the survey:

PPP surveyed 836 registered voters from July 14th to 17th. The margin of error is +/- 3.4%. While 80% of participants, selected through a list based sample, responded via the phone, 20% of respondents who did not have landlines conducted the survey over the internet through an opt-in internet panel.

On to music. Here is Icelandic indie folk/indie pop rock band, Of Monsters and Men, performing “Little Talks” live at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves, recorded in October 2011:

Takeaway Lyric:

Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right.
Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear

‘Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

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

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“We Don’t Need No Education”

The Daily Escape:

Antarctic Relic, 2017 – photo by Daniel Kordan

Pink Floyd’s big mainstream hit has new relevance today, since Pew Research produced these interesting findings on US attitudes towards higher education: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

The Pew study, conducted from June 8 to 18 among more than 2,000 respondents, found that Democrats and Republicans are growing substantially more divided in their opinions on public institutions, including higher education.

According to the survey that Pew released on Monday, this is the first time that a majority of Republicans have thought that higher education is bad for the country. As recently as 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country, but by 2016, those results split to 43% positive and 45% negative. On the other side of the aisle, 72% of Democrats continue to think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country, holding steady with past years’ results. Here is a chart with the study’s top findings:

And if we get granular about the viewpoints, we see the positive view by Republicans has declined dramatically in just three years:

Only 1/3 of Republicans who have graduated from college now believe that college is a positive contributor to the way things are in America today. In fact, Republicans over age 50 support college and universities the least (28%). Even a majority of GOP Millennials do not see higher education as a positive force in our society.

While Pew doesn’t speculate on the reasons for the shift in thinking, it is clear that the last few years have not been kind to higher education. Elite colleges have made headlines for a series of controversies and protests around racism, free speech, and civil rights. We hear constant debate about “trigger warnings”, and “safe zones” for students who can’t be exposed to uncomfortable ideas or situations.

In 2015, the football team at the University of Missouri went on strike to protest the handling of racist incidents on campus, and Yale was rocked by controversy about the proper way to address insensitive Halloween costumes.

More recently, students have protested and sometimes disrupted appearances from controversial figures. But only 28% of college-educated GOP’ers support higher education? From Booman:

It’s really not compatible with being a country club Republican to have a negative view of a college education. A college degree confers respectability and signals status.

Booman makes the point that more and more of them home school their kids to protect them from the opinions of educated people who might have different views, and fewer of them want their children to go to a college where those religious and political views may be undermined.

Perhaps it also says that college is NOW no longer a good thing, either due to economic factors, or all the strict social/cultural paths people want their kids to follow. But, in America today, the unemployment rate for college grads is 2.4%, while it is 4.6% for those without a degree.

Why would Republicans want to deny their children the opportunity to earn a living?

And there is our PISA ranking. PISA rankings are produced by the OECD based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries every three years. Comparing the US ranking in both 2012 (the last time the test was administered) and 2015, the US fell to 38th from 28th in math out of 71 countries. We ranked 24th in science. For whatever reasons, we just don’t do a good job educating our kids.

But to the larger point, perceptions of college’s value/non-value is symptomatic of a much deeper and very dangerous schism, the devaluation of facts and scientific evidence. The GOP discredits facts and reality. They emphasize school choice (although it is the only thing that they are pro-choice about).

Resentment and fantasy based on ideology drives our discussion of education. So education has become a low priority for the young and old alike.

Today’s tune is appropriately, “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. It was their 11th studio album, released as a double album in November 1979:

Takeaway Lyric:

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teacher!

Leave them kids alone!

All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

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

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Parsing the “Russia Hacked Our Democracy” Meme

The Daily Escape:

Kangaroos in a vineyard in Barossa Valley Australia, June 2017 – photo by David Gray

People can’t stop talking about the Donny/Vlad meeting in Hamburg, and the idea that Trump’s position regarding the potential Russian involvement in the 2016 election is: “Let’s move on”. Then, we learned that our new Syria strategy is driven by Russia and its plan for a cease fire.

But, Russia is the story of the Trump presidency. We learned over the weekend that Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyers back in June of 2016. But, despite the continued news about meetings with the Russians, appearances don’t make the Trumps guilty. Mueller and his team will examine and understand the full extent of what the Russians did, and what they attempted to do. Only then will we determine if the Russians efforts had any effect.

There are two broad areas of potential Russian involvement to consider:

Interference in the electoral process: Russians attempt to manipulate domestic politics of many countries, including the US. We do the same. How serious is the threat? Political candidates already use a full array of tools and technologies to persuade voters toward specific social and political agendas. This persuasion effort is as old as humanity itself.

Whether tech-centric forms of propaganda, employing social media, fake news and data-mining techniques are effective remains to be proven. America has been engaged in exactly this sort of exercise in foreign lands for a long time, without significant (or lasting) success.

These technologies can only support ideas and feelings that are already out there. So, what was out there? Consider these:

  • Hillary’s emails threatening national security!
  • Dispensing contradictory, or conflicting, information like “Hillary Clinton is very sick”.
  • Using social connections to generate, or modify, beliefs, like “Trump is a successful executive who can fix the government”.

This type of information warfare is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. Hackers write small, diverse news stories and then wait to see what pays off. It is unclear that hackers were the tipping point in the election, and it is far from clear that the Russians were the sole party behind them. We don’t talk about the many countries that tried to influence our elections, including Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, and Ukraine. Is it more acceptable that the Saudi’s did it the “right” way, by donating massive amounts to their candidate’s campaign?

It is highly unlikely that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians regarding interference in the 2016 election.

Hacking into political databases: the “Russian hacking” stories are not just that Russians hacked the computers of US political operations including the DNC, but that the Russians have somehow delivered the election to Trump. Thus, the story morphed from “Russians infiltrated DNC computers,” to “Russians hacked our democracy.”

The first is both possible and probable, but the second is just wrong.

Hacking our democracy requires changing or destroying votes for one side in the presidential election, or suppressing voter turnout. Not even the Russians have the resources to pull off that feat. They may have preferred that Trump win, they may have done a few things, and Trump won, but that isn’t “hacked our democracy”.

Wrongo thinks it is probable that “Russian hacking” occurred. It is a serious story, but it needs to be placed in context. Yes, Russia has a political agenda. Yes, they use dirty tricks to influence political outcomes. Yes, this needs to be taken seriously. The problem is that once that is taken out of context, everything is reduced to political talking points. We are asked to choose between two absurd choices: Either Trump is a Russian stooge, or accusations against Trump are a baseless pack of lies.

The likely “truth” is that Russians were doing something, but what they did wasn’t material to the (relatively) close outcome of this election. This has been crowded out of serious discussion.

And who hacked us is still not definitively attributed: there are too many suspects with a motive, means, and opportunity. We can’t yet discount the possibility of domestic operatives (or disgruntled campaign workers) or political plants within campaigns doing mischief.

Sooner or later, we will figure out the definitive attribution for the hacks. And 2018 will bring new tools and techniques.

Who falls short may depend more on message, and less on technology.

Time for a tune. Here is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit doing “Hope the High Road” (leads you home again):

Takeaway Lyric:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

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

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Trump’s Dangerous Game: Regime Change in Iran

The Daily Escape:

Engelberg, Switzerland – photo by miracolei

Politico reports that the Trump administration is thinking about regime change in Iran:

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just that in testimony to Congress about the State Department’s budget:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

As a member of Congress, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo last year called for congressional action to:

Change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime…

All of this may have gone unnoticed in Washington, but it was heard in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to the UN filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed:

A brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law…

Critics of regime change say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew a democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That’s why President Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the UN, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration worked with the international community to put in place a program that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s important that this program work not just because Iran is an adversary, but it’s also key for preventing other countries in the region from developing their own nuclear weapons.

We can debate how rational the Iranian regime is, and whether or not their religious beliefs might make them less prone to act responsibly with a nuclear arsenal. The safer course is not to get distracted by regime change arguments, but instead, hold to a policy based on anti-proliferation and avoidance of a regional nuclear arms race.

But the Iran hawks want to change the status quo, because they say America can’t be safe this way.

They are blind to the fact that Iran is changing. It has now twice elected a (relatively) progressive president. Their young people are progressive. Obama understood that, and that it was likely that within the ten year life of the Nuclear Deal, progressivism and the desire of Iran’s young people to be part of the outside secular would prevail.

We can agree that Iran’s government poses some risk to the US, but we should also be clear that this has been true for decades, and it has been manageable. We have suffered more from the terroristic Sunni-based ideology exported by Saudi Arabia. Nothing comparable can be said about Iran. In fact, Iran’s primary effort at destabilization has been their support for Palestine vs. Israel.

So, our regional “allies” are working to make us less safe than is Iran.

We can’t disentangle ourselves from the region, but we should refuse to take actions that are sure to inflame things. From Booman:

It would seem our only compelling national interests in the middle east are nonproliferation, and humanitarian conflict-reduction both for its own sake and to reduce the attendant population flows and contagious violence.

Wikipedia lists 19 US efforts at regime change just since WWII. If there is one thing we should all know by now, it is that whatever takes the place of a toppled regime is frequently no better and often even worse than the government that has been overthrown. Let’s learn from history!

An attempt to overthrow the government in Iran is sure to fail, and the political fallout could be catastrophic. Iran’s current theocratic government exists because we overthrew their last democratically elected government, replacing it with the Shah. That sowed the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.

Calling for regime change in Iran is a fundamental error in strategy that endangers us, inflames the region, and will be catastrophic if we act on it.

Here’s a tune for Tuesday, Sam Cooke 1960’s hit “What a Wonderful World”, with a line that expresses Republican thought about Iran: “Don’t know much about history”:

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

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From Russian Hacks to Russian Collusion: Where’s the Beef?

The Daily Escape:

Image of Saturn taken from the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013

Wrongo has read much of the evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election. He has watched House and Senate committees ask the intelligence community and the Justice Department what is known and not known about the Russian hacking story.

 It is clear that the Russians have extremely capable cyber technicians. They have a pragmatic view about getting what they need strategically, so it is both feasible and possible that they could have been disruptive to our democratic process.

But is there actual evidence that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016? And if they did, is there evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with them? The answer so far is summed up by Caitlin Johnstone:

Russiagate is like a mirage: from a distance it looks like something, but once you move in for a closer look, there’s nothing there. Nothing. Nothing solid, nothing substantial, nothing you can point at and say, “Here it is. This hard evidence justifies saturating the media waves with obsessive 24/7 coverage, escalating tensions with a nuclear superpower, stagnating political discourse in America and fanning the flames of a hysterical, xenophobic McCarthyist feeding frenzy.”

Most of what we know comes from the intelligence assessment by James Clapper when he was the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for Obama; Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Here are the conclusions:

  • We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
  • Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

From Sic Semper Tyrannis:

The assessment says Russia did three basic things to “influence” the Presidential election. First, the NSA, CIA and, to a lesser extent, the FBI, believed that the Russians hacked into the DNC and John Podesta emails, then passed that content to WikiLeaks and DC Leaks, who subsequently published the information. Second, the Russians supposedly obtained access to “elements” (undefined) of US state or local electoral boards. Third, Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik News, put out Kremlin friendly messages.

There is no evidence backing up the claim that the Russian intelligence service hacked the DNC and Podesta that has been presented to the American people. The FBI did not conduct a forensic examination of the computers of either the DNC or of Podesta. The belief that the Russians did it is based on an independent firm, Crowdstrike’s examination of the DNC emails. Moreover, the release of Podesta’s emails had little to no effect on the election, while the Comey on-and-off-and on again investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails were certainly damaging to her electoral chances.

The larger point is that Democrats have convinced themselves that getting rid of Trump justifies throwing pasta (or any other sticky substance) at the wall to see what sticks. And that is what is happening with the “all Russia, all the time” hearings in the House and Senate.

An important subtext to this whole Russian conspiracy theory is the insistence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to sabotage Hillary’s campaign.  That is repeated endlessly on the cable channels, and has become an article of faith to many Americans, especially Democrats. But, a few meetings do not create collusion. Possibly the intelligence community has some proof, but it has not been presented in a form that inspires credibility.

About a month ago, the DOJ appointed a Special Counsel to ferret out what is real from what is fake in the allegations about Russiagate, from hacks to collusion.

Let’s hope that he gets to the bottom of the story.

In the meantime, stay focused on the potential damage that Messrs. Trump, McConnell and Ryan are trying to do, from the gutting of Dodd-Frank to passing an Obamacare replacement that hurts many Americans.

Now for a tune. The Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” was released in 1968. It was intended to be a parody of “Back in the USA” by the Beach Boys. The song shocked many at the time for its pro-Soviet message. Years later, Paul McCartney stated he knew very little about the Soviet Union when he wrote the song. Here is McCartney doing the song live in Moscow’s Red Square:

Note Putin vaguely rocking @ 0:14

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

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