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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.

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Saturday Soother – June 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rakotz Bridge, Kromlauer Park, Germany via @archpics

With the press busy mourning the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, you probably missed a couple of news stories about press freedom.

First, on Thursday night, the DOJ unsealed an indictment of James Wolfe, the long-time Director of Security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolfe, a former Army intelligence analyst, had worked for the committee in a nonpartisan capacity for nearly 30 years. He is accused of one count of false statements to the FBI. The indictment alleges that he lied about his conversation with four journalists, Ali Watkins of the NYT, and three others.

The NYT revealed that Watkins, who had a three-plus year relationship with Wolfe, has had years of her communications subpoenaed. The DOJ obtained her subscriber information, and additional information from her phone.

The subscriber information that can be obtained by the DOJ is invasive. It includes your name, financial and other contact information, and IP and device addresses that allow them to map out all the communications a person uses.

It gives the government all of a journalist’s sources.

And the DOJ also sought and received Ali Watkins’ her email from when she was an undergraduate at Temple. She graduated in 2014. She broke her first national security story as a senior in college, so perhaps her school emails are relevant to the government’s investigation.

But this breach of the reporter/source privilege needs to explained. The government must delineate the boundary of what is, and isn’t acceptable in terms of vacuuming up a reporter’s source information.

It is important that counterintelligence sources and information be kept secret. James Wolfe’s motives are unclear, since he shared information with other reporters that he wasn’t having an affair with.

As of now, we don’t know if there was actual damage to an investigation.

The second item is the report, originally in April, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to list and track  290,000 news outlets, journalists, bloggers, and influencers following select news stories. Their intent is to share those data with federal, state, local and private partners.

Naturally, there was pushback by news organizations, enough for the DHS’s Tyler Houlton to say:

Sure. Only a crank could possibly have an issue with one of the least transparent government agencies, the one with an Orwellian name, tracking and cataloging journalists. This amounts to mass monitoring of the press by the state.

So, two attacks on press freedom by the Trumpets, one by DOJ, and the other by DHS.

Remember, the government now has virtually unlimited processing power, bandwidth, and storage, and with that: Anything that can be monitored will be monitored.

This wasn’t feasible in the past, but now it is. We are at the point when privacy, as we have understood it in America, is over. For most of our country’s first 200 years, the government accepted that reporters would never reveal their sources, and by and large, no prosecutor and no judge would force them to try. It was a sacred protection guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Well, that’s changed. And it isn’t just the hard right bunch currently running the country. They are building on the efforts by Obama’s DOJ to seize journalists’ emails using the Espionage Act, to increase surveillance pressure on journalists and prosecute leakers of classified secrets.

It will take another court case similar to the Pentagon Papers to stem this undermining of press freedom. Good luck with that, given the current and likely future makeup of the Supreme Court.

Trump must respect and obey the First Amendment, in its entirety. The First Amendment is the core of our free society. Most whistle blowers are heroes.

This is how freedom is lost a little at a time, until one day we’ll wake up and find out that we’re no longer free. Technology has made Big Brother possible, but it is Congress that has made it legal.

Only pushback from freedom loving citizens will prevent it.

Wow! We really need a Saturday soothing. So, get off the couch, and brew up a cup of Kiniyota Espresso by Madison, Wisconsin’s JBC Coffee Roasters. It is produced entirely of the heirloom Bourbon variety of Arabica. Then, taste its rich notes of stone fruit and dark chocolate ($17.60/12oz). Now, sit outside, hopefully in a shady spot, and listen to the Viola Concerto in G major by Georg Philipp Telemann. It was probably composed in 1715. It was the first concerto for Viola. Here, it is played by Midwest Young Artists Conservatory:

Someone said that the viola is like the cream in an Oreo cookie; sweet and creamy, while holding the top and the bottom together.

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

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Bankers Gotta Bank

The Daily Escape:

Drake Hooded Mergansers with a female Common Merganser tagging along. Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – January 9, 2018 photo by JH Clery

You missed it. During the Christmas holiday week, the Trump Administration published a notice in the federal register announcing that it would waive the outstanding criminal sanctions against some of the world’s largest banks: Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank.

The banks were facing sanctions stemming from a variety of wrongdoing, including the trillions’ worth of fraud in the LIBOR scandal, and Deutsche Bank’s role in laundering $10B for Russian oligarchs.

The LIBOR fraud effected every interest rate in the world.

Four of the banks receiving waivers, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays and UBS, received temporary waivers from the Obama administration late in 2016 for one year. Now, the Trump administration has offered five-year waivers to Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays, and three-year waivers to UBS and Deutsche Bank.

By laws that protect retirement savings, financial firms with affiliates convicted of violating securities statutes are barred from the lucrative business of managing those savings. But, a special exemption will allow these banks to keep their status as “qualified professional asset managers”.

It makes you wonder what a bank has to do to get punished, or for a bank president to go to jail, when laundering money for drug dealers and manipulating global interest rates aren’t serious enough crimes. We’ve entered a period of extreme social stratification in this country, one that is similar to India’s: The bankers and politicians are the Brahmins and the rest of us are the untouchables.

These interactions with the Trump administration and the federal government are transpiring as Deutsche remains a key creditor for Donald Trump’s businesses. From David Sirota:

Donald Trump owes the German bank at least $130 million in loans, according to the president’s most recent financial disclosure form. Sources have told the Financial Times the total amount of money Trump owes Deutsche is likely around $300 million. The president’s relationship with the bank dates back to the late 1990s, when it was the one major Wall Street bank willing to extend him credit after a series of bankruptcies. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump and his companies have received at least $2.5 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank and co-lenders since 1998.

In the year leading up to the new waiver for Deutsche Bank, Trump’s financial relationship with the firm prompted allegations of a conflict of interest. The bank also faced Justice Department scrutiny by five separate government-appointed independent monitors.

Meanwhile, the NYT recently reported that federal prosecutors subpoenaed Deutsche for:

Bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Not enough for you? The just-appointed number two in the DOJ’s office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is Robert Khuzami, formerly director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. And before that, he was Deutsche Bank’s General Counsel.

Nothing to see here. Conflicts of interest are all over this case. Trump’s waiver is a clear conflict of interest. And both his son-in-law Jared and the new US Attorney have more than incidental relationships with Deutsche.

First Obama went easy on the banksters, and now, so does Kaiser Tweeto.

Republicans are happy to see Der Trump helping the banking industry and not pursuing them. And thanks to President Clinton, they no longer suffer under the restrictions of the Glass/Steagall act.

But, what about the conflicts of interest?

Who in this rogue’s gallery is working for us?

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Saturday Soother – December 2, 2017

The Daily Escape:

St Petersburg Russia’s Church of the Saviour – photo by Amos Chapple

As Wrongo writes this on Friday, it appears that the Senate Republicans have the votes to pass their version of the tax bill. The House passed their version on November 16th. The House Republican’s tax bill includes a major shift in tax policy that will mean a hidden tax increase on every American taxpayer over the coming decades. From the Washington Times:

Republican tax-writers have decided to shift the tax code’s inflation index from the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, to something known as chained CPI, which is a slower-growing method of calculating cost-of-living increases.

How would this work? The new tax proposal replaces the current CPI, which is based on changes in prices for urban consumers, with the chained CPI. Various estimates show that this method would lower reported inflation by as much as 0.30% a year.

This will create two pocketbook issues for taxpayers. First, using a lower rate of inflation to calculate future tax rates will mean that tax brackets will adjust more slowly than with regular CPI. Therefore, taxpayers will move into higher tax brackets if their income increases faster than chained CPI, paying more in taxes. More from the Washington Times: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It works out to taxpayers paying $128 billion more to Uncle Sam than they would otherwise over the next decade, and $500 billion more in the subsequent decade.

Second, chained CPI will change how the government calculates inflation for the purpose of adjusting Social Security payments. CPI is the basis for cost-of-living adjustments that affect many government benefits. If the measure of inflation is reduced, then the increases in Social Security payouts to the public would also be lowered.

This, despite the fact that CPI already tends to under-report price increases. If chained CPI is implemented, Barry Ritholtz says: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

It would allow Congress to come up with about half of the funds needed to cover the proposed GOP tax cuts by pushing more people into higher tax brackets and [by]…creating a hidden tax on everyone who will ever get Social Security in the future.

This is based on the long-held Republican idea that “if only we could lower inflation as reported in the consumer price index, we could afford more tax cuts.”

And adopting chained CPI will reduce future Social Security payments without America having any sort of honest debate about it. You can compare the two measures of inflation side by side at this Bureau of Labor Statistics page: Chained consumer price index for all urban consumers (C-CPI-U) and the consumer price index.

When Trump was elected, the floodgates were opened. Any old, bad Republican idea is now legitimate.

Assuming that the House and Senate bills are reconciled and a tax bill is passed and signed by Trump, it may well be the worst piece of legislation in a century. It would finally undo the legacy of both FDR and Lyndon Johnson, something that has been a wet dream of the Right for generations. Emboldened by its passage, the GOP will follow it by taking a scythe to much of what remains of the social safety net.  Worse still, since the GOP is doing away with the inheritance tax, Republicans will have ensconced themselves as a permanent, hereditary financial and governing elite.

That will surely make America Great Again.

We have to get up off the couch, and fight for what remains of the New Deal and Great Society programs. This fight will be town-by-town, political office by political office, until progressives can compete in every red state for control of its legislature and governorship.

It’s another Saturday, the end of a long week in which it became clear that the country is approaching a cliff. We need some inspiration. So we turn to Meghan Markle.

Wrongo hadn’t heard of Meghan Markle until her engagement to the guy who is 6th in the line of succession to the throne in England, splashed across the news. But, it turns out she is an intelligent, independent person with agency. Markle was named the UN’s Woman’s Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership in 2015. Here she is speaking about advocacy at the 2015 UN Women conference. It’s a winning and inspiring performance, and, while it’s a sample of one, it shows that Millennials are gonna do a fine job with the planet:

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

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Saturday Soother – July 15, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Hitachi Seaside Park – Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan

A week with the sounds of all Russia, all the time in our ears. It nearly blanked out any discussion of the Senate’s “reform” of American health insurance. Let’s take a look at two stories that you probably missed:

First, American beef is now available in China as a result of a deal that Trump made with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In exchange, Chinese chicken is now available in the United States.

Was it a good deal by our dealmaker-in-chief?

Well, the Chinese chicken must arrive precooked, and it won’t be labeled as coming from China. So, if you’re worried about eating chicken produced in a country with notoriously lax food safety regulations, stay away from that bag of wings in the freezer aisle. Here’s another catch: The chickens that China cooks and sends us must come from the US, Canada, or Chile. So, these particular chickens fly as much as 12,000 miles one way from Chile to China, and then another 7,000 miles from China to the US.

Why isn’t chicken from China required to be labeled with the country of origin? Maybe before we start selling Chinese chicken in the grocery store, it should be used in the Senate dining room for six months.

As the Republicans are fond of saying, “Let the market decide.”

Second, Texas passed a law that allows residents to openly carry knives (or swords) with blades longer than 5.5 inches. The bill goes into effect Sept. 1st. Texans could already carry knives with blades under the 5.5-inch limit, but they generally could not purchase or carry longer weapons. The new law won’t apply to places like schools, prisons, hospitals, amusement parks or places of worship. And if you’re going to a sports event or a bar, you’ll have to leave your sword at home.

Texas is not the first state to enact such a law. Montana and Oklahoma have both passed legislation scrapping their bans on bladed weapons in the past few years

Can you take your gun into a bar? Sure, but, leave that sword at home. This raises the age-old question: If the pen is mightier than the sword, then, why do actions speak louder than words?

So, let’s have something soothing to end the week. Dr. Wrong prescribes brewing up some Peaberry coffee, getting to your favorite chair, and listening to something soothing.

Today we will listen to “Symphony No. 66, Hymn to Glacier Peak, Op. 428” by Alan Hovhaness. Hovhaness, who died in 2000, was one of the America’s most prolific composers. His official catalog comprises 67 numbered symphonies. Hovhaness had six wives during his lifetime, so he was prolific in many ways.

Here is a note from Hovhaness’s sixth wife, Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, about Symphony No. 66:

The Seattle Youth Symphony commissioned this work for their fiftieth anniversary season in 1991. It was premiered on May 10, 1992 on Mother’s Day. In 1991 he was eighty years old, and had just had a hip operation. He walked with a cane, majestically slow, like the first movement of the symphony. But soon he recovered completely. He saw Glacier Peak from his living room windows. To look at the mountains was his daily ritual and inspiration.

Listen to “Symphony No. 66, Hymn to Glacier Peak, Op. 428”:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Wildflowers near Lake Elsinore CA March 2017 − photo by Lucy Nicholson)

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away, and we had an excellent example this week. From the NYT:

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job. But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

The Department of Education has said in a legal filing that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding, and can be rescinded at any time.

The debt forgiveness program covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit, a group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007. And along with this bad news, there is no transparency: When the NYT contacted FedLoan, a spokesman referred questions to the Department of Education, who declined to comment on the suit, or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Loopholes. America loves loopholes. We aren’t a nation of laws, we’re a nation of loopholes.

If all of this wasn’t enough wrong for you this week, Devin Nunes and the White House played “I’ve got a secret” with the House Intelligence Committee and the American people. That brought the usual grandstanding from Republicans, but nothing can top what Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) who unintentionally told the truth while defending Nunes on MSNBC:

You gotta keep in mind who he works for…He works for the president. He answers to the president.

Soon, a Yoho spokesperson was walking that back. Yoho, Yoho, and it’s back to school he goes. To learn a bit more about who Congress critters work for.

I know, these two stories sound like April fool’s day fibs, but sadly, both are true.

You need a break, so Wrongo suggests a hot mug of Tanzania Peaberry coffee. Put your feet up and brush off the week’s trail dust. Let’s relax with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. He wrote this in 1775. He was only 19 at the time, but was already the Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court. Here is Hillary Hahn with the best 23 minutes of your Saturday:

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

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Where Boys Are Boys, and You, Ms. Warren, Are Not

(Scroll to the bottom of the page for the Daily Escape)

When we allow the silencing of our Senators, we allow the silencing of our democracy. HuffPo reports:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rose on Tuesday and objected to a speech Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was giving in opposition to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general.

McConnell took particular issue with Warren as she quoted a letter written by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, when Sessions was under consideration for a federal judgeship in 1986.

McConnell invoked the little-used Rule XIX, which says that “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” King’s letter argues that, during Sessions’ time as a prosecutor in Alabama, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” It was that portion of the letter that McConnell read back to the presiding officer, arguing that it was over the line.

The Republican presiding in the chair, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, agreed with McConnell, ruling her in violation of the order and forcing her to sit down.

“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren replied.

It seems the voices of both Sen. Warren and the late Coretta Scott King are now unwelcome in the Senate’s old boys’ club, even though Ms. King’s words were placed in the Senate’s records 30 years ago. This from Booman: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Rule 19 is a good rule that helps prevent canings on the Senate floor. But it really should never apply to a senator who is under consideration for confirmation to another office. If Warren and Merkley were reading these historical documents just to make Sessions look bad while they were arguing over the budget that would be a legitimate violation of the rules. But these documents [King’s letter] were germane to Sessions’ fitness for the office of Attorney General in the same way that his tax returns and voting record are germane.

Republicans regularly call their opponents corrupt traitors. The NYT reports that both Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) appear to have violated the rule according to its true intent, without having it invoked against them. In 2015, Cruz called McConnell a liar. But he’s a Republican man, while Sen. Warren is out of line for quoting the widow of a titan of American history. Got it.

Apparently McConnell thinks that a Senator nominated for a Cabinet position isn’t a nominee. They remain a Senator, and the ability of other Senators to criticize their nomination is subject to Rule 19. That is a misuse of the rule, and McConnell abused his power. And he did more to raise awareness about Sessions’ racist past than he did to safeguard Sessions’ “character.” Republicans know that Warren’s Senate performances have a long afterlife on YouTube, so they tried to prevent another one, but failed.

Had they let her read it, it would have been seen by only a few thousand late night C-SPAN watchers. Instead, her Facebook video reading the Coretta Scott King letter had 7.8 million views by Wednesday afternoon.

The GOP’s self-inflicted wound is shutting down a white woman reading a letter written by a black woman who lost her toweringly famous husband in the struggle for equality, a letter which criticized the racism of a Southern white man, during Black History Month. The Oregonian reported:

Hours after GOP leaders blocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter critical of Sen. Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Merkley picked it up and read the document uninterrupted.

So, after they shut down one Democratic Senator, McConnell allowed a different Democrat to read the letter? What’s the difference?

Your Daily Escape: Stuttgart City Library, built in 2011

 

 

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Congress Greases the Skids for Exxon

(See below for the Daily Escape)

While America’s focus has been on the Orange Overlord’s blizzard of executive orders, and his public love-making with Putin, we were distracted from some of the actions by the GOP’s Congressional worms who are intent on chewing through our regulatory protections.

Did you feel burdened by a Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule requiring that American corporations doing business overseas reveal how much money they’re spending in foreign countries? This is called the Resource Extraction Rule, and apparently, it has been a terrible burden for Exxon and other oil firms.

VOX reported that, on the same day the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, the House voted to kill a transparency rule for oil companies that Tillerson once lobbied against while CEO of Exxon Mobil. Now it’s on to the Senate and the Orange Leader for action:

Using the little-known Congressional Review Act, the House GOP voted on Wednesday to kill an Obama-era regulation that would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose any payments that they made to foreign governments, including taxes and royalties.

The Resource Extraction Rule is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Back then, senators from both parties included a provision requiring greater disclosure from mining and drilling companies’ activities abroad. The hope was to cut down on corruption in resource-rich developing countries by increasing transparency.

Over the past six years, the SEC tried to craft a rule that would give the legislation teeth. But the SEC’s first attempt at regulation was struck down by the courts in 2012. The rule didn’t actually get finished until June 27, 2016. As Charlie Pierce says: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

In other countries, resource extraction is a polite way of describing corruption and bribery on a grand scale, and it’s also a dead serious matter for local activists who are trying to take on international corporations and their native plunderers in local government.

Remember the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It is the mechanism the GOP will use to undo much of what the Obama administration did in the areas of corporate responsibility and environmental justice.

At its core, the CRA states that any “recent” regulation (the Act’s definition of recent means it only applies to those passed by the Obama administration after June, 2016) can be repealed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Any repeal vote taken by the Senate cannot be filibustered, and the list includes more than 50 Obama-era regulations.

So far, the Stream Protection rule that restricted coal companies from dumping debris and waste into nearby waterways has been revoked, along with the Social Security gun rule that prevented mentally impaired persons from buying guns.

Now, they’ve gutted the Resource Extraction rule.

Under the CRA, the SEC is barred from crafting a new rule that has “substantially the same form” as the repealed regulation. So, Congress has thrown a rose to the oil and gas and mining industries that will be difficult to reverse.

Despite GOP concerns, similar rules are in place in the European Union. Reporting by the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Canada shows $150 billion in payments to governments in more than 100 countries.

Sounds like something citizens should know about.

The GOP’s argument is that American oil and gas companies need to make these under-the-table payments, in order to compete in third world countries.

This is America under the GOP: We can’t afford to provide the world’s best education to our kids. We can’t afford to take care of our elderly, but we absolutely must have policies that allow Exxon and friends to bribe foreign governments.

 

The Daily Escape: The National Library of China, in Beijing’s educational district.

(Image by Tian-yu Xiong for the National Geographic)

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 23, 2017

After the Women’s March, both Trump and his press bunny, Sean Spicer, said that the numbers of attendees at the Trump Inaugural was the largest of all time. How can Spicer explain this?

Why bother explaining? From Media Matters:

In a surreal turn, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tonight denied reality, lashed out at the press for its supposed “shameful and wrong” coverage of the size of the crowd that attended President Trump’s January 20 inaugural festivities, instructed the White House press corps on what they “should be writing and covering,” declared that the administration intended to “hold the press accountable,” and left the briefing room without taking questions

For those who think they can trust Spicer, here are a few more links:

Trump inauguration crowd: Sean Spicer’s claims versus the evidence (Guardian)

White House Disputes Inauguration Attendance Estimates (WSJ)

Trump inauguration draws nearly 31 million U.S. television viewers (Reuters) Absolute numbers were fewer than Obama, better than Clinton and both Bushes.

Trumpism Corrupts: Spicer Edition (Weekly Standard)

With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift (NYT)

If Spicer wanted to avoid a confrontation, he could have shut down the discussion by saying that Trump’s supporters had to work on a Monday, because of the terrible jobs situation in America. But he tried ju-jitsu instead.

We should be very concerned about the lying and the angry effort to turn the tables on the press by Trump and his press secretary. They wouldn’t even tell the truth for something that is totally knowable, and then they attacked those who reported truthfully.

It is clear that the Trump administration plans to bully the press until: a) they stop attending press conferences, and/or b) stop digging for the real facts behind any bald-faced Trump administration assertion.

There are just three choices here:

  • You think lying is wrong
  • You think lying is OK
  • You are a hypocrite who moves between options 1 & 2 depending on whether you’re benefiting from the lie, or being harmed by it

The Overlord thinks he has no need to speak the truth, because he can just deny that whatever he disagrees with is true, and have some 20 million of his diehard twitter followers re-trumpet that he is correct.

This is a real threat to democracy! It is looking like Trump will be the Bullshitter-in-Chief, broadcasting a daily smokescreen of “fake news” (formerly, propaganda) while his cabinet of billionaires work to enrich themselves and Trump’s friends, and the Republican Congress tries to turn America into Paul Ryan’s granny-starver version of Ayn Rand’s paradise.

Bush’s and Rove’s “we manufacture our own reality” ultimately failed, and it seems Trump is trying the same thing but with a much weaker hand. We thought that Bush was incompetent and couldn’t do the job, and he was well on his way to proving that when 9/11 happened, and suddenly everyone was “rallying around our president“. Trump would also be seen as a terrific leader by a majority if he was talking through a bullhorn from the top of a pile of rubble.

And Trump won’t miss any opportunities to tweet glowing assessments of his performance. Thus, he has no need to engage in an honest evaluation of anything when a quick, preemptive hit works so well for him.

So time for the press to wake up and flay the Trump administration whenever they dissemble. The press now has a new organizing principle called the quest for truth. Something that has been missing for nearly 30 years.

To help them wake up, here are the Eagles with “New Kid in Town” from their 1976 “Hotel California” album. Released as the first single from the album, the song became a number-one hit in the US. Glenn Frey died late last year. He is missed. Here is “New Kid in Town” in a live version from their show in Washington, DC in 1977 at the old Capitol Center:

Time to hold the new kid responsible for his lying.

Sample Lyrics:

There’s talk on the street, it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.
People you meet they all seem to know you,
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new.

Johnny-come-lately, the new kid in town,
everybody loves you, so don’t let them down.

There’s talk on the street, it’s there to remind you
That it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you.
They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

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Won’t Get Fooled Again

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the”60 Minutes” Trump interview on Sunday. Basically, it was a low-information session, long on atmosphere and short on what is likely to happen in the first 100 days of Trumptopia.

There were hints that low information may be emblematic of the future relationship between the press and the new administration. In the interview, there was this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Lesley Stahl:…A lot of people are afraid. They’re really afraid. African Americans think there’s a target on their back. Muslims are terrified.

Donald Trump: I think it’s horrible if that’s happening. I think it’s built up by the press because, frankly, they’ll take every single little incident that they can find in this countryand they’ll make into an event because that’s the way the press is.

More press paranoia by the Donald-elect. To think of the media as liars destroys one of the only protections we have for our democracy.

And Fortune Magazine, not exactly a haven for lefty journalists, said this:

What does that future look like? It looks like a pitched battle between a man who made his own media rules and rode them to victory, and a traditional press that has lost much of its power.

It seems obvious that President-elect Trump’s relationship with the press could be more contentious than even that of Richard Nixon.

Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, had to go out of her way to reassure the media that Trump was planning to operate a normal press “pool,” in which the president travels with reporters who share their news reports with others. The press is concerned, since they were not permitted to travel with Trump during the campaign.

But the media holding the Trump administration’s feet to the fire was is made very difficult by Trump’s points about social media in the “60 Minutes” interview: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Lesley Stahl: But are you going to be tweeting [about] whatever you’re upset about…when you’re president?

Donald Trump: So it’s a modern form of communication, between Face– you know, Facebook and Twitter and I guess Instagram, I have 28 million people. 28 million people

Taken together, the major network and cable TV outlets account for 26.5 million viewers.

So, Trump has the ability to talk directly to more people than the networks. During the campaign, Trump took advantage of that to spread both accurate (and inaccurate) information that helped his cause. In effect, the Trumpets were using the media equivalent of modern military technology while the mainstream media (and the Clinton campaign) used tanks and bayonets.

Going forward, what will happen when Trump, who has continued to attack the motives of the press, has to deal with them as president? Will Breitbart News and Fox get preferential treatment while the New York Times and the Washington Post are left scrambling for the scraps they leave behind?

And if that happens, who is in a position to stop him? In 2016 and going forward, how will you find out what is really going on in the world?

And think about the parallels to the GW Bush presidency: Pence has the operations role. This could very well turn into another Cheney Administration, where Pence actually runs the government in the background while Trump soaks up all the attention playing Mister President on Twitter and for the cameras.

The parallels are frightening. Fortune has this vision of the future:

A weakened and increasingly marginalized traditional media, fighting with the tools of a previous era, surrounded by more nimble adversaries who know how to use social platforms for their own ends, and a president who is actively hostile to the traditional press. Not that long ago, it probably felt like things couldn’t get any worse for the media—but they just did.

Let’s not lose hope completely. Why? This administration will enter office with close to zero credibility with the press. Think about how few newspapers endorsed Trump.

Second, the media remembers its failures to follow the facts during the Bush administration. So, the fear of being called unpatriotic as those few in the media were when they spoke out against Bush’s Iraq policy, will be tempered by the press’s memory of their complicity in Iraq War.

Finally, blogs and social media can work both ways. They may have helped elect Trump, but social media in particular will not allow Trump to operate unchallenged.

That challenge will force the MSM to follow stories in a way that didn’t happen in the GW Bush administration.

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