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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – February 17, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Looking west at sunset with Merced River in foreground, Yosemite NP, CA – 2019 photo by OlafIowa

“The general culture is often stupid or evil, and would vote out God in favor of the devil if he fed them back their hate and fear in a way that made them feel righteous”  -Charles Frazier, from his book, Varina, Pgs. 328-329

We’re living in the terrible present, an unprecedented time when Trump can say “Make me!” and we can’t, although Democrats have been trying since 2016.

That we’re in the middle of a “put the oxygen mask on your democracy first” emergency is shown by all that the Trump administration has done since his impeachment acquittal. Democracy is dying right in front of us, and in broad daylight. And the people trying to kill it are making no bones about it to the rest of us.

In this primary season, people are fighting over which Democratic presidential candidate will be the best at beating Trump, but that’s the wrong question. Strategically, Democrats win if they hold the House and take back the Senate. With both Houses of Congress, Trump will be neutered, even if he wins. If the Democrat wins, and the Party holds both Houses, passing progressive legislation becomes possible.

So the real decision is which candidate will have the best coattails.

That brings us to doctrinal purity tests. Most Democrats see the purity test as a doctrinaire standard of ideological purity. In 2016, Hillary Clinton objected to Bernie Sanders’s saying in a primary debate that she didn’t measure up as a progressive. Clinton argued that according to Sanders’s criteria, even Obama wouldn’t measure up, “because he took donations from Wall Street.”

Democrats must overcome their obsession about who is the most progressive, or who isn’t progressive enough. Otherwise, the Party will go into the November fight disunited.

In a column last week, Wrongo talked about Democrats’ disunity in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016. But we can go back to an earlier event, the campaign of George McGovern in 1972. Nixon shellacked McGovern by a 23-point margin in the popular vote, carrying 49 states.

McGovern was a progressive who called for tax reform. He proposed payroll tax-funded single-payer healthcare. He was for a form of guaranteed income called a “Demogrant” of $1,000 per year for every adult, regardless of income, as an alternative to Nixon’s complicated means-tested welfare overhaul plan. Yang’s plan is similar to McGovern’s

Many Democrats failed to support McGovern, thinking he was too liberal. After McGovern’s defeat, Democrats began running towards the center, even though “the center” has moved further and further to the right with each presidential election.

We’ll have to play hardball to defeat Trump in November. But to play hardball, one must first have balls, something Democrats haven’t shown in a very long time. It’s not surprising that despite winning the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, Dems have little to show for it politically.

Consider that two of the top 2020 contenders include Bernie and Bloomberg, who aren’t Democrats, and have at times, held the Party in clear contempt. Think about where we are: Biden couldn’t beat Obama or Hillary in 2008. Sanders couldn’t beat Hillary in 2016. Hillary couldn’t beat Trump.

Is it logical that either of Biden or Bernie could win in 2020?

Wrongo isn’t sold on Bloomberg. Criticisms of other candidates are as least as applicable to Bloomberg:

  • Biden and Sanders too old? Bloomberg is just as old
  • Biden too gaffe-prone? Bloomberg feasts on his own foot frequently
  • Sanders health a concern? Bloomberg also had a heart attack and the same operation to treat it
  • Sanders’s commitment to the Democratic Party? Bloomberg has actually bankrolled Republican office holders at the state and federal level
  • Biden and Klobuchar too conservative? Bloomberg is more conservative
  • Klobuchar an evil boss? Don’t read Bloomberg’s management philosophy. It’s best if you aren’t a woman

For Bloomberg, maybe it’s as Cyndi Lauper said: “Money changes everything”.

Still, after the disaster of 2016, there are people who will sit on their hands and let Trump be re-elected, rather than support a Dem they find ideologically impure.

You probably don’t remember the 1972 campaign clearly because you were too young, but 2000 wasn’t enough? 2016 wasn’t enough?

Wake up America! The best candidate is the one with the longest coattails.

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Can Democrats Unite Behind One Candidate?

The Daily Escape:

The Great Western Divide, Kings Canyon NP, CA – photo by enigmo81

Let’s recall a statistic from the New Hampshire primary (NH) exit polling: 15% of Democratic voters said they wouldn’t support the Democratic nominee unless it was their first choice. This has echoes of the 2016 presidential campaign when the divisions between Hillary and Bernie carried over to unwillingness on the part of some Bernie supporters to vote for Hillary in the General Election.

Many of their votes went to the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Vox reports that:

“In Michigan, Clinton lost by less than a percentage point, a deficit she could have recovered from with half of Stein’s votes. Again in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Clinton lost by one point, Jill Stein’s votes would have covered her loss. Had Clinton won all three states, she would have won the election.”

And remember the 2000 election. That year, the Green Party’s candidate was Ralph Nader, who earned 97,488 votes, in Florida, swinging the election to GW. Bush, who won Florida by less than 600 votes.

So will 2020 be another time that Democrats self-immolate? Can Democrats agree to back one candidate with enthusiasm? Can Dems unify to insure huge turnouts that carry the House and Senate as well?

Let’s talk turnout. It’s been underwhelming. The total of Democrat voters in the 2020 Iowa caucus was 172,669. This is almost the same number of voters who turned out in 2016 when Hillary and Bernie were battling it out: 171,109. That’s about 70,000 less than the turnout in 2008 for Hillary vs. Obama.

Doesn’t seem that Iowa showed much Democratic enthusiasm.

In NH, more than 296,000 Democrat votes were cast. This exceeded the 287,542 that voted for Obama and Hillary in 2008. However, there are more eligible voters today than in 2008. That year 29% of the electorate voted in the Democrat primary, while only 26% voted this time.

It gets worse. NH allows crossover voting in primaries. Wrongo lived in NH for 12 years, and on occasion, voted strategically for candidates he had no intention of voting for in the General Election. Charlie Pierce noted this post last Sunday from the NH Journal:

“Bill Kristol, founder of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, confirmed to NH Journal that he is part of the effort, which involves tens of thousands of New Hampshire voter contacts and a six-figure budget. Kristol said:

“Yup. I’m happy to have joined with some others to help remind New Hampshire independents, who might be accustomed to voting in the Republican primary, that this year, they may be able to make more of a difference by voting for a responsible and electable candidate in the Democratic primary….”

Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report calculates NH independents responded to Kristol’s prodding, and some helped Buttigieg and Klobuchar:

Is this Democratic field causing less than expected turnout? What can turn this around? Wasserman’s colleague, Amy Walter, tweeted this:

“Dear Democrats: there is no ‘perfect’ candidate. There never is…”

It’s early in the primary marathon, but the signs are not good. Weak candidates, little enthusiasm, and a significant minority who is unwilling to say they’ll back the nominee, regardless of who it is.

And there’s been more than the two examples of disunity mentioned above. We have to go back to 1972 and the campaign of George McGovern. Nixon shellacked McGovern by a 23-point margin in the popular vote, carrying 49 states.

After McGovern’s defeat, Democrats began running towards the center, even though “the center” has moved further and further to the right with each presidential election.

For the past 40 years, party leaders and mainstream pundits have invoked McGovern’s name. In 2004, Howard Dean was the new McGovern. In 2008, Barack Obama became the new McGovern. Now in 2020, many think Bernie Sanders is McGovern. From Martin Longman:

“In 1972, we were told that the newly lowered voting age would bring out a surge of youth voters for McGovern. But only half of 18-21 year olds turned out to vote and 48% of them voted for Nixon. In any case, it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d all turned out and voted heavily for the Democrat. Without party unity, McGovern had no chance.”

We’re again hoping for the youth vote to drive turnout, and bring voter enthusiasm. What are the odds? Democrats are on a high risk course, when based on the midterms two years ago, the Party was pretty cohesive. What’s the reason to weaken the coalition that won the 2018 midterms?

Democrats need to think about how to drive their candidates toward agreement on a set of policies and eventually, on a candidate who can unify the Party.

Remember that regardless of who becomes the nominee, that candidate will be running on the most progressive platform of any major party in the past 40 years.

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Saturday Soother – Acquittal Edition

The Daily Escape:

View from the top of Mt. Baden Powell in the Los Angeles National Forest – February 2020 photo by David Dodd

(Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Is the game of investigating Trump over? What are the arguments for continuing to pick at this wound? This is a political calculation only. It no longer matters who said what in Ukraine, regardless of the damage caused by Trump. That ship has sailed.

It’s time to focus on the 2020 election, particularly on the House and Senate races. Focusing on winning those elections, and particularly on holding the House while winning a majority in the Senate, requires that the Democratic Party deal with its current schism. The Party is messily divided between social liberals who are for reform of capitalism along with Medicare for All, and free college, and moderates who wish to tack back towards the middle of the road.

The question that Democrats have to deal with is which of these two poles can make it a majoritarian party in 2020 and beyond?

This dilemma faced the Republicans only a short time ago, when the Tea Party threatened to split the GOP in two. Those cracks remained evident until Trump came along and united them in a way that today makes them seem more like a cult than a political party.

In some ways, Democrats are like the American Whig party was in the early 1850’s, when it could no longer bridge the gap between the Whigs of the northern industrial states and the Whigs of the southern farming/slavery states. It was an irreconcilable dilemma, and in short order, the party simply ceased to exist, only to re-emerge as the Republican Party in 1856.

The Democrats have been trending this way since LBJ forced southern Democrats to vote for/against the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Later, the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985, founded in part by Bill Clinton, pushed the Democrats rightward.

The “Left Party” that is trying to emerge from the current shambles of the Democratic Party could be more properly defined as a reactionary movement. An attempt to return to the days of the New Deal and the rise of the middle class.

In that sense, Wrongo is a New Deal Reactionary. The New Deal was a good deal for most of us. We should want our New Deal back again.

The question on the table is: Which half of the divided Democratic Party should New Deal Reactionaries support? Is it the Sanders/Warren half, or the Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg half of the Party? If it’s Sanders, can we get a New Deal Revival, but no Recreational Socialism to go along with that?

Can the moderate/ConservaDems realistically be counted on to bring back the New Deal? We see that ConservaDems are willing to strap on their running shoes and do 3 miles in the morning, because “no pain no gain”. But somehow, once at work in the House or Senate, they claim that the hardship doesn’t make sense economically, so why even try?

The answers to these twin questions: Whether the Party can be re-united similar to the way Trump united the GOP, and which half of the Party should attempt that unification in November 2020, will determine the arc of our democracy for decades to come.

It was a terrible week, and now we need a break from “all acquittal, all the time”. That means it’s time for our Saturday Soother, a brief window when we can forget about the outside world and concentrate on breathing slowly and relaxing mind and body.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of El Salvador Finca el Cerro Natural ($22.99/12oz.). The roaster, Virginia’s Red Rooster Coffee says it tastes of strawberry and tangerine zest with a viscous mouthfeel.

Now, grab a seat by the fire and listen to Anna Netrebko perform “Solveig’s Song” from Peer Gynt’s Suite No.2, live with the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume in 2008:

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

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Coronavirus in China Is Spreading Fast

The Daily Escape:

Sparhawk Mill, Yarmouth ME – photo by Benjamin Williamson

Should we be concerned about the new Chinese coronavirus? Given developments in the past few days, we need to focus on it. The CDC announced on Monday that a total of 110 people in 26 US states are under investigation for possible infection with it. But officials continue to believe the immediate health risk to the US public remains very low.

OTOH, the increasingly stringent measures taken in China to contain it sure make it look like Chinese officials are at least worried, if not yet panicked.

China is suffering from shortages of test kits and personnel to confirm that suspected cases are indeed the coronavirus. We know there are no special anti-viral medications that work, people can only rely on their own immunity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has increased its estimate of global risk of the coronavirus from moderate to high. It’s now clear that this coronavirus is very contagious. The estimates of the reproduction rate (number of new infections caused by someone with the disease) is between 2.6 and 2.9. If that is true, the reproduction rate would be higher than for the 1917 Spanish flu, but lower than for measles, which is between 12 & 15. The reason is that it’s a large pathogen. From Foreign Policy:

“The coronavirus is a physically large virus—in relative terms…too big to survive or stay suspended in the air for hours or travel more than a few feet.”

So far, this coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2.2%: The latest data is 4524 confirmed cases, with 106 deaths. This observed level isn’t good, but it’s far lower than for SARS (9.6%), and is similar to the Spanish flu, which was 2.5%.

These are the reasons for the current freakout. Governments have started evacuating staff from Wuhan. CNN reports that:

About 240 Americans being evacuated from Wuhan Wednesday morning local time…arriving in Ontario, California. About three dozen Wuhan-based US diplomats and their families are also expected to be on board…”

CNN mentions that Australia, France, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea and the UK are also evacuating their government employees and families.

Won’t evacuations just be another way to spread the disease unless the evacuees are quarantined for the 14 day incubation period? So many practical questions.

It’s a little early to speculate, but the impacts can go well beyond just public health. We’ve already seen a one-day negative impact on Mr. Market, who momentarily panicked.

A pandemic would severely affect Chinese economic output. With public transportation halted, commerce grinds to a stop as people avoid public places and thousands of employees can no longer go to work. Who pays their wages while the city is locked down?

We know cities can’t truly be isolated for longer than a few days. And we know people can’t live without food, water, fuel, etc. and money to buy these essentials.

The realities leave officials with an impossible choice: Either truly isolate the city (which isn’t possible) for more than a few days, or allow the flow of goods required to sustain millions of city residents. The second option creates uncontrollable vectors for the virus to spread beyond the city as transport workers and those fleeing the lockdown illegally, move on to other cities.

How would America cope with this virus if it gained a foothold here?

We had that experience 100 years ago. One of Wrongo’s grandfathers died in the 1918 flu pandemic. Of the estimated 500 million people in the developed world to be infected, the recorded mortality rate was 50 million, with about 675,000 occurring in the US. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of the 1918 pandemic.

Today, our elites would retreat to their country homes while demanding that their companies stay open. We’ve seen panic buying in Manhattan before blizzards that would only affect the city for two days. Logistics being what they are, local distribution centers absolutely do not have enough food to last through a prolonged shutdown. And Amazon won’t be delivering you toilet paper.

In times like these, it’s useful to remember that there is a never-ending attack being waged by the forces of privatization to take over America’s public health system, turning it into another monopoly profit center.

So far, we’ve held this effort at bay, but the lobbyists and the monied class keep working to convince Washington that this government system represents “waste, fraud and abuse”. The fight goes on.

Sadly, our leaders are immune to the coronavirus infections, because it is transmitted through the head (eyes, nose and mouth), and they generally have their heads up their asses.

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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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 8, 2019

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are off to New Orleans for a few days. Regular posting will return on December 13th)

Trump’s former UN ambassador and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley told conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Friday that the Confederate flag represented “service, sacrifice and heritage” for people in her state before mass murderer Dylann Roof “hijacked” its meaning when he shot and killed black Americans at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC in 2015:

‘Here is this guy that comes out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of…people saw [the Confederate flag] as service and sacrifice and heritage, but once he did that, there was no way to overcome it.’

Here’s Nikki Haley going all in on winning the David Duke vote. Haley’s comment is of a piece with Trump’s comment that there are “good people on both sides.” Dylann Roof didn’t hijack the “meaning” of the Confederate flag, he lived out its meaning of hate, racism and white supremacy.

The Confederate flag is a symbol of the institutional racism that many in this country refuse to acknowledge, let alone fully rectify. People who regard the Confederate flag as an icon, with a glorious past that should be retained, ignore that it represents a social and economic structure that enriched a very small group of white people by enslaving and brutalizing a large group of black people.

That same small group was willing to destroy the US to preserve their oligarchy. The Confederate flag is about “heritage” the same way the swastika is about heritage.

What Haley said is incredible. What Wrongo means by incredible, is Nikki Haley has no credibility. On to cartoons. Dems and GOP are playing their hands:

Trump has nothing to fear:

The Grinch takes food stamps from 700,000 more Americans:

Elephants can’t spell:

People now think Trump is a comedian:

Biden goes viral in a bad way:

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Al-Baghdadi Connects GW Bush to Trump

The Daily Escape:

Witches paddle boarding on the Willamette River, Portland, OR. The event was the Stand Up Paddleboard Witch Paddle, that brings 100’s to paddle board on the river. Useful to remember that drowning was one of the recommended witch removal methods in ye olden days. Happy Halloween!

Speaking of Halloween, it looks like rain all day in our corner of Connecticut, so those parents with little ones, are casting about for ideas on how to avoid getting little Megan’s mask of Melania soaked through in the first minute.

On the flight back to the States from London, Wrongo watched the film “Vice”, a film history of the life and political career of Dick Cheney. It brought back how the GW Bush administration executed its pivot from a limited war in Afghanistan to a full-scale invasion of Iraq.

Cheney is portrayed as the prime mover behind getting the Bush folks to craft false intelligence “facts” to support, and then sustain, our war in Iraq. Cheney did this by creating a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies would not produce analysis supporting Iraq’s culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

One thing the movie points out was the effort by Cheney and Rumsfeld to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. They settled on a minor Iraqi anti-Shiite cleric named Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the person that could be plausibly presented as having a tie between Saddam and bin Laden. This turned al-Baghdadi into one of the cool dudes of Islamic terrorism. He became a regional celebrity, the head of ISIS. We’ve all had to live with the consequences of Cheney’s “fake news”: Many died, and we’re still paying the price for Cheney’s rogue operation that sucked us deeply in the Middle East.

Now a different Republican president has taken out al-Baghdadi in a stealth raid in Syria this week. It was similar to Obama’s killing of bin Laden in May, 2011 in Afghanistan. We should be pleased that al-Baghdadi no longer controls ISIS, and we should give Trump full props for doing the deed.

We should remember that when Obama got bin Laden, the NYT reported the following from Republicans at the time:

“Former Vice President Dick Cheney declared, “The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation.” New York’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said, “I admire the courage of the president.” And Donald J. Trump declared, “I want to personally congratulate President Obama.”

But killing bin Laden didn’t kill al Qaeda, and killing al-Baghdadi won’t kill ISIS.

It’s good that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But never forget that there is a straight line between Bush and Cheney’s elevation of al-Baghdadi to justify their invasion of Iraq, and al-Baghdadi driving ISIS to take over a swath of Iraq and Syria that was larger than the UK.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney, and Obama’s willingness to bend our constitutional freedoms to extend the Global War on Terror for the better part of two decades.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney and what Trump is doing in the Middle East today.

Still, killing al-Baghdadi is a good thing, and Trump’s pulling 1,000 troops out of Syria is not as serious an issue as most people in DC are saying it is.

But gloating over an enemy’s death? That isn’t something American presidents should be doing. When we celebrate the death of a foe, it shows weakness.

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Is The Trump/Ukraine Story A Trap for Dems?

The Daily Escape:

Hopkinton NH — September 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Wrongo has been skeptical of the House Democrats’ ability to investigate an administration that has zero interest in playing by the old rules.

He was skeptical of the effort to make Russian interference in the 2016 elections a means of impeachment of Trump. He was skeptical of Robert Mueller as the potential savior of the Democratic Party in 2018.

Now, we’ve stepped back into the waters of impeachment because of the Ukraine president’s convo with Trump. Are Democrats once again placing false hope in impeachment? Trump is corrupt in a completely ham-fisted way that makes his efforts at self-dealing blatantly obvious. Here’s Trump, talking to the Ukraine’s president Zelensky:

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great….Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

That fired up Democrats, since it appears that Trump was trying to pressure Zelensky by withholding US military aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here’s Wrongo’s take. For the past few months, Americans were finally concentrating on subjects like healthcare and college debt forgiveness. These ideas were getting both air time and traction, via the debates. The battalion of Democratic candidates were telling us their positions on these ideas, and others, like a wealth tax.

But the Democrats have now introduced impeachment 2.0, focused on the Trump/Ukraine story. By doing that, they have also rehabilitated a debunked Biden/Ukraine story, something that has been high on the GOP’s radar for years.

What’s the Hunter Biden/Joe Biden/Ukraine story? It begins with the 2014 appointment of Hunter Biden to the board of Burisma Holdings, a small Ukrainian energy company. In late 2015, VP Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine, in part to send a message to the Ukrainian government that it needed to crack down on corruption.

That message was somewhat undermined by Hunter’s work with Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky had been Ukraine’s ecology minister under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Hunter had joined the board of Burisma the same month that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, an independent government agency, was conducting a money-laundering investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma. But the British investigation ended after Ukrainian prosecutors refused to cooperate. They wouldn’t turn over documents needed in the British investigation, and without that evidence, a British court ordered the assets unfrozen.

According to an Intercept piece on May 10th, Biden, during a visit to Kiev in late 2015, did threaten to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees unless the then- prosecutor was dismissed. But the Intercept argues that Biden did Ukraine a favor by hastening the prosecutor’s departure, because he had failed to properly investigate corrupt officials, including Zlochevsky.

By getting the prosecutor fired, Joe Biden made it more, rather than less likely, that Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who Hunter worked for, would be subject to prosecution for corruption. Yet, it never happened.

There is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything to shield Hunter or Burisma Holdings from scrutiny, as claimed by Trump and Giuliani. But it is true that Hunter continued to work to repair Burisma’s reputation. That isn’t a praiseworthy activity for a presidential wanna-be’s son.

And Hunter’s no saint. In 2014, he was discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. Later, he was involved in a hedge fund with his uncle, James Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, that went belly up.

This story isn’t going to die. As long as the impeachment inquiry against Trump lasts, the Biden story will be linked to it for many Americans. Even if impeachment happens, the Republicans will use this against Joe Biden if he’s the nominee. Joe has said that he never discussed Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine with him, but maybe he should have.

A question that Democrats should be asking is whether this is the hill that they are prepared to die on: Is Trump’s Ukraine effort sufficient for an impeachment? Is it anything more than a “he said, she said” debate?

Are the Dems prepared for another investigative loss, much like in Russiagate and the Mueller Report?

Presidents know that they have few constraints on their activities. GW Bush (or perhaps Cheney) realized that, and went on to exploit presidential power in ways that radically changed America. And when the Dems came into power, Obama and Pelosi ruled out pursuing Bush and Cheney.

Trump is on a much more dangerous path than Bush and Cheney.

Would taking Trump down restore the balance of power in our politics?

Is that worth the downside risk to the Democrats?

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Saturday Soother – August 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ground Swell – 1939 painting by Edward Hopper

In news you most assuredly haven’t seen, the 10th District US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that “Faithless Electors”, people who do not cast their votes in the Electoral College for the winner of their state’s presidential election, are now free to vote for anyone they want.

This Colorado case came about because in 2016, one elector refused to vote for the state’s winner, Hillary Clinton, and instead, voted for John Kasich. The Colorado Secretary of State ordered him to cast his vote for Clinton, or be replaced. He refused and was subsequently replaced with an elector who voted for Clinton.

The faithless elector sued, and the 10th Circuit decided in his favor, saying that the Constitution provides:

“…Presidential electors the right to cast a vote for president and vice president with discretion. And the state does not possess countervailing authority to remove an elector and to cancel his vote in response to the exercise of that Constitutional right.”

The court traced the history of faithless electors back to 1796, when Samuel Miles voted for Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams. Congress counted his vote. In the 2016 election, there were 13 anomalous votes from three states, and Congress also counted those votes.

This decision could have major ramifications for future presidential elections. The attorney for the faithless elector, Jason Wesoky, said the Court’s ruling essentially makes the laws requiring electors to vote for the state’s winner unenforceable. That impacts 16 states today.

It is even more significant, since a growing number of states are rethinking their Electoral College systems in response to the 2016 election. The 16 states that have passed laws that award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, currently equal 196 electoral votes.

If states representing another 74 electoral votes pass it, the so-called National Popular Vote bill will control the majority of votes in the Electoral College. The bill has passed at least one chamber in 8 additional states with 75 additional electoral votes.

This Appeals Court’s decision means that yet another crucial issue to  the future of our democracy will be in the hands of the Supreme Court, once the appeal gets to them.

Enough of news you won’t ever use, it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Honduras Marcala coffee ($19/12oz.) from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee Roasters. The founders are professional cyclists who met while riding in the Amgen Tour of California, America’s best bike race.

Now, settle back and listen to something very different, a guitar band from Mali called Tinariwen. They are Tuareg musicians from northern Mali. They play rolling melodic lines and loping rhythms that evoke the desert sands of the Sahara. The band’s name literally means “deserts” in their language, Tamasheq. Here they are playing “Kel Tinawen” from their upcoming album “Amadjar”, available on September 6th:

The video is of a road trip along Africa’s Atlantic coast as the band and crew cross the Western Sahara. They will be touring the US in September. For an early date in Winston-Salem, NC, some locals on social media are leveling violent, racist attacks against the musicians. Welcome to America!

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

Evil tongues – you can keep talking.

The uprising will be impossible to suppress.

The treachery of your evil words has sold out your brothers for your own interests.

You’ve locked them up in a prison, every last one of them.

You fine talkers, tell us what road you plan to take to avoid us if we remain rooted.

You’ve forgotten the suffering of our parents,

The suffering they have experienced since birth,

Unable to find water, unless they dig wells with their own hands.

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

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Saturday Soother – August 10, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Milky Way from the summit of Mt. Katahdin, ME – 2019 photo by aryeh95

Wrongo wants to provide some background to how Hong Kong (HK) went from being a UK colony to being a part of China. If you watch the news, you know that Hong Long’s anti-extradition protests are now in their third month. They are ostensibly directed at the HK administration, but they’re also aimed at the Chinese government in Beijing.

And the conflict appears to be escalating.

The Hong Kong — Mainland conflict partly reflects a huge gap in national identity. Frank Chung in a piece in Ejinsight, says it can be explained in part by how the nationality of most people in Hong Kong was changed in 1997 from British to Chinese: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“From China’s standpoint, Hong Kong had always been Chinese soil. Through 150 years of British rule, its people remained Chinese, regardless of British law. This fitted nicely with Britain’s policy, which was to see to it that the millions of Chinese “British citizens” in Hong Kong could not move to the United Kingdom. Nationality and immigration laws were changed.

Britain created a new category of citizens, called British Dependent Territory Citizens, in the 1980s. This transformed United Kingdom citizens into Hong Kong citizens. When Hong Kong was no longer a British dependent territory, yet another new category was created, British National (Overseas). The holder has no right to live in Britain and the citizenship cannot be passed on to the next generation.

China, too, changed its nationality law to deal with Hong Kong. The Standing Committee of its National People’s Congress in 1996 – the year before the handover – issued “Explanations” of how China’s Nationality Law would be applied in Hong Kong. That is to say, the law would mean different things in different parts of the country, a highly unusual legal situation.

The “Explanations” introduce a concept missing in the nationality law itself, that of “Chinese descent.” Thus, any Hong Kong resident of Chinese descent who was born in Hong Kong or China is a Chinese national, regardless of whether he possesses Canadian, Australian, British or other nationality. That means people who were foreign nationals were transformed into Chinese nationals in 1997.”

This was how China and the UK cooperated to facilitate the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Both wanted the people as well as the territory to be transferred wholesale. The millions of people in Hong Kong were considered nothing but chattel in the transfer.

And so it goes today.

China has all the leverage in the current test of wills. Their concern is not to let the HK demonstrations “infect” any cities on the mainland. And with the growth of the Chinese economy, HK’s leverage is steadily decreasing, as other Chinese cities surpass it economically, and trade directly with the rest of the world, a function that HK used to perform.

Two ways of looking at the current situation: One, HK’s not as important, and there’s little it can do to deflect Beijing’s control. Two, if Beijing doesn’t crack down, it will be seen as a weakness, rather than the wisdom of a mature nation.

Either way, the big advantage of authoritarian regimes is that they have fewer constraints. China historically has walked a line between centralized authority and provincial power. Centralized power will always win.

On to the weekend, it’s time for our Saturday Soother! With all the mass shootings news, and Trump trying to keep in the forefront of the same news cycle, our heads are spinning. We need to kick back and forget everything but how to kill crabgrass, and an AR-15 won’t help with that.

Start by brewing up a mug of Kenya Handege coffee ($19/12 oz.) from Austin TX-based Greater Goods Roasters. They say it is very sweet, tart, and rich. Now settle back near a large window and listen to Mary Gauthier perform her 2005 composition “Mercy Now” at the 2010 Americana Music Festival in Nashville, TN:

Given what El Paso and Dayton are going through, Gauthier’s poignant and direct message should resonate with all of us. Wrongo knows that you rarely click through and listen to the music, but today, it is really worth your while to listen.

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

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