UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Religious Right Praying Justice Ginsburg Dies

The Daily Escape:

Winter, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA – photo via wallpaper studio

 This week Right Wing Watch, who follow America’s least attractive thinkers so that we don’t have to, had a column about how Evangelical Christians are circling around Ruth Bader Ginsburg like vultures. The article included this tweet from anti-abortion and anti-gay activist Matt Barber:

We know that RBG just had cancerous tumors removed from her lungs. Yet, what has been made public so far is that RBG was given a clean bill of health, and is expected to make a full recovery. That diagnosis seems to be a big disappointment to many on the Christian Right.

They were extremely happy with Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch. They weren’t so thrilled with Brett Kavanaugh, preferring Amy Coney Barrett, who they saw as totally committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. And they want more. In addition to overturning Roe v. Wade, they want prayers back in schools, and they want same-sex marriage abolished.

Things get interesting when you consider just how much Evangelicals truly, deeply hate RBG:

  • In October, pastor Rodney Howard-Brown, who has prayed over Trump in the Oval Office, guest-hosted The Alex Jones Show on Infowars, where he said that Ginsburg should be shot for treason.
  • Lou Engle, a dominionist organizer of stadium-sized prayer rallies, urged Americans to engage in three days of fasting and prayer over the Supreme Court. Earlier, he led prayers asking God to “sweep away the judges” who support the right to abortion.
  • A few weeks ago, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles re-distributed a 1993 Phyllis Schlafly attack on Ginsburg’s feminist philosophy.
  • Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver has argued that Congress should have impeached justices who supported Roe v. Wade and Obergefell vs. Hodges (the case that legalized same-sex marriage). (BTW, Liberty Counsel opposed the Senate’s bill that would outlaw lynching in the US because the bill extends the right not to be lynched to gays and transgender people.)
  • Earlier this month, former Trump campaign adviser Frank Amedia insisted that Chief Justice John Roberts has not proven to be sufficiently reliable to the Religious Right. That means God has to remove more justices so that Trump can fill Roberts’s seat with another justice whose “values and morality” reflect a “kingdom enlightenment as to what is required by God to change the law of this land now.”
  • Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow John Malcolm told the Daily Caller that Trump would be under pressure to replace Ginsburg with a woman, and named Amy Coney Barrett as a preferred successor.

You may not believe that God spends much time thinking about who sits on the Supreme Court, but these people are deadly serious. They think God is a “family values” Republican. They believe that they know who God wants on the Supreme Court.

America needs to look very closely at any group that argues for followers of a specific religion as a test of who is worthy to sit on the Supreme Court, or who should head our government.

Praying for the death of RBG ought to repugnant to all Americans, but sadly, it isn’t particularly surprising that some “Christians” exhibit such callous inhumanity. They, and their kind of thinking, should be repudiated by all Christians.

There’s some consolation in the fact that RBG has worked to make America a more fair and equitable place. She has made that her life’s calling.

Contrast that to these phony Christians who are working to make America a one-party political entity that follows Jesus Christ.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Letter From Russia, Part III

The Daily Escape:

The Assumption Cathedral, Yaroslavl, RU. Originally built in 1210, it was  blown up by the Soviets in 1937 as part of their anti-religion policy. This new cathedral was constructed in 2010 on the same spot. In front is an eternal flame memorializing the soldiers and the workers of WWII.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the day in Yaroslavl, Russia. It’s a mid-sized town of about 600k residents, and an important port on the Volga River. The Volga is more than 2,000 miles long, tying the western Russian cities together. Yaroslavl is an ancient city, founded in 1010.

In Yaroslavl, we learned two interesting facts about Russian towns. Any town of size has a fortress that includes a church. In Russia, that space is called a “Kremlin”. Second, despite the collapse of the the Soviet Union, statues of the heroes of the revolution were not taken down. The idea is that young people should understand their history, both the good and the bad. Major streets have kept their revolutionary names as well.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for America.

In visiting both tiny towns and large cities, it quickly becomes evident that the peoples of Russia have suffered immensely over the centuries. They endured long periods of starvation, and their losses in blood and treasure at the hands of both their enemies and their rulers were truly extraordinary:

  • As many as 17 million died under Stalin in the Gulags. At their high point, there were thousands of Gulags across the Soviet Union.
  • In WWII, during the war with Germany, Russia lost 27 million people.
  • During the 400 years of serfdom, millions of serfs died during forced labor. They built the palaces, roads and waterways that remain in use today between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If history teaches us just one thing about Russia, it is that its people know suffering. They have survived, and in Wrongo’s brief visit, appear to have thrived. Stores are full of product, markets are busy with the purchase of fresh vegetables, meats and fish. New cars are on the streets, theaters are open, and everything looks very clean.

How have a people who have endured so much suffering, succeeded in the modern world? How were they not irretrievably damaged by their multiple tragedies?

How are they so resilient?

Perhaps their legendary winters forge a determination to do whatever is necessary to survive a long, hard fight with limited resources. Perhaps Russia’s long history of invasion and occupation by hostile powers has played a role: Russians have been invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and the French. Their story is ultimately one of resilience despite tremendous loss of life, repeated destruction of infrastructure, and against long odds.

Another thing is that the people seem to have a profound and deep feeling for their homeland, Mother Russia. That seems to be true, regardless of who is in control in the Kremlin, or which Tsar was in charge at the time.

So they fought and died for the motherland, regardless of who was leading them.

Compare that with America’s resilience. How resilient are we, in the 21st Century? We have never faced invasion, but we have faced attack. On our homeland, we fought a seven-year revolution, and a bloody civil war. We’ve faced natural disasters.

After 9/11, we overreacted to the threat of Islamic extremists by weakening our First Amendment rights with the Patriot Act. We launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, we didn’t come together as a nation. In fact, 9/11 threw gasoline on the fire of America’s already factionalized politics.

When Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we came together as a people. There were a few who said we shouldn’t go to war, but the vast majority of our people got behind a global war against fascism. We sent our fathers, brothers and husbands off to war. Women worked in the factories for the war effort. Some were on the front lines with the troops. We rationed butter and sugar.

Our people knew hardship, and pulled together in common cause.

The question is: Will today’s America still pull together in common cause? Do we have the strength of character, the grit, to fight for something larger than ourselves? Could we again sacrifice for what we believe to be the right thing?

Our response to the Great Recession of 2008 showed us that in an American financial crisis, it’s every person for themselves, unless that citizen happens to be a financial institution.

When you think about it, do you still love Lady Liberty enough to fight for her?

To send your kids to fight for her?

And, do you think that we love her as much as Russians seem to love Mother Russia?

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – September 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Avoto Metro Station, St. Petersburg, RU – 2014 photo via themindcircle

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are leaving today for Russia. We will be in St. Petersburg tomorrow, and eventually wend our way to Moscow. You should expect that blogging will be light. Regular posting will resume on October 9th. One more thing: We won’t be looking for the real hackers.)

The Trump administration doesn’t lack for enemies, but it is considering adding a few more. Bloomberg reports that:

The White House is considering a draft executive order for President Donald Trump that would instruct federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the practices of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., and other social media companies.

Bloomberg says that the language of the order instructs US antitrust authorities to: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws. It instructs other government agencies to recommend within a month after it’s signed, actions that could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

Assuming that the order is signed in something like its current form, it is an escalation of Trump’s aversion to Google, Facebook, Twitter, all of whom he’s publicly accused of silencing online conservative voices and news sources. The draft order says:

Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms….It adds that consumer harm — a key measure in antitrust investigations — could come “through the exercise of bias.”

And there you have it. Because these companies allow criticism of the Very Stable Genius, we will get one step closer to government control of what you can say on the internet.

The draft order doesn’t name any companies, but it doesn’t have to in order to intimidate Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon’s parent’s other business, The Washington Post, to suddenly insure that their coverage of Trump is a whole lot nicer.

OTOH, there is a basis for what the DOJ is thinking of doing. There have been arguments from the right and the left that Silicon Valley companies including Google and Facebook, engage in anti-competitive behavior. The companies argue they face robust competition, and that many of their products are free.

Before this, bias has not been a factor in antitrust examinations. But, according to Bloomberg:

A Pew survey earlier this year found that 72% of Americans, and 85% of Republicans, think it’s likely that social media companies intentionally censor political viewpoints that those companies find objectionable.

But there is no objective evidence that either Facebook or Google systematically discriminates, left or right.

Even among some on the right, there are misgivings about a Trump administration crackdown on the free speech rights of these firms. The libertarian groups FreedomWorks and ALEC sent a letter to AG Jeff Sessions expressing concern that his:

…inquiry will be to accomplish through intimidation what the First Amendment bars: interference with editorial judgment.

While the political bias aspect of the order is controversial, it probably won’t scare either Google or Facebook. The First Amendment bans the government from restricting or imposing speech.

Federal authorities cannot require any company to publish views it favors, but it can take crippling anti-trust actions until the companies bend their algorithms to favor Trump messaging.

The danger of such thinking is obvious, however, as the Pew survey information above shows, the vast majority of Republicans agree with Trump.

You should agree that the government ought to be paying attention to the outsized market share of these companies.

You should be very afraid of the government going after them for political revenge.

WAKE UP, AMERICA! Time for all of us to remember these words from Benjamin Franklin:

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech”.

Political revenge via government agency is the mark of an authoritarian state.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Will Nike/Kaepernick Adverts Change The Discussion?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP – 2018 photo by BrandonUlp

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s the tag line in a new Nike advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Branding is about identity. Successful branding requires authenticity. The spokesperson must represent the brand authentically, and vice-versa. What Kaepernick and Nike have done is create a truly authentic campaign defined by who Kaepernick is, and what he stands for.

For readers who do not follow either Trump or sports, Colin Kaepernick is the football quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Trump has used the failure of professional athletes to stand to try to destroy their image, and that of the National Football League, unless/until there is zero expression of dissent during the National Anthem.

There couldn’t be a better campaign to elevate Kaepernick’s legacy in America’s consciousness. Sticking to his beliefs has cost him his job in sports. He hasn’t worked as a professional quarterback since 2016. In fact, he has a lawsuit underway accusing the NFL of collusion, since he received no job offers in 2018. That lawsuit will be going forward after the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association rejected the NFL’s attempt to have Kaepernick’s case dismissed.

Nike and Kaepernick have taken the essence of a particular player, in this case, his dissent, empowerment, and integrity, and created a brand. It serves as a lesson every athlete needs to learn: You should be more than the game. Professional basketball players already know this, and are on social media celebrating their viewpoints all the time.

Despite not having played in the league in two years, Kaepernick is among the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL. His football jersey is among the top 50 sellers.

The Holy Week of McCain showed us that we remain chronically short of heroes.

We want leaders, we’re yearning for inspiration. We don’t consider most celebrities who hawk goods to be our heroes; they seem clearly in it for the money. Then, there’s Colin Kaepernick. A man of color standing up for what he believes, a straight arrow who has not been featured in the tabloids for mistakes of character. He’s a man who’s risked his career, and his salary for an idea.

Could he be the hero we’re looking for? Highly unlikely, but he’s one of the few willing to challenge the system.

We’re living in a time when stepping out of line seems very risky. There’s groupthink everywhere, and everyone’s afraid of negative social media repercussions, especially corporations. While a few giant corporations have stood up to the Orange Overlord, the NFL has zero desire to challenge him. They fear viewer backlash in an already challenged TV ratings environment.

So Nike weighs in. Nike isn’t simply calling the NFL’s bluff. It’s calling Donald Trump’s as well.

Change starts with the actions of a few individuals. Kaepernick is trying to change professional football’s mentality, which argues that the players are interchangeable, that only the coach, and the owners matter. Their pitch is that you’ve got to sacrifice your identity for the team. It’s certainly creating some interesting waves of all aspects of the sport – with sports betting sites like https://sportsbook.fanduel.com/ reacting and adjusting on a near constant basis.

Trump plays on that. He berates the NFL owners, and re-frames the protest by Kaepernick and others against police brutality, saying its about patriotism and support of “the troops”. But, those who refuse to stand for the Anthem will tell you that their message has nothing to do with the flag or the military. Trump’s choosing to make it about the flag and the military, and as usual, many Americans are buying Trump’s pitch.

The story on Kaepernick’s side is of freedom of speech, of fair treatment for African-American men and boys. Which will prevail should be clear, despite the anti-Nike and anti-Kaepernick thoughts on social media today.

We have 62 days until America votes whether to take the House away from the Republicans, or, to leave them in charge. Believe it or not, that fight will be helped by one guy and a company who decided they’d refuse to bend to Trump’s rabble-rousing.

The Trumpists say they’ll refuse to watch the NFL. They’ll say they refuse to buy Nike gear. But, they’re sure to do both in massive numbers.

Nike has made a business move, not a social move. Here is what Nike’s first ad looks like:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Says Google Is Against Him

(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)

The Daily Escape:

Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.

Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.

When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:

Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”

This is today’s Conservatism in action: A constant search for new conspiracy theories to advance their agenda of victimhood. Trump was repeating a claim that first appeared in the conservative news site, PJ Media, which published a piece with the headline, “96% of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”

Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.

Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms.  Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.

But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.

Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.

If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?

But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.

There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?

The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.

It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.

The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?

After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.

There’s an ongoing petition at White House.gov to replace Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s “community standards” with First Amendment protections. No worries, nothing will come of that.

One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?

At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – August 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Alberta Canada – 2018 photo by theoxernius. This is the third picture of Moraine Lake that Wrongo has published, including one of his own. This spot is about a 5-minute climb from the parking lot, so everyone who goes near the place takes a similar photo. The distinctive water color is from the sunlight reflecting off of dissolved particles of finely ground rock called “glacial flour”. It’s one of the most beautiful places in North America.

Will Mueller breach the castle’s walls? Certainly not just by winning the Manafort trial. Trump has supposedly given Jeff Sessions a “couple of weeks” to end the Mueller probe. If not, Trump will move to fire Ron Rosenstein. As Wrongo has said, Trump has everything in place now to fire Rosenstein from a technical aspect: When the previous number three official as Justice, Rachel Brand resigned, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski, a buddy of Jeff Sessions. He can fire Rosenstein. That brings us to now.

Will Trump move on Rosenstein? The negative political fallout could bury Trump. Interesting times.

Then there was this from Jeff Sessions:

Let’s be frank. A dangerous movement undetected by many is challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom….We’ve gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them hate groups. This President and Department of Justice are determined to protect and advance our heritage of freedom of religion.

Good Morning America subsequently tweeted:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces “Religious Liberty Task Force.” Sessions says the task force will “help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

That led to a tweet storm, of which this was the very best:

Has there been an instance where Christians have been persecuted in this country? Except by other Christians who thought the persecuted ones weren’t the right sort of Christian? We can find plenty of instances where Christians have persecuted others, but neither the Gay Cake decision, nor Hobby Lobby were about religious persecution. How can Christians be persecuted, when roughly three of four Americans self-identify as Christian?

There is a tendency by some Christians to think that Americans need to accept the Christian version of religion. Those Christians ignore the separation of Church and State, despite the fact that the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause clearly outlines the concept:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

Sessions is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. American Christians have the freedom to exercise their religion as they deem appropriate (within reasonable limits, which applies to all faiths). What the GOP and conservative Christians don’t have is the right to use the government to help establish their flavor of conservative Christianity as America’s official religion.

If Church and State become one, religious faith becomes a weapon, to punish or persecute those who believe differently. That’s not our America, unless you want your America to look like a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.

When the power of government puts its thumb on the scales, it surely will create religious tyranny.

Another week of big issues for us to try and thread our way through. It looks like a hot weekend across the country. Good luck to the firefighters in California, it seems that their work never ends. For the rest of us, we can take an hour or so and try to forget about the world’s troubles (and Trump’s) for a while. If you can do that, you will almost certainly be soothed.

Let’s get started by brewing up a large cup of Hawaiian Kona ‘Volcanic Estate’ Coffee ($59.95/ lb.) It comes from the Big Island. There, the volcano Mauna Loa creates excellent growing conditions for coffee trees. Volcanic Estate coffee is grown at between 800 and 2,500 feet. It has a light acidity that is complemented by slight chocolate and fruit undertones.

Now, settle back in your favorite air-conditioned spot, and listen to an exemplary classical guitar performance by John Feeley. He is performing Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in D. Obviously, it has been transcribed for guitar:

Feeley performs for nearly 20 minutes without a break, and without a score to follow. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Impeach Rosenstein Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sauron’s hot tub, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP -2018 photo by calibeerking

Our Monday wake-up calls usually involve a single news item that gives Wrongo the chance to generalize from the specific. This weekend had at least two, and neither concerned NATO, Putin, or Trump.

First up, few probably know the name of US Congressman Daniel M. Donovan (R-NY). He is the guy who represents Staten Island and South Brooklyn. He won over the convicted criminal former GOP Congressman Michael Grimm, among others. He’s the only Republican House member in NYC. Donovan introduced HR 6054, a bill that would make it illegal to wear a mask at a demonstration. This seems to be the best hot take:

The proposed law would enhance penalties for anyone who interferes with another person’s “protected rights” while wearing a disguise. So, the guy replacing convicted felon Michael Grimm offers a piece of nuisance legislation to protect those very fine Nazi people of Charlottesville’s “unite the right” rally. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

Unmasking laws are not new at the state level. It’s been illegal to wear a mask in New York, if you are accompanied by at least one other mask-wearer, since 1845. Later, unmasking laws were used to combat the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama, where it’s been illegal to wear a mask (except on certain holidays) since 1949. Georgia also has an anti-masking law targeted at the Klan.

Yet, Wrongo never thought we’d see a time that Congress would attempt to criminalize speech. But here it is: if somehow, this bill became law, some forms of speech will be criminalized.

Watching what’s happening in Congress, we may be underestimating the threat posed to our freedom and liberty. If you think this is just a Monday over-reaction, let’s move on to item # 2. TPM is reporting: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Conservatives in the House are preparing a document to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and could file the document as early as Monday, Politico reported Friday afternoon, citing conservative sources on Capitol Hill.

House Freedom Caucus members Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), two of Rosenstein’s most vocal critics, are leading the effort. For what its worth, Trey Gowdy said he isn’t in favor of impeaching Rosenstein.

Can’t happen, you say? Well consider this: With the confirmation of Brian Benczkowski to the DoJ as a possible replacement for current Deputy AG, and Mueller boss Rod Rosenstein, Zandar speculates:

…should Rosenstein be fired, Robert Mueller’s boss would almost certainly become Benczkowski, a person with no prosecutorial experience whatsoever, somebody already tainted, if not compromised by Russian money laundering, and somebody who worked for Donald Trump’s campaign directly. And no, he hasn’t said that he would recuse himself should that become the case.

No one knows how far this will go, but it gives Trump the ability to fire Rosenstein, and replace him with his ally, (and Jeff Session’s buddy), the newly-installed Benczkowski.

Now that Trump has his guy in place at the DOJ, some senior House Republicans seem to prefer impeachment of Rosenstein to letting the Mueller probe continue. That should tell you everything that we need to know about how politicized the Republicans have made this inquiry.

Is this just a political gamble by the Freedom Caucus? They seem convinced that the political pendulum won’t swing back—that they’re permanently in power. Otherwise, why would they be trying incredible shit like this?

They are ignoring the obvious response to evidence that our nation has come under assault, and instead, would rather impeach the person responsible for managing the investigation!

Time to knock some sense into the heads of these Republicans, and that will only happen by pushing them out of controlling the House in November. That requires all of us to wake up, and work hard to get out the vote. It requires a commitment to do more than just send texts, or complain on Facebook.

We have to work extremely hard this fall in our local Congressional districts. We have to elect people who won’t think HR 6054 is a super idea.

People who don’t think that impeaching the Deputy AG is just fine, because he’s…what?

To help you wake up, here are the O’Jays, with their 1972 monster hit, “Back Stabbers”:

Sample Lyric:

(They smile in your face)
Smiling faces… smiling faces sometimes tell lies (Back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
I don’t need low down, dirty bastards (Back stabbers)

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Cape Cod Edition

The Daily Escape:

Cape Cod morning – 1950 painting by Edward Hopper

(Today, Wrongo and Ms. Right are on our way to Cape Cod for a few days of bonfires, bicycling, surfcasting, and hanging with kids and grandkids. Blogging will be infrequent, but you can expect a Saturday Soother on, well, Saturday.)

This morning, Wrongo feels the need to bore you with a concept from historian Peter Turchin, taken from his book Ages of Discord, which provides some insight into where America is today. Turchin posits that historical eras are either integrative periods when people find reasons to cooperate, and join forces, or disintegrative periods, when reasons to split apart become dominant.

Turchin identifies three key factors that can create the disintegrative periods:

  • Competition and conflict among an expanding population of elites
  • Declining real wage for an expanding population of workers
  • State financial collapse (unpayable debt)

Does any of that sound familiar? Turchin’s theory is that history experiences cycles which, in non-industrialized economies, tend to last between 200-300 years. In America, the cycles from start to finish are much shorter, about 150 years, due to a faster pace of change.

His demonstrates his theory about a positive phase (the integrative phase) and a negative phase (the disintegrative phase) in the first of two American cycles, from 1780 to 1920. The positive phase lasted from about 1780 to about 1840, while the negative phase lasted from about 1840 to about 1920. Turchin contends that the second American cycle began in 1920, and is not yet complete. The positive phase lasted from 1920 to around 1970, and the negative stage has lasted from 1970 to the present.

He contends that the best parts of positive eras typically last only a generation or two, such as 1810 – 1840, and 1940 – 1970 in the US, before elite individuals and groups abandon consensus politics to pursue ever harsher exploitation and competition to enrich themselves.

A cycle begins with an undersupply of labor, such as happened after the American Revolution. This shortage of labor caused a rise in real wages and general economic progress. This positive phase peaked around 1820. It was a time that reflected a sense of national purpose and a desire for unity among Americans in the aftermath of the War of 1812.

But the division between the industrial North and the slaveholding, agrarian South continued, creating rivalry among the elites, along with political polarization, culminating in the Civil War. The negative phase of the cycle continued afterward, with massive strikes, many of them violent, in the late 19th Century. Meanwhile, income inequality peaked during the Gilded Age as elites profited from low worker’s wages and poor working conditions.

In modern America, we are largely governed by religious, geographic (local, state and federal), and economic institutions. And many compete with each other for resources, and the separation of powers among them is becoming hazy. Today, our “economic” government is the corporation.

If you think about it, our current political struggles are between geographic governments and both the religious and economic ones. Republicans, and many Democrats, support the efforts of both to increase their influence over the lives of the people, often through the geographic governments.

And this isn’t simply a minor change in who is doing the governing, they threaten our democracy.

We’re blowing up our institutions, but it’s not in reaction to any looming danger. It’s because we’ve been conned into thinking that September 11 was the same as Pearl Harbor. And the threat of immigrants today is the same as the threat of a Japanese invasion was in 1941. And that modern social policies threaten the religions of some people.

Time to wake up America! We cannot surrender to fear, to corporatism, or to forever war. We have entered a disintegrative phase, but there is time to pull out of it.

If you care.

To help you wake up, here is Pink Floyd with “Ordinary Men” from their classic album, “Dark Side of the Moon”:

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

 

Facebooklinkedinrss